Also by the Author:
A Hairy Tail
The Fairy Tales Retold Series
The Star Kissed Series
Ashes to Ashes
A World Without Angels
The Project Integrate Series
The Fashion Series
The Defectives Series
Dark Eyes: Cursed
Through a Tangled Woods
Copyright © 2016 Jamie Campbell
Jamie Campbell asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.
To the playground we will go
To laugh until the sun is low
We don’t know who is there
But the ghosts, they do stare.
One Day after the Event
The street was too quiet.
Where was the traffic? The buzz of pedestrians as they listened to music filtering through their headphones? The beep beep of annoyed contractors as they tried to get through peak hour madness?
Way too quiet.
I stepped out of my apartment building, wishing and hoping and praying that the night before was just a bad dream. I wasn’t brave enough to return to our kitchen to check on my parents. I had left them there late last night.
After they died.
“I’m hungry, Evie,” Faith whined at my side. She tugged on my arm, just to make sure I couldn’t ignore her pleas any longer. “I want to go back inside.”
“We’ll get some food in a minute,” I hissed back.
In a minute.
When I awoke from this nightmare.
I looked left and then right. Other kids were walking the streets like zombies, confusion and grief covering their faces like veils. I knew how they felt but I didn’t have that luxury. I had Faith and I had to be strong for her, at least.
There, at the end of the street, an adult. I hadn’t seen one of those since my parents died in the kitchen. Relief flushed through me as I hurried toward them. I didn’t recognize them but it didn’t matter, they could help. They were adults and we desperately needed adults right now.
“Where are we going?” Faith continued in her whiny voice. I pointed but she shook her head, not understanding. It didn’t matter, she would see soon enough.
Help was on its way.
Four adults were all huddled together, their expressions of pain all the same. Perhaps they were trying to work out what happened last night at eight o’clock. Answers were more than welcome to all the questions I had.
“Excuse me, I need—” My voice faltered as I reached for the elbow of the closest woman to get her attention.
My hand went straight through her arm.
I looked at her again, this time really looking at her. She was surrounded in the tiniest hint of yellow light.
She was dead.
They all were.
I took a step back, almost falling over Faith in the process. All four of the adults turned to me, firing a million questions in my direction.
“Why can’t anyone else see us?”
“I need help for my children, they’re alone. Please, help.”
“I feel pain. Why do I feel so much pain?”
They crowded around me like vultures, making all the air in my lungs disappear. I needed to get away from them, they couldn’t help me. None of them would know what we were supposed to do now, not when they had so many questions themselves.
“Faith, hurry up,” I urged, tugging on my little sister’s hand so she would keep up. My home didn’t seem so bad now, even with the dead bodies in it.
I ducked into the apartment building just as more adults found me. They all crowded around, walking straight through the door I slammed in their faces.
The steps were taken two at a time in my vain attempt to get away from them. But it was impossible, they floated while my legs cramped from the physical exertion.
“I don’t want to go home anymore,” Faith pleaded. “Please, Evie, I don’t want to see them again. I’m scared.”
“We won’t go in the kitchen,” I promised. Surely I would wake up from the nightmare soon, even though it felt so real. Adults didn’t just become spirits overnight, it wasn’t something that actually happened.
Maybe I was going crazy?
That would sure explain a lot.
We reached the door to our apartment and I shouldered in. The ghosts followed me, their voices all joining together to become one loud din. I couldn’t think straight when they were continually talking to me.
I was going crazy.
It was too much for me.
Way too much.
“I want to call Grandma, Evie. She’ll know what to do, she’ll come over and help Mom and Dad,” Faith said as she munched on dry cereal. I’d taken it from the kitchen with my eyes closed so I didn’t have to see the two bodies lying on the floor.
That was actually a good idea, she’d know what to do. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and hit the contacts. The phone rang as I held it to my ear.
The number you have dialed is not responding. Please leave a message after the tone.
“Grandma, it’s Everly. Something’s happened, please call me back as soon as possible. Faith and I need help.” I hit the end button and prayed she would get the message. Something had obviously happened in our neighborhood but perhaps it was localized. Maybe the rest of the world was fine and ready to help.
Something in my bones told me I was wrong.
I left Faith and headed for my bedroom, hoping I would see myself lying in bed and fast asleep. Unfortunately, my bed was still made with the crinkles on it from the night before. So this couldn’t be a bad dream, then.
The spirits had followed me, I swung around to face them. “Silence! Be quiet!” I managed to get their attention for one glorious moment. “What happened? Why are you all dead?”
“Something happened, the noise, it was so loud.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“The pain, it hurts so much.”
“You have to help me.”
They all started up again, offering nothing that would help me work out what on earth had happened. I had no parents, a nine year old to look after, and no clue about what happened – or what was going to happen.
I fired up my laptop, desperate for some kind of answers from the outside world. The television stations were all off, the internet was my last shot at finding help.
The regular news website I used hadn’t been updated since the previous day. There was nothing about an incident in my neighborhood. I’d never seen them report on the news so slowly before.
Chat forums were my next stop.
They were lit up like Christmas trees.
I could barely keep up with the amount of questions being thrown onto the forums. Messages were coming in from all parts of the world. They were frantic and stressed.
And they were all the same.
Adults hadn’t only disappeared from our city but all around the world, too. It wasn’t just a localized tragedy, it was a global catastrophe.
All the comments were along the same theme.
My parents died, I don’t know what to do.
My little brother keeps crying, what do I tell him?
I can smell the dead bodies, should I bury my parents?
My sister died too. She was only nineteen.
The TV doesn’t work, does anyone else’s?
They spun around in my mind until I was completely dizzy and even more confused. It probably should have been a comfort knowing I wasn’t the only one going through the horrible thing, but it wasn’t. All I felt was alone and sad.
I needed a plan, a way of making sure I could look after Faith until someone fixed things. Surely the government still had to be working, surely they would send people to help us soon.
But they were adults too.
If I didn’t stay focused on the here and now, if I thought even a week ahead, I went into panic mode. I couldn’t do that right now. I had to stay sane so I could look after Faith.
