Season Two – Chapter Forty Seven

The gun was out through the window, the sound like it would shatter the glass. No one saw where the bullet landed. It could have hit, but the effect was good enough. All eyes, including those bloodshot, bounded by heavy hanging lids, fixed upwards for enough of a moment, at least I hoped.

I couldn’t see the child, couldn’t take my eyes from the snarl, couldn’t stop staring down its throat as it let out a scream sending a shiver along my spine. Only as it leapt into the air, covering half the ground between us in one great bound, could I move my eyes, but only to follow. Somewhere inside I was thankful we were the new target, but Mary didn’t see it that way.

There was no time for her to let out a scream before she fell to the floor, collapsing at our feet. If I’d had a spare second, I would have let out a great sigh, would have mumbled under my breath lauding her for playing up to the female stereotype. Instead, all my energy concentrated on grabbing for the handle dangling at the door, dragging it closed, Toni moving out the way as I slammed the double glazing hard into the frame.

I felt the wave of pressure as the glass flexed, blood spraying either side with a slap against the window, the creature’s face hitting hard halfway through its second bound. Its expression didn’t change as it hit, the hunger I recognised all too obvious in its curled features. Its will still clear as it slid down the glass, smearing blood until its clawed fingers hooked to the sill. I glanced to Toni and she glanced back. We had it point blank with a chance that didn’t come often and all we had to do was sacrifice the safety of the house.

“We’re leaving anyway,” I said in answer to her look and she raised the gun before my last words. We turned together, cringing back, ready for the sear of pain to my ears, but instead we stared at the smear of its victim’s blood. The sounds of footsteps heavy on the roof told us all we needed to know. Our eyes headed out across the sea of soldier’s heading in our direction until our attention drew downward by a light but frantic call of a hand against wood. We moved in unison, turning over the sill and saw the back of a little figure, heard his sobs, his hand slapping in time with the noise coming from downstairs.

I ran, not waiting to share a look. I ran not being careful with my feet, ignoring the complaints of the husband only just rousing from the floor. I ran hearing Toni’s calls through the open window. She was calling out the beast, distracting for a second time. Halfway flying down the stairs, I could see his tiny shape through the misted glass, my hands on the banister propelling me toward the ground floor in two great leaps when I caught the black shape fall from above, a dark shadow through the glass at the short figure’s back.

A great explosive filled the air coming both from outside and above, the shapes were too indistinct behind the misted glass to see anything other than their collective flinch. I didn’t know what I’d see as I pulled the door wide, still, I raked it open without a pause. The kid had turned his back to the door. I grabbed on, my arm around his chest, drawing him over the threshold, into the warmth, into our safety and away from the creature looking up, his face turning down in what seemed like slow motion, its body falling forward. As I pulled back, I saw the bullet hole through its forehead, a smile appearing on my face I stepped out of the arc of its death.

“Great shot,” I said under my breath, forgetting the kid folded in my arms, not seeing until I caught a gust of foul window and heard Toni’s call from above, shouting for me to close the door. It was only then I looked up to see the crowd edging ever forward, so close I had to let go. They were so far up the garden path I had to turn and usher the kid up the stairs, had to call for Toni to help him up as I turned to push the door closed only to find the creature’s lifeless lump of a body had fallen across the threshold. No matter how hard I pushed and shoved, my heart beating out of my chest, no matter how hard I swore or prayed to a god I hadn’t believed in since I was six, it wouldn’t budge.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.


Season Two – Chapter Forty Six

One after the other, people streamed from their houses, doors opening across the view. Whole families ran breathless, racing from safety, not caring for the bloody trail and the obvious danger still hidden beyond the door that never closed. The husband turned away, stepping from the window. Mary twisted, moving to follow as he jogged to the hallway, but she stopped, both of us grabbing a shoulder each.

“They’re not what you think,” I said, looking to Toni, but she stayed quiet as if she was unsure of the words. “Look,” I said, pulling her around as gently as I could, pointing to the slow advance towards us from the church. As she turned, her eyes squinted out to the crowd of soldiers, before turning to check for her husband. As she returned to the view, I leant out of the window, Toni watching on, shaking her head. “No,” I shouted, the echo calling back. “Get inside, it’s not safe,” I said, stopping only when Toni gently pulled me inside. No one had responded, no one made any sign they’d heard my words.

With the wind gone from my face, I followed Toni’s outstretched finger to a woman about our age, dragging a boy of maybe five behind her, somehow still running towards what she thought were her saviours. I urged Mary, adding my pointed finger at the soldiers, begging her to watch their walk, to see no guns held in their hands, any weapons in sight hung useless slung around their backs. I urged her to look at the injuries, the blood crowding each face, or to stare at the same lifeless expression each of them carried.

“Ray,” she screamed in the heartbeat when it all came together, her eyes out of the window for more than a moment, but when he gave no reply, she turned and ran, Toni following. “Ray,” she called down the stairs, his voice dismissing, the wind running through the window as the door opened downstairs. I imagined Toni watching at his side, ready to close the door at his back if he set foot over the threshold. But moments later they all trooped upstairs just in time to watch the crowd surge in our direction, to see the thirty or more soldiers heading towards the woman who’d only just slowed, her attention on the child kicking and screaming behind.

It wasn’t for a few paces until she turned and saw the obvious, slowing, letting go of the boy’s hand. He ran with desperation, tripping over his feet, falling backwards. I wanted to race down the stairs to sweep him up, but there were enough people there to help, ten or more of their neighbours out in the street who’d see the light soon enough, would understand there wasn’t a fairytale ending to this bulletin.

The first scream shattered the new calm moments later when the mother stopped, staring on, still trying to get her mind to fix on what she was seeing. Hands reached from the crowd, fingers grabbing her by the throat, a second and a third coming around until she’d disappeared, dead bodies surrounding, leaving only her painful screams cutting through the forest of camouflage to let us know she hadn’t given up yet.

I felt Toni’s fingers wrap around my wrist, holding firm, but not gripping tight, like she knew I could run at any moment, could leap from the window to my death, hoping I would survive for long enough to do the right thing, to pick up the boy, scoop him up, not turning like the others, running for their lives. A heavy thud shook the floor and broke my concentration. I could barely bring myself to look back, to see the man lying on the carpet. No one else had turned, their eyes fixed forward on the boy and the encircling masses.

“Run,” I screamed as he vanished from our view. I pulled against Toni’s grip, holding my breath as I saw his face from between the forest of legs, hands swiping as the creatures bent, stumbling over themselves to get at the child. Toni pulled me back as he scrabbled out, jumping to his feet and running, his eyes searching for the safety of a doorway, searching past those running in the street.

A moan called out from the floor at our backs, but no one turned, each of us urging the boy on as he tripped over his legs, sending his knees scuffing to the hard floor, the procession of ex-soldiers not far behind. A second moan called to my ears with reminiscence, a sound I’d heard much in such a short space of time. Toni twisted her view too, her hand reaching, pulling the gun free, but our breath relaxed as we saw his wide-eyed stare, his mouth turn to an oh as he looked into the gun pointed in his direction.

Sharing a look of relief, Toni and I turned back, but tensed as we fixed on the snarling creature at the open door, its leathered face dripping red from forehead to chin. Its eyes on the fastest moving object in view. The child still nowhere near an open door.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Forty Five

“Close the door,” I heard Toni’s sharp command and watched the guy’s eyes follow as she led the charge, his face indignant to the invasion.

“Mary, ring the police,” came the man’s voice, his eyes snapping to mine as I followed behind.

“Shut the door,” I said, through my heavy breath, trying my best to keep my voice level.

“Close the door,” the woman begged as I passed, her hands grabbing the man’s upper arm as she sunk at the knees.

A chorus of screams lit the air outside and I ran past Toni stopped in the hallway and was peering back, letting her breath settle. I stopped only when I came to the kitchen and ran out of space.

“Close the door,” Toni repeated, her voice even sharper than before. The screams dulled as the door slammed shut, the locks clicking into place and I turned to the back door and the empty mortice lock, noise flashing high as I pulled it open, slamming out the blast of cold air blowing off the rolling fields past the garden.

“Where’s the key?” I shouted, my voice racing away. It was Toni who arrived first, joining my search around the room before heading back through to the hallway. “Toni,” I snapped and she turned, her eyes on my hands gesturing to her waistband at her back. With a sharp nod she untucked her t-shirt to cover the gun.

With keen ears I continued to search the kitchen, pulling open drawers, rooting around for the key while listening to the man’s bluster in the hallway.

“It’s not working,” I heard him say.

“Mobile?” came Toni’s reply.

“Not out here,” he said, his voice growing in volume. The woman, Mary, marched from the hallway projecting her hand out whilst the other clamped firm to the side of her pale, white face. I took the key and turned it in the locked, testing the handle twice before I moved away nodding.

“What was that?” she said with a tremble in her voice as I drew at her side. Her eyes held wide, then dropped while her head twisted, eyebrows lowering. “Are you from the telly?” she said, taking a step back. I gave a shallow nod, no time for the usual smile everyone expected to accompany. “What is that thing?” she said, her voice trembling. Toni arrived at her back just in time, the man following, the couples’s expressions ridiculous in their Christmas finery. I didn’t reply, instead looked to Toni for answers.

The man was next to ask the same unanswered question, but Toni left at his shoulder and I followed her into the living room, the room decked out in ridiculous decorations, a great tree blocking the view through the front window, the lights on to compensate. I caught sight of the TV news, my friend of two years dressed casual, wrapped in a warm woolen coat with his back to frost covered parked cars, the millennium wheel in the background as his did the stock piece, giving out advice for the night’s celebrations. Not once in those few moments did a body cross the screen with his hands raised, a fractured jaw hanging wide. The story was still mine, for now.

Toni shot past me as I watched, the man making noises of complaint, following her up the stairs, his tone changing halfway up as he stopped.

“What’s that?” he said, the words tailing off. “Mary, no don’t,” he said to her following. “Lock yourself in the downstairs toilet.”

“What?” was her only reply and they moved swiftly out of my way as I bounded up the stairs to catch up with Toni in what appeared to be the master bedroom. My eyes soon turned away from the chintz dark velvet wallpaper, dark gaudy flowers on a light background, then from the black silk sheets, my corner-mouth smile dropping as I stared into the distance and the top of the van right where I’d left it.

Toni swept the net curtains aside I joined her, leaving the window open, letting the wind rush over us. We weren’t cold, it was the last thing on our minds, our focus all on the differences in the scene before us. The fallen runner was still down, her bright orange top split in half with great round wounds to the back, welts of skin ripped off, the white of her spine and ribs exposed, great chunks of flesh no longer where they should have been. I followed the dark marks to the road, the red and white of the skin left laying on the hard ground surrounded in oily puddles, what looked like pink kidneys discarded on the creature’s journey to the house only a few doors down, the only one where the door remained open.

“Now,” Toni said with a sharp twist in my direction. I replied wide eyed. “The van,” she said. “We can make it.” My heart raced even harder, breath pulling in shallow breaths.

“We’re saved,” said the man, joining us at the window as we turned away, but twisted back at his words, Mary pushing past to get a look. Forcing my way back to the view, I followed their overjoyed faces along the road to the scatter of soldiers heading down from the church. My heart sank and I gave a heavy breath when I saw their slow, slack jawed movement, my eyes catching people running from their houses, arms open in the soldier’s direction.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Forty Four

I felt the pressure of the explosion through my body as the ground rose to smash against my shoulder, forcing the pain from elsewhere, but only for a moment. I tensed, ready for the fight, ready to take the pain, to kick and scream till it gave up, or I had to. As the echo died away in my numb ears, I squeezed my eyes open when the pain subsided and saw Toni’s offered hand, air sucking through my lips as the pain radiated down my shoulder while climbing up from the ground.

The dog lay lifeless, his long teeth hidden over hanging lips, a spray of red on the grass, scratches around my left ankles, new elongated splashes of blood up my legs. Turning my eyes away when I saw the wound to its head, I looked to the ground with a heaviness in my chest, a sore shoulder was a small price to pay, but the dog didn’t ask to join the military, the police, whoever sent it chasing after us. Ultimately, this was something else Toni’s mother would have on her conscience and I would make sure it sat heavy.

I looked up to see Toni already making her way across the field, the barrel of the gun tucked into her waistband. Waiting for her to twist around, to check I was okay and following. I turned back the way we’d come, listening with my breath slow, eyes hanging on the horizon not able to stop wondering what was going on beyond my view, how the battle was playing out and if life would ever be normal again. To the sound of distant gunfire only just heard, I turned and followed in her path.

She was easy to catch, her pace slow, but I hung a few paces behind and she knew, speeding as I joined. I had nothing I wanted to say, nothing I wanted to hear, instead I watched her hips sway, watched the tight of her jeans across her butt and had to look away as I felt urges rising, shaking my head to force a stare across at the horizon. Nothing was following, nothing tracking behind, despite the noise we’d made in our defence. Still, we didn’t rest and had soon climbed up to the building, a ramshackle shed whose roof had caved many years before.

Looking through where a fourth wall had once been, I saw inside was an animal, long dead, a sheep maybe, its bleached white carcass the only remains. The building marked the edge of the village which started over the crest, twenty houses arranged around a T junction. The road headed across our view, the point of the Tee running almost to the shed, tarmac halfway, before it ran to gravel. Crowded around the junction a post office bunched up tight to a local shop with bright orange signage, which sat alongside a public house. A lion roared out from the red board hanging on the side and our eyes fixed on the tall steeple just slightly removed from the rest of the village to the side.

Toni gave a sharp look in reply as I pointed out our destination, but my anger was only short-lived, dissipating at the sound of a pack of ferocious barking dogs. We moved closer, sharing the concern on our features. Toni’s hand reached around for the pistol, but before she took hold the fearful sounds lost their strength and headed into the distance.

Calming and about to set foot to make our way, a scream cut through the air and the unmistakable sound of a gunshot followed. The calls became a chorus with a second soon joining. We tried to find the source, tried to peer around the building, but it was only as two woman rounded the corner, coming from the right and running down the T towards us, we knew the source. The women were joggers if their tight shorts and figure hugging bright tops were anything to go by, but they were sprinting as if their life depended on their hobby, all whilst their heads twisted behind, screams echoing out each time they saw what we still couldn’t.

Doors of the houses opened as the screams grew more feral, not abating, and we looked at each other, but knowing it was the worst thing to do, knowing some wouldn’t live to regret their actions, the cause of the terror could only be one thing. We both stood in silence watching on with a fascination we had no time to take, but neither of us could pull away from the view. Something must have nagged unconsciously, as we both started a slow walk down the side of the hill, sidestepping the pain of the gravel and walking toward the danger the two joggers were about to know all too well.

Watching, we stopped again, by now half of the houses had their doors open. People stood on their doorsteps looking around, looking to each other and at the two women, unable to figure out why they were making such a din. It wasn’t long before they got their first sign, what should have told them to get behind their doors and to hide away, but none of them reacted to prevent their deaths, all watching on, hands at face, wide-eyed at the ear piercing shriek that told both Toni and I we couldn’t outrun what was chasing, knowing our only chance was to race forward toward the noise and find sanctuary as soon as we could.

We ran staring toward the first house, a man stood at the door with a woman at her back, both wearing dark Christmas jumpers with festive patterns inappropriate for the peril. As we ran, they caught a view of us, but took little notice, looking back the women’s screams now so high, looking to each other, neither sure what to make of what was happening, their glances hanging as the shriek lit the air again. Their faces turned wide, mouths opening, fixed as we ran not wanting to see, but already knowing one jogger would be flat on her face with something resembling a human dog tucking into her flesh. Neither of us were wrong as we caught a glance just before we pushed past the couple.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Forty Three

“We can’t outrun it,” Toni said, her voice calm as she stepped back from the tree, her face fixed forward, only glancing behind for a moment, her eyes never catching mine. I watched the dog as its legs pumped hard, its shape getting bigger all the time. “You run,” she said, her voice raising with the weight of the gun towards the field, edging back to get the tree from her field of vision. “If we get split up, meet me at the van,” she said, her voice only half committed to the words. I glanced away, looking out to the horizon filled with fields sprawling across the countryside, rolling up and down as I tried to fix my view, tried to imagine where I’d parked. We’d run further than I’d thought and with only one crumbling building high on the horizon, I made my first steps in its direction.

“I’m not leaving you,” I shouted, stopping as her words sunk in.

“Don’t be a fucking child,” she called over her shoulder. “I’m the one with the gun, you need to run.”

There it was again. My teeth gritted tight together.

Turning to watch Toni’s back, her arms still raised out, head twitching as she checked the view and checked once again. I took one final glance before the hedge lining the long field obscured my view, but I couldn’t see anything following behind the creature racing in our direction. Soon it was only the rise in its pounding breath forewarning its sharp toothed chase. I wanted to take control, I wanted so much to run, to outrun, leaving the creature alone, dragging Toni with me, overpowering her protests, but all I could manage was a slow pace backwards shaking my head, watching Toni take smaller steps, her eyes never leaving the direction of her outstretched arms.

Putting my hands to my face, the dog appeared taking the corner wide with a speed much greater than I could have imagined. Toni let off a shot with no delay, the explosion shaking through me, as did the next when it was clear the first had missed. The second too. The dog’s course unpredicted, and it continued to ignore Toni and the gunshots altogether, instead making a wide arc around her, its legs pumping, pushing hard in my direction, a snarl, glaring its long teeth as it sped unrelenting to fill the space between Toni and I. The third shot exploded with the gun pointed in my direction, the dog’s teeth barrelling into me and I was on the floor, head spinning as the world turned over, Toni’s scream all I could hear.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Forty Two

My eyes fell on the jagged patch of skin missing from the back of his hand, watching in slow motion as blood seeped from the wound each time the tendons flexed, exposed bones moving, its grip tightening around mine. I didn’t panic, didn’t want to scream out, it was like I was watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel. My concentration drifted to the pistol holstered at his side, distracted away only by Toni’s strength pulling at my other hand. The race of engines echoed from down the lane, growing each moment I listened. I took no part in the tug of war, pulled by a hand either side, only snapping my attention to the pain as with a sharp snatch of force, I pulled free of its grip, leaving its face to slap down to the remains of the stone wall.

I stumbled back, Toni catching my fall, her arms under mine until I leapt forward, righting myself, not waiting to steady. Instead I leant down, heaving a great rock, pulling it high above my head before letting it fall, flinching away as the legs shot up, going limp as blood slapped across my bare legs. I was too busy for my eyes to linger on the great clots rolling down, already trying to forget the squelch, the liquid slap as the stone hit. With no time to pause, the engines so near, I leapt out, steadying myself on the rocks, pulling my glance away from the misshaped head remaining, my hands on the holster, the gun in my grip as I cleared the rest of the debris, turning back only to make sure Toni was following.

We ran along the hedge on the inside of the wall, knowing whoever was following, whatever was chasing after their colleague, could go no further than the Land Rover blocking the road, but just as the thoughts came I heard the aggravated bark of hungry dogs in the distance. Down into a shallow valley we took our first opportunity to make sure nothing had followed, thankful we couldn’t see the scene we’d left behind so knew they couldn’t see us in return. With the view blocked we swerved across the field, running until our breath couldn’t pull any harder.

Coming to rest on the other side of a hedge, together we leant behind a tall, wide tree, its branches gnarled and bare. Peering around the side, my breath shaking my body, I watched the line of black smoke in the distance whiten, soon disappearing altogether. Listening out for the snarl of chasing dogs, all I could hear was Toni’s deep breaths as she tried to regain control. My view turned down to my feet. I was up to my ankles in mud, scarlet flecks of clotted blood had dried hard and despite all I kicked they clung on to my legs as I tried to hold back the gag.

I turned away, looking around for something to help, something to wipe the mess away, instead my eyes settled on Toni as she watched, eyes squinted to where we’d come, her breath slow and I wondered, hoped she was feeling better, hadn’t swung the other way. She turned, her face solemn, a grin rising in the corner of her mouth as she looked me up and down. I did the same, taking in her disheveled hair, her face lined with black soot and darkening blood, smudged together with a sheen of perspiration at our effort. My eyes fell down her top, the rip in her t-shirt at the arm, the white of her left cup showing through, the t-shirt potted with black rimmed holes, exposing tiny patches of pink flesh. The corner of my mouth rose.

I watched as she grinned my way, the way my Toni did when times were good. I watched as her smile grew and she shook her head until her eyes fell on the pistol I’d nearly forgotten I held in my hand. The grin lessened as she pushed out her hand, her eyes narrowing with the crumple of her face as she reached out for the gun. I had no hesitation in my head, but didn’t understand why my arm was so reluctant to offer her the gun. Her head turned sideways, her eyes narrowing to a pinch as she stepped forward, her smile back, but its nature gone. She stepped closer, so close I could smell the burn mixed with her unforgettable scent pulling hard on snatched memories. I closed my eyes as her flingers ran light down my arm, letting go as she gripped the barrel of the pistol and my hand emptied.

Opening my eyes, I saw she hadn’t stepped far, but looked sideways in the sky, for a moment turning her head around until she found the low sun half way around its journey and I knew the words before they came out.

“We have to get back to the van,” she whispered.

I nodded.

“The cameras,” I said still tilting my head, but she raised her eyebrows, turned her head to the side, righting it after not too long.

“Your medicine,” she said, her voice lowering. “We need to retrieve it before night.” She smiled, bunching her cheeks in my direction and I felt an overwhelming need to be close, to feel her warmth, the hunger lying low inside me. I stepped closer as she peered the way we’d been heading, snapping her head my way as I wrapped my arms around her, her skin cold to touch for a fleeting moment before she flinched away, stepping back, her eyes wide, face curled up in disgust. She flinched for a second time and I realised she’d heard the dogs before me, had heard their panting snarl. Together we turned as I backed away and stood transfixed on the Alsatian running across the field, puffs of vapour pumping from its lungs like a steam engine, its eyes and wide hanging, tooth laden mouth, fixed in our direction.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Forty One

The roar of the engine thundered high as Toni dropped. About to launch after, I watched with an ache as she fell short, her shoulder pushing aside the heavy green cover to clash hard with a hidden rigid stone wall. With no time for a Plan B, no time for a change my mind, all I could do was brace myself for the impact, hold my thoughts for the crushing weight to send me off into orbit as I lost consciousness.

I’d waited, eyes closed, for longer than the split second I’d expected for it to all be over, turning without thought, instincts taking control, my hands reaching up to my face as shrapnel exploded. Seeing the Land Rover collide with the wall, the eyes of the driver on me, his face so fearful, I twisted, let myself drop, arms wide, falling over Toni like a blanket. Debris peppered my back as Toni writhed beneath my cover.

Standing, stone and metal showered to the floor as I twisted and turned, easing out every new ache while I watched steam hiss from the crumpled front of the Land Rover. With the ring in my ears only just settling, I helped Toni up with an offered hand and she lunged her arms around me squeezing tight, gripping so hard I felt like maybe I’d been hit after all.

After longer than I should have waited, I peeled her off and turned back, remembering the poor driver who must have seen me after all, twisting the wheel at the last moment. The front half of the vehicle had crumpled like a concertina, the front tyre flat, the rim of the wheel resting to the floor. Steam continued to rise, black smoke intertwining and no matter how hard I looked the driver was no where. I didn’t wait for Toni’s response, leapt forward, gripping the handle tight, looking inside, surprised to see no loose white bags that should have saved his life. He’d vanished, completely gone, there was no trace of him ever being in the vehicle other than someone must have got it here.

I looked through the windscreen, continuing to battle with the stuck door. Letting go of the handle, I saw the windscreen undamaged, saw no sign of the hole from where the glass had spidered. I scrolled back through my mind, I’d definitely seen it, I wasn’t miss-remembering. A groan called from the field the other side of the wall and I stepped back, shifting to the front of crumpled bonnet, wafting away the blackening smoke mixing with the white of the steam and pushed my hand through the pace where the glass should have been.

Turning back to Toni wide-eyed, both of us twisted to the sound of movement, the rustle of leaves, of vegetation on the other side of the wall. Just then I heard stones grinding, rubbing together and I jumped back just in time to watch as the wall collapsed into the field, stones falling either side like dominoes. About to step through the settling dust and over the debris, racing into the field to help the man who’d put himself into the wall to save our lives, Toni caught my arm and looked wide-eyed raising her nose to the air.

I let a tentative pull of air into my lungs, coughing at the bitter smoke itching the back of my throat, but there it was hanging in between. My mouth dropped and my breath stopped as I turned towards the Land Rover, watching dazed at the thickening smoke and the flames crackling at the edges of the bonnet.

“Jess,” Toni called and I turned not hiding my alarm, nodding frantically, keeping my voice mute, she knew the worse thing she could have done was to call out, to make a sound. I watched the moment she caught up, her hand slamming to her mouth as another call cut in half, her head shaking, mouth bunching. I turned back, flinching as her hand gripped my shoulder, twisting to pull at the warming handle, coughing as my grip got tighter, the fingers on my right jabbing at the window, pointing to rifle laid across the passenger footwell.

Still she shook her head, pulling hard against my arm and I relented, stumbling back, steadying myself on my bare feet. Toni followed me as I stepped closer to the wall, almost tiptoeing as I leant down, my fingers touching on the patent leather when the body of the soldier lunged from the field, his face curtained with blood still gushing from a slit down the centre of his forehead. He stumbled, his bloodied hand still warm as it latched on to mine, falling face first across the stones.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Forty

“She was going to shout out. She was going to give us away.”

Still Toni hadn’t moved her hand from behind the stranger’s head.

“What have you done?” I said, my voice high as I kept my feet planted firm. “What have you done?”

“She wouldn’t be quiet, I was just holding her down, but she stopped moving, stopped struggling. I wasn’t holding her that hard.”

“Maybe she’s okay,” I said, my legs stiff as I moved between the seats. “Let go,” I said leaning down. Toni kept her hand to the back of the stranger’s head as she stared back at me, her eyes wide, but with her brow heavy, lips pursed. “Let go,” I said raising my voice. “What’s wrong with you?” I said putting my hand out to touch Toni’s, but before I could she pulled her hand away and the woman slid down Toni’s body, turning as she fell, her eyes open as she gave no reaction when the back of her head banged hard against the floor.

My eyes stuck on the woman’s, her bloodshot whites fixing back as if asking why I hadn’t done something sooner.

“What have you done?” I said snatching a look back at Toni. She hadn’t looked down at the body, kept her eyes fixed on me. “She dead,” I said glancing down. “She’s dead,” I said again when she didn’t seem to have heard. “Look at her,” I said peering down once more, but still her eyes didn’t follow. “Look at her,” I said, my voice high, almost shouting and she gave her first reaction, flinching back, mouth hanging wide as she took a tentative look down, but twisted away, scrabbling to get to her feet as she spoke in a hurried voice.

“She was going to give us away. I didn’t mean to,” she said rushing along the van and between the seats. I watched as she pulled open the passenger door and jumped to the tarmac. I picked myself up and followed, eyes glancing at the vicar still rambling around the graveyard. Toni was walking fast the way we’d come, her head shaking, mumbling quietly to herself. I pushed the door of the van and took after her, trying my best to match her pace, despite the heels.

“Toni,” I called out, flinching a look to the graveyard, pushing a fixed smile on my face as the vicar looked up with concern in my direction. “Toni,” I said a little quieter, but still she rushed on, nearly running down the narrow road. I stopped, pulling off the heels and ran after her, sidestepping as much of the loose gravel as I could. “Toni,” I said as I caught up, but she didn’t slow, made no move to acknowledge she’d even heard my words. It was only as I my hand went to her shoulder and I pulled she flinched at my touch and let me slow her.

I took hold of her by the upper arms and turned her towards me, her eyes vacant as she stared right through me, still mumbling words I couldn’t make out.

“Toni,” I said, giving her a shake and her eyes latched on to mine for the first time. “Where are you going? We can’t go this way, it’s not safe,” I said pleading wide eyed. She blinked, twisted her head the way she’d been heading and turned back with her eyes wider than before she’d looked along the narrow country road. “I know you didn’t mean it. It was an accident,” I said and she nodded. “She was going to get us caught, then we wouldn’t have been able to break the story and keep everyone safe.” She nodded harder. “And now we’ve just got to deal with it.” The words caught up in my head. What was I saying? Toni had just murdered someone and now I was telling her how we were going to cover it up.

Blooded faces burst into my vision, teeth snapping at my face as I remembered the world had changed. The world I lived in would never be the same, for me at least. I’d spent the day killing already, although they’d already died once before. The stranger had saved Toni’s life and now Toni had taken her’s. Why didn’t I feel bad about it? I was going to help cover it up and was already thinking in this new world it would be easy where the line between life and death blurred.

The roar of an engine caught my ear and I turned away from Toni, her head following. A Land Rover flashed into view around a corner. It was going too fast, the side panels slapping the foliage lining the lane, great stones from a section of wall scraped down the side, sparks flying as the driver struggled to keep control. The windscreen had shattered, marbled with a hole in the centre. The Land Rover corrected, swerving into the middle of the road, almost too quickly, the wheels sliding left, then right and for a moment I saw daylight underneath.

Taking a step back, I tried to look at the driver’s face, took another step, my hands still holding onto Toni’s t-shirt when I saw the red eyes of a soldier in the driver’s seat, his face white like snow, breath panting. In his terror he hadn’t seen us, or didn’t care, the road not much wider than the vehicle. I lunged at Toni, pushing as hard as I could towards the bush, knowing there wasn’t enough time to save us both.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty Nine

“Holy shit,” policeman Mike said. I would have mirrored his words if I had any breath. Toni’s eyes flicked between us, surprise not hidden in her brow. “What’s happening?” the policeman said through an imagined strict frown, but my eyes too busy pleading at Toni for some well place words. I turned back to the man at the window, watched as he backed away with hushed conversation to his colleague coming around the car, his hand reaching down, instinct touching on the top of his baton. I thought about revving the engine, speeding off down the track, but realised before my feet could react, I’d switched off the ignition.

I turned to Toni’s high grin, her left hand dabbing at her face, looking down at the sticky red on her finger.

“A box fell from a shelf,” she said. “Lady here wanted to drive. Always a bad idea,” she added with a shake of her head and a smirk down in my direction. I lowered my eyebrows to the officer, his face in a knowing grin at my apologetic shrug of my shoulders as he let his hand away from the baton.

“Looks nasty. Someone should have a look at that,” came the voice of the policewoman as she came into view.

“It’s fine,” Toni replied, smiling back. The woman still screwed up her face, squinting at the blood with her fingers hooked under the arm holes of her stab vest. Finally she turned to her colleague.

“We should go if you’ve had enough of a look?” she said, raising her brow.

“Nice to meet you,” Mike said with a new distance in his voice and turned away. “Get that looked at,” he said twisting round to Toni as he slid into the driver’s seat and his colleague joined him on the other side, the engine jumping to life shortly after.

A sudden bang on the back door turned our eyes through the centre and to the stranger on her knees, her hand slapping on the thin metal in Toni’s shadow. I twisted around, my face full of alarm, first to Toni, but she was already away from between the seats, taking great strides to the stranger whose head had turned around in alarm. Spinning back, I watched for the police car, making sure they’d gone, but I saw their car rock to a halt, Officer Mike’s face set stern as he stared towards the back of the van.

I turned the key in the ignition, waved to the officers and pulled away from the lay-by, not waiting for their reaction. Watching in the mirror, I expected blue lights to flash, expected the car to turn and the chase to begin. I saw his door open, the car roll forward. I slowed, watching his eyes not following us, instead fixed into the distance as the car jabbed to a stop for a second time, but not by his hand. I slowed, stopping the spin of our wheels, not listening despite the scuffling in the back, the muted argument with no voices, my concentration on where the police man was walking.

Switching my view to the other mirror, I jabbed my foot back on the accelerator as I watched the bush moving into the road, realising it wasn’t the foliage advancing with bared teeth towards the poor man who didn’t understand what he was looking at.

Pinned in my seat, something heavy fell in the back and rolled, thudding against the metal panels with each snap left and right of the wheel. I pushed the accelerator hard as I wound around the country road, taking every bend, every junction to make sure I put as much distance as I could from the terror. Toni didn’t rejoin me and I drove, my need to know what was happening in the back growing as the quiet shouted out. It was only as we entered a sleepy village I felt my right foot lighten and the van slow, coasting to a stop as the road widened.

For a moment I let my breath settle, finding no danger as I scoured though the windows, soon discovering I’d park outside a church with a steeple rising high in to the blue winter sky. Movement caught my eyes and I sat up straight, ready to push the accelerator again, but I watched his walk, a man in a long black coat, a black shirt with a white collar that reminded me of my childhood. It took several seconds with my eyes on the priest before I could let my beat slow, before I could be confident as he slowly drifted between the headstones, he wasn’t someone who should be buried deep.

I stood, climbing out of the seat, turning to Toni on the floor with her back resting against the doors. I couldn’t quite make it out the details or her expression, my body casting a long shadow. Reaching high to the ceiling, I flicked on the light above and gasped for air as I saw the stranger’s head held to Toni’s chest, a look of terror in Toni’s eyes as they stared back. The stranger hadn’t moved, hadn’t struggled while I’d watched.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

IN THE END…There was a book cover

I’ve been working with my good friend and mega talent James Norbury to design the cover of my book IN THE END which is being released next quarter. Today he delivered the proofing draft, but before I sign off on the final design for James to finish to perfection, I thought I’d see what the critics think before it’s too late!

Please don’t be shy, have your say, good, bad or ugly, let me know!


Season Two – Chapter Thirty Eight

Through the windscreen I watched the white of the police car rise into view. It was the head of a convoy for which I couldn’t make out the tail, with more vehicles rising over the crest as the long line continued towards us. Putting my hand to my ear, I moved my mouth as if I was on the phone, but took the time to let a smile out in the direction of the flowing traffic.

The police car didn’t stop, didn’t pause after the driver glanced in my direction. My eyes turned to the truck at its back and the next as it passed, glimpsing soldiers in full kit in the wing mirror, their faces fixed and serious. The next truck blocked my view and looked back through the windscreen with a warm sensation rising as I counted the trucks full of men who were going to save the day, were going to stop this nightmare, even though they were too late for me.

Truck after truck kept coming, then Land Rovers followed, army vehicles in their wake I couldn’t name, but I could feel the smile stretching out my face until the last truck passed by and another police car followed behind, slowing as the driver caught my eye.

I twitched a grin, kept my mouth still, letting my empty hand drop to my side as I told Toni what was happening. With the car slowing I let the cold in, rolling down the window.

“You got here fast,” the policeman said as he pulled from the car he’d left in the middle of the road. He was older than me, late twenties, his face full of a black beard, the top of his head too. He wore thick, dark rimmed glasses, the kind kids used to get bullied for in my school. “You know there’s a D-Notice in force? You can’t use anything you’ve got.”

I let my on-camera smile through, twitching up the right side of my lips.

“We haven’t got anything,” I said. “I’m supposed to be standing by for when you boys want to announce to the world,” I replied, bunching up my cheeks. “But I don’t much mind for the cold. Do you know any good hotels close?” I added, running my fingers through my hair.

He shook his head, speaking quicker than I expected.

“Don’t stay close,” he said, his smile faltering. I pulled a sharp deep breath, reminding myself to keep it subtle.

“What do you mean? Are you saying the chemical spill is effecting people this far out?” I said, letting my voice rise in pitch as my eyebrows climbed.

The officer looked to his car and his butch female college I hadn’t noticed until now.

“What’s your name, officer?” I said and he returned his look back in my direction, stepping closer to the window.

“Mike,” he replied. The name caught in my head and a paused for a little longer than I should before I replied.

“Nice to meet you Mike,” I said, pushing my hand out through the window. “So where should I stay?” I heard a noise from the back, the sound of a voice quickly muffled. He gave a nervous smile, raising his eyebrows.

“All I’m saying is there’s plenty of nice hotels Exeter-way,” he said, leaning in, trying to peer past me and into the back of the van. “Where’s your man?”

“Excuse me,” I replied, the indignation in my voice not put on. “What could you mean?”

“Sorry, your camera man, I mean, your camera operator,” he said and I watched as he forced a smile to his face, his cheeks reddening. I flinched to the police car as the passenger door opened and his female colleague stepped out, with her barrel like chest, not helped by the body armour. I heard what sounded like something heavy dropping to the floor, the van rocking for a moment and footsteps walked from behind. A deeper version of Toni’s voice soon came from over my shoulder.

“Camera woman,” she said and I turned to see her stroking a grey furry windshield from a stick microphone.

The policeman gave a wry smile, his eyes narrow, mine too. She looked like a feral child with her face still covered and lined with ash, but worse, as she turned we saw to the right of her cheek, a line of blood dripping from near the corner of her eye, smudged in several places across her face.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty Seven

We had our issues, but only because our feelings for each other were so strong. For the same reason I’d never been able to stop going back, couldn’t stop returning, couldn’t stop ignoring the daemons. Toni was driven, passionate for life, for her field, for science, for me. She was empathic to a fault, knew what was going on in my head, except when the green mist descended. She was caring, brave, honest, but jealous. Toni wanted me all for herself and I was ready to give her what she craved, but it was her cross to shake off, only she alone could get past the mistrust. I’d never given her any reason to think I wasn’t hers. I’d never cheated, never looked elsewhere while we were together, not that we’d ever been an item for longer than the few weeks in a row we could cling on to. Despite my protests, a phone call, a text message, a look across the room from someone else, would be enough for her to think I’d been with everyone else in the world when I wasn’t laying in her bed.

I’d leave and we wouldn’t speak, until the memories wore thin enough for one of us, usually me, to pick up the phone. We’d talk for hours, slow at first, building it all back from scratch without ever mentioning why I’d run from her bed. Despite our time apart, she was always there, in the back of my head, in my thoughts every hour that passed. Could I forgive her those few slips? Could I forgive the times when the passion boiled over into something more dark? Of course I could, if she’d have let me, but now it was too late. The embers settled on the ground as I cried out her name.

With my mouth in the crook of my elbow, I backed away, wide eyed, lids flickering at the smoke. A cough called from the other side, a high scream for help. The stranger. I remembered. Pulling the curtain of depression aside, I ran around the hunk of wood and saw the stranger pulling Toni by the arm, dragging her away from the fire, their bodies covered in smoking embers.

My face lit with joy and surprise and I jumped forward not looking at the stranger. Together we pulled her clear, our hands swatting at the embers as she coughed the smoke from her lungs. I looked up as the canopy gave a wretched creak with the orange flames engulfing the sky.

“The van,” I called out. Toni’s wide eyes stared back as we dragged her to her feet, the stranger shadowing Toni out from the canopy as I ran, not looking back, jumping in the van, slamming it to reverse. The wood gave a final call and collapsed into a heap, throwing dust out in front as I let the engine revs drop.

“She’s alive,” I said out loud, even though I was the only one to hear. With a wide smile, I shouted out into dusty mist. “The petrol tanks,” I said almost laughing, watching the two squinting faces appear in the mirror, the backdoors opening and closing as I reversed again, swinging the van around as the road grew wide enough for the turn. I kept going, kept motoring on, not paying attention to the country lane, flinching only to look in the wing mirror as the fireball burst out to the sky.

“What’s going on?” said the stranger between coughs. Neither of us replied until I caught the first of the road signs and distance sirens catching in the air.

“Shit,” I said, still with joy in my voice. “I’ve gone the wrong way.” Slowing to let the van stop, I pulled off the road into a lay-by at the side of a field.

“What’s going on?” the woman said as I pulled from between the seats, watching as Toni lay on the carpet floor, her eyes half open as she pulled in slow, controlled breaths. The woman stood in the corner, her eyes flitting around the interior. “What’s going on?” she repeated, pleading in my direction.

I took a moment to contemplate as I stared back, the low sun beaming in through the windscreen, catching her face in the bright light. Despite the dirt on her face, she was classically plain. Not ugly. Not pretty. With unmarked, soft clean lines, she had a face many would fight for and the cosmetic companies would hate. Even with the big coat shrouding her form, I could see she was a little heavier than I would be comfortable with, but that was my choice.

I turned down to catch Toni’s face, watching the black lines of ash streak down her skin and the tiny holes surrounded by black, marking her white tee and the rip across the arm pit, exposing the joint. She was looking up, keeping her breath slow.

“You okay?” I said, my voice soft. She nodded.

“You?” she replied. I nodded back.

“Please?” the stranger said. I looked up, unsure of the words I should use.

“You saw what you saw. Those police man,” I said pausing and looked down to Toni for inspiration. Her eyes closed. “They were dead,” I replied looking back up. “I mean before what happened.” I watched her face react, her eyes stay wide, her forehead still high. I stared on as she held her position, waiting for more words to come, but they didn’t, until she shook her head.

“What does it mean?” she said, tears rolling through the ash on her face. I looked back to Toni’s closed eyes, then to the shelves.

“Do you know how to use a Panasonic AJ-PX380?” I said reading from one of the shelved boxes before turning to her to see her bewildered expression.

“No,” she replied in concert with Toni. I looked down and saw her getting to her feet.

“She’s not tagging along for the ride. Have you got a fucking one track mind?”

I shook my head, the anger rising and jumped back in the driver’s seat as the back door opened with a huff of air from the woman’s lungs. Over her protests at being shoved around, I heard the heavy engines before I saw the flash of blue lights coming over a hill in the distance.

“Toni,” I shouted, turning back as I watched her pull the woman from half way through the door by her upper arm, a gasp calling from the stranger’s lips.

“Keep quiet,” Toni said in a tone that forced me to close my eyes, to think of something else. The doors slammed closed again, leaving only the woman’s sobs to settle while the heavy engines reverberated through the thin metal of the van, the top of the olive drab lorries looming high over the brow.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty Six

“Stay here,” came Toni’s forced words as she shouldered the van door, the handle of the screwdriver pointing down from her fingers, knuckles white as they balled tight in a fist. A huff of air pulled from my chest as the bells quietened with the slam of the door. Since when had she become so butch? A memory tugged. Her screamed accusations as I shrunk back. My voice through the tears, begging for her to believe she was the only one for me. Her hand across my face, the sting as the dream shattered in one swift movement. My silence as I stormed to my car, barely able to see the road through my anger, my sorrow. Not able to look her in the face as she pleaded through the window for me to come inside so she could show her remorse.

Now was not the time.

I drew a deep breath, shouldering my way out, surging forward towards the back of the blooded creature. Its wide shoulders, one crimson, one crisp white, blocked the view of all but the woman’s feet pinned with fear to the ground. Before Toni was around the front of the van, the air turned blue when she realised I was out, her voice sharpening to a command as I heaved at the creatures back, a chill running through my fingers as I pulled away.

The creature tripped, the nervous system not playing its part and it stumbled forward, catching its legs, knees hitting the ground with a crunch as bones shattered.

“What did I say?” came Toni’s booming voice. I turned, bile rising, face screwed.

“Excuse me?” I said as I took a step toward her. She started up, pushing herself taller, taking her eyes off the creature, widening at me with surprise as her brow furrowed.

“I said stay in the van,” she replied, drawing back a deep breath as she tried to look around me. I stepped in her way. This needed settling.

“Where do you get off ordering me around?” I said, trying to take a step forward, only to find my foot snagged. I looked down to see a hand wrapped around the heel of my shoe. “Fuck it,” I said and tried to turn, but the creature’s ice cold left hand clung around my ankle and I fell the ground, only just able to hold my hands out to slow the fall.

“Shit,” came Toni’s response and the stranger’s voice lit the background in a scream. Run for your life, I thought, but my head was too busy to let the words out, my focus fixed on kicking at its arm with my right, angling the heel as a weapon. I watched Toni trying to get around me to put whatever it was now out of any misery, but I was in the way, trying to turn to get control of my ankle so I could kick at its hand to stop its fingernails driving deep.

Eventually I got the angle I needed and Toni came around the other side. The hand let go of my heel, the other still around my ankle. A strange sensation. Cold, like plastic. Unnatural. It’s free hand grasped at the air in a claw, trying to get hold of Toni as she bobbed and weaved to place herself out of its reach, angling the screwdriver, fainting stabs in the air. I kicked at the hand, but the grip was too strong, the sensation in my foot faltering. A waft of smoke ran across my nostrils and I inhaled at the wrong time, sending my lungs into spasm.

“Oh shit.” It was Toni again and I looked up, pushing my eyes wide through the sting. My view ran blurred with moisture, but I could just about see and feel all too well, the heat rolling out from the raging fire engulfing the hut, flames licking at the canopy. I kicked again, watching as Toni stabbed, watching as she missed time after time, the creatures head moving too fast, snapping its teeth to grab at her flesh. Without warning the creature released my ankle, sending a flood of sensation back to my toes. The relief was short-lived as I watched its fingers take hold of Toni’s wrist, latching on with the other to her hand, the screwdriver falling to the floor, its sound unable to penetrate the chaos of the crackling inferno above our heads.

Guilt soon replaced the flush of pride as I took a step forward, bending at the waist to pick up the screwdriver. The wind changed direction and surrounded in smoke, my charge was beaten back by the burn. Guilt surged into panic as wood cracked close by in the flames and my vision exploded with light, embers bursting into view as a railway sleeper sized burning timber crashed to the ground right where Toni and the creature had been grappling.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty Five

I recognised his face, the policeman who’d moved his car first as we’d raced away from the soldier’s last stand. Missing from his great bald head, half his scalp hung down the side of his face, slapping his cheek each time he moved, the left side of his yellow jacket blanketed in a flaking scarlet crust. I jumped again as his teeth bared, the whites of his snarl smacking into the window. A tooth fell to the ground and gap stared back as he glared with his mouth wide.

I stared on transfixed, wishing I had a gun to make the problem go away. Instead, I felt around the cab, searching for something sharp, something heavy. My attention drew away with a ring of bells rushing from the hut. I turned to where Toni has broken in, the policeman’s movement following mine. My heart sunk at his slow walk towards the door still open wide. There was no sign of Toni, the view beyond the windows too dark.

I had to do something, had to warn her at least. I jumped between the seats, my head spinning as it hit hard against the roof. Gripping the upholstery hard, I steadied myself, wasting a precious moment for my view to settle. With the spin almost gone I searched in the back, grabbing a tripod, but it was too heavy to weald. I had no choice, let it drop to the floor, jumping to the side at the last moment so it wouldn’t hit my feet and pushed the back doors open, letting daylight rush in, slamming them at my back as I ran down the side of the van.

The policeman had made up the distance, a few steps away from the penetrating alarm. Toni, her hands weighed down with carrier bags swinging below, appeared at the door. Looking up, she saw me first, the alarm on my face sent her eyes shooting wide, before latching onto the creatures whites. It lunged, pace quickening and she dropped the bags, glass smashed and liquid ran from under the plastic. Her hand was in her back pocket and the screwdriver out, but not before it grabbed at her shoulder with its left hand, clawed fingers trying to push through her skin. Its right hand went for her throat, her hand to his, dried blood fluttering to the floor as they grappled. She swung as its head bent forward, teeth snapping as she did her best to lunge the shaft, but only jabbed at its neck, the tip puncturing skin, but no blood flowed and it didn’t flinch.

I ran towards her, stifling my terror, holding back a scream my head wanted so badly to call out. Dropping low, hoping what I heard had been right, I dashed my hand into the bag and pulled out the neck of a shattered bottle, alcohol rising in the air as I pulled up. Pushing my hand out, I plunged the glass into the side of its head.

The wound made no difference. The creature gave no reaction as I crushed the glass to its bare skull. I jabbed again, hitting at its arm. Reaching back to the bag, I pulled out a full bottle. With the vodka in my hand, I swung hard, the glass shattering over its head. Liquid gushed, covering us all, Toni and the creature the most, but I was back again, lunging unarmed and I pushed sideways as hard as I could. The creature stumbled, letting go with its right hand, leaving blood to her skin running down with the spray of alcohol. I’d given her the chance she needed and the screwdriver plunged through its temple, sucking air as she withdrew the blade from the motionless, slumped body.

“Get in the van,” she said, not looking back as she wiped sticky black liquid from the blade, her left hand pulling handcuffs from his belt. “Get in the van,” she repeated when I hadn’t moved. I waited until she disappeared back into the hut, sliding into the driver’s seat, head spinning as I tried to make sense of what had just happened. Before I could, movement caught my eye. I’d kept watch this time, looking out and I saw the other policeman coming around the corner. He was missing his fluorescent coat and the left sleeve of his white shirt ran with dark scarlet, leaving a syrupy flow in its wake.

I let the horn sing, drawing the creature closer. Toni took one look at the doorway, gave me a shallow nod as she flicked a match to the inanimate creature on the floor and jogged to the van, placing another huddle of shopping bags in the footwell.

“Go,” she said, just as a woman’s voice electrified the air. We turned to see a young woman standing in a thick winter coat, her gloved hand at her face having come around the corner. She stared at the burning corpse, mouth wide, watching flames licking at the wooden hut. “Oh shit,” Toni replied as the second policeman turned and started his advance toward her.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty Four

The white vest top from Toni’s drawer fit like my own, but the jacket hung loose, gaping at the front. The freedom of no bra whilst in my work armour, mixed two worlds never meant to be together. Toni’s was no option, rattling around in her giant structure would be worse. Running my hand down my stomach, it was almost concave and I hated the way the material pulled, the fit as I stared in the mirror, my first lapse in control since I’d been a teenager. Still, I was ready to meet the world again, ready to share my story, even in what I was wearing.

The shower stopped running and I stared out of the window, my eyes following the tops of the olive drab trucks on the motorway. At the sound of the bathroom door opening wide, I busied myself with a brush through my hair, despite having already preened it to perfection.

Turning when she hadn’t arrived, I found her leaning on the door frame, a towel hanging from her armpits to halfway down her thighs. With her hair wrapped in another towel, her eyes narrowed as she stared back with a sweet smile, teeth digging in to her bottom lip. The smile rose as I took a step. Toni pulled in a breath and walked past me, only turning as she arrived beside the bed.

“You should get something else to eat,” she said shaking the towel loose on her head and rubbing it against her hair with her left hand. “You’re losing weight.”

I watched as she ran the towel over her hair, her eyes on me, but only for a moment. She turned away, pulling the larger towel tight around her upper body. Only lingering for a moment, I shook away my thoughts and meandered down the stairs, staring out of the window as I landed. It wasn’t until I noticed the bucket and sponge by the front door that I turned back through the window and saw the van white again. By the bucket was a pair of red heels, my size, I could tell without having to look inside. She was a four, I was a five. I was bigger in every way, but one way. They must have been mine, I was sure, until a thought crept in. They could be someone else’s. Without time for my mind to ask questions I didn’t want to answer, my stomach urged me back to the fridge and flicking on the TV as I passed, I made another two sandwiches, setting one aside.

There was no rolling news, no stories breaking through the seasonal films. The scoop was still mine to break. For now.

“What day is it?” I said as I heard her feet on the stairs.

“New year’s eve,” she replied with no smile in her voice, no smile on her face as she landed at the bottom in jeans and a t-shirt. “You found the shoes,” she replied looking down to my feet, shaking her head as I offered out the sandwich on a plate. “I’ve eaten.”

“Mine?” I said without thought, my heart pounding in my ears as the words slipped out. Her smile went wide, her teeth glistening as they bared, her face alight with joy at my question. She nodded, turning away, only coming back as the smile faded to a shadow in the corners of her lips. I had to wait, not wanting the relief to show in my voice and ate the other sandwich, controlling my movements with each bite. “I’m a little over dressed,” I said with a smile, hoping and not, she’d tell me to take it off.

“You want to film this, right?” she snapped. I nodded, turning back towards the kitchen. The remains of her smile flattened.

