On Blackened Wings

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‘I’m sorry,’ Dionne said. ‘I know what he’s been through, but we need him.’

Most people didn’t survive, and they’d all marvelled at how lucky Ben was. At first, anyway.

‘But what if it wasn’t always on him, Dionne? What if we could all take a turn?’

‘How could we do that? We’re not...’ she trailed off, groped for something that would not offend. Failed to find it, and went on, simply, ‘Like him.’

Rachel didn’t respond, just hugged herself and pushed her hair out of her eyes. She seemed more hard-edged, more brittle, than usual. How long since she’d slept?

Rachel watched the others shuffle inside the pub, then said, ‘Come on. I’ll show you.’

She opened the van’s back doors and pulled out a large metal toolbox. She flipped back the lid and for a second a humming sound arose, briefly harmonising with Ben.

Inside the box lay a mass of tangled metal and wires, wrapped around something that was twisted and stretched. Something that pulsed, glistening wetly.

Dionne covered her mouth. ‘What the hell is that?’

‘Last time we stopped, there were some... remains. Parts of bodies, parts of a bat. Ben used them to make this. I don’t think I can explain to you how--if I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure I know. But it acts as an external connector--it’ll give the rest of us a way to sense them, just like he can.’

Dionne swiped her forearm across her face, where a film of slick sweat had formed. Her stomach was turning over in loose, lazy rolls.

‘Put it away,’ she said. ‘Now.’

Rachel shot her an angry look. ‘It’s not right to make my brother be the sin eater for us all. We have to help him.’

Dionne held up a hand. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘I know. But--’

‘We have to try, Dionne.’

Dionne shook her head. Did she believe that Rachel and Ben had built some kind of psychic hotline to the bats, out of wires and roadkill? No. Not for a second.

But if, somehow, they really had--did she want to try it out?

Hell, no.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, and stumbled away.

***

Inside, the pub was just how she’d imagined--chunky tables and tall stools, a few leather sofas, booths around the sides. Rough painted plaster and a curved bar in polished wood, rows of bottles lined up on mirrored shelves. Chalkboards still listed the restaurant’s specials: Grilled trout with almonds, Steak au Poivre. Pecan brownies.

Julian stood behind the bar, a glass of clear liquid in his hand. ‘Want a drink?’

The taste in Dionne’s mouth was sharp and metallic. She slid onto one of the stools. ‘Scotch.’

Julian poured a generous measure. ‘What are we doing, Dionne?’

A good question. Or bad, depending on your perspective. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘Moving. Keeping going. Staying alive.’

‘Is that enough?’

Another bad question. ‘It has to be.’

She picked up her glass, watched the tawny liquid roll from side to side. Looked at Julian. A good man, really. Just scared. And they were all scared.

‘That Ben,’ he said, and stopped.

‘He’s saved our lives, Julian. More than once.’

‘Maybe. Maybe we’ve just been lucky. But he’s...’ He trailed off, looked away.

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