I needed to be the adult here.
There was one person I knew I could count on and that was my best friend, Oliver. He lived in the apartment across the street. I’d seen him briefly last night after it happened so at least I knew he was alive.
“Faith, we need to go out,” I called down the hallway. The nine year old appeared at the door a few moments later.
“Where are we going? Can we go to Grandma’s house?”
I now doubted whether Grandma was still alive. If my deepest fears were true, she and Grandpa were dead in their home. I didn’t want to see any more dead bodies. The two in my kitchen were enough for me to handle.
“We’re going to talk to Oliver.”
Her eyes lit up. “Is he going to take us to Grandma’s?”
“No, Faith. We’re not going to Grandma’s at all. We have to work out what we’re going to do here.”
She wanted to protest, it was written in every one of her features, but the little girl bit her tongue instead. Maybe she knew I was at the snapping point and barely holding it together.
We crossed the road and almost ran into Oliver as he fled his apartment. He was puffed and headed somewhere in a hurry. “What’s wrong?” I asked, then wanted to laugh at my stupid question.
Everything was wrong.
Nothing was right.
“I’m heading to your school,” he said, needlessly pointing down the street. We went to private schools, one just for boys and one just for girls.
“School’s not going to be on today, Olly. I think we all have a free pass considering…”
“No, it’s not that. A group of us are staying there, looking after the younger kids that can’t look after themselves. We’re serving lunch in an hour.”
I openly stared at him as I tried to process his words. The greatest tragedy in human history and Oliver was still thinking of everyone else except himself. Of course the younger kids would need help if there were no adults anymore. Babies couldn’t feed themselves and toddlers could easily hurt themselves while they slowly starved to death.
Some people went to jelly in a crisis situation.
Others stepped up.
Oliver was the latter. I always thought he was an extraordinary human being and now there was more than enough proof of it. If the pope had survived, he should make him a saint.
The three of us walked to the school together, the whole time listening to Oliver as he updated me about what he had been doing all night and through the morning.
He had gone door to door in the street, rounding up the children. He then gathered food from the supermarket and sequestered it away so kids didn’t go crazy and waste it. Finally, he set up beds and eating areas in the school auditorium so it could accommodate any child that needed help.
Oliver was amazing.
There was a line to get into the school when we arrived. “These can’t all be kids from our street,” I said. There had to be at least a hundred of them waiting to get inside.
Oliver simply shrugged. “I guess word spread. There’s a lot of work to do.”
While Oliver took Faith and me inside, all the spirits that had been lingering around the children rushed at me. They instantly knew I could see them, even though I was trying my best to ignore them. A cold shiver ran down my spine as they surrounded me, blocking out the living people.
“We need your help.”
“What happened to us?”
“Why are we still here?”
“Why does it hurt so much?”
So many questions and I couldn’t answer even one of them. My hands went to my ears, covering them while I wished they would just shut up for one moment.
I didn’t want anyone knowing that I could see them, I didn’t want to be the freak that saw dead people. I couldn’t be that girl, not when there was already so much going on.
“Everly? What’s wrong?” Oliver’s voice broke through the mess of noise but only barely. I forced myself to focus on him and only him. Then I forced myself to smile like there was nothing going on.
“Just a little tired,” I replied, with the lamest excuse ever. I was going to have to get better at blocking out the ghosts.
Much, much better.
Oliver continued the tour around the school while I tried desperately to ignore the spirits. I had always seen them but there were never this many before. Hundreds upon hundreds surrounded me until they were a sea of faces.
“It feels weird being around the school,” I said, trying to focus only on the living. “You know, without teachers and stuff being here. I keep expecting to get into trouble for being out of bounds.”
“I know what you mean,” Oliver said. “This whole thing is weird. I keep thinking about Mom and then I remember she isn’t here anymore. It’s like a blow to the guts every time.”
I hadn’t seen Oliver’s mother in her spirit form. Nor my own parents, for some reason. Most of the ghosts I saw were people I didn’t recognize.
Maybe that was for the best.
“I’ve heard of another group helping kids,” Oliver continued. Faith bounced along behind us, trying to keep up and take everything in. I wasn’t certain she really understood the situation yet.
That was definitely for the best.
“What group?” I prompted, determined to stick with the conversation and not give myself over to the spirits.
“Some guy that calls himself Jet. I don’t know if that’s his real name or not. Apparently he’s been distributing supplies around so nobody gets hungry. Kind of like what we’re doing here.”
“I take it he’s a kid, too?”
“It’s good there are people like you stepping up to do this. You’re amazing, Oliver, you really are.”
His cheeks glowed a nice shade of rouge. “I suspect I’m only doing it so I don’t have to think of anything else. If I can just focus on the now, I won’t have to work out what we’re going to do in the future.”
I wanted to give him a hug, try to reassure him that he wasn’t alone, but we weren’t that kind of friends. We didn’t do the whole hug thing, it wasn’t us. As much as I needed a hug right now.
A kid stopped us and told Oliver they needed him in the kitchen area. He gave me an apologetic smile before following the kid. The moment Oliver left, the ghosts stepped in again.
“My baby is all alone. You have to get to him.”
“I think we’re stuck. Isn’t there supposed to be an afterlife?”
“I can’t take this pain much more.”
“You can see us, you have to help.”
“Please, kid. Please tell them I love them.”
Faith tugged on my arm and I realized she had been trying to get my attention for a while. Her voice had mingled with all the others as I tried to drown them out.
I felt insane as I tried to shut them all out so it was just me and my sister in the hallway. I kneeled down to her height. “What’s wrong, Faith?”
“I’m tired. I want to go home,” she said. Her little face was so sad it almost killed me. How did I tell her that we couldn’t go home again? I couldn’t deal with the bodies of our parents on the floor anymore, I just couldn’t.
The ghosts all started their relentless speaking again. They crowded around me so closely I couldn’t see Faith anymore. I was being swallowed up by the masses and I didn’t know if there was even room to breathe anymore.
My chest burned as a tried to suck in oxygen but there was no room for it. I couldn’t breathe and black dots started to dance in my vision to prove it.