“What now?” I said, looking away, my mind drifting away to the early days when I saw her. We couldn’t bear to be apart for so long, couldn’t have been naked so close without having to spend the next hour scratching each other’s itch. Warmth filled my cheeks as tried to push away the thoughts, but her cold, strict tone did the job for me.

“There’s another facility on the edge of Dartmoor. A place called Willsworthy. You know it?”

I shook my head, remembering how it always changed. A phone call, either mine or hers, and it was like something snapped. A fight would start. I’d take the blame, but they were mostly her fault. Maybe she would say the same, but she’d be wrong. I could feel the warmth inside me turning cold as I stared at her as she went around the tiny room, picking up things and squaring the place up. We had to get out of here before the inevitable.

“Are we going or what?” I said heading to the front door.

“You’re ready now, right?” she replied and I pulled it open, sliding on the heels, letting the cold breeze wash away the building anger as the door slammed at my back.

The roads were empty, we’d agreed in our short few words we’d avoid it like the plague, both of us silently regretting the phrase. With each shop we came across closed, Toni’s frustration grew, claiming she couldn’t get the supplies she wouldn’t disclose. Each of the shops had a sign telling people who’d dared to brave the chemical leak it was why they weren’t open. We’d travelled maybe half the distance we’d covered on the motorway getting away from the place, when we came across the independent petrol station on our left, barely a hut, with pumps from the sixties, when Toni told me with a single sharp phrase, to pull over. I nearly didn’t, nearly decided it was time for her attitude to stop, but my will relented at the last minute and I pulled the van under the shallow canopy.

“Wait here,” she said, ignoring my protests, the place locked up, like the others. My heart raced as I watched out of the passenger window as she pulled a screwdriver from her pocket and levered open the front door like she’d been doing it for years. I watched on, almost feeling the need to get the camera out and film the robbery in progress. As I sat, simmering, my attention turned to a tap at my window. I jumped in my seat as I saw a policeman, his hand slapping at the glass, his split wide finger leaving a trail of thick blood as it returned to take a second hit. His white, clouded eyes stared straight into mine as he gave a low growl.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty Three

We looked into each other’s eyes, mine wide, hers the same. She shook her head in reply at my question spoken only with a screwed up brow. She didn’t know who it could be, but still she turned away. I looked down at myself, the dark dried blood cracking each time I moved. I stepped to the side, out of view of the door when it opened. Moving to the foot of the stairs, I saw the van parked outside, saw the matching dark ink blots across its front, saw the policeman circling its perimeter and remembered the stains on the back doors, the jagged bullet holes in and out. I turned to Toni, taking her dishevelled appearance, her long hair, scrunched up and thick with knots, thin splashes of what would have once been blood up her arm and across her t-shirt, but still she pulled the door open.

I listened intent on the depth of the new voice and could see his jacket reflecting yellow into the room. I listened to the pause in his flow.

“There’s been an accident at the chemical plant near,” he said. I watched as Toni gave the expected reaction, her face a picture of concern, staying hung high with surprise despite the officer not completing his words. I could practically see his face as he changed from his practiced script. “Are you okay miss?”

Toni raised her eyebrows, set her mouth in a toothy smile, her voice high and spritely as she explained about the strawberry jam she was making. The officer gave no response, I imagined his raised expression and waited for the questions to flow. The question came from the second policeman who’d been circling the van, but appeared around the other side looking towards the door.

“Is this your van?” he said.

Toni shook her head.

“Do I look like I work for the BBC?” she said. There was a second pause. “The guy next door works for a TV company, he’s always bringing home the props,” she said with laughter in her voice, running her fingers through her hair and pushing out her chest. There was a pause for a moment that was too long for my liking as his brain tried to work out the consequences. He wasn’t to know of the real chaos up the road and he continued with his prepared speech.

“Okay, Miss. The advice is to stay indoors. Keep your windows closed and stay off the roads. There’s a lot of military coming in to help with the clean up. It’s nothing too bad, but best to keep to what I say. Do you understand?”

I watched as she took a moment to think and then let out a nod before closing the door.

“A chemical spill,” I said as she stepped away.

“They had to say something,” she said, then pulled her mouth wide, flashing her teeth as she spoke. “Sorry, a group of government scientists just up the road are bringing people back from the dead, only to let them escape. They’re coming your way, so stay inside. If you don’t you’ll get bitten and you’ll join the massing undead army.”

I stood still for a minute.

“I guess not,” I replied and hurried up the stairs.

My first shower in how many days I couldn’t remember, felt like it cleansed through my entire body. The act of lathering up, washing myself down, watching the water turn from red to clear again, untangling my hair as I ran my fingers through, felt like I cleaned away all that had gone by. As I dried my body, I was shrouded in optimism, the bite wound now barely a scar, I felt an uplifting sense it was all going to be ok. I stepped from the bathroom, retracing my steps, Toni’s wide open smile greeting me as she stood pulling off her white lace bra that matched the knickers already laying to the floor, doing nothing to dissuade my mood.

The hunger was back, but not the same as before.

My eyes fell to the clothes she laid at the bed. My clothes, I thought as my heart fluttered. A red pant suit I’d left behind in my rush to get away, two years ago now. I stared, memories of pleasures flooding back and I turned to see her standing beside me, her warmth radiating through my towel.

“What you smiling at?” she said.

“You’re smiling too,” I replied, looking at her nipples pointing in my direction. Her grin raised higher as I let the towel drop to the floor, the soft material electrifying across my nipples as it fell. Her eyebrows flashed high and she bit her bottom lip.

“No time for that,” she said, her mouth bunching in a pout. I didn’t say a word, but my eyebrows lowering did all the talking as I ran my hand between her shoulder blades. “No,” she said stepping away.

“Why?” I said, my voice coming out wounded, kicking myself for the control she had. She disappeared through the door towards the shower, her words echoing before the door closed at her back.

“I’ve found her.”


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty Two

I jumped, turning through the pain to see the shadow of the solider in the back of the van.

“What’s happening again?” he said, his voice urgent as he drew forward, his eyes falling to my hand resting at my stomach.

“Shit,” Toni said, her reaction sharper than mine. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. “She’s hungry that’s all, I need to get her something to eat,” Toni replied pulling open her door, turning back as she left. “It’s not time yet.” I smiled back in her direction, wincing as I turned away, my stomach aching with emptiness.

“Thank you,” I said, my eyes closing.

“For what?” he said. “Are sure you’re all right?”

I nodded, unable to do anything else as Toni took me from the seat and helped my feet to the floor.

“What is this place?” I heard his voice join at our backs to the sound of Toni pushing keys into a lock. She stopped, I felt her body turn and I squinted open my eyes as she pushed her head out towards the soldier.

“What are you doing?” Toni said, holding her free hand at the door.

“I need to you use your phone,” he said. “I need to call this in. Make sure they’re sending everyone this way.” Toni paused on his face, then turned, her eyes narrowing.

“You think they don’t know?” she replied and just as she did, I heard the beat of helicopter rotors in the air. Pain ripped across my stomach, a feeling like something was about to burst. I bent, letting out a column of air. Strong hands gripped around my waist, catching before I could fall, but Toni took over and I was lead through the door, my eyes on the wooden floor as I fell down to a soft sofa. I heard words exchanged through the pain, but with my eyes sealed shut all I could make out was a throbbing beat in my ears.

“Jess.” It was Toni’s voice near. “I’ll get you something to eat, just hold on a minute.” I kept my eyes sealed tight, squirming on the sofa while I listened to the sounds of a kitchen close by, my mind wandering over what she could have to satisfy the ache. A newly slaughtered lamb, a side of uncooked steak? I felt bile rise in my stomach as it contracted. “Jess,” the words came again and I forced my eyes open and saw the cheese sandwich on the plate offered out in Toni’s hands.

I pulled my hanging jaw closed and focused on Toni’s smile.

“What were you expecting?” she said. I shook my head and pulled the bread from the plate, stuffing the food in my mouth like it was the first thing I’d eaten in days. The flavours were out of this world, the taste of the cheese so intoxicating. “Slowly,” I heard her say as the pound in my ears lessened. My fear subsided, the pain easing with every swallow.

“All because I was hungry?” I said with the last mouthful pushed down.

“Better now?” she said, a soft smile on her lips as she handed over a tall glass of water. I nodded with enthusiasm and took my first look around the room as I drank. The space was open plan, faded sunflower relief on the walls with a small kitchen to the right. Underneath exposed steps running above our heads, I sat on three seat sofa facing a wall hanging TV. The soldier had gone.

“Where’d he go?” I replied.

“To do his job, I hope,” she said, dismissing my enquiry to the growing sound of helicopter rotors blades passing over our heads. “We need to get out of here.”

“You think he’ll tell them where we are?” I said, stretching my back to work out the last of the pain.

“They won’t care for now. Too much going on, I hope. It’s us that need them.” Her eyes drifted to the red vials laid out on a kitchen cloth on a table at the far wall. “You’ll need another dose tomorrow morning, then we’ll need more. And we need a few other supplies before then,” she said, turning away.

“How many doses do you think I’ll need?” I replied, looking back to the table.

Her first reply was silence, her head not turning my way.

“Honestly,” she said, eventually meeting my eye. I gave a slow nod. “I don’t know,” she said, her words quiet. Her hands rested on top of mine clasped at my lap. Her eyes went wide, her eyebrows lowering as she squeezed my hands. “I don’t even know if it will work long term.”

This wasn’t news and I gave a nod as I drew a deep breath. It was all that had been going through my head since the first dose.

“But we’ve got to try, right,” she said, lifting her hands off as I pulled up mine to take her in my arms. Pulling back, she winced. “Shower first,” she said. I stopped and looked down, raised an eyebrow and nodded back. I watched as she stood, following, steading myself on the arm of the chair, freezing as a shadow moved across the window by the door, both of us drawing back in a start as a heavy fist knocked hard against the wood.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty One

“Fire,” was all I could think to say, my voice barely registering against the bass drone of the crowd. “Fire,” I repeated, shouting out across the line. Faces turned forward, rifles lifted, sending the air thick with hot lead again. Calls for reloads came too soon, silencing the advantage before we’d had a chance to regain. My pistol clicked empty with two shots missed and I span around, fist balled towards what had grabbed me back by the shoulder.

I let myself fall into Toni’s arms as she cupped my fist in her hand and she pulled me away from the roadblock. Taking my weight back, I let her go as she hurried to the van, the rifles and pistols taking up again, shouted commands blurring into one long call. Toni dragged me by the hand, pulling hard as we passed the back of the Land Rover, not letting me reach out, turning only as she pushed me through the driver’s door whilst she ran around the bonnet. In the driver’s seat I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the chaos at the line, but I couldn’t help but look.

The guns fell silent, knives swung out, the soldiers stepped back, leaving the line. Ghouls were falling, but not fast enough, as one fell to the floor another would be at its back. Three of the soldier were down by the time Toni’s calls went out.

“Go,” she pleaded. “Drive.” My eyes fixed on the two remaining by the time her words were done, the sergeant and the sniper. I slammed my hand to the horn and faces looked up, dead white eyes set in our direction. The sergeant turned and was consumed by the pack, his struggle quickly obscured by those once under his command. The sniper didn’t turn but edged away, snapping on his heels, using the one advantage we still had. He ran, moving out of my view, but when I heard the doors at the back opening, weight in the back shifting, I pushed the accelerator to the floor as hands blooded my window.

I didn’t pause for the turn, didn’t wait, let the tyres spin in the mud as they caught the incline of the hill. I pushed my foot harder even though I knew there was nowhere further for it to go, my eyes on the expanding line of the undead shrinking in the wing mirror. Toni was the one to slow me, her hand on my shoulder when I nearly turned the van on its side rounding the corner, watching the surrounding land flatten. All I could think of was the village we’d passed on the way in, the motorway near, a speedway for the infection to spread. I slowed at Toni’s command, lifted my foot from the accelerator, watching as the two police cars came in to view, watching the pair of wide eyes coming back from the fluorescent jacketed officers as they took in what must have been a terrifying view.

Letting my breath calm, even though I hadn’t realised it had been racing, I pulled air to force my heart to slow. Turning to Toni, I watched as she mirrored my expression. I slowed the van as the police cars separated, neither getting out of their cars as we rolled by, but just as our metal passed theirs, I slammed on the brakes and let the window drop.

“You need to call someone,” I said. The police officer paused, his head turning sideways. “You need to call someone,” I repeated. “Then get the hell away from here.” I pushed the accelerator down, taking the road under the motorway. “Where now?” I said, my words without emotion.

“My place,” she replied, her face fixed forward. “Next junction, by the Holiday Inn. Can’t miss it.” I drove, the motorway a desert, but I wouldn’t have noticed any cars if it had been grid locked, my thoughts distracted by the growing pain in my stomach. I’d felt it earlier, but with everything else it was the least of my concerns. Now the action had died down, fear grew. I could feel it already growing inside. The hunger, the thirst. I didn’t want to return to what I’d been before, what she’d made me into. “This one,” she said and the road snapped back into my vision. I pushed the indicator left and slowed, looking up at the ten storey hotel as it loomed out in front.

Her words sounded muffled, cotton wool in my ears as she gave directions, passing by the hotel, the empty car park. I stopped at a pair of low holiday chalets, the ache in my stomach cranking up as we rocked to a stop.

“What’s wrong?” Toni said and I turned to look, feeling a tear roll down my cheek. Laughter broke from my lips unbidden.

“What’s wrong?” I said and she smiled in a reply that melted my heart.

“Apart from the obvious,” she said, holding out her hand. A wave of pain rushed over my stomach as our hands touched. Her skin was so warm, so inviting. I craved to be close, to hold her in my arms, to take in her scent. I craved to run my tongue over her neck, to bite, gently at first. As the air came alive with smells I didn’t want, my smile fell and she repeated the question with the raise of her eyelids. I took a deep breath through my mouth, holding back the ache of my empty stomach.

“It’s happening again,” I said and her face dropped.

“What’s happening again?” came an unfamiliar male voice from behind us.

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirty

The machine gun jumped to life, hot lead spraying in a furious chatter, consuming the belt of finger-length bullets as the soldier swept it across his view in a wide arc. The first shots were too low, the bodies rattling with each impact, but as the spray moved across the line, skull and brain erupted under its power. The first in line were down, rifles picking off those missed in the rain of metal. The soldier’s pause caught us all by surprise, their eyes catching on the next targets stumbling through the red mist as the wind adding a thick metallic hint to the acrid swirl around us.

“Fire,” the sergeant screamed and all rifles joined the chugging rhythm of the machine gun. Shot after shot, round after round exploding flesh as they hit their targets, sending dead flesh to the floor. Slowing their advance, they stumbled, moving to their hands and knees if they still had them, to cross the carpet of bodies, only to be cut down. Shouts went through our line, an excited rumble of voices as the bodies piled ever higher, the gunfire falling quiet when all movement stopped, the masses unable to cross the hill of camouflaged bodies.

Weapons reloaded as the rifles went quiet, voices died to nothing with the slap of metal against metal. The sergeant called the line to order, silence surrounding, letting us hear the low rumbling chorus of moans in the background. A chill ran down my spine and I let my gun drop without a round being fired. I knew my limitations and was pleased enough the advance had halted beyond my useful range. I turned as the van’s engine sprang to life at my back, smiled to Toni in the driver’s seat as she peered out beckoning me toward her with her head shaking from side to side. I pushed my hand to the air, gesturing for just a few minutes more.

The soldier’s were talking amongst themselves, their voices high, excited at their easy victory, not even the sergeant holding them back, until the first screams brought back their silence. Only two remained calm, their heads not snapping sideways, their mouths not hanging down, eyes not wide with questions. The sniper and his companion would have seen it before, had taken them down, had saved our lives. The wretched calls were more distant than we’d heard before, but were no less terrifying, forcing the cold into my bones.

“Get ready,” came the sniper’s voice not turning to the faces that didn’t know what would happen next. I levelled the gun, trying to ignore as my arms refused to steady, the shake of my hands only pronounced by the cold. I knew before the first of the dark shapes sprung high from behind the line, my eyes catching on the second as the first landed. In a tattered orange jumpsuit, the colour only showing between the dark patches, his legs bent like a gymnast dismounting from a pommel horse. His face as dark as oiled hardwood, thick black lines spidering across, a beard of blood matted to the skin around his jaw. His left ear was missing, as was the skin on the top of his head, with it too went the long hair covering the other side, the remaining long brown locks matted and clumped like dreadlocks.

A single shot pierced the air. The sniper the only one not paralysed with fear, but his bullet went wide, thudding a red spray out from the pile of bodies at their backs. The leap of the second, his pasty naked form riddled with the dark lines like roots through snow, taking his attention. Silence returned as the shot’s echo fell, even the moans in the background seemed to pay their respect and quiet. The pause felt as if it lasted for an age, the only movement was their jaws, slow and considered as they opened and closed, keeping time with each other. With the orange jumpsuit’s single step, the pause ended, its companion back in the air, surging.

The line of fire lit the space between us. Hurried shots flashed against the barricade of bodies, ripping flesh from bone, shattering each form, but not those racing towards us. The sergeant screamed for focus between each of his shots as he stood, calling for concentration of fire, splitting the squad, the first pumping their shots to the crazed creature on the ground whose distance had just shortened enough for me to opened fire, the second group to the target high in the air, his form only just falling back to the ground in front of his companion. Fire continued until the explosions replaced with well-drilled shouts at each position as they hurried to reload and take up the battle.

“Bayonets,” was the next call, his voice breaking, but there was no time, they were on us, just the other side. The knifes were taken in hand, the sergeant jumping the barricade, the blade held in his fist with a great warrior call as he ran forward, leaping across the sandbags, leading with the sharpened metal. I stayed my shots, forgetting how many I’d taken as his knife hit high, the creature only catching the advance when it was too late, when the blade was through its temple.

I looked around, everyone turned to see, with pistols, a panic descending as eyes searched for the second enemy. We didn’t find it. It found us. It found the last on the line. The young soldier who met me as we arrived. His screams turned our heads, the blood pumping from his neck turned me away, but not his friends, not his colleagues, they stayed true to their calling, pouncing on the attacker, climbing up with pistols, blades slipping in and out of its skull as the soldier’s heart pumped a fountain of blood over each of them.

The creature slumped down within a moment, but with the damage done, the warrior’s frenzy replaced with a furious activity of hands on the wound, red hands falling inside his neck, until after not too long, it was obvious there was no hope.

I turned away with my eyes closed, the sound of the horn bellowing at my back span me around. Toni’s outstretched arm pointing out turned me back and I watched as the dam of bodies collapse either side, the walking corpses streaming around the edges, massing in the centre, having covered half the distance to us, a stone’s throw away without our notice.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Nine

I watched in the wing mirror, their eyes fixed forward, neither looking back as they hurried to cover the ground. Their hardened faces and the wide, disbelieving look in their eyes told me they’d seen as least as much as we had. A breath pulled unbidden as I spotted the barrel of a long gun rising from behind one of their backs.

“It’s him,” I said, not turning to Toni. She made no reply and I lost the train of thought as I turned to see a soldier shouting through my window.

“Move it,” a tall man in a moustache called. His confidence, more than the stripes on his chest, told me he was in charge. With breath misting against the window, he pointed to the left side of the roadblock where two soldiers were pulling down the sandbags while another moved one of the two Land Rovers. By the time I’d turned back he’d gone, racing up the side of the hill to meet the pair, turning when they didn’t wait, running at their side as they shouted their conversation.

I turned on the ignition, wheeling the van up the first of the incline, the tilt unsettling as I leant in the opposite direction, my hands constantly correcting the steering to miss the remaining sandbags. As the wheels settled back to the tarmac, I was straight out onto the road, forgetting my bare feet until they hit the cold, not listening to Toni’s calls for me to get back in, to stop being so stupid, to get us away from the danger. The words disappeared as my door slammed shut.

“Give me a pistol,” I shouted to the three soldier settling back behind the roadblock. None looked up from the sights of their rifles as they knelt against the sandbags. “Give me a gun,” I said, nudging the closest at his shoulder. He looked up and shouted across to the three returning.

“Sarge,” he said, flicking up a look in my direction.

“Hundreds,” said the sniper as he swung the long rifle from his shoulder. Jumping over the roadblock, he gave me the slightest of nods before running to the back of the closest of the Land Rovers before I could thank him or give any reply. The stench caught in my nostrils and I looked down the road, watching the valley cut between the hills as it wound out of view. The sergeant stood at my side as he looked, stone faced, in the same direction.

“Give me a pistol,” I said. “I can help.” The sergeant double took, looking down across my spoilt front.

“Get in the van, Ma’am. Get in the van and get the fuck out of here,” he said. I turned to the van, saw Toni’s wide-eyed command repeat his words with her head to the side.

“Where do we go?” I replied, folding my arms in the cold. He double took again.

“I take it by the state of you, you know what’s coming?” he said. I nodded. “In that case, get anywhere. Get as far away as you can. What you see,” he said looking back to his men. “What you see is everything, you understand? There’s a hundred or more of those, I don’t know what they are, but they were my regiment and they’re coming here with one thing on whatever remains of their minds. I don’t have to tell you what will happen. Now go,” he said, his voice raising. “Or do I have to waste one of my men forcing you back inside?”

I stayed put as he turned away, raising his rifle and peering through the sight. I flashed a look down the road. The tarmac was clear until I blinked and the moment my eyes opened I saw the first movement, saw the camouflaged legs, then the body, half an arm hanging loose at his side swinging in time with its slow, casual stroll. I jumped as a bullet leapt from the long rifle, snatching a look to the sniper crouching to my right, the double legs of the long gun leaning on a sand bag. I turned back to the road and watched the sea of legs trampling over the fallen figure. With the awful creatures in view, the stench felt like it was pouring from the sky. My heart raced, but I couldn’t just walk away. Toni said we needed to know where that woman was, she wanted her to save me. I wanted her for another reason altogether and I couldn’t let this pass by.

The rifle snapped over and again, my body’s reaction lessening each time. Each time was a hit. Each time was a kill, despite my head’s trouble with those words. Ten, maybe more, were down, but still they continued on, stumbling over their fallen, some moving to avoid, veering up the hill, only to be drawn back by the incline, funnelled by the valley back to the road. This was a stand, this was where history would be made. If they broke through here where would the next be? From here they could move out into the open, they would be out in the wide space and I’d seen too many movies to know how this would end.

I thought of my parents and my friends. I thought of the villages, the towns, the cities, all those people, those children, those lives to be lost. Those lives that would live again and add to the battle that would have to be fought. I couldn’t run and I walked to the back of the van, pulled the door open to the sound of the dried blood cracking and took the gun from the floor. I shouted just as the door slammed.

“You go. The keys are in the ignition.”

I took an ammunition clip from the back of the Land Rover and rejoined the line as the order to open fire was given.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Eight

I killed the engine, raising my hands to match Toni’s stance, setting my mouth in a grateful smile while bunching my cheeks. I didn’t need to try hard to get the tears to fall.

No one moved and the rifles stayed steady as I paid all my attention to each of their faces looking for signs they weren’t  the real enemy. Each stared back no doubt doing the same, their weapons making them no less anxious than I was despite what their words would have said. I saw enough pigment surrounding their pupils to slow the beat in my chest in time for the call from somewhere in their line.

A face in the centre went sideways, the helmet turning. I could see his reluctance as he looked back towards us. Keeping his rifle high, a pasty white man side stepped the sandbags and started the journey in our direction. He didn’t call out, didn’t shout commands, but eventually as the young soldier made his journey in our direction, the aim of the other rifles drifted either side.

“Open the door,” were the first words I heard him say as he came around, but he hung back from the driver’s side. I knew his eyes should have remained fixed on mine, but he couldn’t keep from looking down to the front of the van. His eyes twitched, travelling along the side, after longer than he should, his gaze snatched back, his aim snapping from its fall.

“Do what he says Jess,” she said and my breath stole from my lungs. I hated the way she could make me feel. How she could pull me back with just the way she’d say my name.

I pulled the handle and let the cold air in.

“How d’you get out?” the young man’s voice called as I placed my bare feet to the cold tarmac.

“It was awful, help us please. We have to get away from here, where they can’t get us,” I said, pushing the emotion to catch in my voice. He didn’t reply, instead he looked back, his eyebrows raising as he surveyed me tilting his head up and down. I saw the same look I always saw in a young man’s eyes, in a man of any age’s eyes as they catch my sight, but this time it was mixed with an open-mouthed horror. I looked down my fluorescent yellow front, following the black lines as they ran down the jacket and I turned as the white of the van caught my eye. It wasn’t white anymore. Most of the surface was flecked red, clots streaking down the dented, once pristine paintwork. Tattered remains of cloth and flesh hung where they’d caught between the bumper and the metal.

“We hid. Waited for it to all die down, then ran. Found this thing unlocked, the keys in the ignition,” I said pointing over my shoulder. “It saved our live. God only knows what would have happened if we’d not found it.”

“Ask her,” came the call from another voice. His eyes shot back to my face, running up and down the jacket, falling to the scratches on my legs.

“Were you bitten?” he said, his voice quivering as he spoke, his eyes peering into mine. I shook my head and shot a look back to Toni. “Her?” he said.

“No,” I replied.

“Take off the jacket, we’ve got to see,” he said, motioning with the rifle. I paused before I replied.

“I’m not wearing anything underneath.”

His eyes came up from torso and he latched back onto my face, his head turning to the side.

“I got covered in blood when we were trying to escape. You’ve got to help us please?” I said, letting the tears flow. I watched him pause whilst he looked off into the distance as if leaving the conversation for a moment, then he turned back to the line before staring wide eyed in my direction, slowly looking into the distance where we’d just come from.

“What is it?” I said.

“They’re coming,” he replied, before a call from the group could shut him down.

“Private, stow that,” came the booming voice. I turned back to him, almost putting a hand out in comfort as I realised he was yet to face the horror in person. When I turned his eyes were no longer on me, were no longer on the van, they were fixed across the horizon and he was slowly stepping back to the roadblock.

“Get back in the van, Miss,” he said as the distance between us grew. I followed his eyes out to the horizon, but couldn’t see anything new. I turned back to the roadblock and saw the soldiers leaving their defences to fan out to see past the van. “Miss, get back inside,” he said, but his eyes had never left the distance.

“Get back in, Jess,” I heard Toni say. “Get in the van,” she said again, the words loud, controlled, but clearer this time. I turned and I felt the wind change. The foul stench of a sewerage works filled my nostrils. I knew what it meant before I saw the two figures running down from the high ground to the left, before I had a chance to tell if their stance was controlled enough, not too animalistic, too fast or too slow to confirm my fears. They were still human. But what were they running from?

I already knew.



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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Seven

There was little time to pull the punch before Toni’s head deflected left, my knuckles glancing along right side of her face. Her teeth clamped together as she grabbed me up, sending me surging into the back of the van. Her hand cracked the door closed over and again to the sound of distant gunfire, blood spraying through the opening, metal crushing soft tissue until the fingers fell to the ground to let the lock catch.

She fell to my side, slipping on the new slick, turning over as I rounded, my arms wide, her face hidden by her hands as she sobbed.

“I’m sorry, so sorry I hit you,” I said, words alien to my lips. I was smearing blood on her t-shirt, but it wasn’t mine.

I lay, mouth wide, breath panting in and out. I turned away as she stayed curled up with her hand to the face. I sat, pulling the skirt down over my cold legs and she lifted herself upright, tears dried against the back of her hands.

“Sorry,” I said as she raised her eyebrows in my direction.

“It was a good shot,” she said, still rubbing her cheek.

“I thought,” I said, but she cut me off and stood.

“I know,” she replied, stepping passed me as I stayed sat, doing my best to keep my breath running out of control. Eventually standing, I climbed into the cab, looking down my legs to see long scratches I hadn’t felt. Toni was in the passenger seat staring off into the distance as the tyres crunched bone in my manoeuvre toward the pass reader.

“I guess we have a friend out there,” I said, letting my breath run out.

“You shouldn’t have gone out there,” she said. “It was a stupid thing to do. A risk we didn’t need to take.”

“I got the pass,” I replied, dangling the bloody lanyard. She didn’t turn. I knew this Toni too. It was the Toni that came out each time we got to the end, each time we figured out the fun, the long carefree days, had to come to an end. We would be back to our lives, each time realising it should be the last. Time to move on. It was the Toni that came before the arguments, before the real pain. It was the Toni I knew I had to get away from, the Toni that would flip up the cover and press the self destruct button, jabbing it with her finger, over and again. But this time I couldn’t leave, we couldn’t separate. Our lives depended on being together, helping each other. At least this time I was the one to throw the first punch.

The gate slid without a noise, a beacon flashing either side, the barrier lifting as we passed through, closing at our backs, gunfire clearing the air, catching the strays as they tried to follow in our wake. We had a guardian angel. We were free, out. We’d saved ourselves. Only then did the realisation come. It was only Toni that was safe and I knew she wouldn’t be for long if I couldn’t get more of those vials that kept me feeling human.

“Where do we go?” I said, letting the van coast around the winding road that cut through the shallow hills either side. “Where did your mother go?” I said when she didn’t reply after a moment.

“Don’t call her that,” Toni snapped back and I felt an all too familiar emotion circling my head.

“Where do we go then?” I repeated, raising the volume, my head not turning away from the road. She didn’t reply until I slammed on the brakes, rounding a corner to find the road blocked with sand bags and at least five rifles aimed in our direction.

“I don’t know, but I think they might,” she replied, her hands raising at her sides.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Six

“Stray shot. Right?” I said before Toni had chance to speak. Wide eyes were her only reply. “It’s not safe here,” I said turning towards the cab.

“You can drive?” Toni said, her voice slow. I half expected a smile hanging from her face, but as I turned I saw her cold, blank expression. She knew I could drive. I’d driven to meet her so many times. I’d driven halfway across the country full of anticipation, my head bursting with excitement at what lay ahead. Days later I’d driven home, deflated, tears spent, body aching. After a week of heaven, the bubble would always burst and I’d promise myself never to open up again, never to think we could be any other way, never to daydream we could be together, could never build on the good times, ditch all the pain.

“You know I can drive,” I said turning away, climbing between the front seats as I peered through the windscreen. My eyes caught on the sea of movement, the car park dotted with people walking. But they weren’t people, not anymore. Their slow walk told me they weren’t making their own decisions, told me they were driven by their desire to fill the burning hunger.

I found the keys still in the ignition. I was so pleased to see them dangling, my mind didn’t even consider there was a good reason. Looking through the right wing mirror, my eyes caught on the side panel and the flared hole in the centre before falling to the mess of flesh slumped to the tarmac.

“Stray shot,” I said to myself, Toni catching my eye as she settled in the passenger seat, pulling her belt across with the engine roaring to life.

“Where now?” I said as I pulled the van from its space, scouring the surroundings for the exit. I flashed a look in her direction when she didn’t reply, the raise of her hand told me she didn’t want her thoughts disturbed.

Still, I saw no life as I slowly drove through the narrow lanes, the dead following between the cars, to cut across our path. A soldier appeared from around an olive drab truck, I slammed on the brakes, the belt pulling tight against my chest. My first thoughts were for the sniper who’d saved our lives, the second for those who’d come to take us. I stepped on the accelerator before the third thought came to mind, steering the wheel into the figure as I saw the huge welt down the side of its face, the milky white eyes fixed in a stare as its mouth snapped open and closed.

Bile rose from my empty stomach as the crunch of bone carried up through the suspension. I turned to Toni, her eyes closed, head shaking as if trying her best not to spoil her concentration. I couldn’t avoid the next few, took them out one after the other, each time my reaction lessened, my pause shorter, my eyes barely stopping on their shape as I scoured the horizon for a break in the fence. I found it moments later, not a break, but the way out. A thick sliding gate of green steel barring our exit. In front, on the other side, just a short throw, was a white and red barrier across a deserted road.

I headed that way without wait, steering to take down anything that stood in our way, their faces gawking, open wide, knowing their thoughts fixed on how they could get to our taste. I drove to the gate, but wasn’t surprised as it didn’t move, didn’t slide, staying solid, heavy, fixed in place. There was no way we were getting through without a tank and I hadn’t seen one yet.

“Toni,” I snapped in her direction and she opened her eyes, fumbling in her pockets. I turned around to the side of the gate and noticed for the first time a panel with a green LED blinking at its top. “It’s on,” I replied to the sight and I turned to Toni still searching, but my eyes passed her by, instead landing on the small crowd of the dead I saw through the window heading in our direction. At the head of the group of five was a soldier, as were most of his companions, but just at his shoulder was an Indian man in a white coat, limping as he walked. Around his neck was a white card on a lanyard swinging side to side.

“No,” Toni said and I caught her turning back from the same direction. “I’ll go,” she added. I couldn’t let her do that.

“Give me the gun,” I said, but she shook her head, unable to stop her eyes darting back toward the rear compartment.

“No, please no,” she replied, her voice stringing out as she pleaded, but I stood before she could, reaching between the seats. She didn’t follow, she knew we were as head strong as each other, she too knew the root cause of our problems. She stayed watching from her seat as I took the gun from the side where she’d placed it to pull the vials from the bag. With one in the chamber and five bullets in the clip, I had a spare, I thought. If only my aim had improved.

Cold air bit between the gap as it opened wide, the inside of the van already warm as I pushed it shut at my back, turning as I felt the sticky handle and saw the ink blot of dark blood splattered above the jagged hole in the metal. I shuddered as I caught the air, the chill of the icy wind carrying the foul stench of sewerage and I turned, my eyes following the moan. I had no time. Around the side of van, the group were only a few paces away. Pulling the gun up, I took aim, choosing the soldier at the front, closing my left eye and centring on his forehead.

The shot missed, but I’d got their attention. In one fluid motion each turned, their faces electrifying with energy, mouths slapping shut, eyes gaping to show their full whites. I took a step closer, couldn’t miss at this distance, barely the length of the van between us. I centred my aim again, trying not to be distracted by the missing nose and fired. I might as well have missed, the shot pushing through its neck, thick blood barely filling the space left before I fired three, four and five and he was down.

One shot left and I looked to the van, turning just in time to catch a clawed hand as it swiped for my back. With my last shot I blew the back off a scientist’s head, my eyes widening on the pass hanging from its neck. I twisted back around, breath panting as I aimed, the click of the empty chamber echoing in the cold wind, the group’s slow procession was nearly at an end. I turned with one last dash, bending over, snapping the lanyard from the fallen scientist’s neck, but about to stand, I felt fingers claw down my back and I swung my fist in an upper cut with all my strength, hoping it was enough to send the creature’s jaw bone into its head.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Five

“Your mother?” I said lurching forward as I pulled the zip just below my neck. If I’d blinked, I’d have missed her nod. “She’s not your mother,” I said, not able to hold back the laughter as I shook my head. “I’ve met her like a thousand times. Why would you say she’s your mother?” I stepped back, my surprise turning to anger at her obvious lie.

“I’m adopted,” she said through her hands, tears dripping through her fingers. The words went through me like a shock wave.

“How long have you known?” I said, not able to hold the words back, still shaking my head. How could she have known something so fundamental and not said?

“I found out eighteen months ago,” she said and my anger turned to guilt. I hadn’t seen her since she’d found out. Yes, we’d spoken on the phone, we’d talked, maybe not as much as we used to. No. Definitely not. But we’d talked, spent hours in conversation and she’d said nothing.

“You never mentioned her,” I said trying to hold back a torrent of emotion, trying to unpick what I was feeling, guilt piling on as I reminded myself of the pain she must have gone through. She let her hands drop and looked up, her eyelids low, her battered face so full of sorrow.

“She’s not someone I like to think about.” She snorted a laugh, but her lips fell flat before they could form a smile. I stepped to her side, kneeling beside her, pulling her undamaged cheek gently to mine. I didn’t know how to reply. I wanted to ask how a mother could do this to a child. I wanted to ask her if it was her fists that bruised her beautiful skin, her hand bursting her blood vessels.

“And your father?” I said without thought, but when she pushed her head into her hands, I kicked myself as I drew a deep breath and rubbed the back of her head. She pushed me away, trying to stand, falling back to the chair before trying a second time, breath sucking through her teeth as she put weight on her feet. I stood, taking a step back, watching as a brightness appeared on her face as she looked around the van, eyeing the boxes secured by cargo straps to the shelves.

“Does this stuff work?” she said, her features pointed to a frown.

“Of course it does,” I said, scowling at the question, but my annoyance disappeared as I watched the smile rise on her lips.

“Do you know what we should do?” she said, but spoke again before I could answer. “We should get this story out there, break this wide open.”

“You think?” I said, a wide smile hanging from my lips.

“Our bargain. Fill the tapes with what they don’t want anyone to see,” she said, her voice rising in tone. “Then she’d have to give us what we need. Come on, let’s get moving. I know just the shot we need.”

“One problem,” I said and she turned back raising her eyebrows. “Whose going to film it?” I replied, raising my brow to match hers. She stopped, about to speak, her mouth hanging wide open, then pursing as if words were going to come out, but didn’t. “I’m front of camera,” I said, trying to flatten out my scowl.

“You don’t,” she said stopping herself, then laughing gently before her brow furrowed again. “You don’t know how to use the equipment?” she said staring at me as if I was an uneducated ape.

“Don’t say it like that. I’m a journalist. A professional. I have qualifications, experience. This equipment,” I said looking around and repeating her waving hand gestures. “Is state-of-the-art,” I paused as their names stuck in my throat. “The crew train for years, they have special places they go to learn this stuff. It’s not like a compact camera, point and shoot.”

A lopsided smile appeared on her face. The Toni of old, the Toni who thought I was playing a joke.

“That’s what they told you, right?” she said, undoing the straps of a rugged plastic case at waist height, only just able to take its weight as it left the shelf. I watched with interest as she laid the case down, grunting with relief as it landed to the floor. With the clips either side undone, she hovered over, peering in as the lid fell back, her eyes roving over the large hulk of black plastic and metal sat on the dimpled foam, its surface covered in tiny buttons, each with a foreign symbol or minuscule white writing.

I looked back, my cheeks bunching with a closed lip smile, my brow raising as I waited.

“Go on then,” I said when she didn’t make a move.

“There must be a smaller one, right?” she said, turning but looking away frowning as she saw my expression. I shook my head, watching as she closed up the case, helping with the weight as she lifted it back to the shelf. We barely had the strap across its front before a metallic thud came from the back doors, the echo repeating somewhere inside. Our eyes locked, peeling apart, turning to the back. Her breath drew in as we saw the small hole in the door, its jagged metal pushed out towards us. I followed her head as she turned, stopping when we saw a matching hole by the director’s chair where Toni had sat.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Four

Stunned by explosions at my side, I watched, a passenger in my body as the creature lurched forward, its black-veined face smashing against my chest, sending me tumbling backward. I fought to stay upright, but the weight pushed me down. Despite my punches curling to its face, it gave no reaction as my knuckles dug into its loose skin. My volley forced on, weakening as my resolve ebbed, until a warm hand encircled one fist and then the other, holding them back.

The creature slumped to the side, its hideous, bent features replaced by Toni’s pained face peering upside down over the top of my head and she leant down, her lips landing soft on my cheek. There we stayed, both sobbing for too long, until a shot echoed in the distance. Our wake-up call. We lifted, taking in our surroundings as if for the first time, the moans, the snarl of the dead barely heard in the background. As I stood, the creature’s blood ran down my front, dripping to my feet as my arm encircled Toni and handed over the gun, its weight too much as she limped at my side.

Somehow we climbed the fence, Toni first to the top, wincing as she fell not able to make the last few steps. She was on her feet by the time I finished leaving a bloody trail over the metal. We padded into the car park, my eyes turning this way and that, searching for the next battle as we headed to the news van.

The few creatures who’d made it this far, ignored our slow, walk as we kept low, using the cars, trucks and SUVs for cover. With thanks, the van wasn’t locked and I helped Toni up the tall step and into the rear, half expecting Dan still to be hidden, hoping his appearance would push this reality back into a dream. I let my eyes drop and I gave a shallow sign as helped Toni settle to the director’s seat fixed to the carpeted floor, took her hands in mine as I stood in her warmth. With her breath settling I pulled the back door closed, wincing with the click as the lock engaged.

Toni pulled the rucksack from her back in slow motion, the drip of liquid trailing from the canvas and from her hands as she carefully searched by fingertip, drawing out two unbroken vials of the red liquid. We didn’t speak for what seemed like an age, neither of us able to put words to what we’d just gone through. I was the first to move, to pull away, opening the long cupboard to find it empty, time flashing back to Christmas Day when for the cost of pizza, I’d convinced Dan and Mike to come here to die. Holding back the pain, I stared into the empty wardrobe which, had this been an assignment, would have been full of my outfits. Instead it was bare and I would have to remain blanketed in the creature’s drying blood for the duration.

“What next?” I said turning to Toni. She stared out though the doors as if they had windows in the centre. When she didn’t reply, I moved over towards her, but not close enough to touch. Now wasn’t the time for distraction. “If we leave here, we’ll get picked up when we hit the perimeter. They’ll have regiments surrounding us,” I said, looking to her for answers. “This place will be covered. Unless they’re still in shock, overwhelmed, waiting for reinforcements. What do you think?” Still, she gave no movement, no hint of a reply, just continued her stare through the nonexistent window. “If we stay, eventually they’ll round me up, you too and do whatever they were going to do. Right? Do you think?” I let the words hang in the air, trying not to raise my voice as I spoke again. “You know these people better than me.” She gave no reply. “Toni?” I snapped and watched as her head turned away. I twisted, taking a step, kneeling, forcing myself back into her view. “What next?” I said again, raising my hands to cup her chin as I stared into her vacant eyes.

“We have to find her,” she said, her words low.

“Who?” I said, letting my hands down from her face.

“The woman who did this?” she replied. “The woman who did this to you.”

“Who? Why?” I said, brushing the front on my hand against her undamaged cheek.

“There’s not enough,” she said, then stuttered to silence. “There’s not enough,” she said, taking her time to say the words. “There’s not enough to give us time.”

“Time for what?”

“For your immune systems to have its best shot.”

“Of beating this thing?” I said and she nodded. “I feel fine,” I said doing my best to raise a smile and it wasn’t a lie. Apart from the aches and pains from our escape and a hunger anyone would feel after not eating for days. “I feel fine,” I said.

“For now,” she replied.

“What can this woman do?” I said standing. I wanted to rest her head against my stomach. I wanted to comfort her, but it would be no great comfort to rest against the blood flaking to the floor as it dried. For a second time I looked around the contents of the van, trying to find something I could change in to.

“Everything,” she said and turned back from my search. “She can do whatever she wants. She’s the head of the whole program and she holds the key to getting more of this,” she said, opening her palms and showing me the vials resting in the centre.

“Who is she?” I said, remembering a cupboard above the camera boxes.

“You’ve met,” she replied as I pulled out the hi-vis jacket, press written along the back in black letters. Trying to keep my fingertips from the blood as much as I could, I picked open the blouse buttons and slung the shirt to the corner. Looking down my chest, bare apart from the streaks of dried blood, the remains of a river running between my breasts. “You would have met her when you first arrived. She would have wanted to look you in the eye.”

I pulled on the warmth of the jacket, feeling the hug of the material against my skin, I turned back to Toni back staring through the imagined windows as I caught up with the conversation in my head, my fingers stoping the zip half way up as I remember the older woman with grey hair as she sat opposite me, across the table.

“Who is she?” I said, my eyes narrowing. I watched as Toni took a deep swallow.

“My mother,” she replied and her head fell into her hands.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Three

My vision filled with the clay bricks racing forward. My concentration fixed on their symmetry, my eyes tracing the neat white lines between each course when I was interrupted, my view changing, the world spinning with a tug at my feet. I heard the rattle of chain-link and was weightless for a breath. Pressure slammed at my side and I paused, upside down. With just enough left inside, I curled into a ball, rolling as the air pushed out when I hit the concrete. The smash of the chain-link came again and I looked through blurring vision to see Toni on the other fence still swaying, sprawled on the floor, motionless with a hundred eyes on her as she lay between the two rows.

I ignored the aches, the pains shooting up my legs as I climbed to my feet, eyes tracking the thick cable slapping to rest on the hard floor, its weight bearing down on each fence. She’d jumped on the cable as I descended. She’d had no choice with those creatures so close. The inner chain-link fence had caught my feet, slowed me down, turned me over and I survived the fall. She’d fallen much lower, hit the other side of the fence and bounced into the perimeter. We’d got down, but were being followed. The air filled with the piercing calls as the creatures jumped from the roof, pulling through the sea of stench and would be on us again any minute. We had to go, but first I had to get to her.

Hooking my fingers between the links, I gripped with my toes too; the fence swaying forward and back as I climbed. Pain shot up my spine as I lurched in my attempt to keep steady. Toni still hadn’t moved and a widening dark pool formed at her back. I pulled myself away from the sight, turning to the sea of bruised faces staring with white eyes as they parted. The dead were thrown to the side, cast away by the creature I knew I would see, a version of what could so easily have been me. Turning away, I was over the top and with one late grip to slow my fall, I landed. Pain electrified the sole of my left foot, stealing my breath as I reached for my pocket. As the burning sensation subsided, I remembered the lab coat in tatters, my gun lost as I climbed the side of the building. Toni’s was gone, the rifle too, cast aside in the panic. Around me were hundreds of guns. A pistol at each soldier’s side. A rifle slung over every other’s shoulder, as they scraped and clawed, rattling, chattering on the other side of the thin linked metal.

All I had was my hands and I had to think quick, the creature was prone, surprisingly slow as it climbed the fence, but it would be here, the first of many, any moment. I ripped open the pack, ignoring Toni’s lack of movement, ignoring the thin red liquid swimming inside. I felt no gun, only thin broken glass and I pulled my hand back, a river of panic washing over me as I launched my rage towards the creature gaining height on the fence. Pushing hard, I screamed my own terrifying call, sending it sprawling, slapping to the ground somewhere in the sea of death. Chocking back the surprise at what I’d achieved, I ran with the realisation I’d bought myself no time at all.

I scooped Toni’s light body up in my arms, she’d always been so dainty, but I had to push away the thought. I ran as fast as I could around the perimeter between the two fences, ignoring the snarls of the dead and didn’t look back. Toni’s tiny movements urged me on. She wasn’t dead, despite the new bruise weeping from her head. The relief fell when I realised her movement was no longer a good sign. A heavy weight closed around me like curtains. Lost in her pain as she moaned in my arms, the pad of feet slapping to the concrete wouldn’t give me time to check if she was still mine.

The race was on, but I knew I would lose, there was no way I could outrun what was chasing us down. No way I could climb quick enough. No way I would leave Toni behind if she could be saved. I felt what I thought was its breath on my neck and stopped, laid Toni at my feet and turned, letting out a deep breath, locking with its eyes, its clawed fingers swiping at my face as its teeth bared down.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty Two

Still the shots rained on the creature, puffs of blood, skin and bone bursting out from every angle. This was it, this was the end of the line and all before we’d got started, before I could set this outrage straight, before I could tell the world Toni’s story. My story.

No. It couldn’t be. I hadn’t got this far in my life to go down as a footnote in a history never told. I sat up straight, landing on my knees and lunged forward just as the blur of the creature shot across me. I caught sodden flesh, tacky thick blood sticking to my fingers and I pushed until Toni grabbed me by the ankles to stop me falling over the edge with the creature’s face staring at me, its jaw snapping open and closed as it fell, head smashing against a short wall, setting its neck at a right angle. I watched, panting when it got up, its movement slow, its eyes already whitening over.

Toni pulled me up and into her arms, squeezing tight until my breath slowed, until my eyes followed the cable from the mast down to the centre of the building, to the centre of where we hoped was a haven.

“You first,” Toni said, pointing halfway up the tower, her other hand pulling a tissue from her pocket, its white ruined by the dark blood coming back as she dabbed at my face. A shot rang off in the distance and we crouched to our knees. “Take off the lab coat,” she said and I did, the cold air biting through the blouse. She pulled a penknife from her pack, slashed at the material halfway down and tore it in two before rolling one half in on itself. Holding each end of the improvised rope, she wrapped as much as she could around each fist as she held on tight. I understood, I said, but only with a nod.

“You first,” I said, my hands shaking as I tried to wrap my half of the lab coat into a rope. She handed hers over, trying not to let it unravel as she took my half and repeated the twist.

“You first,” she said standing and taking me by the arm. Movement caught in my peripheral vision and I turned to see a hand on the edge of the roof. We were too far away to see the detail, but I knew it would run with dark veins. The scream confirmed, stopping only as it thud to the ground. I stood and a second scream lit the air, a third call joined it and I didn’t need to be asked again. I ran, the thin metal of the mast cutting into my feet as I climbed with Toni close behind on the opposite side. The mast creaked, swayed and moved, tightening the cables as we rose. The calls grew in volume, so loud I wanted to push my fingers deep into my ears. The shout of the distant gunfire grew more frequent, but still we didn’t know who was the target, we climbed, stopping only when I could reach out to the thick cable.

Breath pulled in fast and I wrapped the rope as tight as I could, loosening back a turn as I felt my fingers numb. I held the rolled up coat over the cable, it was much harder to wrap the left side without letting go of the right. I would just have to hold on for my life. And there it was, right on cue, another creature had made it up to the roof, its back arching over as it pulled its feet from under, already in a full sprint toward us as the second summited.

“Go,” Toni shouted over the ear piercing din. I took a deep breath, leant forward and let myself down onto the cable with a leap, trying to ignore the creatures I could see altering their path to intercept me much quicker than I could have guessed.

Just as I dropped to the cable on the horizon I saw my news van and a smile rose on my lips, but tensed to a line as my grip held, but falling completely from my face as the tower bent, my journey less than half complete. The cable dropped as if another weight had added, the movement so great I had to tuck my legs under me to stop my feet hitting the roof as I went over the edge, but at least I was picking up speed and the creatures would not get close unless they could find another gear. Only just over the side of the building, there was nothing I could do as the cable gave out, snapping with a pop greater than the distant shots. With its length retreating through my arms, I plummeted through the air, my view filling with the building coming toward me faster than I knew my bones could take.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty One

“Each one?” I said finally lifting my mouth closed. Toni nodded, her eyes almost shut. “Full?” I added and she continued the nod. “And human testing started when?”

Toni snapped her head to the side at the echo of a distant shot.

“Not here, not now. Please.”

I barely noticed the noise, but the birds taking flight caught my eye.

“All in the last forty-eight hours?” I said, my voice lowering as my mind asked questions I didn’t want answered.

“Not here. Please,” she said grabbing my arm and I let myself be pulled to a crouch.

“You said you wouldn’t let them do it.” My voice was soft, almost childlike.

She slowly shook her head as she scoured the skyline. Another shot rang off and a blast of wind rattled through my clothes sending a chill through my body, the memory of hunger pulled my lips tight. She was right, there had to be better places to have this conversation. I did my best to push the thought away, joining in the search of the roof.

After twisting around still bent at my knees, I wasn’t sure what we were looking for, but I was sure we hadn’t found it. There was no small building on top of the roof. No stairwell rising out with a door we could open or break through. The tallest feature was a metal tower higher than twice the building. On the top were satellite dishes and mobile phones masts, halfway up were thick cables running tight to a smaller version of the mast on each of the twelve buildings. Across the roof were small upturned plastic boxes no larger than my head, each face slatted with a ventilation grill. They weren’t our way back in and maybe the infested corridors were not where we should return to.

Toni seemed to agree, ignoring the square hatch we found at the edge of the building. Instead I followed her on hands and knees as she crawled the perimeter. I copied her motion as she peered over the edge, flicking her head away every few moments to take a deep breath and clear her nose of the foul sewerage stench I could taste on my tongue after only a moment over the side.

