Posts Tagged ‘zombie’

USB

Posted: 11/06/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing
Tags: , ,

USB

Such an innocuous little piece of hardware, it doesn’t look like it should burn her fingers, but it does. About  three inches long, just under an inch wide, and coated in black plastic, it could be any generic USB stick.  It is new, the lid is still firmly attached and the plastic surface is still glossy and unscratched. Rosie Franklin, PhD ScD, stares at it, turning it over in her hands, sitting alone at the table of a roadside diner somewhere in Indiana.  She can’t look up at  the people around her as they chatter and eat, unaware of what she is holding in her hands.   

“Rosie, we need to hustle,”

“Is it them?” she asks, looking up at him standing hesitantly by the table. He nods, eyes darting toward the door. The last 12 hours have dug deep crags about his eyes,  diminished his broad shoulders into a tense hunch and made him twitch with restlessness.  

“What do we do?” Rosie asks.  

“Switch cars again, take a hostage this time,” he replies, voice low.  She takes a shuddering breath, closes her eyes and squeezes the stick tightly in her hand. A small child squeals, adults laugh at a nearby table and the waitress behind the bar starts singing along to an old rock tune on the radio.  Fragile, simple life is all around her.  Fragile life teetering on the brink of oblivion. She looks at Sam, feeling her blood thrumming.

“Let’s do it,”

Out in the carpark, evening gloom is descending and rain is falling steadily.  The air is crackling with the white noise of the Interstate, accompanied by a steady wail of sirens in the city somewhere nearby. Rosie hides behind a wall, watching Sam crouch beside a black saloon car, waiting for the young man who is ambling towards it with his cellphone to his ear.  He’s wearing a slightly shabby italian suit and a five o’clock shadow.  

The shock on the young man’s face when Sam suddenly rises up to attack him stabs at Rosie’s conscience.  Sam administers a solid punch to his temple, and he crumples.  Rosie cradles her stomach, swallowing the guilt.  Getting  to Atlanta is all that really matters. Before it’s too late.  

Sam moves quickly now, while Rosie keeps watch.  He frisks the young man for his keys, then bundles him into the back seat of the saloon car.  Sam beckons to her, so she darts toward the car. She’s already checked her purse for the stowed stick five times but her fingers are seeking it out again as she soon as she gets in the car.  Without it, everything they have done has been for nothing.  

The car is sleek and roomy inside, but it stinks of greasy food and stale sweat.  Sam has laid its owner across the back seat on top of a pile of coats, papers and junk food trash.  Sam has the engine running, so once Rosie is in he hits reverse at full speed.  Fumbling for her seat belt, Rosie spots a black SUV looming large in the wing mirror.

“There they are!” She hisses, and Sam immediately eases off the gas.  His eyes dart to the rear view mirror.

“I see them.  Better pray they don’t recognise us,”  

Rosie says nothing, but her hand is in her purse again, fingers grasping tightly to the stick.  They draw level with the SUV. Rosie flattens herself back in her seat. The two vehicles pass each other and then diverge.

A while later, some miles down the Interstate, Rosie feels like she can breathe again.  She checks on their unwilling passenger.  He is still out, but his phone is buzzing inside his jacket.  Twisting in her seat she reaches out to silence it.  His wallet is in the same pocket, so she pulls it out to look.

“Who is he?” Sam asks while she’s riffling through it.

“Adam Byron, systems analyst from Seattle, ” she says, tossing the wallet into the glove compartment in front of her.

“And he’s still out?” Sam double checks.

“Yeah, he’s still out,” Rosie points out, adding, ”I hope he doesn’t freak when he comes to,”

“I cuffed him.  He won’t cause any trouble,” Sam tries to reassure her, but she rolls her eyes.

“Ah, great.  Waking up cuffed is never freaky,” she mutters darkly.  A bark of laughter escapes Sam, making her glare at him.

“I’ll put the radio on,” she says flatly, reaching forward to jab at the buttons on the car stereo.  Music blares for a second, making her glance at Adam, but he doesn’t stir. She starts flicking through the stations until she finds the news.

-More on our breaking story now.  New Era Biolabs have released a statement about the situation at their Wisconsin Facility.  The identities of two employees who have been reported missing from the facility have been released to federal authorities.  It is suspected that the two employees might have been involved in industrial espionage- She turns the dial again abruptly.  Sam says nothing.  In the silence between them a talk radio host utters meaningless platitudes.

Rosie jerks awake, the inane noise of the radio has faded into the background.  Rain drums on the roof of the car and makes a blur of the interstate.  Car headlights are jagged lines through the sheeting water on the windscreen.  A sound registers in her brain, one that sneaks in stealthily on the edge of her drowsy senses but rises to a pitch that makes her start with alarm.  

“Wha -what the fuck? You’re stealing my fucking car!”

“Ok, take it easy there fella! This is not what it looks like!” Sam cuts in brusquely.  In the back, Adam starts trying to squirm himself upright.

“Take it fucking easy? “ He spits, obviously more outraged than afraid, “You fucking hit me! You cuffed me!”

“I’m sorry, sir. There’s an outbreak-” Sam begins, but Adam is ranting furiously over the top of him, too enraged to hear. Rosie turns her head to see his reflection in the wing mirror. She can see the sheen of his sweat and the bloodshot whites of his eyes.  The familiar sound of a news jingle catches her ear so she turns the radio up loud.