The corridor was too small, way too inadequate to deal with both the living and dead. I started running without thinking. The hallways were familiar, but I never would have thought I would be running from ghosts down them.
My feet moved without bidding as I flew down the corridors until I reached a door. I burst outside and gasped for some air. My knees gave out on me as I crumpled to the floor.
There was a moment of sweet relief where I thought I would be able to handle everything going on around me. That perhaps I would be able to continue on and help like Oliver was.
Unfortunately, it was short lived.
Spirits emerged through the door, while others outside started to gather around me. There were dozens more than there were inside. Each of them started talking to me as soon as they realized I could see them.
Tears started to sting my eyes but I didn’t want them to fall. If others could stay strong in these moments, then so could I. Falling apart now wasn’t going to help anyone.
I used my voice as a weapon. “Please leave me alone. I can’t help you. I need to help Oliver and the little kids. I need to look after my sister. Please just leave me alone.”
Their silence lasted for two whole seconds.
They were wonderful seconds.
The ghosts were more insistent than ever. They were never going to leave me alone.
Faith was my responsibility.
I had to focus on her.
The reality of our situation was starting to sink into her nine year old brain. I wished she could have remained innocent just that little bit longer.
“Where are we going?” she asked, not for the first time since we’d left the school.
“I told you, we’re going to find a place to stay tonight.”
Her hand gripped mine tightly. “Why can’t we go home? I want to sleep in my own bed. I’m scared.”
“It’s not our home anymore,” I replied, trying to avoid telling her the truth so I didn’t have to remember the way my parents had looked on the floor. “Think of it as an adventure. We can go anywhere we like.”
“I want to go home.”
So did I.
There was no point arguing with her. Between her and the ghosts, they were giving me a headache. We now had to do things that we never considered before. It wasn’t going to be easy so the sooner we both accepted that, the better.
We came to a park, the green of the grass now a gray color in the light of the moon. It wasn’t exactly a place I would have considered sleeping before but now it was.
I stepped into the park and waited for the protests from Faith. “We’re going to stay here tonight. Tomorrow we will find something more suitable.” And without spirits and dead bodies.
It was going to be a long day.
“Where are we going to sleep?” she asked.
I pointed to a park bench. “You can sleep there and I’ll sleep on the ground in front of it.”
“But we’ll be cold.”
“It’s just for one night.”
I waited for the dozen other questions she was dying to ask but they never came. Faith trudged over to the bench and lay down, testing it out. If my parents were still there to witness us, they would have had a heart attack.
So far, I wasn’t doing a very good job of looking after my sister. Someone more responsible would have found shelter indoors, and enough food so that we didn’t have to ask Oliver for it.
As soon as morning light came, I was going to get to work. We may not be able to return to our home, but there had to be others that were vacant. Some adults lived alone, their houses would be empty – except for their body. I would deal with it, I just couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with my parents’ bodies.
I would have to leave Faith somewhere safe so she didn’t have to see what I was doing. Oliver might agree to look after her for a few hours. He was a good friend, I didn’t deserve him. What he was doing at the shelter was above and beyond saintly.
The park was cold, like Faith had said. She didn’t last long on the bench before sliding down to lay next to me on the grass. We cuddled into each other’s arms and tried to keep our eyes closed.
Despite all the noises of the animals in the park.
At least there were no bodies there.
Ghosts, on the other hand, were everywhere.
One Month After the Event
These cans of beans were mine and I wasn’t going to give them up without a fight. I held them under my coat and gave anyone I passed a look of thunderous intent. If they were going to take my food, then I was going to hurt them.
Everyone carried a knife.
Mine was in the front pocket of my jeans. If one person decided they wanted my beans, I wouldn’t hesitate in pulling it out and threatening them. So far, I hadn’t needed to get further than the threat. I’d waved it about and the kid who had confronted me had run in the opposite direction.
Faith was relying on me, I had to get food now to store for later. It didn’t seem like the adults were coming back to life so nobody was making or growing any food. What we had on this planet now was the only food we were going to have.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who worked this out.
Kids were scavenging through all the houses and businesses, taking supplies and hiding them in secret places so they wouldn’t be raided. Oliver, in all his wisdom, had worked this out months ago. He had taken an entire supermarket and squirreled the food away for later. He wasn’t eating it himself, but running the shelter and distributing it around to everyone.
I hadn’t been to the shelter for almost two months. It held the most number of kids in the city. Which meant it also held the largest gathering of ghosts.
They were continuing to beg me for help but there was nothing I could do for them. They were dead, we weren’t, and I had to focus on the living. One, in particular.
She was too young to think ahead a few months. She didn’t even understand that this was a new world we lived in. Survival was the single most important thing, and that meant you had to do things you weren’t proud of.
Like threatening kids younger than you with a knife.
Like taking food from kids who weren’t as careful as you.
The Event had changed things and most of us were only just coming to terms with the fact they weren’t coming back. All those bodies of adults would stay dead while we continued to miss them.
We were hiding out in a basement apartment that was empty when I found it. The body of the adult owner was either moved by someone else, or they hadn’t been home at the time of the Event.
When I snooped around the apartment, I found pictures of a middle-aged woman in hospital scrubs. She looked like she was a nurse, so she might have been at work when it happened. I silently thanked her for the use of her apartment and gave an apology for going through her things.
The hospital was a building considered off limits in the city. There were too many things inside that could harm a child. Not to mention all the bodies rotting inside. Someone had locked all the doors and windows from the inside so it wasn’t easy to break into. It seemed to be doing the trick so far.
Little gangs were starting to form in the city. They roamed in packs and took whatever they wanted from kids that couldn’t defend themselves. I’d told Faith to stay away from them and hide if she saw one. So far, we’d been okay.
Someone rapped on the door to our apartment and I was instantly on alert. There was no telling who or what would be on the other side. I crept over and looked through the peephole.
I opened the door. “What are you doing here?”
He flashed me a smile, one I’d missed seeing every day. “Can’t a guy just visit his best friend sometimes?” He was carrying a plastic bag of food so I doubted he was telling the truth.
