Hello dear readers. I’m posting late on in the month again but I was distracted waiting to hear back from a writing competition. Sadly I didn’t make it onto the short list but I can now share my entry! Thanks for reading – Niamh
Everything was going to plan so it looks like the many stressful months of preparation were finally going to pay off.
The hotel was stunning; all of the guests were having a blast, the band was playing a great Bon Jovi cover and the food was about to be served. Let’s not forget everyone looked divine. That’s the point of informing guests about dress code when you send out the invitations I suppose.
I never thought I would be celebrating a five year anniversary. There was one point where I couldn’t even imagine keeping the same car for that long. Then I met Alex and I slowly began to change my mind as we spent time and grew as people together. Tonight wouldn’t just be our fifth anniversary celebration – if all goes well then this would be our engagement party too.
Alex had the idea we should give a speech together once dinner was finished but before too many drinks were poured. We’ll tell stories both funny and sweet and towards the end I’ll make a big show of taking the small box out of the pocket of my suit jacket and getting down on one knee. I think it will go down well; when I tried to hint at what would be acceptable the only rejection was if I did it in food or in a champagne glass because “that’s too cheesy and sounds like a big mess.”
In my head I imagine it going so well – that I’ll be the embodiment of suave and charm, but the reality is there will probably be tears and maybe even a little snot. Yeah, I can’t wait for the story of my snot crying during the proposal to be all anyone can talk about for god knows how long.
And there she was on the dance floor, with her niece doing the robot simply to make her laugh. Making people laugh and smile is what she did best. Alex looked simply sublime tonight; wearing her best black trousers and purple blouse, short dark hair all glossy and that smile was brighter than the biggest cities.
If I had to pick, I would say the first thing I noticed about Alex was her walk. The spring forever present in her step and the way her arms swung, it just caught my attention and the rest was history.
Now here she comes, walking towards me just as the head server for tonight announces that dinner is ready to be served. Another thing I’ve been looking forward to all this time – the delicious dinner. Terrine wrapped in prosciutto for starter, fettuccine al fredo for the main course and Belgian chocolate mousse for dessert. Delicious food that no one present could complain about.
Next time I do something like this – like say, our wedding – I am going to make a strict seating chart. The first priority will be to put my annoying cousin Allan as far away from everyone else as possible. Or maybe just not invite him at all, that sounds good too. Because of course he had to get drunk before the food was served and of course he had to start shouting every single thought that came into his fat head – even at people sitting right next to him. Because since his days at university he thinks every get together is an excuse to drink to a ridiculous extent as quickly as possible.
Now he’s trying to flirt with some random co-worker of Alex. However, he’s so drunk that all he’s doing is invading the poor girl’s personal space and spraying her with bad breath as he laughs at something he said that only he finds funny. Is he seriously going to ruin tonight before the main course has even been served?
Luckily dad is on hand to save the day, because he and mum are the only ones here who know what’s going to happen tonight. I don’t know what I would do without their support. I watch them closely as they go out to the gardens and wait for dad to give me the thumbs up. Everything is going to be okay.
Once that kerfuffle is sorted Alex takes my hand and gives a reassuring squeeze – for who exactly I can’t say. After the main course we’ll be giving our speech, and I’ll pop the question – hopefully without my shaking too much. Maybe then we can finally get a cat too, Alex has always said no pets unless it’s a serious commitment.
When the time came we took to the centre of the room together, both sides of our family looking at us adoringly. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. Alex took a copy of the speech out of her pocket written on little yellow note cards. But just as Alex opened her mouth to begin, a scream took everyone’s attention to the garden doors. Was Allan still out there, and if he was what could he have done now?
For a moment we are all just frozen there. Then two of the servers working the room are running through the door. A few people get up to follow. Next I witness people shouting and running back into the room; people are yelling to phone for police and ambulances, my uncle is pulling my aunt back into the room as she wails and her legs just seem to give up on her and there’s still more noise outside, the sound of a great struggle.
Now people are getting scared as they move away from the garden doors and are trying to figure out what the hell happened. But there are some letting curiosity and stupidity get the better of them and are going to investigate – maybe some of them are even thinking of bursting through to be the hero. I don’t think this is a situation where you can be the gallant protagonist though; just one look at my aunt tells me that something horrible has happened.
Another cry of pain startles us all, and someone is being brought into the room while someone else is pressing on their arm. A red stain growing along the sleeve of their white shirt. How long would it take for the emergency services to get here?
More guests are shouting now – “bit”? Are they shouting about being bit?
Allan stumbles through the door, he looks horrific. There’s so much blood on his shirt and face and he’s just standing there staring at nothing with his arms hanging at his sides. Someone frantically approaches him, talking to him and trying to coax him to sit down. Maybe he’s gone into shock – where the hell were the emergency services!?
In the blink of an eye Allan suddenly launches himself at the waiter nearest him. He pushes them to the floor and – oh god no, this can’t be real! There’s screaming and people running and there’s so much blood. This is a nightmare – it must be – stuff like this doesn’t happen in real life.
