At first, Alex was speechless. His mouth opened and closed uselessly, and tears sprang up again, unbidden. Jessica seemed shocked at her own admission, and her expression was one of pure, unadulterated terror.
For what seemed like an age, there was silence.
“Y-you what?”Alex swallowed.
Jessica shook her head, unwilling to go on.
“Jess,” Kate broke in, her voice toneless, ” please, you have to be brave. We have to see.”
“No,”she answered, backing away in fear.
“Honey, honey, don’t run. We’re not going to hurt you, I promise. We only want to help.” Gregory held his arms out in front of him, as though exerting some invisible restraint.
“No,” sobbed Jess, “no. You said there was something wrong with me. That you’ll leave me here. By myself.”
“No, that’s not going to happen. We want to look after you, but we need to trust each other. We can’t keep secrets sweetie. We need to make sure you’re ok. You need to show us.”
Jessica shook her head again. “No. If you see it, you’ll leave me. Like my parents.”
Alex looked up from his silent stupor. “Your parents left because you got bitten?”
Jessica nodded. “We were out shopping. Then all of a sudden everyone was scared and running around. I got pushed over, then one of those monsters grabbed me. H-H-He bit my leg really hard. It hurt. There was blood, and then my dad kicked it, and it let me go. They took me home, then they put me upstairs. Then it went really quiet. They came up, but told me to stay back, to stay away. Then they said goodbye. My mum said sorry, and they left. I don’t know where they went.”
As she finished, Kate had approached. Jessica realised and there was a moment in which they expected her to turn and flee. Then she broke, and rushed into Kate’s arms, crying uncontrollably.
“Please don’t leave me,” she sobbed, muffled and tearful, “I promise I’ll be good, just don’t make me go away.”
Kate placed her hands gently against the back of the little girl’s head and looked at Alex. His mouth twitched in a half smile saturated by a weary sorrow he felt to his very core, and she nodded.
“No-one’s going to leave you.”