“Of course you can visit. You just can’t bring us food when other kids might need it.”
I moved from the door so he could come in. The first thing he did was to deposit the food on the kitchen counter. “This is your allocation. If you ever came to the shelter, I would serve it to you like all the others.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t been lately.”
“We could use your help.” Oliver’s eyes were so honest and genuine that it made all my insides churn with guilt. I didn’t know how to explain to him about the ghosts that haunted the shelter and my inability to be able to control them.
I couldn’t go on much longer living with the guilt. I didn’t want to let Oliver down but I wasn’t much help when all the spirits overpowered me all at once.
So, yet another lie was in order. “I’ll come down soon. You can make me do whatever you want. Cook, clean, serve, I’ll do it all. Just give me some more time, okay?”
Oliver nodded because that was the kind of perfect human being he was. He wouldn’t dream of pushing anyone into doing chores but I knew his opinion of me was lowering with every day that passed and I still didn’t show.
I was a horrible friend.
But I was also terrified of the ghosts.
Fear won out over my sense of duty and I hated it. With every beat of my heart I hated it. One day he would stop visiting and that would be the day when I was truly alone in this world.
“I better get going,” Oliver said. “Now that it’s starting to get cold, more kids are showing up. If you stumble over any huge stashes of food, will you let me know? I’ve got a feeling we can’t go on forever with what we’ve got.”
I nodded. “I’ll keep an eye open for you. Have you tried the Grocery Superstore out on Pine Avenue?”
“It’s already been claimed by another group.” Sadness crossed over his features. “They have a distribution method that isn’t exactly the same as ours.”
“But at least they’re distributing the food, right? That’s got to be a good thing.” Oliver couldn’t be all over the city, other kids further away needed help too. He couldn’t take responsibility for everyone, nobody could.
“I don’t know, I guess so.” He offered me a weary smile. “Just keep your eyes and ears open. See you later. Bye, Faith.”
“Bye, Olly,” Faith said in a singsong voice. She had witnessed our discussion but hadn’t said a word before that. She had been acting sulky all morning.
I waited until Oliver was gone before I hid the food. You could never be sure food was going to be where you put it unless you hid it from thieving kids.
They were everywhere.
I cooked some baby corn spears over a camping stove and then sat with them next to Faith. She stabbed a few with a fork, like me. I wasn’t prepared for what she asked next. “What’s going to happen to us?”
“What do you mean?” I suspected I knew, but I didn’t want to assume. There were too many possible answers to consider in the big picture.
“I mean, what do we do now? Are we going to live here forever? When is school going to open again?”
So many questions from such a little girl. I didn’t have any answers for her, only vague reassurances that we would be okay. I tried for something more solid. “School isn’t going to reopen for a very long time because we don’t have any teachers now. I can teach you anything you want to learn about. We could even see if there are any books left in the library, would you like that?”
“I guess. What about all my friends? I haven’t seen them in ages.”
“They will be with their sisters and brothers, all being taken care of. We might come across them sometime. I’d say they’ll still be in the city.”
She was on fire now, not having to think too hard before finding the next question. “Are we going to stay here forever?”
I looked around at the small apartment. It was tiny, but it was ours. It seemed safe enough, but it still didn’t feel like our home. “It will do for now but we might still move if we find something better.”
“Are Mom and Dad ever coming back?” Tears were starting to well in her eyes and I couldn’t handle another Faith meltdown. She always made me want to cry and then we both turned into blubbering idiots.
“I don’t think so, Faith. But they’d be really proud of us for finding food and shelter if they were here. We have to stay strong for them, so they would be proud of us.”
She seemed to accept the answers and studied her corn spears intently. I sighed with relief, feeling like she’d let me off the hook with my half-answers.
I wished I had all the answers.
It would have been nice.
Faith agreed to stay in the apartment and read through all the owner’s wedding magazines while I slipped out. She found the princess dresses fascinating so I hoped they would keep her occupied for a few hours.
I sat outside our old apartment building, easily locating the window to my bedroom and Faith’s. Everything there seemed so normal, like I could just walk inside and my parents would be there to ask me how my day was.
I wanted it so badly.
But it wasn’t going to do me any good wishing for things that were impossible now. I’d come to terms with all the adults being dead but that didn’t mean I stopped grieving for them.
A part of me knew why I was sitting there on the curb. I didn’t want to acknowledge it but I knew. I was hoping to see the ghosts of my parents. I’d seen so many spirits over the last month but they were never in the crowd.
Why didn’t they come for us?
So many other parents stuck to their children, even though they didn’t know they were there. I could see my parents and yet they stayed away from me.
I desperately wished I could see them, even if just one last time. I wanted them to tell me what I should do, that I was doing a good job of looking after Faith, that the ghosts wouldn’t hurt me if I listened to them.
I needed my parents now more than ever.
A wind suddenly kicked up, bringing with it the voices from down the street. My gaze hurried to see who they belonged to. A group of kids were heading toward me.
They weren’t going to be friendly.
I quickly stood and started walking, not wanting to meet them up close and personal. Some kids thought the key to surviving after the Event was to band together and intimidate everyone else to get what they wanted.
My legs moved in as fast a walk as I dared to go. If I ran, they would chase me. Those that ran usually had something they didn’t want taken from them. I didn’t need that kind of attention from them. I just wanted to get back to Faith so we could ride out another night of uncertainty.
The city crawled with gangs like the one behind me. Some were large, easily having fifty or more members. Others were very small, just a handful of people to tie the group together. They were silly, really. Everyone was out for themselves, it wouldn’t take much for any of them to turn against their group for a better deal.
I stepped down an alleyway and pressed myself against the wall, trying to pretend I was invisible. It wasn’t that I had anything they could take, but the fear of what they would do to me when they realized I had nothing for them to take.
Life after all the adults died was not pretty.
None of the ghosts around me were able to help. They continued talking to me while I tried to ignore them. Sometimes the dead were so loud I couldn’t hear the living. I was certain Faith thought I was going crazy. She could have a whole conversation with me that I wouldn’t be able to hear.
