By the Nailsea

David Stark / Zarkonnen
14 Jun 2016, 9:12 p.m.

"It's not you, it's me!" she whispered, urgently. I dropped to my knees and put my ear to her chest. She was right. The buzzing was coming from her heart, not mine, and it was stronger than I had thought. Not much time left.

I got up again and considered wiping the dust and grime from my knees. Steel roses had burst through the far wall of the room. The flower-print sofa, the TV, the small shrine in the corner, all covered in plaster dust. The floor had tilted slightly, and the incessant rain had washed mud in through the windows, staining the bottoms of the curtains.

Shelley adjusted her backpack and started heading up the stairs. Our only chance now lay in a scramble across the rooftops, trying to reach the shore unseen. Then a mad dash along the beach behind broken walls, to the bigwheel and its sick-bay.

Upstairs, more steel roses had crept across the floor, and we had to step carefully. They bloomed in corners and sent out creepers along walls. In a few months, they would form an impenetrable thicket, but right now, we could still step through. A sickly death-smell emanated from the half-closed bedroom door. Shelley found the attic door, unlocked it, and pulled down the ladder. It got stuck partway, but it was enough to climb up.

The attic looked mostly untouched. Boxes, a pram, skis. I found the still-intact skylight and pushed it open. Rain poured in. I re-tied my boots and climbed out onto the roof, with a little assistance from Shelley. I pulled her up after me and we surveyed the situation. We were farther from the shore than I had thought, and there was a set of residential tower blocks in the way. I could just about see the Nailsea glinting between the towers.

Looking the other way, I could still make out a thread of smoke coming from the nest we'd torched, the fire nearly extinguished by the incessant rain. Would that attract or repel other creatures?

Shelley indicated with a turn of her head that it was time to move. We began climbing down the roof, approaching the narrow gap to the next house, another shingle-roofed one-family home getting torn apart by the roses erupting from its back garden.

We made good time for a while, even if it was exhausting climbing up and down wet roofs. Soon, we were in the rain shadow of the towers. We would have to drop down to street level and make a dash between them. But when we got to the final house before the towers, it appeared that we were in luck: a tall and solid-looking wall extended from the side of the house to one of the towers. And from there, the windows looked quite reachable.

We lowered ourselves onto the wall, Shelley going first. I noticed as she dropped that her breathing had become flat, and her face flushed. I could even hear the buzzing against the sound of the rain. She knew it too. We nearly ran along the wall. Rusted hedges loomed to the left. To the right was a parking lot, the remains of cars split open when their engines awoke and stretched their axle limbs for the first time.

We got to the tower. The closest first-floor window was further away from the wall than I'd hoped. Normally we'd use ropes to cover such a gap, but Shelley was in too much of a hurry to care. She simply jumped across, catching the ledge of the window and pulling herself up. I did the same and cut open my hand on a shard of glass in the process. At least we made it inside quickly.

The room we had entered was a kitchen. Lots of metal. I could hear the cutlery skittering under the cupboards. The fridge had left to join a pack. The toaster had developed teeth, but seemed inert. We tiptoed past into the next room. An much worse sight greeted us.

Copper wires had erupted from every outlet, shedding their insulation like snakeskin, knotting around each other in bundles, converging on the center of the room. A man stood there, or what had once been a man. His flesh had been eaten away, but the wires traced out his features over his bones. His chest was rising and falling in a metal imitation of life. Its head turned to face us.

Shelley dropped to her knees and began to cough. She clutched at her chest as a fine trickle of blood welled up through her shirt. The buzzing became insistent, higher-pitched, concrete. The first heart-bee emerged from between two shirt buttons. I ran.