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My Publishing Journey: A tidy mind!

I’m embarking into the unknown world of self-publishing my first book, In The End, following the lives of Logan and his group of friends as civilisation falls apart around them. Here I document my honest journey, describing what I find as research and try my hand, steering this way and that I my WordPress friends add their guidance. I’ll repost each time I have any major update or when I learn something new, useful or uncover important information in the hope that those who follow me in their own journey can learn from my experiences.

This is the fifth update after a week of activity on the project and I’ve taken the time to tidy up the post, refocus the words as I seen fit, but if you want to follow my journey how I got here then check out my previous update.

For those of you already following these updates, as always, any new content has been added in blue, but you’ll not see that if you’re using the WordPress Reader.

Expected Publication Date – Autumn / Fall 2018


Step One

Write the book

DONE


Step Two

Build a following. Build a community.IMG_3486


Step Three

Editing

Originally under my own rules of how I wanted this work to develop, I didn’t want to have any development editing of the work. I planned to just to read and re-read, taking in pointers from my beta readers. However because of these posts and some great advice from commenters who’ve been there, successfully and otherwise, through this movie, I decided to get the manuscript professionally evaluated. It costs a descent amount of money, but I’m invested in this project and I’ll only regret it if I missed some silly mistakes, or a major plot hole which I could have easily fixed. I know those who paid good money would let me and my potential buyers know and it would be too late.

So now it’s off being evaluated and I just have to wait until around mid-August to see how much work I need to put in to get it up to scratch. With my fingers and toes crossed I’ll do what I can in the meantime to support the publishing process without knowing what the final manuscript will look like. It was the right choice, I’m sure of that now.


Step Four

The Publishing Process

This section is all about figuring out where the hell and how the hell I’m going to get the work published. I’ve already decided I’ll self-publish. I decided long ago I won’t be even trying to go the traditional route with its long lead times and giving away control even if the lottery of a process ends with me as the winner.

After all my research the are the key decisions to make:

  • Publishing format: Paperback or E-book – I decided both. I want to hold it in my hands, even if I’m the only one who ever does!
  • Outlets:
    • Amazon – CreateSpace or KDP
      • CreateSpace is the original service from Amazon for generating E-books and print on demand paperbacks. It is somewhat a legacy service and will be fully replaced by KDP.
      • Kindle Direct Publishing – KDP – This is the latest Amazon service for E-book and print-on-demand publishing. It has many advantages for those authors in the UK who wish to get low cost proof paperbacks because they ship from the UK, whereas CreateSpace ship from the US. CreateSpace still has more features, but even since I’ve been writing these posts more and more of the CreateSpace features are being added to KDP. I’ve chosen to use KDP.
    • Other Outlets – There are tens of other outlets for print-on-demand and E-books and there is a handy service called SmashWords which will allow you to publish your E-book to pretty much all of them by preparing your manuscript once on their platform.
    • Kindle Select / Kindle Unlimited – When deciding which avenue to take, it is important to decide if you are going to enrol in Kindle Select in order to make your E-book available to the Kindle Unlimited Audience. Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s lending library where users pay a subscription and can read as many books as they want. The author gets paid a fee per page. The amount per page is dependant on the value of the Kindle Select Global Fund. The catch is, and there’s always a catch, in joining Kindle Select you are providing the E-book for sale only in Amazon’s outlets. This only effects the E-books, but you can’t even offer it for free or otherwise on your own website. You sign up for limited periods and you can always withdraw from the programme. Following comments from other authors I know people often make money on the Kindle Unlimited programme, despite not selling many books.
  • Book title: Does it fit the content? Does it provoke a reaction in the potential buyers mind?
  • Strap line: Same for the above.
  • Blurb: The few paragraphs which site on the back cover of the book and act as your description on the e-retailer’s shelves. This was a daunting task!! Amazon recommend around 150 words which are easy to scan. You can find what I can up with at the bottom of this post.
  • Keywords & Categories: Come up with Keywords and Categories so people can find it when it’s sitting on the virtual shelves. Choose the category first as you don’t want to repeat the words in your categories.
    • Categories – Research other books of the same genre. You can only pick two.
      • I’ve looked at a few books I think my work is most like and you can see how well they are ranked against each category. I was surprised at what I found!
      • It’s going to be difficult to make a choice. A lot of the popular books with Zombie’s or any of the other paranormal type creatures are sitting where you would expect.
      • I’m leaning towards:
        • Fiction > Science Fiction > Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
        • Fiction > Thrillers > Supernatural
    • Keywords – Amazon is basically a search engine after all. The more I research about keywords the more I can see how much of a tricky decision it is. You want to make your book stand out from the crowd, unique even, but still you want to appear in popular searches and high up the ranking. My first thoughts were Zombie, Apocalypse, Survival, End of the World and Dystopian, but rather than keywords, I should be looking at phrases. There are loads of tools out there, at a cost, which will help you select your keywords. The keywords should be based on:
      • What people actually type when they’re looking for books
        • Test your keyword ideas and see what Amazon search auto completes and combines with other words. Do the same in google.
        • Here’s what I got:
          • Zom = Zombie Apocalypse / Zombie Science Fiction / Zombie Fiction / Zombie Survival Guide
          • Surv – How to survive the end of the world / survivors
          • Apoca – Post Apocalyptic Fiction / Apocalypse Culture / Apocalyptic Fiction
          • These are pretty crowded spaces. More research to be done here.
      • What they will be will to pay money for
      • Where the returned list is not too crowded, i.e. you’ll appear at the top.
  • Dedication: Who the book is for. Another tricky decision. I wrote this for Sarah so that’s who I should put here right? I need to include my wife, a no brainer. A double dedication will sort this out, but then I can’t leave my Mum out? I managed to get this done and I’m really happy with the result, but you’ll have to wait for release to see what I’ve written!
  • Acknowledgements: Who helped me along the way? I have to make sure I mention those who gave their input, and maybe a few of those who didn’t! I’m happy with what I’ve come up with.
  • ISBN: You can either pay hundreds for an ISBN range (you can’t buy just one) and use it across all outlets, or use the free ones from each outlet but they’ll be different. I chose to use the ones from the provider, in my case Amazon. How exciting!
  • Rear Pages Content: Figure out what i’m going to put in the back end of the book. Options include:
    • A call to action for Season Two – It’s in.
    • Short Biography – I don’t think anyone will be interested so I’m leaving this out.
    • A link to my WordPress pages / Facebook – It’s in.
  • Back page cover image: Until I started going through the dry run of the KDP publishing process I hadn’t thought of a back cover, but it turns out you need to supply the entire sleeve, including the spine, as one image, in a PDF document. Seems obvious now, but it wasn’t something I thought about. KDP provides the exact measurements for the trim size I’ve chosen so I had to send it back to my artist friend to work it up. A tip of his was to print out the finished product and wrap it around of book of similar trim size to get a better feel for how it will look. Wow I’m pleased with what he’s done!36425816_1144418829031857_6231572611021668352_n
  • Style Guidelines: Some outlets, like SmashWords, provide style guides which you need to stick to. This includes how to space the text, which characters to use for speech etc.
  • Look and Feel of the Text: Research and make all those little decisions about how the book will look, like chapters, fonts, size etc.
  • Trim: How big is the paperback going to be. The advice seems to be to stick closely to industry norms if you ever want to see your book on a bookstore shelf, albeit your local friendly store. I chose 5×8 inches.

For the KDP process, download the MS Word template from KDP and copy and past the work in. You’ll need to format the text in you font and size, add in chapter numbers, choose justification and page numbers. With mine it mostly went okay and is great to see the work in a format which is recognisable as a real book! Little things were a pain and needed quite a bit of research to get right, like page numbering and getting the page numbering to start from 1 on the first chapter. But it’s done now.

  • Pricing:
    • With the cover uploaded and the proof approved (you can either check it online or download the proof to look at offline), I haven’t properly checked it yet as this is just a dry run, Amazon tells me the cost of printing each copy will be £3.58 on amazon.co.uk and $4.31 on amazon.com.
    • This cost is effected by the paper choice, the number of pages (determined again by font and font size and spacing used etc), colour choice, if any etc. The printing cost is then used to determine the minimum sales price.
    • The minimum list price for this book is £5.97, this is based on a royalty of 60% of the difference between the minimum list price and the cost of printing. If you set your sale price here you won’t earn any royalties.
    • This part is a bit confusing, but the tool guides you through. In order to get a royalty of £1 per book I would need to have a list price of £7.64. This also factors in any VAT or sales tax which Amazon handles for you.
    • My figures show in GBP because I chose the UK as my primary territory, but it also shows the prices for other territories too, in their own currency. You can independently alter each territory’s pricing.
  • Author Copy Proofs:
    • Now here is where you can order Author Copy proofs and where you’ll find the dreaded publish button!! We won’t be doing the latter yet. You can order up to 5 proof copies at a time and they charge you only the printing cost!
    • I’ve submitted a proof request, the proof will be minus your ISBN and have a watermarked front cover. Within four hours I had an email with a link to add the book to my Amazon basket, then I just checked out, paying £7 of P&P on top. Shame it won’t let me use my Prime Membership to get it free. Although it’s likely the text inside will change following the edit, I’ve ordered one anyway so I can check all the other aspects. I can make as many changes as I want later on and before I press the publish button! Another exciting time!

