Pushing Up Gravestones – Chapter 22

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Night had filtered darkness through the sky with steady progress over the course of an hour. It had eventually reached a bruising shade of rapidly blackening grey as Ferrah’s eyes glossed aimlessly across the horizon. There was no particular direction to her lookout. Her only requirement was to dodge directly watching the streets below where the patterns of scarlet, scenes of decay and, even worse, the reanimated bodies could be found. And so it was the skyline that preoccupied most of her attention.

The needling wind, exacerbated by the height of the rooftop, pulled at her hair and tumbled strands across her face. Disrupting her vigil on various occasions with flashes and flutters of vibrant auburn. It was as if surrounded by fire and having the prongs of flames whip across her cheeks. The constant distraction forced her to push the nuisance strands behind her ears from time to time; using increasingly rough gestures with each movement.

Her irritation must have grown apparently obvious as a tap at her shoulder alerted Ferrah to company. She tilted her head upwards to find Denise standing by her side and brandishing a scrunchie dangling off the tip of her outstretched finger. A crinkle of a frown got caught between Ferrah’s eyebrows as she studied the offering.

“I usually have a spare lying around,” Denise said with another encouraging nudge of her hand brandishing the scrunchie.

“I hate wearing my hair up. It looks horrendous.” Ferrah’s reply came wrapped in sharp indifference as she drew out the pronunciation of every syllable in the last word.

She would have turned her head back to the horizon had she not caught the expression sifting across Denise’s face. Her head was pushed forward and tilted to the side, seemingly questioning if she had heard correctly, her eyes narrowed into an accusing stare of distaste; pressing fracture lines of irritation across her forehead.

“Oh chill out, I didn’t mean you look horrendous.” Ferrah spat out the reply with a dragging roll of her eyes.

The sense of an argument brewing was apparent to both of them. It hissed threateningly under every exchange of words and even lingered in their glances. And it was Denise to be the first to decide that it wasn’t worth it. She dropped the scrunchie to the floor and took a few steps away in retreat; the swish of her ponytail announcing an irritated abruptness to the exit.

In normal circumstances that would have been the end of things. Ferrah would have continued with the rest of her day safe in the knowledge that her disliking of Denise remained intact. The dispute never fully reaching a peak and continuing to simmer away unregulated. However, something caught on her conscience in that moment.

Perhaps it was the mere fact that animosity was not a welcome addition to a small and very isolated group of company. Maybe the nightmarish images of ripped flesh and gushing blood, etched into her mind, had made her go soft. Either way the hushed muttering of an additional remark slipped into the open before she could stop herself.

“You suit ponytails because you have nice cheekbones.”

The admission was some what sullied by the sour tint of embarrassment at giving the compliment splashed across her face; most evident in the sucking in of her cheeks. But it had been a compliment nonetheless.

Denise had paused to an absolute stop on hearing the words. It took her a few moments to process the words as if her mind repeatedly rejected the notion that Ferrah could utter a sentence offering anything other than an insult. The notion must have settled into her thoughts eventually. In a gradual and very careful motion Denise turned to once more face Ferrah.

“…Thanks,” Her response fell uncertain; balancing precariously on a shaky foundation of near questioning.

And a frown wound its way onto her expressions.

“You don’t have to look so shocked,” Ferrah didn’t intend to sound so confrontational as the words rattled off her tongue with a biting insistence.

Denise seemed to be able to peel apart the layers of her sentence and locate the vaguely joking undertones. She returned to Ferrah’s side and sat down; carefully wrapping her legs into a crossed position.

“I was just thinking it might be safer to wear your hair up. There’s less chance of something grabbing hold of it.”

“Well that was morbid…” Ferrah’s tone was betrayed by her actions as she immediately scrabbled for the abandoned scrunchie and set about securing her hair into three separate strands needed to make a French plait.

“Sorry,” Denise muttered the reply half heartedly in muted breath.

Clearly she was growing weary of the trail of abrupt replies her every attempt at conversation provoked. Ferrah wasn’t blind to her own motives. She could accurately associate the source of her animosity with boredom. Removing a source of conversation was not going to ease the monotonous drone of waiting around for nothing to happen. Her gaze fluttered briefly to study her company, before she gave into the monotony and rescued the conversation with the accompaniment of a breathy sigh.