Every area of ground our eyes fell on swam with creatures writhing, squirming against one another on their unrelenting search for human protein. I watched great bruises appear as they slapped into walls, turning without stumbling, heading in a new direction before hitting the next object in their way. In amongst the slow tide it was easy to see those who were different, those I’d shared a cell block with such a short time ago. Their hands swung out, clearing a path for wherever they headed, I could see the hunger I just wanted to be a memory. Was forty eight hours long enough for this to happen? I pushed away the question as a pair of eyes from below snapped up in my direction. We shared a look, but their pause was less than mine, his black lined faced stayed fixed as he forced his way to the edge of the building, smacking aside the dead creatures in his way, my heart racing as he pounced into the air, his feet landing to the window ledge on the first floor. “Toni,” I squealed as it took another leap, not looking at his next target, the window above. My breath relaxed as she followed my view of the creature slapping against the second floor pane of glass, falling backward to land, its fall cushioned by bodies who too no notice as they squirmed out from under him while he rose to his feet to try again.

We sped our crawl as our eyes separated. I stood, frustrated at the pace, but dropped back to my knees as the wide circle completed, the tears flowing when our miracle escape didn’t materialise. I hadn’t been down for long before Toni was at my side, her mouth at my ear, her words not quiet.

“Get up,” she said and I twitched my head to look at her stern face, her hands out for mine. “Get up. We’ve need to get there,” she said, pointing to one of the twelve spine buildings. I stood with my mouth wide open at her wishful thinking. Yes, the cell blocks were just one storey high. Yes, the building she pointed to still had its double perimeter fence intact with none of the dead filling the space. Yes, on its other side was the wide space of a car park full of vehicles we could use to the get the hell out of here. But to get there we would have to bound over a gap of over three car lengths wide. Unless we’d sprouted wings or gained inhuman strength, we’d have to jump down from our relative safety and wade head high in the sea of infected. She’d gone mad. It was the only explanation.

The thought fell away as a scream pierced through my brain, my mind numb as I saw Toni pull out her gun, pushing me to the ground. My head rolled to the side, catching on a blur of motion running from the right, my body shaking with every shot broking the sound barrier as it launched from the barrel, but did nothing to stop the creature’s race towards us.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twenty

There was no time to think. No energy left to slow their weight from dragging me from the roof. No movie-like surge of inhuman strength came to pull them both up. My options were clear. Save myself, sending Toni to her death, or let myself get dragged down so we could be dead together.

“Let the bag go,” I shouted as it swung at her shoulder. It would make no difference and she’d have to let go of one of my hands to do so, but it was heavy and it was all I could bring myself to say, unable to decide the way forward. Her eyes just stared deep into mine.

My brain lingered longer than it should. I knew there would be no miracle. I knew the creature’s grip would hold longer than I could keep mine whilst staying anchored to the roof. It was only as a shot rang out somewhere in the long distance, did I finally realise there was someone around, some resistance, some hope, even if it was too far off to help. The joy seemed greater than it should, but the creature’s weight was no more. I looked down, watching it fall, my eyes catching on a cloud of blood drifting next to it. Toni was scrabbling over the edge of the roof before the slap of the creature’s body against the concrete.

Dragging her the last few paces from the edge, I gripped her tight, laying flat on my back, our breath heaving as she buried her head in the crook of my neck, her body on my side, much like she had as I’d woken on the couch beneath us. As our breath slowed, the low hum took over, feeling like it was the building beneath us shaking. When I couldn’t stand the noise any more I spoke, my words sharper than I’d intended.

“What’s going on?” I said. “Time for an explanation.” I let my hands drop from around her back and tried to sit, but she gripped, holding me tight.

“Stay down. That sniper might change his mind. If he figures out who I am, we might be his next target.” In the heat of the moment I hadn’t connected the distant shot and the puff of blood that saved us, but now with a pull of breath, my heart pounding again as another shot echoed through the air.

“He saved us,” I replied as my breath calmed when I didn’t hear the shot land close by.

“He might have missed,” she said with a voice devoid of emotion. I let the words sink in and repeated my question.

“What the hell is going on?” I said. She didn’t reply straight away and my ears settled back to the hundreds of low calls writhing below us.

“It’s bad,” she said looking up.

“No shit,” I said shaking my head. “Tell me everything, unless you have other things to attend to,” I added, raising my brow to the top of her head. She moved her head to the side and talked.

“Twelve months ago a group of American researchers found a new virus in the Amazon. A member of the Ophiocordyceps family,” she paused for a breath. “Hailed as a cure for Altzheimer’s, work began all over the world fast tracking the R&D to confirm the breakthrough. Within two months our government got reports the independent labs which were part of the research network, were being taken over by their country’s governments. Findings were shared only on official channels. There was a big delay before the news broke. The fungus had infected a rhinovirus strain in the American lab where the initial analysis took place. It had fused with the virus and mutated. The first known case of human infection was a research fellow who died of a heart attack, natural causes as far as we can tell. He died at his desk while carrying out tests.” She paused, titled her head up, locking eyes with mine. “He rose from the dead and attacked his colleagues.”

I realised my body was shaking as her grip tightened around me.

“When was that?”

“Six months ago.”

“Six months,” I replied raising my voice. She nodded.

“Since then we’ve been racing to find a cure. The fungus itself is what does the damage, but it’s the virus that provides such an effective delivery system.”

“Six months?” I said again.

“Aside from a few outbreaks quickly controlled, in the UK anyway, this is our first serious problem.”

“Problem?” I said and she buried her head back in the crook of my neck. She nodded, but kept quiet. “So this virus,” I said.

“Disease,” she interrupted, pushing herself closer.

“This disease,” I said. “It turns people into zombies with inhuman strength, the ability to leap into the air and chase down an Olympic sprinter.” She didn’t reply. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“No,” she replied and I tried to pull away, but she wouldn’t let go. “They’re a side effect.”

“A side effect?”

“Of the work we’ve been doing,” she looked up. “The work I refused administer.” It was my turn to hold by my reply.

“So they’re different?”

“The disease doesn’t effect the living,” she said, then added. “In its unadulterated form. It only takes over when the host dies. It takes control, don’t ask me how, but it does.” I held my question back again. “The disease needs protein, despite its lack of any metabolism we can find. It seeks meat and that’s all it’s concerned with.”

“And the other,” I paused. “Things?”

I shuffled out from under her when she didn’t reply, this time she let me go.

“They’re still alive,” she replied. I could fell my heart beating hard.

“But you said,” I blurted out as I raised myself to my feet.

“Get down,” she whispered, her hands reaching up. When I backed away, she sat up. “The creatures in your corridor were given different versions of the trial vaccination. It had different effects, some of which you mentioned. Those things are an amalgamation of the original disease and human physiology.”

“They’re super humans with an insatiable thirst for death,” I said staring at her stoney faced.

“If you will,” she said looking down to the roof.

“And you made them,” I said. “Like me.”

“Not by choice,” she replied, not looking up.

“But they’re all gone now,” I said. She slowly shook her head, staring down at the tarmac pitch of the roof. “But everyone I’ve seen had their brains blown out or smashed against the concrete.”

“You saw one corridor,” she said standing, pointing her finger to the long low building that housed my cell. Still holding her finger out, she turned me around and I took in the building shaped like a child would draw the sun. Where we stood was the ball in the middle, the cell blocks were the lines out from the central circle. With the ground writhing between the buildings. I stopped turning as I completed the circle, twelve cell blocks counted.

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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Nineteen

With my concentration on where she’d stood, I felt my feet slipping, my fingers aching as they pinching into the roof, my long nails already sheared flat. I turned, lunging for the drainpipe, giving my trust it wouldn’t fall away, wouldn’t release from the wall as I gripped around its surface, digging my toes hard as they came to rest on each side of the metal bracket. The round metal pipe moved, but didn’t give out all the way, at least not as my weight settled. The wind had picked up and with every movement as I clung on; the metal rubbed against itself, creaking, shifting, complaining like it could go at any moment. My hands were going numb with effort and I knew I couldn’t last long like this, but I wouldn’t look down, couldn’t let myself head that way. I refused to see what had made the soldier give up and take the easy way out.

I turned back to the space where she’d been not so long before, but still she hadn’t returned. I wanted to help her but I couldn’t, there was no chance I could make it back across, it was all I could do to cling onto the metal rattling with the slightest of my movements.

Somehow I climbed, letting the stack take my weight as I gripped around its girth with each hand, pushing my feet flat against the brick. I could see no other way and it worked, at least at first, letting me get three paces up the wall before I had to scrabble at the roof and find the ledge on the other side as the stack collapsed, my feet falling from under me, testing to see if my grip would hold.

It did, but for how long I wasn’t sure, with the metal still clattering, its echo ringing as it smashed down hard for the final time, I heaved myself up by my arms, scraping my front over the edge before I finally had my feet on the solid ground. I lay face down against the rough surface, drained, empty and savouring what was beneath me, my breath slowing until I thought about Toni.

Scrabbling to the edge, not taking in what was around me, staying low, I pulled myself back to the edge, popping my head into the free air, my breath catching as I reared back taking in the distance to the ground below. It was only three stories, but was enough to send my head into a spin. That was until I saw the ground moving. I knew it wasn’t the ground in motion and my brain corrected itself as the people gained their definition. They were wandering aimless as before, but had multiplied with a low hum radiating toward me, along with the same stench from the corridor.

I pulled my head up, my vision extending across the distance, past the trucks and the Land Rovers, the scattered weapons. The aimlessly wandering crowd had thinned, but I’d yet to see anyone not infected, anyone still human. The horizon ran out before I could see what I wanted, but hope came in the form of gunfire, distant at first, the best sign there was still a resistance. Close gunfire replied, so close, I shook with its force, until hope rose again in my chest as I released it was coming from below, the sound bursting from the window. Then came Toni, her body rearing back as she fired again. Her precious pack slung on one shoulder, swinging under her arm as she climbed out of the window, backwards into the nothingness.

I pushed myself out into the air as far as I dared, about just below my ribs, and I reached down, letting my arms drop.

“Grab on,” I said and she gave a start, sending her balance off, but I grabbed her hand as it flailed, a great smile on my face as we touched, my grip encircling her wrist. Together we scraped and shuffled sideways.

Nearly clear of the window, I felt strong again, ready to help drag her up, confident as she gripped me tight, her feet along the wall as I shuffled back, anchoring myself of the shallow ledge. Feet flat as mine had been, she climbed higher and I knew soon we would be safe and together. I could hold her in my arms and we could take our time to think. We would have all the time in the world to wait, contemplate the right moment to make the next move.

She climbed higher, my eyes on hers, her speed increasing as a scream seared through the air from below. I looked down as a dark flash burst from the window. I expected to see the shape fall to the ground. I didn’t expect Toni’s body to go tight, to pull against me so I hard as I took her full weight, to drag me down towards her. It all made sense when my eyes fell on the snarling beast lined with dark veins, its claw-like grip around Toni’s left ankle as it swayed, its mouth snapping wide, the other hand clawing at the air.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Eighteen

Without thought I raised to my feet, Toni already at the door, slamming it closed before running to the other side of the ornate desk, hopping over where the soldier had fallen. She pushed. The heavy wood didn’t move until I came around the other side and leant down, heaving with all I could whilst trying not to look at the soldier’s legs. It was too late to unsee the spray of red across the ceiling.

I looked away as I pushed with everything. The desk built its pace, slamming hard to the wall. Both of us stared at the gap between the desk and the door, the desk’s feet protruded out further than its surface, enough for a hand to fit through the gap sideways. Silently agreeing there was nothing we could do, we looked to the window trying not to let our breath deflate.

“Sealed shut?” I said, jumping as I finished my words, the door slapping hard against the wood, the desk moving against our bodies. We turned around and pushed back, spinning again as the door held firm. My eyes fell to the floor and the sprawled body despite my command, fixing on the slow darkening of the carpet.

“And bulletproof,” she said as I raised the pistol towards the glass, dropping my hand as I scoured the room for inspiration.

“Explosives,” I said, feeling the desk move with me as I leapt forward, snapping back around to the door to make sure Toni had kept her hold, lunging forward again as another great smack of flesh thudded against the wall. The scream came next, but the effect was different this time. I was numb to the emotion of the call, but couldn’t help but stare past Toni with her fingers in her ears, a white arm snapping through, scraping its length, bunching the black veined skin as it tried to reach us.

Kneeling to the carpet I tried to keep my eyes away from his head, huffing breath with the effort of turning him over, pinching the top of his small pack open, my fingers sliding on the sticky blood. I was in, but the pack was empty. I let the body settle on its front, jumping to my feet at the sound of Toni’s effort. Running to the edge of the desk hunching my shoulders, slapping the wood hard and reclaiming what she couldn’t help give up.

Shaking my head our eyes met, separating after a pause to take in the rest of the room.

“Come on,” I said, my words in a hurry. “You’re the clever one. How do we get out of this?” She laughed and I reared back. “I’m serious.”

“You ain’t too stupid yourself,” she replied in a thick west country accent. I squinted back.

“There’s no time,” I said, scanning the empty surfaces of the room, pushing hard against the desk. A realisation came as the door slapped against the desk. Bursts of gunfire were no longer peppering the air.

“Sorry,” she said with a laugh and I could only reply with a shake of my head. “Bullet proof glass stops bullets right?”

“I guess,” I said.

“Bullets are soft and spread when they hit something hard. They’re hot, often melting through their target.”

I nodded with excitement, but my energy drained as I spoke.

“So we need something small, cold and hard?” A smile lit her face. “So have you got anything like that?”

I could see the thoughts forming as she squinted around the room, her face straining in time with mine as we pushed against the desk, fighting a renewed surge. As the pressure released, she looked at me with wide eyes, not breathing despite the effort. The desk moved and I pushed back as she leapt away, ushering me to shuffle along to where she’d been. As I moved, I watched her open the right-hand drawer, sliding it out as far as it would go, the stop slapping hard as it reached its limit. Her hand reached for a small pink fabric covered box and knew its contents before she jumped away, sharing a moment, a small smile, her head tilted and eyes raised.

The ring was my first ever gift for another. The one and only gift for her. I’d used all my money, my head in the clouds after I came to terms with being different to everyone else, different to everyone apart from Toni. I was in love, had fallen for her so deeply I couldn’t imagine it wouldn’t just work. When we realised it wasn’t meant to be, I told her to get rid of it. I didn’t want it back. She gave it to charity, she’d said, telling me it meant nothing the first time we split. The only time we’d split. The only time we thought we knew what we were doing, a time when we thought we could see into the future.

But she’d kept it. She had it near.

As the confusion welled up in my chest, warmth radiating from my heart, I watched as if I was viewing CCTV images. She went straight to a floor cupboard, pulling a heavy weight from the bottom shelf and then a roll of surgical tape from another. She was at the window pulling the diamond from the golden setting, glancing back, sorrow in her eyes, before taping the stone, and yes it was real, to the glass at head height before she raised the weight and struck over and again.

I didn’t see the glass crack, didn’t see it splinter before I had to turn, putting my hands at the edge of the desk, renewing my effort. The screams radiated from the corridor, the wood moving towards me despite my efforts. I turned to see her bending down and saw a great slice in her jeans, felt the rush of the breeze in the room, the floor littered with thick clumps of glass. I turned back despite her urges, saw three black vein-ridden arms at the door, saw the door bending at the top, saw what I thought was the wall swaying inward.

“Come on,” she said, but I couldn’t move knowing the desk would give. They’d overrun us in seconds. Toni was at my side as I tried to push against the pressure. She shrugged the rifle off her shoulder and pushed through the gap, firing. The first explosion numbed my ears, the second, the third left them ringing, but the tide relented and I was free, a great breath pulled into my lungs. For the first time I smelt the stench, the soiled smell of sewerage from the corridor. She dragged me away, pushing me towards the window. I had to skip over the body, had to steady myself as I landed on the glass, hoping to stop my bare feet from cutting to ribbons.

With her hands at my back, she helped me climb, the door creaking against the wood, but I couldn’t look, keeping my eyes set on the horizon. I was up and on the ledge, looking along the side of the building at the decorative bricks protruding just enough to give texture at a glance, but were surely not enough for me to balance my weight on. Not enough to get me to the metal drainpipe and relative safety just out of arms reach.

“Go,” she said, her voice frantic. I had no choice, the door was opening wide, pushing the desk to the side. “Go,” she said and I saw her rucksack being push along the floor. “Go,” she said as she climbed, the first of the creatures was through, on the top of the desk, limbs at its back already following. “Go,” she said and I took the step, my weight holding as I gripped the thin edge of the brick below, my fingers scraping for a grip at the edge of the flat room. With her following at my side, my foot slipped, scraping my toes, but my grip was strong, fingernails digging into the soft skin of the roof. I held on, waiting for my breath to recover. “Shit, the bag,” I heard her say.

“Leave it,” I shouted, but as I turned I saw her disappear back through the window, a deafening scream howling from inside.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Seventeen

The metal handle stopped spinning as it reached my feet. With the noxious smoke dispersing, a figure appeared at the door, a gas mask wrapped around their face, a short rifle tracking up, taking aim. Toni lay still, leaning back on her elbows, her eyes wide as she stared back at the figure taking tentative steps across the threshold. His eyes headed up to mine. A muffled sound came from behind his mask, but the words seemed as if not meant for us.

He took a step forward, his gun still on Toni, another figure arrived at his back. At first look they were identical. A burst of gunfire lit up the corridor, muffled shouts followed as if from all around. Anger rose in my chest. These were the people that had done this, these were the people that had beaten Toni. An urge to let my guard down built, I wanted the rage back, wanted the animal hunger to return so I could defend myself, defend Toni, but it wouldn’t come.

The other man stood with his shoulder at the door frame peering around a shallow angle out into the corridor. The soldier in the room was shouting something, his chest heaving up and down. With him he brought a thick chemical odour, the burn of plastic thickening the air. Across his dark, earthy uniform was a great line of splattered blood as if an artist had flicked a brush. The inside of his mask misted, the words muffled with the race of his breath and the protruding filter. Gunfire in the corridor wouldn’t let me concentrate, all I could do was stare back wide eyed at his noise as I shook my head, as he swapped his aim, snapping the muzzle between us.

His left hand stopped steadying the machine gun, instead hurried to unclip his helmet, dropping it to the desk as he flicked his head between the two of us, but his aim soon settled on me. He pulled the mask off and dragged in air. His red face ran with sweat, his short fringe dark, his bloodshot eyes flicked open and closed, frantic to rid the sting of sweat. Gunfire burst down the corridor, the soldier’s report at the door shook through my body and I flinched in his direction, not sure if I would see the gun pointed at me, the lack of pain a delayed reaction, but no, his aim was down the corridor and another volley rattled off as I stared.

The unmasked soldier drew my attention back as he spoke, his voice high, as young as his looks. So much younger than me. His wide eyes and the shake of his voice betrayed his recent loss of innocence.

“Stand up,” he’d been saying all along. “You’re coming with us,” he said, his words robotic, rehearsed.

“Stoppage,” came the muffled shout from behind the other’s mask. Our guy’s eyes lit up, his head rearing back. We watched as the soldier’s gloved hands raked the slide at the side of the weapon, pushing forward and pulling back. We watched as his motioned grew more frantic, watched as he vanished, leaving only the echo of the rifle hitting the floor.

I looked to the other man to make sure he’d seen it too and he stared back reflecting my disbelief. Toni didn’t pause, a hand pushed the pistol in a slide across the floor before grabbing at her rifle. Our eyes locked and I knew she’d seen it, seen him there, before a shadow darted past the doorway, grabbing the soldier and he’d gone.

“Aim that weapon somewhere else.” It was Toni’s sharp voice and I turned towards it, away from the doorway. She was standing at my side and I followed the aim of her pistol to his face. His mouth was hanging wide, his face turning from the corridor, the gun dropping in slow motion.

Sound came from the corridor. It was a noise I couldn’t at first describe, but soon I recognised something heavy being dragged across the carpet. We stopped moving, except for Toni. Her gun still pointed at the soldier, motioning him to the doorway. His eyes were still wide and I could see he was deciding, looking between the gun in her hand and the corridor, then to the window. He stepped to the glass and peered down, all with the noise in the corridor multiplying. I saw his eyes go wide as he peered lower, watched as he let the short machine gun down on its straps. Toni kept her gun pointed in his direction, despite the rising activity in the corridor. With the pant of his breath growing ever faster, the soldier unclipped the top of his holster and calmly drew a pistol out as he shook his head.

“What’s your name?” I whispered, keeping my voice as calm as I could, but he couldn’t take his look from below, all he could reply was the shake of his head. I looked to Toni and she looked back letting the gun drop, opening her hands and I looked back, the gun already under his chin. I dropped to my knees and felt the tears rolling down my face as I buried my hands over my ears, leaning against the desk. My body rattled as he pulled the trigger.

I heard the echo in my ears, heard the spent cartridge clink as it hit the desk. I heard his breath push out as he slumped to the floor and heard the scrape on the carpet stop, but only for a moment before it became an orchestra of drumming feet.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Sixteen

“You did this?” I shouted, struggling to get myself to my feet as my hands slipped on the tears covering the wooden floor.

“No,” Toni shouted back as she tried to gather me up in her arms.

“You made the drug,” I said, slapping away her arms.

“It was an antidote,” she said as I scrabbled back, bumping against her desk. “But it wasn’t ready. Wasn’t for human testing. They didn’t give me enough time, I told them I wasn’t for use on humans yet. There were more tests to do, more protocols to follow. When they refused to let me finish the work, wanted me to jump straight to the trials, I threatened to go to the media.” Her arms had fallen to her side, but lifted to wrap around her stomach as her slowing words pleaded. “They knew about you. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, but I couldn’t sit back, I had to call. They found me when I was on the phone, beat me until I told them what I’d said. If you hadn’t come here, they were coming to get you, anyway. I’m so sorry.” Tears ran down the bruises on her face and she barely reacted to the echoing gunshots filling the air.

We stood, each of us unable to talk. Neither of listening to the litter of explosions and the chatter of the gunfire, until finally she sucked up the tears, letting her arms fall as she straightened up.

“We have to go or we’ll never leave this place alive,” she said, her eyes on mine, despite not able to look in her direction.

“You did this to me,” I said, the words not rising above the chaos.

“No,” she said. “I saved your life and I’ll do it again. I’ll do it every minute of the day if you need me.”

I turned away, ignoring her words then felt her grip around my upper arm. She tugged, pulling me to the window.

“Look,” she said and I turned to face the glass. The swarm was still there, but now the people formed lines of camouflaged soldiers streaming from trucks out in the yard, each looking left and right, their rifles levelled as they piled into every building. A door burst open and a creature leapt out, its hunched over form the only sign it was once human. The arc of its jump was a feat greater than an Olympian in his peak, only tattered rags of its gown circled around its neck, dark veins spidered out from its chest. Heads turned its way, followed by rifles. Soldiers dropped to their knees, their eyes peering through the scopes, but were none able to pull the trigger. The creature tangled in one of their colleagues, whose flesh flew from his face, ripped and discarded into the air.

My head shook as I took in the melee. I knew I’d seen this and worse already, but those images were like I’d seen them through someone else’s point to view, like on TV, my consciousness removed. I was taking this in for the first time, my body shaking, panic radiating in waves. Only Toni’s hand held tight in mine stopped me from curling into a ball and giving up.

Machine gun fire burst out from the side lines. A frantic chatter of bullets exploded in the crowd. I counted three soldiers down before the creature and its victim took the brunt of the fire, swiftly joined by a hundred other rounds, every soldier cutting them down.

I felt my breath heavy as I watched, Toni’s warm hand clutching at mine, but I couldn’t press back. My body so numb I thought I might collapse.

“You’d be dead if I hadn’t helped. You’ll be dead when they see you. We have to go. They can’t let you get out. You’re already their best chance. They’ll want to pull you apart and see why it worked.”

“But,” I said, turning away from the reforming line, soldier’s rushing in to check for survivors. “I’m not immune. It didn’t work,” I said in a low voice. “Before. Before,” I repeated. “I was like them, I wanted to do so much, the hunger was so overwhelming.” Her hand clamped tighter and she turned me around by the shoulder, peering into my eyes.

“No, you’re not like them, won’t be. You’re alive. They’re dead. You’re human and I’ve given your body a chance to fight back. We’ve got to go, they’re in the building already.”

I stayed where I was, unable to move as I watched her rush to the wardrobe, watched as she pulled out a rucksack, shouldering the rifle. Beckoning me forward with a pistol in her hand, I started towards the door as she pulled down the red dress and stuffed it into the bag. As she took hold of the handle I stopped, hearing a noise the other side. Toni heard it too and threw herself to floor just in time for an explosion to destroy the lock and fling the door wide.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Fifteen

I lay on my back in the darkness, warm for the first time in what seemed like an age. The left side of my body felt heavy, paralysed. A soft cushion nestled beneath my head and waited for the drip to fall to my face. I couldn’t move my left arm, my body unresponsive, with a panic rising I opened my eyes to the dim light and glared down at the dark hair of the head resting on my chest. My last memory flooded back. The needle stinging at my belly, legs going from underneath as she lunged.

“What the fuck?” I screamed, my voice building with every syllable as my right side reared up. Her head stirred, tilting around, bleary eyes looking back as I scrabbled to the floor. “What the fuck?” I repeated pulling up the blouse, my fingers running over the flat of my stomach, catching on the edge of the small circular plaster just above my belly button. “What the fuck?” I repeated, my eyes on hers as she dropped back to the sofa, fists rubbing at her sockets, a deep yawn pulling her mouth wide. “What have you done?” I said my voice desperate. “You’d better answer, or I’ll,” I said cutting myself off as I scoured the room.

“Wait,” she said, getting to her feet. I backed off, turning to find anything I could use to defend myself, but all I could see out of place was a red flared dress hanging on the back of the door. I lingered on the dress, our conversation pulling at my head. “Before I answer,” she said, holding her hands out as I looked back. “Tell me how you feel.”

“Feel?” I said, snapping back, the rage felt like about to vent as steam from my ears. “I’m fucking livid,” I said, my voice building. She pushed her hands out, her mouth twisting in laughter as she fought for control.

“Take a moment, let yourself wake. Calm down and tell me how your feel,” she sat back down keeping her attention my way, her eyes doughy as she tilted her head to the side with her lips a petite smile. I turned away, knowing I had to fight those eyes and took a step to the window, looked out to the horizon and the perfect blue sky. My eyes caught on the carton of cigarettes and panic pushed into my chest. Snapping my back to Toni, hers eyes were wide and hopeful.

I let the breath slowly catch in my lungs, tentative at first, taking note of all that came. As hard as I searched, the smell was benign, blank, empty, with no earthly taste drawing my attention. I let the breath build through my nose and held. My body gave no reaction, blood didn’t course like a tsunami and my heart didn’t pound out of my chest.

“I feel great,” I said, the words quiet, unsure. “What have you done? I feel like,” I said, struggling for the words. “Like,” I said again not knowing how to get it out.

“Human again?” Toni said and stood as I gave a slow nod.

“You’ve cured me?” I said with tears welling in my eyes, but I didn’t understand as she stepped towards me slowly shaking her head, her hands opening to pull me close. “I don’t understand,” I said, the tears flowing. I had her in my arms, still wanted to tear her clothes off, I wanted to taste her in my mouth, but not to pull away her flesh and didn’t feel the overwhelming need to lap at her open veins.

Her arms tightened around me, pulling closer as she spoke. Wrapping me completely.

“It’s not a cure,” she said, her voice soft, the tears obvious as she sobbed. “But it will suppress the symptoms for a while.”

I tried to pull away, I didn’t get it. Her arms held me in place.

“How do you know? How can you be sure?” There was silence and no reply came. “Please, you have to tell me or my brain will explode.”

Her arms tightened further, clamping on for dear life. Her lunge flashed in my mind as the sound of distant gunshots rang in my ears and an explosion shocked the fabric of the building.

“They’re coming,” she said.

“I don’t care whose coming, just tell me please. How do you know?”

My knees gave way as I heard the answer.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Fourteen

We headed through the corridor at a good pace, my eyes twitching to noise I couldn’t tell was really there. Peering through every open door, out into the darkness through every window, snapping back over my shoulder despite Toni’s relentless push forward. We climbed three storeys, still with my hand in hers, winding our way higher each time until we came to the top and a great sliding door which should have barred our way, but lay strewn to the side. Blood streaked across its front and at its side was a guard, not a solider, but a man in a blue shirt, a great bunch of keys hanging by his side. Only as we approached did she let go of my hand to unclip the ring from his belt. She didn’t need to administer the gun to his head, someone had done the job moments earlier, but long enough ago for the pool of liquid to slow its escape.

The carpet felt soft, letting my feet bounce, the sensation so alien, like I’d only experienced hard floors before. Toni lit another cigarette, handing it over before we reached a door with gold letters across its front, words I only recognised as her name as they passed out of sight. Letting go a second time to use the great bunch to unlock, she led me in, turning the thumbwheel in her fingers, slapping on the light. I took in the wide, spacious office, a great oak desk taking over half the space in the centre. Everything ordered, neat and clean, just as I would have expected.

She didn’t draw breath as we entered, instead ushered me to the long sofa filling the right-hand wall. Sitting, I pulled on the glorious cigarette, watching as she raced around the room, pulling open the draws of her desk, rifling through cupboards lining the floor and the wall. On top of the floor standing cupboards was a counter top with a sink in the centre, but there were medical instruments, no laboratory equipment cluttering its surface.

I watched as she seemed to slow, glancing at me, then standing straight, taking her time to look me over.

“You look like a granny,” she said with a smile. I glanced down. She was right. With the white coat spread wide, the tweed skirt and frilled blouse caught my attention for the first time. “She’ll be pissed if she sees you in her clothes,” she said, then burst out laughing. “She’ll be pissed if she see’s you at all.”

Her laughter cut short as the lights went out and a dim haze from the far wall caught my eye. I turned to the great window, stood and walked around the desk, my eyes fixed on the yellow line appearing on the horizon.

“How long’s it been?” I said, my voice dry and throat hoarse. I filled her pause peering through the window, gazing to the light on the horizon, turning down to the rest of the buildings, but with none of the lamps lit, I couldn’t make out any detail.

“I see you every week,” she said in a playful voice. I could tell from the muffle she was looking away, the sound told me she was still searching, but for what I didn’t know. Each moment the sun seemed to rise more and I knew it was true. The roofs of the shorter buildings on the other side of the site highlighting.

“I don’t get it,” I said and turned back into the darkness, taking a moment to let my eyes catch up on her shape moving in the corner.

“That little flared red dress you wore in Istanbul last week. That did it for me,” she said.

“When I interviewed the President?” I replied, stepping away from the window and her shape back in view. The orange jumpsuit lay crumpled at her feet, her hands were at her back tugging at her bra as she stepped from a lace pair of knickers. The feeling was growing too familiar, blood racing around my body, filling me up, urging me on. I took a long drag of the cigarette and turned back to the window, but my thoughts fixed on her curves, the image of her slender body in the dim light raging in my head. No matter how much I pulled from the cigarette it wouldn’t fade.

“Too long. I know. We weren’t meant to be and there’s no escaping from reality,” she said and was right. Together the weeks would pass by like hours, life set aside, blurring past the window. All it took was for one of us to remember we had lives outside, or a call from an editor or her boss and out time ended. Neither of us could ask the other to make the sacrifice it would take to be together.

With the clink of coat-hangers on the rail, I turned back, the light already greater. Her jeans still showed off her amazing form, the jumper hugging tight couldn’t hide away any of her beauty. I turned back through the window, movement catching my eye down below. I saw people and lots of them, soldiers, a rescue party. My shoulders hunched tight as I remembered they weren’t here to rescue me. They were here to rescue survivors. They were here to rescue Toni.

“Your friends are here to help you,” I said.

“Look again,” she said, but I was still watching, my eyes lingered as the light grew. I saw dull forms take shape, watched as civilians and those in lab coats came into focus. I watched their slow movement, their direction without aim. The mass of people seemed to grow in number with the light, their movement stilted, turning only when they bumped into each other, turning as they reached the walls, like maggots writhing in a bowl. As the light grew I saw the mass swelling against a chain link fence, like the ebb and flow of the tide. I saw another fence beyond and rubbed the bite on my arm. A long drag helped the growing pressure slow.

“What is this place?” I said with my view still fixed.

“A research facility,” she replied, her voice getting near.

I remembered back to our conversation as their injuries took shape, dark marked clothes grew clear, each face radiating a blank expression and I knew what I was looking at. I knew what they were trying to do. I knew what had infected me.

“What is it you exactly do?” I said with surprise at my breath still even. Her words were louder than I expected.

“Head of infection control,” she replied and I turned, my eyes catching at first on her bruised face, the cigarette dropping to the floor as my mouth shot open, my hands pushing to the syringe heading for my stomach.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Thirteen

Gulping down the heavy air, I pushed my hand out to my side, forcing myself to continue the step forward as Toni’s warmth shot up through my fingers. The room was silent, the breath around me still, the air motionless, the only noise from my pounding blood. My eyes fixed on the gap, the smell of its liquor spiralling up my nose, my forward leap only held back by my curiosity of who the owner was.

Not bothering to listen out as I neared, all I could hear was the call everywhere but in my ears. Stepping around the door, I saw the light of the corridor and the start of the trail of scarlet coming from outside the gap’s angle. Reaching my fingers out to the door, I jumped, only just able to stop myself from pouncing as warm hands burnt at my shoulder. I saw the fear in her eyes, Toni’s step back, the pull away of her hands. I couldn’t stay in the room like this and turned, slapping my fingers against the steel, the door giving like it had no weight at all.

I was out into the corridor, leaping forward, I could hear the gasps from the room echoing. My eyes shot left, not lingering on the body of the soldier, scanning down to the far door, flipping around as the piercing scream came from behind. I took a moment. I was in another place; the shriek sending my body into itself. He wasn’t wearing his glasses or one of his many trademark checked shirts, but past his wide mouth and bared teeth, behind the dark clots and white sinew hanging from his short beard, the wide scarlet radiating down the hospital gown like a bloody napkin tucked in at the neck, I recognised his pale green eyes, saw that fleck of dark in his right just as the trigger was all the way back, his torso stuttering as the bullet slammed.

Still, I let the second round release, but it was Toni’s just after, shattering his skull. Hers hit in the centre of his forehead, my aim distracted with the arrival of her scent, catching him in the shoulder instead. He dropped like a rag doll, collapsing to the floor, my head was already elsewhere, searching behind him, beyond the body to the corridor and the bloody footsteps leading off, only to return. I forged forward, stepping around the body, not glancing back, knowing I would only drive myself closer to where I couldn’t be, where I never wanted to end up. I ignored the bullet as it went off, ignored the echo I barely heard. It wasn’t until I heard her soft voice from miles away I tried to listen to what my ears were telling me.

A name called from a great distance, repeated, the sharp tone reminding me of school, of a teacher telling me off, stopping my prank, forcing concentration. The name was mine and I turned only as I heard the click of a lighter, but found she wasn’t in the corridor. There was enough of me left to stop, to accept the order to wait, to stay my panting breath, to hold back my muscles itching for the hunt, my stomach growing as my eyes fixed on the soldier’s body by the door.

My view blocked. Toni through the door. In her hands was the carton of cigarettes, the soldier’s Glock in the other, a wisp of smoke trailing from the cigarette in her mouth. I saw the new pool of blood in the corridor, the soldier’s head flatter than when I passed, but my eyes returned to her, to the curl of her mouth. Oh my god. She understood. I almost broke down, the animal draining from me. Still, I pounced towards her, in my memory I was like a dog, jumping to her side, into her cloud, her taste potted with blank space. The cigarette was in my mouth, the blood in my veins already calming, replaced with a warmth, a gratitude she knew my plight, knew how to bring me back to myself. I heard her calm sweet words, crystal clear as she grabbed my hand and led me down the corridor.

“I know somewhere,” she said.

We twisted and turned, stepping over bodies, soldiers mostly, but civilians too, only one wore a gown, killed by a gun shot shattering his head open. I didn’t care that not once did she check for life before she pushed the gun to each head, setting the air alight with the noise. My only concern was with the pointless waste of bullets, or did she know something I didn’t and it wasn’t a waste?


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Twelve

Part of me expected the end. Part of me even thought it would be a good way to go. Clean. Over and done before I could commentate. But more than anything else, the biggest part of me knew his hand would go down, the gun would slip from my temple and I’d snatch it away, have him face down on the floor before I could think any more.

Looking up from my foot between his shoulders blades, I knew I’d see Toni, what remained of the plastic box in her hand, whatever had been its heavy contents still settling on the floor amongst the jagged white shards, a wide lopsided smile beaming in my direction as the world settled to the speed I was more comfortable with.

No one moved because I told them not too. Toni paused only for a moment as I hurried my voice for her to snatch a cigarette from the carton and get one to my mouth with a lighter. She read my distress as I shooed her away with the smouldering stick between my lips, as I took a moment, took my time to collect, drawing in the thick air, watching as my vision snapped back, the scents evaporating.

The three remaining women huddled over the fallen. The tallest had taken the lead, the price of her height. They let themselves fall to the floor as the obvious became undeniable. The man who’d sat at his laptop continued to type, his fingers speeding as if he was curating his own narrative. The soldier shook under my foot, but obeyed the one and only command I’d given as Toni bent at his side, pulling off the helmet, yanking the radio cables from their sockets, digging out the keys from his pocket.

For the first time in an age I took a moment to think and the question spilled. How the hell am I going to get this story out?

Massaging her wrists, Toni bent to her ankles and pulling up the orange overalls I winced back at her skin black and blue, my foot between his blades getting heavier with every second. She looked up and saw my pain, pulled the legs down and launched herself at me, her arms grabbing tight around my upper body, her head burying deep into the crook of my neck. I took a long draw, to push away the growing distraction, kept my eyes on the four, although they were looking anywhere, but in my direction.

A clang of metal rang out against the heavy door and Toni pulled away, her eyes catching on the cigarette in my mouth, returning a look, a scowl I knew well. Her eyes snapped to the door, but were soon on the rifle in her hands and the slide of the mechanism it was clear she knew so well.

“Radio check, dumbass,” were the cotton wool words just about making it through the steel. We glanced together, her nod gave me the will. I took my foot from his back and made sure he was aware a gun was pointed should he wish to be a hero. Without words I motioned for all to move behind the door, the man at the laptop took the longest to comply, almost upset to close the screen and let his fingers leave the keyboard. Before too many more words had repeated through the door, our hostages were in the crook and Toni and I were standing at the far wall. They would see us only when the door was full pushed open and we’d have them.

I padded forward, pushing the gun into my white coat pocket, gripped my hands around the handle and forced the slide across, pulling the heavy metal by the handle, just enough to crack it open before I jumped back to my position, both our aims centred on the gap. The door didn’t move, and no words came. It hadn’t crossed my mind that a plan might have been in place for this situation, a procedure ready should they get no answer. We should have opened the door straight away, guns blazing. Now on the other side backup would be on its way or already there in silence. Guns would be pointed our way, doing to us what we’d planned for them. They were professionals. No sound came. No boots ran down the corridor. No final calls were made just to make sure.

I’d covered enough sieges in my time, terrorists, bank robbers and plain old stupidity. A canister would roll all casual through the gap. A bang and a flash would overwhelm our senses and in those moments they would have control. We’d be dead or in chains. I chanced a look at Toni, her eyes were already on me. I drew a drag of foul smoke, letting the remainder drop to the ground, knowing the only way out of this situation was to lose control, to let myself go where my body ached to be. I’d just have to hope I could reign it in when the job was done and not destroy my reason for being here at the same time.

By not holding back, I could already taste the change in the air, could feel blood swelling, muscles tense, coiling up, ready to spring. It was Toni’s words which halted the march, made me pause enough to follow her outstretched finger down to the growing line on the floor at the gap. To watch the dark line of a viscous liquid glint in the light. As my eyes locked, I could taste it on my tongue, could smell the thick iron rich tang heavy down my throat, all before I heard the structure of her question.

“Is that blood?”


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Eleven

The choice was made. Not my decision. What could I do? At a guess I had a full five minutes before I couldn’t hold back, maybe ten if I distracted myself from all around me. Perhaps I could sleep, think happy thoughts, but not those already crowding my head.

I looked back at Toni, her eyebrows raised in what I knew was a solemn communication. Sorry, but thanks for answering my call, I guessed, turning away. Yes, I’d come to her rescue on the flimsiest of information, but what good had I done? I was in a worse situation. pumped full of drugs, or whatever was in the syringe. I’d been bitten, infected by a disease I couldn’t even imagine, the first symptoms of which destroyed my world. At least she still has her life. Battered and bruised, broken maybe, but she would recover when she was out of this place. My future was less certain. To be put down like a rabid dog, or locked in a cage for however long I had left.

I stood, breathing through my mouth and took small steps across the room, ignoring the soldier’s words.

“Miss, please stay away from the prisoner,” he said, turning my way. I carried on my advance, standing my ground as his wide spread hand blocked my path and he stepped in to follow. I looked him up and down, trying not to linger on his sidearm, a Glock 17, a weapon I’d learnt to handle, trained by my Israeli bodyguard on my six month stint in Jerusalem. I saw his pouches packed full, guessed which one should hold the ammunition, could practically smell the chocolate on the other side that would melt in the building heat of the room. Only as he copied my look did I sit back down, he’d got the wrong idea, but I’d found a way out.

Closing my eyes, I let my mind drift, turning away from the thought of food, of urges I needed to satisfy. I thought of my parents sat in front of the telly, each with a glass of sherry and a box of chocolates spread across their laps. Still, the scents rolled in and I knew the four women would be standing in front of me as I opened my eyes, their gamey notes exciting the thin hairs along the inside of my nostrils. I could almost see in the air as their cocktail of scents untangled, their flavours becoming distinct, my attention caught by one in particular who had an undertone of burnt caramel.

There they were, silhouetted against the lamp. I closed my eyes again, but couldn’t help but open, their words already losing definition as I looked each of them with a growing desperation to know which one would make a great dessert. I stood, feeling saliva pour from my glands, the liquid hot in my mouth as I tried to concentrate on their words.

“Karen,” the tallest of the four said, with a high pitched voice she tried to keep quiet. She was blonde with great skin, her white coat hid her curves, but hung high off her chest. I only noticed her hand held out as the other three pairs of eyes followed down. I held mine out, hers so warm, could feel her energy filling me, my breath rising. “Where do you work again? I’ve not seen you around,” she said, her face alarming and she yanked back her hand. “You’re freezing,” she said and in unison each of their eyes went wide, fixed on my hand and then my face. “Do we,” the tall one said and before I could find my sweet treat, she’d pushed up my sleeve and were rearing back at the healing bite wound.

The world slipped down a gear, their speech slowing as if their batteries had drained. They moved back with a speed like they were stuck in treacle, the screams building as my arm fell back to my side. The game was up, their widening faces told me so. I had just enough of a chance to catch Toni’s face as it fell, before I caught the soldier’s eyes. He was good, had his rifle up, head looking slowly side to side, the fat in his cheeks carrying its momentum as he checked twice either side he was making the right decision.

The first bullet was easy to dodge, the round fired in a panic and like a fly, my body and brain were on overdrive, time had slowed for those around.

The second bullet grazed my arm, sending pain I would only feel moments later. The third was a wild shot, ricocheting twice before embedding deep in a brain. I hoped it wasn’t in the sweet taste of pudding. He had the Glock out as I closed the distance, but I saw it too late, heard the trigger pull back the first safety pin, felt the second vibrate through my temple, knowing the third noise would be the sound of my brain exploding.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Ten

She wore a bright orange jump-suit three or more sizes too large. Her feet shuffled across the floor, restricted by manacles clipped at her ankles. What could she have done to prompt such fear of escape?

A great black hand reached my way as I stepped forward, but with all eyes on me I let myself back, watching her downward face as she was led to the opposite side of the room. The huddled women gave their attention, fixed their sneers pointed in her direction while I half listened to the soldier’s chat, catching only half their words as a bunch of keys changed hands. Soon our black guard was left to his task alone.

Still, she hadn’t looked up.

Lighting another cigarette, I pushed away my returning senses, smothering the sweet honeyed scent I could almost see drawing out from her like an aura. All the while I kept my eyes on the top of her bowed head and as the door sealed closed, I spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.

“What’s going on?”

Toni looked up, my plan a success. Her eyes were wide, her left not as wide as her right, her chest heaving as she struggled with pain from the sharp intake of breath. I turned away after lingering just enough. The soldier stood at the door with a wide smile shining back, his voice booming when he spoke.

“It’s under control, but we’ll be moving as soon as the compound is cleared.”

“Moving where?” said one of the woman who’d broken from the pack, a chorus of agreement at her shoulders.

“I don’t know. I’ve just been told we’re going mobile. You have work to do,” he said and letting his rifle relax on the straps, he held his hands in the air. “That’s all I know,” he said and turned raising his eyes wide to test my satisfaction.

I gave a shallow nod and waited until he turned away before I let my view radiate in Toni’s direction. She was staring right at me, pain hanging from her face, tears rolling down her cheeks and squinting each time I took a long drag.

All I could do was think, but I’d already done all I needed to do. I knew my only choice. Sit and wait this out, smoking to keep myself from going crazy, pushing away the air thick with the mouthwatering smells while I stared at Toni fighting my growing anger at the damage to her face and all I could imagine they’d put her through. Her phone call made little sense, although the words were fading, she must have found out what was going on, must have discovered they were testing on humans, were testing a vaccine against a new disease I hadn’t even heard of. She’d been silenced. Shackled and chained. But why hadn’t they killed her? A shudder ran down my spine at the thought.

Shaking off the growing tension, I let myself fantasise over the only other option. Stub out the cigarette and burn no other. Let myself be engulfed by the smorgasbord of flavour. There was no point kidding myself about what would happen next. I knew I would rend flesh, would pull heads to the side and bite my teeth deep into their necks. I knew I wouldn’t stop, couldn’t hold back once I’d tasted the sweet warm meat straight from the bone. These thoughts didn’t scare me one bit and I felt my heart beating and my vision begin to haze. I barely heard a cackle of coughs from the side of the room, the sound more like braying lambs in a field. I thought of the blood spurting from their veins, heat raining down my face, covering my naked body.

“Are you okay lady?” the soldier’s voice boomed somewhere near, but I saw him as only a shadow, my breath pulling fast as I snapped forward sinking my teeth, but only in my head. Sweet, delicious, tangy scent filtered down my nostrils, electricity coursed along my veins, blood pumped to my extremities, fingers, toes, head, breasts, my pussy felt engorged, bulging heavy between my legs. More words came at me as my head lolled back and forward. I fought the feeling as it took control, knowing if I leapt forward and sunk my teeth, the race of Oxytocin would be better than the greatest orgasm I’d ever felt.

A sting of pain cut through the mist and I looked to my fingers and saw the orange ember kissing my skin. Through the fog I pulled it to my lips and sucked the deepest breath I’d every taken, blowing out as slow as I could manage.

My heart slowed and the moment passed with a disappointment we all know when we’d pulled back from the cliff edge, our partner out of energy, the batteries dead, hand too weary. My eyes fell past the soldier who’d stood back as I took the drag, falling on Toni. I knew plan A was my only option, I couldn’t trust myself to be in control, knowing I wouldn’t be able to stop. Her flesh would taste the sweetest, would be the most familiar of all.

The soldier was speaking and I looked up, taking another drag. In his hands were the carton of cigarettes he’d taken from my side as the women coughed.

“We’ll just hold off with the smoking until we get outside,” he said, his mouth and eyes wide in a smile.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Nine

I expected a bullet as he told me to rise, barking orders to get to our feet. I knew he would shoot as we locked eyes, seeing my monstrous features. I expected a bullet, but he didn’t search underneath the lab coat, giving himself no chance to recognise someone else’s clothes that didn’t fit. I expected a bullet as footsteps built to a roar in the corridor, heavy boots running past, skittering cubes of glasses in all directions. I expected a bullet as I headed our small group through the doorway, turning right before Dan, leading the way. I expected to be shot to the ground as I forced my hand across my mouth, trying to lock out the dreamy wake of the flesh gone racing to the empty cells.

I expected a bullet after each instruction, each left turn, each wait, go right. I expected a bullet as he spoke to someone else, someone on the radio as we arrived at a braced metal door twice as wide and half as tall as those baring the cells. I expected gunfire from within as the door slid, expected the beast of a black soldier on the other side to swing his gun down from his shoulder, to smash the butt across my face and send me spiralling to the ground. I hadn’t expected him to stare wide eyed, his eyebrows twitching, mouth curling to a smile, that look of recognition I’d grown so used to, those words no one could hold back.

“Are you?” he said, stepping back to let us in the room.

I walked past, not able to talk, fearing the deep breath I couldn’t hold back. It came with a surprise, a lungful of smoke, a great blanket blocking out everything else. My nostrils filled, the buds on my tongue clogged. I took in more of the thick air and realised all around me, my vision no longer blurred with the need to fill my urge.

I saw people. Saw the small, under-lit room. An old incandescent lamp hanging bare from the ceiling. We were in a kind of strong room, dining chairs set around the edge, each alternating its space with white plastic crates stacked to the low ceiling. I saw the eyes on me. A small collection, four young women in lab coats in the dark room and a man sat on the floor with a laptop in the far corner, the cigarette dangling from his lip. I didn’t want to tear off their flesh. I wanted to know who they were. I wanted to get their story. I was me again.

Ushered to a seat in the corner, Dan joined me, sitting meek at my side, his head in his hands as I watched the soldier who’d found us, leave and his colleague push the door closed at his back. The solder came over and I smiled, pushing on my public face, surprised I could hear his words.

“Are you the woman off the tele?” he said, his accent thick with West Midlands rhythm. I shook my head, pleased my face had not turned hideous.

“I’ve just started,” I replied. “A week ago. Graduate programme.”

He smiled showing teeth as white as snow. I didn’t think he believed me, but I lived a few moments more to tell the tale.

“What’s going on?” I replied, I couldn’t help myself and watched as despite my low voice, two pairs of eyes glanced in my direction. He shook his head, turning to the rest of the group as if for show, shrugging his shoulders in an overactive move to add to his point. The cigarette smoke thinned and I watched the wisps of blue air glide up into the vents. Dan’s smell came first as he leant over still with his head in his hands. Then came new tastes. Thick and meaty, I guessed was the soldier’s, the huddle of women were delicate and gamey. I hadn’t quite got the older man’s until I stood next to him, his scent pale, aged like mutton.

“Have you got another?” I said, nodding towards the rectangular package on the floor. He smiled up showing yellow teeth, his meat strong as he breathed in my direction. I’m sure I would have found out his taste if he hadn’t flipped up the lid of the box next to him to reveal long cartons of white boxed cigarettes.

The first draw was bliss, the taste empty, saliva retreating down my throat as my vision cleared. The woman in the huddle coughed as I passed, if they’d kept that up, I might have shown the alternative. I took my time, let the smoke fill every corner of my lungs, let the thick air coat the inside of my nostrils. Dan had grown quiet and I guessed he was asleep, not even waking at the dull knock on the heavy door, not hearing the words as it opened.

“Five unaccounted for.” It was a different soldier that had escorted us. I wanted to say rescued us, but that wasn’t right. The right words tried to form in my head as I savoured my blank taste bugs, listening to the drivel. “I had to bring her here. Watch her. She’s trouble, the brig’s overrun.”

I looked up at those words. Knew before I saw her face in the orange light, knew it would be her stepping through the gap. I hadn’t guessed about the hands cuffed at her front. Hadn’t guessed at the left side of her face black and blue. Hadn’t thought I’d see her head down turned. Broken.