The latest on the Great Lakes outbreak crisis.  New Era Labs in Wisconsin evacuated after major Quarantine breach.  Great Lakes area said to be at high risk of contaminated water.  The White House has mobilised the National Guard.  Unconfirmed reports of rioting across much of the region.  All Flights grounded until further notice- Rosie watches Adam fall silent and then go pale.  She turns the radio down.

“I have to get to Atlanta.  Something got out, and I have the cure,” Rosie explains.  He looks at her, expression wild  He seems about to ask something, but the radio interrupts

-crazed mobs on the streets of New York. We are hearing reports that they are attacking people in large numbers.  One witness claimed to have seen someone torn apart- Rosie gasps and  covers her ears with her hands. Sam quickly switches the stereo off.  

“What the fuck? Is it rabies or something?” Adam says. Rosie flinches.

“Shut up!” Sam snaps at him and reaches out a hand to comfort Rosie.  She shakes her head and backs away, trembling.

“It’s everywhere already!  We can’t stop it now!” her voice is small and faltering.

“C’mon girl, you’re on this! You’ve got the cure! We’re on the road!” Sam tries to placate her.

“But it’s my fault, don’t you see? This is happening because I stole it,” Rosie whispers.

“New Era wanted this, Rosie.  You took the only chance of stopping them,” Sam says firmly, catching her eye.  Rosie is still shaking, but she knows she needs to believe him. The car suddenly seems too hot.  

“I need air, I’m going to go walk and think,” she decides between empty breaths.

“Sure, we’re not going anywhere,” Sam points out with a shrug, indicating the long line of nose-to-tail traffic through the rain smeared windscreen.  Rosie pulls the stick out of her purse and passes it hesitantly to Sam.  He throws her a quizzical look.

“He must have a laptop.  Show him,” she says, pointing at Adam, then she climbs out of the car. After watching Rosie’s retreating back along the line of cars ahead for a few silent moments,  Sam turns a querying look on Adam.  

“It’s here, but I can’t use it with these cuffs on,” Adam indicates the seat beside him with his chin.  Sam reaches for the device and deposits it on Adam’s lap. He pokes the stick into the USB port awkwardly with his too big fingers, then jabs a few keys.  

“There, read it,”

Adam starts scanning rapidly down the glowing screen, his face stark with its light.

“Fuck,” he murmurs softly after a few seconds, then louder a little further down the page.  He looks up at Sam, horrified realisation dawning on his face.

“Have you read this?”

“Yep,” Sam confirms simply, preferring not to talk about it much.  

“We could be infected already!” Adam exclaims.  The car door opens again and Rosie slips back inside, clothes soaked and breathing heavy.

“You’re not infected,” she states unflinchingly, having heard him, “You would already be showing symptoms.  They made it fast to spread quickly,” She starts fiddling with the radio again, “There’s a fire up ahead on the highway.  I can’t see any fire trucks there though,”

traffic backed up to the Manchester Interchange on Highway 41 because of a multi-vehicle pile up.  Emergency services unable to attend because of rioting in the local town centre.  People advised to stay in their cars

“Those rioters are probably infected. We have to keep moving!” Rosie declares while both men curse.  Sam looks out through the window, brow creased as if weighing up their odds.  He reaches into his pocket and tosses a key to Rosie.

“Get him out of those cuffs and then buckle up,” he tells her, not looking her way.  

“We can’t go back, they are probably behind us.  They know where we are headed,”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  We’re sitting ducks here,” Sam retorts, before leaning on the car horn and starting to rev the engine. Seeing it useless to argue further, Rosie unlocks Adam before getting braced in her seat.  A couple of vehicles in front are beginning to move, pulling onto the hard shoulder to make enough space for Sam to squeeze Adam’s car through.

“Oh shit,” Adam gasps as Sam guns the engine again, aiming for the crash barrier.  Rosie curls into a ball in her seat, shielding her head. Adam hugs the laptop to himself as the car lurches forward.  

Crossing to the other side of the Interstate is like entering a nightmare.  As the headlights burn through the darkness, they pick out a silent sea of faces, appearing from nowhere.  Glazed eyes blaze ferally red, while bodies move disjointedly.  They don’t even seem to notice the car hurtling towards them.  It spins out, brakes screeching, bodies bouncing off the boot.  The rear windscreen breaks, arms thrust through it making Adam wail.  The car engine screams as the tires spin on something slick.  Released suddenly, the car shoots forward, skidding.  Swearing, Sam fights to control it, but instead it careers tail first through the mesh fence at the side of the Interstate.  The silence that follows seems complete.

“Adam, wake up! You’ve got to wake up,” Rosie shakes him furiously. He moans and struggles to open his eyes.

“I’m awake.  I’m awake,” he manages.  He tries to sit up straight but he is clutching the laptop tightly still, making him move awkwardly. As she watches, he fumbles through his clothes then breathes an audible sigh of relief, “I still have it!” he tells her.

“Climb out the back window, get the stick out of here! Get it to Atlanta,” she commands, pushing him towards the gaping window.  

“You aren’t coming?” he asks, sounding confused.  A sudden burst of gunfire from outside makes him jump. Rosie throws an urgent look out of the window behind her.

“The New Era people found us.  They were stuck in the same traffic. Sam’s trying to hold them off now. Get out of the window, get moving,” She pushes him again, harder.  

“How do I get to Atlanta?” He asks, much more alert now.  Still he’s hesitating and Rosie is running out of time.

“I don’t know, but you have to.  Go, now!” Rosie yells at him, and he’s finally moving, pushing himself out through the window.  