Because if this was real then that would mean Allan really was eating a person right now.
I feel someone pulling my arm furiously. Alex is trying to get me out of the room, they’re saying something but I can’t hear anything other than the commotion around me. But before Alex can pull me any closer to the door a woman bursts through and launches herself at someone. It was bedlam and we needed to get out of here now.
We’re running out of the room and trying to find somewhere safe, there’s other people trying to phone for help but just shouting because there’s no answer. Somehow we make it to the lobby where the television is showing riots going on all over the country. Immense destruction and things that made me question my sanity. More and more screaming was coming from the room we fled. I didn’t want to think about who was hurt; Alex’s parents, her niece, all our friends and my dad – oh god please not my dad, the optimistic man who always said things get better. I don’t know where I would be right now without his guidance during the darker times in my life.
I wanted so desperately to run back and try to help everyone but for now I needed to protect Alex.
That’s when I feel Alex take my hand and just by the look in her eyes I can tell they feel the same way, absolutely helpless. I had to take charge and keep Alex safe. So we just ran and prayed that everyone would be okay despite how unlikely that was.
In films and TV programmes this would be where the protagonists hot-wired a car for an epic get away. But this was real life and neither of us knew how to do that. Our only option was to go on foot.
The car park was going to be hard enough to get through. It was already fairly dark out and we could already hear those dreaded rasping groans. We would have to sneak along, using the cars for cover. I was honestly too scared to breathe as we stepped outside because there was no way to tell how well those things could see and hear.
It was a big car park to cross; with almost all spaces occupied by vehicles ranging from tiny Fiats to massive Range Rovers, and there were groaning figures scattered throughout; some were just standing there, others shuffling about and there were some silhouettes in the dark even hunched down – I couldn’t tell if they were hunching over something or if they were trying to hide like us and I honestly didn’t want to find out.
Each time we moved between cars it felt like an eternity; watching for any shadowy figures, waiting for our moment, hurrying to the next car and then pausing to see if anything noticed us before we made our next move. My legs were already killing me from staying crouched for as long – and I was terrified a car alarm would accidentally be set off. I was made painfully aware of my breathing as I tried to stay calm, was it as loud as I thought or was that paranoia?
The exit to the car park was so close, one more sprint and we would be out, and we were past the worst of them by what I could see. I turn back to check on Alex – only to find her trying to fight off one of them. Without thinking I lunged at it knocking into the figure’s shoulder first. Somehow in the chaos a car alarm was somehow set off, I was so disoriented I couldn’t even tell who set it off. All I know is I’m frantically grabbing Alex and we’re running out of there and just keep running until I feel like I can’t breathe.
It’s only when I can’t run anymore that I let go of Alex’s arm and fall against a tree at the side of the road gasping for breath and trying not to vomit. Everything hurt so much and I couldn’t move a muscle, and if not for this tree I’d probably be on the ground right now. Who knows how long I spent leaning against the tree, I just spent the next twenty minutes waiting for it to become easier to breathe and prayed I could stay conscious.
Finally standing upright, still taking deep breaths, I turn round to check on Alex who is lying flat on their back and gasping for air. I kept watch while she got herself together; it hurt too much to talk still anyway. The only problem now was trying to keep calm and figure out a plan of action; we have no vehicle, no idea where was safe, no way to defend ourselves and there was no sign of normal people who could – maybe – be of help.
Other than that it appeared to be the perfect evening for a late night stroll.
Once we were both able to talk the first decision we came to was where our destination would be for now. Going home first was the best idea we came up with – so as to get our bearings together, with the added bonus of knowing the area well enough we could hopefully avoid danger. But the down side was if it took an hour by taxi it was likely going to take quite a bit longer on foot.
Our trek along the road was deathly silent. Safe to say we were both being extra cautious about our environment – and what may be waiting in the shadows. The wind was cold; it was getting to that time of year where a jacket was a necessity every time you stepped outside. Unfortunately Alex did not have a jacket, and I could tell it was getting to her as she crossed her arms and tried to shield herself from the cold. It would be snowing outside before Alex would think to grab a jacket.
So without thinking I took my suit jacket off and draped it over Alex’s thin shoulders, I never minded the cold as much as she did anyway, I knew Alex would suffer for a hell of a lot longer before saying anything.
But as I do so I feel a warm wet patch towards the top of her arm and it immediately makes the blood in my veins feel like ice. It had been dry all day so I knew it wasn’t water, I hadn’t even noticed before due to the dark colour of their shirt. I looked them dead in the eyes – this could not be what I thought it was. Had I failed to protect them so horrendously, had I really been that slow in the car park?
The dread filling Alex’s eyes said it all though, and just like that she made to walk the opposite way we had been heading. But I refused to let go of her arms.
I had lost enough tonight – I would not lose them now. Where Alex went I would go, and nothing would stop me. We just had to keep moving and find help – find help tonight.
Then everything would be alright and we’ll move past this. Everything would be fine; we just had to find help, we had to. We just had to.