I didn’t even dare to breathe as the thumping of their footsteps travelled down the road. They grew louder as they reached the end of my alleyway. As long as they didn’t turn, I wouldn’t be seen.
Two passed by first.
They didn’t look.
Another few did the same, the boys and girls talking to one another and keeping them somewhat distracted. There was a range of ages in the group from tiny preschoolers to those just shy of eighteen. They were probably worried about their next birthday. Nobody over the age of eighteen survived the Event.
That’s what everyone was calling it.
Now we had before the Event and after the Event. The line was clearly drawn, the world changed in such dramatic circumstances in the space of only a few minutes. If there was anything that deserved to be called an event, it was the Event.
My lungs screamed for air as I tried to breathe quietly. I didn’t want my voice to travel on the wind like theirs’ had. They just needed to pass me by without glancing my way. That was all I wanted.
There were more in their group than I realized. They continued to pass by, some even laughing. It was unusual to hear people enjoying themselves these days. The sound would have been beautiful if not made by the enemy.
And everyone was an enemy now.
I could trust exactly two people: Faith and Oliver. No more and no less. I didn’t even know if I could trust myself anymore. We were all different after the Event and I was no exception. I’d never been this suspicious or scared before, gone was the light-hearted Everly of the glory days.
Thankfully, the footsteps of the group faded away
I finally allowed myself a sigh of relief before I started counting to twenty. Once finished, I shuffled over to the street entrance and dared to peek around the corner. I could see the backs of the group but they were a good block away now.
I crept out and started heading back to the apartment. I avoided all the main streets, sticking to the tree-lined roads around my neighborhood that I knew so well. This used to be my playground, now it was like a stranger to me.
Faith unlocked the door after I gave her the secret knock. I secured it firmly behind me again. If even one of those gang members found our sanctuary, everything we had scrounged together would be gone.
Perhaps even our lives, too.
“I’m hungry, Evie,” Faith whined. I had to keep reminding myself that she was only a little kid so I didn’t snap at her. I may have been scared, but she was terrified.
“I’ll heat up some peas. You like them, right?”
She nodded. I grabbed one of the few cans we had that didn’t come from Oliver and tried to use the can-opener that I hated. We had an electric one at home, this contraption was like a knife that I had to dig into the can.
“You need to use it the other way around.” The voice made me jump. I hadn’t heard the ghost sneak up on me. I turned to face her, instantly recognizing the woman from her photos around the house. “Turn it around, so the sharp point goes into the can.”
I looked between her and the opener, for a moment startled. She kept gesturing with her hands, showing me what I needed to do. The sudden coldness in the room was emanating from her. She may have been dead, but she was very much alive to me.
I was finally able to move again and used the can-opener the way she was showing me. It worked much easier that way and the lid came off effortlessly. “Thank you.”
“You need help, but so do we,” the ghost said. “You can help us, I know you can.”
“I can’t. You’re all dead. There’s nothing I can do.”
“There is, you just don’t realize it yet. We are in so much pain and more danger is coming.”
Goosebumps prickled all the way down my spine. “I’m not the one you’re looking for,” I insisted. Just because I could see them, it didn’t mean I could do anything about what had happened.
“What are you talking about?” Faith asked. She stood in the archway between the kitchen and living room, a picture of confusion.
My gaze went from the dead to the living. “Nothing, just talking to myself. I’ll bring in your peas in a few minutes once I’ve warmed them up.”
She waddled off again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy to get rid of the ghost woman. She watched us both intently, giving me the heebie jeebies that I couldn’t shake.
“Please just leave me alone,” I whispered.
The woman didn’t leave but she didn’t say anything further either. The air hung heavy between us, cold and damp. I poured the peas into a container before heating it over the camping stove. At the least, the ghost had helped me a little bit.
Maybe there was more to seeing them than I thought.
Six Months After the Event
Faith had been gone too long. We were supposed to meet at noon and she hadn’t returned yet. I shouldn’t have let her go out on her own. I’d kept her close to me for six months now and she was getting tired of the constant company.
My stomach was nothing more than an acidic ball of knots while I waited. I should have remained firm, told her we had to stick together and that was that.
If I hadn’t gone on my own food run, she wouldn’t have had a chance to go out on her own. With every second that passed, my anxiety doubled. The city was a dangerous place now, any number of things could have happened to her.
Staying still wasn’t working for me.
I needed to search for her.
When I got her back, I would tie her to me so we couldn’t separate again. She wouldn’t like it but I had to keep her safe. She was my little sister, she was all I had left of my family. Our parents weren’t coming back, we needed each other.
I scrawled a note and left it behind, telling Faith to stay put and wait for me. Or Else.
The city was starting to get very cold, winter promising to be as harsh as ever. Everything felt cold now, not only because of the weather but because of all the dead too. They emanated an icy coldness that reached right into my bones and froze me from the inside out.
They were everywhere in the street. The dead continued to roam around day in and day out. They never rested and they never stopped talking to me. They pleaded with me to help them but I didn’t know how.
I couldn’t even completely protect Faith, how was I supposed to do anything about all the dead?
They rushed at me as I walked. I had to cover my ears with my hands in a feeble attempt to block them out. Sometimes there were so many it looked like I was facing a wall of them. I had no choice except to walk right through them, shivering coldness running through me.
The first place I searched for Faith was in the shelter. Oliver was standing behind the serving counter when I found him. Rows of kids lining up for food stretched out the door. More and more kids were making the shelter their home, the last shot they had at survival. Not all of us were going to make it in this new reality.
I waved to Oliver and he came over to me the moment I caught his attention. “Hey, Ev, how are you?”
“Worried. Faith went out this morning and she hasn’t come home yet. Have you seen her today?” My breath hitched in my throat as I waited for an answer.
Oliver’s head shook from side to side. “She hasn’t been in here, I’m sorry. Do you want me to help look for her?”
Oliver was needed at the shelter, I couldn’t take him away from all these kids just to look for one. Hopefully I was just overreacting. “No, it’s okay. I’ll let you know later if I need to take you up on that offer.”
“Anytime, Ev. I’ll tell her to go straight home if I see her. I hope you find her soon.”