With a deep breath, she gets out of the car herself.  Raising her hands high above her head, she walks towards where Sam is slumped on the highway.  There’s another burst of gunfire, so loud she almost misses the bursting pain in her chest.  But then that becomes everything as she falls forward, the tarmac racing towards her as her vision fades.

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End of the Line

Posted: 04/04/2016 by Alternate Celt in Dark Tales, Extracts, writing
Tags: ,

This is a zombie story I wrote a while ago.  I was exploring what it would be like and what it might take to be a lone survivor a long time after the Zombie Apocalypse has started.  There’s no dialogue at all 🙂

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End of the Line

She stared at the wall in front of her.  It was almost ten feet high, nearly double her own height, and it was blocking her path.  She could hear Them behind her, hear the swish-swish of Their shuffling steps on the broken and dusty tarmac of the broad alleyway she had just run along.  She had time,  but not much, before They would catch her.  Taking a quick glance over her shoulder, she backed up a number of steps and then took a running leap at the wall.  The surface was broken and uneven, She hung in the air for a couple of heartbeats, her feet scrabbling for a purchase, then finding it she leapt again, using nothing more than half a brick and coursing adrenaline as a springboard, and her hands caught on the top of the wall.  Panting, she heaved herself upwards to peer over the wall. As her brain registered what her eyes were seeing, a curse escaped her mouth and her heart sank.

The yard beyond had once been a train yard, but it had been abandoned long before the world went to shit and there were no trains or carriages. Now there were  just rail tracks overgrown by weeds and patches of oily gravel were the weeds wouldn’t grow.  There were sheds  and warehouses dotted around the edges of the yard, and tall, rusting chain fences designed to keep out thieves and kids with aerosol cans.  But the wide space of the train yard wasn’t empty, oh no.  It was teeming with Them.  They were milling about aimlessly, most long beyond the pale eyes and grey faces of the freshly infected.  There were those so long gone they crawled along the gravelly ground, pulling themselves by their hands or pushing with their feet.  Most of the hideous, decaying faces had skin that was leathery and black, stretched taut over skulls that showed through in places.  Only a small number had any more hair than lank clumps that hung, twisted and brittle, from their heads.  Many were naked, and those that weren’t their clothes were so torn and rotted that they might as well have been naked. Some didn’t even have eyes any more. They were stumbling and milling around the wreckage of a survivor camp that had presumably found safety for a while behind those chain fences, but had eventually been over run.  All that was left were the shells of a dozen vehicles, mostly big RV’s and SUV’s, and the bleached cloth and rusted poles of maybe another dozen tents.  It had been a sizeable camp.

The swish-swish behind her grew louder, drawing her back to her current predicament and she hauled herself up onto the top of the narrow wall.  To her left, it ran to meet the side of a large warehouse, the top of the wall being uninterrupted as it ran over a large set of double doors that would have once opened onto the train yard.  To her right, it kept on for another 20 or so feet before meeting the top of the chain fence.  She glanced over to the sloping roof of the warehouse, estimating whether she could make the climb up the drain pipe from the top the wall safely.

An eruption of groaning from below told her that They had finally reached the wall and were trying desperately to reach up to her.  She didn’t look down, she just ran along the top of the wall for the drain pipe and tested it quickly to see if it would take her weight.  It seemed to hold.  A glance to her left and she saw the waving arms of her pursuers, a glance to the right and she saw the first inklings of recognition from the ones inside the train yard.  It would be a bad idea to fall.  She took a deep breath, rolled her shoulders, then gripped the drain pipe with both hands and feet and slowly started to climb it.  About a quarter of the way up it began to creak ominously, so she moved her hands and feet faster.  At halfway, there was a wrenching noise and she could feel the drain pipe beginning to come away from the wall.  Her hands and feet blurred with desperation.  She was three quarters of the way up when it finally gave with a screech of tearing metal.  With her heart pounding,  she looked back over her shoulder to see Them waiting below for her as she rushed towards them.  The wall was slightly to her left and she was going to fall into the outstretched hands of the naked, rotted ones from the train yard.  With a roar of espration, she twisted and leapt for the narrow top of the wall, throwing herself backwards from the falling drain pipe. Somehow she landed with one foot on the wall.  The other, unfortunately,  was caught on fresh air and for a heart stopping moment she was overbalancing and pitching backwards with her arms pin-wheeling.  She threw her weight forward, letting her other foot slip off the wall, and made a wild grab for the top of it.  Something slimy and horrible grasped at one of her feet and she kicked back as hard as she could, then dragged herself back up onto the wall before anything else could touch her.  She breathed a sigh of relief as she got to her feet.

There was only one other way to go now, along the wall, then over the top of the fence and down into a brick wall yard behind a small warehouse about 40 feet away.  There were none of Them to be seen in that small yard.   There was a steel tube forming the top of the frame of the fence, one that was wide enough so that walking across the top of it wouldn’t be as bad as walking a tight rope.  Just.  She told herself that she could make it if she focused hard, so she blanked out Them and Their moaning cries as they tried to reach for her, and thought only about jumping down into that yard just a few feet away. She gulped in a few huffing breaths to slow her hammering heart and then stepped lightly onto the top of the fence. She slowly spread her arms out to balance herself before she took her second step, her eyes fixed on a spot a couple of feet in front of her.  She allowed herself to develop tunnel vision, blanking out everything except for those few feet, and walked quickly along the top of the fence, not letting her weight rest in one spot too long. Then the empty yard was to her right, and so with a sigh of relief, she leaped down onto the top of some  garbage sheds.  There was a horrible splintering sound, and she found herself balancing precariously above a sudden yawning, jagged hole in the low sloped roof.  Through the hole she could see a skip that was full of twisted, rotting corpses.  The smell that assaulted her was enough to have her choking even with senses that had been dulled by exposure to Them for so long.  With one hand covering her mouth she made yet another desperate leap from where she stood to the ground, crying out in pain for half a second before she smothered it because the impact jolted  through her shins.  She hauled herself upwards, looking warily around.  Nothing in the yard moved, except for the breeze stirring the branches of a sickly looking tree with leaves that were paling prematurely under the hot summer sun.