I stubbed the unfinished cigarette under my foot.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Eight

With a collective breath, the pained echoes slowly died away. My hands held out to the wall hoping to keep upright. As my head rolled from side to side, still feeling the full force inside, movement in the corridor shifted, their attention a group focus. I heard the mood as clear as if I watched from above, footsteps, bare feet padding, stalking with a single aim. Slow and cautious in the dark. I turned to Dan, listened to his desperate low whimper, listened to their thoughtless steps outside, each in time with his low, quiet, self-destructive cry.

I moved, keeping my feet slow, trying not to aggravate the standing water. Outside theirs were quickening and I grabbed Dan up, his eyes so wide, his weight nearly empty as I pushed him against the wall. I could almost see the shadows in the gap as I leant against him with my back, a foreign instinct holding my arms out wide to shield him from their arrival.

But they didn’t come. All I saw was a shadow pass the gap in the door, a figure bent low, there and gone in a flash, right before a confusion of scents caught me from the corridor.

Gunfire burst out, tiny flashes lighting the corridor for an instant, each peppered with a riot of movement. Screams ripped again through the loud bangs, Dan grabbing around my waist, holding me tight as he sobbed. The chaos was soon out of the corridor, soon beyond the far door, echoing further away, leaving just the two of us behind. I hoped. The lights in the corridor flickered on and I jumped out of Dan’s grasp, a breath unbidden pulled into my lungs, Dan’s smell wafting all around. I turned wide eyed, a painful emptiness raking at my insides.

Dan looked up and I closed my mouth. He stood watching my silhouette as I backed up to the doorway. I wandered if he could tell I was weighing up if I should take this last chance to kill the pain, to take his life, or to fight against these new feelings and not take the step I knew I could never come back from.

I welcomed the scream echoing in the distance, forcing my attention to the call rushing down through the corridor. I turned, placing my hand on the cold of the metal door and peered through the gap. I startled back at the floor strewn with bodies, my eyes roved the blood soaking into almost every space, the white of the floor only visible through the smeared foot marks, the rushing boot prints, licking at the lumps of tile, plaster from the walls, lead and flesh crowding its surface.

I counted seven bodies, four of them soldiers, but could only tell by their thick body armour, doubting their mothers could recognise what remained of their faces. The other three I didn’t have enough words to describe, but knew they were like the man, the Bodmin Bodysnatcher, who’d smashed his head against my door, who lay at my feet, a dark ooze of clots filling where his eyes had been.

Stepping out, blood sucked around the sole of my foot. It was warm to touch, like stepping into a lukewarm bath, sending tingles of pleasure along the inside of my thighs. I peered along the corridor and saw the door at the end ajar, the light burned bright the other side and I pulled my left from the cell, breathing slow and considered as the blood wrapped around the sole. A gentle waft of air passed my nose and I turned, following the scent and beckoned for Dan to follow. I didn’t wait for him to move. As I passed each door I peered in, finding each cell empty, the former inmate either dead or a player in the melee echoing in the distance.

The lights out from the corridor were brighter this time, lit up like a football pitch with no corners in shadow. The gap in the fence was wide open and I ran before someone could play their awful trick again. I knew Dan followed behind even though I didn’t turn to look. Beyond the gate was another doorway, lit from the other side. The body of a soldier lay across the threshold, his gun still cradled in his left arm, both out of his reach.

The corridor was much the same, but with less blood, the bodies of two creatures lay, both mown downside by side half way down, riddled with wide gaping holes strafing their bodies, at least half of their heads missing. The doors in this corridor were glass, had been. None remained, each shattered into cubes laying, blown across the floor of the examination rooms, the laboratories and store cupboards.

I continued to add my red footsteps to the jumble of prints, gasps from Dan confirmed he was close. By now the screams had lessened, the gunfire more sporadic and way off into the distance. Cold chilled my bones and I knew this chance would end soon, my time to form a plan shortening with every moment. I ran.

Precious seconds had passed since the last gunshot, since the last echo of a demonic scream. There was no noise to hide the loud crack as I kicked the locker room door open, sending a throb of pain up through my toes. Beckoning Dan into the room, I pushed the door closed, paying him no further attention as I busied myself, barehanded pulling open each small metal doors, somehow knowing I had new strength.

Staring at Dan with a detached wander, I couldn’t decide if he was gawking at my feat of strength, or my naked curves as I dressed in someone else’s clothes, my mind elsewhere, mouth filling with saliva as I couldn’t help but fantasise what his flesh would taste like. Just a nibble.

The door swung wide and we cowered in each corner, the burst of flavour almost leapt me to my feet, despite the red dot on Dan’s forehead and the scream of the voice to get face down on the ground.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Seven

His arm pulled back as my teeth touched light to his flesh, the salty, sweet taste of his sweat exciting my tongue as I inhaled. About to lunge forward again, about to wrap my arms around him and drag him back, a high animalistic scream sent a painful fissure deep through my brain, forcing my hands to my ears. With the demonic, pained cry growing high, it was like a deformed child screaming for its mother. The scream flattened with a great thump to its cell door, the piercing feral noise rising high in between the smashing of its flesh against the metal.

I couldn’t hear Dan’s words, but could feel the shake of his body, the sting of his hot flesh radiating against mine, his hands over his ears as he cried down to floor, our bodies rearing each time the possessed creature filled the air with its terror.

The lights came on in the corridor with boots barely heard over the animal call, their rainbow scent calling me despite the air already thick with Dan’s powerful pull. I leapt up, standing to shake out my tense muscles, to ward off the desire to fill my belly and leaning hard against the door, my hands still at my ears, I fought to get my shoulder tight so I could see around the angle.

The black armoured back of a man came into view, his shoulders tense as he stood ready, but I couldn’t tell what was in his hands. Others unseen, shouted and screamed, barking instructions near impossible to hear over the deafening din.

The door mechanism cracked and by instinct I pushed, but it was only an echo through the metal, not my door opening. A slap of metal reverberated in the corridor sending a shock wave through the wall and a man spilling backward, his feet tripping as stumbled to the ground. The scream relented, replaced with a barrage of gunfire, round after round from automatic rifles. My ears felt like they’d been stripped back, the drums exposed, the bullets blasting off every surface, men screaming and the high pitched zing of metal against metal.

Soon the chaos receded and I saw no movement in my narrow angle, just the light haze of smoke and the spray of blood up the walls. Someone had won the battle and it was easy to tell from the light pad of feet, the victor did not wear heavy boots. Still, I peered out as my ears relaxed, took in the view as wide eyed as I could, tried to push away the hunger in my belly I was thankful had pushed down, hidden by the terror of the wail.

Peering out, a face shot up at the window, blocking most of the light, sending me backwards, my feet splashing water high in the air. Dan screamed and the man’s face erupted with a noise so high I thought the reinforced glass would cave and pelt me with glass. The whites of the man’s eyes were deep red and sunken, the skin on his forehead missing and past dark, thick patches of clots, I saw the white of his skull. He reared forward, but the glass stayed intact, leaving a dark, sticky film on the window each time he pulled away only to smash his head again and again.

The air pressure changed, distant boots ran on the tiled floor, shots leapt out and I stumbled further until my back was against the wall. The face had gone, the cell light again, but between the scrape of lead running down the walls and the bang of each bullet, I could hear the wail growing less vital. I looked to Dan curled in a ball on the bed, but I couldn’t comfort him, the temptation brought tears as I fought back the urge, a question burning my senses.

What had they done?

All was quiet again, the cell bright from the lights in the corridor. I closed my eyes, pushed my hand on my mouth, but still the smell licked at my nose, the sweet taste dancing on my tongue.

I took a step forward, a step closer to the bed, perhaps it was for the best. Dan was ruined, broken down, perhaps it was the right thing to do to put him out of his misery. But what was that noise?

It was a sound I’d heard before, the slight cry of a child, but it wasn’t from a kid. The rupture of terror filled the air with a feral scream as my hands pushed again to my ears. I barely noticed the second call soon adding to the chorus, barely noticed the third and the fourth, there was no more pain my ears could take. One thought remained in my head. There was only one way this could get worse. As if by command, the lights in the corridor went dark and with a snap, the electromagnetic locks released their heavy steel, the doors, our door, relaxed open and the din magnified, searing through my brain.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Six

A touch pressed light against my cheek, the fingertip of feeling electrified my skin on its journey down my face. I lay with my head to the side, resting on a soft pillow of plastic. Breath was slow and even, my mind clear, senses sharp. I sat bolt upright listening to the slow tap of water as it fell to the plastic mattress.

Although still dark, I could see across the room, see the featureless walls and the handless, reinforced door. There were no windows and no lights, no openings to the sky, but still I could make out my hands in front of my face and the wound on my arm that gave no pain. I gave thanks realising my stomach had settled, but the gratitude disappeared as I realised the twist and turn had been replaced with an emptiness so deep I felt I hadn’t eaten since my birth.

I caught a faint nectar in the air, a sweet flavourful mist titillating my nose. I turned my head, somehow knowing the light would go on and its bright burn would not force me to turn away. The golden smell grew with each footstep and I stood without thought, pushed my face to the glass at the door, waiting for the veritable banquet of food I expected on trays across their arms.

No suckling pig came with an apple in its mouth, no bowls of sweet gravy to accompany. Just three figures, men by their gait, marched into view, bodies bound by thick armour, gas masks covering their faces. The masks couldn’t hide their surprise, couldn’t prevent them stopping in their tracks, rearing back as they saw me peering out through the door, my mouth fixed in a wide oh as I tried to keep my breath steady, tried not to claw at the door to get to whatever feast they’d hidden the other side.

Nods exchanged between the men and they turned, leaving their disciplined march behind, hurrying, scurrying back out of sight, with a mixture of fear and excitement, dowsing me in the low darkness with a glimmer of sweet meats in their wake. My breath slowed as my disappointment grew, my stomach pulsing as the anticipation retreated. I stepped back away from the door as it snapped with a noise sharper than before. I gave a high laugh to myself. Sat back to the bed. Did these people think I was stupid?

The door remained ajar when I didn’t move, it must have been hours before the lights were back on full, before I could taste them heading back my way, this time their number and bounty they carried much greater. Riot shields were the first I saw. POLICE in bold black letters across the top as they pushed between the gap in the door. I didn’t move, didn’t leap to take what food they’d hid, despite the desperate instructions from my belly, the demands for satisfaction pushing saliva to fill my mouth, forcing me to swallow it down. When I spoke the soldiers reacted as they had before, their shields twitching as they jumped back like they’d never seen a woman talk.

“I need food,” I said, my voice clear, but desperately dry. The pack backed off, letting another through, a man pushed into view. Not a soldier this time, he wore the clothes I’d last seen him in. Dan was forced into the room, dishevelled, squinting in my direction. I stood, the soldiers leaping back, the door slamming as I caught him in my arms, hugging him tight, my nose against the skin on his neck as I drew in his fabulous smell. I could so easily pull my lips back, sink my teeth into his flesh. The instinct was so overwhelming, so near to being sexual I could feel myself getting wet. For the first time I wanted a man inside me.

His deep voice murmured something I couldn’t quite tell as the light went out. All I knew was my colleague and friend was wishing me well. My head snapped back and I threw myself to bench. Eyes wide, I watched him hold his hand out, feeling for the walls in his complete darkness. Pains cramped tight in my belly, my mouth open wide, closing as I forced back the feeling. The smell in the room was so overwhelming I curled in a ball until I felt him stumble at me feet, spraying me with the standing water.

I lunged forward, unable to stop my mouth snapping open.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Five

A touch pressed light against my cheek, the fingertip of feeling running down my face. I lay with my head to the side, resting on a soft pillow of plastic. Breath panted in and out, my lungs not listening as I tried to calm, tried to take in all the air I needed blow away the cotton wool in my brain. I wanted so much to move, but my head was so heavy like it was encased in lead. The touch came again and my eyelids obeyed my instruction, but all that filled the space was darkness. Another stroke ran down my face and I turned, looked up into the nothing, my hand slowly moving, rising to touch my cold, pallid cheek. My finger came back wet.

Moving to dodge the drops, sensation rose from my limbs as I swayed to sit, my feet edging down to dip into the puddle of ice cold water. Head throbbing, I felt it must have been a good night, but with no alcohol breath stinging my tongue. My breasts ached, arms were heavy, my stomach churned like I’d eaten a bad meal. I sat unable to do anything but think until I heard an echo of movement in the distance.

Light came through a square glass in the wall, then I realised it was a door when I caught sight of a line of light piercing low to the ground. The light was bright and artificial, but let me see the white wall through the glass as many steps grew closer. With control of my breath regained, my attention fell to my hands and the wrinkled, swollen fingertips like I’d spent far too long in a hot bath. Turning around the room, I saw it was a small rectangle, much like a prison cell, but anything more I couldn’t tell. The light was gone before I could analyse, then bright again, but focused and shining in my face. I looked away, turning to the side, the torch beam running down my body, along the hospital gown covering my torso before it flickered out. My eyes snapped to the square, catching only the side of the face, a gas mask covering their guilty features.

Foreign tears flowed, a grief pressing down on my shoulders as the corridor light cut off. I cried cold tears for Dan and Mike, for myself and my stupidity. I cried for Toni and what should have been, curling into a ball, my spine aching as I closed myself in, but I sprang wide, my eyes shooting to the door as with a crack of the mechanism, it gave up. Dan, I thought as joy took over my face, my hand pushing the tears to the side.

I stood, unsteady at first, the cold water lapping at my toes. Taking care not to splash, I moved to the door, guided by a new dim light the other side. The door was heavy, but opened out as I heaved. Warm air spilled in from the corridor as my breath sucked in, my toe smacking hard against the raised step.

Breathing through the pain, I pushed harder, peering around to the left and the small bulkhead light over a door at the far end of the white walled corridor. My steps were measured and even, my head twitching side to side. Along the corridor I saw more metal doors, each pronounced from the wall, each unlocked, but although their number was not too great, I did not understand how I would count. A thought rushed into my head and turned around too quickly, my brain moving slower than my head, my hands pushing out to the walls for support. Behind me were more doors either side of the corridor, all open, but no one yet to come out. I was alone. Creeping forward, afraid of my shadow, still I looked to the corner, pleased I could see no camera. Arriving at the next cell, I struggled with the steel, quickly glancing away from the motionless body lain on the bed with an arm hanging down to the floor.

With a churn of my stomach I turned and continue my walk, each step bringing bile into my throat and a metallic sting, growing a fear I was bleeding from the inside. Step after step I kept it together, my hands soon touching at the far wall where I waited a moment, letting the cooling breeze from the crack wash over me. The bile subsided and I hooked my fingers in the crack, pulling the door wide, holding my other hand to shield my eyes from the high, bright lights. A gust of wind rattled though my robe and realised for the first time, I was naked under the gown.

Wrapping my arms around my chest, I took a first step out into the open and let the harsh lights bare down on my skin. Blinking away the pain searing through my eyes, my hand held to my brow, I squinted into the dark shadows. I was outside in a square of concrete bounded by a chain link fence, beyond that fence I saw another, then only darkness. A single gate waited in the far corner. It was open. I couldn’t wait, pushed through the pain in my legs, hurrying towards my escape. Stopping only when it slid shut, slamming hard, echoing against the steel post buried in the concrete. Gasping, I turned and watched the door at my back sealed tight against the wall.

I was trapped outside, the wind blowing right through me, but thoughts soon turned elsewhere as I saw a figure, a woman dressed much like I was in the furthest corner. Hunched over on her feet, her knees tucked up to her chest, long dark hair flowed to the cold concrete, her body rocking.

“Hello,” I said, my voice quiet and dry as I took slow steps towards her, trying to keep my heart rate slow, trying to ignore her resemblance to who I was looking for. Her movement was too quick for me, too quick even if I’d had full control. She rose, her eyes glazed white, dark, dried blood ran down the front of her gown, her face lined with open wounds as she leapt at me.

I tripped, falling back, head cracking against the floor. Her teeth were deep in my arm before the spinning calmed. She convulsed, shaking as static coursed across her body and I turned, following thin wires trailing from the side of her head to the yellow gun poking through the fence. I saw the long barrel at its side and the flash of something from within, felt a sharp sting to my thigh and I lost control for the second time as all went dark.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Four

The doors pulled wide before we would slam the central locking into place, Mike and I given no chance to come quietly, hands bundling us to the cold tarmac. I didn’t put up a fight, tried to tell Mike, but knew the words would be in vain. Letting my body relax, I watched as the moments blurred past my eyes, attempting to calm my blood pressure as I tried not to be distracted from details as they played out. My wrists were tied, I could no longer see Mike, but could hear his language explode, the emotion in his words spill out as the ex-Royal Marine gave the young soldiers a verbal beating I hoped stung harder than a punch in the face.

I kept quiet, knew there was no changing the course, instead I watched as they left the van, no one checking for Dan who was surely now secreting himself in the back. Bundled into a waiting Snatch Land Rover, I saw no more as a musty canvas hood pulled down over my head. Mike’s voice stifled, with what remained evaporating into the distance as the engine note rose.

There was no Foot and Mouth Disease.

I’d found what I was looking for.

We didn’t arrive in the car park of the Jamaica Inn, the roads too loose, too uneven. Where we arrived I had no idea, it had taken too long for us to be at the farm in the centre of their exclusion zone. I heard the rattle of a chain link fence, the collective tap tap tap of boots marching on the hard ground, the turn of keys, the rumble of engines and a pervasive odour that smelt like the Portaloos needed emptying.

As the engine cut and light invaded from below, hands helped me to stand, guiding my feet down to the solid ground, not before pulling off my heels, letting my tights split with each step, bright cold air glinting from below, but just for a moment. The air turned warm and the hum of electricity filled my ears, the whine of a generator perhaps or some other powerful equipment. Doors opened and closed at our backs as I counted, the four sets of footsteps the only sound until I flinched back as chair legs scraped along the floor. The hands holding tight at my bound wrists wouldn’t let me budged, instead forced me forward, pushing down until all I could do was bend my knees and sit. With a snap of plastic my hands were free, but not under my control, each wrist driven forward, held firm, but not so much it hurt.

Light poured in as the hood snapped off with a sharp upward pull, my first instinct was to shake away my chaotic hair covering my face, pulling my hands up to bat away the strands, but they wouldn’t come, each tied to metal rings either side of stainless steel desk bolted to the floor. Turning my head around the room, I wasn’t quick enough to see anything but the door at my back slot into place.

I let the irritation on my face pass, moving my head slow so not to aggravate.

The room was a small box with no windows, just the one door, the walls painted white, but dulled with time and a sheen of something that wouldn’t quite clean. Along with the table and my chair, another was opposite, each a cheap plastic seat with metal legs. As I let my mind settle, let myself relax, I tried to silently form the words I would use in the documentary, maybe the film I would release in the cinema. Every few moments Toni’s face would invade my head, my thoughts turning to what I would say when the moment came.

The words dried up as the minutes went by, the dull ache of my filling bladder enough of a distraction to pull me back into the room. The door opened and I took a deep breath, dressed my face in a smile and sat up straight, letting the hand gently push my hair either side of my face and watched as the woman in the white coat sat, her face set in a smile bunching wrinkles in the corner of her eyes. Underneath her white coat was the stiff fabric of a pressed green shirt, exposing a triangle of hanging skin at her neck. When she talked the grey hair at her temples moved.

“Sorry?” I said as I missed her first words. She tilted her head to the side, her smile growing as her eyes told a different story.

“Are you well?” she said. Her squint told me I hadn’t respond in the way she expected.

“You will jail for a very long time,” were my words cutting through my wide smile.

“Are you well, Ms Charmichael?” she said. I stared at her deep green eyes and tried to visualise her in the dock, then in the orange jumpsuit she’d wear for what was left of her life.

“Yes, I’m well,” I replied as she went to repeat the question.

“Could you be pregnant?” she said. I couldn’t hide my reply, my mouth opening to a laugh as my eyes squinted.

“Not a chance,” I said. Her smile dropped and she nodded at something beyond my back, but before I could turn, arms clung around my throat, shoulders hugging tight against my head, dragging me back in the chair, pulling my arms tight against my bound wrists. Straining for what the hands were doing at my side, I couldn’t see my arm but could feel my clothes being cut, could feel the cold of the scissors, the warm air like a blanket as my skin exposed. I saw the syringe flash into view, before it disappeared and I tried to move, tired to thrash away, but only tugged hard, the plastic digging into my wrists.

Our eyes locked as the needle pricked. Warmth raced up my arm and was quickly to my chest, soon blanketing my body from the inside as the lights slowly faded dark.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Three

The strobe of blue light grew as we slowed, the tone ringing in my ear only twice before the flat voice answered.

“How’s your Christmas going Mrs Commissioner?” I replied and the call went dead.

With the empty echo still in my ear, the car behind veered right as it neared, its lights still winking as if still not sure it would not cut across at the last minute and bring us to a stop. As it sped into the distance, Mike continued to brake.

“What the fuck?” he replied as we slowed to the curb.

“Let me out,” I said, motioning for Dan to shuffle out of the way. He looked back with wide eyes, but not moving to let me by.

“What are you on to?” he said, shaking his head with none of the usual cheer in his voice. I turned to Mike, his face hanging with the same fixed expression.

“I need to do this alone,” I replied. Mike and Dan swapped looks across me and the van pulled away from the curb.

“Where are we going boss?” he said with his cheer returning.

“Cornwall and take the back roads,” I replied, my head already filling with ideas.

“You owe us more pizza,” Mike said flicking his eyes to the empty box at my feet as he turned us down a side street, leaving behind the only other car on the road.

I wanted to throw away my phone, was about to pull the Sim Card and snap it in two, but paused, Toni’s wide smile flashing before my eyes. It was the only way she could get in touch. Breathing back the welling pressure, I unlocked the screen and slid my finger to turn off data. It would have to do for now.

The journey was slow, the van not meant for a high speed getaway along the ‘A’ Roads, but at least the tarmac was clear in the most part. The journey was pleasant enough, watching families as they travelled, their exhausts white in the cold, Christmas jumpers on show as they wound their way between friends and family. Joining the M5 Mike asked for directions, a postcode for the Sat Nav, but I had none to give. Bodmin was all I could say, was all I’d gleamed from the one sided conversation over four hours ago.

Turning off the motorway, we stuck to the main road heading in the general direction of Bodmin,  crossing into Cornwall after forty five minutes. No signs highlighted our approach to the Moor, but as the red and white warnings appeared at the roadside, I questioned the words that had stared this all off. Repeating for the hundredth time, I replayed her voice in my head, my stomach sinking further every time I read the evenly spaced signs declaring the ‘Foot and Mouth Infected Area.’

“Slow down,” I said squinting through the cold clear air. The van slowed, halving the speed as sign after sign went past the window. I’d seen this before. I’d reported for Bare Facts as Student Features Editor in Surrey. Back in 2007 I’d stood at the roadblocks cleaning my boots so many times. I’d chatted with the police manning the road closures, watched as trucks brimming with carcasses, hoofed feet jutting over the top, moved the culled to their resting place. I’d watched the smoke rise into the sky and seen the fear for the future in the farmer’s weary eyes.

Each side road we passed on the A30 had a sign declaring ‘Road Closed’ accompanied with a static line of cones. The turn off for Bolventor was the only open junction, so we took it, slowing to take in the line of army trucks on the grass verge as we turned the first corner. Moving closer to the hamlet, the line peppered with Police cars, but the crests were different. Military, not Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. Eyes peered back, mouths pulling on cigarettes. We didn’t stop, kept up the momentum. At the centre of the small collection of buildings was a pub, The Jamaica Inn. The car park to its side was full of heavy canvas olive drab tents. We didn’t stop, no one made the suggestion.

Driving on back towards the dual carriageway, we saw the same line of trucks repeated as we built up the distance. Mike was the first to spot the tail, the low sun reflecting off the Freelander’s white, blue and yellow paintwork, the dark figures inside not hiding their austere expressions as they kept two car lengths behind us. Still we drove on, rejoining the slow lane, getting up to speed before we hit our first traffic jam.

Still, it was reminiscent. I remembered the archive footage. Tony Blair with rolled up shirt sleeves in the command centre over-viewing the massive operation back when the major outbreak happened as the century turned. I remembered the headlines, the cancelled sporting events, the restrictions on country pursuits and the mass graves with carcass after carcass piled in with a JCB. The government had taken it seriously.

I took a second look at the road ahead and saw the few cars at my front, watched as each was slowly released to crawl around a pair of green trucks stood in the inside lane at obscure angles. Without a word, Dan jumped in the back already unpacking the camera to film what looked to be a traffic accident, while a solider in a yellow hi-vis vest stood by the Armco central reservation motioning the cars forward to squeeze passed a third truck blocking the second lane. Soon we were next in line, the hand motioning for us to slow as Mike negotiated the tight turn, micro-correcting the wheel to the soldier’s instructions so we could get through the gap. We were finally through and he turned hard left to avoid the truck in our way, but slammed on the brakes. I looked up and saw I’d been right all along. We were in the right place, the three pointed rifles clearing away my doubt.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Two

I knew people. I knew her boss’s boss. I knew the minister in charge of the department she worked for the last ten years. Favours for silence were owed all over the place, some for secondhand information told in confidence, others of my making. A misplaced hand here, a quiet dinner somewhere special. Right, or wrong, married men were so easy to add to the list. Still, no one answered my calls, no one gave themselves a chance to tell me I was making a fool of myself over some woman playing a cruel joke.

Swerving to avoid an oncoming car, I juggled my ringing iPhone, pulling over to answer the call I wasn’t expecting from Stan. It was my Editor-in-Chief, calling from his house, not best pleased with the interruption his celebrations. After my series of calls, word had got through and I was being warned off with some excuse about it being the season to be jolly and that’s what everyone was trying to do.

It was bollocks. These people never switched off, their work was twenty-four-seven. I was being pushed off the path because something serious was going on. It knew it with every unanswered call. My mood turned to regret as I tried to erase what I’d called her in my head, tried to remember the joy at seeing her face lighting up my phone barely an hour ago.

I skipped my parents house with fewer characters than I should have sent, and headed straight up the motorway, stopping only for supplies, parking in the underground carpark in the only space left in the line of news vans that shouldn’t be moving for another twenty-four hours.

“No,” was their immediate response, barely turning their heads from the TV as they each lay back on a mess room sofa. Dan Huntley and Mike Pollage were on the shift that was always quiet, the shift that pulled in double time, but still no one wanted. “No,” was their second reply when I told them it was just down the road and all I needed was an hour of their time and their professional skills not required. “No,” was Dan’s reply when I took the keys from the hook on the wall, Mike was coming around, his head shaking silence told me he had already given up fighting.

We were on the road within five minutes, the three of use squashed in the front seats, Mike driving, his only clause in our forced contract. Dan already digging into the pizza that was still hot enough to steam his glasses. With no traffic, the one day of the year, we parked across the gates ten minutes later. I was at the video intercom before the protection officers, dressed in festive jumpers, had left the front door flanked by two brightly lit trees. The call picked up before they’d reached the other side of the gate. It was another few minutes before I was in, leaving the windows of the van to steam. With my message relayed as I walked across the wide block paving forecourt, Mr Secretary at the door as I arrived, the two officers dispersing to separate corners.

“Ms Carmichael,” the Secretary said in his trademark low voice. He was still wearing a shirt, the loose top button and missing tie his only nod to the season. He stood with the opening spread just wide enough for his thin body, making no motion for me to enter.

“Jessica please,” I replied with my on-camera smile.

“What is it that cannot wait until my office reopens?” he said, the deep lines around his mouth curling to a glimpse of a smile.

“How’s Mrs Secretary?” I said and watched as he tried to pull the door tighter against his body.

“The family is well thankyou,” he said. “Is this a social call?” he replied raising his brow.

“No, sorry. Business,” I said and his brow stayed raised. “Invasion of the Bodmin Snatchers?” I replied and watched as the smile fell from his face, his eyes shooting behind me. I turned as saw one of the protection officers looking our way, turned back to see the secretary shake his head.

“I don’t know what you mean?” he replied.

“Is that your final comment?” I said. “I have a source,” I added, raising my eyebrows. His face was pale and his hands were shaking. This man had signed off war, he’d signed off benefits cuts putting millions into poverty, he’d taken money for the party that should have gone elsewhere and he’d done it with a smile. The professional lier couldn’t keep this down. “Shit,” I let the words slip. “Shit,” I said to the percussion of my heartbeat. Fear for Toni ballooned in my chest, excitement bubbling through my brain. What the hell have I stumbled into? “Okay,” I said. “I’ll just have to take the crew and find out for myself.”

“Jessica,” he said as I turned, but I didn’t look back. “Leave this alone,” he said and thought I heard a tremble in his voice. With my heels clicking on the paving, I watched as the two officers headed in my direction, only diverted when in arms reach, the gate sliding open.

The call came through barely before we’d left the curb, Stan again, this time his temper boiling over. I held the phone away from my ear, cringing at words shouted down the line, watching the road as we headed back to the office. This was big, bigger than I could have known, but it looked like it might cost me my career. I wasn’t scared of losing my job, turning the other cheek was my fear, letting something big out of my grasp. I wasn’t scared of going it alone, it was just a little bigger than I expected. We sat in silence as the miles rumbled by like a countdown to my fate, not knowing what waited for me as we headed back at the office.

“Stop the van,” I said and Mike slowed. Dan jumped as his phone rang, handing it over as he answered the call.

“It’s for you,” he said, his face screwed up. The screen showed a withheld number, but it was Stan’s voice on the other line.

“Stick with it, but you’re on your own kid,” he said before the line went dead.

Handing back the phone, the two conversations still tangled in my head, I watched as the tall door mirrors lit up in a sea of flashing blue lights.


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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.

Not read Season One? Here it is.


Season Two – Chapter One

The first I knew was the phone call from an old friend. It was Christmas Day and to see her face smiling back with full lips and bright white smile was a perfect season’s treat. With the festive joy skipped, she hurried, breath panting as told me her story reminiscent of the TV horror series that had just finished its millionth season. Invasion of the Bodmin Snatchers, I could almost read the headline. It was a well-timed prank, my guard had dropped the furthest it ever would, but my blood pressure still skipped every time the chimes came, only calming when I saw it wasn’t the newsroom. I listened throughout the short call, barely took in the tall story as I heard Jamie’s growing voice in the background as he egged her on. With a true dramatic climax, the call cut with a slap to the mouthpiece, over dramatising the phone falling to the floor just before the line went dead.

She was my once best friend. “You remember Toni, don’t you mum?” and she did, of course, we were inseparable at school, like sisters until we had to grow up, limited now to infrequent calls when we plucked up the courage. Either I was following a scoop around the world, or she was locked in some government lab for months at a time. The result was a gap of two years since we’d last met in the flesh. Each time she came into my mind, I had to push away fear that life was just an excuse. We’d grown too close, too young and providence had stepped in. If they only knew, my parents would have said it was Jesus.

The call stuck in my mind as I ate through the Christmas plate, skipping the pudding, much to my mother’s distaste, barely hearing the lecture about my weight. I wasn’t in the mood for the usual debate about how the British public were wrong to want their TV presenters emaciated, my dad reminding me I was a journalist first.

Out alone in the garden for a cigarette, I called Toni back, ready to give her a piece of my mind. It wasn’t right to do that on the first call they’d had in three months. It wasn’t fair on either of them. I softened with every unanswered ring, with every echo of the chirps down the wire. By the tenth I’d changed my mind, had already forgiven her, was ready to say I’d be on the first train, we could spend the next four days together, if she could handle it. As the call rang out, so my mind swung back. Screw her. She’d crossed the line.

I barely glanced at the call when Jamie’s eyes appeared, the bottom half of his face obscured with his index finger as he frowned at the unexpected shot. They were together and playing games. Mum offered me white wine and I took a beer. If she hadn’t of launched into a lecture I’d have let the screen go blank.

“Not funny,” I said, knocking back half the bottle, back in the garden. I let him talk, defend himself, dig deeper as he denied all knowledge. Jamie was a mutual friend, someone we’d both grown close to as we went though school, the third musketeer in our dysfunctional pack. Years ago I thought I’d lost him, the world cracking down the middle as Toni and I crossed the line. Ending the call I couldn’t help but analyse his tone, using my professional tools to dissect the conversation. He was at home only ten minutes away with his husband and their two kids. Of course he was, it was the season for family. My breathing grew shallow and mum asked me if I was okay. I nodded, leaning against the counter to keep myself upright realising it could mean only one thing. Toni was playing a game. She was trying to tell me she was here in town. She was just down the road at Jamie’s.

I looked up to see dad offering me a beer, the empty gone from my hand already. I took the glass which was wet with condensation, placing it on the side, grabbing my car keys as I told the family I’d be back within the hour.

With my breath pluming white, I knocked using the brass and counted my beats as I waited. Jamie’s face lit up, his hands opening wide as he pulled open the door.

“Where is she?” I said, pecking at his cheek, peering over his shoulder and into the kitchen.

“She’s not here darling. I haven’t spoken to her in weeks.”


So, Season Two has begun. If you like what you read, my not see if you enjoy Season One.

Ten Minutes to Go!

You have ten minutes. Now go!

The phone has rung. The emergency message pinged on your mobile. The radio comes alive and the rolling TV news has only one story. It’s happened, come true, the end of civilisation. Natural disaster. World War III. Alien invasion. A fast spreading equine influenza jumping the species boundary, or just a plain old zombie apocalypse. If you’re lucky it’ll be only one. Either way, you’ve got to evacuate. You have ten minutes. Now go!

Information coming out of ground zero is sketchy, you’re not being told what’s going on. All you know is you’ve got to move. There’s a safe haven, but it’s miles away, you have to leave quick. Maybe you have your own ideas of where it would be best to hide out from the worst. The least you know is you’ve got to get out of the town, away from the cities, heading to the country, the national parks or up the tallest mountain. Anywhere that’s not going to make it easy for any infection to spread, or where a stray bomb or laser bolt is going to crash into your head.

It’s coming. For your best chance of survival you have to be quick.

So what do you take?

I’m not prepared, but still I did the test. I took ten minutes to jump around the house and grab what I could, racing to think what I could carry on my back, hoping there was enough to sustain me for longer than a few days.

I’m downstairs when the call comes. I’m prepared mentally because this is only a test so I don’t spend precious moments locked in search of answers, trying my best to come to terms with what it all means. Still, I take a few seconds. I’m the outdoorsy sort, I go hiking and walking with my friends every year. I’ve wild camped more times than I can count and had to dig a hole for my waste in the wilderness a few times, so this will be easy. Right? A minute’s gone before I’m upstairs pulling old clothes out of the wardrobe to get to my rucksacks. I discard the ninety litre pack I take on three day expeditions. Fully loaded it can carry an awesome amount of stuff, but it slows you down to a causal pace. I won’t be wanting to take in the scenery on this journey, I bet. Speed will be key, I might have to run from people, from things I’ve never met. So I settle for a day pack with half the capacity, but it’s waterproof, and with loads of pockets, a great compromise.

With eight minutes left I’m at the cupboard where I keep my camping gear pulling out a Trangia camping stove. It’s the first thing in my bag. On top I throw in a fire steel, a folding knife, dry bags, woolly hats and gloves, it’s still January for a few weeks. A small first aid kit goes in too, as well a personal wash kit, some unopened beef jerky from another trip goes on top. I have a low light torch, a spork and a tin mug. I look at the deodorant and shower gel on the shelf next door, but leave as I walk away. I stuff in a sleeping bag and inflatable pillow, shocked the bag is almost full, but still pile in a small emergency kit on top.

I move to the dresser, swinging the pack over my shoulder, the sleeping bag spirals out and I clip it to the side of the bag. Grabbing a technical top and t-shirt, a fleece and quick dry trousers and we’re five minutes gone as I’m racing down the stairs. I try to stuff two large bottles of water in, realising there’s no chance, so I empty the contents of the bag onto the living room floor and run to the hallway cupboard. I tap in the code for the safe and repeat, this time in the right order and pull my passport and the small amount of cash I keep for emergencies. Intended more for a leaking pipe than the end of the world. I lock the door and think what next?


From the larder cupboard I grab packets of Uncle Ben’s rice. They’re pre-cooked, meant for a microwave, but they’re not bad heated on the Trangia and you can eat them cold if I must. I grab small tins of fish, mackerel and sardines, the latter of which I have no idea why they’re in there. I fill my arm with beans and cereal bars, nuts left over from Christmas. Passing by the bathroom, I add paracetamol and antihistamine too. Standing staring over the bag I take a moment, knowing I’m missing something big.


By the time I’ve found the shed keys and unlocked the back door, taking only seconds to look to the sky, pondering on how big the world suddenly seems, I’m unlocking the shed with just over a minute to go. Fighting to climb over everything in the way, a bike, tools and an office chair I have no where else to store, I eventually grab hold of a bottle of meths, it’s full and essential as the fuel for the Trangia burner. My eye falls on the tool rack and a claw hammer. Before I know it’s in my hand and I’m swinging it through the air in a way I never have before. It’s heavy, but I have a feeling it could be my new best friend. I pause to look around the shed, grab the small two man tent and panic that I didn’t pack it all inside the bags properly after it was last used. I haven’t got time to look now as the time counts down on my watch. The ten minutes is up and my new life is piled on the living room floor.

I take the extra time, another five minutes, pack everything in tight, discarding the pillow and grabbing my thick ski coat that’s never seen snow. Along with my hiking boots, I have everything at the door. I have to hope it wasn’t a hard deadline and remember I’m one of the lucky ones. I had warning.

So here’s what my kit looks like.



Tangia Camping Stove – This trusted weatherproof camping stove has been in development since the 1940s and I’ve been using them for 24 years for all sorts of camping and family days out. It’s light, weatherproof, fast to put together and to take down too and it’s super quick to boil water in the provided kettle. However, for this situation the big drawback is the fuel. I run mine on mentholated spirits, the purple liquid you get from the IMG_2453DIY store for cleaning brushes, and there’s gel available too, but the weight of the fuel is like that of water, so unless you’re cooking raw food or boiling water to make it safe, is it worth the weight and the hunt for a continuous supply? On balance it’s still coming with me, but it will be the first thing to ditch when the fuel runs out.

Fire Steel – Lightweight and able to use in all weathers for lighting the stove and making a traditional fire too.

Folding Knife – Useful for all sorts and kept in my pocket, not knowing what I’m facing when I open the front door.

Dry bags – Keeps your stuff dry, need I say more?

Wooly hats and gloves – It’s January and a few months away from fifteen degrees celsius during the day.

Wash Kit – A compact kit with tooth brush and paste. You want to look after your teeth. I for one don’t fancy self extracting a tooth!

Low light torch – With four colours of light to select from, it’s great for keeping yourself concealed and not damaging your sensitive night vision when you use it. Who knows what’s going to be hunting you down at night?

Clothes – Quick dry trousers, essential in any weather. Layers of technical clothes, the best way to stay warm. Hiking socks are a no brainer for comfort. On second thoughts I’d change into all this, rather than taking up room in my pack. There’s no room for spares, but this is survival, not a blind date.

Four Litres of water – NHS guidelines are for 1.2 litres per day to keep dehydration at bay. That gives me just over three days supply, but I’m expecting a long, arduous journey. It will probably last me two. I’m going to make finding more a priority. If there’s any space I’d do well to fit as much more in as I can.

Sleeping bag – It’s small, lightweight and three season. Should deal with most of what the English weather can throw at me, as long as I have shelter.

Tent – Again, small and portable, weighing just over 2kg / 4.4lbs it gives options for where I can eventually go.

Paracords – With boundless uses in survival situations and lightweight, it’s a must.

Emergency Kit – Contains 21 different items to help you survive, including a fishing line and hook, tinder and a knife, all wrapped in woven paracord.

Passport – You never know. In an emergency I’m sure the rules would be relaxed, but when it all settles down, if it ever does, then it would make resettling so much easier, if there’s anything left. Keep positive. Probably the most important lesson.

Cash – When the world comes down around your shoulders the cash will be of use, but only in the short term. If the shit really hits the fan, its jewellery, precious stones and metals that hold all the bartering value.

Hammer – It’s heavy, but has many uses, including as a weapon, helping to build a shelter or to break into an abandoned supermarket to restock supplies if it really goes down.

Paracetamol – Access to doctors maybe limited. Pain could be a new feature of life. Whether it’s a strain from walking, a headache or problems with your teeth, you’ll be glad of bringing plenty of these lightweight tablets with you, plus they’ll be great for bartering if you have spare.

Food – Dense, dry ingredients are best. Even better are those that don’t need water to eat. Tinned goods are next because they’ll last so long, its been shown they’ll last long after their official expiration date, but they’re heavy and too many will weigh you down. Chocolate and sugar dense sweets are great too, but only if you’re taking care of your teeth, access to dentists maybe limited, if available at all.


Now take a breath. 

Okay, so we have the benefit of not being in a rush, so what else should I have packed and perhaps prepared for in advance?

Gold coins – Gold is easy for anyone to recognise their value. Gold will always be in demand, even when states fail. Buy small denominations, 4 grams half Sovereigns or 8 gram Sovereigns or American Quarter Eagles so you don’t have to pay a higher price for the want of change.

Water – We all know this will be a big issue. If the water is contaminated in a nuclear fallout there’s not a great deal sterilisation and filtering can do, but in every other circumstance a filtration straw will let you filter up to 2,000 litres / 530 gallons direct from the source. It’s a no brainer.

Nails – I’m bringing a hammer so why not long nails too? Gives me options for building shelters.

Hand sanitiser – It won’t last long, but used sparingly it will help stave off stomach bugs, plus it’s flammable.


Batteries – The more the merrier. The torch is useless without them and can help start a fire if needed. Consider candles, but only to be used when inside a shelter, not a tent!

Wind Up Torch – In addition to the standard torch, a great idea would be to have a wind up torch too for when you supply of batteries runs dry.

Emergency Blankets – Only single use, but can keep you warm if you fall into a river, giving you enough chance to recover.

Alcohol – Full of calories and a treat to keep you warm at night. How could I forget!

Vitamins – If food is scarce, these will be a handy top up. Lightweight too. Empty out the paracetamol from their packets and pile them in the vitamin bottle to save space.

I’m sure you’ve all got some great ideas, so why not make your suggestions in the comments!

Lesson Learnt

It’s clear there’s no way this can be done in ten minutes. With another ten maybe you’ll have a chance, but you’ll forget something important. I’m going to pack my bag and leave it that way. You never know when it could save your life!

Now all I have to do is swing it on my back, open the front door and see what’s outside….

In the End…Why not read about what happens to a group of friends whose world collapses around them, forcing them to make difficult decisions just to stay alive. It’s not going to be comfortable, or an easy ride. Find out if they’ve got what it takes to survive when they’re not at the top of the food chain…

In the End – Season One

Chapter Ninety One

My head throbbed to the beating of the wind, air pounding around me, pushing heavy into my drums. Shifting my body as I lay, I tried to release the numb of my shoulder, to move the dead weight trapping me against the bed. My eyes flew open, shrinking back against the fresh light and I realised it was Cassie’s hair in my face as I reached for her shoulder. Surprised and relieved, I found she was warm, but the joy was short lived when she wouldn’t respond to the shake of her arm. I slid my shoulder from under her, my legs giving way as I put weight to the floor. Scrabbling up along the slippery tiles in my socks, my vision cleared and her body defined. It was her face buried in my shoulder, the bandage on her hand soaked through, mottled black and yellow, a sickly stench of decay wafted up as I shooed away the flies.

Shadow’s head lifted in the corner of my vision and he jumped to the floor, his knees buckling as his claws skated on the tiles. Leaning close, I touched her shoulder before carefully turning her to her back. As she settled, I looked to the ceiling, the pound of air was so close now, like something was landing just above our heads. A helicopter. My eyes twitched, blinking wide. Why had it taken me so long to figure this out? Shadow’s bark rattled the glass and sent my hands to my ears for shelter from the pain. I shook Cassie’s shoulder again. Who could sleep through this deafening racket? Who could lay there in bed as the world churned around us?

I snapped for Shadow to be quiet, but he continued to bark before moving forward and out of my view. Kneeling to the floor, I stared at her face, her cheeks were rosy red, so bright against the blonde hair laying across her face. She was hot, vivid red. I knew it couldn’t be a positive sign.

“Cassie,” I cried. “Cassie,” I said, right up in her face. At least now Shadow’s bark was getting quieter. I pushed my lips against hers, but she didn’t reply, flexed none of her muscles and my heart felt like it stopped dead. I turned, standing, wobbling on my feet and stared out at Shadow through the glass and the door hanging ajar to the side.

This was it. The time I’d been talking about for so long. The moment I’d dreamt about since this sorry mess began. The helicopter was here to pull out the survivors, to take away the saviours now a cure had been found. Left behind when they could wake us, I had to show we were okay, had to show them we were awake. We had to get to that helicopter.

I slapped down to the bed, pushed on my trainers, trying to muster speed. I turned and pulled up Cassie’s warm body, praying my knees would let me lift. She didn’t move, didn’t react as with great care I hefted her over my shoulder, pining my arms around her legs, hoping this was the time where everything would go right.

Shadow led the way as I picked my route through the smashed glass, the instruments dropped to the tiles, the remains shattered all around. They’d destroyed the place to stop it getting in the wrong hands, I told myself over and again. Keeping my eyes wide for any movement, I stepped into the corridor, the boom of wind louder than ever before. I could feel the roof complaining at the weight sat above. In the corridor there was no sign of a struggle, no new battle scars running along the walls, no bodies once or twice dead and so I followed Shadow along its full length to the other end of the building, our path unerring as he found the climbing set of stairs.

Stopping only a moment to resettle her weight, I pushed through the door to a gale pouring down the stairwell. With tears in my eyes I climbed following Shadow, bursting out to squint in the brightness. A camouflage helicopter sat on the roof the other side of the building, its rotors spinning hard and a line of white coats and soldiers climbing in.

“Ellie, Toby and Tish,” I said as I saw into the cabin. “Look Cassie,” I said even though she wouldn’t respond. I ran, slowing only to navigate around the puddles of ice and knee high ventilation towers dotted around. I heard a call and realised there was someone at the back of the group, someone separate from the line, running towards the open door. His hands were waving, frantic in the air, his shouts barely cutting through the downdraft.

“Wait, wait,” I heard him say, the words only forming as I pushed to concentrate. I slowed, my heart beating out of my eyes, I knew before the gun raised out from the soldier packed tight in the helicopter. I knew the bullet would fire out before the bang I heard over the rotors. I knew Connor would fall to the ground before the spray of red flew from the back of his head.

I settled my pace, stopped my run, let my feet stick to the tar roof, let Cassie slowly down to prop her against a ventilation tower. I pushed my hand in the air, fixing a smile, settled my eyes on the kids I could just make out. I waved as the door closed and the engine’s whine grew to a high pitch. I waved a slow motion circle in the air as it lifted, watching as it turned through ninety degrees, growing smaller with every passing moment.

Shadow rubbed against my leg, tugged at my jeans as if he wanted me to pull him up. I looked down and saw Cassie squinting back. My flat face lit up as my heart pounded. Like a giraffe on ice, I supported her as she climbed to her feet and took her in my arms, squeezing harder than I should. My eyes fell on Shadow, following his to the village. Slowly, movement came into focus, settling from one dot size face in the distance to another, again and again. Turning with Cassie in a circle, I watched their slow, steady movement in our direction.

Nothing could dampen my spirits. Nothing could push my elation away. Together we would live to fight another day and I didn’t care how much of a struggle it would be, the children were safe and I had Cassie in my arms and maybe, just maybe we’d helped to find a cure. We’d get out, things would turn out okay, we would just have to survive until tomorrow, or maybe another.

Opening my eyes to the sound of distant noise, we heard a voice high with energy coming from somewhere close. I turned still holding Cassie in my arms and she pulled away, opening our embrace, her eyes following mine as I kept her arm around my shoulder. She saw the advance, but only exclaimed as we both caught sight of a white van in the car park. Bold letters stencilled on the side, cables running from the back to camera on the shoulder of a man looking into the viewfinder, its weight pointed to a woman in a red pant suit, a microphone in her hand as she talked at the camera, oblivious to her impending death.



Roll credits….


…that’s it for Season One, but not for our pair of survivors. Watch this space for a few fun posts while I recharge my batteries before I get back to these words I’ve so enjoyed creating. Thank you for reading and staying this long. 



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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Ninety

I’d been out cold for a while, but for how long I could only guess. The drugs they’d stabbed in my neck felt like they still swirled around my head. They’d been enough to calm my grief, to close my eyes, to get me behind this unbreakable glass door. With my vision only just becoming clear, I stared out past the glass, watching technicians in white coats hurry around the laboratory as it stretched out, their excitement so clear in their energetic expressions while they busied between the benches. In their hands were long pipettes loading colourful liquids from vial to vial.

I’d woken laying down on a bed to the hum of a generator somewhere close by. With me was Shadow at my feet, the hair around his wound shaven, while a line of stitches kept the wound neat. I pushed my hand to his head, making sure they hadn’t just given me his body back.

Pulling at the long metal door handle, none of the heads on the other side looked up as my fist hammered hard when I found it locked. I stopped only as Shadow woke, lifting his head as if complaining about the noise. The room had nothing I could force against the window. Thick bolts held the metal bed frame to the floor and the blanket was no use, nor was the bucket sat in the corner. I sat close to shadow, letting the pressure in my veins drop, hoping my vision would settle and I stroked across his back, staying clear of the short hair, watching as he nuzzled his head tight against his back legs.

Watching out through the glass I set about planning my next move. They would have to give me food and when the door opened I would stick forward, would take the opportunity, launch my revenge for Andrew’s death. The doctor would be the first. I’d look her in the eye and wait for her to tell me he hadn’t had a chance, so why give him one. I would tell her she had no chance either, count to three, then blow her out of existence. Somehow I would find Cassie and Connor, would find the kids and we’d go. We’d take our chances on the outside, we’d live whatever time we had left hidden away. Hidden from the creatures, hidden from the looters, hidden from the army and those that said they were here on the side of humanity.

With bile rising in my stomach, I stood hoping to make more of the movement in the far corner of the lab, to see who was heading my way behind the tall desks stacked high with clear pipes connecting great bell jars together. The procession was short, just three. A soldier led the way, his handgun holstered, the strap of a rifle over his shoulder. In the middle was Cassie and my breath fell away as I saw her gaunt features and the striking white of her new bandage. Behind her was a man in a white coat I’d not yet seen, but he wore a khaki shirt under his coat.

Before they arrived, a soldier stepped from the side, his eyes fixed on mine and the black of a pistol held in his hand.  He slipped the lock to the side and aimed the gun between my eyes. I stopped staring as Cassie swept into the room, the cage, the cell, whatever you care to call it. I stopped watching as she opened her arm, tears rolling down her face and she pulled me in close.

The soldiers and the tech had gone by the time we came up for air and my questions fired.

“Are you okay?” I said and she nodded a reply. “What did they do to you?”

“Tests. Took blood, changed the bandage,” she said, her voice low.

“What did they say?” I asked as I held her good hand in both of mine.

“Not much,” she replied, forcing a smile.

“Your sister, Toby and Tish?”

“Tests too, they have a room set up with toys in. They’re looking after them,” she said wiping her eyes on the bandage.

“Connor,” I said as she leant forward to pat Shadow.

“Don’t know. I think they have him in another room. What about you? Are you okay?”

Sighing, I let a big smile go.

“I’m fine, don’t worry about me. I was just figuring out how I’d rescue you,” I replied and she laughed, pulling me close. I wished she hadn’t, her skin was getting so cold. Sitting back, she settled in at my side and I swept the blanket over her, but she pulled it up so it covered us both. With my arm around her shoulders she tucked in close and I pushed my stare out to the lab, listening to her slowing breath as I tried to calm my own.