I circled around the shelter, checking to make sure she wasn’t making new friends and losing track of the time. She wasn’t inside, she wasn’t outside, and she wasn’t in the playground. All the places familiar to us were barren and empty.
Except for the dead, of course.
They were still everywhere.
I started to fan out further, searching the streets and trying to work out where Faith would have gone. She was only nine years old, and not in the best health, she couldn’t have gone too far. She had to be here somewhere and all I had to do was find her.
It sounded so much easier than it was.
“Faith!” I called out. My voice grew louder the higher my panic rose. I couldn’t have lost her, she had to be here somewhere.
She had to be.
The long shadows of people fell over the street. I prayed one of them was my sister’s. When I looked up, I only felt dread. It wasn’t Faith, but a gang of boys. They looked as hungry as I felt and as cold as the midnight wind.
“Look what we have here,” the redhead amongst them sneered. “A little girl all by herself.”
“Have you seen my sister? She’s about this high with the same hair color as me,” I said, pushing my fear aside. If it meant getting Faith back, I would risk my own safety a hundred times over.
They didn’t even bother looking at the photograph I held out to them. “Like we care what happened to your sister. What food do you have?”
“I don’t have any food.”
“Sure you don’t. You didn’t get that fat by eating dirt.”
I wasn’t fat, not by any means. But I wasn’t as gaunt and pale as they were either. Since the Event, I guessed we all had different standards now. If you couldn’t see ribs, then you were eating. There were plenty of kids that had starved to death by now.
“I told you, I’m looking for my sister. I don’t want any trouble, I just need to find her.”
The redhead sneered again. “And I told you that I don’t care. Are you demented? Do you not speak English? Tell us where your food stash is or I’m going cut you with my knife.” He pulled a shiny blade from his sleeve to make sure I knew he was serious.
It was at that moment that I realized I’d made a mistake. I’d been so caught up in my mission that I’d forgotten how dangerous these gangs were. They hunted as a pack, making sure to prey on the weak to get whatever they had.
I started backing away but it only made them take a few steps forward. The street was all but deserted except for us. There would be nobody here to come to my rescue. It wasn’t like we still had a police force or justice system. There were no consequences for crime anymore. Kids could do whatever they wanted.
And they wanted to hurt me.
“I’m going to leave now,” I started, backing away faster. “I don’t have anything you want, only this picture of my sister. That’s all, nothing else.”
“You have a coat,” Redhead said, nodding toward me.
“You can have it.” I started pulling off my winter coat but apparently I wasn’t fast enough. Before I had a chance to run, the gang was around me. They each grabbed at my clothes and my hair. One of them kicked at the back of my knees so I stumbled forward.
They moved like a pack of hyenas, attacking me from all sides. It wasn’t just about taking what I had, they wanted to hurt me too. I felt each punch to the stomach, every sting to my scalp as they pulled my hair, and the boy with blond hair slapped me across the face. The taste of blood bloomed in my mouth and threatened to choke me.
“Please let me go. Stop!” The words came out as muffled sobs. I repeated them over and over again until my voice was hoarse and stung like a thousand needles.
My legs wouldn’t hold me up any further and I sank to the ground with the group still picking me to pieces. Redhead yanked my coat from me, shaking me free until my teeth chattered together. He stepped back, pleased with his score, while the others continued to inflict pain just for the sake of it.
I wasn’t going to last for much longer. My head was ringing from the repeated blows and I could taste bile in my mouth from the kicks to my stomach. It would have been a relief to pass out now, a respite from all the pain.
Ghosts surrounded us, pressing the group closer to me without them realizing it. They were all yelling at the gang to stop but their words fell on deaf ears. There was nothing they could do, even though they wanted to help me.
I was alone in this fight.
Far, far outnumbered.
I closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable final blow.
“Stop! Get away from her.” The voice was louder than all the others. It didn’t come from a spirit, but a real person. Someone I recognized.
For a moment I was certain he was nothing more than a figment of my imagination. He was at the shelter, he wasn’t supposed to be out on the street like I was. He couldn’t get involved in this outnumbered fight.
“Leave her alone or I swear I will hurt you all,” Oliver shouted. Some of the gang members stopped and turned to him. I held my breath because I did not want them to turn on him when he was only trying to help me.
“No,” I cried out. It came out more as a whimper than anything else. I could barely move from the all the bruises and pain plaguing my body.
“Leave. I’m not kidding around.” I’d never heard Oliver so angry before. He was standing up to the group with nothing more than sheer determination and will.
Redhead spat on the ground. “She’s got nothing we want. You can have her.”
They sauntered off and left me like a piece of trash on the street. Oliver helped me up. “Are you alright?”
“Thanks to you,” I replied. “What are you doing here?”
“I was worried about you so I came looking. I was also asking around about Faith, making sure nobody had seen her.”
Oliver was the best example of a good human being that had ever lived. If the world was filled with people like him, we’d all live in peace and happiness.
“You should stay at the shelter tonight,” Oliver said as he helped me limp along.
I shook my head. “No, I have to go home in case Faith comes back. She’ll wonder where I am.”
“Do you want me to stay with you?”
“They need you more at the shelter. I’ll be okay,” I lied. Until I had Faith back, I would never be okay. My insides would be twisted with worry and nausea until my eyes saw her standing in front of me.
“You know where I am if you change your mind,” Oliver said. We parted ways, both of us going in different directions. I had to fight the urge to call him back and tell him I did change my mind.
I had never been so alone before.
Before the Event, I always had people around me. I had my parents, Faith, my friends, and everyone else I loved. Now, it was just me. I’d lost everyone.
I went back to our apartment, stopping at the door and waiting for a moment. In my mind, I pictured Faith waiting for me on the other side. I pictured her little face being angry at me for making her wait for so long.
She had to be there.
She couldn’t be gone.
I pushed on the door and was greeted by the solace of the empty apartment. Everything was exactly how I’d left it, including a space where Faith should be.
There was nothing here for me now without her.
I curled up on the floor and waited.
For a sister that would never come.
