It’s the last full week of Ah!-Tober, and I like to think that we saved the best for last! Author Bill Vaughan once said, “We hope that, when the insects take over the world, they will remember with gratitude how we took them along on all our picnics.” If creepy crawlies creep you out, then have I got the book for you… and you’ll just have to keep reading to find out if the spiders are grateful. The larger-than-life, intelligent, pseudo-psychic spiders in Sarah Pinborough‘s Breeding Ground truly epitomize my greatest fears about bugs! Pinborough creates an atmosphere perfect for hostile takeover. So it’s my #1 must-read for Halloween! Read on… if you dare! Tune in tomorrow, as we have a great interview with Sarah, and we’ll be giving away a copy of Breeding Ground to one lucky commenter!
I wish I could tell you that I saw lights in the sky. Or shooting stars that turned out to be alien spaceships falling to earth. That’s how Armageddon stories normally start, isn’t it? Some great portent signaling the oncoming doom, some clue that They have done this to us, whether the guilty party are the Russian They, the American They, the British They, or the all-time favourite, the They from outer space.
I don’t know why it started. I don’t know if it was the work of the government, a visit from space or an act of God. If I had to put money on it, I’d pick the first option; after all, they never stop adding chemicals to food and there was always going to be payback. But at the end of the day, I don’t know why it started, and even if I did it wouldn’t make a damned bit of difference now, would it?
My name is Matthew Edge, and at some point last year, the end of the world as we know it started. And I figure my version of events is going to be as clear a record as anyone’s, so here goes. I hope that you’ll read this through to the end. I hope there’s a you out there to read it, and hell, I hope that I’m still alive when you finish, and I hope I get to shake your hand adult to adult, once you’re born and grown into a person of this new world. Hope is all we have, after all, isn’t it? Some things will never change.
“I can’t believe it! I’ve put on three pounds!”
When Chloe called out from the bathroom I was still in bed, lazily enjoying the extra half an hour I had left before work pulled me into the outside world. I grinned at her indignant exclamation. She was hardly what anyone would call fat. Huffing, she padded back into our bedroom, dressed in only her knickers. She looked perfect to me, all slim curves and soft skin. Pulling the pillow next to me under my chin, I raised an eyebrow.
“Oh no, not a whole three pounds.”
She flashed her dark eyes. “You’re not funny, you know, Matt.” A familiar twitch in her chin betrayed her humour. “That’s five pounds I’ve put on in two weeks. God, at this rate not even my underwear will fit me in a month.”
“Now that’s a thought.” And it really was an image that sent tingles down my spine. We’d been together for five years, outlasting all our friends’ twentysomething relationships, and at the ripe old age of twenty-nine the sight of her naked body was still a glorious thing to me. To most men, I’d reckon. She was way too good for me, but until she noticed I had no intention of telling her. I ran my eyes over her. “Hmmm. I can just imagine you in a nice executive business suit with nothing on underneath. Except perhaps hold-ups.”
A flying bra hit me in the face. “Don’t you ever think of anything else?”
“I try not to. I am a man, after all.”
She tucked her blouse into her skirt and smiled. “You certainly are. You’re my man.”
“Come here and give me a kiss, then.”
She perched on the bed and I pulled her forward, ignoring her shriek and then giggle of protest as I rolled her underneath me. Her skin was glowing and as yet free of makeup. She looked gorgeous, smiling up at me with all that love, her hair spread out beneath us on the rumpled bedding, and my heart tightened.
“I love you, Chloe Taylor.”
She touched my face. “I love you too, Matt.”
I kissed her and she kissed me back, our tongues meeting, mine no doubt tasting of sleep and hers of toothpaste, but still within a second or two I could feel myself hardening. Still exploring each other’s mouths as if they were new territory, I tugged at her blouse, needing to feel her naked skin.
“What are you doing? I’ve got to get to work. I’ll be late.” Panting the words, she made an attempt to wriggle free, but it was only halfhearted.
Her shirt undone, I kissed her slim stomach, mumbling my reply. “Yeah, but I won’t. And anyway, I’m thinking of you. What better way to work off those extra pounds?”
We smiled through our kisses and then made love. To my hands and touch there was no sign of any extra weight, not that I’d have cared. Not then. It was beautiful. I got to work five minutes late and she must have been half an hour behind time, but I’ll tell you one thing: we were both smiling on arrival.
Often at night, that flash of memory still runs through my head, painful and sharp. I don’t mind, though. I think it’s important to try and remember Chloe like that. Like she really was. Before everything that came after. Yeah, for others it may have started earlier, but for me that day signaled the beginning of the end. I digress.