Step Five

Marketing

Continue to build the community and market the book, it doesn’t matter that it’s not ready to publish or doesn’t have a publish date yet. So far my marketing strategy consists of:

  • Preparing a Amazon product / home page for the book
    • Write a biography. Keep it short and make it interesting. Also the place to put in contact information like website and twitter details.
  • Blogging (as above) – World building and about the process
  • Investigate other social media outlets
    • I’ve signed up to Twitter @stevens_gj so I’ll be getting to know how it can work for me over the next few weeks. Feel free to follow (you could be my first!), but I’ve not got around to deciding how I will differentiate this from my other social media. For now I’ll experiment with flash fiction.
    • I’ve made updates to my blog settings to add sharing buttons for Twitter and Facebook, plus a Twitter feed.
  • Prepare social media posts
  • Business Cards – See below
  • Blog about it and build a Season One landing page to compel people to click the link to the book’s page on Amazon.
  • Write Season Three and release on WordPress as I did with Season One and Two.
  • Find a way to get people to provide reviews of the published book
    • Bloggers / Reviewers
      • Check out what their requirements are, genre, copies etc
  • Print and send out author copies for review. It would seem a lot of reviewers will only accept paperbacks for review.
  • Write Short Stories
  • Promotions
    • Giveaways
    • $0.99 promotions
      • Promotion advertisers
        • Freebooksy – Promotes free kindle books
    • Paid Ads (Bookbub? / Amazon / kboards? / Online Magazines)
    • Host AMAs (AMAFeed / Reddit)
    • Email for interviewers from book podcasters / book sites / reviewers
    • Promo sites (there’s so many of them)
    • Local newspapers
  • Other sites to look into for marketing
    • Reddit

Other decisions to make:

  • Investigate Goodreads as a promo platform
  • Audiobook version?

Business Cards

I’ve had these low cost business cards printed as simple low volume marketing idea. One side shows the cover of the book and the other side shows the blurb and my site address. I can either hand these out when anyone asks me about my work, or I can strategically leave them in locations where I travel.

I previously had simple cards made up with the web address on one side and the first and last paragraph of the first chapter on. They worked really well and my friends would take great delight in handing them out and placing them in prominent locations on their travels. I think these will work even better and with the cost of internet based print companies I was astounded by the low cost.

IMG_4117


Step Six

Hit the publish button!

I’ll take Season One off WordPress and add in my own advertising to link to the book on Amazon. Lots more to learn here.


In parallel with all the above I’ll be doing the same for Season Two and writing Season Three. I’ve made a decision not to start working on Season Three until the book is released and I can put all my energy back in to writing again. I’m writing short stories to keep the itchy fiction fingers at bay and as a good promo material.

Want to read Season One before I take it down? Here it is.

If I’ve made some massive misjudgement, missed out any step or you just have some advice, then please let me know in the comments.


The Blurb!

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

In The End: Unnatural – A Short

He watched their movement without the soundtrack, their eyes closed to the shouted snippets of tunes he all but recognised.  At the edge of the dance floor he stood, a long-drained glass in his hand, the wallet in his pocket almost the same. Still, he had enough to get a headset lit by colour either side, enough to put down to join the masses in the darkness. He chose not to. He chose not to shut out the atmosphere surrounding, chose not to listen only to what came to their ears. He stood at the side-line thinking because thinking was what he did best.

Or so he thought.

He watched something he knew he didn’t want to join in with, left only to wonder why. Instead, without turning his head, he listened to the conversation to his left, to someone else’s friends pouring their hearts out, telling each other why they were the best, why they were the ones who could sort out their problem with a woman called Janice, or Jan, to the chorus of whoops naked of the guiding baseline.

His eyes flicked to the right, to the corner of the room and the fire exit he knew shouldn’t have been letting in the cold dark night unless the bells were ringing. His attention drew back to the conversation, guilt returning as he listened to information they shouldn’t be broadcasting, his breath pausing as he caught a word, isolated, without context. Unnatural.

The conversation drifted out of his mind, a sudden blurted snippet of a song he’d not heard for such a time he’d been thankful, then to someone tall, wide shouldered, un-assailed by alcohol, someone who should have been responsible, someone who should have known better than to push back, to take in what stumbled through the fire door with their mouth dripping dark with liquid, their expression much like those who paid no attention to anything but the music pouring through their ears and to what hung beyond their arms reach.

The glass slipped from his hand but only he heard it shatter at his feet. Only he felt the crunch under his shoe as he took a step, leaning forward, eyes squinting between the bodies swaying their heads from side to side, light shining at their ears. He looked to their dance which was like no other, hands raised, arms grabbing, holding close like a slow romantic song speeding to a rate which made little sense. He watched their bodies twist and turn as they ducked in and out of view, huffed air blocked in and out by a renewed wave of whoops and hollers from the crowd. The joy of those oblivious to the exchange couldn’t mask the scream of a man who hadn’t called out that way before, hadn’t reacted to such pain in all his life, his body flinching, falling to a heap as his calls went unanswered.

He looked around to the friends who had re-joined the bouncing masses and for the TV cameras filming his reaction, hidden in each corner ready to capture the moment panic struck. He couldn’t make out the glass of the lens, the black nothingness beyond. He looked for others who’d heard the call, who’d seen the bouncer fall to the ground, but there was no one else, all others in the room all but silent for the feet slapping to the ground with disorganised rhythm.

They were good. The setup must have taken time, his admiration for his friends grew, the attention to detail for the prank warming his heart even more as he lost count of the costumed actors streaming through the doorway with the empty-headed stares and their quickening pace as they sought targets.

It took the third, or maybe it was the fourth headset to fall to the floor, the screams joining to a chorus before people took note, before they pulled down the cans at their ears, heads titling to the side, eyes widening with pain, before the screams reverberated and legs ran in the opposite direction, stopping, pausing when they saw the same expressionless crowd head from the way they wanted to run.

His admiration grew as he looked from eye to eye, saw fear on their addled faces curled in confusion as he held his chest against the laughter pouring from his mouth. His admiration grew as he took a step back, bumping against the wall as people ran left and right. Movement caught him by surprise, but still he smiled, the laughter without control even when the stale stench of sewerage wafted across his face, even when the dark figure bared down, intense pain radiating from his neck.


In The End

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

IMG_3486

Bug Out Bag: There’s No One to Call!

Your blurring vision settles on your arm, the double image slowly combining to one as the raw skin beads with drops of blood. You move your head, pain slowing the turn, your shoulders held back by the weight on your back and with no understanding how you got on your ass, your ankle throbbing, you look up to the crack of the daylight shining from above. 

In the latest in the bug out bag series we’re discussing what we can carry in the bag to prepare for medical situations while outside the home and maybe, just maybe when the ambulance won’t be on the other end of the line to take your call.

I’m Not a Medical Professionalattention-303861_1280

Disclaimer. I’m not a medic, trained or otherwise. This post is compiled from research and experience of being out there in the wilderness. Should you suffer any ailment or symptoms you should seek immediate medical attention, but if this is not possible this post is intended as a guide as to what you could pack in your bug out bag to help provide first aid to a range of situations in order that you can get to any professional help you may require. Please ensure you only use any product listed here as per the manufacturers guidance and use your common sense. Disclaimer done.

Common Wilderness Ailments

Strains & Sprains

A good walking / hiking shoe will help prevent these painful injuries. I used to wear a walking shoe which finished below the ankle, but after I lost my footing walking along the side of a hill, the drop to my left hidden by a sea of tall fern, I always wear a boot. The boot wouldn’t have prevented the fall or the raptures of laughter from my companions, but it would have provided much more support in the aftermath. In the middle of nowhere I had not real choice but to walk it off, taking plenty of pain killers to keep me going.

ankle-2253057_1920As luck would have it we were not too far from where we could lay up for the night and I took off my boot, something I shouldn’t have done if I’d wanted to put it back on that day. In the morning I had to keep it elevated for a good hour until I could get the boot back on, popping pain killers throughout the day to enable me to walk twenty miles out from the middle of nowhere. I was left with pain for three weeks whilst resting from long walks and running, but it has been fine ever since.

The advice here in an ideal situation is to take painkillers, ideally with an anti-inflammatory and rest, keeping the ankle elevated. If it’s clear it’s broken or something just isn’t right, there’s no chance you’re walking on it, keep the pressure off. You’re going to have to get some help, if it’s not going to come, you’re going to have to improvise crutches. You can immobilise sprains and strains to keep yourself from doing any more damage using bandages from your first aid kit to strap foraged wood above and below the injury. Gaffer tape over the bandages can add much needed strength to the bindings, but be careful not to cut off the blood supply.

Burnsfire-227291_1920

Always practice good fire safety and give it the respect it deserves. As we all know, burns can be one of the most painful injuries.

Cool the burn with cool or lukewarm water. It’s unlikely you will have ice but if you do, don’t use it or you risk burning further with the cold. If you’re low on water then anything cold will do, just make sure it’s not going to stick to the wound. Once the burn has cooled, apply cling film to the area. This keeps moisture in and infection out, plus allows you to keep an eye on the progress of the wound.

Sun Burn

sunset-2180346_1920.jpg

No lectures here, we should all know the long term dangers of sun burn and the short term pain it can cause, but if you’re not able to prevent it by wearing a good wide brimmed hat and regularly applying sun lotion, then treat it as per a burn, cooling and protecting. Apply after-sun lotion and moisturiser containing aloe vera to help lessen the pain.

Stings and Insect Bites

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You should pack based on where you’re travelling or bugging out to. If you’re in the US or Australia, be prepared for snake and spider bites. In the UK the worst we can expect would be a hornet, bee or wasp stings, or stinging nettles and the annoyance of mosquitoes. Insect repellant is a great idea, or if you’re camping then citronella candles can be a great help to keep the bugs at bay.

Use the built in insect netting if you’re camping in a tent, or a mosquito net if you’re planning to sleep under the stars, particularly if you’re near any amount of water. If you do get stung, scrape the stinger and any remaining insect from the wound with a straight edge or fingernail to avoid squeezing more venom into the wound. Applying antihistamine cream can help tame the itching.