Eight Months After the Event
Someone was banging on the door. There was no question about what they wanted. I had some food left, I had shelter, and there were a handful of clothes I had found. Everything that was getting scarce now.
I had two seconds to make a decision and that was all it took. I quickly threw everything I owned into a duffel bag and pried open the window in the kitchen. It was a basement apartment so there was only a small space to wiggle through.
The unwanted visitor continued to bang on the wall, throwing in some demands to open up for good measure. They could have the apartment, it hadn’t been home to me for almost two months now. I only stayed there occasionally, just enough to make sure the note I left for Faith was still on the fridge.
I hadn’t seen her in two months. Two months. The devil sitting on my shoulder told me she was never coming back. Yet the tiny spark of hope in my heart prayed that she would perform a miracle and return to me.
Oliver was always busy with the shelter and whatever else he did. He was harder to find some days than food. He didn’t need me hovering around him and taking up his precious time. The city needed him and I couldn’t be selfish.
There was nothing left for me in the city anymore. There were too many kids that thought they were Batman villains and decided to take whatever they wanted. They didn’t care about what was right or wrong. It was a fight for survival now and nobody to police the streets. As long as they were bigger than their victim, they could take and do whatever they liked.
Nowhere was safe.
Little kids either remained permanently in the shelter or they hid away from sight. Everybody knew to be home and locked away before dark.
I couldn’t continue to live in the city that held so many ghosts. I wasn’t getting any better at blocking them out and their pleas were only getting louder.
That was a lot of months to go by when every day was a struggle – for both the living and the dead. I didn’t know how to help any of them, which only added to my sadness.
My feet took me automatically to the shelter but I stopped in the doorway. Oliver was standing behind the food counter and talking to some kids. He wasn’t like the best friend I used to know. He was better now, completely selfless and filled with a purpose.
I was there to say goodbye to him but I couldn’t do it. I’d never been good at them and I would probably just get all blubbery. It was better to just leave, he would be better off without me.
I turned around and started to walk the long road out of the city. There was no reason to explore the outer suburbs before, my life had been too involved in my neighborhood. I thought I would live there for the rest of my life.
Now, it was time that I found places that were unfamiliar to me. Maybe then I could start a new life and pretend that everything I once had was just a fanciful dream. If I told myself that enough, maybe I would start believing it.
My feet weren’t the best form of transport but they were all I had. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and told myself not to stop under any circumstances.
Maybe I would find a stash of food nobody else had pilfered beyond the city. Perhaps I could plant a garden in a small uninhabited area and live off the fruit and vegetables I could grow. A part of me was excited about the prospect of starting again. I wouldn’t be able to stop grieving for those I’d lost, but maybe I could live a life that wasn’t based solely on survival.
I walked for so long that the night crept up on me. I slept in a house that didn’t seem occupied and then the next morning I started walking again.
The neighborhoods changed the longer I walked. The apartments started to turn into houses and then eventually their lots grew bigger. The outer suburbs were nice, pretty. All the houses seemed empty of kids.
They were still filled with the dead.
But they wouldn’t hurt me.
They would just crowd me until I couldn’t breathe and then I could run. The dead didn’t have any other weapons like the kids did these days. I wouldn’t be stabbed or shot or bludgeoned to death out here in the suburbs.
I had to climb a hill to reach the next set of houses I wanted to check. Some had been looted already and had all the food stolen. But the majority were still intact, just waiting for their owners to return and resume their life again.
That was definitely not going to happen.
The neighborhood was quiet, so much more quiet than the city had been. Birds still flew around the area, chirping in the trees like nothing had happened. I could almost believe the Event had never happened up here.
This was my new home.
I picked the house with the nicest yard and that was going to be my home now. Every day I would search through all the others and take what I needed to survive. This would be my base and I would live here by myself for the rest of my life.
I’d failed Faith by not keeping her safe.
I’d failed Oliver by not helping in the shelter.
They didn’t need me now, nobody did. They were all better off without me. Living in the house on the hill would suit me just fine. I could read all day, plant a vegetable garden. I would be happier here than anywhere else.
“Who are you?” the voice came from behind me. I hadn’t heard anyone sneak up on me. I spun around to face not just one person but many.
THE STORY CONTINUES.
READ ON FOR AN EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEAK AT:
All these people were seriously starting to tick me off. They never shut up. It was a constant chatter that formed the soundtrack to my pointless, miserable life.
Just one minute alone, that was all I needed. If I could have that minute I would be able to breathe. I could take a deep breath and be still for a moment. It wasn’t much to ask but it seemed the likelihood of getting my wish was practically non-existent.
“What do you think she’s doing?”
“What does it look like she’s doing? She’s reading a damn book. Put your glasses on already.”
“I don’t need glasses. I can see her perfectly well.”
“Sure you can. You’ve been telling me that story for years now.”
I called those two the happy young couple. Even though they weren’t happy, nor were they young. Old, bitter, and annoying were the three words that described them perfectly. But that wouldn’t be polite, would it?
If they didn’t shut up soon I was going to run for the edge of the cliff and throw myself over. That’s what I had wanted to do for almost a year now. So far, I managed to refrain but I feared that day would arrive soon.
Especially if they didn’t shut up. “Be quiet. Everyone, can you please just be quiet?”
“She’s trying to read, y’all.”
“What’s so good about a book anyway? Can a book hug you goodnight?”
“A book opens the mind, it expands the conscious.”
“For what? A lobotomy?” Chuckles filtered through the crowd.
“She should be going into the city, that’s what she should be doing.”
“There’s nothing there for her anymore.”
“She’s happy here, with us.”
“Does she look happy?”
“I don’t think she’s happy.”
Well that worked well.
Apparently, instead of shushing them, I had given the group a new topic of conversation. Everyone, all forty-three of them, seemed to have an opinion about what I should and shouldn’t do. I knew from experience they could go on for hours debating the merits of how I chose to live my life.
I desperately tried to concentrate on my book. It was the only way I could drown them out. If the book was good enough, I could escape for at least twenty minutes before they started creeping in again.
“We should get her out of the house. A seventeen year old girl should not be cooped up inside with all of us.”
