Phil pushed the bookcase against the door then wiped the sweat from his forehead with the bottom of his Captain America t-shirt. He noticed his hands trembling and balled them into fists so his friends wouldn’t see.
‘That’s pointless. Cats can’t open doors,’ said Joe. He slumped onto the bed next to Rohan.
Phil looked across at his two friends. Joe was wearing his Chicago Bears top. His dad had sent it to him and he always wore it unless it was in the wash. His scruffy brown hair looked extra tussled after running here. Rohan’s turban still looked immaculate but his shallow breathing and sweaty face betrayed his fitness level. ‘Just in case. Cats don’t normally turn into marzipan and eat people either. We don’t know what they can do now.’
‘I don’t think they’ll be able to open doors.’ Joe fiddled with his neon green shoelace.
‘Well, just in case. Humor me.’ Phil paced across to the bed and kicked Joe’s foot.
‘Hey, guys, c’mon,’ said Rohan. His chunky glasses magnified his big brown eyes blinking back the threat of tears.
Joe placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘Sorry Ro, you ok?’
‘Of course he’s not ok numb nuts, he just watched his sister being bitten by a marzipan cat and then turning into marzipan herself.’ Phil pulled up his desk chair and sat down opposite Joe and Rohan.
Joe stretched out and lightly kicked Phil’s leg. ‘I’m aware of that number nuts. I saw it too. And old Mrs. Terry on the corner, all her five cats had marzipaned. She had no chance.’
‘What’s happening guys? What we gonna do?’ Rohan’s eyes flicked back and forth between Joe and Phil, like a mole emerging into bright sunshine.
Phil sighed and stared at the skateboarding scab on his knee. He had to be brave for his friends. He tried to keep his voice as steady as he could. ‘I don’t know.’
‘When will your mom and dad be back?’ Rohan threw his question in Phil’s direction.
Phil rubbed his eyes, his hands slightly trembling, he clenched them again. ‘I don’t think they’ll be coming back. It was on the TV before you both got here. It’s all over the place, the cats, they’re everywhere. The news said to stay wherever you are and don’t go outside.’
Joe pulled his legs up onto the bed and tucked them under himself. ‘They can’t be everywhere.’
‘They’re everywhere,’ said Phil through gritted teeth. ‘It’s marzipan madness out there.’
Rohan knelt on the bed, spying out of the window. He could see yellow cats, lots of yellow cats, almond assassins, prowling and pacing along the hydrangea-lined neighborhood. ‘They are everywhere. What we gonna do Phil?’
Joe frowned. ‘Why you asking Phil not me?’
‘Phil’s the eldest.’
‘Ro we’re all thirteen.’ Joe raised his eyebrows and shook his head.
‘Yes, but Phil’s still the eldest.’
‘By five days.’
Phil stood up. ‘Hey, I think who’s the eldest isn’t really important right now.’
Rohan sat back from the window and trailed his finger along Saturn’s rings on Phil’s duvet cover. ‘Yeah, well, I was just saying.’ He shrugged while staring into the universe on the bed. ‘I dunno what to do.’
‘We can stay here? Wait for help.’ Joe nodded at his own suggestion.
‘Help won’t be coming.’ Phil sat back down on his chair and swiveled back and forth. ‘Everyone bitten or scratched turns to marzipan and dies.’
Joe turned and took up Rohan’s spy post at the window. ‘Why aren’t the cats dying? When they turn to marzipan, why aren’t they dying, like the people?’
‘I don’t know. I didn’t create the mutant marzipan moggies did I?’ Phil dabbed sweat off his forehead again. He wanted Captain America to be real, to swoop in and save the day.
‘Didn’t they say on the news?’
‘They don’t know. But the people, after they’ve turned and are dead, they come back to life. Zombies.’
Joe spun away from the window and looked back at Phil. ‘Shit.’
‘So they are ok then?’ Rohan blinked hopefully towards Phil.
Phil smiled. ‘Yeah they’re fine.’ He dropped his smile like a hot potato. ‘Of course they’re not ok, they’re made of solid marzipan, doofus. You saw your sister. Did she look fine?’
Rohan ran his fingers along the hem of his camouflage shorts as a make-do comforter while staring at the fabric planets. Joe slumped under the window and bit at his nails. Phil rotated slowly on the chair, trying to think what to do. What would Captain America do? A clock in the shape of a rocket ticked behind Phil on his desk. The tick-tock silence was broken by loud meowing and human screams outside.
Joe spun around to look out of the window again. ‘Jeez. Mr. Howard has turned. He looks like a Simpson. He’s trying to get into the Kiplinski’s porch.’
‘If no help is coming we’re going to have to kill the cats ourselves,’ said Phil.