Tickscayenne-tick-542169_1920

A special note about ticks. Ticks are related to spiders, mites and scorpions and carry many diseases. There are different sorts of ticks, each of which are hosted on different animals and vary around the world. Habitats also vary across the world but often include woodland, heathland, moorland, rough pasture, forests and urban parks

In the UK 15% of ticks carry Lime’s disease and they’re a real problem in the US too.

If untreated, symptoms may include loss of the ability to move one or both sides of the face, joint pains, severe headaches with neck stiffness, or heart palpitations and can cause arthritis. Along with Lime’s, they can transmit meningitis, among other diseases.

CDC_EMLook for the symptoms which can happen between 3-30 days after a bite and include fever, chills, aches and pains and a rash. The circular rash with Lime’s disease is distinctive and a typical presentation is shown opposite.

Although it’s rare to feel a tick biting you, when it’s finished its feed it will fall off, if you find a tick, you need to make sure you remove it properly without squashing it.  https://www.lymediseaseaction.org.uk/about-ticks/tick-removal

Add a tick removal tool to your bug out bag and your camping first aid kit!

Preventing can be easy, wear long trousers, not shorts, especially when walking through raised vegetation such as long grasses

Cuts, Scrapes and Scratches

Clean the wound with antiseptic wipes, very important when you’re out of the home. Use saline solution to wash out larger wounds. If you have nothing else then use cooled boiled water, boiled for at least one minute and prepared as if you were going to drink it. When clean and dried, dress the wound. Either with a liquid plaster for minor cuts and scrapes, which forms a flexible water resistant layer, or a suitable dressing. Try and keep the wound dry and out of streams and rivers if you can, otherwise use a waterproof dressing. For larger, gaping cuts, use butterfly bandages, but if these don’t keep the wound closed, use superglue.

Tweezers for thorns and splinter removal are a must. You should be carrying scissors and a knife for preparing the dressings. Change the dressing as often as you can, especially after periods of prolonged activity or sleep.

Basic First Aid Kit List

A well-stocked basic first aid kit suitable for the bug out back should contain:

  • Adhesive bandages of various sizes
  • Blister plasters
  • Butterfly bandages – For closing wounds
  • Gauze pads of various sizes or gauze roll
  • Antiseptic creams and ointments
  • Sterile wipes and rinse solutions
  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Hydrocortisone cream – Anti itching cream
  • Tweezers, scissors, safety pins, and knife
  • Anti-diarrhoea medicine – normally I wouldn’t recommend these as they stop a natural process and just bung you up, but if the symptoms are debilitating and you’re on a long journey, they could be key.
  • Antihistamine for allergic reactions
  • Eye drops / wash
  • Triple antibiotic ointment – Not available in the UK without a prescription, but you can get on eBay for a price
  • Tick removal tool
  • Cling film

Additional items – These are not necessarily for first aid but are either used in the promotion of good health or have secondary uses for first aid.

  • Duct tape – Binding a split, sealing a wound in an emergency, the list really is endless, we could have a post all about this wonderful stuff.
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Super glue
  • Aloe vera
  • Sunscreen
  • Epi pen or other essential prescription medications you may need. For me it’s a salbutamol inhaler
  • Emergency blanket

Emergency card

This is one for your everyday life too. We have special places in your phones for your important medical information, but when you’re out and about your phone might be out of charge. Why not carry a laminated piece of paper with your important medical information on, including your blood type and details of any allergies and your next of kin and their contact details? These could help you so much if you have to be rescued unconscious and you’re unable to tell them this important information.

Do you know your blood type?

In an emergency you’d be lucky to be escaping with me as I’m O Negative. This means anyone can accept my blood, but the price I pay is that I can only receive O Negative blood if I’m the one with a the good stuff pouring from an injury. Why not donate blood and you too can find out your blood type?

IMG_4887Conclusion

As often happens, in writing this post I’ve learnt a lot and I can see I need to update my very basic first aid kit. Plus I checked the dates and I have some refreshing to do as well! I’ll be adding eye wash, the spray on plaster, updating my supply of antiseptic wipes, grabbing a tick removal tool and butterfly bandages.

I’ve be added another item to my shopping basket and I’m embarrassed to say why. After writing this post I checked my home first aid kit too only to find everything expired over eight years ago. Please take a minute to check your kit. You’ll be thankful if you ever come to need it!

Let me know your thoughts

If you have any great tips or experiences you’d like to share, or if you want to set me straight in something I’ve said or missed, then please drop me a message in the comments.


In the End

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

IMG_3486

My Publishing Journey – An Update – The Dreaded Edit

The latest version of this post is available here.

I’m about to embark into the unknown world of self-publishing my first book, In The End. Here I document my honest journey so far and the steps I think I’ll need to take. I’ll repost each time I have any major update or when I learn something new or if anyone comments with some useful or important information.

This is the fourth update after a week of activity on the project. Depending how you’re reading this, the updated sections are shown in blue.

A thank you to the community

Each time I post an update I get more and more insight from the WordPress Community. So I’m going to keep doing it. Thanks Guys!!!

Expected Publication Date – Autumn / Fall 2018


Step One

Write the book. DONE


Step Two

Build a following. Build a community.IMG_3486


Step Three

Editing.

Under my own rules of how I wanted this work to develop, they’ll be no development editing of the work. It’s done! Now I need to get the work polished and hunt out those pesky typos, or mistakes as a good friend calls them! It’s the area I’m weakest at so I have to rely on my wife to do it for me and she’s a busy lady so I’m trying to be patient.

I’ve also decided to look through the work again myself and I’m glad I did. Although I’m not breaking my own rule set out above, I am changing more of the words and phrases than I thought I would have too. The edit is now completed

I’m revisiting the subject of development editing again. I’ve had some feedback, one comment on my previous update, about the work benefiting from a development edit to get some of the sentence structure until control and I won’t lie, I’m torn. I guess this is a question of my motivation. This has never been about money, making it or spending it. I know only 20% of authors actually make a living out of writing and that’s not going to be me. I have a good full time job and I’m not looking to replace it. I write because I enjoy creating worlds and telling the story then soaking up my reader’s reactions. Publishing for me is all about getting the work out to a wider audience and hoping more people like it than don’t.

The question is would a development edit turn the work into something else, would spending £800-£1,000 turn this into a money pit whereby I need it to be a success so I’m not just throwing good money away.

However if I don’t get it edited and it ruins people’s enjoyment, can I handle the criticism, the bad reviews? What would that do to my writing confidence when the work is out in the big wide world for anyone to read and tell me exactly what they think about it?

I need to think on!

Had a comment from one of my first readers over the weekend and he spotted a section early on in the book which jarred with him. I totally agree with what he said, but it was an easy fix. I’d rather hear it from him than a reviewer!

I’ve also made a tweak to a reoccurring sentence throughout the book, it also happens to be the opening line and I’m pretty happy with it. As part of the publishing process, mainly running through the MS Word grammar suggestions (once I switched it from US English) I made a few more updates.

The dreaded development edit question again!

So, after some great comments from the community, I followed a suggestion to a writing services site and after a discussion with one of their team, we agreed a manuscript review would be a good idea. After checking out the credentials I hit the button, paid half the invoice and sent them the manuscript. It should be back in six weeks and all I have to do is wait to find out if I’ve been wasting my time! Of course that is the extreme, hopefully there won’t be too much for comment, a tweak here and there, but we’ll have to see. Better to find out this way then when it bombs on Amazon’s virtual shelves. I just need to forget out the words themselves for a little while and continue with the background word and pre-publication work. Easier said than done of course!


Step Four

The Publishing Process.

Figure out how the hell I’m going to get this published on Amazon. I want to publish as an e-book and also use Amazon’s print-on-demand service. CreateSpace. So I’ve bought the top selling books on the subject from Amazon which the reviews seem to think will guide me through the process! Lots and lots to learn here, so much more information to be added.

It seems that using an Amazon Print on Demand services was the right choice from what I’ve read so far and much easier to format the work this way and then publish for Kindle. Plus it’s free to get your book on the shelves and if you want a copy it only costs the price of the book through the Amazon store. However I’d assumed I’d be using CreateSpace, but during my research I discovered KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). This is also a service from Amazon and from what I’ve read it seems a newer and improved service, with benefits to those authors outside of the UK. This calls for more research!

KDP vs CreateSpace – The advice is clear – KDP is the emerging technology which almost provides the same service as CreateSpace, plus it has the added advantages of providing one log-in for Kindle and POD sales, plus author proof copies are posted from the UK which keeps the costs down and the timescales low. I’ve signed up to KDP, so I guess the journey begins here and I’m logging all the steps in preparation for the possible future post.

It seems I may be missing out if I just publish on Amazon. I need to look at other publishing outlets and using a platform called Smashwords seems to be the way to go. You just publish to the Smashwords platform and they do all the rest. I’ve had a look at the service and it seems reasonable and again is free. They have their own style guide which I need to read and in conjunction with any similar guide I’m assuming Amazon has to, which I’ll get on to later. Many thanks for the comments on my last update post which led me down this avenue!