Across the yard, a door was hanging on it’s hinges revealing a glimpse of the warehouse beyond.  Machines, big machines with taught cables stretching up towards the ceiling, and sheets of dried brown blood on the walls.  She couldn’t imagine what had happened in there, but she guessed was about to find out.  She needed supplies, desperately, and since the building seemed empty of Them, she would have to check inside to see what she could find.  She moved quickly, ignoring the aftershocks of pain running through her shins.  She had learned to be afraid of open spaces and wouldn’t linger where she felt exposed.

It wasn’t a warehouse, it was a small textile factory.  The cables belonged to the looms and the blood to the splattered corpses that had at some point been fed into the looms.  Perhaps it had been someone’s desperate attempt to clear Them out of the factory.  Everything was dry and desiccated in the summer heat, and the smell in the air was old and had had time to lose some of the acrid bite of the corpses outside.  If this had been the site of someone’s last stand, it had been some weeks ago.    She picked her way through the dried gore, ignored the flies that buzzed lazily in the hot air and headed for a staircase that lead up from the factory floor.  She didn’t look back as she climbed the stairs, she couldn’t really stomach the view.  The door at the top of the stores was metal and the bar across it was stiff.  It wouldn’t budge when she pushed it, so she grabbed a fire extinguisher from the rail of the stair case and knocked the bar loose with that.  She winced at the noise as it rang out through the deserted factory, and she risked a look over her shoulder.  After a few tense moments waiting, she realised only the flies were moving on the factory floor, and they were also pretty much the only source of sound, apart from the creek of the breeze through the building.  She kicked the door open, keeping a hold of the fire extinguisher,  and went through without a backward glance so that her brain could be as free from the grizzly image of that factory floor as quickly as possible.  The door led straight outside onto a flat part of the roof with a view back over the train yard.  To the right there were rooftops spread out along in a row, each rooftop practically touching the next because along this part of the industrial estate the buildings were crowded close together.  There’s a corpse slumped over something, facing the train yard, a corpse with a huge bullet wound in the back of it’s skull.  It’s been here a while, backed in the sun and gone leathery.  There no telling if it was a man or a woman with so little left of it’s skull and it’s body bent over.  She approached it gingerly, curious and repelled at the same time.  The corpse wore a pale brown jacket, blue jeans and black boots.  This close she could see the butt of a rifle tangled with it’s crumpled legs.  Licking her lips in distaste she reached forward and pulled at the shoulder of the corpse, attempting to peel it away from the rifle.  The dried sinews of it’s muscles held it in a rigid pose, so it didn’t budge.  She swallowed the bile that was starting to rise from her stomach and crouched down beside it.  She grasped the butt of the rifle and made to wrench it loose from the corpse’s clutches, but instead managed to knock it over, so that it flopped away from where the low wall was propping it up.  It landed with a dry crunch that sounded very far removed from human and revealed the still intact white teeth clenched around the barrel of the rifle.

She pulled her hand away from her mouth were it had leaped to cover the small squeal that escaped her mouth when the corpse fell.  Licking her lips, she crouched forward and reached for the rifle again, occupying her brain with a prayer that it still had bullets left.  She ignored the sound of the barrel sliding gratingly out from between the corpse’s teeth and slowly pulled the rifle towards herself.  Where the corpse’s curled and desiccated fingers clasped around the trigger, there was a splintering wrench as she pulled the rifle free.  As soon as she had it in her grasp she slid the clip free and checked it.  Empty, shit useless idiot kept the last bullet for himself, she cursed the corpse, then felt a wash of guilt.

She got to her feet, clutching the rifle in both hands and turned to look about, eyes scouring the rooftop for ammunition, or anything, that she could use.  Nothing, and nothing worth looking at beyond the rooftop either, only the empty yard of the factory and the train yard with Them milling aimlessly, waiting for something to rouse them.  Her eyes looked anywhere but down at the corpse at her feet as she rode out the guilt, and they finally fell on a couple of thin planks that spanned the gap between the factory and the building next door.  Preferring not to return to the factory below, she crossed the planks and found her way into the next building, clutching the rifle.  Just in case.

This building was a depot full of ravaged courier trucks.  Ripped packaging lay in heaped piles, boxes discarded and polystyrene chips were scattered all over the floor in  drifts of artificial snow.  The big doors were shuttered down, and as she crept cautiously across the depot floor, she saw no sign of Them having ever broken into the building.  No blood, no corpses and the wreckage looked like the work of desperate people trying to find something to help their survival.  She made her way to an open door that she could see led to some office space.  People had hid in here, lived in here and then fled from here, leaving behind a trail of sleeping bags, clothes and sentimental possessions that weren’t worth more than their lives.  Instinct told her that there would be nothing useful left behind, but hope made her scour the place anyway, still clutching the rifle.  Still just in case.  She could at least hit things with the butt of it.