‘And just how d’we kill them?’ Joe got up from the bed and started to pace the small room. ‘I mean, I know how you’d kill a normal cat, but one that’s made of fucking marzipan?’
Rohan looked up from the planets horrified. ‘Your mom would freak at your language.’
Joe stopped his pacing. ‘My mom is probably almond paste right now. I don’t think she’d fucking care.’
‘You’re such a grown up.’ Rohan pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.
‘Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.’ Joe continued his pacing.
‘Hey, c’mon, both of you.’ Phil stopped moving on the chair. ‘We have to eat them.’
‘What?’ Joe stopped pacing.
‘The cats,’ said Phil. ‘It said on the news, the only way they can be stopped is by eating them.’
‘Eating them?’ Rohan grimaced.
Joe held his hands up. ‘Can’t we just chop their heads off?’
‘If their heads are chopped off they just morph back together. Same if you squash them.’ Phil mimed squishing and growing with his hands. ‘They just go back into their cat shapes. Guessing it’s the same for the people too.’
‘I can’t eat people,’ said Joe, clasping his face with his hands.
Rohan wiped his hands down his thighs. ‘I can’t eat cats. I’m a vegetarian.’
‘It’s bloody marzipan. Without the blood. Perfectly vegan and fine for your religion.’ Phil twirled around in the chair to face Joe. ‘Just like eating the marzipan fruits your Auntie Gayle gives you at Christmas.’
‘Eating a non-moving marzipan apple the size of my thumb is a bit different to eating a full sized marzipan cat in attack mode. Or a relative,’ said Joe.
Phil stood up and walked across to Joe. ‘We can stun the cat, or person, first, by whacking them with something and then eat them quickly.’
‘Can you stun marzipan?’ Rohan asked.
Joe shrugged. ‘At least we won’t have to worry about finding food.’ He attempted to laugh but just made a snorting noise.
‘Maybe we can make a pact though.’ Phil patted Joe’s shoulder. ‘I don’t think any of us want to eat our own family.’
Rohan gasped. ‘No!’
‘Gross,’ said Joe.
Phil looked across at Rohan, then back to Joe. ‘So why don’t we agree that if we get in a ‘situation’ with family one of us others will deal with it.’
Rohan started to cry. ‘I can’t.’
Joe slunk over to the bed and sat next to Rohan. ‘Look Ro, I know it’s hard but we gotta pull together here.’
‘No, I mean I can’t. I can’t eat marzipan.’ Rohan stifled his sobs. ‘My diabetes. I haven’t got my insulin with me.’
‘Shit.’ Phil kicked the bookcase. He’d forgotten about Ro’s diabetes. Why didn’t he bring his insulin pen with him? Why did he have to think of everything all the time.
From the other side of the door there was a hiss of a cat. Phil leapt away from the bookcase and door and almost landed on Joe’s lap as he launched himself onto the bed. The cat started scratching at the door.
Joe gripped Rohan’s knee. ‘Christ, maybe it’ll go away?’
The scratching at the door continued.
Rohan swallowed hard. ‘How can marzipan make a scratching noise like that?’
Joe realized he was holding Rohan’s knee and let go. He frowned at Rohan. ‘I don’t know, shall we open up the door and find out?’
Rohan hugged his legs again and lowered his head.
‘Sorry Ro,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not feeling myself.’
Phil shuffled across the bed a little. ‘You’re looking a little yellow Joe. You feel sick?’
Joe shook his head. ‘No. Just a bit spaced. Like you? Don’t you feel spaced?’
‘Wired. I’m feeling wired. Not spaced.’ Phil turned his head to Rohan. ‘Ro?’
Rohan shook his head and edged away a few inches from Joe.
Phil stood up slowly. ‘You haven’t been bitten have you?’
‘No,’ said Joe. He stared at his laces.
Rohan slid off the bed and stood next to Phil. ‘Or scratched? You might not have felt a scratch while we were running over here.’
‘No, I’m fine.’ Joe clenched his hands.
‘You’re definitely more yellow now. Look.’ Phil pointed to Joe’s bare legs, not covered by his shorts.
‘It’s the light in here.’ Joe grabbed the pillow from the bed and tried to cover his legs.
‘Shit Joe, you’re turning, look at the scratch on your arm!’ Phil took a step back, bumping into the chair.
All three boys looked at Joe’s arm. It was definitely yellow. There was a gaping gash, about an inch long, and thick yellow pus paste oozed out from it below his sleeve.
‘No! Oh God no. Guys you have to help me!’ Joe cried as he stared at his changing body.
‘We can’t do anything,’ said Phil, gripping onto the back of the chair. ‘There’s no cure.’
‘Then you have to kill me.’ Joe stopped crying and sniffed. He held his arms out. ‘Eat me.’
