Their frenzied footfalls were metres behind. She could hear their growls and shrieks. Ravenous. How they raged. They gnashed their teeth — sharp and merciless.
Behind her was death, and death was hungry.
Rosemary ran, wrapped bundle cradled to her chest. Her breaths came in ragged mouthfuls. She felt depleted, but she would not stop. She would slow for neither the fire in her lungs nor the stitch in her side. Tears streamed down her cheeks in the cool night breeze. Between her hurried gasps for air, she bellowed a sob.
Her bare feet were raw and bloody. They pounded on the road. The evening’s wind was gentle, but it froze Rosemary to the bone — she wore nothing but her nightdress. It flapped and billowed about her as she sprinted, caught in the air like a sail. She’d had no time to clothe herself. In the few precious moments afforded to her, she’d whisked her infant son up and out of his crib.
As Rosemary ran from the horde, the scene repeated in her mind over and over and over again. The shatter of glass and the splinter of wood. The ear-splitting screams of her husband (help me help me, please, oh god, why won’t you help me). The way the seconds stretched out before her. The cries of her baby. The back door to the hedgerows behind the houses. The crisp night air.
She stole a frantic look over her shoulder and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her pursuers had increased in number. And their eyes — the fury. The pure, unadulterated hatred. The animalistic contortions of their faces. Their gore-splattered features.
Rosemary put her head down and ran. She held her baby tight and nestled him into her neck. He wailed with an intensity only exhibited by the newborn. The sound wrenched Rosemary’s heart. She would have soothed his woes with a song, as she had before, and his cries would have petered out. But now his howls continued, ceaseless; the ringing of a dinner bell.
She would shield him. As they came for her, she would shield him. As their hands and teeth tore at her, she would shield him. As her skin broke, as her flesh ripped, as her blood spilled, she would shield him.
They would not touch him. They would not. She would not allow them.
And after you’re dead, Rose? Who will protect him then?
Rosemary sprinted past the elderly couple who lived down the road.
They were out in their front garden.
Rose only allowed herself a glance, but she would not stop. She would stop for nobody, for she carried a cargo more precious than her own life.
Harold was on the floor, screaming. Someone was on top of him. They ripped the flesh away from his neck with their teeth, and Harold’s legs kicked and spasmed beneath. Harold’s wife, Dorothy, stood metres away, her wrinkled hands to her face. Her whole body shook.
“Harold! Oh, no, please, Harold! Harold!”
“HAROLD! NO! HAROLD!”
Rose did not stop.
“HAROLD! HAROLD! HA—” Dorothy’s pleas turned momentarily to a scream. It ended in a choked, liquidy gurgle.
Rose flicked a look over her shoulder, despite herself. Some of her chasers had broken off and smashed through the fence into Harold and Dorothy’s garden. The feeding frenzy drowned out the sound of the couple’s struggle.
The rest of the horde still bore down on Rose, eyes wide and famished. The scent of fresh blood quickened their pace. Her stomach dropped. Rosemary saw they were closer now. Not quite near enough to grab her, but—
Rosemary gritted her teeth and pushed her trembling legs to go faster, faster. Her whole body shouted at her in protest, but she forced her frail frame to go, go, oh sweet Jesus, go!
Seconds after she kicked her body into overdrive, Rosemary mounted the top of the hill.
There it was. It was close. At the bottom of the road.
Rosemary could see the church. Wrought iron gates tall, thick wooden doors strong, stained-glass windows illuminated from within.
They pelted down the hill, the mother and her child, towards the lights.
Somebody came out of the church, its door a warm envelope of yellow.
Rose stumbled downwards, the uneven slope a terrain fraught with traps.
The swarm salivated and breathed down her neck.
The stranger scurried to the gates. They fumbled with something.
Rose was ten metres away. Five metres. Two. She was there, and—
The gates were chained.
The stranger was crying, cursing, shouting, pulling at the gates, fighting with them, creating a narrow opening.
Rose crouched and tried to squeeze through, but she was too big, too big, it was no use, she couldn’t fit, and—
The teeth sank into the tender flesh above her collarbone. All the air escaped her body and Rose tried to scream but found she was empty. She opened her mouth and gasped. The air rushed in as if there were a vacuum within her chest.
Rosemary pulled and a chunk of her neck tore away in the process. Her nightdress suddenly felt warm and damp.
“Oh,” was all she could say, as she collapsed to her knees and clutched her baby, her son, her child.
Hands upon her, from every side. They surrounded her.
As her vision greyed and swam, she held her baby, shielded him, kept him safe in a cocoon.
Hands from in front. They tried to get to him. Her baby. She resisted.
“Let me take him!” shouted the stranger. A woman. A kind face. Middle-aged. “Give him to me!”
With tender love and care, Rose pushed the bundle through the small gap and blocked the way with her body. She would be a barrier between her son and the night filled with teeth.
And then he and the stranger were gone. They disappeared into the square of gold.
As the throng shredded her human body, Rosemary clutched the gates. She was unable to stop the screams that now flooded her throat. As the mass tore her to pieces, Rosemary held onto one thought.
My baby is safe.