Back to the roof, safer than the streets and she could see a trail across several rooftops running along the same long, straight Industrial estate road that lead to the edge of the estate and the road back towards the city centre.  She had to keep moving and looking, find somewhere she could sleep when she couldn’t stave it off any more, and hope that she would find some food along the way.

It was a long afternoon, running the rooftops and checking the buildings to find each one in turn ravaged and raped by desperate survivors and Them alike.  She ditched the rifle after it became more of a hassle to carry than it could be worth. There was no ammunition for it anywhere in any of the buildings.  Her energy levels began to wane and the cramps she was growing used to returned as gnawing hunger set in.  The heat was stifling and the stench of decay everywhere high as They were meandering the streets below and in several of the buildings she had found piles of Them left by people who had passed by some time ago.

Finally she came to the end of the street.  The only way was down, but across the road was a gas station with a shop.  Maybe she could find something there.  They were spread thinly here, mostly a little further up the road from the gas station.  If she was quick she could get into the shop, if there was something she could break the lock with.  She glanced around and saw an old tire iron lying on the ground in the station forecourt.  It would have to do since there would be no time to look for anything else.

The next job was to figure out a route down to the ground that would be quick and quiet, so as to draw as little of Their attention as she could.  She peered over the edge of the building, and saw a side door below her at street level, which would mean going back into the building she had just scoured.  The other alternative was to climb down the drain pipe that led from the roof to the ground.  Thinking back to her earlier close shave with a drain pipe, she decided to at least check and see if she could find the door.  She’d found the building was empty, it seemed to be some kind of bakery, with the offices upstairs, but no useful supplies could be found  in the whole building because it had been gutted and ripped apart inside at some point.  She remembered the rumours of looting gangs in the early days and guessed it had been hit by one of them.  She made her way back down through the building, picking her way through the debris, until she came to the corridor where the side-door was.  It was a heavy metal fire door, the kind with an iron bar that had to be pushed up to open it.  The iron bar had been broken, twisted and smashed with something heavy, so that the door was effectively barred.  She thought for a second about forcing it open, but then she realised the noise would bring Them stumbling her way in droves.  With a sigh, she realised it would have to be the drain pipe.  She hoped to fuck it was strong this time, her growing tiredness and hunger would slow her reactions crucially and she wouldn’t bet her life on the same luck happening again.

Back on the roof, she noticed the air was just beginning to cool as the sun began to sink westwards over the city.  She’d need to find shelter before night, if she could.  Running at night was much harder because They didn’t use Their eyes to find you, they followed your scent and the noise you made.  The night gave them cover and blinded you.  Banishing that trouble from her mind while there were much more immediate concerns, she gave the drain pipe a solid shake as she stood on the wall above it, testing to see how sturdy it was.  It seemed solid and looked relatively new, or at least it had been painted relatively recently enough that it showed no obvious cracks or rust..  She turned and carefully began to test it with her weight and getting herself into position to climb down while keeping one had on the top of the wall until she was sure it wasn’t about to give.  She had to force a calm breath in and out of her lungs before she let go of the wall, and without looking down at the ground far below, she began to climb, hand over hand, foot over foot, down the  side of the building using the drain pipe to cling to.  The building had been whitewashed and she had several heart-stopping moments when her footing slipped against the wall, but the drain pipe held firm and she inched her way as quietly as she could, down towards the ground.  As she got close she began to check more and more up and down the street below, making sure she knew where They were, making sure she didn’t miss it if any of Them noticed her.  When she was within reaching distance of the ground she eased herself slowly and quietly towards it, not wanting to make any sound when she let go of the pipe.  The street was finally firmly beneath her feet and she checked Them again, milling about twenty or thirty feet each side in loose groups.  There were others beyond those, in either direction, and they would doubtless follow if the nearer groups began to home in on her.  They seemed to have some kind of herd mentality.  She decided to walk quietly at first, hoping that not being noticed immediately might buy her some extra time to get the shop door open.

She began walking very carefully across the street, but a mild wind was picking up as the day cooled, and it wafted across her skin before she was more than a few steps across the street, carrying her scent over to Those on her right.  They stirred, heads turning in her direction, then began to shuffle towards her.  She ran for it.

She barely slowed down to snatch up the tire iron, even though the weight of it pulled on her tired limbs.  She knew all of Them were following her now, she’d seen them all shift in her direction when she’d started running.  One smack of the glass on the door told her it was bullet proof – something that had been normal in the days when people only hurt each other for money, before They had come and the world had become fucked up beyond recognition.  She attacked the handle of the door instead, wielding the tire iron with desperate strength and flinch at the noise of the metal buckling as the tire iron struck it.  The noise seemed to draw them to her faster, as if it aroused them with it’s desperate rhythm.  There was a wrenching, splintering, shattering crack and the door gave and she collapsed through it.  Immediately she  wedged the tire iron across it to force it shut again, and then looked around at the shop.  Of course, it was empty.  It was always going to be fucking empty, the whole fucking neighbourhood had been raped, why had she allowed herself to hope the garage, with it’s big fucking windows, had escaped that somehow. Sweet Jesus, she must be getting tired to be thinking so little. A brief hope flickered through her head, there’d be a stockroom, but she crushed that quickly.  One bout of naivety was enough for the day, now she had to find something to make sure she hadn’t entirely wasted her time.