Waking with a start, Shadow’s head went up too, but Cassie was much slower to react and was only just opening her eyes as my vision settled on the three figures. Doctor Lytham, the soldier that had killed Andrew and another man in a white coat stood the other side of the door holding a piece of paper against the glass. ‘Drink,’ it said and an arrow pointed to the floor. The two of us followed down the glass to the pyrex conical flask sat on the wooden floor. Filled half way with a dark liquid. I looked at Cassie and back to the figures, the sign had turned and it read, ‘It might save your life,’ but I read from their faces, ‘It might equally kill.’

Cassie was lifting from my side, the doctor’s face setting in an awkward smile as she struggled with her balance. I caught her arm before she could fall and helped her back to the bed. Shadow barked as I touched the flask, the thick liquid was purple close up as it sloshed against the glass.

“It’s okay boy,” I said and Shadow tucked his head back in, closing his eyes. The liquid smelt foul, the rotten stink sending my nose shying away as I sat back to Cassie’s side. “You don’t have to,” I said and she struggled to raise her eyebrows.

“What choice do I have?” she replied. I wanted to say something that would brighten her spirits. I wanted to tell her of my great idea about how we would get out of this place and live happily ever after, but I had no words. I couldn’t save the day. We were passengers on a train, our only choice was to jump to our deaths or stay and hope it didn’t smash apart when we came to the end of the line. I shrugged, regretting the weakness of my reply, but she struggled with a smile and pushed the flask out.

“Drink some,” she replied.

I shook my head.

“I don’t need it. I haven’t been bitten.”

“You might need it sometime, maybe it will help,” she said and turned slowly to the door as my head followed. The doctor and the lab coat shrugged their shoulders. I slowly pushed the flask and her hand away.

“You need it, drink it up. I won’t need it. When you’re better, this will all be over.”

Cassie raised her right brow and my heart melted.

“No, only if you drink it with me.”

“Don’t be silly, time is of the essence. Drink it, then we can get on with our lives. When you get better we’ll be out of here. They’ll want to save you, want to take you with them, us, I mean. You’ll be the one that recovered. Right?” I said and turned to the glass. They were a little slow, but eventually the doctor nodded. “Now drink up.”

“No,” she replied and pushed the glass out to her side as if she would let it smash to the tiles.

“No,” I shouted and took it from her hand, tried not to sniff the liquid and took a gulp, pushing it down my throat as I handed it back. She hurried the rest down in one go, with not enough energy to gag, the sickly fluid rolled away. I took the flask and lifted to my feet, my weight seeming to get greater with every step as I bent and placed the glass by the door. Cassie already lay down on the bed, my legs too heavy to leap the gap, to cup her head in my hands. It was all I could do to get my leg up before I could do nothing but close my eyes, hoping the guilt I felt wasn’t my last thought in this fucked up world.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Nine

What choice did I have when I saw Cassie reaching out? How could I draw back from her bandaged hand held open to pull me out of where I’d sunk? How could I let her see me like this in our last moments together?

I stood, fixing my eyes on hers, ignoring the pain in my knees as they bent, sucking up the sting of each breath as my body remembered the trauma I’d endured in the last few days. Together we turned to face the advance as Shadow’s bark grew more intense. We drew up our weapons and with no need to be selective, we both fired, loosing off round after round into the crowd. Lead opened jagged holes, ripping flesh from bone, but few bodies fell to the floor or stopped their momentum. The click of my empty chamber came too soon. I turned to Cassie to see her rapid fire, but she was staring at me, her gun empty too, but still bullets shocked the air, rounds flying in from somewhere. I scanned the room and saw a window in the centre row where the glass had blown out, its fragments spread across the floor. A flurry of lead streamed from outside and the smoking black end of a long barrel rattled against the window sill as it weaved left and right, mowing the dead down, splitting torsos in two.

“Get down,” I shouted turning as I motioned for everyone to hit the floor, my back to the advance even though the creatures were almost on us. “Get down,” I repeated, running over to Andrew, the old lady already on the floor as I pulled him from the chair, launching myself to cover his body and burying my face against his cooling skin. The chatter of the machine gun stopped, but shouts were all around, single shots volleying from somewhere unseen. The rattle was back and I felt a weight fall on my arm. I spasmed out, rising, prepared to smash the life, or death, with my fists, ready to protect to the end. No response came back as I shoved it away, the creature was just flesh, my fist coming back clotted with blood.

A haze of thick, cordite stink misted the room as the gunfire fell silent. The fog settled enough for me to see two soldiers, one a good foot taller than the other, striding through the double doors, their faces stern, eyes flinching either way for movement, their handguns aimed in our direction. I put my hands in the air, ready to switch to the next nightmare.

Still alive as they slowed their advance, as they settled their guns pointing to the floor, my eyes shot to the window and someone climbing through. Neither soldier reacted as Connor jumped to the tiles, dragging the heavy machine gun by a handle, a ribbon of long bullets wrapped around its centre.

“You were right,” he said, his face in a thin smile as he picked his way through the mess of bodies littering the length of the ward, tip toeing around the leeching blood. I stood to full height, took notice as each one of us rose, Ellie ushering the other two up, herself taking care to see their wide eyes open, turning them away to find a direction clear of the chaos. Cassie pulled up, looking to me, checking over my body for any damage, as I did the same for her. Only the old lady and Andrew didn’t rise and together we helped him to the chair, pausing as we saw the bullet hole in the leather seat and a matching crater in the wall behind.

“You found them,” I said, turning away, stepping around the children. The old lady was still on the floor, her body cooling as I touched.

“No they found me,” Connor reply. We hugged. “You were right, I told them about you guys.”

“I didn’t even know her name,” I said looking to the old woman. Cassie took my arm and helped me to my feet. “Doctor Lytham’s dead,” I said.

“No she’s not,” said one soldier in a deep voice, his gun by his side. “Whose injured?”

With no time to take in the news, I turned to Cassie, not able to look anywhere but her hand. I saw the soldiers stiffen, their pistols jerking just a little, but still pointed to the ground, raising more as we turned to Andrew.

“But they’re okay. We got the bleeding under control quickly,” I said. Both looked at each other, gave a nod and turned, clearing a path, pushing bodies to the side with their heavy boots. I stroked Shadow and picked him up around his legs, my ribs complaining like they hadn’t done in days. The taller soldier stayed up front guiding the way with a torch, Connor walked by my side as the other dropped to the back while headed through the corridor. I was thankful for Shadow’s bulk blocking my view as we passed the piled bodies with no other choice than to walk through the tacky blood. A shot went off as we found a double set of doors, the solider at the rear running to catch up now he’d made sure the old lady would not rise. Beyond the doors were rising concrete steps, the smear of dark liquid on the first few told of the battles won and lost in this place.

Leaving the machine gun behind, Connor and the shorter soldier helped Andrew out of his chair, their footsteps echoing with each heavy breath until we were through the doors at the top and out into light. We passed another two guards, these crouched down behind barricades, rifles pointing in our direction. At least I could be sure the bags they used for cover contained sand this time.

The first floor was different, despite being the same as below. The stench of decay was less pronounced, covered perhaps by the caustic antiseptic hanging in my mouth. This corridor was not littered with battlefield scars and light poured down through skylights after every few steps. It felt like we were in a different place, like a weight lifted, despite the heaviness of the dog. Led into an anti room much like the one downstairs, I watched each of the two separate doorways and without the need to wait, the left of the doors opened and through came Doctor Lytham. Proof she wasn’t dead.

“Who?” I said, turning back to Cassie, but the words tailed off.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost?” the doctor said, but she didn’t keep her eyes on me long enough for a reply, instead her lids widened as they fell on Toby then squinted small as she scanned the room, settling on Andrew sat to the floor, his back leaning heavy against the wall. The second of the two doors opened and out stepped a man with messy, ginger hair. With a nod from the doctor he rounded up the children, but before he could be lead through the door, Toby turned wide eyed for my approval.

“Go,” I said, tapping his shoulder as they passed. The doctor nodded,

“He’ll be fine,” she said. I nodded a slow reply. “They’ll be safe with us,” she said.

“We’ll make sure,” I replied and moved to follow. The soldier stepped into my path.

“You have injured,” Doctor Lytham said and turned with me towards Cassie and Andrew. As the door swung closed at my back, I was sure I heard a key turn and a lock snap into place. The doctor took a step, Connor backed away and she examined Cassie’s grey, dirty bandage, sweeping Cassie’s long blonde hair to the side as she pushed her hand to her forehead then gripped her wrist between her thumb and forefinger, staring out to the wall as if it wasn’t there.

Letting go, the doctor seemed satisfied and ushered her to stand beside me. With Cassie out of the way she knelt down to Andrew, but didn’t touch him or take his pulse, she did nothing but look over his paling skin and the dark red stains soaking through the bandage at his arm. Another man in a lab coat came through the right-hand door, his coat not clean, splashed dark with blood. The doctor pointed Cassie out and he opened the right-hand door, holding it open. Cassie turned, staring back at me the same way Toby had, willing me to answer her unvoiced question. Is it going to be okay? I nodded without pause. I wanted to go with her, but Andrew’s need was more pressing. Connor followed Cassie through the door, but when I didn’t go with them, Doctor Lytham dismissed her colleague with a nod and he let the door close as he followed behind.

“He needs stitches,” I said looking down at the dog. Doctor Lytham snapped her head in my direction, glancing towards Shadow, but soon her gaze was on Andrew again. I saw the look in her eyes, saw her give an unvoiced order, watched as the taller of the soldiers took a step towards me as she tried not to catch my eye, walking through the left door, holding it open. I took a step, turning back to ask a question, but my voice dried up as I looked at Andrew, his eyes wide open and instead of the soldier lifting him under the armpits, he held a gun at his temple. My view became blocked by the other soldier, his arms grabbing around me in a bear hug. Our bodies flinched as the bullet echoed, Shadow struggling, squeezed tight against my chest, my arms pinned at my side.

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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Eight

I was firing, shooting from the hip, before the roar of the scream hit my ears. I stepped back, keeping my speed down, despite knowing the bullets were missing each time. Light flashed from behind me and I turned, regret gripping tight across my chest. Ellie pushed Andrew through the door, the kids running after to the place I hadn’t wanted to go back to, but now I knew it was our only sanctuary. I didn’t turn to face the creature, knew it would be a waste of time, a waste of the energy I craved for to give a head start on a creature focused on hunting me down.

Perhaps its stomach was full from its feast, but I didn’t wait to question how I’d made it to the door before I was dead, before it dragged me off by its jaws. It had followed, that was for sure, the run of its legs, the slap of its feet against the floor told me all I needed to know. Still, I grabbed Cassie’s looped arm, my hand catching as she fired past my ear. Through the doors, I dragged Cassie with me, pushing her in front, catching her eye, not able to make sense if she’d hit the target.

The room was bright even though the windows were bared, masked with great sheets of white plastic I could only guess were reinforcing the glass. The plastic inner seal was gone, pulled down and in tatters, its shredded, blood streaked remains discarded to the side. There were no guards, no patients, no nurses or attendants left, just a handful of bodies, each with a catastrophic head wound, a wound we knew was the only way of stopping the dead from living a second time. If you could call being under the control of the zombie cordyceps mould living.

The ten beds were still there, rearranged, disordered, pushed to the side, their blankets and sheets each covered in a different bloody motif. Bandages, thin metal chairs and other debris, the monitors, their screens blank, cables snaking from their mouth, lay shattered across the floor. Shadow whined with pain as he jumped down from Andrew’s lap and as he bared his teeth, a sudden fear gripped across my chest. The pressure welled up and almost turned to tears as his head moved, and limping, he turned his attention to the double doors.

“The beds,” I shouted, and the able bodied took action, all but Tish knew what to do, driven by the same instinct to jam whatever they could against the door we had no way of locking. The door which had no jamb to push against, to hold closed. With the beds pushed up, rolled against the door, they were too heavy to lift, to pile on top of each other, it was a sorry obstacle, one the Cords could summit with such little effort.

The weapons I’d seen the guards carrying were gone and our rushed inventory confirmed we were low on ammunition. With one clip left for the half empty handgun and what remained in the rifle’s magazine, maybe ten rounds, was all we could count on.

The doors cracked hard against the beds with a great bang and we shook as the rattle repeated. With my arms open wide I turned and ushered everyone back to the far end of the room. They ran, wheeling Andrew along. Cassie stayed by my side and looped her arms around mine, gripping tight as we turned and took the slow walk to the end of the ward.

“Shadow,” I snapped as he’d stayed behind. He started his backward step, limping. Bang went the door, soon joined by the dull thud and I pictured the slow soldiers catching up, joining the push against the doors. The beds moved as the gap between the door widened.

As soon as I could see teeth snapping in the gap, I looked again, scouring the room to the rasp of Shadow’s bark. I looked to the ceiling, but found it solid, the stainless steel vents fixed with screws I had no hope of turning. There were no other doors, no cupboard to hide in our desperation. My attention again turned to the windows and I stepped away. I could hear the snapping of teeth, a head, soon several, fighting to get through the gap. I pulled up a chair and threw it at the window, gasps running through the watching crowd as it bounced back, slapping down to the hard floor. Even Shadow had silenced as I pulled up the rifle hanging across my back and fired, hitting the big target, but watched as a neat hole punched through the centre without splitting or cracking the glass, leaving a neat hole as shadows moved across the other side of the windows. Still, I had to hope we were better outside then cramped in here. I launched the chair again and my knees gave way as it bounced off, watching as the barricade of beds swept either side.

I had to get up, had to raise myself high, the body was willing, but I couldn’t get my mind to take control, despite seeing the hungry creatures pour through the double doors. After all that had gone before, could I lay down and not fight to the end? Could I really give up now, not take my place at our last stand?

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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Seven

The Doctor was gone and with her went all hope. My plan evaporating like the foul smoke.

Connor had been right and the low hurried calls from the corridor told me it would not be a simple case of rewinding our path. I knew before I stepped from the office, the two soldiers would be making their slow way towards us, but I hadn’t accounted for the crowd at their back, seven or more figures just behind, the details lost in their silhouettes.

Cassie levelled her gun, aiming high as I arrived by her side. I put my hand to her forearm and whispered,

“You’ll draw more in.” She let me lead her back around the corner where she stayed to the rear, kept her place in our order as I moved back to lead. I pulled the Doctor’s office door closed, not voicing what I’d found, not letting them in on my race to figure out what we would do next. Instead, I took the next steps, following the torch beam to the slow plod of feet and the squeak of wheels.

Scanning left to right, the corridor was a mess with debris. Large sandbags lay halfway along the centre, piled high either side of the corridor in a haphazard dark mass, blood pooled at the base, the walls scratched, strafed with bullets. I tried not to imagine the horrific battle which must have taken place.

Along the walls I recognised pairs of doors. The Doctor had led us through one of these, but I had no impulse to take that journey again, knowing what would have happened once we’d left. Each of my footsteps resounded around the corridor, echoed at my back with the five other pairs and squeak of the wheels. At least the sound following grew no louder.

Tracing the walls up and down, I saw no more writing, no more graffiti guiding our way, just the occasional splatter of blood and pot mark of brass embedded in the wall. Walking at a pace no faster, no slower than the Cords, I ran through the layout of the hospital in my head. If I remembered rightly, around the next corner would be the room where Cassie and I had first been taken, where we’d been subjected to the thorough exam to make sure we were not bringing anything in, even though that’s what they’d wanted. They would want Cassie now. She’d been recently infected. Andrew too, both their bleeding stopped soon after they’d been bitten. McCole’s face flashed into my head. How long had it been before we’d had him bandaged? It couldn’t have been much over five minutes, but still he’d died.

I flinched my head back from its downward drift, lifted high and took a thick, copper tasting breath.

It was no way to think, this not the place to reflect.

A light flashed ahead and my reaction was quick, I killed the torch without pause. With the darkness the close footsteps stopped, the wheels ceasing their irritating noise.

The white light was gone, blinking out so soon, making me think my brain was overworking. I would have carried on thinking the same if it hadn’t been for the footsteps, loud and energetic with a purpose. But there was something else. The steps were uneven like someone walking with a limp. I kept the torch unlit even though this was what I’d wanted, what I’d searched for. Someone had come through the double doors, through the entrance we’d been brought through and now they were making their purposeful way down the corridor towards us.

With footsteps slow, I hoped to make no noise, hoped to give no reason for the others to do anything but stand and wait for my command. So far it had worked, the echo of the uneven steps at my front helping to mask my own progress. One handed, I pushed the rifle out, digging it into my hip for a second time whilst remembering McCole’s advice. The sound of the steps become so much clearer in an instant. I stopped, tried to slow my breath, realising they’d turned the corner and whoever it was they were right in front of me.

Still I waited, wanted them close, couldn’t let them run away in panic if they could help us. I didn’t want to scare them off if they were a survivor and we could be the ones to help them. Or maybe looters were already on to this place. I didn’t want to give them the chance to escape either.

As the thoughts rolled around my head, the footsteps stopped and a new noise took up. It was the sound of effort, of strain and I clicked on the torch. There in the bright circle a man stood hunched over, he was halfway through a turn and in his thin sleeveless arms he held a large sandbag with the contents dripping down. The man was gaunt, hair stuck to his scalp, his skin so thin in the bright light I could see dark veins running up and down. His eyes were white and his face covered in dark dried blood.

It hadn’t been a man for some time and those weren’t sandbags in the pile.

The soldier’s body dropped to the floor and the creature’s mouth dropped open. I knew the noise it would issue before the scream began.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Six

The sting of antiseptic was all but gone from the air, replaced with the breath of decay and burning plastic clawing at my throat. The hum of fluorescent tubes had gone too, leaving just my long shadow stepping before me as I approached the first door. Like the others I’d seen on my first visit, it was tall and white with a porthole at head height, but rather than seeing to the other side, all I could make out were dark shadows passing behind the white paper blocking my view. I knew from my last visit what would have become of the people who’d been the other side. The cold stung my hand as I twisted the metal handle, slow and calm. After the smallest of pushes, I let go, relieved as it held firm.

Trainers squeaking on the tiled floor, my shadow grew taller as I headed further down the corridor. Glancing down, I watched as the trail of blood thinned, but remained as my companion with each step. I was searching for any sign of life, death too, but the Doctor’s office was the first place I wanted to find, the only place I guessed would be a hideout. If someone had survived, had held out for the miracle boy, I wanted that to be the place where I would find them. Along each side of the corridor, I counted five doors before a sharp turn to the right. A noise came from outside. Was it a call from the people I’d left behind? Or one of those creatures we had no effective defence against? Whatever had made the noise I knew it wouldn’t be smart to stay apart from my friends for long without Connor there for protection.

The next doors were close, but for different rooms and with no portholes I pushed my ear to the cold wood and listened. I heard vibration through the building, heard movement reverberating along the wall, on the floor above perhaps, but nothing I could pinpoint to the other side. I turned the handle, regretting I’d left the handgun behind as I did, but time was of the essence as I thought of Andrew’s speedy decline and knowing Cassie would look worse with each moment.

The door opened to darkness and when nothing lashed out, pounced towards me screaming, I stepped to the side and let the door open its full arc. The little light reaching this far down the corridor was enough to make out the store of medical equipment. Unfolding a wheelchair, I pulled it out of the room and let the door swing closed, cursing as it slapped hard against its frame. I ran back, pushing the chair at my front.

Cassie hadn’t changed. Andrew was no worse, no better. The rifle felt good in my hands as I grabbed it from the passenger seat. Along with pulling the torch from the pack, I shouldering the rucksack and made sure Cassie held the handgun out as she jumped to the road. Andrew woke as I lifted, but slumped to the side as I let him down into the chair, waking again as I placed Shadow on his lap, his hand reaching to take a long stroke of his back. Movement caught my eyes as I took a quick scan of our surroundings, but I flinched away from the figure, instead my eyes fixing on the space where the second Land Rover had sat. I swapped a glance with Cassie. She shrugged with her face full of empathy. I’d wanted to understand, instead I did what I did best and pushed the pain down, burying it inside.

I turned back to where I’d seen the movement and to two soldiers walking in a line, their backs hunched over, their camouflage soaked dark in different patterns. I’d made the right decision and pushed the chair through into the corridor, the wheels squeaking against the floor. I paused just beyond the entrance, but pushed on as I abandoned pulling closed the doors.

Without voice or command, we fell into a natural formation. Cassie followed at the back, glancing everywhere we’d walked while I went ahead, Ellie pushing the chair, with the old lady shepherding the kids. As I watched her form them in a group, her face almost as clear as mine, showing no sign she’d witnessed the death of her husband, the death of her old life.

The floor was alive with tall shadows, except when caught by the swing of the thin torch, as was the wall at our front as we’d walked the length, listening at each door for a pause, trying the handle before moving on. I was looking for a sign, some way of knowing if there was anyone left living. It wasn’t easy to spot until I turned the corner. I peered around, slow at first, watching the trail of blood end at a door. The words ‘Safe Harbour’ ran in bold maker on the long wooden panel, but smeared over with blood as if someone had tried to wipe the letters away.

Rushing forward, barely looking down the length of the corridor, I tried the handle and it gave, my heart racing with delight at my choice to stay, at keeping the faith in others when I’d relied on myself for what seemed like an eternity, even though it had only been a matter of days.

I let the others know to wait as Andrew’s front wheels rounded the corner before opening the door wide.

The first sign was the darkness, the second the emptiness of the room. The packing crates were still there, the desks in the centre too, papers were still strewn across its surface, but now ran across the floor as well. I forged ahead, letting the door swing back and I saw the third sign as I rounded the desks, the body lain, its lab coat once white, face down on the floor. A gun rested beside where most of the head had fallen, blood and grey hair stuck high to the wall.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Five

McCole had been right. They’d needed taller fences, stronger ones too, then maybe there wouldn’t be great gaps where they’d toppled, the supporting weights strewn to the side. If they had, then maybe outbuildings wouldn’t be on fire, their windows melted, roofs caved in, leaving just the rising black smoke. The shells of Land Rovers littered the car park at the front of the low hospital, trucks too. Bodies of soldiers, their weapons at their sides, red-blooded messed up faces lay all around. The more numerous corpses were the creatures, the normal people who were infected, driven of their will. Their bodies paved the tarmac, the grass, everywhere I looked, even wedging wide the main doors dripping with blood, stained with hand prints streaking down the wood. Bullets strafed brick, the windows riddled. Smashed, the glass gone.

Cassie knew something was up, despite facing out the back doors. She saw before asking, climbing to her knees, helped up by Connor to peer over the seats. Rising, she stifled an intake of breath, her good hand to her mouth before she could ask the question to which I had no answer. We could all guess what had gone before. They’d been overrun, but somehow I could still feel the hope. It was a big building, plenty of places to hide. Only the fast creatures, the unnamed, the hunters, would seek their prey, the others, the Cords, were opportunists and would walk away.

I drove slowly, letting the wheels turn, snaking around the death and decay. I saw no movement other than the smoke. I saw no imminent threat, but I didn’t kid myself that couldn’t change in an instant. We travelled half way around the building before the fence and the building were at their closest, where the route became impassable, blocked with a sea of bodies, too difficult to tell which side they’d belonged too. I pictured the last stand in my head. A line of troops, guns up, expressions set waiting for the creatures to gather in the bottleneck, waiting for the prime range, only then letting rip, mowing down time and again, but something had caught them by surprise, something in the air bearing down. I saw the machine gun post beyond the bodies, the heavy weapon mounted in the hastily constructed fortification of sand bags. The gunner was gone, the assailant too, leaving just the weapon and the road scattered with a sea of shell casings.

To the side was a fire exit, the doors open from the inside with another stack of bodies which were easier to identify. Their white, bloodied coats and camouflage clothes told me of their allegiance, the blood slicking a line down the centre of the corridor behind, its surface ruined by heavy footsteps telling me the story. They’d evacuated, ran into the bottleneck and the hail of crossfire and fell to the ground. The soldiers would have been left with no choice, they’d had to make sure they were not coming back.

“I’m going in,” I said, pulling off the seat belt, turning away from the thick air drifting through the missing window.

“Why?” Connor replied, climbing into the front seat. “Let’s drive, find where the quarantine zone ends, deliver the boy.”

I shook my head.

“Where is that? What direction? Where do we get the fuel? How many of the petrol pumps still work?”

“He’s right,” Cassie said, I could tell she was doing her best to keep her voice level. “The place is so big, someone who can help might be alive.”

Connor looked at Cassie, then turned to the children huddled in the back.

“It’s a mistake, we’re safer on the road,” he said taking one of the hand guns from the passenger seat. I leant in, pulling him close, pushing my mouth to his ear and whispering the firm words.

“They’ll be dead before you get out of the county,” I said as quiet as I could. He put his hand on mine, gripping my head and squeezing gently.

“I’m sorry,” he said, tightening his grip. “But they’re dead already.”

I let go, pulled out of his grasp.

“Find another,” I said. “Go.” He sat looking down at the floor. “Look, over there,” I said pointing to another khaki green Land Rover parked at the side of the building. “And there,” I said my voice building. “Take one of those and run.” He didn’t move, looked at me and I turned away. Still, I saw as he turned to Cassie and I knew she would look back with a face full of sympathy. Connor looked down to where Andrew lay silent, at the old woman at his side, Cassie reaching over putting a hand on Andrew’s chest. He looked over at the children, at Shadow, his eyes reflecting the light as his head raised, then turned, pulled open the door open and left, letting it shut quiet on the hinges.

“I thought he was better than this,” I said to no one in particular. Cassie’s hand reached out, resting on my shoulder. She was warm, for now and we needed her strength, needed what she had left. I handed her the last handgun and pulled open the door, stepped out not watching Connor as I strode into the corridor, keeping to the side even though the blood had dried hard.

I heard noises echoing. There was life in the building still, but I didn’t know if it was their second time around.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Four

Somehow I switched off the sorrow, cleared the emotion from my view. With a wipe of my hand against stubbled skin, I numbed the fear and pushed back the pain. My hand found the scruff of her jacket and I pulled her hard through the slick of blood, taking her in my arms as she reached the door, managing a kiss to her forehead as I lay her on a patch of bloodless tarmac. Connor was out, the pack open in his hands, the first aid kit already split in two, its contents spreading across the floor. Cassie didn’t moan or wince at the pain as Connor cleaned out the wound, but I had to look away. Standing, I scooped dressings from the floor, ripped open the pack of QuikClot and stumbled over to Andrew. The tourniquet has slowed his bleed, but his arm was going pale and I pushed the dressing to the old woman’s outstretched hand.

With my palm over my mouth I took in a full view, drew a deep breath and watched for movement. The road littered with death and destruction, both with bodies that had died for the second time and those for whom it would be their one and only. The thought struck a reminder in my head, but my step back to the Land Rover paused as I caught a strange noise, my ears attuned to the terrifying scream those horrific creatures gave off, but this was so different. Shaking off the contemplation, I delved in the rucksack, pulled two clips from the ammo bag, retrieved the hand gun from the floor next to the rifle, pushed a clip home and climbed into the back of the Land Rover.

The smell was already surfacing. I pulled Zoe’s arm and she followed like a doll. Gritting my teeth with her in my arms, I could already feel the ice cold body reacting, energy in her muscles beginning to twitch. I took her past the children, smiling through my clench, I kicked the door of the house wide, lay her to the sofa and held my hand firm on her chest.

“Goodbye,” I said and pulled the trigger against her forehead.

Back out in the open the air was thick with decay, the stench of blood in my face with every gust of wind. I’d been right, this was a new beginning, just not for all of us.

“Back in the truck,” I said to Ellie, my words free of emotion. “Back in the truck,” I repeated to Connor, ignoring Cassie’s outreached hand, instead I strode towards the house where we’d stayed the night, walking at a stiff pace towards the whimper, knowing what I would find. The sound grew louder and told me I was right, the black body in the garden curled in a ball confirming. Shadow’s head raised as high as he could manage, his eyes locking to mine as I approached. On his side was a great rend of flesh matted to this fur. Whimpering as I picked him up, tears ran down my face as his long tongue slapped at my cheek. He’d gone ahead, slipped out of the sight, rushed off to attack the creature, a preemptive strike to save the misery of its attack.

Arriving back, the Land Rover was loaded, just the bloody remains and liquid slick, discarded dressing packs and antiseptic bottles littered the road. I placed Shadow just behind the door and Cassie’s voice came back quiet.

“I’m okay,” she said and I turned to Andrew, his cheeks bunched, he stayed quiet. I noted the silence. I couldn’t reply, couldn’t voice my anger, couldn’t give words to the despair when a small hand came up from out of sight.

“It’ll be okay,” the small boy said and I turned in his direction. Taking his hand, he squeezed. “She told me last night. I can help,” Toby said and saw his bright face, his sister’s too as she sat between his legs. Ellie’s hand came out and I took it in my left.

“She’ll be okay,” she said. “She’s the strongest person I’ve ever know,” she added and I gave a nod, slamming the doors as I let go. I couldn’t twist away too soon, couldn’t turn from their faces any quicker. Ellie was right, but I knew even if Toby held the key to the cure, it wouldn’t be in time to save Cassie, no matter her strength. We had the chance to save other people’s lives, but I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. I wasn’t blubbing, I wasn’t loosing control, but I couldn’t help let the emotion pour out. I took longer than I should to collect up the discarded weapons and pile them back on the passenger side.

The drive was the most quiet I’d had in ages and I loaded the guns as let the Land Rover amble along, knowing the bullets had names on them I never wanted to write. Although I kept my eyes wide open, searched the horizon for hazards, took wide paths around where danger could be hiding, I’d barely noticed as we finally made it along the stretch of road and I saw the Land Rover we’d used to make our first trip, now pushed to the side, adding to the road block. I slowed, ready for the sentries to raise over the hedge lines, ready for them to take over, to lift this weight from my shoulder and pull away the responsibility.

When the movement didn’t come, I cocked a handgun and opened the door. Standing on the sill, I fired twice at the figure as it rose, their face already blooded, its skull on show. I gunned the engine, swerving around the angled cars, noticing for the first time the plumes of smoke rising in the distance.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Three

Andrew and I burst out through our doors, the fence panel flying to the road as I jumped, but freezing in my stride, I stared back at the creature I’d seen from the house, its matted dark hair swinging wild with the long run of its stride. A gunshot exploded from the other side of the Rover and I turned, grabbed the rifle and dropped to my knee. Scared to take the time, but still I pushed my eye to the sight, lined up the iron and pulled the trigger, hitting the target again and again. Andrew’s shots filled the spaces between mine. Too soon the creature dropped to its haunches, leaping to the air and out of view. I shouldered the rifle and still the abomination was gone. I rose, running to the back of the Land Rover, my eyes cast along the line of Cords who I knew would catch up too soon.

By the rear doors I followed the trail of the thick blood splattered in wide marks across the tarmac. A shot went off from around the side before I could look up, before I could round the corner. All I could see was the plume spraying through the air, the body rolling to Andrew’s side as I rounded, the back of its head an open mess with the white of sharp bone poking through flesh. Blood covered Andrew’s arm. He’d been hit, bitten, his face contorted in pain. Had it not been for the chaos at my side, the screams of panic in the back of the Land Rover, I would have rushed to his aid.

Ripping the door open, Ellie’s face ran with red tears as she was pushed towards me. I caught her before she fell to the floor, her face, clothes, everywhere I looked, spayed with blood. A handgun skittered after, stopping just before it dropped. I took a left handed hold and pushed my right into the darkness of the passenger compartment. Grabbing what I first felt, my hand came back with the scruff of the old guy’s collar. I had him out to the road with no complaint, pausing only as I saw the hole in the front of his face. A shot went off, but not from inside, it was Andrew and I turned. The Cords were going down with each round, but still there were around twenty left, making their steady progress towards us.

My hand went in a second time and found the arm of McCole’s camouflage fatigues. Pulling as hard as I could, I soon realised I’d left behind what was missing from his head. I dragged his body to the floor, blood trailing after, the veins sticking out from what I could see of his skin.

He’d turned as I drove and someone had taken action.

Screams continued to issue from inside and so did the rounds from Andrew, until I heard the soft click of the empty chamber, a subtle noise mixed with the screaming chaos. My reach into the darkness found another, but what I had was so light, panic raced up my spine when I thought I’d found just a part of someone, then my face lit up as I found it was Tish, her weight suddenly heavy as Jack clung on. I pulled them both out and Ellie took control of the pair, helping to get their feet to the road, herding them around the side, careful to move their view from the gruesome bloodied bodies at my feet.

With my fourth reach I had to turn back, letting go of the cloth I’d taken in my hand, the moans of the walking dead creatures were so close. A hand grabbed at my coat, but I could do nothing but walk away, had to raise the gun and let fury burst from its muzzle. With each round I took a step forward, issuing a terrifying, angry scream without my command and despite the water in my eyes rounding out my vision, each shot hit square in their heads. As the gun clicked telling me it was all over, I put the last three down, emptying the bullets from the rifle.

I went to turn back, but had to take a breath, forcing myself to twist. As I did, I saw the old woman bent down by Andrew, her hand ripping his shirt from his arm, the gun lain down at her side. To the right, Ellie had the two kids facing in towards her, her arms wrapped tight around their backs. No one else had emerged from the Land Rover and still there was Zoe, Connor and, I could barely bring myself to think her name, Cassie unaccounted. My knees and feet slipped on the vehicle’s slick floor, my eyes still not adjusted to the dark, but soon locked with Connor’s, following his hands held tight around Zoe’s throat, her eyes blinking faster than I thought possible. Moments later they stopped altogether and she slumped forward. I switched back to Connor’s, following them again as this time they took me across the compartment.

Relief filled me with joy as I swivelled around, but it wasn’t long before the world fell out from under me. Cassie stared back, a forced smile on her lips, her hand clamped tight on her arm, blood seeping between her pale fingers.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty Two

Still, they waited in the line, each turning as I came down the stairs, watching my expression. There was no chance they could have missed the terrifying call, despite the rumble from the crowd outside and the evil smell penetrating through the walls. I beamed back. If ever there was a time for a positive attitude, it was now. A few faces responded. Connor and Andrew’s lifting, Cassie beamed as we locked eyes. McCole was unmoved as he leant heavy on Connor’s shoulder, his face downcast, growing more pale with every moment.

I gave the order and stood to the side of the back door, waving Andrew out with his handgun peering ahead. Zoe and each of the kids followed, I read from their expressions their intrigue to see where we were off to next. Connor came after, a rucksack on his back, McCole following, his good hand on Connor’s shoulders. He couldn’t lift his leg enough and tripped on the step, separating from Connor and falling headfirst out the door. Rushing to his aid, we had him the right way up, watching as he nodded he was still okay, telling us the bruise on his head was nothing compared to the throbbing pain beneath the bandage he’d used to slow the fall. Cassie offered a shot of morphine, but pulled back from reaching around to her pack as he shook his head for a second time.

Connor took the lead again, much slower this time, taking care of each crack in the concrete while checking up at Andrew who hurried them forward, who beckoned them towards the open back door as each moment he swapped his glance to the road. It wasn’t long before everyone had squeezed in, Cassie taking the last space next to McCole, resting his swelling hand on her lap. Our eyes met as I shut the door with great care not to make a noise.

“It’ll be okay,” I mouthed and she nodded, beaming back.

Andrew took the passenger seat, he’d share the front with the old guy’s wife, while the husband would have to take his chances in the back. I jumped in the driver’s seat, crunching broken glass under my feet, trying to ignore the slow procession only a few strides away, but still they hadn’t turned, hadn’t seen us. I looked through the door window and remembered the missing glass. I was out again, crashing my foot against a fence panel, each snap causing more attention than I needed. The shape wasn’t right, but it would have to do, they were turning our way, changing course, their mouths snapping open and closed.

Back in the seat with the rough fence panel at my side, I pulled the door closed with no longer any use for the silence. I didn’t have time to settle in, leant heavy against the panel blocking the space of the window. I took a breath and the engine started first time. In the back the low murmurs stopped and I watched in the mirror as all faces peered forward until the adults distracted the children’s glances.

Revving the engine, I let the clutch out. None moved to the side, a triangular path didn’t open, but the Land Rover had no trouble dropping each in the way below the line of the bonnet, the suspension barely rocking as the wheels crushed bone. I saw our chance. The crowd was surging towards us, leaving a space where the old guy and his wife peered through a crack in the door.

“We’re not going to have time. Drag them in, you’ll have to do all the work for them.” Excitement grew in the rear and children hunched as they stood and were pushed further in so Connor could get to the back door. Andrew readied his hand on the handle and I pushed the accelerator as far as it would go. Flesh slapped against the front, fingernails scraped along the paint work, I leant as heavy as I could against the fence panel, giving more pressure as I felt the grab of hands scratching, trying to get a hold, but still those in the way disappeared underneath in droves. The cottage door was opening as we grew near and a Cord clung to the bonnet, refusing to be dragged to its second death. Instead, entangled in the grill, its fingers, hand and arms slapped against the bonnet, flailing for our flesh.

I started the count from ten. At five we’d cleared the main group and I shifted the wheel left and right, the passengers gasping with each turn like they were on a rollercoaster. Still, the trapped Cord wouldn’t dislodge, clinging on for what it called a life. On three I smashed through the old guy’s fence, hitting a post square on the centre grill, but not before it dropped the body, dragging it underneath and giving back my full vision.

On one I slammed the brakes, stopping with the couple stood in the middle of the Land Rover’s length. The back door was open, Cassie and Connor out, Andrew jumped from the passenger seat and he turned back, raising the gun, his features bunching as he fired. He didn’t stay fixed for long and like a member of an elite Israeli snatch squad, he had the woman off the floor, her calls not hiding her surprise as she slid across the passenger seat while he paused a second time, firing two shots in our wake. I revved the engine for fear of stalling and without looking, drove off as hard as I could as the rear door slammed closed.

Clear of the front garden, I let myself look in the passenger mirror and watched as the Cords slowly turned to follow, watched as they overcame the bodies Andrew had dropped. I checked in front and saw the empty road, checked left out of Andrew’s window. It was clear. I looked back through the rear view mirror and let out a breath as I saw the squashed faces, Connor, the old Guy and Cassie in the back. I relaxed my lean against the fence panel, settled into my seat with my breath slowing, until Cassie’s scream ripped through the air, slamming on the brakes as a gunshot flashed, sending my ears ringing.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty One

Halfway down the stairs my fist went out, the tapered bottle nestled below my knuckles as a face came around the corner. Pulling back the lunge, the perfume bottle slipped from my hand as I saw it was Connor’s wide smile staring back. My hands went out, flailing in the air for the glass, grabbing just before it could smash hard against his face. With an unnecessary juggle between my hands, I had it gripped tight, watching as his wide smile narrowed, his head turning to the side as he locked on to the tapered glass.

“Good morning,” he said in reply to my shrug before disappearing towards the kitchen. I rose back to the top step, leaving the bottle to rest on a bookcase in the landing before hurrying down the stairs, the smell of charred meat filling my lungs.

“Barbecue,” I said under my breath as I peered out of the window to the thin wisp of white smoke. Following the smell through the kitchen and into the dining room, I found the long table set for eight places, with everyone, but Zoe sat down as she moved around the table forking out food to each setting.

All eyes turned as I entered, even Shadow took his stare from the plate of food as it moved around the room. At his feet was a bowl already empty. My eyes turned up and found Cassie sat between Andrew and Ellie, her face in a smile pointed in my direction, but she turned away as Zoe filled her plate.

“We found a full freezer. It thawed, but the stuff at the bottom was still cold,” Andrew said, a half smile filling his face.

“Whose watching?” I replied, my mouth not curling up as my mouth filled with saliva.

“It’s fine,” Andrew replied. “Just while we eat,” he said and attacked the food with his knife and fork, sounds of pleasure issuing from his mouth.

“Why didn’t anyone wake me for my turn?” I said still standing in the doorway.

“You needed the sleep,” Connor replied to nods around the table as he cut the food on McCole’s plate. I watched a grin appear on Cassie’s face and she looked me straight in the eye, licking her lips as she nodded. It wasn’t a dream and I  remembered where the taste had come from on my lips.

Shadow joined at my side as I took the seat at the head of the table and I ate like it was only the second proper meal I’d had in days. Despite being able to finish my plate, I let Shadow take the last of the prime meat and watched him gulp it down, barely chewing as I ran my palm down his black coat.

Last night was where it all changed, but the first real change came only moments later.

A fist, not heavy, but firm, banged on the front door.

Connor, Andrew, McCole and I shared a look, pausing before we jumped to our feet, knocking the table as we rose. The three of us who were able had the same thought, grabbing table knives in our fists as we ran to the front door.

“No. No. No,” came the voice from the other side as I struggled with the door, finding it double locked. We didn’t find a key last night. I shrugged on my jacket and gingerly opened the back door, a gust of wind rushing across my face. With Andrew at my back, we crept around the corner, my hand fumbling in the pocket for the handgun, only then remembering I was the rifleman now. Nearing the corner, brushing down the side of the Land Rover, I could hear a low moan in the street and saw Cords ambling in the distance, a procession sharing the same pace, slowing rolling down the street.

At the front was the old man from across the road, he was still banging at the door, repeating the same word.

“What’s wrong?” I said letting my fist down, despite the shotgun cracked open in the crook of his arm. As he saw me, then Andrew at my back, his eyes opened wide, his free arm reaching out. “What’s wrong?” I repeated.

“The smell, the smell,” he said. I stopped moving, but didn’t need long to figure out he was talking about the food smell still only just dissipating. “It’s drawing them in.”

I turned again, looking behind me. Although the creatures still ambled slowly, they were getting close, with another pack coming from the other end.

“Shit,” I said turning to Andrew. “We’ve got to go and quick.” Andrew disappeared down the side of the house and I turned back to the old man. “Listen,” I said trying to calm his continued repetition, when he didn’t react, I talked over him. “We’ve found a safe place, a hospital a few miles away. The military are there, they’ll help. You can come with us if you want?” We didn’t have room, but would make do, I couldn’t leave these people here when we could give them hope.

He stopped talking, stopped repeating his word, eventually nodding with great enthusiasm.

“Go back to your wife, get ready and we’ll come and get you,” I said and watched as he turned, hobbling across the road as the horde drew in from either side.

By the time I was back inside, thanks to our planning last night, everyone was queuing up at the back door, supplies in hand, Connor helping McCole to line up whilst handing me the rifle.

“The old man and his wife are coming with us,” I said and despite everyone knowing there was so little room, no-one voiced any other opinion. Before I gave the signal I ran upstairs, looked out of the front window, watched the group merging in the middle and tried to count, grouping each in ten, but stopped as I got to fifty. At least they were only the slow creatures. A dream to deal with compared to what might be.

I kicked myself as I checked the back room. Staring out beyond the garden fence I watched as a creature stooped low to the grass and, as if seeing me, rose high and gave a cry like a wolf howling to the moon.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Eighty

Her low voice soothed my heavy breath, her other hand so much warmer against my chest as she pushed me down, drawing the covers up and sliding to my side. Her cold finger warmed against my lips, her mouth silent as I listened to her breath, mine held so I wouldn’t disturb the dream. Her scent rolled over me with ever movement adding to the most lucid experience I’d had in all my years.

Her fingers ran down my chest, bumping over muscles, my ribs pain free as I tensed. My body reacted, lifting the covers, her hand circling my belly button, lowering to the line of my boxer shorts. She pulled away and I thought the bubble had burst, instead she ripped away the covers, flinging them to the floor and she climbed, straddling across my groin, my stiffness tight against the pressure on my shorts. Her face was down on mine and our lips slid together as we kissed, her hands ran through my hair and grabbing at my palms, she pushed them to her breasts. Exploring her naked body, my fingers roved over her nipples, opening to knead her mounds. The tips of my fingers ran down her stomach, arriving in unison at her butt, stroking and squeezing the tight globes.

As we kissed back and forth, I grabbed her butt, pulled myself down the bed sliding under her, burying my face in her soaking wet crotch. Although trying hard to stifle her pleasure, she couldn’t help groaning as I ground my face, pushing my tongue as deep as I was able. She leant back and grabbed me hard in her hand, stroking, rubbing up and down, the feeling almost too much, but I kept myself on the brink as she gyrated hard on my face, tiny squeals of joy rolling from her mouth, soaking me with her pleasure. Spasming with the last ebbs of joy, she lifted, her body twitching with each touch as I climbed back up the bed. Expecting to hold her in my arms, she kept low, had my boxers around my ankle in one swift move. I was in her mouth and couldn’t hold back from exploding deep in her throat.

We lay with the covers over, her head nestled beside mine, her chest leaning at my side and I fell asleep listening to her slow, exhausted breath.

It was light when I woke and I turned to see the bed empty next to me. It was a dream and I deflated as the realisation came. The house was silent and no one had woken me for my watch. I rushed from the bed, smelling a mix of foreign odours, but the hint of smoke in the air made me pull on my clothes and I stepped to the window to see the lone Cord ambling in the road. Foreign sounds started from downstairs, the noise of activity, of action. I checked the bedrooms and found them all empty, searched the landing for anything heavy, but found only my mistake. I’d left anything of use downstairs. I would have to attack unarmed. I crept back to the room and pulled on my trainers, found a bottle of perfume, its tapered cap the best I could do and took the first step down, willing myself to peer around the corner.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Nine

“Toby mentioned his house. Maybe they’ll be there? Or the supermarket? Whatever’s left,” I said, trying to catch old conversations as they rolled around my head. When Cassie replied her voice was distant, her eyes fixed on the road behind.

“They’ll be running for their lives,” she said, the words tailing off before rising to a shout. “Stop.”

I pushed my foot to the brake, looked left, looked right and checked ahead, trying to see what had caused the panic. I couldn’t see anything in the fading light and turned in my seat, twisting as she leant against the back door, her hand pushing it wide.

“Cassie,” I shouted as she jumped to the road. Still, my eyes searched her view until I caught movement, something low to the road in the failing light. Was it a dog bounding up from behind? “Shadow,” I shouted, pulling myself from the seat and following Cassie out onto the road. Forgetting McCole, forgetting the lurking danger, I ran towards Cassie, watching as Shadow slowed, watching as he came to a stop, turned his head back, his bark rolling over the stone walls and back again. As Cassie neared, pushing her hand out to pat his head, he turned away and ran in the opposite direction. I’d watched enough episodes of Lassie in my youth not to question what he needed us to do.

With a quick glance in my direction, Cassie continued her chase as I raced back to the Land Rover.

“You know him?” McCole said as I launched down heavy in the seat.

“Yes I do,” I replied with a grin, turning the Defender in three points.

The headlights lit the pair almost back at the cottage. Soon overtaking, I jumped to the road, pausing only to grab the tyre iron from the front seat as Shadow raced past and back through the open door. I didn’t need him to lead the way, could already hear their distant voices calling, growing louder as I passed the bodies we’d stepped over twice before. Arriving in the kitchen, I followed Shadow’s pointed nose towards the fingers hooked around the cupboard door in the corner, his bark rattling the windows as the fridge lay toppled across their escape.

With two heaves, Cassie and I grinning from ear to ear, we dislodged the fridge and slid it across the floor. Not waiting for a helping hand, the door pushed open and there was Connor and Andrew, Zoe behind, Cassie squeezing passed them all with her arms open to pull Ellie out from the back. I paused for a moment, letting my grin lower, until Jack led Tish up the steps and into the twilight. To Shadow’s barks we laughed and hugged, Andrew trying to calm our voices, reminding us of where we were. With the tyre iron in my hand, I led them out.

It was the distant calls in the night that hurried everyone into the Land Rover, hurried our introductions to McCole. Still, I took the time to make sure we’d counted each head twice over.

“Where now?” Andrew said from the front seat. I couldn’t help but smile, glancing over the questioning faces in the back as I told them we had a plan and were taking a trip to a hospital only a short while away. Cassie spent the whole time with her arms wrapped around her sister while Ellie squirmed away from the kisses.

“In the morning,” McCole said, causing me to pause.

“In the morning,” I added. “He’s right.”

I drove us the short distance to the hamlet, not answering any of their questions, but peering as best I could along the road, letting the headlights light up each of the doors until I found the perfect place. It was the house next to the one in which we’d spend so much time, a house that hadn’t been raided by the looters and was protected with double glazed windows.

Tipping a wave across the road to the figure back-lit by feint light coming from the upstairs, I reversed the car down the side of the house, knocking down the short wooden fence so I could get close. With guns, Connor, Andrew and I left the car, leaving strict instructions of what to do if we got into trouble.

We cleared the outside of the house in the last of the light, a small window in the back door smashed with three hits from a stone and we were in, leaving the doors intact. I took the first floor and cleared each room, my racing heart as I saw a disembodied head waiting on a dressing table, but instead of launching an attack, I let my breath calm and opening the curtains, I saw it was just a plastic wig stand.

There was no fuss or fury from downstairs and everyone piled in, herded to stay in the front room as Andrew secured the backdoor and I fingertip searched the rucksacks for the torches, candles and matches. Before we lit the place up, we closed all the curtains, watching as the flowered wallpaper took shape. We found no hidden basement, just a loft hatch, but no ladder to get us up high if we needed. By the time we’d finished the search, we knew the house inside out, knew every route, knew everything of use in each of its four bedrooms and had decanted the water from each of the taps until it ran brown with the sludge from the bottom of the tank. We knew every morsel of food, had it packed in bags, ready, split by each door if we had to take flight, before feasting on cold beans, tinned tomatoes and the last of the Christmas chocolates. Orange creams never tasted so good.

Tiredness caught up as stomachs filled. We’d had no idea of the time, with no clocks hanging on the walls or standing, chiming in the hall, I told everyone as we ate, to be ready to leave at first light. Setting a candle to time each watch, we agreed the rota as we all dissipated around the house. No one had asked about the plan, I was glad, I had no energy to explain, but I would need to have an adult conversation with Toby in the morning.

The kids were given the biggest bedroom, Zoe and Cassie were to share the next, leaving the box room at the front for McCole and the front lookout with their dual purpose. The dining room was where the other watch would stay awake, looking across the vast garden ready to rouse the house. The large double front room upstairs was where I would take my turn to rest before the candle burned to its base. I checked in on Cassie, knocking at the door, but Zoe lay there out of this world, her eyelids flittering in the candlelight, a space beside her. I found her in the kids room, laying fully clothed on top of the covers, her arm around her sister, Tish and Toby next.

I couldn’t help but stare at the boy. Couldn’t help but wander how someone so little could hold the key to our future. My eyes drifted to Cassie and her face as it flickered by the candle in my hand. I’d wanted to say goodnight, to talk about the day, about what tomorrow might bring. I wanted to talk about the rest of our lives. I wanted to know if she excited about the future too.

Closing the door, I drifted to the front room, heard movement downstairs and covering the candle, I peered outside. The street was quiet, unmoving and I tried to force myself to relax, tried to unlearn what I had in those short few days. Tonight was where it started to go right. Tonight was where it would go our way. Tonight was the end of the beginning.

I could hear Cassie’s laughter in my head and I chuckled to myself as I undressed, pulling on new underwear from the drawer. They were a little tight, but I was learning to get by. Folding my clothes and keeping them at hand, I slipped into a dream after barely sliding under the covers, until I bolted upright as a frozen hand touched my shoulder.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Eight

I swung the board left, then right, jabbing its length forward, smashing the rotting face over and again. Decaying flesh came away with each swipe, but it wouldn’t go down, just kept coming back for more, its hand clawing the air just out of reach. Somehow I was keeping him from the kitchen, the cork in the bottle, knowing if they broke through I’d be surrounded and the improvised weapon would be no use. I could feel my energy relenting, knew it wouldn’t be much longer before I couldn’t even lift the board, my mind on the growing queue in the hallway behind.

