#15. Hickory Dickory Dead by Kat Ellis

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Today’s Soundtrack – My Immortal by Evanescence

Kat Ellis will tug at your heart strings today, readers. She gave me chills all over – literally. And I’m wearing fleecy pyjamas. I chose the soundtrack more for the lyrics than anything else, and I hope you think they work for the story, too.

Kat is from my side of the pond, and has all the talent of us descendants of Shakespeare to go with it (yeah, we wish!) She’s afraid of tight spaces – like any rational human bean, I think you’ll agree. You can find her on Twitter and over on her blog. Let her pull you into a world of blood, brotherhood, and a little boy named Mouse.


Hickory Dickory Dead
by Kat Ellis

“No matter what you hear, no matter who it is – me, the cops, whoever – you don’t come out until I say the magic words.”

The words themselves were silly – hickory dickory dock – just a line from an old nursery rhyme their mom had taught them when they were little. Mouse knew that was why his big brother Josh had chosen those words; saying them reminded them both of what it had been like before.

And Josh always gave the same warning every time he was going on one of his missions, leaving Mouse to hide in some nook or other in the house. Mouse hated when Josh left, even if he did need to keep looking for the stuff he called ‘snow’. It didn’t look like any kind of snow Mouse had ever seen, all grubby and packed in little plastic bags. It didn’t even melt. But Josh said he needed it if he was going to trade with that weirdo Macker who lived down the street. Macker, who’d acted like a zombie even before people started to get sick. But Macker had promised to give Josh his quad bike when Josh got him enough snow to last through winter, so Mouse and his big brother would zoom off on it to Jerusalem’s Peak.

“A quad’s the only way to get past all the sickos without getting stuck in dead-auto city.”

Mouse didn’t know why so many cars were parked all higgledy-piggledy in the streets, but he could understand why Josh wanted the quad so bad. A quad was no good if Josh wasn’t around to drive it, though.

“What if you don’t come back? What if you get sick and go away like Mom and Dad?”

“Then you wait, little Mouse. Just like we talked about. Wait one whole day, and if I’m still not back, stay here ‘til it gets dark. Then you take the bag and you go to Uncle Gerard’s office, and you tell him to take you to Jerusalem’s Peak…”

Josh had gone out at seven the previous morning, and he hadn’t come back by ten like he was supposed to. By the time the hands on the old grandfather clock in the hallway showed one o’clock, Mouse was scared.

He went to the toilet like Josh always said to do before a long hide, and took two bottles of water and an extra empty bottle with him to the attic. The attic was the best hidey-hole because it was one where Josh could fit too, even though he was a giant compared to Mouse.

Mouse curled up in his corner with the dusty old blankie wrapped around his shoulders, watching the hatch in the floor for as long as his eyes would stay open. He wanted to be awake when it would finally lift up, wanted to see when Josh’s scruffy head popped through the hole. But his blinks grew longer, longer still, until he finally fell asleep to the familiar creaks and groans of the house.

*****

Hunger and a lack of empty bottles to pee in finally drove Mouse out of the attic the next day. It was past lunchtime, and it sounded like a raccoon had crawled inside his belly. After searching the cupboards, he found a can of tuna with a ring-pull at the top. Using a spoon, he pulled the ring just like Josh had shown him so it wouldn’t hurt his fingers.

Mouse couldn’t figure out a way to drain off the oily stuff the tuna came in, so instead he just used the spoon to scoop out the slimy chunks of fish. It tasted good, even though the oily stuff kept dribbling down his chin and left marks on his t-shirt. Josh had found that shirt on one of his missions, and he always grinned when he saw Mouse wearing it. It was black with a white outline of a mouse on it, but the mouse changed color when Mouse got hot or cold.

He was trying to suck the fish oil out of it when the sound of the front door crashing open sent him scurrying to hide. Josh was shouting, using a lot of bad words, and Mouse heard horrible sounds he didn’t want to think about. Crunching, sticky sounds. Shouting – and not just Josh at first. But then it was just Josh, and the sounds were still crunchy and sticky, but he wasn’t shouting anymore.

Josh crashed around the house, but Mouse couldn’t tell exactly where his brother was. The dining room, maybe. Mouse had hurried into one of his least favorite hidey-holes – the greasy spot behind the refrigerator where Mom had never bothered to clean even before she got sick.

The refrigerator didn’t buzz anymore. It had gone past the point of stinky, so Josh had used some silver tape to seal it up where the rubber didn’t close right. Now, Mouse wished it still made that buzzing noise so he wouldn’t have to listen to what Josh was doing. He looked down and saw that the mouse on his shirt had turned red.

It didn’t sound like there was anyone else with Josh now, which meant whoever had come in with him was dead or had left.

Mouse shifted his feet to try to get rid of the prickles. His shoes were too tight, and standing still for so long was making his toes sting. The refrigerator groaned in front of him and he froze. The sounds coming from the dining room had stopped.

Had Josh heard him? Mouse listened carefully, waiting for the magic words that would make his heart stop hammering under his ribs.