The stockroom door was open, the shelves at the back as empty as the shelves in the front of the garage.  A window in the stockroom showed a small private car park and yard at the back of the garage, but the only vehicle out there was a motorbike.  She didn’t listen to the spark of hope she felt when she saw a set of keys hanging up on a nail by the door.  Holding the keys and standing by the door she took one last look around the stockroom, wondering if there was anything usable in the place.  A heavy thud and a clatter rang through from the shop and she realised she was out of time.  The tire iron hadn’t held out.

It was her second stroke of luck of the day, something she always believed came in threes.  The bike roared to life, the gauge showing half a tank  full of gas.  She kicked away the stand, pulled the throttle back and flew out of the drive. They were in sparse groups on the street beyond, the ones she had roused having gone round to the front of the garage and the rest having been too far away to notice. She accelerated as much as she dared and wove her way around them.  She was far too fast on the back of the bike for them, and it gave her a sense of being  superhuman  and invincible as she roared away from the industrial estates through the twisting knots of highways that linked the centre of the city to it’s industrial and residential extremities.  Good sense made her turn towards one of the residential districts, the high of the bike not coming between her and survival. She could maybe count it a good day  when her third stroke of luck involved food and shelter.

Most of the cities residential areas had been evacuated in the early days, when people were still being moved out to the supposed safety of Army run camps outside.  She didn’t think it would be pushing it too much to believe there would still be something for her there, even after all this time.  People would have left plenty in the rush to leave. She glided the bike down a slip-road, keeping her eye out for any of Them appearing while she slowed down.  It was more paranoia than realistic fear though, she was still going far too fast for their mindless reactions.  She shot across the junction, skirting quickly around a pack of Them that lurched after her futilely and she watched with a smile getting smaller in the her mirrors.  She took a turn off that lead into an identikit estate of detached middle class homes.  She had to be sharp on the mazy roads of the estate, They were everywhere and the roads had been designed to force people to drive slowly, full of sharp bends and turn-offs.  All the while she was looking left and right at the ransacked houses that had everything from furniture spilling in pieces onto the now weedy lawns to burnt-out windows from fires caused by the deteriorating infrastructure.  None of the houses she saw looked like they had been secured against them in anyway, so she guessed nobody round here had ever thought of staying, and with doors flung open and windows broken those houses  would offer no shelter from Them during the night. The sun was beginning to pale the western sky as it climbed down towards night,  but still she kept roving the estate, searching in growing frustration.  Taking a hairpin at speeds that caused the bike’s back end to slide out a little  as she pulled out of the apex, she finally saw what she was looking for.  A house whose windows were boarded up and whose doors were nailed shut.  A house that someone had secured, one that hopefully, hopefully, hadn’t been ransacked by desperate flight.

She revved the bike’s engine to force it up the sloping lawn to the house and hurriedly parked the bike, stuffing the keys into the pocket of her jeans.  Then she ran to the front door to check it.  It was firmly barred.  She heard the familiar swish-swish from behind her and sprinted for the garage.  It was firmly locked up.  Hoping fervently it would hold her weight, she climbed a trellising with a dead vine twisted through it up onto the garage roof, then dropped into the back garden.  Her eyes ran the perimeter of the back garden fence, looking for gaps They could have come through and then flicked to the back of the house.  The back door was nailed shut, the patio doors barred with lengths of floorboard, the only unblocked window was the small, high one of the downstairs toilet.  She hastily positioned a garbage can below that little window,  and climbed on top of it.  She pulled her shirt over her head quickly, covered the glass in the small frame with it and smacked it with her elbow as hard as she could.  The frosted glass shattered and sprayed inwards, leaving her space to slide her hand between jutting shards of glass left in the frame to turn the latch on the window.  She pushed it inwards, shook out her top and put it back on, and then prepared to trust to the fact that she’d had so few decent meals of late that she could squeeze through the small gap that the window presented in the house’s defences.  It’s an uncomfortable and tight fit anyway, and she had to force herself not to imagine becoming stuck and drawing the attention of Them as she wriggled her way through.    She scraped her elbows on some of the broken glass left on the window sill and cursed.  The scent of blood would get their interest even if they couldn’t hear movement.  She wriggled faster, then finally popped out and tumbled down onto the floor of the bathroom.  The floor was littered with empty water bottles and buckets, but otherwise the tiny bathroom was spotless.  She held her breath for a couple of moments, listening closely to hear if there was anyone inside the house who might be coming to investigate the noise.  The house seemed utterly silent.  Slowly she got to her feet and without bothering to turn to the taps on the sink she looked around for a container that still held some water to rinse the blood from her cuts.  She found a couple after a quick search and once  she’d cleaned her cuts with one she drank greedily from the other, letting the coolness of the water rinse away some of her burning fatigue.

Cleaned as well as the bottled water would get her, she opened the bathroom door and stepped out into the corridor.  It was clean, tidy and well cared for, and as she followed it she saw through the doorways that most of the house was the same. She passed what might have once been dining room. All the floorboards had been ripped up and must have been used to bar the patio doors she had seen from outside. The sight of the wreckage in that room seemed somehow more shocking and violent compared to the tidiness of the rest of the house. She found the kitchen and started throwing open cupboards, searching for anything edible. There wasn’t a lot left. Some dry pasta, some tinned tomatoes, some savoury biscuits , some oil and some other bits and pieces. It was better than nothing, but much less than she had hoped for. It also filled her with a strange sensation in the pit of her stomach. No-one had fled this house, this house where she had passed a pastel pink twin bedroom full of toys on her way to the kitchen. No-one had fled it but there was no-one reacting to the noise she was making in the kitchen.