I’ve started to read through the publishing books and straight away new tasks are popping out:

  • Decide on the title. Is it right?
  • Same too for the strap line.
  • Come up with the blurb. Now that is a daunting task!!
    • Amazon recommends around 150 words which are easy to scan. This is the project i’m now working on!
    • My first, well maybe third draft is done and I’ve added it to the bottom of the page.
  • Come up with Keywords and Categories so people can find it when it’s sitting on the virtual shelves. It seems it’s pointless to repeat the keywords if they appear in the category, so it’s best to choose the category first. I’ve swapped them around to take this into account.
    • Categories – I’ve researched other books of the same genre and the following seem to have the best fit. You can only pick two.
      • Fiction > Science Fiction > Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
      • Books > Fiction > Horror > Zombies, Werewolves & Vampires
      • Books > Fiction > Science Fiction > Dystopian
      • I’ve looked at a few books I think my work is most like and you can see how well they are ranked against each category. There’s some surprises in there I’ve found.
      • Books > Crime, Thrillers & Mystery > Action & Adventure
      • Books > Fiction > Horror > Thrillers
      • Books > Fiction > Horror > Fantasy
      • It’s going to be difficult to make a choice. A lot of the popular books with Zombie’s or any of the other paranormal type creatures are sitting where you would expect. 
      • I’m leaning towards the Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic category and Horror > Thriller for now. At least that will help me choose the keywords, at least which ones not to pick!
    • Keywords – Amazon is basically a search engine after all. The more I research about keywords the more I can see how much of a tricky decision it is. You want to make your book stand out from the crowd, unique even, but still you want to appear in popular searches and high up. My first thoughts were Zombie, Apocalypse, Survival, End of the World and Dystopian, but rather than keywords, I should be looking at phrases. There are loads of tools out there, at a cost, which will help you select your keywords. The keywords should be based on:
      • What people actually type when they’re looking for books
        • Test your keyword ideas and see what Amazon search auto completes and combines with other words. Do the same in google.
          • Zom = Zombie Apocalypse / Zombie Science Fiction / Zombie Fiction / Zombie Survival Guide
          • Surv – How to survive the end of the world / survivors
          • Apoca – Post Apocalyptic Fiction / Apocalypse Culture / Apocalyptic Fiction
          • These are pretty crowded spaces. More research to be done here.
      • What they will be will to pay money for
      • Where the returned list is not too crowded, i.e. you’ll appear at the top.
  • Dedication – Who the book is for. Another tricky decision. I wrote this for Sarah so that’s who I should put here right? I need to include my wife, a no brainer. A double dedication will sort this out, but then I can’t leave my Mum out right? I managed to get this done and I’m really happy with the result.
  • Acknowledgements – Who helped me along the way? I have to make sure I mention those who gave their input, and maybe a few of those who didn’t! This is done now and again I’m happy with what I’ve come up with.
  • I need to decide if I want to pay hundreds for my own ISBN I can use across all editions or just use the free Amazon one / free with Smashwords too, but you they would be different. I’ll be using the free one. Note all ISBNs are 13 digits long now. I have mine. How exciting!
  • Figure out what i’m going to put in the back end of the book. Options include:
    • A call to action for Season Two – It’s in.
    • Short Biography – I don’t think anyone will be interested so I’m leaving this out.
    • A link to my WordPress pages / Facebook – It’s in.
  • Back page cover image. Hadn’t thought of that! After starting a dry run of the KDP process I’ve found for the paperback I need to supply one image for the entire sleeve, so that’s the front, spine and back cover in one image, all at the right size and ratio. KDP provides the exact measurements for the trim size I’ve chosen so I’ve sent it back to my artist friend to work it up. Should be back by the end of July, I’m in no hurry. It’s done and the featured image at the start of the post. There may be a few tweaks in the future, but wow I’m pleased!
  • Read the style guides for the publishing platforms and make any changes needed.
  • Research and make all those little decisions about how the book will look, like chapters, fonts, size etc.
  • I’ve downloaded the template from KDP and along with everything else I’m formatting the document. More on this in a later post. As I work on this in MS Word I’m finding a few more editing issues which Word is picking out, so now the Word document is my master. I’ve had lots of fun formatting the template, NOT. It mostly went okay and is great to see the work with chapter numbers, justification and the final font and sizing, but little things were a pain and needed quite a bit of research to get right, like page numbering and getting the to start from 1 on the first chapter. But it’s done now.
  • KDP Dry RunPrint options  – You can play around with these to get a cost per print. Not quite there yet.Paper and ink colour – Cream, black ink
      • Trim – Set as per the template you’ve populated – I chose the closest size to a commercial paperback, 5×8 inches
      • Bleed Setting – No bleed as have no images, just text
      • Cover finish – Matt

Other publishing things to think about:

  • Kindle Unlimited – Amazon’s lending library whereby you get paid per page. Figure out what are the pro’s and con’s. Not researched this yet but feedback is that some people have struggled to sell books but they do make an income on Kindle Unlimited. I guess people are more likely to take a risk if they’re not paying outright for it. While researching this I came across KDP Select. At first I thought it was a separate scheme and now, although I have not one hundred percent confirmed, I believe it is effectively one in the same thing as Kindle Unlimited and you have to enrol in Select in order for your ebook to be available on Unlimited. However the downside of Select is you must give Amazon exclusivity on the distribution of the eBook. You can still sell it on Amazon, but it must not be offered via any other channel, including your own website, so Smashwords would be out, for the time being at least. Another decision to make, but I’m erring on the side of joining, at least for the initial 90 day agreement period.

Step Five

Marketing.

Continue to build the community and market the book. Lots to learn here. So far my marketing strategy consists of:

  • Preparing a Amazon product / home page for the book
    • Write a biography. Keep it short and make it interesting. Also the place to put in contact information like website and twitter details.
  • Blogging (as above) – World building and about the process
  • Investigate other social media outlets
    • I’ve signed up to Twitter @stevens_gj so I’ll be getting to know how it can work for me over the next few days. Feel free to follow. 
  • Prepare social media posts
  • Business Cards – See below
  • Blog about it and build a Season One landing page to compel people to click the link to the book’s page on Amazon.
  • Writing Season Three and releasing on WordPress as I did with Season One and Two.
  • Find a way to get people to provide reviews of the published book
    • Bloggers
      • Check out what their requirements are, genre, copies etc
  • Print and send out author copies for review
  • Write Short Stories
  • Promotions
    • Giveaways
    • $0.99 promotions
      • Promotion advertisers
        • Freebooksy – Promotes free kindle books
    • Paid Ads (Bookbub? / Amazon / kboards? / Online Magazines)
    • Host AMAs (AMAFeed / Reddit)
    • Email for interviewers from book podcasters / book sites / reviewers
    • Promo sites (there’s so many of them)
    • Local newspapers
  • Other sites to look into for marketing
    • Reddit

Other decisions to make:

  • Investigate Goodreads as a promo platform
  • Audiobook version?

Business Cards

I’ve had these low cost business cards printed as simple low volume marketing idea. One side shows the cover of the book and the other side shows the blurb and my site address. I can either hand these out when anyone asks me about my work, or I can strategically leave them in locations where I travel.

I previously had simple cards made up with the web address on one side and the first and last paragraph of the first chapter on. They worked really well and my friends would take great delight in handing them out and placing them in prominent locations on their travels. I think these will work even better and with the cost of internet based print companies I was astounded by the low cost.

IMG_4117


Step Six

Hit the publish button!

I’ll take Season One off WordPress and add in my own advertising to link to the book on Amazon. Lots more to learn here.


In parallel with all the above I’ll be doing the same for Season Two and writing Season Three. I’ve made a decision not to start working on Season Three until the book is released and I can put all my energy back in to writing again. I’m getting itchy fiction fingers, so I might have to write some short stories and use them as promotional material.

Want to read Season One before I take it down? Here it is.

If I’ve made some massive misjudgement, missed out any step or you just have some advice, then please let me know in the comments.

On the next post I plan to tidy this up, archive some of the older stuff just to shrink it down and make it more readable.


The Blurb!

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

Bug out Bag: Survival Skills

Inspired by my discussion about what I should pack in the bug out bag for protection, it was suggested a bow and arrow would be a great weapon for after civilisation has fallen around your ears. It was of course a great idea, but the key problem was where are you going to get your bow and a constant source of arrows from?

This set me thinking about what skills would be most useful in a survival / fall of civilisation, or even just any emergency where the bug out bag would be required. In this we post look at skills you could learn to help should those days come.

explosion-123690_1920There are many phases to an emergency situation. P1, the initial incident and the immediate survival of the first few days. P2, establishment of a bit of normality after a few weeks. P3, rebuilding of the world. These could apply to many reasons why you could need the bug out bag and the skills you have, or decide to learn in preparation, will and should have an effect on what you carry in the bag, be it tools or supplies etc.

We’re looking at skills here, although some of these are occupations, we’re talking about skills you can pick up which you don’t have, unless you decide to make the ultimate change and move profession. Most will have an impact on multiple phases, so we’ll score their impact in each phase from 1 to 3, with three being the most impact, then we’ll add the scores for each phase up at the end.

If the numbers bore you then just skip past the table and we’ll get back to the discussion.

Skill Category Usefulness in Each Survival Phase Total Score
The First Few Days (P1) Establishing Normality (P2) Rebuilding Civilisation (P3)
Hunting / Fishing Food High High High 9
Foraging Food High High Low 7
Combat Skills Safety High High Medium 8
Mechanics / Engineering Transport (P1-3) / Building (P2-3) High High High 9
Sailing Transport High High Medium 8
Leadership Motivation High High High 9
Navigation Location Medium Medium Low 5
Flying / Piloting Transport High High Medium 8
Climbing Safety High Medium Low 6
Running Transport High Low Low 5
Weapon Making Safety / Food Low High Medium 6
Construction Building Low Medium High 6
Food Preservation Food Medium High 5
Carpentry Building Low High High 7
Soap & Candle Making Comfort Low High 4
Cobbling Safety Low Low High 5
First Aid / Medical Safety High High High 9
Dentistry Comfort Low Medium High 6
Farming Food Low High 4
Distilling Comfort High 3
Potting Comfort High 3

Analysis

So we have a good range of scores, with lots of high numbers too. Let’s take a closer look at those which scored eight or over, meaning they would be useful is each of the stages of an emergency situation. I propose the key considerations when looking to learning a new skills are:

  • Accessibility. Does it cost lost of money to learn and requires specialist resources
  • Times to learn. We’re talking part time study here, not about changing your occupation in preparation.
  • Other uses. Is it something which can benefit you in everyday life, or is it solely for the dedicated!
  • Bug Out Bag. How does the skill effect what you’re going to carry in the bug out bag. If you’re going to weigh yourself down then it’s a low score.

