Part three of four - conclusion next week.
Terror sweeps through Naomi’s frame like cracks through ice. She can feel foreign skin on her own, movement and pressure from strange origin.
And such moves the ongoing battle. Today, no different.
Every day, a fight; their sum, a war.
There lies ahead for everyone a decision, conscious and bundled with purpose, to take up arms. A choice rendered between fight and surrender.
Either choice is a valid one, sound within its own reasoning. But it must be recognised that anything short of a consistent, sustained effort – a bold, angry defiance – is a small part of what it is to give up.
Every hesitance a defeat.
Every defeat another choice.
Each moment not attended to no more than a sinking ship.
Floating in the sea.
Never to make it out of the ocean.
Naomi throws the strange hand off her leg, kicks it away, furious. Stands up, eyes wide to the bright new world, suddenly filled with light.
It is a strange light, an off orange. Warm but sickly, from an unknown source. It clings cloyingly, forms a shadowy hood over a tide of faces that stretch off across this lower floor of the department store.
All of them, every face, the old woman from above.
Naomi is surrounded on all sides by hundreds of the same woman, a throng of them. Here, though, the emphatic crone is somehow younger, her eyes deep and black and staring coldly at Naomi. Legion.
The one by her feet, the one that she shook off, stands up and sniffs the hand that ran up Naomi’s leg. Smiles, wan. Recognises something familiar in the stench of sweat and terror. Turns to her fellow herd.
As one, the hundreds of old women open their mouths silently. They move as if to bellow, but there is no sound. A slight wind rustles past Naomi’s cheek. Perhaps she imagined it.
Naomi looks into those mouths. Imagines an ever-deepening black, swirling into a bottomless pit. Perhaps she’s thinking of the car park below the department store. Perhaps that is where this horde of identical old strangers came from: the concrete maze at the base of the building. Perhaps they had waited in there, for eons, biding their time, slinking though cracks in the cement, multiplying and growing like hideous, diseased spores. Now bursting upward into the shop.
Naomi can’t be sure about the car park. She doesn’t like to drive. She caught the bus.
The light is beginning to get hot, slowly turning darker, shadows growing long and bending creakily towards Naomi’s feet. Her shoulder hurts from the fall down the escalator. Her eyes hurt from the light. She steps back, but bumps into something fleshy. Doesn’t need to turn around to see what it is.
All around her, the strange women begin to advance on her. They move like a throbbing swarm of insects, seething and writhing en masse.
Naomi can feel their heat closing in.
She grabs her red jumper from the ground.
Pulls it over her head.
And readies herself for the fight.