She shook her head and found a bag to throw the food into along with the water bottle. As she filled the bag up it occurred to her she wasn’t thinking of staying and she wondered at herself. The house looked completely secure, but it was making her feel uncomfortable.  She would at least look round it to see if there was anything else  useful before she left, even if that meant discovering why the house was spooking her.

Bag packed, she headed upstairs to see what she could find.  Every room she looked in felt like a snapshot of the past, each neat and tidy as a show home, but full of personal effects like posters and clothes in closets, electronics, pictures, books and stuffed toys. The upstairs bathroom had a lavish tub and a huge shower stall that made her wonder when the last time it was that she had used either properly. She found herself staring at that bath, imagining surrounding it with candles, filling it with lots of hot water and bubbles and just lying back in it. The heat on her exhausted limbs would be fantastic, unwinding the knots that were built on top of knots and alleviating the bone deep ache she was starting to learn to live with. She shook herself out of it. There was no running water, it was just a useless fantasy.

She came to the master bedroom. The door was closed over so she gently pushed it open. It whispered across the deep pile of the carpet, and let out a stench of rot that turned her hardened stomach. With trepidation she went inside. There was a king size double bed and a wardrobe with mirrored doors that ran the whole length of one wall. The barred windows were curtained with heavy burgundy curtains that made this room even gloomier than the rest of the house. On the huge bed, huddled together in a group, were five bodies. Father, mother, big sister and two little twin girls with the same beautiful white blonde, curling tresses and identical little pink dresses hanging loosely about their small and horribly shrunken bodies. Everyone of them had been shot, and the gun responsible had fallen onto the bed by the father’s hand. He’d presumably been the one to use it, poor bastard. She was on her knees in front of them all, her legs suddenly water. Her mind behind to cloud up, images rearing up, horrors she had survived the sight of before. The corpse with the rifle clenched between it’s teeth from earlier, a child who’d become one of Them mindlessly trying to chew on the stomach of her doll while gore dripped from her chin from some earlier feed, the faces of people she had known and trusted gone slack jawed and drooling after the change from living human to Them. She forced herself to stop thinking before she completely disabled by memories. There was too much horror stored in her head to give in to it. She reached for the father’s gun, opened it up and span the barrel. Ironically there was one bullet left in it. One bullet was better than none. Maybe he’d even have more somewhere, probably in a locked box in the garage, since the whole house spoke of responsible citizenship she expected that’s exactly how he’d have kept his guns. Well away from the two little princesses he’d eventually had to kill.

It seemed to take her an age to get to her feet again as her eyes became transfixed again by the waves of pale hair tumbling down from the heads of those small bodies. Decay didn’t seem to have touched that hair and it made her think of some of the pictures she’d seen in the rest of the house, where these little girls had been happy and smiling in them. It bothered her that she couldn’t decide if they were better dead, if what she was seeing was more mercy than tragedy. She’d given up on all those moral debates ages ago in the name of survival, but she guessed she couldn’t think of herself as human if she wasn’t challenged by this find.

She was right about the garage, in fact it seemed like Daddy had been fond of guns, because there were several locked up in the garage, along with plenty of ammo. Why he hadn’t used it was surprising, but everyone had their own ideas about survival and she certainly wasn’t going to complain. A third stroke of luck for today, and one that would let her cross through the city centre and escape the city. The centre was no place to go unarmed.

Climbing back out that tiny bathroom window wasn’t pleasant, but she had decided that she wasn’t even going to stop for food in the house. She couldn’t stay in the same place as the dead family, let alone eat there. They might be everywhere in the city centre, but there would also be good places to hide and sleep there too. Places she could lock herself into. With the bike, They would not pose her so much trouble.

Back out on the road, the sun was getting low now, and the air on the bike was cool after the heat of the day. She rode purposefully without the earlier thrill. Tiredness was creeping up on her again, and hunger was twisting her stomach up. The road to the centre was straightforward and short and it wasn’t long before the tall buildings of the city centre began to rise up round her. She weaved her way around Them as They gathered in larger, denser packs on the abandoned streets. The centres of cities everywhere had quickly been overrun with Them, infection spreading like wildfire among panicking shoppers and city centre workers. She remembered watching it all unfold on the rolling news networks, the scattering shoppers, the reporters running for helicopters, the horror of seeing someone bitten live on tv, then the same scenes repeated, and repeated, and repeated all over the world, images from everywhere forming one endless stream of shock that died abruptly to a monotone beep and a flashcard that was somehow the most shocking image of all.