As with my previous analysis we’ll score each consideration from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best score in the category.


Hunting / Fishingbonding-1868513_1920

Killing game or catching fish. Some call it a sport.

  • Accessibility – In the UK fishing is very accessible with plenty of places to learn and to practice the skill. You’re going to need a lot of patience, but that’s part of the fun. Isn’t it? Hunting on the other hand is available in the UK, but nowhere to the level of countries like the US. The score in this case is based on fishing and we’ve dropped it from the top spot because the kit is a cash sink hole – 4/5
  • Time to Learn – A few trips and I’m sure you can learn the basics, improving each time – 5/5
  • Everyday Benefit – I guess if you like fish and enjoy the hobby it’s got its advantages – 5/5
  • Bug Out Bag – We already have a fishing line and hook, but it’s not going to cut the mustard for long. It’s a low score because the fishing kit it large and cumbersome. The same could be said for hunting.  – 1/5

Score = 15 / 20


Combat Skillskarate-852619_1920

We’re not talking about joining the military, maybe the reserves is an option if you have the time, but there’s plenty of opportunity to learn a martial art like Judo or Karate, or even boxing, if you want to be the mean MF when no one else is going to come to your rescue. In the US we’re talking here about getting a gun and learning how to use it.

  • Accessibility – Open to anyone who has the time and temperament – 5/5
  • Time to Learn – Sources show it would typically take two classes a week for five years to become a black belt in Karate. That’s some time commitment – 2/5
  • Everyday Benefit – A lot of people get great enjoyment out of martial arts and combat sports – 4/5
  • Bug Out Bag – You are the weapon – 5/5

Score = 16 / 20


Mechanics / Engineeringworkshop-2104225_1920

An all-round set of skills which give you the mindset and the mental tools to turn your hand to most problems. Fix cars, build shelters, bridge a deep fissure splitting the ground at your feet. Essential skills when it all goes wrong. I should know 🙂

  • Accessibility – Mechanical and engineering skills can be taught, but it’s also about having a mindset to want to understand how things work and then using your skills to explore. No matter your specific discipline, most engineers can turn their hands to most engineering problems – 4/5
  • Time to Learn – Four to five years of university or the same for an apprenticeship, depending on the discipline, plus there’s a lifetime of experience to gain. It’s not a quick one – 1/5
  • Everyday Benefit – Fix stuff and have a great job at the same time. There’s no downside, right? – 5/5
  • Bug Out Bag – A limited set of generic tools would be worth bringing along, but they’re heavy, however you’re already carrying the best item in the tool kit, your mind – 4/5

Score = 14 / 20


Sailinglake-1915846_1920

Jumping on a boat and getting the heck out of dodge does have a lot of advantages, or maybe you can ferry supplies from somewhere where the ground isn’t alight!

  • Accessibility – As an island nation, it’s pretty easy to find somewhere to learn how to sail and if you have pockets stuffed full of cash then you can keep your escape route in a secure boat shed just down the road. If not then it will take a could spend to get your skills up to par – 2/5
  • Time to Learn – You can learn the basics of sailing in a short course, but piloting a boat takes years of experience. You should start hanging around the coast in bars where the fishermen frequent and maybe they’ll let you take their livelihood out for a spin? – 2/5
  • Everyday Benefit – You get to sail a boat. Great for holidays, but unless you decide it’s a pirate’s life for you then it’s not going to be a great boon to your live – 1/5
  • Bug Out Bag – The boat won’t fit in the bag, maybe a life jacket, but I guess that should already be on the boat – 5/5

Score = 10 / 20


Leadershipyoung-3061652_1920

Why do you need the specialist skills to survive when you can just find other people and lead them to do it for you. People will be looking for someone to take charge. Are you up for the job? Can you inspire them to follow you? Can you make the decisions which could mean the difference between life and death?

  • Accessibility – Can you train to be a leader? I guess those guys who run leadership courses think so. The best route would be to do this through your job, tell the boss you want to be his boss eventually. Go on, give it a go – 3/5
  • Time to Learn – Again it’s experience which is going to be the key and it’ll take years to read the books, let alone to get the right tone to your voice – 2/5
  • Everyday Benefit – Get people to do what you want? Is that how it works? If it’s your job then being a great leader can give you a fast route to the top – 5/5
  • Bug Out Bag – Get someone else to carry the bag! – 6/5

Score = 16 / 20


Flying / Pilotinggirl-424918_1920

Like sailing, but with more cool. Slightly more difficult to find planes lying around, but you can get away quicker and further away, leaving the poor saps who can’t fly to deal with what you leave behind!

  • Accessibility – Like with sailing but much, much more expensive – 1/5
  • Time to Learn – Same again, but at least you get a licence if you can pass the test – 2/5
  • Everyday Benefit – Change jobs, or just get to places quicker than all your friends, plus you won’t be lying next time you use your usual chat up line – 3/5
  • Bug Out Bag – There’s always room for aviator glasses  – 5/5

Score = 11 / 20


First Aid / Medicalinjury-903342_1920

I know I’d want to be around someone who could save my life, who could squeeze the puss out of the infected spot. Wouldn’t you? Combine this with herbalism and you might have found you’ll be everyone’s new best friend.

  • Accessibility – First aid classes are easy to book, but for real usefulness we’re talking next level. More advanced skills are what we need, like those of a nurse, or a paramedic maybe, a GP would be the best. It all depends on how much time you want to put in. An excellent route for those not wanting to leave their job and go to university for the foreseeable future would be to join a volunteer ambulance service, like St John’s Ambulance Service here in the UK – 2/5
  • Time to Learn – Depending on the route you want to take, you can be up and running within a few months, but you won’t be performing open heart surgery for a good few years yet – 3/5
  • Everyday Benefit – You can save someone’s life before the world goes to the wall – 5/5
  • Bug Out Bag – You might need to bolster your first aid kit, but you’ll have to leave the defibrillator at home – 4/5

Score = 14 / 25


Summary

So the scores are in and summarised below:

  • Combat Skills – 16
  • Leadership – 16
  • Hunting / Fishing – 15
  • Mechanics / Engineering – 14
  • First Aid / Medical – 14
  • Flying / Piloting – 11
  • Sailing – 10

And the winning skill is….

With not much between the top five skills you’ve got a range to choose from and if you’re lucky enough to already have one or more of those skills then you need to decide if you want to rest on your laurels and sit back or learn another skill which will complement what you already have.

Combination Skillswoman-2209887_1920

As you can see the ability to use a bow and arrow wasn’t specifically addressed and that’s because it would take a combination of skills, three in fact, to make this a sustainable choice. You would need to first be able to make your own bows (becoming a bowyer), then make your own arrows, (a fletcher) and then acquire the ability to use those tools for hunting, or your own defence. However if you did, I’m pretty sure the combined skill would easily top the list.

There are many other of the skills we first discussed when combined together make potent combinations and I’m sure you can think of a few.

Thanks for taking the time to read and if you disagree with my conclusion or if I’ve missed an awesome skill then let me know in the comments.


In the End

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

IMG_3486

In The End: Excluded – A Short

2 Miles Outside the Inner Exclusion Zone

It’s busier than usual, but it’s not a usual day. Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and everyone has to look their best for the parties, the first five minutes anyway. I hate waiting but I need to slow my breath. There’s one, two, three, four, five people in front of me, gathered around the seats waiting for one of the three tall leather chairs to be ready. I won’t be partying late into the night, even if I had somewhere to go, but tomorrow will be even busier, more men waiting to have their hair cut and spiked into a style they think will be the most likely to attract a mate. Not me. I’ll be getting an early night. I start a new job on the second. I start a new life.

Everyone’s chatting, an excitement in the air for the celebrations, but I avoid the stares, the questioning glances. I don’t want to answer the projected questions. Instead, I grab the local paper and check the date. Two days ago. A weekly rag. It won’t have anything about what I saw last night.

I look through the tall windows, or try too. Their bluster has steamed up the glass and all I can see is the moisture collecting in lines and running down to the floor. I check my phone, looking through the shattered screen and remember it’s top of my list to replace when I get my first real pay cheque.

I look up from squinting at the dull, unlit image, the silhouettes of words I can’t make out in enough definition to be of use. I can’t tell if it’s the fence I saw last night, or something else completely, could be somewhere on another continent. I look up again, realising what I’d seen, a guy in shorts and t-shirt striding in. I want to scream it’s nearly January, but I don’t. Instead I watch as he bumps shoulders with the barber, then jumps onto the counter shouting and laughing about something no one else in the room understands.

I look around the room, my gaze casual so I don’t risk meeting their eyes. They think he’s a prick too. I’m not being unreasonable. Right? They dominate the room with their chatter, football talk resonating, others joining in. Their faces relaxing, only mine staying fixed in the scowl. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’m alone in my thoughts.

Now they’re all talking, but not saying a word. None of what they’re saying has any meaning. No one has mentioned the fence which went up last night. No one has mentioned the soldiers gathered around the entrances, speeding through the lanes in Land Rovers, rifles over their shoulders. No one’s mentioned the people who’ve gone missing. Everyone I’ve spoken to know someone who knows someone who’s not been in touch in the last few days. Everyone knows someone who’s heard the stories, rumours of course.