‘Jeez Joe! You’re not fully turned! I can’t eat you.’ Phil grimaced.
Joe lowered his arm. ‘Ok. Well, get ready.’
‘I don’t think I can do this,’ said Phil. He sat in the chair shaking his head.
‘You have to,’ Joe pleaded. ‘Rohan can’t or he’ll go into a hypo.’
Rohan shifted slightly from side to side, sniffing.
Phil looked at his friends scared faces, he needed to keep their spirits up. ‘There are bits of you that I really don’t think I can eat.’ He nodded towards Joe’s crotch.
‘Christ Phil! You can’t leave just my wiener running around after people.’ Joe rubbed the pus paste into his arm as a bit more oozed out. ‘What kind of sicko does that.’
‘What kind of sicko eats your wiener!’ Phil made a snorting noise as he laughed and stifled a cry at the same time.
Joe laughed and wiped yellow tears away with his sticky fingers.
‘Can’t you just leave?’ Rohan mumbled. ‘You could eat that cat on your way out.’
‘Wow. Really finding out about my friends now.’ Joe smiled at Rohan.
Rohan limply smiled back. ‘It’s because I’m your friend I don’t want to eat you.’
Phil took a step closer to Joe. ‘C’mon Joe, take one for the team. I’d leave if it was me infected.’ He placed his hand gently on Joe’s shoulder. ‘I’d push you out the door but I don’t want my fingers sinking into your fat marzipan middle there.’
‘I’d eat you if it was the other way around numb nut.’ Joe stood up and stepped towards the door. ‘I’ll eat the cat, then run away from the house, draw any others away.’
Rohan wiped his eyes. ‘Thanks Joe.’
‘Sorry bud.’ Phil’s voice cracked.
Joe nodded. ‘Get ready to slam the door.’ He started to shove the bookcase out of the way but his thumb mushed into the wood. Sighing, he scraped it off, remolded it, and stuck it on his forehead. ‘Unicorns rule.’
Phil laughed. ‘Numb nut.’ He dragged the bookcase away from the door and held the door handle. He locked eyes with Joe. ‘Ready?’
Joe nodded and smiled at Phil and Rohan. Phil yanked the door open and Joe shot out, Phil slammed the door behind him. Phil leant against the door and closed his eyes. Rohan sat on the bed, leant forward, and held his head in his hands. Cat screeching and scuffling outside the door was agony to listen to. There was a final high pitched feline howl then the landing fell silent.
After minutes of stillness, Phil stopped leaning against the door and turned, pressing his ear up against it. ‘Joe? You still there?’
‘Yes,’ said Joe from behind the door.
Rohan lifted his head from his hands. ‘Why didn’t you run?’
Joe’s voice sounded muffled. ‘I don’t want to die out there on my own. I’m scared.’
‘He’s going to fully turn any minute.’ Rohan whispered to Phil.
Phil nodded, then talked to the door again. ‘Did you eat the cat?’
‘No. Well, I tried to eat it, but it’s very struggly. I ate its leg. It’s not happy with me. It’s just staring at me now. I’m sorry’
Phil placed his hand flat against the door. He would have probably stayed too. ‘I’m sorry too.’ He turned and looked at Rohan, and raised his eyebrows.
Rohan nodded and stood up from the bed. Phil slowly twisted the door handle and opened it.
Joe was sat on the floor, not only was his skin bright yellow but his hair had turned from dark brown to yellow chunky strands. His thumb was still on his forehead.
Phil opened the door wider. He could see an angry looking marzipan cat in a crouching attack position further along the landing. ‘Put your thumb back where it should be, I can’t take you seriously.’
‘If you’re going to be marzipan, we will too,’ said Rohan.
‘No you should stay safe.’ Joe shuffled to his feet, removing his thumb from his head and molding it back onto his hand. ‘I’m just being selfish.’
‘You’re not being selfish. You’re just scared like we are.’ Phil shrugged. ‘No one is safe. If we don’t have our families we only have each other, but if we don’t have each other what’s the point in hiding out.’
The cat rocketed itself through the doorway, hissing and lashing out in a frenzied Catherine Wheel of almond rage.
‘It got me!’ Rohan stumbled back rubbing his leg.
‘Me too,’ said Phil.
The cat limped back out on its three legs, its tail twitching like a caffeinated cobra. Joe shuffled into the room and slumped his sticky body onto the bed.
‘D’you think we’ll still know each other when we turn?’ asked Rohan. ‘You know, when our brains are marzipaned?’
‘Yeah, sure we will.’ Phil put his arm around Rohan. ‘Friends and numb nuts forever.’
Joe widened his mouth into a Joker’s grin. ‘Marzipan’s for life, not just for Christmas.’