“She doesn’t want to go out. We can’t force her.”
“We can encourage her.”
“She’s old enough to make her own decisions, leave the poor girl alone.”
“We should play cards. Who’s up for some poker?”
“Poker, yeah right. No way.”
“Someone needs to watch Everly and make sure she’s okay.”
I snapped the book closed, today was not going to be the day for reading. Clearly, my housemates had other plans. “Seriously, you should all go and play cards. I need some peace and quiet.”
They all looked at me, all forty-three of them. If I ever wanted an audience I wouldn’t have to go far. Pity I wasn’t a precocious, spoiled brat, I probably would have enjoyed it.
“I just need some time alone. Please?” I begged them. I would have crawled down on my hands and knees if I thought that would help.
But it wouldn’t.
It never did.
“She wants some quiet time.”
“Apparently we annoy her.”
“It was you, Bill, with your big mouth.”
“I don’t have a big mouth.”
“Yes, you do.”
A wind whipped up and knocked on the door, a big banging sound that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. I opened my book and leaned back in my chair. There was no way I was going to answer the door.
Not today and not any other day.
“Someone’s at the door.”
“You should answer it, Everly.”
“You can’t ignore it.”
“Come on, he came all this way.”
“Hurry or he’ll leave.”
“He might not come around next time.”
I sat back up again. “I’m not answering it. Now shush.”
Agatha, one of the few voices of reason amongst them, stood by the arm of my chair. “Everly, honey, you really need to answer the door.”
“I can’t. If it’s him, he’ll go away again. He always does… eventually.” It wasn’t a topic open for discussion. Oliver and I always played the same game. He would trudge all the way up the hill to stand at my door and I would ignore him.
It’s how we rolled.
“Maybe today you should speak with him.” Her eyes were caring as they looked at me gently.
“Today is no different than all the other days.”
“But it is and you know it,” Agatha argued with me. She was right but I didn’t want to admit it. “It’s time to talk to him.”
I really didn’t want it to be the time that I spoke with Oliver. The general consensus amongst everyone was that I should. But they said that every time he came to the door.
The only person I listened to was Agatha because I was certain she was the only sane one in the house. And that included me, too. She gave me a slow nod, patting my arm silently to tell me I needed to do it.
“Fine, if it will shut everyone up,” I grumbled as I placed my book on the table and stood. They made a pathway for me to get through so I could make it to the door. They were all nosy enough to stick around and listen to every word we said.
My hand hovered on the doorknob as the person on the other side made my heart race. He called out my name and I knew without a doubt it was indeed Oliver. I should have known, nobody else ever came to visit me. Even the mailman had long since stopped his rounds.
“Go on, open it.”
“What are you waiting for?”
“The girl’s mute all of a sudden.”
“She’s not going to do it.”
“She has to do it.”
Opening the door was probably less painful than listening to them by that stage. I twisted the knob and pulled the door open slowly, like I was scared about what was going to confront me when I did.
Oliver’s face lit up when he saw me. His intense green eyes opened wide with the surprise that I had actually opened the door. His mouth crooked into a wide grin, flashing all his teeth and making his cheeks dimple. He smoothed his black hair away from his eyes as he recovered. “Everly. I didn’t think you’d answer.”
“Neither did I,” I made an attempt at a joke. Oliver gave a nervous laugh in response. At least someone could still laugh after everything.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
I didn’t know what to say, so I lied. I made the same pleasantries that the world expected of one another. “I’m fine. How are you?”
“Worried, actually. About you, about the city, about everything, really. Everyone needs your help.”
I moved to close the door. That was the exact reason why I had never spoken to him during his visits before. “I can’t help. Thanks for coming.”
Quickly, he shoved his foot in the doorway so I couldn’t close it. There was no way I could hurt him. He was quicker than me, that had been my mistake. I wouldn’t do it again. Next time, I would ignore his presence and all the people inside my house.
“Come on, Ev. You can’t stay up here forever.”
“Why not? There’s nothing left for me in the city anymore. It’s all gone, remember? Everything has been destroyed.”
“Enough.” I shrugged.
He looked down at the ground, like he didn’t know what else to say. My heart broke watching him. We used to be so close and now we couldn’t even have a full conversation. Just another reason why I didn’t open the door when he visited.
Finally, Oliver looked back up at me. “I’m still there.”
“And I’m here.” Once, I would never have spoken to him like that. I would have instantly wanted to take him into my arms and kiss away all those horrible thoughts. I would have tried to make everything right.
But that was before.
This was now.
“Come on, Ev. Just come into the city and listen to what they have to say. It won’t hurt, I’ll be with you the entire time.” His eyes were so sincere as they silently pleaded with me. That look would have got a lot further than any words he spoke if I still had a heart.
I was empty now.
Bereft of emotion.
“Please just go, Oliver. I’m not leaving.”
“You can’t stay up here by yourself all the time. You’re not going to survive.”
How did I even begin to explain that I wasn’t alone? It wasn’t like Oliver could see any of the forty-three people currently living in my house, talking to me non-stop, unable to leave me alone.
He wouldn’t understand.
I was the only one who could see them.
Because they were all dead.
About the Author
Jamie Campbell grew up in the New South Wales town of Port Macquarie as the youngest of six children. She now resides on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.
Writing since she could hold a pencil, Jamie’s passion for storytelling and wild imagination were often a cause for concern with her school teachers. Now that imagination is used for good instead of mischief.
Visit www.jamiecampbell.com.aunow for exclusive website only content.
Jamie loves hearing from her readers. Send her an email at [email protected]
Please note: This is a novella. Shorter fiction is a fun and quick read, not a full length novel. One year ago the Event swept through the world and wiped out the entire adult population. Now all the children are alone and fending for themselves. Go back to when it all started, the first time Everly Hilton realized her entire world had changed on the night of the Event. How did the children react? How did she cope with seeing all those dead people? How did she protect her sister? In this exciting prequel to the Never Series, find out the background to Everly’s struggle for sanity in this insane world. The full Never Series: All the Dead Arising All the Pretty Ghosts I am Never Alone We are Always Forever