The voices were back, quiet, but with an intensity of a shout and I could have sworn they were coming from the cupboard. A light sprung on in my head. They were in the cupboard behind the closed door. Why hadn’t I checked there before? I had one chance and hoped I could make it. When I stopped fighting they would pour in and overwhelm me. I hoped my ears hadn’t been playing a joke.

Angling my body around to the right, battering hard with a renewed energy and giving all I could with one last jab, I leapt side on to the door, pulled it open to see the shallow larder, its narrow shelves empty of food and my friends.

I’d done it now, I’d made my choice and the cupboard was where would have to wait it out. Feeling a scrape against my jumper, I turned, jabbing the wood into the neck of a woman, her eyes white and wide, her hair missing, torn clean off, leaving the red of her skull exposed. Another was at her side, but I turned before I could take him in, pulling the door open, looking to the fridge and with one grab of the back, it toppled down, dropping to the floor, pushing back the horde. I turned, the rest a blur. The floor was gone, the light too and I was falling, but hands stopped my bounce against the steps, the door slammed shut and the fridge scraped along the floor.

My eyes latched onto a candle against a far wall as it flittered in a draft. Hands put me right, turned me through ninety degrees, settling me on my butt. I was in a basement. Andrew’s face peered at me as it moved in and out of shadow with each flicker of the light.

“This is awkward,” I said, but he didn’t reply, just opened his arms and held me tight.

“Look what Connor found,” he finally said so quietly I could hardly hear as he released, spreading his hands out to show me the rest of the tiny room.

The room was about the size of the bedroom upstairs where I spent most of my time in the house, but without the bed, the dated, flowered wallpaper, unless it was authentic decaying brick print. The floor was soft, a mix of rubble and mud I didn’t want to spend much time looking at. Along the walls were shelves filled with jam jars, but I couldn’t make out anything edible inside. The smell was better than above, but only just, the musk and musty odour made me glad when my breath finally slowed. The three children huddled around the far edge, holding each other’s hands for warmth. It was cold down here, almost as cold outside and I wanted to talk, but Andrew insisted we kept silent.

To the side of him was Connor, crouched down in what seemed a strange pose, his hand floating in the air, I thought, until light flashed across a pair of eyes. It was Shadow, Connor’s hand stroking his back. I wanted to say sorry as I stood and looked around the room, wanted to apologise for what I’d said even though it had only been inside my head. I wanted to say sorry for not letting them in, I wanted to cry out this was all my fault. If they hadn’t had to break the door down, they could have kept the horde from overrunning. I had no more tears left to cry, had nothing inside me left to give. So I waited as patiently as I could, waited listening to everyone’s stomach groan and complain for food, listening to the movement on the boards above, the slow methodical placement of one foot after another.

The creak and crack of activity above slowed, but only after some time had passed. No one could say how long, but it was less than a day and more than a few hours. We’d burnt through two candles and had just lit the last when the sound upstairs rattled my nerves. It was them. It was Logan and Cassie, I was sure. It was their heavy steps, faster than the others had been. It was their vehicle we’d heard rumbling outside, their vehicle that left and came back and was now idling on the road. Andrew didn’t agree, but wouldn’t voice a reason why it was better to stay here than to venture back up, to peer out through the door and contact whoever it was. But he’d been outside, he’d gone with Connor to fetch back the kid. I’d seen nothing and I would not make another decision that could end someone’s life. Shadow knew it too and ran to the stairs before Connor could leap after him before he could stop him let loose a single bark. Andrew and Connor subdued him, their hands tight around his mouth.

Now it was too late and we heard their voices, heard Logan and Cassie outside, they were upset. The engine revved and they wouldn’t be able to hear our shouts, wouldn’t be able to hear Shadow’s bark echo in the air. Andrew was first to rise, the first to run up the creaking wooden steps, the first to push up the board covering the hatch and the first to jab the door and to feel it move only an inch as the fridge I’d toppled stayed where it had been pushed by the creatures as they’d clambered after me.

Connor was the second to try it, and the third as they put all their weight behind. I was the first to find my tears again. The children followed shortly after.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Seven

I couldn’t leave. I had to wait until I had nothing here left to live for, but that wouldn’t take too long. The wardrobe was easy to move, was easy to push across the door. No-one would divert me from my plan. Not even those creatures chasing after Andrew and the boy, racing down the street towards us. Not even the banging of a shoulder at the front door, or Connor’s colourful calls for me to turn the key in the lock.

They were soon in anyway, their noise inside the house told me so. Voices calling my name confirmed, but they didn’t need me. What did I have to give, anyway? A fist banged at the bedroom door, the handle turned, rattling loose in its brass enclosure. I didn’t reply and it went away, a scream ran through the house followed by a toddler’s cry. I listened to the wailing voices, not able to stop putting their features to the unholy cries, the sound still getting through my fists despite being pushed hard to my ears.

I heard fighting, was sure I could smell that stench. I turned to Nat, but despite the space between her breath, it wasn’t coming from her direction. Gun shots came next, one after the other, the burning smell adding to the mix. Then nothing. No sign of who’d won. I stood, unable to keep back the tears, watched outside as a crowd built, funnelling through into the house. I heard my name. I was sure and stopped my heavy breath, wiped the tears from my cheeks. A name, my name. They needed me. I turned to Nat and held my palms flat on her chest, moved to her hand and for the first time felt her grip.

It was too tight, tighter than when she was alive. My fingers ground together and I pulled back. She wasn’t Nat anymore. Her eyes were open, white, sinking deep into her skull as I watched. It was time. I reached into my pockets expecting to find a weapon, but I hadn’t put one there, hadn’t prepared. My chest grew tight and I realised as the weight lifted from my shoulders, I would be no good on my own. My name was called, but much more distant this time. These were my people. They were my friends. They were what I had left in this world. I couldn’t see them dead at my hands.

“Sorry Nat,” I said as she rose, letting the covers fall and I turned to the wardrobe and shoved it, tried to shove it aside. It was much heavier this time. I turned back to Nat. No not anymore. Turned back to the creature in her body and shoved her cold flesh down to the bed and heaved the wardrobe to the side.

With the door open the stench was almost too much to handle and I slammed it shut at my back, my stomach heaved and would have poured out if there had been anything waiting. I called out, my words stirring movement below. I leant down over the banister. Those weren’t my friends milling in the hallway. Running to the other bedroom, I dragged out the drawer of the wooden dresser and smashed it apart with one hit to the floor.

Holding the plank of wood out in front, I raced down the stairs and called for Andrew. His reply came, but it was so far away, so distant. They’d left, had gone, but what little choice had I given them. The first creature didn’t know what hit it, the wood crushing through the plate of bone between his eyes, falling back, tumbling the others down the stairs behind him. I leapt over the diagonal banister, landing on a body, it didn’t react as I crushed the bone in it chest, there was no air left to escape. Behind me I saw a queue forming at the door, a long, orderly line, ready to take the place of the next I took down.

I rushed to the kitchen, passing the locked up back door. I could hear their calls, but they weren’t in the garden, only those creatures scratched at the window. I turned, backing my way in, hitting out left and right, blood spraying across the walls as my feet battled with the contents of the cupboard strewn over the kitchen floor.

Even though I’d changed my mind, I’d got what I wanted. I was doing it my way. I would die through my own choices.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Six

They left me alone with the kids. Me, the least maternal person in the world, except maybe Nat of course, but I guess she couldn’t be counted anymore. Andrew and Connor had left by the back door, over the fence after we’d overhauled the room where the other two had slept, where the other two were still unaware I was left in charge with Nat upstairs.

It was Connor who’d seen the door open, who’d smelt the outside world drifting in, who’d slammed it shut and run around the house counting everyone, upstairs, downstairs, only calling as the number hadn’t added up. There were two of us missing. The boy and the dog. Nothing gone, but a thick coat. The men of the house had puffed up, running after, leaving me to play house. Did they know what a state I was in? Still, I checked both doors were locked, as I’d been told, checked the two kids were still sound asleep, the two sisters, but not of each other and no relation to me, but still they were precious. Right? Was anything precious anymore?

I stood at the bedroom window with the curtains open and watched out, staring across the field, up and down the road as far as I could, which wasn’t very far at all. I turned back to watch Nat stir, my hand grabbing for my chest as I fixed my focus waiting for the sheet’s rise and fall, soon turning to the window, looking back through the rain across my vision, even though the clouds were only just building. All I could do was wait, all I’d been doing was waiting, going along with their plan and look where it had got me, look at where it had got Nat. I turned again and watched her breath pause. Picking up my own only when hers did.

A decision had been made and this time it was my own. When Nat and I were no longer, I would go it alone. If I lived for an hour, a day or maybe more, it would be on my terms not on those of another. Yes, I felt something inside me react. Yes, I could feel the guilt rising in my chest. Logan had done his best, but the best wasn’t good enough. I thought about going now, about leaving the children sound asleep to be found by the two big strong men, or by Logan and his wife to be, if they ever came back. If they could ever make the journey. I looked out again, across the window and down the road, turning either side to see the empty street rolling out. The plan was set and I wouldn’t be turned away.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Five

We counted five, but every moment we waited in the Land Rover their number added. Each wondering in and out of the house like they owned the place. One thing was for sure, there was no frantic activity, whatever had happened was hours ago.

“Where now?” McCole said.

“Nowhere,” I said turning to Cassie as I held her hands between the two compartments. “We have to check inside, they could be hiding somewhere, scared to come out,” I said keeping my eyes on Cassie, not letting her lose hope. She nodded, widening her eyes and McCole didn’t complain, with his pale skin and laboured breath, he was in no position. I drove slowly, the cold wind still blowing through my missing window, I kept the sealed up window of the passenger side between me and those things as we rolled passed the house to get a better look, drawing out any more that lingered to trap our friends. We counted eight that took up to follow, who snaked around the corners as I kept our pace slow, Cassie watching out the back, my eyes ahead waiting to race off from any launching side on attack we had hope of defending.

Driving as far as we could stomach, Cassie heaved open the back door and mentored by McCole, spent a full clip despatching the tail in our wake. This time with speed, we were back outside the house, a tire iron and a small shovel in our hands, not wanting to draw them near with the thunder of the guns. We left McCole with the engine running, his gun aimed through the back window.

Inside the house was quiet, but the smell was anything but. It reeked with that stink I never wanted to get used to, the forewarning stench that could mean only one thing in this new world. The hallway was littered with bodies, Cassie peering close to my shoulder, our eyes trying to get as much information as they could so we could be sure it wasn’t one of our friends, her family, laying with their heads bashed in. We stepped over three bodies, blood thick and long congealed, but fresh blood too, someone who’d been defending themselves, their trail, their handprints up along the walls, heading to the kitchen and we followed.

The trail stopped among the scattered contents of the kitchen cabinets littering the floor, the fridge upended, barring the shallow larder cupboard which I’d found empty of anything of use. I paused looking on at the wooden door, heard something behind the wood and realised why the fridge was in front, looking up when movement creaked on the boards above, my finger to my lips as I took my place in front of Cassie. Together we scanned the dining room to find everything as we left it, out meagre supplies still in the centre of the table untouched. They’d had no time to collect them up before leaving, or before, but stopped myself from thinking any further.

Movement above again cut my search short, the small bathroom was empty, despite the splash of blood up the door, the living room window still barred and the light blocked by the great wall unit. Nat’s discarded, blooded bandages were still on the floor and the pieces of the puzzle locked into place. The floorboards creaked directly above.

Each step groaned with my weight, my head upturned as I summited to the top floor. Dark patches stained the floral carpet, they weren’t there when we left in the morning. The door to the bedroom where Zoe had been so protective of Nat was closed. The master bedroom where I’d changed was open, where Cassie and I had made our connection, there was no one waiting to attack, the bed almost fresh, but Cassie didn’t follow. She was in the kids bedroom and her tears were easy to hear, but when I arrived the room was empty, covers thrown to the side.

The bathroom door was left wide, the sink stained pink, but otherwise there was no sign, leaving just the one door unopened, the one room where we knew danger lurked.

All was not as I’d expected, Nat was there but it was just her body standing, eyes white and sunken in her sockets. A quick look around the room told me Zoe had not been taken, hadn’t suffered the same fate. I did the deed, saying goodnight as I caught her body and laid her to rest, covering her with a sheet from the bed.

It felt so wrong leaving the house, felt like I was abandoning them, like I was leaving my last connection to my friends. Where had they gone? The question rattled around my head as we rolled along, Cassie unable to add anything to my self questioning, despite my assurances they’d got out alive. She couldn’t take her eyes from looking out from the rear door as we rumbled along the road and out of sight.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Four

We were here because of him. Logan hadn’t caused the world to end, but he’d got us this far. He’d saved our necks, with a little help from Andrew, but it was Logan who’d been strong, had led us to this cottage, had done all he could. Still, it wasn’t enough. It was Logan who couldn’t protect Natty, couldn’t save her from this fate. He’d tried so very hard, but I couldn’t forgive his every decision. Many differences could have saved her life, could have meant another outcome. My life for hers, or maybe someone else. He’d tested his own to save me, to save Connor, had reached out from safety to get us in, but why couldn’t he have done the same for Nat. Was it because she had what he wanted?

He’d killed so many of those things, shot them dead with guns, smashed their faces in with blunt objects, but he grew distracted, had lost his edge. The new woman could never join our group, wouldn’t fit, even if there was a group left, even if so many weren’t dead. She hadn’t been through what we had, couldn’t understand the pain of watching so many friends die. I realise this now as my tears dry, as my throat heals from the roar emotion I couldn’t keep in, as I keep my dearest warm me even though she doesn’t know I’m here.

He said nothing as he manoeuvred her like an object as he directed the transfer up to the bedroom. He wanted to stay, wanted to appease his guilt, but I wouldn’t let him spoil my last hours with her. If he had his way, he’d end it now. Would be easiest for all involved, right? No. Not right. Nat was a person, my friend, my lover. She would go, but I would be the one to say when, to do what had to be done, but only when she was no longer there. No one would take that away from me. Not him.

He came back, checked so many times, had a pretence for each visit, but I knew his game and I wasn’t having any of it, even left the dog to watch. What was it going to do when the time came?

I heard their talk, his not so quiet voice. It wouldn’t surprise me if those two didn’t sneak away and fuck somewhere in a corner. Maybe once they had he’d be more like the Logan that had been my friend. But would I stand for it? No. That door’s staying closed. Get the fuck out you black little shit. And you too. You call yourself a friend.

I woke and it was still light outside, the skin on my face tight. I knew why and didn’t care, all I wanted to know was had it happened, was she still with me? She was, for now. Nothing came back as I kissed her lips, but there was still warmth, some warmth. I startled at a knock at the door and was about to launch abuse when I saw Andrew, his hand clutching at this side, his face open, projecting towards me. My resistance crumbled. I nodded as he pointed to the bed, keeping silent as he sat at the end of the cover looking over to Nat, water welling in his eyes. I nodded and he turned my way.

“I’ll watch her if you want to clean up,” he said.

“Where is he?” I said. “Logan,” I added as Andrew raised his eyebrows.

“He’s gone to see if he can find food, just up the road,” he replied.


“Cassie’s gone with him.”

I couldn’t help but scoff, but good old adorable Andrew didn’t notice.

I took up his offer, looking back with each step until I was out with the world still baring down on my shoulders. The house was quiet as I scrubbed at my face. It was her blood, but I couldn’t live with it on me. I wandered if he could? I stared at my clean skin, saw Nat behind me in the bath, heard her laughter breaking up her song and leant heavy against the sink to stop myself crumbling to the floor.

A call went out, voices across the house and she vanished. Footsteps running, disturbing the dry floorboards. With a deep lungful of air, I straightened up, opening the door to see Andrew stood wide eyed, peering down the landing. He looked up and spoke.

“The boy’s gone.”


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Three

The hand on my shoulder slowed the barrage of fire, calming my finger on the trigger despite the creature still trying to claw its way up from the floor. Cassie had seen what I hadn’t, had seen it would never succeed, seen there was nothing connected below its hips to stand on, its legs blown clean off in the explosion.

“All clear,” came Cassie’s words, strong and decisive as I pulled in a long breath. McCole nodded as he peered around my shoulder, pointing his pistol down the road covered with metal and black stoney debris. We walked, my legs jelly, the ground uneven, but our faces could do nothing but fix forward, watching the bend as it turned so slowly with each footstep, all hopes on what we’d find, praying to a god I didn’t believe in, infected souls wouldn’t be gathering around our treasured vehicle.

Several times over McCole would hold his gun to the sky and we’d stop, listening, but only to hear his ever labouring breath and we’d move on step after step, getting to the most dangerous part of the journey. We came to the apex of the corner, our view so short, our odds even shorter.

We saw nothing new as we stepped through each degree of the corner, the body of the driver flung across the road was missing, as was the creature that had dragged him from the smoke. Only the upturned helmet remained to mark the spot. The Land Rover emerging from the hedge line told us we hadn’t made it all up. Relief grew as we saw it all in one piece. Our pace increased, but soon slowed as McCole’s didn’t pick up, his pale, right hand hanging by his side. We had to get him off his feet.

On the road beyond the Land Rover, the body of the first soldier to die was missing too, but the creature who’d ripped him from the truck was not. It lay, half flattened, its flesh ground into the tarmac by the great tyres as the driver had tried in vain to escape.

The engine still idled as we grew near and I couldn’t hold back my speed as I jogged around, holding the rifle at my hip, not looking to McCole to see if he agreed. All was clear around the vehicle, along the road too, only the bodies of those the soldiers had given their final death lay on the road. Slinging the rifle over my shoulder and crunching cubes of glass under my shoes, I pulled open the Land Rover door, sending the stench of burning rubber into the air. The Defender pulled from the hedge with ease and I jumped out, leaving it lined up straight on the road, my rucksack and rifle on the passenger seat. Around the rear, I pulled open the door with no complaint from the metal, it was a hardy beast with barely a scrape or dent from its ordeal. McCole’s laboured walk ended as he batted away our attempts to help him into the back. Cassie joined him for fear of his imminent collapse.

Back in the driver’s seat, I willed away a sudden flush of safety and tried to ignore the feeling that for once everything was going right. We had the upper hand, but I knew it would only lead to the next calamity, the next catastrophe to change someones life forever. With so little left to lose, I could guess who it would be. I wasn’t willing to let that happen.

I shook away the few seconds of thought and having leant my lesson I peered down at the dashboard. The fuel gauge showed the tank was nearly full, the engine temperature in the centre where it should be. There were no red lights or amber warning signs telling me the engine would cut out right at the least opportune moment. Still, I was ready for the worst to happen and I pushed down the clutch, selected first gear, stalling the engine as I pulled off. This was it, this was the time. I looked to the hedge, the road ahead, turned a full half circle to my left and repeated to my right, looking to see what would be coming as we sat with the engine dead.

Nothing came. Nothing was coming. I dipped the clutch and turned the key. The engine started. With a deep breath and a heavy right foot, we rolled forward, letting the speedo needle climb.

McCole coughed in the back while Cassie peered out of the windscreen and we made good time, repeating the journey, the only difference was the direction and the clouding sky as it darkened. We arrived at the outskirts of the hamlet soon enough, saw the pickup truck still in the middle of the road, still with its front tyre deflated, the only difference were the missing bodies, the dark patches on the tarmac remaining. I slowed as we passed the house where the old man had stood, nodded to the top floor window as he nodded back, speeding up as he answered the signed question with a shake of his head.

Adrenaline built, but there was nothing I could do to temper my excitement. We’d taken much more time than we’d expected, but we were bringing with us so much more than we could ever have hoped. To Zoe, Andrew, Connor, Ellie, Jack and Tish, we were not only bringing food and transport to safety, we brought hope. Hope of a cure, hope of some version of a happy ending. Sadness soon tinged my thoughts, I knew by now Nat would be gone, or near the end. There was nothing that could be done about her, but we could play our part in saving many more who were not passed the point.

The house was beautiful as we came around the corner, a beam of sunlight broke through the clouds as if lighting our way, shining down on someone coming through the open front door, someone coming to greet us. But they weren’t waving, their hands were down by their sides, their mouth hanging open, a great rend of flesh missing from their cheek. Another I didn’t recognise stepped from around the corner and I slammed on the brakes, Cassie’s mouth opening wide to bellow a heart-rending scream.

They’d been overrun. We’d been denied our happy ending.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy Two

“There goes the PE-4,” McCole said, stepping around his blood still soaking into the grass. Walking toward the new gap in the hedge, I turned to Cassie as we caught up, my confusion was visible as McCole replied without my need to ask. “Explosives,” he said, taking a hard swallow, the colour from his skin all but drained despite the tan. “We didn’t know what we would come across.” I raised my brow in Cassie’s direction. McCole winced as he shuffled his shoulders trying to re-balance his pack.

“Are you sure you don’t need painkillers?” Cassie said.

“You don’t want me on morphine. I need to stay alert,” he replied, letting his shoulders relax.

“Have you really not see those things before?” I said, knowing from his reaction back when it all kicked off, but a sprig of hope lingered it was just from the shock.

He shook his head, dashing hope for the second time.

“No,” he replied. “What the hell are they?”

“I don’t know,” I said, looking around. “But they’re mean motherfuckers,” I added and a shiver ran along my spine. “Third time now. We always come off worse. They’re so much faster. The others are like sheep, gathering in herds, wandering about, only bothering people when they’re seen. They’re easy to get away from as long as you’re not surprised, but those other things, they were still human once, but react so much differently. They’re like hunters.”

“Top of the food chain,” McCole replied. I nodded.

“Like two different strains,” Cassie added, not taking her eyes from out in front.

McCole turned away shaking his head.

“What have you been told?” I said.

“Me?” he replied looking back, closing his eyes for longer than a blink. “I’m a soldier, not a boffin. We know as much as you’ve guessed already. We should have built the fences so much taller,” he said, shaking his head.

I raised my eyebrows and turned to Cassie, her eyes still scanning the hedge line.

“You must have been told more,” I replied. McCole turned my way.

“Take this,” he said offering out the rifle. I paused, looking him in the eye. We both knew he had more to say, but it was clear he wouldn’t be telling me any time soon. I took the long gun and I laid the pistol on his open palm before he handed it to Cassie. “Aim and pull the trigger all the way. Don’t point at anything you don’t want to be dead,” he said, turning back to check I was listening too. As we walked, he continued with instructions, handing over two new clips for the rifle, watching as I followed his words, releasing the old clip and pushing home thirty new rounds. “Same thing,” he finished by saying. “This isn’t an action movie. Don’t fire from the hip unless it’s your last resort.”

I nodded, feeling the grave weight of the rifle in my hands. Pushing the stock into my shoulder, I leant my right eye against the sight, taking in the magnified view as I let the gun travel across the horizon.

“All clear,” I said.

“Don’t believe it,” he replied.

Soon we were within touching distance of the destroyed hedge, the space between our steps getting less and less as we moved around large shards of misshapen metal and smouldering debris once part of the Land Rover. The space where the Land Rover had been was empty, a crater of steaming tarmac in its place, beside which we saw the underside of what had been our transport, the Defender flipped on its side and pushed deep into the hedge. It wasn’t going anywhere soon.

Our steps were slow, McCole taking the lead, covering left with the pistol outstretched. I followed at his back, almost touching, my eye down the sight, body turned to the right. I could hear Cassie just behind us covering the rear, the ground uneven as we crossed onto what had been the road, the heat rising as debris crushed under my feet.

“Clear left,” were McCole’s words and there was nothing in my scope.

“Clear right,” I said and a great animalistic scream all but obscured the words. Instinct alone lowered the gun and pulled the trigger as I screamed at the blackened, skinless face shrieking towards me.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy One

I couldn’t step back, couldn’t move, it was all I could do to make myself the biggest target possible, covering Cassie as much as I could, hoping she would make the right choice and run. High in the air it started its fall. My eyes locked onto its white, unblinking circles, barely hearing the racket of gunfire at my back, watching the monster jerk with a spasmodic movement and feeling the full force of its cold weight as I crumpled to the tarmac.

Surprise started my eyes wide, rushing through me as Cassie’s head bared down close to mine, her face backdropped to the clouding sky and a brief glimpse of McCole’s to the side.

“Can you get up? We need to go,” her voice said with an echo I was sure only I heard. Standing was easier than I’d expect, the heavy weight gone from my chest, left only was the thick crimson stain running down my face and across my front. I spat to the road, a great wad of clots landed, but I knew it wasn’t my own and tried my best to keep my empty stomach from overflowing.

Stepping over the body of the woman who once was, I didn’t need Cassie’s help to keep myself steady, but took the offer so she’d be close. McCole ran by our side, his rifle slung over his shoulder beside another heavy packed rucksack. His face was thick with the same frown, in his left hand he held his pistol, his right tucked under his left armpit, a growing ring of darkness radiating out and across his camouflaged jacket. Urged on by them both and the not so distant screams reverberating in the air, I cleared my mind of all but keeping one foot in front of the other.

McCole went first, his pistol pointed out and we scraped through a gap in the hedge line, grateful for the wide open field the other side. We ran, then jogged, soon slowing to a walk as the adrenaline cleared and the weight of the packs and our empty stomachs returned. With a quick change of direction towards a small copse of trees, we settled at the base of wide oak, slumping to the ground as the memories of the last few moments bore down.

The distant screams hadn’t repeated since we’d had grass under our feet and I lifted my head as McCole gave a cough, turning to Cassie as we both remembered his hand.

“Show me,” Cassie said as we pried off our rucksacks. McCole squirmed on his butt and he gingerly pulled his hand from under his armpit, but as blood cascaded, he pushed it back under, biting his teeth together hard. He’d lost his pinky finger.

“QuikClot gauze in the med kit,” he said, his mouth barely moving. The words of the doctor came back. If we could stop the bleeding quick, he’d have a chance. Both Cassie and I turned, upending the bags, mirroring our motions as we rifled through the Aladdin’s cave, pushing aside heavy camo bags, the bottles of water, warm clothes and ration packs. We found the dark green first aid kits at the same time, unzipping the waterproof bags in a chorus, pulling the long strips of plastic wrapped material with QuikClot Combat Gauze written in bold letters. Cassie was first to get hers open and I dropped mine as McCole shouted.

“Just one.” I turned and took a hold of his pale wrist, blood running down the stump of his little finger. Cassie was amazing. She didn’t pause, didn’t squirm or turn her nose up at her task. Instead she scanned the instructions, pushing the gauze down hard, wrapping as his hand went limp, his eyes closing as he passed out. Blood reddened the gauze as she wrapped, but slowed as each layer added. Sticking the end down she stood, raising the drooping arm as high as she could. I uncurled the fingers of his left hand from the pistol and rested it on the floor beside him as I drew a deep breath, trying to ignore the coppery taste in my mouth. My head snapped around in all directions, breath slowing with every turn when I saw we were still alone.

I repacked Cassie’s bags, knowing we would have to move at any moment, would have to decide about McCole if any of the scenarios running through my head happened. Still turning, watching the hedge-lines, pausing each moment I caught the wind in a tree, I cleaned my face with an antiseptic cloth, disgusted by the red colour returned with each wipe. Using as little water as I could, I rinsed out my mouth and took a great gulp, forcing myself to stop before it was all gone. Cassie took the water as I offered and we shared half a Mars Bar which tasted like it was made of pure energy. The glow of sugar rushing through my body came quick and I took my turn to hold McCole’s hand high.

“What now?” Cassie said as she scanned the horizon, now she was turning, her face full of dread. We both knew these quiet moments were so far apart, but when they happened they always meant something worse would come when we least expected it.

“Nothing’s changed,” McCole said, sucking air through his teeth as he pulled his hand from mine. “We get the boy back to the FOB. The hospital,” he corrected himself, remembering his audience. I nodded turning to Cassie, shouldering the pack as she did the same.

“But how?” Cassie replied before I had a chance.

“We get the Land Rover back,” he replied, picking up the rifle as he struggled to his feet. I followed his pointed look towards the road and a column of white smoke rising, watching until a great explosion tore outward through the hedge, bucking us back as a great plume of black smoke billowed to the air.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Seventy

We surged forward and I took my cue, dropping into the rear compartment, watching wide-eyed out of the dusty rear windows as the pack of monsters continued to gain. It wasn’t long until the distance between us stopped shrinking and eventually we had the upper hand. I let my breath even out, let myself feel the ache as I loosened the grip on the handgun. Still, the creatures continued their onward chase, but they were no match the horses under the bonnet. A warm touch found my arm and I turned to the dim light and saw Cassie’s wide smile. I couldn’t help but dive into her open arms.

Clinging together for what seemed like an age, I felt the short bristles on my cheek warming against her soft skin. For a moment I forgot the drone of the engine, my heart racing for a whole other reason, only pulling apart as two deep voices swore from the front. Sitting back on the hard bench, my left hand holding her right, we turned to the windscreen and the wreckage of the Land Rover that had raced off, its nose folded around the stub of a tree that reminded upright, leaving the sprawling bare branches blocking the road.

Together we repeated their expletives, my head snapping behind to the distance, hoping once we left their sight, turning many a corner, the creatures would have slowed, dispersing to worry other folk. I turned as we slowed, looking to the driver and McCole, waiting for their plan, but they were doing the same to other.

“Can we push it out of the way?” I said. The driver and McCole swapped looks, each nodding as the Land Rover continued to slow. Cassie and I made room as McCole scrabbled into the back compartment and stood up through the roof with his rifle, aiming the way we’d come. I scrambled into the front seat, watching the steam rise from the crashed Land Rover as we came level, fingers of wood already scratching and snapping, protesting at our advance. As the front grill bit down hard into the protruding branches, the glass in the headlights smashing, I looked across and saw the other driver, his head lolling forward, leaning over the deflated white airbag. At first I wasn’t sure if he was dead, but as his head moved, fear spiked he’d just come alive again.

As our Land Rover continued to make slow progress, I pulled open the door and jumped to the road, ignoring Cassie’s worried calls. With the gun in my right pointed through the window, I gripped the door handle and pulled. His face turned and I knew I had to make my choice. His jaw hung slack and wide, with no blood he looked like he’d been punched in the face. I pushed the gun into my jacket pocket, grateful he didn’t lunge as I gripped him around the waist and helped him to the ground.

The scrape and crunch of wood had stopped, but the engine’s roar had not. The mass of branches was too much for the Rover without a running start. The rear doors opened and Cassie jumped to my side, pausing as she stared down at the soldier, weighing the decision I’d made only moments earlier. Eventual taking my place, she helped remove his helmet as he squinted through the pain. I ran around to the back of the crashed Land Rover and pulled open the back doors, reeling back as I found the space filled only with two camouflage rucksacks. The passenger and his long rifle were gone.

Pulling the heavy bags by the shoulder straps, I stood back beside the soldier as Cassie knelt. With his helmet on the road, I watched him peer around, trying to make sense of what had just happened. By the time our Land Rover had given up my plan and was backing up, metal scraping, wood snapping as it withdrew, the chaotic sound was overshadowed as McCole gave a great call and the report of his rifle rattled an assault.

All eyes twitched behind us to the three creatures who’d carried on their chase. My reaction was instant and matched Cassie’s, grabbing under the guy’s arms, dragging the soldier over the sheared end of the tree trunk. McCole’s rifle stopped and another took over. I glanced back to see by the time the driver’s shots were done, McCole was out on the road and kneeling down to reload. The driver ran around his back, performing a well practice role.

We were soon over the long trunk, dragging the soldier despite his fight for us to stop. Doing as he begged, he climbed to his feet, his sidearm out, popping off bullets into the frenzy. We ran, not able to watch, not able to hope the two creatures still running wouldn’t last long enough to leap into the air and make their deadly attack. Still, I twisted around as we ran, looking back as a pained scream lit up the air. A curtain of doom fell around with its grating call, knowing when I turned to face forward, a monster from our nightmares would block our way.

I was right and stopped dead in my tracks as standing on the road was a woman who’d died mid forties, her face still bright with colour, rouged cheeks and lips I guessed were the same underneath the blood and sinew dripping from her mouth, running down her sweet, daisy covered white dress, the outlines still visible underneath the dark scarlet apron.

Sweeping Cassie behind my back, I was firing before the gun was level, my hand waving wild with each recoil, bullet after bullet veering wide until the click of the empty chamber echoed in the sudden quiet. I watched the skirt billow as she crouched, not pausing as her legs flung her high in our direction.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty Nine

Fixed in place with my legs locked at the knees, I stared as the solider stood in the lead vehicle unleashed the full force of his rifle from the top of his vehicle. McCole scrambled back through our open door. The first barrage of shots missed and seemed only to spur the creature on. The second volley exploded against its shoulder in a haze of flesh pluming backwards out of what had remained of a ragged blue t-shirt. The creature didn’t slow, instead it leapt into the air, the rifle aim following, shot after shot missing repeatedly as the creature landed to the floor, its back legs bending cat-like before bounding high into the air.

Round after round raced towards the creature as the soldier leant backward trying to find the angle to stop the advance. He was too late, as was McCole, who had his rifle from the cab and aimed at the indistinct pair flying through the air, the soldier snatched from the vehicle. Still, I stayed locked in position, McCole firing with no discrimination, halting the hellish, pained screams.

“McCole,” I shouted and for the time he paid attention, turning away from the blooded mess lain on the floor, the intertwined bodies of the two lives gone. His eyes followed my out-raised arm, soon seeing the movement in the distance on both sides of the road moments before the barrage of hellish calls ripped through the air from the hunched over figures whose number we had no chance of counting. “We need to go,” I shouted, but the words were not required, the vehicle at the back was already kangarooing backwards, its rear scraping against the hedge, gears crunching against metal.

McCole was back in his seat and we began our turn, the door slamming shut halfway through. McCole screamed for me to get back down, but I couldn’t drop despite Cassie’s calls. All my body would do was to let me turn and watch on as the Land Rover now behind us sped backwards, bouncing over the bodies of the pair riddled with holes. Our distance built, we could go so much quicker forward. I shouted for McCole, but we didn’t slow. I shouted again and the engine quietened as we idled, but the new convoy leader raced out of sight around a corner.

I watched as the lonely Defender reversed, knowing the driver’s eyes would have been on us and not able to see the gap ahead closing, not able to hear the chatter of feet against the tarmac. I could. I saw as he was caught, saw the wheel turn as the driver looked around at the pair of unearthly creatures already on the bonnet. I heard and saw the crack of the glass, felt the four by four swing to the side, crashing hard into the wall buried deep in the bush. I watched as the wheels slipped and slid, smoke pouring from the tyres as his foot held fast, his only chance to break down the wall.

I knew McCole would have turned in his seat, would have been watching with me as the engine noise died, the wheels stopping their squeal, leaving only the smoke. No one said a word, all eyes latched forward. Something flew from the smoke, its arms and legs flailing, but came to a stop as he hit the floor head first, the helmet flying from the smoke a moment after. We watched as the smoke slowly cleared, alarm niggling in the back of my head, it was time to move and save ourselves, there was no hope for our man and all we were doing was lessening our own odds of survival. No one voiced those words until the smoke cleared, until a creature pounced onto the soldier’s body and ripped apart clothes, rending flesh in great sprays of blood. It could only mean one thing. He was still alive, but wouldn’t be for long.

I shouted to McCole for a gun, my words spraying across the top of the Land Rover, but he did what I asked, cocking the gun and passing it up butt first. I didn’t note what I had in my hand, but it already felt so familiar. Drama from the last few days flashed through my head. I’d been through so much already. How much more would I need to take? A warm hand hugged at my thigh with a gentle, reassuring motion and I looked down to see Cassie looking up, her face as wet as mine, eyes wide with terror, but still she had taken the time to make the connection. I would not let her down.

I turned back to see the smoke had cleared and pushed out the gun. I never fired, instead using all my energy to scream the command as loud as I could.



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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty Eight

“What’s going on?” I said as we watched with intent through the windscreen, the convoy running in the opposite direction to rushing troops laden with weapons and green ammunition tins. McCole didn’t reply, but turned in his seat, scowling, still distracted as he pulled a map from the pocket of his combat trousers. Knowing I wouldn’t get an answer, I turned back to Cassie sat opposite and reached across the gap between the two bench seats. She didn’t pull back as I took her hands. A warm smile appeared across my lips, mirrored by hers, she was as pleased as I was we were going back to collect our friends, her family, finally taking the first steps to get out of this nightmare. Surrounded by Britain’s finest armed to the teeth and expert in how to deal with these creatures, we were safer than we’d been for days.

A growl rumbled from my belly as I looked into her eyes across the gap. She rubbed her stomach and smiled. We hadn’t eaten since this morning, but soon we could worry about those everyday things again. Soon we would have all the food we’d need and could eat together in safety.

Turning back through the windscreen, I watched the rear of the lead vehicle as it guided us around the perimeter fence. To the occasional drill of gunfire, smoke stacks slid in and out of view, their colour a rainbow of greys depending on how close they were to burning themselves out. I watched as fields of green stretched out on the horizon, as a car park empty of all but a few cars went passed, then finally the first buildings of the village came into view. Around we continued in our wide circle until the direction changed with a sharp turn pushing me back against the cold metal, our speed not slowing as sentries, then the fence, flashed out of sight.

McCole picked up the radio handset clipped to the dashboard.

“Take a wide circle down the Boskennal Lane and come out at the head of Land’s End Lane, go cross country if you need to,” he said releasing the button.

“Sir, that’s the main entrance?” the questioning voice came back.

“That’s an order, Private Curtis,” McCole said, his tone not inviting a reply and he got none. Cassie and I continued to watch out of the window as we followed down the deserted streets. St Buryan wasn’t a large village by any stretch of the imagination, but still it felt so eerie to see no people, no traffic each way we turned. The only signs of life we saw were from the past. Windows smashed, drying pools of blood, walls peppered with bullet holes, cars smashed, their metal crumpled around trees and buildings.

Still, we carried on around the streets, turning right and right again, slowing only to bounce up curbs, the Defenders taking the green fields with ease, all to the occasional background of gunfire. I watched as McCole picked his rifle from its stand in the footwell and inspected the chamber, then did the same with his side arm. We turned right again back onto the road and before long the front Land Rover’s brake lights lit and stayed on, our vehicle slamming to a halt a few metres from its back. The radio came alive with the same voice from the last call.

“I count fifty Cords all heading to the FOB sir, along Land’s End Lane.”

I let go of Cassie’s hand and together we leant toward the windscreen.

“How far out?” McCole replied.

“Half a click,” the voice said as he released the button.

“A second wave,” McCole said, but not down the radio which he was hooking back to the dash.

He spoke again, but this time it must have been using the radio on his headset. I watched him tense, turning to scowl in our direction.

“Back up,” he said, his voice betraying no emotion. One by one the convoy turned, the rear vehicle taking the lead as we made our way out of the village in the opposite direction, finding a second roadblock whose sentries I couldn’t see despite being sure they were watching us. The gunfire receded each moment, leaving the drone of the Land Rover’s engine only broken by the occasional pop of a distant explosion. It was another ten minutes before I could be sure we were on the reverse of the route Cassie and I had taken to get to the hospital in our stolen Land Rover.

With my eyes trained and constant on the back of the lead vehicle, I guided us through each turn, gaining confidence as the roads unfolded as I’d expected. About half way to our destination and along the road that would take us all the way, the brake lights of the lead vehicle shone as it reached a scattering of houses staggered either side of the road. A voice I hadn’t yet heard came over the radio.

“Sergeant. We have a Cord in the centre of the road. About a hundred yards forward.”

“Cord?” I said, knowing now I’d heard correctly. McCole ignored my words, instead speaking into the dashboard radio.

“Just follow protocol soldier, you’ve done this before.”

“Cords?” I said again, this time turning back, watching as Cassie shook her head.

“Sir, it’s not giving a classic reaction,” he said. I could hear the worry in his voice.

“What do you mean?” McCole said into the radio.

“He appears to be feeding on a body,” the voice replied.

“Feeding?” McCole replied.

“He’s staring right at me.”

“Move forward and engage, soldier,” McCole said, not hiding his annoyance.

“We should turn around,” I said, leaning forward to get his attention, but he shook his head and opened his door, climbing out, stretching the cord of the radio.

I stood, pushing aside the perspex covers of the roof hatch and stared forward, ignoring McCole’s shouts for me to sit back down. Looking passed the gunner in the lead vehicle, I could see something bent over a body in the road. Just as the voice had described, he was staring in our direction. At that moment the understanding hit me. They’d named the creatures after the fungus. Cord, short for Cordyceps. As I congratulated myself, the radio came alive, the lead Land Rover slowly rolling forward.

“He’s charging.”

“Bullshit soldier,” McCole shouted down the radio, but the words were so loud they would have heard from the other vehicle. McCole let the radio go, leaving his rifle on the seat as he walked out to the side to get a better view. I looked up to see the creature was heading our way, his speed building as his mouth snapped open and closed. I turned back to McCole who stood for a moment unmoving before he flinched up to meet my eyes.

“You seen these before?” he said, the colour running from his face. I nodded, barely able to breath as the bubble I imagined around us popped. They hadn’t seen the worst of the worst, hadn’t seen the creatures who gained such extraordinary speed when they took over their host.

“Sir?” the voice said over the radio.

“We need to get away,” I shouted as we both turned back ahead to see the creature had already covered half the distance. McCole’s reply went unheard as the air lit up with a bone chilling scream, followed by a chorus of searing replies.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty Seven

“Jack,” I said knowing as the name came out I could no longer take it back. Staring at Cassie, I watched the intensity of her face melt to a smile. “His name is Jack,” I said, warming with her reassurance. “But he’s only ten, or thereabouts.” I turned back to the doctor and watched her hands slide through the mess of paper spread across the desk.

“When was he bitten?” she said as she found what she was looking for.

I looked to Cassie, turning away as she nodded.

“Two days ago, when this all started, but we only met him this morning.”

She looked up from a page of paper she’d centred on the desk in front of her as her right hand found a pencil.

“How can you be sure?”

“There’s a wound on his hand. Looks like a bite. Plus that’s what he told us.”

She continued to stare in my direction before turning down and scribbling.

“Did he say if he had any ill effects?”

I shrugged.

“He said he slept an entire day, but he didn’t mention anything else.”

The pencil ran across the page.

“And there’s no chance he could be lying?”

“He’s a good kid. What would be the reason?” I replied.

Looking down at the page, she made more notes, before striking through part of what she’d written.

“Where is he?” she said, her pencil hovering. I looked to Cassie and saw a flash of what I thought was concern in her eyes.

“What are you going to do to him?” I said. Her smile was back and I stiffened upright in the seat until she let the facade drop.

“Blood samples, that’s all. We’re not the monsters,” she replied. “There’s a simple test. If he continues to suffer no symptoms and we find the Cordyceps fungus in his blood stream, we’ll know he’s creating the precious antibodies we need.”

“Then what?” I said, my voice more stern than I’d intended. I looked to Cassie and her eyebrows raised, urging me on.

“More tests, but it’s hard to say until we see the blood work,” she replied, her own posture stiffening. “Where is he?”

“We were holding out with our friends in a house about ten miles away. They’re waiting for us to come back with supplies.”

“Where exactly?” she said, the pencil still hovering.

“I couldn’t tell you,” I replied shaking my head and watched as she leant forward, tilting her head to the side, eyes squinting, still locked on to mine. “It’s the truth. Ever since this started we’ve been on the move.” As she shook her head and I felt rage building in my chest. “Look here,” I said, moving to stand. “What with watching our friends die, scavenging for food, hiding from those creatures, being shot at from the skies, attacked by looters and kidnapped by the military, I didn’t have a chance to consult the map I didn’t even have.” Cassie’s hand reached across from her chair and I felt myself calm with her warmth. I sat and watched the doctor take a deep breath, the wrinkles on her forehead flattened out for a moment as a scowl flashed across her face. “But we can take you there,” I said. Her head angled up and her shoulders relaxed as her hand went below the table. From her pocket she pulled a radio handset, her long wrinkled fingers tapping across the numbered buttons before she held it up to her mouth. A quiet male voice came from the speaker.

“Captain Bains, Ma’am.”

“Captain, when is the next patrol due back?” she replied with her eyes on me all the time.

“Sixteen Hundred, Ma’am.”

The doctor shook her head.

“Have you got another squad available for a retrieval?” she said with her eyes fixed on me. “About ten miles?” I nodded. “Ten miles out. Collecting a group of?” she said raising her left eyebrow.

“Seven,” I said and she repeated the number down the line, adding two passengers would accompany the patrol as she watched Cassie’s nod.

“We’ll need three vehicles, plus at least six on security,” the voice came back.

“Can you spare them?” she said down the line. There was a pause for a moment before his voice replied.

“Yes Ma’am, they can be ready in ten minutes.”

She killed the call without signing off and placed the radio on the table.

“Okay,” she nodded. “We’ll get everyone back here and take it from there.”

Moments later there was a knock at the door and we were introduced to Sergeant McCole, a tall, but stocky man, made wider with the full body armour and camouflage kit he was wearing. With weathered skin and jet black, short hair, his thick, unkempt eyebrows added to his unwelcoming expression.

“Have either of you had any military training?” were his first words as he led us down the corridor, leaving the doctor in her office. Shaking my head, I voiced the answer looking at Cassie as she did the same.


“You’ll do well to remember that. We’re the professionals and you do as we say,” he said without looking as he walked at speed down the long the corridor not checking to make sure we kept up, whilst pushing on a camouflaged green and brown helmet. I nodded at his back.

He let the double doors go as he stepped through. I caught them before they swung back, holding them open for Cassie and getting my first view of the three khaki coloured Land Rover Defenders, their engines running. Soldiers sat in the driver’s seats of each. In the front and rear vehicles another stood behind with his head out of the roof in the rear compartment, a rifle resting at chest height.

Beyond the vehicles I saw great progress had been made erecting the fence. Each metal frame panel of wire mesh stood more twice the height of the vehicles and slanted outwards a few degrees, with razor wire spiralling across the top edge. Concrete blocks and great water containers sat on angled legs to hold it firm, each delivered by a khaki green forklift truck buzzing around the site as soldiers manoeuvred the panels into place. Only the space for two panels remained and a third was being installed by five soldiers in just their green t-shirts, their armour nowhere to be seen.

Still without turning, Sergeant McCole motioned us to the back of the centre vehicle, not looking to see if we’d understood,  distracted as he talked in the microphone built in to his helmet. I couldn’t hear what was being said until he turned and caught my eye.

“With all due respect.” The words stopped and his eyes turned to a squint. “Yes Ma’am,” he replied and barked in our direction. “What are you waiting for?”

Nearly running, we climbed up and into the musty rear of the middle vehicle, settling on the hard bench seats and turning to stare out of the windscreen. We watched as the pace of activity increased, an excitement in the soldier’s movement grew obvious as more joined the fencing crew. The passenger door opened and McCole climbed in, his hand pulled up the handset in the cab, but before he had a chance to speak, gunfire lit up the silence, all heads turning to the left, our view blocked by the green canvas.

“Use the rear entrance,” he said, not quite shouting. “Don’t stop for anything. That’s an order.”


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty Six

Dismissing the white coat with a flick of her fingers, the door closed and we were alone again. The Major, or doctor, whichever was the truth, hadn’t reacted to my accusation and now I was concerned about what she might do. When she finally spoke her voice was calm, her crow’s feet deepening as the forced smile came back. Her upturned mouth made me want to jump across the table, take her by the shoulders and shake her till she told me what she knew; told me the government fucked up, had been playing god and it had all gone wrong; told me she was part of the problem and not the solution.

“I’m not sure what conclusion you’ve just jumped to, but just because I’m an Army doctor doesn’t mean there is anything more sinister going on,” she said, her cheeks bunching high. Despite the constant smile, her stern expression did nothing to reassure me. “The military is best equipped to deal with the situation and that is all.”

I stared back trying to keep my expression as neutral as I could, forcing myself not to glance at Cassie, already knowing the concern on display.

“We’ve heard things,” I said, the words helping to stop from launching a tirade. Even though we’d only caught part of a conversation, everything the two thugs had said back in the bedroom had made sense. How could all that was going on outside just appear with no warning? How could this place be transformed in just two days? Someone must have known before. The woman sitting across from me had to know so much she wasn’t saying.

Her cheeks bunched higher still.

“I’m not interested in what you’ve heard or what you think you might know. We’re here to stop the spread. Who are you to get in our way?”

She was right and I let out a breath. No matter how we’d got to where were are now, it didn’t matter. We’d seen first hand what was going on outside these walls, what was happening to everyday people. With no need for much of an imagination, I could take a good guess at how quickly this could be the end. What could I do? I wasn’t an all-action hero and we weren’t in a Hollywood movie whose script had been audience tested to get the right level of peril before everything turned out fine in the end. So many had died and I knew what we’d seen was only a tiny part. Too much had already been lost for a happy ending.

For the second time since this had started, I thought of my parents, thought of my life before the new year had turned. Everything was different now. I didn’t know if they were alive, or if they were, how much longer would they be able to stay that way. I turned to Cassie and wanted to smile, wanted to take her somewhere quiet and enjoy the one good thing to come out of this whole mess. There were people who needed help and even if the boy wasn’t part of the cure, we had to find out. What else could I do? Despite my unwillingness to trust this woman, what option did I have?

“Okay,” I said, nodding, watching as her smile relaxed and her brow bore down to what I could guess was its normal stern position.

“So tell me you’ve been wasting my time. Tell me you’ve not seen someone whose survived a bite. Tell me you haven’t witnessed what could be our first clue in bringing this nightmare to an end before it takes out the rest of the country.”

Still, I couldn’t just blurt out the words she wanted to hear, something was telling me it wasn’t right to just hand over Jack. I couldn’t help but turn to Cassie. Couldn’t help but look deep into her eyes as she stared straight back like she was trying to reach into my mind and tell me something, trying to urge me to go one way or the other.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One


Chapter Sixty Five

“Can you help us or not?” I said, stepping back. Her feet stayed put as she leant forward, her unblinking eyes fixed with an intensity that made me want to turn and run the other way. I didn’t run, didn’t turn away, instead took a step forward and spoke again. “I need to speak to someone in charge, or we’re leaving.”

“That’s me,” the woman said, the wrinkles on her facing relaxing. Her stare dissipated as she took a step back, her hand pushing out, lips curling a forced smile. “I’m Doctor Lytham. I apologise for our introduction. I’m sure you can understand we’re still finding our feet here.”

I squinted towards her, but Cassie seemed to shake her head.

“What is this place? Why weren’t you evacuated?” I said.

A panicked scream raced across my nerves. Cassie’s eyes caught mine as our heads snapped around to the room I’d just left. The soldier standing at the door hadn’t flinched, was left unmoved as the sound died, only then did he raise his eyebrows, asking the doctor a question without words. Turning back, her face hadn’t changed, her arm sweeping out to guide us down the white corridor. Her head gave the smallest of shakes, dismissing the guard’s unvoiced question. She turned and walked down the corridor, her heels clicking along the hard floor.

“What are they doing to him?” I said, my voice more urgent, but Cassie was already following. I hurried behind despite my instinct to get clear of this place, I would not leave her with this woman who reminded me so much of Cruella De Vil. Every few steps the antiseptic smell built, the taste coating my tongue as we walked passed door after door, each with a porthole window painted white. We rounded a corner to find it much the same, with two guards stood either side, their backs to us. As we passed to the click of her heels, I turned back to see neither of the soldiers would meet my gaze.

“Did you work at the hospital before?” I said as hurried to catch up. She turned smiling high with her cheeks, her head shaking.

“There wasn’t a great call for my specialism in this corner of Cornwall.”

“What specialism is that?” I asked, walking fast to stay alongside.

“Let’s call it tropical diseases,” she said, giving me the least reassuring smile.