Not these guys it would seem. Or they’ve just chosen to ignore it. To be ignorant.

I want to get up, get out of the seat. I want to raise my voice and ask if anyone else saw the fence around half the neighbouring village. If anyone knows where the people living there have gone. If anyone knows why there’s nothing on the news. But I don’t. Instead I sit and tune out their chatter, watch the drips race each other down the glass wondering what terrible thing lies the other side of the fence. Wondering what happens if it gets out.

The rumble of chatter stops as ears listen, scissors stop sliding together as faces turn, eyes flicking around the room as we wait to hear the sound again, wait to confirm. Another manic scream rattles the glass, they’re up on their feet, blind to what is past the misted windows. The door opens, chill air rushing in as they stream outside.

I’m the only one not standing. I’m the only one not squeezing through the doorway, the only one not adding to their fearful calls. The only one searching for the back exit as my pulse barely rises.


 

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

My Publishing Journey: An Update – More to do than done!

The latest version of this post is available here.

I’m about to embark into the unknown world of self-publishing my first book, In The End. Here I document my honest journey so far and the steps I think I’ll need to take. I’ll repost each time I have any major update or when I learn something new or if anyone comments with some useful or important information.

This is the third update after a week of activity on the project. I had tried to show all updates in a different colour, but it doesn’t come out when publishing!

A thank you to the community

Each time I post an update I get more and more insight from the WordPress Community. So I’m going to keep doing it. Thanks Guys!!!

Expected Publication Date – Autumn / Fall 2018


Step One

Write the book. DONE


Step Two

Build a following. Build a community.IMG_3486


Step Three

Editing.

Under my own rules of how I wanted this work to develop, they’ll be no development editing of the work. It’s done! Now I need to get the work polished and hunt out those pesky typos, or mistakes as a good friend calls them! It’s the area I’m weakest at so I have to rely on my wife to do it for me and she’s a busy lady so I’m trying to be patient.

I’ve also decided to look through the work again myself and I’m glad I did. Although I’m not breaking my own rule set out above, I am changing more of the words and phrases than I thought I would have too. The edit is now completed

I’m revisiting the subject of development editing again. I’ve had some feedback, one comment on my previous update, about the work benefiting from a development edit to get some of the sentence structure until control and I won’t lie, I’m torn. I guess this is a question of my motivation. This has never been about money, making it or spending it. I know only 20% of authors actually make a living out of writing and that’s not going to be me. I have a good full time job and I’m not looking to replace it. I write because I enjoy creating worlds and telling the story then soaking up my reader’s reactions. Publishing for me is all about getting the work out to a wider audience and hoping more people like it than don’t.

The question is would a development edit turn the work into something else, would spending £800-£1,000 turn this into a money pit whereby I need it to be a success so I’m not just throwing good money away.

However if I don’t get it edited and it ruins people’s enjoyment, can I handle the criticism, the bad reviews? What would that do to my writing confidence when the work is out in the big wide world for anyone to read and tell me exactly what they think about it?

I need to think on!

Had a comment from one of my first readers over the weekend and he spotted a section early on in the book which jarred with him. I totally agree with what he said, but it was an easy fix. I’d rather hear it from him than a reviewer!

I’ve also made a tweak to a reoccurring sentence throughout the book, it also happens to be the opening line and I’m pretty happy with it. As part of the publishing process, mainly running through the MS Word grammar suggestions (once I switched it from US English) I made a few more updates.


Step Four

The Publishing Process.

Figure out how the hell I’m going to get this published on Amazon. I want to publish as an e-book and also use Amazon’s print-on-demand service. CreateSpace. So I’ve bought the top selling books on the subject from Amazon which the reviews seem to think will guide me through the process! Lots and lots to learn here, so much more information to be added.

It seems that using an Amazon Print on Demand services was the right choice from what I’ve read so far and much easier to format the work this way and then publish for Kindle. Plus it’s free to get your book on the shelves and if you want a copy it only costs the price of the book through the Amazon store. However I’d assumed I’d be using CreateSpace, but during my research I discovered KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). This is also a service from Amazon and from what I’ve read it seems a newer and improved service, with benefits to those authors outside of the UK. This calls for more research!

KDP vs CreateSpace – The advice is clear – KDP is the emerging technology which almost provides the same service as CreateSpace, plus it has the added advantages of providing one log-in for Kindle and POD sales, plus author proof copies are posted from the UK which keeps the costs down and the timescales low. I’ve signed up to KDP, so I guess the journey begins here and I’m logging all the steps in preparation for the possible future post.

It seems I may be missing out if I just publish on Amazon. I need to look at other publishing outlets and using a platform called Smashwords seems to be the way to go. You just publish to the Smashwords platform and they do all the rest. I’ve had a look at the service and it seems reasonable and again is free. They have their own style guide which I need to read and in conjunction with any similar guide I’m assuming Amazon has to, which I’ll get on to later. Many thanks for the comments on my last update post which led me down this avenue!

I’ve started to read through the publishing books and straight away new tasks are popping out:

  • Decide on the title. Is it right?
  • Same too for the strap line.
  • Come up with the blurb. Now that is a daunting task!!
    • Amazon recommends around 150 words which are easy to scan. This is the project i’m now working on!
    • My first, well maybe third draft is done and I’ve added it to the bottom of the page.
  • Come up with Keywords and Categories so people can find it when it’s sitting on the virtual shelves. Amazon is basically a search engine after all. The more I research about keywords the more I can see how much of a tricky decision it is. You want to make your book stand out from the crowd, unique even, but still you want to appear in popular searches and high up. My first thoughts are shown below, but rather than keywords, I should be looking at phrases. More on this next week. There are loads of tools out there, at a cost, which will help you select your keywords.
    • Keywords
      • Zombie
      • Apocalypse
      • Survival
      • End of the world
      • Dystopian
    • Categories – I’ve researched other books of the same genre and the following seem to have the best fit. You can only pick two.
      • Fiction > Science Fiction > Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic
      • Fiction > Action & Adventure
  • Dedication – Who the book is for.Another tricky decision. I wrote this for Sarah so that’s who I should put here right? I need to include my wife, a no brainer. A double dedication will sort this out, but then I can’t leave my Mum out right? I managed to get this done and I’m really happy with the result.
  • Acknowledgements Who helped me along the way? I have to make sure I mention those who gave their input, and maybe a few of those who didn’t! This is done now and again I’m happy with what I’ve come up with.
  • I need to decide if I want to pay hundreds for my own ISBN I can use across all editions or just use the free Amazon one / free with Smashwords too, but you they would be different. I’ll be using the free one. Note all ISBNs are 13 digits long now. I have mine. How exciting!
  • Figure out what i’m going to put in the back end of the book. Options include:
    • A call to action for Season Two – It’s in.
    • Short Biography – I don’t think anyone will be interested so I’m leaving this out.
    • A link to my WordPress pages / Facebook – It’s in.
  • Back page cover image. Hadn’t thought of that! After starting a dry run of the KDP process I’ve found for the paperback I need to supply one image for the entire sleeve, so that’s the front, spine and back cover in one image, all at the right size and ratio. KDP provides the exact measurements for the trim size I’ve chosen so I’ve sent it back to my artist friend to work it up. Should be back by the end of July, I’m in no hurry.
  • Read the style guides for the publishing platforms and make any changes needed.
  • Research and make all those little decisions about how the book will look, like chapters, fonts, size etc.
  • I’ve downloaded the template from KDP and along with everything else I’m formatting the document. More on this in a later post. As I work on this in MS Word I’m finding a few more editing issues which Word is picking out, so now the Word document is my master. I’ve had lots of fun formatting the template, NOT. It mostly went okay and is great to see the work with chapter numbers, justification and the final font and sizing, but little things were a pain and needed quite a bit of research to get right, like page numbering and getting the to start from 1 on the first chapter. But it’s done now.
  • KDP Dry RunPrint options  – You can play around with these to get a cost per print. Not quite there yet.Paper and ink colour – Cream, black ink
      • Trim – Set as per the template you’ve populated – I chose the closest size to a commercial paperback, 5×8 inches
      • Bleed Setting – No bleed as have no images, just text
      • Cover finish – Matt

Other publishing things to think about:

  • Kindle Unlimited – Amazon’s lending library whereby you get paid per page. Figure out what are the pro’s and con’s. Not researched this yet but feedback is that some people have struggled to sell books but they do make an income on Kindle Unlimited. I guess people are more likely to take a risk if they’re not paying outright for it. While researching this I came across KDP Select. At first I thought it was a separate scheme and now, although I have not one hundred percent confirmed, I believe it is effectively one in the same thing as Kindle Unlimited and you have to enrol in Select in order for your ebook to be available on Unlimited. However the downside of Select is you must give Amazon exclusivity on the distribution of the eBook. You can still sell it on Amazon, but it must not be offered via any other channel, including your own website, so Smashwords would be out, for the time being at least. Another decision to make, but I’m erring on the side of joining, at least for the initial 90 day agreement period.

Step Five

Marketing.

Continue to build the community and market the book. Lots to learn here. So far my marketing strategy consists of:

  • Preparing a Amazon product / home page for the book
  • Blogging (as above) – World building and about the process
  • Prepare social media posts
  • Business Cards – More fun on that later!
  • Blog about it and build a Season One landing page to compel people to click the link to the book’s page on Amazon.
  • Writing Season Three and releasing on WordPress as I did with Season One and Two.
  • Find a way to get people to provide reviews of the published book
  • Print and send out author copies for review
  • Write Short Stories
  • Promotions
    • Giveaways
    • $0.99 promotions
    • Paid Ads (Bookbub? / Amazon / kboards? / Online Magazines)
    • Host AMAs (AMAFeed / Reddit)
    • Email for interviewers from book podcasters / book sites / reviewers
    • Promo sites (there’s so many of them)
    • Local newspapers
  • Other sites to look into for marketing
    • Reddit

Other decisions to make:

  • Investigate Goodreads as a promo platform
  • Audiobook version?