“Don’t apologize. It’s hard not to be morbid with that lot beneath us. They sometimes even make me question if it is worth it anymore,” Ferrah tilted her head briefly in the direction of the horde waiting expectantly below.

The statement was intended to be unmoved and logical. However, the subject commanded a severity that Ferrah had not expected. Mid-way through the sentence her mouth had dried and the words began to weigh with the burden of acute fear she could not hide. Accidentally she had drawn the subject into something very personal.

“Worth what?”

“Surviving. The constant fear is exhausting to carry around and what waits for us when all this is over? There is no normal life to return to. So what’s the point? Why don’t we just fling ourselves off the roof and get it over with?” Ferrah fixed her sight on the distance as her attentions became firmly split between expressing the thoughts that had been whining in the back of her mind and folding her hair neatly into the plait.

There was no room to focus on anything else. She didn’t have time to note the snap of Denise’s features into defiant concern at the prospect.

“Normal things still exist.”

“You sure about that?” Ferrah asked in a snort of derision, “The very fact that you and I are talking is not normal.”

“Is it such a bad thing that we’re talking?” Denise’s gaze was almost tangible on the side of Ferrah’s cheek as she posed the deceptively simplistic question.

Still, Ferrah occupied herself with folding each strand of hair carefully over the other. It was a useful excuse to wait and formulate a reply as she secured the last fold into place.

“No, I guess not,” she muttered before following the response with a deviation into a safer topic, “How is my hair looking?”

“Horrendous.” Denise managed to replicate the earlier way Ferrah pronounced the word as a mocking smirk caught in the corners of her mouth. “I’m just joking. It looks fine. It’s just hair.”

Presumably the reply had been prompted by the expressionless stare of distaste her joke had been met with. Ferrah allowed the impression of annoyance to continue for another fraction of a moment, drawing entertainment from the nervous act of Denise biting her lip in regret, before revealing it to be pretend. A smirk twisted free from the unmoving stare as an exhalation of amusement fluttered out.

“Anyway, thanks for the scrunchie,” The smile slipped from Ferrah’s face a little as the conversation trickled to an end.

“No problem,” Denise gingerly rose to her feet and, after brushing herself off, she began to walk away.

Ferrah watched the retreating figure and surprised herself to find a disappointment seeping through her thoughts and settling in a pool of twisting discomfort in the pit of her stomach. The urge to continue the conversation steadily rose along her throat and against her better judgement she drew Denise back with another remark.

“I’m not going to lie. I still think this is all a plot to expose my inferior cheekbones.”

Once again Denise was prompted to turn on her heel sporting a hint of vague confusion. On noting the smirk creeping along Ferrah’s lips she dropped the confusion in favour of a mockingly exaggerated defensiveness. Her hand rested ostentatiously on her hip as she bobbed her head in a skit of offence.

“Hey, my cheekbones speak for themselves. They don’t need cheap tactics to prove their worth.”

“Well the least you could do is keep me company… great cheek-boned bitch.”

Ferrah had thrown many excuses at Denise over the years. They had come in many forms; in verbal jibes and in cruel stares. And yet this was a first. Never before had she uttered an insult towards Denise with a smile clearly illuminating the words as a harmless joke. It was the sort of humour that relied on an intimacy of understanding and for a moment she regretted the risk. However, it disappeared in an instance as a chuckle came bubbling out from Denise and filtered across the rooftop. Rory and Tina could only look on in surprise as Denise selected a permanent position at Ferrah’s side.

***

The bleak stretch of grey continued to dominate the skyline well into dawn as morning arrived with a steady downpour of rain. With no shelter to seek they had been forced to endure the constant splatter of raindrops decorating their skin for a period of nearly two hours. The eventual end to the rain had brought with it even greater discomfort as the weighty drag of their drenched clothes clung to their skin.

The mutual gloom had settled the group into a huddle of absolute stillness; the three teenagers keeping watch over Tina who had somehow continued to sleep through the storm. It was Rory who finally injected life back into the silence as he got to his feet and proceeded to pull his shirt over his head. The movement had teased the waves of his hair into an endearingly dishevelled variation of its usual style.

Not that it was Rory’s hair that had captured Ferrah’s attention. Her attention was unashamedly focused on the newly exposed skin as it flexed with the movement of him stretching the lethargy out of his limbs. And it didn’t escape her attention that Denise was observing with a similar avid attention. When Rory had walked an appropriate distance away to hang up his shirt Ferrah flashed Denise a wink.