“Is it or not?” I said. Looking across Cassie, I saw her worried expression, then turned to the doctor whose forced smile was back again, her eyebrows raised.

“I’m seconded to Public Health England. We’re trying to understand the outbreak.”

“And find an antidote, a cure?” I said, my voice rising with excitement.

“Is it a tropical disease?” Cassie butted in from her side.

“Yes,” she said in my direction and turned to Cassie, repeating the same.

“Have you found a cure?” I said. “Please, if you have we need your help.”

Approaching a double door on the right she stopped, pushing both open and holding them wide. A few steps inside a clear plastic sheet with a zipper in the middle separated us from two figures in white plastic suits covering them entirely. Around their waists were white belts, a holster each side. In the left holster was the yellow of a Taser, in the right a pistol. Beyond the guards was a long hospital ward, with ten beds on either side. In each bed lay a patient, reddening bandages on either their arms, legs or faces, with at least two protective white suits busying around them, changing bandages, drawing blood or pushing buttons on the bedside display, much like those on a A&E ward.

Watching in silence, we listened to the buzz of activity, broken only by the sudden shrill of an alarm. Our eyes were drawn to the raise of a white gloved hand, the suit stood at the middle right-hand bed. The two guards stepped from their post, each drawing their tasers. A suit hurried from the other side of the room holding a red liquid filled syringe.

“Now for your answers,” Doctor Lytham said, letting the doors swing closed. “We have promising lines of evaluation, but we haven’t found a cure.” After following a few steps down the corridor, she opened another door and ushered us into an office. Packing crates lines the walls, many were closed, but most were open, their contents spread across the two sturdy wooden desks in the centre of the room. “We’ve isolated the disease to a new species of the Ophiocordyceps genus,” she said as she offered the two empty seats on the nearest side of the desk. We sat as she took one of the two empty seats the other side. “I don’t know if that means anything to either of you,” she said, her cheeks bunched in expectation.

“Zombie ants,” I said.

She raised her eyebrows and slowly nodded.

“Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis,” she replied. “Could we use you?” she said tilting her head to the side. Cassie turned like I’d been keeping something from her, like we’d known each other for years and was only now finding out I had some hidden depth. It was getting harder to remember we’d known each other for less than a day.

“No,” I replied, shaking my head. “I watch a lot of documentaries.”

The doctor’s shoulders deflated.

“We’re calling it Ophiocordyceps Sapien, for obvious reasons.”

Cassie looked at me with a tiny shrug.

“Because it infects humans,” I replied then turned back to the doctor. “But how? Have the tabloids not been warning of this ever since David Attenborough filmed it?”

Her mouth raised into a smile.

“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day,” she said, her lips flattening.

“We don’t know how it started,” she said, and I turned my head to the side. “We’re examining as many victims as we can, but the fungus is so virulent our best chances are with those newly infected.”

“What have you found? Are you close?” I said, feeling my heart pounding in my chest.

“All we know so far is if we can stop the bleeding we can extend the time till the fungus takes control.”

“You can keep them alive longer? How much longer?”

She shrugged.

“We don’t know yet.”

“But you can’t stop it altogether?”

“Not yet. We need more data, we need to know when anything unusual happens. Like if someone doesn’t die from a bite,” she said raising her eyebrows, letting the silence hang as she watched me turn to Cassie’s blank face. “That’s why I’m so very interested in what you said.”

“You’re trying to help?” Cassie replied, turning between me and Doctor Lytham.

There was a knock at the door and it swung wide before anyone could raise an objection. Standing in the doorway was the white coated man who’d examining me as we’d arrived, across his white coat was a diagonal splash of what looked like blood.

“Major, that’s a negative on B29,” he said, his breath panting. I looked to the man and saw the khaki shirt underneath, turned to the doctor and saw the same under hers. She spoke, her eyes locking onto Cassie.

“What else would we be doing?”

Scraping back my chair, I stood.

“Trying to clean up the mess you made?”


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty Four

“We need your help,” I said, almost breathless. My head darted around the bright white room as it opened out with each step. His wide, toothy smile remained fixed, but his beckoning halted as I caught sight of two soldiers stood behind the door. In their hands were yellow taser stun guns held at forty-five degrees, their arms folded at their fronts. Although they’d drawn me in, they weren’t the first thing I’d seen. I turned back to the dentist chair in the centre of the room, my attention following down the side of the arm to the two sets of clamps hanging down from the chair, each fixed with four bold, oversized screws. On the other side was a tall stainless steel table with dull metal instruments resting on a green paper cloth.

It was only then I noticed the nurse in dark blue scrubs, she held a stainless steel kidney bowl, inside rested a long syringe filled with a red liquid. I felt the ties snipped at my back and my hands were free to swing around to my front. White coat guy ushered me towards the chair as the door closed and locked at my back.

“Please take a seat,” he said, the smile still there.

“We need your help, please,” I replied, shaking my head, my eyes squinting in the first artificial light I’d seen for over two days. He took a step forward. I didn’t need to flinch back to know at least one of the soldiers was mirroring his movement, at the same time exposing the taser’s prongs. “What is this all about?”

The white coat’s sympathetic smile widened.

“We have to be sure. Please take a seat, sir,” he said and took another step toward me.

“Is it about my leg?”

His smile widened even further, shaking his head to the two at my back.

“Do you know what’s happening outside?” he said. I raised my eyebrows, not voicing my reply. “Yes, of course you do. Then you’ll understand why we can’t take any chances. We have to check you out? If you prefer you can just take your clothes off here. Once we’re sure you can be on your way.”

“We come here to get help.” The white coat raised his eyebrows, at least pretending to be interested. “It’s our friend, Nat. She’s been bitten,” I said and watched as his look turned to the nurse, as her eyebrows raised and they shared a look of interest.

“How long ago was this?” he replied.

I had to think for a moment, so much had happened.

“This morning,” I said, trying not to remember the details.

“How many hours?” the nurse added, her voice impatient. I no longer had any reference of time. I never wore a watch and my phone had died long ago.

“A couple of hours, maybe three.”

Their faces sank and I swapped my attention between them, but still he spoke as if going through the motions.

“Did you stop the bleeding?”

I gave a fast nod.

“After how long?” he replied. I shook my head again and tried to remember back. She was bitten out in the hills and we’d dragged her in to the cottage as quickly as we could. She was still bleeding when we got her inside. Was she still bleeding when I had to defend the building? When Andrew and Zoe were in?

“Half an hour, maybe,” I replied, hopeful. His face fell further and he shook his head.

“There’s nothing we can do for her I’m afraid.”

I felt the breath fall from my lungs.

“There must be something?”

“We can make her more comfortable, or,” he said and turned to the nurse. “We can stop the worst from happening.”

My eyes widened and the nurse took over.

“We can stop her from turning,” she said, her expression jaded, but maybe there was a hint of compassion behind. A radio squawked somewhere in the room, an urgent voice calling though, but using words I couldn’t quite catch.

“Now sir we need to get on, we have more to deal with than you can imagine,” the white coat said.

I turned, hearing movement at my back. The right of the two soldiers had stepped forward again and he held the taser out.

“Easy way, or the other?” the soldier said tilting his head.

I unzipped my jacket and as I pulled off each item of the clothing, I felt the eyes of the white coat and the nurse peering over every inch of my skin, the white coat stepping forward as I pulled down my jeans. The soldier stepped right to my back as the white coat peered down to examine my knee.

Nodding to the nurse and the soldiers, he stood and looked me in the eye.

“Everything sir,” he replied.

I drew a deep breath and turned to the nurse.

“It’s cold in here,” I said and pulled down my boxer shorts.

The radio crackled again as I pulled on my clothes and was hurried from the door, shoved to the side of the corridor by a blur of soldiers carrying one of their colleagues horizontal between them, his hands and legs bound as they rushed him into the room. I just about saw a blooded gauze pushed against his hand with blue gloved hands. The door closed and the guard who’d been there as I’d arrived, turned his fallen expression away from the door and looked at me, his face pale.

“Do you know him?” I said. The soldier didn’t respond, his face staring at mine like he was looking to share his pain.

He gave a shallow nod as I held my expression fixed.

“I’ve got someone like that,” I replied. “She can’t be helped, but it’s not always a death sentence,” I said. His eyes narrowed, longing for the rest of my words. “We know someone who didn’t die,” I said. His eyes flinched to my side and he straightened up, coming to a salute.

“Really?” came a female voice and I turned to my side and saw a woman, her hair silver white with green eyes fixed intent on mine. Cassie stood by her side, walking from the other door, straightening her clothes, her face full of alarm. “Where are they?” the woman said stepping into my personal space. I could feel electricity crackle off her words, my blood rushing with panic like I’d just made a big mistake.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty Three

I was sure we’d be dead before my iron clattered to the ground, but as the ringing echo of the metal died, the beech of the bat clattering to the ground with less of a fuss, we stood with our hearts racing. Our faces fixed down the barrels of the guns, trying to make out where the dense covering of leaves ended and each person began. After more than a few moments of frustration and nothing else, other than our joints starting to seize, I wandered if I’d dreamt the whole situation up, or if in the terror of the moment I’d missed an issued command.

It wasn’t until in the distance I heard the rumble of a large engine, grey exhaust smoke pluming high in the air, that I knew sure enough a truck would appear around the corner. I was taken back to when we’d seen the first helicopter, was that only this morning. The rush of elation still fresh, the certainty we’d been saved switched off in an instant as the machine gun rained down, doing more than breaking our hearts. I wouldn’t let myself be tricked this time and pushed away the hope our nightmare was ending.

Sure enough, only moments later an olive drab truck with a heavy fabric rear cover, rocked on its suspension around a distant corner, rolling into view, stopping just before it would have to negotiate the gap between the improvised road block. The driver stayed put as it ground to a stop and four soldiers in camouflage fatigues bounded from the back, their rifles trained in our direction.

“Hands on your heads,” the lead guy said in a commanding voice. Like the others, his face was striped with dark paint, his body covered in armour and thin, yellow tinted glasses ran across his eyes. When I raised my hands and Cassie did the same, they seemed to relax like maybe they were testing we understood language. I chanced a look in her direction, raising my eyebrows, hoping she understood the sentiment. They hadn’t killed us yet.

They still hadn’t ten minutes later. It was only after patting us down and starting to walk to the truck at their command, did they stand back, raise their guns and scream for me to explain how I’d hurt my leg. The explanation seemed only to elicit more questions as one of the four stepped away, his eyes fixed on me as he mumbled something into the boom microphone swinging down from his helmet. Despite my insistence it was by the size ten boot of a looter, they cuffed my hands tight behind my back with the plastic ties before I went any further. Hoisting me up the back of the truck, paying careful attention to my leg, they sat me on the hard metal bench running along the centre, leaving one soldier opposite, his hand on his holstered sidearm.

With Cassie sat the other end, the heavy fabric folded down to cover our view, light coming only from the dim red torches hanging overhead, I felt the truck reversing a long way before we turned. They wouldn’t talk, were silent to my questions, but I soon went quiet, reeling from the realisation we weren’t riddled with holes and our throats hadn’t been cut.

It was only when we jolted to a stop, the cover lifted and I saw the white letters against the blue sign, that I realised we’d arrived where we’d been aiming for all along, St Buryan Hospital. Squinting, I saw soldiers stood guard around the single storey building and as I was lowered, I caught more guards at each of the two entrances, groups of four walking around the perimeter, peering out along the road with binoculars, others helping to finish raising giant wire mesh fences.

We were guided side by side, escorted by the four soldiers through a set of doors, disinfection clawing at our nostrils as our slow uneven footsteps echoed in the long hallway. We didn’t travel far, stopped as commanded at two doors side by side. On each door was a handwritten paper sign. MALE. FEMALE. Ushered to the respective doors, I flinched back as they opened from inside. Feeling the pressure of a hand at my back, I glanced to Cassie to see her already looking in my direction, her eyes wide and eyebrows raised. I tried my best to reassure her with my glance, but I couldn’t do the same for myself. Turning back, I saw a man in a white coat stood just inside, a wide smile on his face, beckoning me in with a wave of his hand.

I stepped across the threshold.

The soldiers didn’t follow.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty Two

The Land Rover bucking, Cassie struggled at the controls as I came around the passenger door with no shots fired, limbs still attached. We were making slow progress even once I’d sat, still only just drawing alongside the cottage. I couldn’t help but tempt fate, turning to stare at the door, hoping he’d not cleared a jam, wasn’t reloading a shell, wouldn’t be repointing both barrels and pulling the trigger.

He was still stood with his features set harsh, but the shotgun pointed to the ground and a woman leant on his shoulder. Her hand moved, hugging his waist. Her eyes fixed on mine, a kind smile on her creased face and were out of view in a moment.

“Swap over,” I said and Cassie stared back, her face set in a terrified expression as she let go of the wheel and lifted her feet. Our heads rocked forward as the engine stalled. Fists hammered at the windows, daylight dulling as torsos crowded, their flesh weak against the glass. Checking my door, I made sure it was locked, Cassie matching as she questioned me with just her face.

“Climb over,” I said and watched as she rose from her seat, awkwardly curling her left leg across the centre console. Right soon followed left, then came her body. For a moment she hovered above me, but her hands gave way and she collapsed to my lap. My senses lit and not just with the pain as I felt her warmth through her clothes, through mine. Her hands were on my thighs, were flat, drawing me in. Clenching my teeth I hoped time would not move on, but the soft hammering of the windows reminded our situation, reminded us we had to get going, had to move, to get away from those things and from anyone who wouldn’t care for what we’d just shared. Pushing her high against my pain, she hovered above me with her hands on the door and I slid, issuing a tirade of foul language before slapping down into the driver’s seat.

The car was surrounded with the elderly creatures, wrinkled skin, thin hair and that smell already radiating as if the windows were wide open. I turned the key and the engine sprung to life, the car leaping forward just before it died. Glancing at Cassie, her eyes were all over the windows as she backed away, moving as close as she could to the centre. I pulled the car out of gear and turned the key again, letting the engine roar. The creatures only reacted as we moved, the front four disappearing below the bonnet, the bull bars pushing them down, the suspension and hefty tyres hiding most of the sensation of their bones crushing as we drove.

Twisting to watch as the crowd followed, Cassie called out before I could round the corner.

“Stop,” she said, slamming her hand on the dashboard. “You’re leading them to the cottage.” I hit the brakes hard, having to lock my arms to stop myself from hitting the windscreen. She was right. In the mirror I watched the group of fifteen or more barely stumble as they crossed over their fallen. “Turn around,” she said and my eyes caught hers, they were wide and serious. I gunned the engine, turning the wheel full lock to the right, before coming to a rest and staring at the pack, their heads locked in our direction.

Cassie had taken a wide paper map from the dashboard.

“They’ve marked where they’ve been,” she said, turning the paper so I could flinch my eyes from the windscreen and to the black crosses scoring out several clusters of houses radiating out in a circle. Snatching a look forward, my eyes returned to the paper and found a wider concentration of buildings, a large cross pinpointing a darker area. I nodded in its direct and she let the map drop.

“Let’s lead them away,” I said.

Letting the speed build, I took out a cluster of three, splitting the group as their heads snapped forward, denting the bonnet one after the other. Watching in the mirror, I slowed as each turned and they started to follow. Cassie twisted in her seat and nodded, picking up the map and concentrating on the marking I’d pointed out.

“It’s the hospital they were talking about,” she said, not looking up from the page. “That’s where we need to be.”

“What about the others?” I replied, using all my willpower not to take us as far away from those things as I could.

“What have we achieved?” she said. “Did you hear what those two were saying?”

“About the hospital?”

“And everything else.”

I shook my head. I’d heard so much, most of it I didn’t understand.

“I hope they can help Nat,” I replied, nodding.

“We can try,” she said and reeled off the directions. “It’s about ten miles, but take it slow,” she said peering between the map and back through the rear window. I drove as she said, keeping those things in sight for a good five minutes before we were confident they weren’t going to turn back. Still, I didn’t speed, was mindful of what could be around each corner, expecting someone to jump out at any moment.

It took longer than I expected for the roads to widen to anything more than a narrow two lane. After twenty minutes of tentative driving we were within two finger widths of our destination, on the map at least. Ahead was a large car, a Mondeo, resting with its nose in the hedge, another the other side, narrowing the way to just wider than we could fit. There was no-one around, no sign of life and we agreed without words it must have been one of the first checkpoints. Neither of us continued questioning for long as the engine note changed, spluttering, giving me cause to interrogate the dashboard. I watched the petrol light which must have been bright orange since I’d taken the controls. The engine soon died and I dipped the clutch, hoping to get every inch of forward movement.

Rolling to a stop long before I wanted, I was out in the cold. Cassie stood on the door sill, peering up high over the hedgerow on one side and the dry stone wall on the other, watching as I limped around the car, opening the boot to find it empty. Taking the map and baseball bat and the tyre iron I found tucked under a panel at the back, we left the safety of the car and walked along the road.

“Ten minutes,” Cassie said, her features bunching as she looked down at my leg as I struggled to hide the limp. I was glad she couldn’t see the pain in my chest or she might have insisted she go for help alone.

Ahead, the two cars grew. The sound of an animal moving within the hedge turned us inward. I looked behind and saw the long road stretching away, knowing how perfect this place would be for an ambush, an ideal location for looters to take at will.

We walked on. I couldn’t stomach the thought of the long journey passed the Land Rover to find a way through the impenetrable hedge and on to the wide open fields either side. Still we carried on, boosted by the utter silence until a twig snapped in the hedge-line at our backs. With my hand tight around the cold iron, there was nothing there as I turned. It took a few moments as we walked again, to notice the tall pillars of undergrowth that hadn’t been there before, to notice the two tall towers with cold barrels open in our direction. Only when the deep voice made me jump did I realise the camouflage had worked so well.

“Drop the weapons.”


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty One

“Noooo,” I screamed, the word coming slow as adrenaline pushed my senses to the limit for what I knew could be the last time. I saw his eyes intent on mine, watched them change, saw them widen, a light blinking on behind. The crowbar still swung, but veered off to the side and I felt the pressure on my chest as it crashed down on the slumped shiny smooth head of the man already dead. In his eyes I saw the confusion, saw the battle, saw Cassie rise high, my screwdriver in her hand, watched as he noticed her, but not until it was too late, the tip of the driver plunging past his eyes, buckling his legs. His arms fell moments after, the crowbar clattering to the floor alongside his body.

I tried scrabbling up, tried pushing the dead weight from my chest. It had only been moments, but that smell was already catching in my lungs. Flesh putrefying. Cassie was standing, her mouth agape, breath panting hard, blood rolling down the side of her face. She turned, saw my struggle and helping me pull the body by the arm, I saw the moment she caught the fetid smell. Her nose turned up, features hardened. The body was off and I knelt to the bed, wiping my face of blood on the once pristine covers. Turning as I climbed to my feet, I saw the end of the crowbar diving deep through the skin head’s eye socket.

A second booming gunshot rattled the house, from a shotgun I was sure as we caught each other’s glances before running to the window. The older of the looters was staggering backwards along the path from the cottage we’d last seen his group attacking, behind him he left a trail of blood, his face fixed through the open door. A third shot was louder than we’d yet heard and his body shook, but he hadn’t been the target.

“Look,” Cassie said and I turned, following her blooded, outstretched finger in the direction their cars had first arrived. Blinking away the drying blood, I rubbed my eyes hoping when I opened the first vision would have gone. As my view cleared I saw twenty or more of what appeared to be old age pensioners in gowns, jumpers and tweed jackets, each walking with a new lease of life, their posture hung over and their pace slow, but still they looked too pronounced, too put together for what had been their age before they’d died.

“Where the hell are they all coming from?” I said, not expecting an answer.

“We weren’t the only ones left behind,” Cassie said as another gunshot rattled the window. We turned to each other, both our heads moving to peer in the opposite direction, looking passed the buildings blocking our view, trying our best to reach out to know if our friends were okay, if they were ready if we couldn’t protect them.

“We need to,” I was saying when I turned, but Cassie was already moving, already grabbing the baseball bat from the floor, already at the door. I followed, holding my chest, limping on my knee, stopping to pull the crowbar from the skinhead’s eyes, trying not to listen as it sucked out from the deep wound. “Get to the cars,” I shouted, following as quick as I could down the stairs, rushing as fast as I could to get to where she was waiting at the backdoor smashed up to the side, weaving around the obstacle course of TVs, consoles, DVD players and plastic boxes overflowing with designer shoes.

Out of the door Cassie looked left and right, our eyes only meeting for a moment, hers dropping to my knee as I leant heavy against the wall. She paused, offered me the baseball bat and I shook my head. I didn’t need a walking stick. Around the corner of the building, I waited at her shoulder, was about to edge my way out when another gunshot ripped through the air, followed by a searing howl of pain. Cassie was off, running fast between the houses, not looking back, not waiting for me. She was out and across the tarmac, crouched down by the side of the pickup, its rear overflowing with boxes and gadgets, all before I had cleared the gap.

I waited at the front of the house, seeing the procession of the elderly impossibly close, almost at the rear of the Land Rover. Cassie’s eyes were twitching everywhere, but she couldn’t see another backing away from the door of the looter’s cottage. He dressed the same as they others, a long kitchen knife held high in his right hand, the left pointing up empty. She couldn’t see the body lain out on the path leading away from the house, it was the man we’d watched emerge trailing blood. I watched her flinch as another shot raced from the house, watched as the guy dropped the knife, collapsing to the floor, watched the car knock her back as shot slammed against the front of the pickup, exploding the front left tyre.

She turned, saw me standing between the building, held her hand out for me to stay put, but my look flinched away as I saw one of the tracksuits appear, running hard, from the back of the building, his aim heading for the Land Rover, its engine still running. The group of dead elderly inmates of a forgotten nursing home all flinched in his direction in a uniform turn. Somehow his speed had caught their collective attention and they ignored Cassie altogether as they changed their course, veering towards the passenger door. He didn’t make it. A shot slammed against him, his wails of pain telling us it wasn’t a clean kill. Still the creatures headed in his direction, his vocal agony seeming to urge them on.

I ran, or tried, hobbling, almost collapsing on my knee each time I put down weight. Cassie had seen my move and made her own, leaping towards the Land Rover. The creatures picked up on her run and the group split down the middle, changing their course. Still she made it to the door, pulled it wide and was in, despite the wrinkled hands scrabbling, bones crunching as she slammed the door hard. Grinding the gears, she kangarooing around the pick up. I changed my course and headed for the passenger door. I was going to make it, but as I turned to the cottage, I saw an old man in the doorway, his face wet with tears and both barrels of a shotgun pointed in my direction.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Sixty

Teeth snapped forward grazing my nose and her head pulled back, saliva dripping cold to my cheeks as she dived forward for a second try. Despite knowing she was trying to take off my face, every muscle in my body felt tight, but wouldn’t release. My mind couldn’t let me muster the will to take her life, my hand frozen around the handle of the knife. Her perfect white teeth lurched forward again. I knew there was something wrong, something alien, absent, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I did the only thing possible at that moment. Closing my eyes, I gave up.

Feeling her weight collapse over me, the air forced from my lungs and my eyes shot open. I rolled her to the side, turning away as her blood cool as ice, splattered across my face. Panting for breath I looked up and saw Damien standing over me, a wide yellow toothed grin beaming down, blood dripping from a paring knife in his right hand.

“I saved your life you pussy, now you owe me,” he said and snatched the knife from my hand. “Welcome to the new world baby,” he said and jumped back in the Land Rover, leaving me laying, panting on the floor. With his door slamming closed I stood staring at the body, her brown hair still perfect with just a thin line of blood running slowly from the wound at her temple.

“Get in,” Damien shouted, but I didn’t move, was still transfixed on the dead woman at my feet. He repeated, his tone sharper, this time it wasn’t a request. It was choice time again and I took the cowardly way out, climbing into the passenger seat, knowing I’d failed the test. I couldn’t protect myself and knew I’d have to surround myself with those who could if I was going to survive.

We didn’t speak, the hierarchy established. Instead I watched out of the window, the empty roads, the parked cars all gone too, the streets empty of life, only the farm animals out in the fields. We drove for about ten miles not seeing a soul, only the fires on the horizon growing in number. When eventually we saw people in their cars, they were queuing, I could see some sort of checkpoint way off into the distance, but I couldn’t even muster the courage to tell Damien to stop the car, to let me out as he turned away, following his instinct to keep from anything official.

His only reaction was when we came across a small group of what seemed to be people he knew. I was barely introduced to the four when their intent became clear, they were breaking into a small group of houses, helping themselves to everything of value. Damien was happy to go along and so was I, apparently. I did what I was told, stayed at the back of the two cars while Damien was posted at the front and we watched, waited, me with an iron bar I’d been given, Damien with a baseball bat.

I didn’t know my role until I spotted someone coming up the road, their walk so much like the woman who’d been killed whilst on top of me, as were the five others following behind. My muscles froze, giving the same reaction, tension gripped my chest and my limbs locked up. I could barely muster the words to call Damien, my voice high and feminine when I eventually did. I watched on, managing only to move well back, while Damien called for the others and as they exploded out, bombarding each of the things my head couldn’t give a name. They barely had time to fight back under the unflinching onslaught, whilst all I could do was lose whatever I had left in my stomach on the side of the road as one by one they passed me, looking down their noses, my eyes to the ground.

And so it went on for the next two days. I’d watch as they’d go around the houses smashing down the doors, pulling out everything that once had a value. Most times I would just have to stand there, every so often I would call and have Damien take care of those that happened upon where we were. I tried once more to build myself up, to take control, but my body wouldn’t let me even though it had become obvious those things weren’t recognisable as human. I was barely of use, no more than a lookout and that’s how I was treated.

In the evening before darkness took over, we’d head back to a warehouse on a tiny industrial estate, all the buildings abandoned, like everywhere else. There we’d pile up what we’d found, cash, electronics and food. A fire would be started, burning pallets soaked in petrol for warmth and we’d each be handed out the spoils. I was given the smallest share, barely a portion, but I didn’t complain, knowing there was no one to come along and help if they kicked my ass and left me for dead.

The next morning I woke up determined to change my situation, fixed on getting passed my fear, intent on getting respect. We started the day like the previous, a small group of houses, but we didn’t get any visitors. With each downward look from the others my resolve increased. I wanted to be treated as an equal and the only way I would get it was to ditch whatever was stopping me from killing these creatures.

The second set of houses proved more promising, not long after we’d arrived, I saw one of those creatures heading towards Damien’s end, a farmer it looked from how he’d been dressed. Damien dealt with it. I followed up behind as I saw another, but my chance had gone, he’d despatched him before I got near. I followed him to the garden and spotted the inside of the house, a glitzy, modern style full of loot. My mum would have gone mad, she hated anything, but the traditional. Damien seemed please when I pointed it out and let me break in, allowing me to tag along to gut the place, letting me talk now we were alone.

About to finish and being called back to the road, I opened a cupboard door and there was one of the creatures. It launched an attack, knocking me to the ground, shooting past me and going for Damien. I hadn’t frozen and knew this was my chance, then another launched out, blindsiding me. Shaking off the blow, I saw her on Damien, but she was easy to deal with and I pushed her to the side. It was my turn to save him, to get even. Snatching the crowbar from the nasty wound in Damien’s neck, he fell on top of the creature who’d attacked me. This was the moment I would prove my worth.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Nine

Her hand reached out batting the coat to the side. I took a step nearer, raising the best smile my banging head could manage, but I drew back as I caught more than just the acrid smoke still burning inside my nostrils. Turning on the spot, I searched again, trying to figure out how I would get her to the hospital when I couldn’t even get myself a ride. I stepped around her, attempting again to push the coat to her shoulders, but she twisted, following my turn, her body stiff, unnatural and I started to think maybe the head wound had done substantial damage.

Reaching her hands out, the smell of the acrid smoke intensifying as she grabbed hold of the arm of my jacket. With a tremendous grip, she wouldn’t let go, her mouth opening and closing, leaning to pull me closer. I flinched away, protecting my hand as she drew it to her mouth. She was in serious trouble, her brain damaged. I hoped there was something the doctors could do about it.

I pulled my arm clear and stepped away, over and again as she reached out unrelenting, letting the neighbour’s coat fall from her shoulders. The roar of an engine broke the cycle, finally someone was coming who could help the injured woman to safety. Stepping backwards, I carried on around in a circle with her continuing to follow in the middle of the road, all with an eye on the building noise. I expected to see one of those coaches from the night before, or a fire engine, an ambulance, police maybe. Hope holding out they weren’t a thing of the past. I hadn’t expected the Land Rover Defender rocking on its squealing tyres as it barely made the corner. I hadn’t expected to see someone in the driver’s seat I recognised more as he grew closer. Although I was still hopeful, the shine of his bald head and the snarling grin couldn’t have been anyone else.

It was Damien Edwards. We’d gone to school together. We were at the same school, at least. He was a loner, someone who hung at the periphery of our large group, but no one would have called him a friend. He was troubled, conflicted. One moment full of confidence, talking for hours about nothing at all, the next he was bullying some kid, whoever he’d picked out to break the boredom.

I’d rarely been his target, but I’d watched many others in his crosshairs. He’d done all the maturing he ever would long before he joined halfway through secondary school. He was the kid who’d pulled the legs from a spider, then ate the rest just to show you he could. When you laughed, he’d tell us to go fuck ourselves, punching out in a random direction. He’d been a skinhead ever since he’d joined, we had no idea if his hair could grow or if he shaved every day.

He’d left school at sixteen, like the rest of us and got a job, but was fired more times than I can count. He didn’t play nice with others. Each time I saw him, usually for an awkward conversation in the pub, he’d have another tattoo to show off. Now he was driving down the road in a car that couldn’t be his, wearing a broad smile as he saw me fending of the mentally damaged young woman who needed help.

“Mackenzie. Fucking knew you’d get left behind. Did they miss you because you’re so fucking short?” he said as he pulled up. When I didn’t reply he turned to Mike’s house as more of the roof caved to the ground. “He toast?” he said eyeing up the burning house. I didn’t know what to say, distracted by the ever increasing ferocity of the woman flinching towards me. “She fight back?” he said eyeing her up and down.

I looked back and he must have seen my glazed expression and he jumped from the driver’s seat as he pushed the door wide. Forcing the woman away again I noticed the triangle of the long knife gripped tight in his right leather gloved hand.

“You don’t getting it?” he said laughing as he spoke.

I shook my head. I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“You think she’s fit, right?” he said. I stepped back, not responding. The woman swapped her attention to Damien and let me step back without following. I watched as he offered out his left hand. The woman snapped her teeth together before lurching forward and biting down with a snap as she just missed the thick leather. Damien grabbed her by the hair before she could rise for another strike and her eyes rolled to see what had hold. “She’s not there anymore,” he said twisting her face toward me.

I shook my head. What I saw was a woman in trouble. I tried to protest, but the words wouldn’t come.

“Still don’t get it do you?” he said and when I didn’t reply he thrust her head forward, her bloodshot eyes snapped wide, latching onto mine. I jumped back and she lurched forward, her hands grabbing my arms. I stumbled backwards to the ground and she came after, her body and that stench falling. I tried to scrabble back, pushing hard with my legs, but they couldn’t move with her weight.

Her head punched forward, she had my arms pinned to my side. Her breath stank like rotting shit, the stench forced out with her every effort. I looked deep into her features hoping to see I’d been right, but there something missing. Everything missing. Only decay left. In my peripheral vision I saw Damien’s boot arrive by my head and he leant down.

“You get it now?” he said, his breath didn’t smell too much better. His hand reached out to her hair, pulling her head up. She didn’t complain, her mouth just continued to snap open and closed. “Choose. I haven’t got all day,” he said. I turned to see the sun glinting off his knife as he knocked her right grip from my arm and pushed the handle of the blade into my hand, letting go of her hair. Her head snapped forward and without both my hands to keep her at bay, I watched her teeth zoom towards my face, filling my view.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Eight

The first we knew were the multi-coloured spotlights going dark, leaving the inside of The Logan Rock lit only with the emergency lights as they sparked to life over the double doors. The music fell away as the spots stopped spinning, just the rumbling groans of confusion left behind as the last cold beer drained down my neck. I had no idea of the time, but we hadn’t sung together, so there must have been a long while to go before the telly chimed twelve times over.

The second we knew was on the long walk home, mobiles and the landline were dead, no taxis could respond and the car park emptied all too quickly. Leaving my best buddy and I with no choice, we walked, tripping over our feet in the pitch black, but out in the middle of nowhere where we lived, the darkness didn’t mean a thing. Halfway to home the road lit with a constant stream of coaches, each in a hurry, none stopping to tell us the news and before long they had gone. Helicopters replaced their noise, the sky filling with blinking lights high above our heads. Between us we gave up racking our brains through all the possibilities. It wasn’t until we reached my house, finding the place double locked, Mum and Dad not answering to the hammering, the car gone, that I took things as serious as I could after drinking since lunch time. There was nothing we could do, no one to ask for help, so we walked the next mile to Mike’s house in a drink fuelled haze, flocks of helicopters coming and going over our heads.

His house was the same, but that’s how he’d left it, his girlfriend having already stormed out on Christmas Eve, something to do with spending too much time with his mates. The power was off there too, so after ten minutes of rifling in drawers he’d never been in, we lit candles and started on the beer warming in the fridge. I awoke still in my coat, coughing to clear acrid smoke from my lungs, it was morning, I first thought as I opened my eyes to the brightness in the room. Realisation took only a moment, fire had taken control of the other half of the room, the half where Mike had sat as we both fell asleep. I couldn’t see, but knew he wouldn’t still be there, couldn’t sit in the centre of the flames. Coughing up my lungs, I fell to all fours and tired to remember the layout, tried twice to navigate in the bright smoke which blocked each way I turned. Somehow I found my way to the door, found my way through the kitchen, told only by the change of floor. Found my way out to the front of the house in the freezing cold with the early morning light just coming over the horizon.

I watched the house burning for no longer than a few seconds before I screamed, calling out for help, banging on the four neighbour’s doors, but all in vain. His house was engulfed as I returned, Mike nowhere to be seen and the horrible truth sunk in. He was still in the corner and I’d left him there to die, my only thoughts were to save myself. Why the hell hadn’t the fire brigade come? I fell to the ground in the middle of the road and there I lay tears streaming as the fire warmed my face and the cold bit into my back.

After not too long I headed back to the first house, to where people had lived that I didn’t know. I smashed my elbow through the glass in the front door, had the place open in no time at all. Inside was decked out for Christmas, long lines of decorations ran along the hall ceiling, tinsel wrapped around the phone just inside the door. I batted the stuffed Father Christmas to the floor and pulled up the receiver, pushing the three digits even though I hadn’t registered the tone I needed to hear. I let the phone drop as no one answered and stared out at the flames as the roof caved in on Mike’s house. He’d lived there for five years, had bought the place with the girlfriend, but would have to sell. Not any more. It was someone else’s problem.

It was warm in the house and I wondered around trying to think of what I should do next. We lived in the middle of nowhere, all the cars gone, I would have to walk, to find out what the hell this was all about. The rest of the house was decorated the same, not one corner had escaped the cheap, plastic coated decorations. The tree was up in the front room; the presents gone from underneath; the lights washed out, unlit, the switch not working. I sat in a great armchair, dust flew up and I could smell the owners and stood. A shadow moved passed the window, there was someone in the road, someone had heard my calls and was ambling down the street in awe of the fire.

Rushing out of the front door, I saw a young, twenty something brunette, my eyebrows rising. Things were looking up. Her clothes were a little ragged, jeans had some dark mark across the front and her top was ripped open, a white bra exposed. I could see her full cups. Things were looking up. She hadn’t noticed me yet, her eyes staring to the fire, her feet rising slow one after the other heading towards where my friend had died.

“You okay?” I said from the doorway and she turned to meet me. Above her eyes was a great bruise, blood had dried as it had rolled down from the injury. Her eyes latched onto mine. She was pale and seemed a little dazed. She’d been in a car accident, that was clear and I looked down the road for the car, but saw nothing. I ran inside, pulled a coat from the hook and rushed back over, offering out the warmth. She couldn’t take her eyes off me. Things were looking up, but first I needed to get her to the hospital.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Seven

As my head swung back, I watched the screwdriver twist in his hand. He’d hit me with the handle and relief rained down. I wasn’t about to feel the delayed effect of a puncture to my chest. There was still a chance despite the pain, which was strong enough to force the breath from my lungs, to hamper my fists as they balled. I swung out my left arm, moving to block a second blow. His grip was poor and the tool went spiralling under the bed as my arm swung wide against his.

Smashing my right fist against his cheek, he reacted with only the slightest flinch, barely showing the pain searing up through my fist had been of any worth. A second blow and his hand was up at my head, clubbing my temple again and again with a speed I had no hope to match. With each strike I felt the weight of my fist lighten, the edge of my vision blacking, forming a circle like a Photoshop filter. The blows kept coming and so did mine, albeit slower. He was angling me to his side with his body while I fought to find a soft spot on his skull. His aim went wide, catching the back of my head. My legs gave way and I rolled to the side, blackness fell all around, but I still felt the floor rise to jar against my back.

My eyes were open, but I hadn’t missed time. He was rising to his feet, his face bloodier than I remembered inflicting. His features screwed up with rage, anger pouring in my direction, but rather than coming straight at me, he turned. I followed his eyes to the short guy on his back, him and Cassie were each holding the crowbar with both their hands, each trying to turn in the opposite direction, to twist away out of the other’s grip. The skinhead had moved, twisted around and was launching himself away at pace. He was going for the baseball bat laying on the bed.

My eyes dropped to the floor and I saw the screwdriver nestled in the thick pile of the carpet underneath. I rolled, barrelling my way with my arms tucked up in vain, but still with every rotation, every twist, the darkness closed in around my dizzying vision. Stopping only as I hit his feet, I reached out, but before I could make contact under the bed, a size ten boot smashed my legs together just below the knee. My hands reeled back and I rolled away, a vision of Cassie still locked in battle cycled passed my view. Hitting the wall, I once again stopped and saw the skinhead with the handle of the bat in both hands, the wood raised high above his head, one foot going in front of the other in my direction.

I tried to scrabble to my feet, but the new pain in my knee just left me laying. Time was up. He was close enough and the swing of the bat was committed. Instead of lunging forward, trying to get as close to him as I could, I pushed up tight to the wall. The bat swung, catching just the edge of my coat. I grabbed for the rounded end as he was pulling it back, trying to raise it high and he inadvertently helped me to my feet, but not for long. My left knee collapsed and I fell, pushing off the wall with my good leg, my arms grabbing around his waist, sending myself forward, him back, the bat hitting him square in the face as he hit the floor. He lay still for a moment, his eyes fluttering open and closed. I knew it would be just for a moment and saw the screwdriver glinting under the bed.

With one last thrust, and using all my energy, knowing if this didn’t work I would be spent, would be wide open for him to do his worst, my finger connected with the handle, the tip of my index touching the wooden end, edging it slowly closer. I flinched a look and saw him rolling at my side. My fingers clutched around the handle and I lunged the screwdriver down, only able to aim in his last known direction. Before the driver connected, I saw the bat raised above my head, but the screwdriver fell from my grip. The bat swung down, hitting my shoulder with little force. Blood sprayed from his neck and I saw the crowbar embedded deep as he fell forward, showering me in his warmth.

His full, dead weight landed on my chest, leaving only my head uncovered to see Cassie behind him, her eyes wide, not able to hide the shock of what she’d just done. I was powerless to help as the short guy picked up a glass perfume bottle from the mirrored dresser, smashing it against her head, sending her sprawling, blooded to the floor.

His eyes too fixed in awe as he looked around the room, at his pal who couldn’t be saved, at the crowbar as he pulled it from the neck dripping with blood, at me as he drew the crowbar high, at Cassie as he swung it down towards my face.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Six

My right fist swung quicker than he could step clear, connecting clean to his nose, crunching the cartilage with a sound I’d remember for a long time. He stumbled backward, tripping over his own feet, but I passed him by, it wasn’t him I feared the most. The skinhead was who I had to deal with. He was the one I knew would run and raise the alarm, changing the odds to somewhere we would never have a hope to handle. Surging past the short guy, I helped him stay down on the floor, hearing the ruffle of movement at my back as my eyes fixed forward. The skinhead was only just turning. Hugged between his arms was the TV once hung from the wall. My biggest fear was if he surged forward, using the sixty diagonal inches as a weapon which would be just as effective as the baseball bat lain on the bed. Instead he stood dumbfounded, dropping the TV as I barrelled toward him pointing my right shoulder square on his chest, adrenaline pushing the pain out of my head.

The edge of the TV smashed across his black booted feet. He reeled back, arms still wide, presenting an open target for my shoulder as it barged into the centre of his chest and sent us both to floor. The air bellowed out of his lungs, his head slapped back against the carpet. The TV sandwiched between us as I fell on top of him, stars sparking across my vision from the new found pain in my chest. I closed my eyes, but opened to find his closed too, long enough for me hover the screwdriver over his left eye before it opened.

I thought the skin around his eyes would break as they sprung wide, his pupils darting between the point of the screwdriver and my face as it hovered just above his. My concern turned to Cassie, but I couldn’t move my attention away, knew he’d have me on my side if I flinched even the slightest. But there was no sound of a struggle. I had to know.

“You okay?” came her hurried voice before I had a chance to give my question. I flinched the screwdriver down to his neck, pushing just enough so he knew I was serious. I flicked a look back to see Cassie with her foot on the short guy’s neck, the crowbar in a double handed hold poised above her head. We’d got them and all without making a noise, but now we had to do something with our advantage.

My first thoughts were to tie them up, shut them in the cupboard, but we already knew they were getting impatient outside, would quickly find them and come hunting for us. My second thought was for a more permanent solution, but I couldn’t stomach an intentional act, couldn’t take someone’s life in cold blood.

“What now?” said Cassie, her voice matching my worry.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Either way we’re fucked.”

“We have to kill them,” Cassie said. The short guy whimpered, but the skinhead’s face seemed to harden at the words.

“I can’t,” I replied. “And nor can you.”

“Then what?” she said, her voice calm. I sensed her gratitude for my words. We all had enough to worry about, already had enough to regret when we closed our eyes.

“We’ll shove them in the cupboard, barricade the door. They’ll be found soon enough,” I said. “And we’ll be gone.”

“But they’re going to the house?” Cassie said, a new tension in her voice.

“You going to be a good boy? Leave us alone?” I said turning downward. I didn’t believe him for one moment as he replied with a nod.

Still holding the screwdriver tight to his neck, I let myself slide from the TV and down to the floor. Keeping an even pressure, I got to my knees, trying to not reel from the pain in my chest.

“Push it off,” I said, motioning to the TV. He slid it to his right, holding his head as still as he could. “Put your hands in your pockets,” I said and he pushed his hands into his skinny jeans. Leaving a thin red mark, I pulled the screwdriver back, but kept it poised, hovering, ready to strike.

A muffled gunshot shook the building. I couldn’t stop myself from flinching around to the window, my eyes meeting Cassie’s at its side. I watched her face alarm, but too late I realised my mistake. The screwdriver snatched from my hand, pain searing in the side of my chest.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Five

“What I don’t get,” the short guy said, but was interrupted.

“What do you fucking get?” said the skinhead as the volume of his laughter tailed off. Cramps were pulling at my calfs, but I feared a stretch would make too much noise. Instead, I tried my best to relax, to keep my concentration on their words.

“Fuck off. Seriously though. What I don’t get is how after only two days of this shit, there’s already a field hospital.” His voice was getting quieter. A rush of excitement spiked up through my stomach as I realised they’d forgotten to check our hiding place.

“Only two days,” the skinhead said, a vein of sarcasm running through his tone. I couldn’t make out the rest of what he was saying. I tried to stand and felt Cassie’s warm hand reach for mine. Ignoring her pleading grip, I tried again, standing, tentative at first, searching out their decaying voices, each word less distinct, all while I listened for the first signs of a report from under my feet. The sound of their footfalls had been so obvious and I knew the same would be for where I stood. Still, I had to take the risk, just had to hear what was being said. This hospital sounded exactly the place we needed for Nat. She was in no condition to travel, but maybe we could convince someone to come to her. A house call, if we ever got out of this cupboard.

I crept to the door clutching the screwdriver in my fist, the voices getting louder than the difference a few steps should have made.

“Look. There’s an evacuation on New Year’s Eve. No one explains a thing, but then it stops before it gets going, leaving behind whoever wasn’t around to get the first call.” There was a long pause. I had no idea why. According to the floor boards and their changing volumes, they were back in the bedroom and moving around.

“Then this morning we saw those military helicopters buzzing around, with their massive machine guns shooting at the ground. We must have hid three or four times. Right?” Another pause. “They seemed to have stopped too. Haven’t seen any for a few hours. Right? But in all that time someone’s set up a field hospital and stocked it with supplies and found people willing to help. That’s what I don’t get.”

The voice changed for the first time in a while.

“You think it’s bollocks?” the skin head said, his tone showing the first sign of a serious edge. The short guy spoke again, finding a new confidence.

“I’ve got no fucking idea. I’m just saying it don’t seem right, that’s all.”

The skin head huffed a reply, his voice all of sudden loud as if he was the other side of the door. I tried to calm my breath, fearing he was so close he could hear the pound of my chest.

“I tell you what don’t seem right. When a place like this gets done out like a New York apartment and is abandoned for ten months of the year because their London pad has better internet access and the local shop sells beard oil, leaving people like me, honest and hard working, priced out of the market.”

“Honest?” came the short guy’s reply and I heard what sounded like a pained call.

“Anyway, for once you might be right, but wrong somehow. I reckon there’s more going on,” said the skin head.

“Huh?” said the short guy, their voices getting quieter. I crept up closer to the door, but still I couldn’t quite make out the words anymore. I looked back to Cassie, but even though we’d been in here for an age, my night vision needed at least something to work with. I was blind. Swapping the screwdriver to my left hand, I found the handle with my right. Slowing my breath, I tried again to listen. A hurrying call came from out on the road. I could only make out the tone.

“It was four or five days ago, I think. It wasn’t even mentioned on the news,” came the skins head’s voice suddenly clear. “Shit. The cupboard.”

I’d missed the interesting part of what was said, only the last few words coming through clear as day. The floorboards under the carpet creaked, vibrating with a speed that left me no time to decide, no time to hold the handle firm, to lean against the door, or move my meagre weapon to my strongest hand before the light poured in and forced my eyes into a squint. I wasn’t surprised to see the short guy stood there. Wasn’t surprised to see him pull up to a stop, his hand right hand still on the handle as he swung it open, his left hand empty. He looked up from the floor and our eyes locked, our faces sharing the same shocked expression.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Four

Hoping it was the promise of the plush interior, the high end kitchen, the mirrored chest of drawers, the flat-screen TVs we’d seen in each room, and not the promise of our bodies for sport, which was giving rise to his excitement. Motioning to Cassie, I stepped slow and cautious across the thick-piled carpet, heading towards the door I hoped held a secret escape hatch to a hidden basement. Pulling the door open as fast as I dared dashed my hopes the owners were paranoid, obsessed with their safety. At least they kept their hinges well oiled. Inside was a dark, narrow walk-in wardrobe, rows of shoes shelved on one wall from floor to ceiling. On the opposite side clothes hung down from a pole, the floor piled with plastic boxes. Everything neat, spick and span.

Stepping with care, we walked along the centre, bathing us in total darkness as I pulled the door closed. By touch, we felt our way to the far end, pausing with each lull in the commotion below. Our breath held as another voice joined in the laughter, but resumed as the chaos increased in volume. The floor creaked as we arrived at the end and Cassie crouched to the floor as wordless, I took an arm full of clothes from the rail and scattered them across the floor. With a second armful, I sat, pulled the clothes on top of our heads, trying our best to cover ourselves, moving only to pull the screwdriver back into my fist.

Cassie shuffled closer beside me as we heard the footsteps on the stairs directly below. Her breath stopped, if only for a moment as their voices grew louder, their excitement cutting clean through the walls. I tried to visualise the pair. One we knew. One we’d seen too much of already, his bald head fixed in my mind, probably forever. The other I could only guess, but it was the weapon my mind fixated on. Now they’d reached the stop of stairs, the gently warping boards underneath confirming, their voices soon moving to our side. They were in the main bedroom.

My concentration fixed on their words, seeking their intention. Were they really such a threat? We’d only seen the skin head defend himself. The two voices were distinct, the skin head’s much lower, still the second had morphed into the sentry who’d stood at the back of the pack, a short guy with an iron bar in his hand. I knew it was wishful thinking. Howls of animal excitement bounded through the walls, Cassie jumping as a window smashed and some animal chant rang out. A distant joyous call came back.

I reached across with my left hand, found Cassie’s and squeezed, wordless to reassure her they were looters only out for the prize. They weren’t hunting us. I didn’t reassure myself. She squeezed back. I had no idea if I’d helped, but I stopped worrying as they started to talk.

“You hear where we’re going next?” came the skin head’s voice edged with concentration as I felt myself shaking, the first signs of my body thawing. Warm for the first time in days.

“Yeah,” came the slightly higher pitched reply. “It’s bullshit, right? Some hospital in St Buryan?”

“It’s true,” the skin head said. “Some do-gooder set it up like a field hospital. Takes in those that can’t look after themselves. The ones who didn’t get out. Once we’ve done the house down the road, that is.”

I turned to Cassie, felt her hot breath on my face. Her hand moved, her arm curling around my mine, squeezing tight.

“I don’t get it,” came the other voice. “Pass the screwdriver.” There was a long pause. “Fuck’s sake.”

“Careful,” said the skin head. “You damage it and I ain’t protecting you.”

“Shut up,” came the reply. “Go on then tell me the secret. Why the fuck are we going to a fucking hospital? Someone ill?”

“Gordy’s got the shits,” he said and they broke out in laughter. “Nah, seriously. They got supplies, right? Medicine, food and petrol. Stuff that’s worth a thousand times what it used to be, at least while all this shit’s going on.” I felt Cassie’s arm squeeze tighter. There was silence in the other room and I worried somehow they might have felt it too.

“But won’t there be lots of people there?” the short guy replied.

“Yes you twat. The weak and the sick and those stupid enough to hang back and look after them. They’ll be no one protecting them, except maybe a few old men. It’ll be a walk in the park and we’ll be king of the castle.” The pair broke into a high laugh. “You look constipated.”

“Fuck off,” the other voice replied. “What I don’t get is why we’re getting all the TVs and stuff? There’s no fucking juice.”

“You twat. It ain’t gonna be like this forever. We live in one of the richest countries in the world and you think they’ll let this stop us. You’re more of a mug than I thought. Give it a couple more weeks, maybe a month, this will all be over and we’ll have a stock pile of TVs to sell when the internet’s back on.” There was a pause and I pictured the short guy’s expression changing, realisation lighting up his face.

I hoped he was right.

His reply was laughter and we went back to listening to the sound of their effort.

“Shove it on the bed,” the skin head soon said. “Then we’ll have a look in that cupboard. I reckon there’s sweet shit hiding away.”


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Three

The metal claw dug through the creature’s bright white shirt as Cassie drove home a high swinging blow. Its features unchanging as it staggered back against her push to free the bar from its flesh. I turned away, screwdriver out, the shaft pointing down from my fist, ready as I ever would be to defend us against the other animal about to appear from around the corner. It wasn’t the first time I’d wished I’d taken time to find a bigger weapon. Cassie’s shoulders knocked at my back and I turned, watching the end of her swing, pulling the prongs from beneath its skin. My eyes caught on the back door and its brass handle, all of a sudden fixed on why neither of us had tried it.