Step Six

Hit the publish button!

I’ll take Season One off WordPress and add in my own advertising to link to the book on Amazon. Lots more to learn here.


In parallel with all the above I’ll be doing the same for Season Two and writing Season Three. I’ve made a decision not to start working on Season Three until the book is released and I can put all my energy back in to writing again. I’m getting itchy fiction fingers, so I might have to write some short stories and use them as promotional material.

Want to read Season One before I take it down? Here it is.

If I’ve made some massive misjudgement, missed out any step or you just have some advice, then please let me know in the comments.


The Blurb!

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

Bug Out Bag: Food Glorious Food?

Today we’re talking about food. In my post Ten Minutes to Go! the food in the bug out bag was chosen as I dashed around my kitchen hooking out what I thought would be the most calorific. Now it’s time to see if I could have made better choices, both with what I had in the cupboards and what I could purchase in readiness for an emergency.

What are the key considerations?

  • Weight – A key consideration for your back and important for every item in the bag.
  • Dimension / Volume – The smaller the better so we don’t take up more space than is needed.
  • Calorie Content Per Weight – The more calories in the same weight of food means we’re making more efficient use of the weight we’re carrying. Kcal per 100 grams is the measure used here in the UK. Even if you use different units in your country, the analysis is still as relevant.
  • Shelf Life – When we need to eat the food it will last a few days, but it will be sitting inside the bag for years, hopefully never to be used, so we don’t want to keep replacing it, or forget and then be of no use when we come to need them.
  • Availability – Would you normally have the food in your cupboards at home or is it something you would have to buy?

IMG_2445

What’s Already in the Bag?

  • Low Fast Biscuits x 6 – 260 grams – 1,000 kcals – Six months shelf life
  • Packet Cooked Rice x 6 – 1,500 grams – 2,400 kcals – Nine months shelf life
  • Tinned Fish x 4 – 560 grams – 1,400 kcals – Three years shelf life
  • Tinned Beans & Sausages – 1 can – 476 grams  – 475 kcals – Two years shelf life
  • Beef Jerky – 1 packet – 35 grams – 100 kcals – Two years shelf life

The Analysis

With a total weight of just under 3kg, less than three percent of which is packaging, we’re getting 5,400 kcals. That’s just over the recommended energy intake for a man for two days. There’s a decent range of flavours in there, but the ingredients will start to go out of date within six months.

So can we do better with a little research?

Based on the key drivers we’ve already identified, I’ve picked out a list of contenders, some of which we’ve already got in the bag. Like with my previous posts we’ll give them marks for each area out of 5, with 5 being the highest score.

Here’s what we’ll look at.

ice-cream-cone-1274894_1920
How high will this score?
  • Calories per 100g – This factor tells us how efficient the food is at delivering calories, no matter how much weight we decide to carry.
  • Packaging Weight – If you can’t find a really good use for the packaging after you’ve eaten the food then you’re wasting your energy carrying it on your back.
  • Dimension / Volume – Space is as important as weight.
  • Shelf Life – Hopefully you’re not going to need the pack, but when you do you want what’s in to be good to use and not have to update the contents every few months.
  • Fragility – Can it handle being packed in the bag? Can it handle what you might have to go through with it on your back?

In the results we’ll also look at whether these items would normally be in your store cupboard.

There are other key areas we could also consider, like nutritional diversity. This is what else you’re getting apart from the raw energy. How much protein, fats, vitamins etc, but for the purpose of this post, we’re only looking at carrying enough food to last a few days. Once it’s used you’re going to have to find another source. I sense a new post idea on its way!


Tinned Fishfish-3287443_1920

With so many varieties, each cooked in a multitude of sauces, you’ve got a lot to choose from.

  • Calories per 100g – 280 kcals – 3/5
  • Packaging Weight – 12% of the weight is the tin – 3/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Pretty compact – 4/5
  • Shelf Life – 3 years – 4/5
  • Fragility – In a tin, will take a lot of punishment – 5/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Yes

Score = 19 / 25


Tinned Beans & Sausagesbreakfast-2894729_1920

It’s an every day staple. What’s not to like?

  • Calories per 100g – 113 kcals – 1/5
  • Packaging Weight – 12% of the weight is the tin – 3/5
  • Dimension / Volume – It’s a round, awkward tin – 3/5
  • Shelf Life – 2 years – 3/5
  • Fragility – In a tin, will take a lot of punishment – 5/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Yes

Score = 15 / 25


Packet Ricerestaurant-1762493_1920

A colourful, spicy range of good tasting food.

  • Calories per 100g – 153 kcals – 2/5
  • Packaging Weight – Minimal – 5/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Squishes down and fills any hole you put it into – 4/5
  • Shelf Life – 9 months – 2/5
  • Fragility – In a flexible packet it should take a fair battering – 5/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Yes

Score = 18 / 25


Low Fat Biscuitscookie-3216243_1920

Diet food is not the kind of thing I should have grabbed, but let’s see how it compares.

  • Calories per 100g – 380 kcals – 4/5
  • Packaging Weight – Minimal – 5/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Huge volume, very low density – 1/5
  • Shelf Life – 6 months – 1/5
  • Fragility – Drop your bag once or twice and you’ll be hoovering up crumbs – 1/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Yes

Score = 12 / 25


Tinned Meatcanning-2694736_1920

Spam. So good they wrote a sketch about it. Okay, maybe they didn’t write the sketch because it was so great. It should do well here though.

  • Calories per 100g – 292 kcals – 4/5
  • Packaging Weight – 12% of the weight is the tin – 3/5
  • Dimension / Volume – It’s a rectangular, awkward tin – 4/5
  • Shelf Life – 3 years – 4/5
  • Fragility – In a tin, will take a lot of punishment – 5/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Not in mine , but it may be in some people’s

Score = 20 / 25


Survival BiscuitsSeven_Oceans_Food

Seven Oceans Standard Emergency Ration

Provides enough nutrition to last one person 72 hours in a survival situation and gives the highest possible ratio of balanced nutrition packed in nine separate bars with grease-proof paper. The biscuit ration requires no preparation and may be eaten directly from the box. This unit is protected by a water-repellent cardboard box and are issued to most life rafts worldwide.

  • Calories per 100g – 500 kcals – 5/5
  • Packaging Weight – Minimal – 5/5
  • Dimension / Volume – It’s the highest density of calories possible – 5/5
  • Shelf Life – 5 years – 5/5
  • Fragility – Dense blocks protected from water, these will take a fair bit of punishment – 4/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – No

Score = 24 / 25


ChocolateyiOJ5AoySHCgNUp2x%SXXA

It gets my vote even before we take a proper look. Let’s hope it gets the numbers and we’re packing toothpaste!

  • Calories per 100g – 534 kcals – 5/5
  • Packaging Weight – Minimal – 5/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Dense – 5/5
  • Shelf Life – The packaging shows around a year, but that’s to keep it at its optimum quality. We’ll get 3 years out of it easily before we have to eat it and replace, especially those without extra ingredients such as nuts – 4/5
  • Fragility – Water resistant packaging and product, it can get crumbled and it’ll still taste great, but get it too hot and you won’t be thankful – 4/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Yes

Score = 23 / 25


Romney’s Kendle Mint Cake81nRkPHVjWL._SL1500_

Traditional survival fare, and it’s a sweet hit. Not as nice as chocolate to eat, but does the same damage to your teeth. Let’s see how it compares.

  • Calories per 100g – 320 kcals – 4/5
  • Packaging Weight – Minimal – 5/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Pretty compact – 4/5
  • Shelf Life – It’s flavoured sugar and will easily outlast anything else on this page – 5/5
  • Fragility – Less susceptible to heat than the chocolate but it’s going to crumble pretty easily – 3/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – No

Score = 21 / 25


MRE Ration Packsmaxresdefault

Meal Ready To Eat. These are military grade rations with each meal providing enough calories to keep a fighting force on its feet.

  • Calories per 100g – 150 kcals – 2/5
  • Packaging Weight – Small amount of packaging – 4/5
  • Dimension / Volume – They come in a big box meant to be moved around in lorries with the troops as the battle line is forced forward. Taking them from their packaging will make it easier to store, but will reduce the protection – 3/5
  • Shelf Life – 5 years – 5/5
  • Fragility – We’ve got to take it from the packaging – 4/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – No

Score = 18 / 25


Energy Bars

With so many varieties, all ready to eat from the packet, but are they the right thing to be carrying?

  • Calories per 100g – 280 kcals – 3/5
  • Packaging Weight – Minimal – 5/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Like the diet biscuits, you’re going to need a lot of them – 1/5
  • Shelf Life – 1 year – 2/5
  • Fragility – Has no protection from what could happen out there – 1/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – No

Score = 12 / 25


Preserved Meatsfennel-salami-recipe-600-px

There are lots of different types of preserved meats, each packing a decent punch of calories. There’s continental cured and fermented meats, with most requiring no preparation to eat, then there’s hard dried meats such as jerky or biltong which will last the longest and are very dense in calories. The last major type is the hard packed brined meats. This preservation process involves packing it in salt to dry it out and the result can last several years. However it requires soaking in water for a little while to pull out the salt and make it edible. Not an option for survival.

For this comparison we’ll look at the readily available cured, fermented and air dried meats like Salami or Chorizo, both of which have the same key characteristics we’re interested in.