“You don’t have to make it so obvious,” Denise muttered.

 Although, it was clear that her attention was diverted elsewhere as the words fell lazily off her tongue; lacking any sort of serious conviction.

“Oh please, let’s not pretend that you are not thinking the exact same thing.”

“Well now I am starting to think how unfair this is.” Denise plucked at the front of her shirt only to watch in dejection as it pinged back into place; tightly hugging at her skin in a damp embrace.

“What’s unfair?” Ferrah had not noticed the action.

She was too busy admiring the way Rory’s shoulders moved as he reached for a place to hang his shirt.

“That he can just whip off his shirt anytime he likes and we’re stuck wearing drenched shirts,” Denise’s pondering suddenly ignited the prospect in Ferrah’s mind.

She studied the state of her own t-shirt. The rain combined with the material revealed a very clear outline of her bra underneath. There was nothing she could do about the revealing nature of her clothes. Under the realization that her appearance was already on the wrong side of respectability she reached down to peel the hem of her shirt off her skin.

“You know what? I don’t care,” After uttering her defiant statement she began the process of wriggling the drenched material up over her stomach.

“What are you doing?”

“What does it look like?” With a final tug the material slipped easily over her head and allowed her skin a chance to breathe.

“Would you please put your shirt back on?” Denise hissed in an odd mixture of both shock and demand.

“I am soggy and it’s disgusting and there is a horde of walking dead waiting outside to rip my flesh off. I think I am entitled to dry my clothes.”

“That’s all well and fine, but…”

“There is no one here to judge. As far as I am concerned I can do what I like. And I officially declare that it is acceptable to take off your shirt. Are you going to join me or are you going to sit there sulking?” she asked while wringing out her shirt, before laying it out flat to dry.

“I’m not going to take my top off if that is what you are asking.”

“Come on.”

“No.”

“Live a little.”

“There is a child present!” Denise said while gesturing towards Tina, who still remained blissfully in the company of sleep.

The child hadn’t moved at all from the small ball she had curled herself into. Beneath the curtain of hair sweeping across her face it was possible to discern her eyes flickering in the serene comfort of rest.

“She is asleep.”

“He’s staring at you,” Across the rooftop they were able to capture the trajectory of Rory’s gaze; it was clearly directed at Ferrah’s chest.

On being discovered he immediately drew away his stare and began observing every inch of the rooftop that wasn’t occupied by the two girls in shame; his eyes bouncing from corner to corner in flustered panic.

“I know,” Ferrah said with another wink.

“Great. Now you’re making me uncomfortable too.”

“I was uncomfortable in those clothes! Now I am liberated. Join me.”

“Not a chance.”

“Go for it.” Ferrah leapt to reach for the hem of Denise’s shirt prompting an immediate tussle over the material as two sets of hands scrabbled for control.

Denise wriggled away from Ferrah’s grasp with determined zeal while furiously batting away the attempts to remove her shirt.

“Guys…” Rory’s call went completely ignored with the battle taking up all of the girls’ attentions.

“Ferrah, get off me!” Denise managed to squeeze out the shout between heaving gasps for breaths to fuel her laughter.

“Guys…” Once again the call passed ignored.

“Take it off.”

“Guys!” It took for the words to tear along his throat and shatter into the air with force until either of the girls took notice.

He stood pointing determinedly at the sky. They followed his extended finger to find an object silhouetted against the clouds. It took a few moments to piece together the identity of the blur seemingly heading in their direction. The hem of Denise’s shirt fell forgotten as the pair squinted at the shape. Eventually they reached the realization almost simultaneously. It was a helicopter.

Both girls scrabbled to their feet in clumsy haste. They raced towards the edge of the roof and proceeded to create an absolute racket as they bounded up and down; springing into the air and waving their arms manically. The optimism of hope had filled them with boundless energy. Finally an escape route had presented itself and they were in no position to allow it to slip through their grasp.

“You know, if you took your top off too we might have a better chance of getting noticed,” Ferrah said between pants of exertion.

Denise’s broken chuckles made up the reply. This didn’t stop Ferrah from running back and tossing her shirt back on as the helicopter grew nearer, however. The pair were suddenly thrust into an outbreak of giggles as they continued to throw themselves into the air. The jubilation was too obvious to ignore. The helicopter was heading straight for them carrying with it the very real hope of survival.

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