She slammed on the bike’s breaks and stopped staring at the other end of the street where she was.  They formed an impenetrable   wall of rotting flesh blocking her path through the city square.   400 yards away now, and some of them were turning to look at her already, drawn by the growl of the bike engine.  She looked up at the sky, the light blue was growing inky in the east and pale yellow and red in the west.  It would take a lot longer to get out of the city if she couldn’t go through the square, too much longer.  On her right there were smashed shop fronts, abandoned vehicles and assorted wreckage, on her left a huge, glass shopping mall, similarly damaged to the shops on the right.  Above the shops on the right were offices, and she saw doors that lead up to them, between the twisted carnage of architecture and consumerism that spilled forth from the shops.  One was open, just slightly, but not broken into that she could see.  It was a door she could bar behind herself.  She made the decision quickly, driving the bike right up to the door and killing the engine just as They began to mobilise.  For one second she found herself gawping, it was the biggest group of Them she had ever seen.  She leapt from the bike as soon as she realised they were starting to move quicker, scenting her and the blood she had spilled on her clothes.  She threw herself at the door, expecting to fly straight through and yelling in shock when it jammed hard against something and refused to leave a gap large enough for her to fit through. She threw herself at the door again, harder this time, but it still would not open wide enough for her to fit through. A glance back over her shoulder.  They were coming closer.  Her brain weighed her options without consulting her and she ducked into the nearest wrecked store, not bothering to waste another second trying to get through the jammed doorway.  It was a mistake, but not one she had time to rectify.  They were in there too, milling about among the skeletal remains of clothing racks and floor awash with debris.  There weren’t as many as outside, but they were in her path and she had to keep moving with that army shuffling at her back.  She pulled the gun from the back of her jeans and raised the barrel, not stopping even as she began to aim and shoot.  She couldn’t afford to stop, but her aim was good these days, and as she advanced rotten heads exploded like over-ripe watermelons, spraying black blood and grey sludge all over the wrecked clothing shop.  She kept moving,  hearing the SWISH-SWISH of the hoard following behind, making her way towards the counters and the big double doors right behind them.  She heard the chamber of the hand gun click empty, and ran for it, vaulting the counter and narrowly avoiding the outstretched arms of one of Them still dressed in the tattered remnants of a store assistant.  She practically bounced off the double doors, realising too late that they were nailed shut on the other side.  She span on the spot, eyes searching everywhere for a way out and seeing only Them, pouring into the store through the broken windows.  Sheer desperation made her fly towards the stairs to the men’s department, pausing only very briefly to clear her way of a couple of Them that were in her way.  The stairs would slow them, but they would manage negotiate them and come after her.  She pelted up the stairs, holding the gun tightly, ready to fire.  They were on the top floor too, a surprisingly large number of them in fact, as if perhaps they had followed someone up here once and never gone back down.  Then she saw the small door by the upstairs counter emblazoned with “Staff only”, saw that there was just enough of a path between her scattered foes who were even now beginning to react to  her sudden appearance in their mindless existence, so she ran for the door, shoving the gun back down her jeans as there would be no time for shooting.  Something lunged at her, cold and slimy and she grabbed a clothes rack and threw it violently in the direction of her attacker.  That caused her to slow, let the rest of Them close on her some more. She pulled the gun out again from the back of her jeans.  Another lunged at her, she fired, almost point blank.  Brain sludge sprayed, coating her skin and making her wretch.  She stumbled backwards, hit something dank and solid behind her, span, shoved, ran, shot.  The world blurred. Limbs, teeth, stench and gunshots made up everything, with wild rushes of adrenaline keeping her moving through it. She watched a massive hole appear in the chest of one of Them whose slippery hands were grasping at her.  There was a clatter, her hands were empty. She watched in disbelief as the gun went spinning along the linoleum shop floor and underneath something she’d never get it back from. She fled for the counter, leaped behind it and threw herself at the door. It flew open, there was an empty corridor and stairs beyond. She slammed the door behind her, shoved a heavy fire extinguisher against it and took the stairs two at a time. On the landing one of Them stood alone, swaying on the spot above the top stair. It lurched at her, she skidded round it, smashed the glass on the emergency box that was bolted to the wall by the door out onto the next floor, pulled out the small fire axe inside and with a scream she buried the axe in it’s skull. More brain sludge splattered over her, but it went down with it’s cleaved skull and tumbled bonelessly down the stairs. She didn’t look at it again, just went to peer around the door.

 Beyond was a narrow corridor with office doors at regular intervals. She listened closely for the sound of movement, but there was nothing. She dragged herself across the corridor, opened the first door she came to and went inside. It was nothing more than a sparsely furnished office, one that had been left exactly as it had been abandoned when the city centre was over run. There was a picture frame on the plain wooden desk with a smiling woman’s face, and there was a filing cabinet in the corner with a plant pot on top of it. The plant was long since dead. She grabbed the edge of the desk and pushed it against the door, then she dropped her bag of food on top of it and collapsed into the chair, breathing hard still as the adrenaline hammered her body.  She looked down at the sludge and black blood splattered all over her clothes and skin and suddenly found herself doubled up retching, with a splutter of water and bile escaping her. Shakily she sat back up, reaching up to touch the back of her left hand to her forehead. She froze, her brain switched off, she blinked rapidly, she wasn’t sure how to breathe and then a sound filled her ears.

“No, nono, oh fuck. Nonononono,”

There, a half circle of black bruises and crescent shaped cuts on the back of her hand, along the edge below her pinky. As she turned it over slowly to see if there were any marks on her palm, she could still hear that noise, except it seemed to be growing more shrill as she took in the rest of the bruises and cuts on the palm of her hand. Finally her brain managed to utter something at her. Teeth marks. A bite. Oh fuck, jesus fucking christ, she’d been bitten. The noise she’d been hearing were coming from her.

“Nononono, fuck, nonononono. Shit, bastard, fucking, zombie motherfucker. Nononononono,”

She’d been bitten.

She had no gun.

She’d been bitten. Infected.

“Nononononono, please God no!”

Already the blackness of the bruising was spreading.

“I don’t wanna die! Fuck you all, I don’t want to! Nononononononono-“