Hickory dickory…

The words never came. After a few minutes, the squelching sounds started up again and Mouse felt his bottom lip tremble. His cheeks felt clammy already, but he didn’t dare wipe them in case he made another noise.

Josh is sick. Sick like Mom and Dad.

From the dim light pouring in through the kitchen window, Mouse could tell it was almost bedtime already. Once it was full dark, he was supposed to grab the bag Josh had left for him inside the grandfather clock and go Outside. It had been ages since Mouse had gone Outside, and he didn’t really look out of the windows anymore. Whenever he did, all he saw were dead people, sick people, and the mess they all made.

I don’t want to go out there.

But he’d promised Josh. He’d promised he would take the bag and go to Uncle Gerard’s. It was quite close to his old school, so he still remembered how to get there, even though Josh had told him to make sure he took the hidey way. That meant cutting through the back gardens of the houses on their street, down the storm drain and then straight ahead in the dark until the drain opened up into a big round pipe at the back of the school. Uncle Gerard’s office was at the edge of town, not far from the big hill they called Jerusalem’s Peak.

But what do I do about Josh?

Despite his promise, Mouse really didn’t want to leave his brother, even if he was sick. He knew that being sick meant that Josh wouldn’t recognize him anymore. He knew sick people did bad things. It sounded like Josh was doing bad things already.

But even if his brother had turned bad, and had that gooey green snot stuff coming out of his mouth like Mom and Dad had, Mouse would still rather have his brother than have to go to Uncle Gerard’s office on his own. He didn’t even like Uncle Gerard. But Josh said that was the only choice if he got sick, because Uncle Gerard was the only grown-up left who’d take care of Mouse.

I don’t want Uncle Gerard to take care of me. I want Josh!

Mouse slid out from behind the refrigerator, not caring anymore whether Josh heard him or that he had a good long snot-trail from crying or that the horrid squelchy noises had stopped. He walked straight into the dining room, and for a second he thought everything was okay.

Josh was leaning over a girl, and Mouse froze. It reminded him of the time he’d walked into Josh’s room one night and accidentally seen him doing sex. Josh had had to explain it to him once Mouse had stopped crying, and he wondered if that was going to happen again now.

But then Josh looked up. His face was a mess of green slime and dark red blood, chunks of something stuck between his teeth. Mouse tried not to look down, tried not to see the girl at all, but even in his outside-vision he could tell that she was dead. For real dead, not like when Mom and Dad had gotten sick and been sort of dead. Josh had had to make sure they didn’t hurt Mouse, had to make them the other kind of dead.

“Josh…”

Josh tilted his head, a jerky movement that didn’t look right. His eyes looked bad, like Macker’s – only worse.

“What are you doing, Josh?”

Mouse hoped Josh would answer, would explain that this was something grown-ups did that Mouse would understand when he got bigger, like the sex. But Josh didn’t answer, just dropped his head and started chewing at the red mess of the dead girl’s stomach.

“Josh!”

For a second, Mouse thought he saw a flicker of something in his big brother’s eyes, something like his old self. But then the thing was holding out a bloody fist toward him, mushy red stuff oozing between its fingers.

Mouse took one step backward, and the thing that had been his brother let out a shriek like a wild monkey. Mouse stopped. The thing grunted and jabbed its fist toward him again, but Mouse couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe.

It seemed like hours had passed before he realized he was moving, taking the warm, red stuff out of Josh’s hand and putting it in his mouth. It was only meat. Just like a hamburger, he thought, but stickier. It tasted disgusting though, like trying to eat with a nosebleed. The dirty, coppery taste made him gag, but he forced himself to swallow, to keep it down.

Mouse would do whatever Josh told him. His big brother always took care of him. Always.

*****

Mouse woke up cold. He was still lying on the sticky carpet in the dining room, the lumpy figure of the dead girl just a few feet away. But even in the dark, Mouse could tell Josh had gone.

His mouth felt disgusting, and he felt his way back into the kitchen to grab one of the water bottles from under the sink. I wonder if I’ll get sick like Josh now… He didn’t feel scared by the idea, not like he had been. He didn’t feel sick, either. But he’d rather be sick with Josh than on his own.

Where was Josh, though? In the stillness of the house, Mouse could tell there was nobody else there, beside the dead girl. He scurried through the dining room, avoiding the dark shape lying on the carpet, and past the old grandfather clock in the hallway. The hands showed it was nearly one o’clock, and Mouse knew why he’d woken up. It was time to go.

He opened the door in the clock and pulled out the bag Josh had gotten ready for him. There wasn’t much in it, so it wasn’t too heavy for Mouse to carry. A flashlight, clean water, a few granola bars.

He didn’t pause as he left the house. Didn’t stop to worry about the sick ones he knew were wandering around out on the street, or the dead ones he had to step over to get to the front gate. Josh had left them there, like a trail to lead Mouse to him. Even when he was sick, Josh took care of Mouse. He always would.

All Mouse had to do was find his brother, and they’d find a way to make him better again. Uncle Gerard made all kinds of medicines at his work, and would know how to fix him. And together, they’d go to Jerusalem’s Peak.

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If you liked this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the delectable Leah Rhyne! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is  now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

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