Cold in my grip, I held the handle hard like my life depended on what happened in the next few seconds, but as it pivoted, the door swung open. I stood in disbelief for longer than a moment. My breath fell away and I eventually turned, still without saying a word. My hand leapt forward to Cassie at my back, just in time to pull her out of the arch of a sweeping clawed attack. I yanked so hard she tripped backwards over the concrete step, the air rushing out of her lungs as I struggled to lessen her fall. Still, I dragged her further in, only letting go to leap back to the door, pushing it closed with my shoulder, pulling back a split second before it could slam.

We still had a chance. The creature was the other side, his hands batting useless against the glass.

I dropped to the floor with my back at the door, leaning hard in case it gained sentience and pushed the handle. Cassie had the right idea and scurried up against the kitchen counter, staying low. Together we listened to each other’s breath and the excited thud, thud, thud of beech against once human flesh. Listened to the satisfying crack of bone against concrete, our eyes fixed hard on each other. I broke away for a moment, checking the lock, but found it empty. There was no key in the door.

The thing was down, at rest again. This time as it should be. Permanently.

The one who’d done the deed was not. He was still on the opposite side of the thin wood door and all he need do was push the handle.

My eyes darted around the room. We were in a modern, open plan kitchen, a breakfast bar at my side, tall stools not so far away. Across all but one wall were dark, granite doored cupboards. I couldn’t tell any more, was too low to see if there was anything of use on the counter tops. A long knife, or a cleaver sat in a knife block, my preference. Still I’d have to get in quick, get in quietly, like the SAS, minus the years of training.

I heard footsteps, feet scuffing on the concrete behind. Cassie’s eyes told me she saw shadows moving closer. There was no time to form a plan, to figure out the best course of action. Slowly moving from my butt to my knees, I watched Cassie roll from where I’d let her fall and was walking on all fours, scrabbling with me at her back to the carpeted hallway.

The hall was bright and I continued to the follow, to take her lead as she rose to her feet, jogging across the short gap to the stairs, carefully lowering her feet to each step as she rose. With my first step from the ground floor I heard a smash of glass and leapt up higher, pushing her on. She’d heard the sound too, the twinkling of the glass to the tiled floor from what we knew was the business end of the baseball bat raking on the rectangle of glass.

We were up the stairs and in the front bedroom, the floor creaking wild with each step as we took in the straight edged double bed in the centre. A wardrobe ran across the far wall and a door tucked in the opposite corner. A call came from outside, but we couldn’t get the detail. The skin head replied. He was in the house, his bat dragging along the worktops, knocking whatever had been in its path according to the constant shatter.

“Give us a hand, we’ve hit the jackpot.”


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty Two

The machete wielding driver was out first, his eyes fixed with a question on the skin head’s. His attention soon turned to the house the sentry was motioning towards with the baseball bat. Neither had seen us, despite his stare in our direction. At one point I was sure he’d made eye contact, but it was clear their interest was in the house. They were welcome to the surprise on the other side of the door. The noise came again before they’d all come out of the first house, throwing bags and high value goods into the back of the pickup. Each followed in the footsteps of their leader, weapons at the ready, whistles and calls of excitement running through the air.

This time they knocked, a gentle wrap of knuckles at the front door as each walked into the house’s shadow and out of sight, giving us our chance. We had no choice but to take it. Cold air plumed around me once more as I pulled away from Cassie with my hand still on the top of hers. I led her, both of us bending over, running down the side of the garden, trying to keep our footsteps light. The fence was six foot tall at our side and ran a long way out. The search for safety ended too quick, the garden was devoid of anywhere to hide with just grass rolling out to the fence at the back. The only feature was a moss covered wooden bench nestled to the side of the fence line half way along.

Still we ran, Cassie behind me, pulled along with my hand at my back. Not daring to slow or look around at the repeated smack at the front door. I dragged her past me, pointing at the bench and motioning my instruction. Her raised eyebrows confirmed she knew my plan, but matched my fears the bench looked as if it would collapse as we climbed. Still there was no choice and we were upon it. I slowed and she didn’t, leaping into the air, her foot on the arm, the wood complaining, but it was too late, her hands were on the fence, legs carrying over as she disappeared the other side to a soft landing.

Not being able to match her momentum and commitment to the move, my feet slid across the moss as I climbed on the seat, resting a foot on the arm, feeling it sag under my weight. Grabbing my hands onto the top of the fence, I chanced a look back and saw net curtains in the windows twitch. Landing on the other side, I held Cassie back, my eyes wide, chancing a whisper.

“There’s someone alive inside,” I said and as if to confirm, we heard the definitive sound of the front door swinging wide, rattling as it hit the wall behind. Her eyes grew wide, matching my concern, we’d both thought the noise was from someone long dead roaming around where the previous inhabitants of the body had lived. One of those creatures wouldn’t care to lift the curtain to see what was going on in their garden.

We held there for longer than we should, both of us deep in thought, shaking our heads. What if it was a family, or a group of decent people like us? What if it had been us, our friends inside? The racket from before started up again, this time there was shouting, an argument and we ran. There was nothing we could do, but we didn’t run away. Without either of us guiding, we ran back towards the houses, diagonal along the new garden and were soon in front of the neighbouring house. I held Cassie back and peered around, inching forward at a snail’s pace. They’d left no-one out the front. I did a quick scan, seeing only the farmer dead again in the middle of the road, only knowing who, what, it had been from the clothes, the head caved to a pulpy mess.

Grabbing Cassie’s upper arm, I ran across the front garden, leaping the small fence which was no bigger than my knee. We ran across the road, turning only when across the opposite front garden, leaning against the wall, looking back the way our friends were, pulling deep breaths to regain control. Cassie saw it first, nudging my arm with her elbow. I don’t know whether we recognised it from before. It didn’t matter, it had seen us and was veering from the bend in the road, heading in our direction.

The creature was slow and we should just have run away, been careful, but someone needed our help, even through we were in no place to give it. Cassie was first to head into the garden, jogging around the house, slowing as we came around the second corner. She stopped, retreating to the safety of the brick. The two sentries were walking back to their posts, shouts were going on in the background, but aimed elsewhere. I ran back the way we’d come and saw the creature was still heading in the direction it would have last seen us, the direction I’d just shown my face again. I was back around the house to see Cassie looking out. She stepped back and met my eye.

“They’ve seen it. The skin head’s heading its way,” she said, her breath still coming fast. I looked around, only just managing pull back just as the guy was turning in our direction, his round head tilted at an angle. He wasn’t as thick as his looks. He’d realised the direction the creature was taking and had altered his own course around the house to cut it off. Our one chance was if the creature had locked onto the new threat, or promise of food, or whatever the motive of those animals could be.

I motioned for Cassie to follow back the way we’d come, but rounding the corner our shoulders sank, the creature was on us having ignored the thug about to score himself three for the price of one.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty One

Our hands released as we fell the ground, both of us scrabbling to turn and get sight of what was coming. Peering low around the wide exterior chimney breast, I moved back, raising up on my knees so I could make out the road over the side of the squat front garden wall. The space between the houses were wide, giving a wide view of the road, which meant whoever was coming would have a great view of us. I jerked my head around, spotting a half rotten wooden trellis collapsed against the neighbouring house. In-between the diamonds formed by thin diagonal strips of wood, old, long-dried, brown vines ran in all directions. It was perfect. With the engine building to a great fuss, I stood, grabbing the trellis, yanking hard to free it from the brittle bounds. With it released, I swung the wood out, leaning it against the brick stack and settled back in my place, my heart pounding as I tried to calm my breath.

Most of the dead and dried vegetation had fallen, taking with the great barrier it would have given. The foliage spread across the path, but it was too late, a pickup truck and a Land Rover Defender had rocked to a halt right in front of us. Cassie went low, shuffling under me. I crept in closer, my front against her warmth. She shifted. I pulled away, whispering an apology for getting so close. She shook her head, dismissing my worry and like two meerkats I raised higher above her, watching through the great gaps in the wooden slats as each of the four doors of the bright red pickup swung open.

With the engines left running, four men jumped from the cab. I was still taking them in when two more jumped from the Defender behind. Each was somewhere between eighteen and thirty, only one older by ten years, but he dressed the same age as the others. They wore a thin covering of facial hair, not unlike my own, but in tracksuits zipped up to the neck. In each of their hands was a weapon of sorts, baseball bats, crowbars, long lengths of iron. The driver of the pickup came around the front, in his hand he was swinging a long knife, the end curved and much wider than the handle.

I felt Cassie lean back towards me; her head making a slow turn as if to check I was watching. Both of us flinched, but forced ourselves not to dart into hiding as six pairs of eyes scoured the view. We both knew it was easier to see movement than if we kept ourselves still. They hadn’t seen us yet, their eyes fixing on a another target, the first house in the row of three on the opposite side.

In unison, each member of the group drifted, apart from two, one hanging at the front and the back of their little convoy, the others heading to the door of the house. We didn’t hear the knocker go, only the smash of the glass, repeated, once, twice and then some more, over and over. The strikes soon hit wood and I felt the warmth of Cassie’s body rattle, start and repeat until the wood gave way and the group disappeared inside. Now it was just the pair left and our best chance to do something, do anything but wait to be found. We didn’t know much, but knew it would be just as bad, if not worse than if we were found by the soldiers. Death wasn’t the worst we feared.

We did nothing but listen to the chaos that ensued, the racket pouring from the little cottage. Glass broke, the front windows smashed, cupboards banged, bags were flung out of the door and the newly made openings, the loot collected by one of the remaining pair in turn, only then taking their eyes off the road. We knew what they were looking for. The same thing as us.

The racket continued for a few moments more, then the sentry at the front, a tall skin head, his blue and white tracksuit stained a mirky brown across the front, raised on his toes, his eyebrows pointing towards the sky, the baseball bat slapping as it swung into his cupped left hand.

We followed his look and then his slow smiling walk, the bat slapping to and forth, but we couldn’t quite see what he was walking towards, our angle obscured by the house to the left. The racket continued as he walked out of sight, the hard slap of the wood echoing as it hit over and over something we could only guess. He was back in view carrying a self satisfied grin, wiping the end of the wood against his trousers. He looked up, stopping dead in front of us. I felt Cassie’s body stiffen, her right hand sought my leg. I grabbed her cold hand and squeezed. Something had caught his attention. We’d heard the noise too, a distinct sound coming from inside the house we were leaning against.

The guy’s smile had gone and he turned in our direction, his eyes squinting, settling on the trellis and gave a great, elongated call.



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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Fifty

A thin, yellowing sleeve covered the arm and Cassie’s iron bar crashed down across it with a great puff of effort, but still the grip held. I looked down and saw the skin tight around the bones. I tried pulling back, pushing away from the door, but no matter how much I tried it wouldn’t let up. My left hand grabbed around the wrist, but let go, the skin so cold, unreal, like a lifesize doll. A two handed swing from over Cassie’s head cracked against the forearm, snapping in down the middle. The grip sprung wide like the release of a bear trap, but the arm stayed out waving from the window, the last half of the arm swinging from side to side.

Cassie pulled me back from the door with such force I nearly fell to the ground before I made any distance. Stumbling, I somehow kept my feet as she pulled me along. I stared back, the drooping hand waving to the constant bang of its head butting hard from the other side.

Regaining my composure, we ran in the centre of the road, keeping an even distance between each of the buildings. Chancing another look back, the farmer was nowhere, then turned to watch the village open out and end. There was no supermarket, corner shop or pub, just the post office looking no bigger than the size of phonebook.

Cassie slowed first and I matched her pace. Her hands reached into her pocket and she pulled out a cloth, beckoning me closer with her other hand. I followed her request and stooped a little. The cloth came away with a light dapple of blood, but I only felt any pain as she gently dabbed the wound.

“We need to be careful,” she said. “You need to be careful,” she soon added. I let a wide smile fill my face and she handed me the cloth.

“Post Office is our best bet, you think?” I said, pushing the cloth to my pocket. There were ten houses, each painted white, but all so different and similar at the same time. A thought came to mind and I turned around on the spot, taking in each of the houses for the second time.

“No cars,” Cassie said before I had a chance to voice my findings.

“Evacuated themselves?” I said. She shrugged. “We should find a map in the post office. We can walk to the next place, maybe find a car or at least somewhere with food.” Nodding her reply we walked, but took our time to peer in each of the houses, stepping no closer, not leaving from the road. Most were wrapped up tight, windows closed, curtains drawn, the occasional low key Christmas decoration. All bar one.

A house, again much like the others, sat in the middle, between two similar properties with the post office next to the row of three. The curtains weren’t closed and upstairs a window was wide open. We shared a glance at the sight, stopping in the road, both unsure of what to do next. The front garden was immaculate and lined with evergreen bushes that tapered in perfect cones, the time and patience required meant someone had time on their hands. Sharing the raise of eyebrows, we took our first slow steps towards the house, staring forward, waiting for the smallest of signs that should turn away. Cassie was right, we needed to be so careful.

It wasn’t any sight from the house which made us stop, or footsteps from the farmer or any of his new friends. It was the sound of a large engine in the background, the noise already building as we waited. It was a truck, or something large. Too noisy for a coach, the engine being thrashed too hard for an official. I turned to Cassie and she turned to me. My head filled with a vision of the helicopter and its devastation. A vision of those big jeeps they had in Afghanistan, but painted green, the machine gun mounted high trained at every angle. The soldier’s eyes twitching for everything that moved. Shooting first, asking questions later.

Her head must have filled with similar thoughts, I didn’t need to do anything but tip mine across the road and she grabbed my hand, sending a shot of electricity up to my chest. We ran, covering the distance in no time at all, between the two houses, jumping a wall. The sound of the engine was almost upon us as we fell to the grass behind a wide chimney stack jutting out high from the side of the house.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Nine

Soon we slowed from a fearful pace, letting the white vapour from our mouths settle. Other than the farmer limping from the cottage, we’d seen no more of the creatures as we added to the distance from our haven. Relaxing the screwdriver from my grip, I watched the village grow in the distance, but to continue to call it a village was a big step. I could see four houses, each squat much like where we’d just come from, but otherwise individual. A small post office sat on the corner as the road wound out of view. No corner shop yet, or one of those local supermarkets, but I hoped there would be still plenty of road to see when we got in close.

Cassie was looking to the sky and along the horizon. I followed, looking up, remembering the helicopters, braced to run and hide as soon as we heard the first signs of their call. Cassie’s eyes fixed on a valley, cutting between the shallow hills to the left.

“Might be a river,” she said pointing in its direction. “If all else fails.”

I nodded, chancing another look back, pleased we still put distance between us and the farmer. Soon the first of the cottages were on our right. Outside, lights hung around the edge of the low roof, their lamps drab and unlit, not unusual in the bright daylight. The curtains were drawn, the gate closed. No newspapers stuck half out from the letter box. No candle light came through the thin rounded panes of glass running up and down the door. There were no sounds as I leant in. The round, brass handle was cold and refused to turn.

“We should,” Cassie said in a whisper, stopping as I held my palm high. I’d heard something and she leant in beside me, following the question in my expression. Her face drew in close and I could smell her perfume, not the kind that came from the bottle, but just as nice. Together we listened and I turned, fixing my concentration through the mottled glass, but whatever was the other side was obscured in darkness. I turned again, Cassie looking to the door as our eyes met. Another sound brought my attention back. There was definitely someone moving around in there. I chanced a look at Cassie, our faces so close. She drew back a pace, turning to look along the building.

“Hello,” I said in a whisper. Cassie shook her head.

“We should try the other end of the village first,” she said, her voice even quieter.

“Hello,” I repeated, a little louder this time. Cassie’s hand was on mine.

“We should,” she said, but stopped as we heard a series of what sounded like footfalls. My mouth opened to a smile, eyebrows flashing in her direction. I turned to the door and something hit the wood hard from the other side. A small pane of glass burst open, glancing shards across the side of my face. A gaunt, grey hand launched out in a foul smelling cloud, grabbing my coat, the force pounding against my ribs. I doubled forward, hitting my head and was face to face with sunken eyes squashed against the semicircle of textured glass.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Eight

The pistol led the way up the stairs. Myself, Connor and Andrew chasing Shadow’s sharp homing calls as best we could. I knew what I’d see as I crested. Knew Zoe would be dead, or dying, bleeding out. Nat no longer her friend, her lover, whoever she’d been. Instead, the door was closed, Shadow in the hall, barking towards the handle.

He followed behind I as pushed in. Zoe lifted her head, glaring back from the bed still tucked in her embrace, the side of her face red with Nat’s blood. She scowled at our intrusion with an alien expression I’d never seen her wear. Connor and Andrew had turned before arriving.

“For your own protection,” I said, pushing the gun back in my waistband. “And ours too,” I added. She lay her head back and I turned away, leaving the room, pushing the door as wide as it would go. Cassie was in the hall with the others and followed I ushered them into the main bedroom, pushing the door closed at our backs.

“I’m going to that village we saw on the way in,” I said. The three stared back, each face turning thoughtful. I could guess what they were thinking. Andrew especially. His eyes following toward the room next door. I pulled the gun from my waistband and offered it in the centre. They each swapped glances. “We need food, water, heat, if we can.” They couldn’t disagree with that.

“You can’t go without a weapon,” Andrew said, his eyes wide at the suggestion.

“I can’t leave you without protection,” I replied. “At least I can run. It’s quiet at the moment,” I said nodding out of the back windows. “There might be somewhere better for us to stay tonight.”

There was silence as Andrew walked over to the window, pulling across the net curtains and staring outside.

“Your ribs?” Cassie replied, her eyes squinting down at my chest. I shook my head, the empty feeling in my stomach was worse.

“I’ll come with you,” Andrew replied. I looked down at his side as he turned back.

“You’re worse than me,” I said. “Someone’s got to look after the kids.” I held the gun out to Connor and he took it, pushing it into the pocket of his jacket.

“I’ll come with you,” Cassie said. My heart jumped.

“No,” I replied without taking the time to consider the words. “The kids?” I said. A deep furrow arrived on her brow.

“I’m sure these two can take care. They’ve got the gun.”

I didn’t reply, just stared in her eyes trying not to get lost.

“Why don’t you want me along?”

“It’s not that,” I said, looking to Connor and then to Andrew for support. Both had turned away, finding somewhere else to focus.

“You need more hands, need help to find what we need,” she replied, her voice impassioned.

“It’s not safe,” I said, trying not to turn away.

“But you’re the big hero right?” she replied, pushing her hands to her hips.

“I don’t want you in danger’s way.”

Her eyes flared wide as the words came.

“Because,” she said. “Say it.” I looked up and somehow Connor and Andrew had slipped from the room. “Because I’m a woman?”

“No,” I said. “Yes,” I added. “But not because you’re not strong or brave enough,” I replied. I didn’t see her shoulders relax. She tilted her head to the side, raising her eyebrows, telling me to say what I meant.

“Then what?” she replied, not able to wait any longer in the silence.

“Because I don’t want to see you hurt. I like you,” I said raising my voice. I stopped talking and she took a step backwards, turning, but not before I saw a smile raise on her lips. “A lot,” I added.

“Then I’ll be good company,” she said and headed out of the door. Was she swinging her butt just a little as she left?

I took a deep breath and let the air slow come out. I was nervous twice over. The run would be dangerous, but I was hopeful there would be food and water on the other side, but now I was nervous Cassie was coming along, but they were different nerves, more a feeling in your stomach. A feeling I hadn’t felt since my wife had died.

Zoe’s slow pained sobs pushed away my daydream. I took slow careful steps, standing at the door frame peering through. I knew her pain, knew what it was like to watch someone you love die. At least Nat had a chance. Some hope. The boy had survived and so she might too. If only there had been hope back then. I drew a sharp deep breath as I felt myself sinking and stepped to the corridor. I couldn’t dwell, I had a job to do. I had to keep busy. It was time to get on with living.

Downstairs, rucksacks were piled by the front door. Cassie stood, the smile gone, in her hands she was offering a large duffel coat with the fur around the hood which I pulled on. She was ready, her coat over her shoulders, buttons done up to her chin, the hood pulled up. Andrew appeared from an under-stairs cupboard I hadn’t noticed, a crowbar and a long screwdriver in hand. I wanted the crowbar, it would make a more effective weapon. I handed it to Cassie and took the screwdriver. Andrew returned with a short stubby torch and I pushed it in my pocket.

I hugged no one goodbye. It wasn’t the end. We wouldn’t let it be.

“We’re only going down the road,” I said as we left, Shadow barking as Andrew held him back. The locks turning as we ran passed the farmer. I glanced back, ignoring the pain, as we raced along the road towards the village in the distance. Even then I knew we would not see them all again.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Seven

Gasps sang through the air as seven sets of eyes stared at the small side pane of the front room window. Shadow shouted a warning, snapping off a bark as I arrived. The outer layer was cracked, a head sized section missing, the glass lost between the panes. With no obvious cause, I turned to the staring faces, my eyes shooting back as a head climbed from below the window line. Something, once someone, rose unsteady above the sill. He’d been an older man, his hair blonde and straw-like, his skin leathery and weathered. He wore a thick checked shirt with a line running across his forehead where a hat had recently been. Just below the line was an indentation, a break in the skin, but no blood poured out. There was no heart pumping.

Eyes turned as I’d arrived, then to Cassie as she followed just after. I couldn’t help but steal a glance as her slender hands delved, pushing away her shirt tails. With my cheeks heating, I checked their expressions. I was sure they hadn’t noticed. Not that there was anything to see.

Zoe’s eyes were red with tears as she knelt beside the sofa, her hands wrapping Nat’s pale fingers. For the first time I noticed the Christmas tree in the corner and was transported to my parents house only the week before. It was Christmas morning, the first time I woken there in ten years. The tree resplendent with brightly coloured parcels bulging from underneath. Here it would be Christmas till this was all over. Decorations around the South West would be up till someone sorted this shit out.

No one spoke as Cassie led the children away and together with Connor and Andrew, we manoeuvred the wall length dresser across the window. With cupboards scoured for anything of use and with Zoe still holding her hand, we moved the sofa, Nat still in place, pushing it across the cupboard to stop if from toppling if the worst should happen.

The room was nearly pitch black with the curtains drain, just the light from the hallway seeping in. Somehow we got Nat up the stairs, carrying her between four, her body hardly responding as we turned her around the corners, landing her in the front bedroom where I pulled in the sheet and did the windows up tight. Zoe lay beside her stroking her hand. There was nothing left to do, but keep watch. I had to stay close.

“You can leave now,” Zoe said as I leant against the door frame. She kept her eyes on Nat, didn’t turn my way. “You can leave,” she repeated. “I know why you’re waiting.”

I kept quiet and held my ground, a deep sadness gripping my insides. Zoe was one of my best friends and there was nothing I could do to stop her pain.

“Go away,” she shouted, tears falling. Shadow thudded up stairs, his nose in the air, bright brown eyes between me and bed. I slipped away and he took my place.

Cassie was in the kids room tidying up the mess, some of which I’d made in my search for the pens. The two young girls were asleep in the bed, it had been a boy’s room, the Spiderman bed cover one of many tells. A Superman sleeping bag was rolled out on the floor.

“Where’s Jack?” I said. She turned my way, a smile rising and for the first time I saw a dimple just below each of her high cheek bones.

“Connor’s looking at his hand downstairs. The girls are whacked,” she said.

I felt a yawn fill my face.

“We all are,” I replied, matching her expression, then turned away. Sleep was a long way off for me. I knew I would break Zoe’s heart when the time came.

I checked out of each of the window, looking down through the cold air. Out the back three or four of those things were roaming around, each looking like they had no care in the world. From the front, Zoe opened her eyes as I arrived and I patted Shadow still in the same place. Zoe closed her eyes as I went to the window, not watching as I looked down at the devastation, the bodies lain across the road. The farmer who’d smashed the window was ambling around the front, stumbling as he came to each of the truly dead. I pulled the curtains closed and left Shadow on duty.

Already I’d learned to hate the calm. It was just time waiting for the next crisis to strike, waiting for the next event to tear our world further apart. Every little noise in this foreign house spiked my interest, drawing the gun in my mind ten times a minute, pointing it towards the dark.

I found Connor and Andrew in the kitchen, with Jack sat on the edge of the worktop by the sink. Jack’s hand was in Connor’s, who was leaning in to inspect a semi-circular wound between his thumb and forefinger.

“He’s been bitten,” Andrew said, Connor’s first aid kit open in his hand. It was one of the few things we’d been able to keep, the rest of our hoard lost, scattered around the campfire when we were overrun. A mistake we would not repeat.

“Bitten by what?” I said, fearing the answer. “When?” I said as Andrew and Connor only replied with a raise of their eyebrows.

“Two days ago,” Andrew said.

“He thinks,” Connor added. My eyes fixed on his and then on Andrews, turning down to Jack, the only one in the room that seemed to be oblivious. He’d been bitten two days ago. Why wasn’t he dead?

“How you feeling, little man?” I said.

“Fine,” he said, his voice quiet. I looked up to Connor, he replied with a nod.

“You must be tired,” I said, but he shook his head.

“He thinks he slept all day yesterday, after he was bitten,” said Andrew. I ruffled the kid’s hair and Andrew followed me to the dinning room where someone had put everything that might be of use on the table. There were a few cans of beans and a small stack of nappies, but not much else other than a collection of half full spirit bottles. That was it for the food.

“There’s a village down the road,” I said, but Andrew dismissed my statement.

“We need to watch the kid,” Andrew said, his voice quiet as he leant in.

“He seems fine,” I replied.

“You want to take the chance?” Andrew said.

“Maybe it’s not a death sentence,” I said. “Being bitten I mean.”

Andrew kept quiet and Connor appeared at the door.

“He seems okay. More than okay,” he said, his voice quiet as we listened to light footsteps on the stairs.

“With the others,” Andrews said, but his face turned to the ground. I patted Andrew’s upper arm.

“They wouldn’t stop bleeding from the wound, but only Chloe,” I said, Andrew filling the pause I left.

“And Nat,” he said looking to the ceiling. “The others didn’t last long enough.”

Connor’s voice was quiet as the footsteps headed over their heads.

“I had a look at Nat and you’re right, it looks like there’s a clotting issue. I’m no doctor, we’re trained in first aid for combat trauma, but there’s more going on than just the bite. It’s not the same for the kid. Its healing really well. Didn’t need to bandage it.”

Connor was looking between us both. I swapped a glance at Andrew.

“You sure you want to take a chance?” he said, this time in his direction. Connor was about to reply when Shadow’s volley of barked calls stopped the words from coming.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Six

He hadn’t caught what I’d seen, was too busy scrabbling from the floor, racing to my side, pushing, heaving till the latch clicked into place. With the door secure, pain ripped across my chest, the cracked ribs only a part of my state. My muscles took a breath for the first time in what seemed like hours, but I couldn’t relax, couldn’t take time and was rushing past Jack, grabbing the pistol from his hand. The front door was back open in one swift swing, surprising the creatures from where they’d drifted.

Bang. Bang. The gun sang. Two shots and one either side were down. A black shadow raced past my side and I caught sight of the dog, choosing his new name in an instant. He was racing towards the pair I’d stepped out of safety to rescue, or at least give a chance of life as it was meant to be.

Bang. Bang. Another two down and Andrew was out with the iron upturned in his hand, water spilling across his path. Thump, went the corner of the metal across a grey face. Down went the creature and with another solid pound it stopped dead. Again.

Bang. I laid a shot across his front, sending another sprawling to the floor. Thump went the iron and I shot after. We’d taken six or seven out, three sprawled to the floor, but more were coming from each side of the building.

I heard Shadow’s muffled growl and knew without looking he’d latched on. I turned and saw Zoe and Connor were close, running towards the open door. The creature was down, Shadow gripping tight to his leg. He’d made it to fall and now it was going for him. I ran after, not wanting to chance a shot. Andrew called me away, the thump of the metal resounding again. As I grew closer, Shadow winced, squealing, a clawed hand dug deep in his chest.

“Shadow,” I said, calling his new name and smiled as he released, running in my direction. Bang went a shot and then another. The body did what nature had once meant it should. I turned and ran alongside the dog, taking two more shots before slamming the door.

My back slid down the wood. Batteries flat. Energy expired.

There was much back slapping and hugs all around. I’d climbed to my feet by the time it had all turned to tears. Nat was still alive, but following the same story as Chloe had already written. I couldn’t take part, I was zapped. Emotions drained. I had to get her blood from my chest and I took the steps one by one, slow and steady, leaving the sobbing behind. It was Zoe’s heartfelt cry I had to shut out. I couldn’t hear more pain, there was no more room inside my head.

Water came from the tap, the tank in the loft not yet empty. I washed as best I could, sparing as much as I was able. Drying myself I went from room to room. Downstairs had calmed. There were three bedrooms. Three people had lived here. Parent and a child. The dad had been, could be still be, my size and I was warm again, at least across my body.

I listened to the slow steps as I counted each of the rounds left. Ten. Cassie appeared at the door, her hands blooded and buried in a rag. She looked like me. Exhausted with it all.

“There’s water left in the tank,” I said, my voice monotone. She nodded and drifted away. I still sat in the same place, my eyes not having moved from the door since she had. She was back, her coat off, shirt sleeves rolled up, but still I could see the blooded ends. Without speaking, she sat right beside me, my body tipping towards her as it took her weight. We leant in and she turned. I followed, our eyes catching. Our lips headed together, they were warm. Fresh. Her arms too as they pulled around my body. Mine found hers and we delved into each other’s mouths like nothing else mattered.

After what felt like an eternity, we pulled back for air, her eyes diving into mine like I was the only person who mattered. Her hands began to moved to her shirt, at that moment in time it didn’t matter about the blood splattered up the arms. She stood, I followed, the shirt falling down, there she was just in the white of her bra. I held my breath, took in the silence, took in the moment.

She leant towards me, pulled my hands to her bare back. A powerful thud shook the building. Glass dropped to the ground. Screams called upward and I pulled away. Both our mouths were in a smile. She reached for her top, I reached for the gun and one after the other, we ran down the stairs.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Five

With each deep, incessant bark, the glass squares in the door rattled against their lead edging. Pushing hard with the back of my shoulders, hands flat against its surface, the hinges complained, creaking against the wall, but not moving either way. Stalemate, although I knew the creatures on the other side could keep it up for longer. My eyes fell to the trainer stuck in the door’s path, its muddy covered fabric wedged to the wall. There was only one way the door was going.

I flinched my view around the small anteroom, to shelves hung along the short walls, then down to where a stout chest freezer sat. Despite the madness of the effort, I couldn’t help but think of the food inside. So much had happened in the last few hours, but in reality it had been barely two days since the start. Since we lost those things impossible to live without. Electricity. The internet. Both would be no use right now as a heave from the other side brought back my focus. I gave a shove in reply, my eye back on the shelves, roving for weapons. The iron might do, but the rest were useless. The electric mixer a great doorstop in this new world.Turning back to the boy, the gun still held by the barrel, he was trying his best to pull the dog back as he growled between each bellow. The dog needed a name. Had collar to give us a clue.

The boy had the dog back, the mutt not pulling away. The boy turned the gun and pointed it at the wedged shoe.

“No,” I shouted. “No. Too dangerous.” I paused, pushing a little harder and realised there may never be a good time for introductions. “Kid, what’s your name?” I said, straining against a renewed effort.

The kid looked up as if I’d told him Santa Claus wasn’t real, his face distant, eyes raising. Maybe he’d forgotten what he was called.

“Jack,” he eventually said in a quiet voice.

“Jack. I like that,” I replied. The kid looked passed me as a another shove added to the pile, another low moan of air rolling out that putrid smell. “My name’s Logan,” I said pausing. “I’d shake your hand if I could,” I said and tried to squeeze out a smile. The kid wasn’t impressed, his face deadpan. “Go see if Cassie,” I paused again. “Go see if the woman in the other room can lend a hand,” I said, giving the door another heave. Before he ran the short distance, he placed the gun carefully in the opening of the kitchen beside me, then was back in just a few speeding heartbeats. He was shaking his head. I understood, picturing Cassie’s arms drenched in Nat’s blood. I wanted to say she might have to come anyway. Instead I decided to try something else, to test how these things would react.

Pulling a deep breath, trying to let my muscles relax, I spoke again.

“Jack. Take the gun and get ready to run to the front room. If I don’t follow, just shut the door. Get the woman to pull the furniture across and stay there. You understand?” I watched as he stared back, looking like he was about to ask a question, about to ask me what I was up to. I didn’t have time. “Pick up the gun,” I said and he did what he was told. “And take the dog too, right?” I said raising my brows. “You’ll need to give him a name.”

The kid looked at the dog, turning his head to the side and the tiniest of smiles appeared.

I took a final deep pull of air, trying to hold back my gag reflex and turned my head down to the floor, planting my foot back a few inches, letting my hold relax.

The door gave as I expected, slapping against my foot. The kid jumped, taking aim to my side as I fought stop the movement and keep my hold. The woman’s dead foot was loose and free to move. It didn’t. My test had failed and I’d lost valuable leverage, the weight so much stronger than before and my foot was moving, the soles of my trainers squealing as they slide against the tiles.

The hallway darkened, my foot slipping, a hand peeling around the edge. It was the woman’s, I could tell from the red of her nails, the fingers dowsed in dried blood. I tried to push back, but I was already giving all I had. Something fluttered to the floor and I followed it down. A finger nail. False. For show. At her her finger the skin pink nail was rough underneath, the edge jagged and bitten down to the skin. My eyes shot back to the front door as the glass rattled with the boom of a fist against the wood.

“Help,” came the call. It was Andrew’s panicked voice, I had no doubt. The toddler wailed high, Jack turning, his aim swapping between his sister and the front door.

“Let him in, Jack. He’s our friend,” I said, a new calmness in my voice. “Our friend,” I said again in a whisper, the words relaxing, a weight lifting. Jack turned his face bunched in a question. I confirmed in a nod and felt the pressure ease at my back. The weight was literally lifting. I felt a sudden relief that everything would be okay, but the feeling was only short lived, the events of the day flashing before my eyes. I looked down my blood soaked chest, remembering Nat lain on the couch, Zoe lost out in the wilderness that only last week, didn’t exit. Jack was halfway to the door and I gave a heave, taking back some distance I’d lost and the realisation came. It was getting lighter because they were going after Andrew.

“Hurry,” I shouted, but Jack couldn’t speed any more, he was there, his hands tangling at the locks, getting twisted like in a dream. It was already bad, a nightmare, but worse still. There was no possibility I would wake up.

The light from the front room dimmed. There were more coming around the edge. No time left.

The door sprung open and there was Andrew, red faced, eyes wide, with terror running through him. But here he was in one piece. A smile bloomed on my face, mirrored by his, but dropped as I saw a hand come around the door, grabbing the hood of Andrew’s coat, yanking him back. He pulled himself free, falling to the floor. He was inside. Euphoria.

“Shut the door,” I screamed. More hands racked at the edges.

The temperature fell and my heart sank with it as I saw in the distance, Connor and Zoe running towards us. One of those beasts racing at their back.

Jack slammed the door closed.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Four

Launching myself down the stairs, the stench grew worse. Pain radiated around my chest as I padded my trousers in vain, knowing full-well the gun would stare back from the high wall unit in the front room. Three openings came into view as I raced. The door to the kitchen was open, the room already explored, the other two white doors straight ahead stood closed, only one of them I wanted to open. On the last step I hesitated. Should I turn away and get the gun, or charge towards one of doors unarmed, hoping I’d made the right choice and the invasion hadn’t already begun?

Knowing I’d delayed too much already, I raced to the first, feeling the lightweight hardboard almost buckle as I used it stop my momentum. My heart sank as I realised it wouldn’t last long if it had to be our final barrier. I stepped back, not taking a breath for fear of the foul air, not knowing what I could do if they were already on the other side. Fragrant air wafted out as I pushed the door open. A toilet glared at me from against the wall while a dark figured drifted past the frosted glass.

I felt the cold draft before I pushed the second door open before I saw the dead body turn the corner as it swung. The dark wood of the back door was wide, the chill, pungent air striking my bare chest. Again I hesitated for what seemed like an age, staring at the mud caked trainers so close to crossing the threshold.

My eyes rose up the white tracksuit bottoms, following the line of dark holes strafing the legs. Each was ringed in dark scarlet, the wounds tracking up the white body, across the creased, matching tracksuit top, through her left breast, before ending at the shoulder. The circles of red widened as the bullet holes rose, their course only just missing her young head. My eyes hovered for far too long, watching as she stepped forward in slow motion, at least in my head. With eyes clouded white like her hair, her were features grey and sunken, but her lips were bright red with a gloss sheen, like she’d paused for a moment around the corner to add an extra coat.

This was someones daughter and I looked to her hands, which were much like mine, caked in red flaking blood, but at least what covered me was not my own. The thought filled me with such guilt. If it was, then Nat would be okay. If only it worked like that. She was a wife, according to the ruby ring on her long slender finger, the nails with a perfect manicure, the covering the same vibrant red as her lips.

The dog broke my spell, barking as another creature appeared the other side of the door frame. I barely saw the Asian guy, only noticing the stub of sharp bone where his right arm should have been. At last I’d taken the final steps and pushed against the door, heaving the wood as it caught on something solid. Looking down I saw the woman’s trainer, the toes jammed between the door and the frame. I could feel her weight pushing back, building as more joined the stack. The boy arrived with the gun in his hand, offering it butt first, his eyes wide as he saw my struggle. I couldn’t take the weapon without losing my ground, which I was only just holding. Shaking my head, I felt my anger building, turning inwards, cursing my decisions. Why hadn’t I checked the back door? Why didn’t I go for the gun first?

The corridor grew lighter and I turned my eyes up, saw dark shapes shuffling across the windows in the front door. These things knew of our struggle and were heading around the back. I took a look at the pistol still offered out and made a frightening connection.

The monsters were communicating.

We were going to need bigger guns.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Three

A dark shape arrived behind the thin rectangles of leaded glass, with breath heavy, their fingers rattled the handle and scrabbled across the locks. The dog barked and the figure stopped. The top latch had clicked off, but had no success with the solid mortice. The figure wasn’t moving.

I kicked myself for not getting his name.

“Kid, find the long key,” I shouted. They moved, jolting forward at my voice.

“Oh my god,” came Cassie’s call. I span around and saw five of the slow creatures ambling over the hill, spotting another group double in number rising over the crest before I turned. Cassie was stepping back, almost tripping over Nat’s motionless form.

“Find the long key,” I shouted again, trying to think how we could get everyone else through the small window.

“Got it,” came the call from inside, but something was wrong, the sound was much quieter.

The lock rattled and the boy pulled open the door. A girl stood further into the darkness. They must have swapped places when she realised the boy with the gun was with us. Still she screamed as she saw my blooded appearance, her eyes wide open, hands at her mouth.

“Ellie,” I heard Cassie gasp as I picked up Nat. With my hands sliding over her sticky blood, the putrid stench caught in the wind as I slammed the door behind me with my foot.

Placing her on the couch in the first room to the left, the boy had his arms around his sister, nodding to the gun high on a wall unit shelf. Cassie knelt to the floor hugging her sister, the dog had disappeared, racing around, his nose switching from high in the air to hovering just above the carpet.

“Cassie,” I shouted, sharp and clear. “Pressure,” I said, pointing both of my hands to Nat’s face. Cassie dragged her sister over, not letting her out of touching distance as she pressed her hands hard onto the wound. I shot out the room, heading straight to the kitchen, ignoring the other closed doors. I rifled through the cupboards and drawers searching for a first aid kit or anything else I could use, but only finding clean dishcloths. The cupboards were bare, cleared in a hurry. I scrambled up the stairs to find the bedrooms rifled and disorganised. The people that had lived here had been lucky. They’d had warning, given at least a few moments to collect up treasured things before their evacuation.

I found the bathroom with ease, but the medicine cabinet above the sink was empty. I ran down the stairs, passing the dog on the way and was kneeling to Nat’s side when a great thump hit the front door. We all looked at each other in disbelief even though we knew those things had following us. Still, we gave a collective jump as a dark shape thudded against the living room window, its shadowing looming across the room.

I looked to Cassie, holding out the cloths.

“Can you?” I said. She nodded and I raced up the stairs, the dog joining my side at the window of the front bedroom. Swiping the net curtains to the side, I saw nothing unusual until I opened the window, the stench rising as the seal creaked. I peered down into the cold air and watched the group of fifteen gathered around the front door, their number spreading out either side to surround the building.

Watching in awe I made myself calm, taking deep breaths through my mouth I stared out to the hills and tried to picture what normality had been. With the stench and the low rumbling moan, all I could think of was the others still out there. There was little we could do in here, but I had and idea.

Listening to Cassie’s voice still high, hearing her gratitude that her sister was safe, I found a child’s bedroom and after a short search, bold markers in a drawer. Back in the front bedroom, I shoved aside the bed covers and with dried blood flaking to the white surface, I scrawled their names in big, bold letters.

“What happened to the others?” I heard Cassie say. I could barely hear the reply, just making out they’d separated. Ellie hadn’t seen what had happened to Nat, Zoe or Andrew. The sound of each name was like an electric shock. The pilot, as she called him, had been with her when they walked into another group of those creatures. He’d distracted them, drawing them towards him, making them follow as he ran away from her. They’d already both seen the house and as he ran, he pointed her towards it.

I had the sheet off the bed and out one side of the window. Tying off the end, I tried to throw the corner across and catch it from the other opening. On my fourth try I’d grabbed it in my fingertips and was tying it down.

“But how did you get in,” Cassie said. My fingers stopped working the knot, my breath held in the long pause. I moved my hands from the sheet, not noticing if it stayed in place. I stepped to the landing, watching the dog’s ears twitch up.

“The back door was open.” Ellie’s voice was clear. I was already moving when Cassie spoke.

“Did you close it behind you?” Cassie said. I didn’t hear the answer before I was running down the stairs.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty Two

Without command, the dog jumped at the beast, grabbing a patch of exposed skin, biting deep into its haunches. Still whatever this thing was, it didn’t budge as the hound shook its head, its mouth clamped down hard. I pushed the gun square to its temple, but it only went limp as I blew what was left of its brains out the other side in an explosion of colour.

Rolling the body off, a clump of Nat’s loose flesh fell from his mouth, slapping down, wet her on the face. She tried to scream, but had no breath, her arms frantic, blood pumping in spurts from the fist size hole in her face. Dropping to my knees I pulled off my coat, ripped open my shirt, the buttons flying as the cold bit into my skin. I tore the sleeves off, one by one, tying each length around her face, the white cotton going red as quick as I could pad out the wound with the remains.

“Where’s Zoe?” I said, my head darting to each of the trees, the only features on the gentle flow of hills. Twitching to where we’d come, despite knowing there was nowhere to hide but the tree line, the place where we’d all been running from. “Where is she?” I said before looking at my hands thick with Nat’s blood. She’d settled down, her fight slowing as her skin greyed. She wouldn’t answer. Was going the same way as Chloe.

“Ellie,” Cassie screamed arriving at my side. She hadn’t forgotten the last time we’d seen Nat was with Ellie fighting to get free from her arms.

“Andrew,” I added to the call, then shook my head. “We need to move her,” I said not looking back. I picked Nat up in my arms, cradling her like a baby, pushing the makeshift bandages to my chest. Her lack of weight scared me. Cassie continued to call at the top of her voice, the kid still in her arms. The boy said something as he picked up my coat and offered it out, high in his hands. I bent, wincing with pain, but I couldn’t complain. I wasn’t near death. The kid put my coat over Nat while he still talked, but his voice so quiet. All I could manage was to walk, stumbling every few steps as I tried to go faster. We were heading down into a short valley, my eyes fixed on the brow, hoping for what we would see the other side.

“Ellie,” Cassie screamed, her call ripping through the air as she ran past, the dog staying by my side. The little girl was crying, her face bunching. The boy was talking, but I still hadn’t heard what he’d said. “A house,” came Cassie’s cry as she stood on the brow of the hill, not turning our way before disappearing over the edge. I was soon behind her and saw the little cottage. The boy had stopped talking. I’d seen his face light up at Cassie’s words, but it fell as he’d caught site of the squat building on its own nestled on the side of the road. At its front was a sparse rocky garden, with a long fence at the back surrounding a wide stretch of grass. Inside was a large wooden shed, maybe it was even a barn. The road was sparsely lined with trees and as I followed it into the distance, I thought I saw more buildings. Cassie continued to running down the hill still calling for her sister.

“Andrew,” I shouted. The boy said something again and I stopped, turning toward him. He was taking in the view, squinting off into the distance. “What is it?”

“I think we should try to be quiet,” he said. I watched him turn.

“We need find our friends,” I said, shaking my head.

“But we don’t want to find them,” he replied, his hand outstretched pointing back to the woods. I turned and saw only trees, but as my eyes settled I spotted movement. The more I stared the more movement I could see. It wasn’t the trees moving, but those things. I carried on staring, hoping to see if they were running, chasing after or ambling along as if out for a stroll. I couldn’t believe the world had gone so far that I was glad when could tell they were the undead, but only the slow ones. The boy was right, they were heading in our direction and I turned, picking up the pace towards the cottage.

Cassie stood in the road as we arrived, facing out, but she’d stopped calling to the surroundings, instead she was gently shaking, rocking the girl from side to side. She must have seen them too. The dog ran ahead, it seemed to know the plan, his nose twitching as he moved around the building. My arms ached as I let Nat down gently to the short strip of grass in front of the house. She didn’t respond and I knew there was nothing I could do till I got her inside. Even then I doubted I could help. My hands were tacky as I let go, my chest running with sticky blood.

The dog was back at my side, looking up at me as if giving the all clear. I ran to the door and tried the handle. It was locked. I shoved my shoulder hard against it, but it held firm. The boy spoke again in a quiet voice. This time I listened.

“We need that,” he said. Again he was right. Looking back, Cassie was still staring out the same and blood had pooled in the grass around Nat’s head. I headed around the building, the dog and the boy following, picking up a discarded stone from the rock garden.

The bigger windows needed to stay too, but I found a small high pane around the side I could reach with my hand outstretched. It wasn’t much bigger than a large dinner plate, the pain would be unbearable, but with a squeeze I was sure I get inside. Making sure the boy and the dog were out of the way, I threw the hand sized rock and watched as it bounced off the double glass, falling to the floor at my feet. I glanced to the front of the house and saw Cassie sobbing as she rocked the toddler back and forth. The boy handed me the rock and I threw again, this time the first pane gave, then standing on the tips of my toes, the second pane was gone and the remains of the glass followed.

I turned and the boy had gone, but before I could spin back I saw him walking with my gun in his hand. My eyes went wide as he held the pistol with such confidence, the barrel pointed down towards the ground. He must have grabbed it from my jacket pocket.

“Um,” I said. “Hand it over.”

He looked up, his face lit with hurt.

“But what if those things are inside?”

The thought stumbled across my mind. Was he offering to go inside? There was no way I could let that happen.

“I’m going in,” I said, holding out my hand.

“Not with your injuries,” he replied. “You’ll pass out before you reach the other side.”

Again he was right, but I couldn’t ask him to do this. I didn’t have to, he was already up at the wall waiting for me to boost him up.

As his feet disappeared through the window, I heard glass breaking and the dog barked as if he was next to be helped up. I couldn’t stifle a chuckle as I ran around the front, wrapping my sticky arms around myself. I waited with my ear at the door, listening to the silence, broken only by Cassie’s comforting, low pitch calls.

I couldn’t look at Nat, had to turn away from Cassie’s red eyes, instead I concentrated on the dog’s long face, the pink of its mouth as it panted, watching it sat at my heals, its tail stopping wagging only when from behind the door came a muffled, high pitched scream.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

Chapter Forty One

Foul breath brushed my face as I woke. Somewhere close, a high-pitched voice of a child screamed a name I didn’t recognise. Warmth lapped at my cheek. Another distant call came high and frantic.

The hellhound.

My eyes shot open to a slobbering dog, blood and sinew dripping from its jowls. I startled up, falling back as fire raged across my chest. Pushing away the hound, I realised it must be the same creature that saved my life, but it bore no resemblance to the crazed animal that fought the abomination intent on my neck. Blinking away my disbelief, wiping my wet face against the back of my hand, I saw a toddler. Dressed in pink, she swerved around the body of the rotting creature, not even glancing as she ran towards me. Chasing after her was a boy a few years older, scrambling to his feet, recovering from a fall.

What the hell was going on with the world?

I tried to stand again, but sank back, the pain in my ribs more than I could manage right now. As the girl arrived, she petted the dog’s head. He turned her way, closing his eyes as if in a heavenly place.

“Oh my god.”

I recognised Cassie’s voice. She was walking around the pair, not hiding her surprise that I was breathing.

“I thought,” she said looking between me and the dog enjoying the girl’s rough strokes. “I thought it was turning on you,” she said, falling to her knees, helping me to bend at the waist, then wrapping her arms around my chest. As she squeezed, stars burst across my vision.

“So did I,” I said, my voice strained. She pulled back and stood, her face falling.

“It’s not safe here,” she said and offered a hand. With her help, I stood, but uneasy at first.

“No it’s not,” I replied, and for the first time took in the small boy stood at the back of the girl, his hands on her shoulder as he towered above her. “Who are these two?”

Cassie turned away shaking her head, and looked at the pair, considering them as if she’d not noticed them either.

“Are you with anyone?” she said, looking back the way they’d come. The boy stood in silence and I could see he was trying to hide his concentration.

“It’s okay,” I said. “There’s a group of us. If you’ve got anyone else with you, they can come too.” He barely moved his head as it shook. He was hedging his bets. “You should come with us,” I said then turned to the dog still being patted by the little girl. “And you too,” I said tapping the dog on the head. “It’s not safe here.”

“The zombies,” the boy said with no emotion in his voice.

I paused for a moment, then nodded. Still, he looked unsure, but I couldn’t wait for a decision. We were all in danger and so were our friends. I hoped they were together, weren’t scattered, weren’t alone. I followed the boy’s eyes down to the gun and bent, nearly screaming as pain lit across chest, but broken ribs were okay. Doctors couldn’t do anything, but take away the pain. Letting the empty clip slip to the ground, I fished out the fresh magazine and slid the loaded gun into my pocket, the boy’s eyes following me all the while.

I walked, heading the way we’d been running. Cassie held back looking at the two kids. I heard the dog’s paws padding beside me and turned, the girl was following the dog. The boy set off after, with Cassie behind, her head, like mine, twitching to the tree line.

We walked at first, but movement in the bushes, or the sounds in my head, wouldn’t let me stay at that pace for long. I turned to Cassie and she understood. So did the boy and he went to pick up the girl, but Cassie moved her hands towards her, leaning down, but waited for his permission. He nodded and she took her in her arms. The pace picked up, the dog still trotting at my side.

As we ran, we soon came to the edge of the forest, the trees leaving our side. Scouring the horizon I spotted a figure running, then two. They were at the height of a hill a little way off in the distance. One in front of the other. Whoever it was, they were being chased. I ran faster, looking back to Cassie who’d slowed, urging the boy to stay back.

Ignoring the pain I ran. It was Nat.

I watched as she stumbled, disappearing over the brow of a hill, falling. What chased her had been a middle aged man, with balding hair and fat collecting around his middle, tattered clothes barely left to cover, but it pounced after her like an Olympic gymnast. The dog stayed at my side and trying my best to ignore the pull of the pain, I gave it everything. Taking the gun from my pocket I was minutes away, praying she could hold off long enough for me to do what I could.

I wasn’t too late as I arrived over the hill. Her hands around its throat, its mouth snapping forward. Déjà Vu, but from a different perspective.

I let a shot ring off into the air, hoping it would distract the crazed monster enough for Nat to get the upper hand. It didn’t flinch. Its humanity gone. The shot rang off and her grip gave way, the beast lurched forward and bit down on the side of her face.


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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One