Back then, all fourteen months ago, when work and money were what counted in the world, I was a mortgage advisor for a small estate agency on Stony Stratford High Street. It was family-owned, which was its saving grace, and although I’d started out selling houses, Mr. Brown had soon seen that I’d want to move on and he pushed me to learn about mortgages and take over that side of the business. Seems funny to think about now, all that time sitting behind a desk calculating figures to see what people could afford, not ever suspecting that none of those loans would be getting paid back in full, and in the future that was fast approaching, there wouldn’t be any banks left that would care.
The job paid quite well, I didn’t have to travel far and I was content. I’d worked there since I was twenty-two, and although I occasionally felt bored and restless, I wasn’t ambitious enough to move on. It was Chloe who had the big plans and dreams and the drive to fulfill them. She was already making a bit of a name for herself on the local legal circuit as a barrister to look out for, and her salary was more than double mine.
All that and six months younger than me, but I can honestly say I didn’t care. I was proud of her. I wanted her to be happy, and as far as I could tell her work and me did that for her, and that alone made me the luckiest man alive.
We lived in a renovated cottage at the top end of High Street, close enough to walk to all the restaurants and pubs the old coaching town had to offer without either of us having to drive. We would sip wine and beer and laugh together about the days behind and ahead. As lives go, it wasn’t a bad one. We had village life on the edge of a thriving new city, and London was only forty minutes away on a train, just in case we felt like trying to regain our early twenties. We were settled, and that may sound dull to some people, but then I suppose they never had the good luck to settle down with Chloe.
When I got in that evening at six, she was already home, sitting on our oversized, overindulgent sofa, her legs tucked under her, thick Mediterranean hair pulled back in a ponytail. She looked about sixteen, and that made the thoughts running through my head barely legal.
Undoing my tie and top button, I sat down at the other end. “Hey, gorgeous. You’re home early.”
Her eyes flicked momentarily at me and then back to the exposed brick wall above the fireplace. “I didn’t feel well. I came home early. I wasn’t in court this afternoon, so it didn’t really matter.”
She did look tired and pale, and I stroked her hair.
“You work too hard, babe. Why don’t I get you a glass of wine and run you a hot bath?”
“That won’t change it.” She let out a weary sigh. “I went to the doctor on my way home.”
Shuffling in closer, I felt the tension coming from her slim frame, and my heart tightened. Sometimes late at night, when she was sleeping curled up in the crook of my shoulder, I would quietly wonder when it was going to go wrong. It was too good, you see. She was too good for me, and what we had was too special. Maybe everyone in love feels like that, but when it’s a first love that lasts, you can’t help but wonder what may come along to destroy it. She’d been to the doctor. Doctors meant sickness. How ill was she? My mouth dried as a wave of suggested diseases flooded my brain.
“What’s the matter?”
She looked at me and sniffed, her brown eyes impenetrable. Her bottom lip quivered as she spoke.
I’m pregnant. The world spun on its head for a moment, then froze as I tried to take it in. The words punching the air from my lungs, the best I could manage was a half-breathless laugh, my flesh tingling at every pore as I stared, no doubt with my mouth half-open and looking like a dribbling idiot, at her beautiful face.
“What?” At last I squeezed out a word. Not a particularly clever or appropriate one, but it was the best I could do, sitting there on the leather sofa, a month or so away from thirty and feeling like a big kid with my heart pounding too hard against my chest.
“I’m pregnant.” Tears welled up, threatening to spill onto her cheeks. “And scared.”
I could feel tears pricking at the back of my eyes, too, and as soon as I could get my body to do as I wanted I pulled her closer to me. “What are you scared for? You’re pregnant.” I paused for a moment, needing to say the words to make it real. “You’re pregnant.” Real was good.
The grin on my face stretched until it almost hurt.
“You’re going to have a baby.” I paused again. “We’re going to have a baby.” I laughed out loud. “We’re going to have a baby, Chloe.” The giggles wouldn’t stop and I sat there chortling to myself. “That’s fantastic!”
Staring at me, she pulled back slightly. “Are you sure about this? Are you sure you’re happy about it? I thought you might…well, I thought you might want me not to have it.”
For a moment, the fear crept back into my heart. I’d never really thought about children, not in any imminent way, but now that circumstances had overtaken planning I knew that I wanted this baby to come. It would cement everything that we had. But maybe she didn’t feel that way. After all, it was a bigger step for her. It was she who had the big career ahead of her. Maybe she felt that her job was more important than a baby right now. The laughing stopped.
“Why? Don’t you want to keep it?”
She smiled hesitantly, flashing her perfect white teeth. “Yes, yes, of course I do, I was just worried you might think it was too soon, that we should be married or—”
My mouth silenced hers and we kissed until the gentleness turned to passion right there on the leather, our child only a few weeks old inside her, our perfect day ending as it had begun.