  • Calories per 100g – 330 kcals – 4/5
  • Packaging Weight – You can eat pretty much all of it apart from the little metal clips at the end – 4/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Pretty compact – 4/5
  • Shelf Life – 2-3 years, if stored properly in a cool and well ventilated location which will help it develop, otherwise it should be kept in the fridge. We’re giving this the lowest score because it’s not feasible to keep it in the bag long term – 1/5
  • Fragility – It should take a fair battering – 4/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – May be in some

Score = 17 / 25


Peanut Butterpe_peanut_butter_0

Jam packed full of calories, it has the highest number out of all the foods we’ve looked at.

  • Calories per 100g – 610 kcals – 5/5
  • Packaging Weight – The plastic packaging is reusable and not as heavy as the metal tins, plus it’s resealable – 4/5
  • Dimension / Volume – Pretty compact – 4/5
  • Shelf Life – Stored outside of the fridge you’ve only got a few months to wait before you have rancid gloop – 1/5
  • Fragility – Plastic jars can easily be punctured, but it’s protected from water – 3/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Yes

Score = 17 / 25


Oatsfield-8948_1920

A staple cereal for years. Definitely one to consider.

  • Calories per 100g – 362 kcals – 4/5
  • Packaging Weight – Minimal – 4/5
  • Dimension / Volume – High volume because of all the pesky air in nature’s produce – 3/5
  • Shelf Life – Will last quite a few months in the cupboard, not sure how long stuffed in the bag – 3/5
  • Fragility – In just the bag its not going to be a pretty sight if it gets punctured – 2/5
  • Store Cupboard Item – Yes

Score = 16 / 25


Summary

Below is a summary of the scores, starting with the best performing. The (S) denotes it’s commonly available in the store cupboard.

  1. Survival Biscuits – 24
  2. Chocolate (S) – 23
  3. Kendle Mint Cake –  21
  4. Tinned Meat (S) – 20
  5. Tinned Fish (S) – 19
  6. MRE Ration Packs – 18
  7. Packet Rice (S) – 18
  8. Preserved Meats (S) – 17
  9. Peanut Butter (S) – 17
  10. Oats (S) – 16
  11. Tinned Beans & Sausages (S) – 15
  12. Energy Bars – 12
  13. Low Fat Biscuits (S) – 12

And the winner is….The product designed for job!

Even if we look at the nutritional balance, the survival biscuits would still come out of top. They’re inexpensive, not something you can say about the MRE Ration Packs and they’ll sit in the bag for a descent length of time without having to change them out.

It’s great to see some of the winners are available in the store cupboard, so if you don’t want to splash out on specialist gear you’re unlikely to use everyday then there are still some great choices.

What’s Going in the Bag?

With the results in I can see I didn’t make too many bad choices, but I could have done better. Now I need to make a decision about what we’re going to put in the bag. I can either extend the number of days I can live off the contents whilst carrying the same weight, or make the most of the weight reduction we’re getting whilst keeping the calorie content the same.

This is a personal choice and one you have to make depending on which circumstances you’re preparing your bag for.

I’ve chosen a bit of each strategy, so I’ll be cutting the weight and increasing the calorie count, but not drastically.

  • Oceans’ Emergency Rations  – With two packs, 1kg, we’re just about getting the same amount of calories but for a third of the weight.
  • Kendal Mint Cake – For variety we’re also going to add eight 85 gram bars of sweetness for a treat adding another fifty percent to the calorie count with only 680 grams of weight. I’ve chosen it over the chocolate because of its shelf life.

This means we’re packing 7,600 calories for just over half the weight of what we had in the bag before.

Is it the end of the story?

No. Depending on the situation you may have time to grab what you have in the cupboards and carry it separately to the bag, or you may be able to scavenge food whilst out in the new world and at least now you have some idea of what you should be grabbing first.

Food Gone bad?mold-2035457_1280

Whatever your choice, any food can still go bad. I’ve gone for a low maintenance option which should see me only need to replace every four to five years, but when it comes to needing to use the bag you still need to use your common sense, or your nose, as your guide. If it smells or tastes bad then don’t eat it. You don’t want to be crippled with food poisoning because you ate bad food. You’re better off going hungry or using your energy to get food from the land. Keep an eye out for a future post about surviving off the land.


In the End

What if you woke to find the electricity off, the internet down and the streets deserted? What if you were forced to run for your life, no longer top of the food chain? What if the government had no interest in keeping you alive, but you’d found a reason to struggle on, a new meaning to this life, despite those around every corner intent on hunting you down?

IMG_3486

Could you survive the end of civilisation?

Meet Logan. That’s me. The first to believe the world had changed forever. The first to urge our friends to run. The first to kill, but not the first victim. I was the first to see for myself as nature bent before my eyes. With death surrounding, getting ever closer, they looked to me for answers.

This is my story.

Here’s Season One to get you started!

 

My Publishing Journey: An Update. The Hard Grind!

The latest version of this post is available here.

I’m about to embark into the unknown world of self-publishing my first book, In The End. Here I document my honest journey so far and the steps I think I’ll need to take. I’ll repost each time I have any major update or when I learn something new or if anyone comments with some useful or important information.

This is the second update after a week of activity on the project. All the updated sections are highlighted in blue.

Expected Publication Date – Autumn / Fall 2018


Step One

Write the book. DONE


Step Two

Build a following. Build a community.IMG_3486


Step Three

Editing.

Under my own rules of how I wanted this work to develop, they’ll be no development editing of the work. It’s done! Now I need to get the work polished and hunt out those pesky typos, or mistakes as a good friend calls them! It’s the area I’m weakest at so I have to rely on my wife to do it for me and she’s a busy lady so I’m trying to be patient.

I’ve also decided to look through the work again myself and I’m glad I did. Although I’m not breaking my own rule set out above, I am changing more of the words and phrases than I thought I would have too. The edit is now completed

I’m revisiting the subject of development editing again. I’ve had some feedback, one comment on my previous update, about the work benefiting from a development edit to get some of the sentence structure until control and I won’t lie, I’m torn. I guess this is a question of my motivation. This has never been about money, making it or spending it. I know only 20% of authors actually make a living out of writing and that’s not going to be me. I have a good full time job and I’m not looking to replace it. I write because I enjoy creating worlds and telling the story then soaking up my reader’s reactions. Publishing for me is all about getting the work out to a wider audience and hoping more people like it than don’t.

The question is would a development edit turn the work into something else, would spending £800-£1,000 turn this into a money pit whereby I need it to be a success so I’m not just throwing good money away.

However if I don’t get it edited and it ruins people’s enjoyment, can I handle the criticism, the bad reviews? What would that do to my writing confidence when the work is out in the big wide world for anyone to read and tell me exactly what they think about it?

I need to think on!

Had a comment from one of my first readers over the weekend and he spotted a section early on in the book which jarred with him. I totally agree with what he said, but it was an easy fix. I’d rather hear it from him than a reviewer!


Step Four

The Publishing Process.

Figure out how the hell I’m going to get this published on Amazon. I want to publish as an e-book and also use Amazon’s print-on-demand service. CreateSpace. So I’ve bought the top selling books on the subject from Amazon which the reviews seem to think will guide me through the process! Lots and lots to learn here, so much more information to be added.

It seems that using an Amazon Print on Demand services was the right choice from what I’ve read so far and much easier to format the work this way and then publish for Kindle. Plus it’s free to get your book on the shelves and if you want a copy it only costs the price of the book through the Amazon store. However I’d assumed I’d be using CreateSpace, but during my research I discovered KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). This is also a service from Amazon and from what I’ve read it seems a newer and improved service, with benefits to those authors outside of the UK. This calls for more research!

KDP vs CreateSpace – The advice is clear – KDP is the emerging technology which almost provides the same service as CreateSpace, plus it has the added advantages of providing one log-in for Kindle and POD sales, plus author proof copies are posted from the UK which keeps the costs down and the timescales low. I’ve signed up to KDP, so I guess the journey begins here and I’m logging all the steps in preparation for the possible future post.

It seems I may be missing out if I just publish on Amazon. I need to look at other publishing outlets and using a platform called Smashwords seems to be the way to go. You just publish to the Smashwords platform and they do all the rest. I’ve had a look at the service and it seems reasonable and again is free. They have their own style guide which I need to read and in conjunction with any similar guide I’m assuming Amazon has to, which I’ll get on to later. Many thanks for the comments on my last update post which led me down this avenue!

I’ve started to read through the publishing books and straight away new tasks are popping out:

  • Decide on the title. Is it right?
  • Same too for the strap line.
  • Come up with the blurb. Now that is a daunting task!!
    • Amazon recommends around 150 words which are easy to scan. This is the project i’m now working on!
  • Come up with Keywords and Categories so people can find it when it’s sitting on the virtual shelves. Amazon is basically a search engine after all.
  • Acknowledgements
  • I need to decide if I want to pay hundreds for my own ISBN I can use across all editions or just use the free Amazon one / free with Smashwords too, but you they would be different.
  • Figure out what i’m going to put in the back end of the book. Options include:
    • A call to action for Season Two
    • Short Biography
    • A link to my WordPress pages / Facebook
  • Back page cover image. Hadn’t thought of that!
  • Read the style guides for the publishing platforms and make any changes needed.
  • Research and make all those little decisions about how the book will look, like chapters, fonts, size etc.
  • I’ve downloaded the template from KDP and along with everything else I’m formatting the document. More on this in a later post. As I work on this in MS Word I’m finding a few more editing issues which Word is picking out, so now the Word document is my master.

Other publishing things to think about:

  • Kindle Unlimited – Amazon’s lending library whereby you get paid per page. Figure out what are the pro’s and con’s.

Step Five

Marketing.

Continue to build the community and market the book. Lots to learn here. So far my marketing strategy consists of:

  • Preparing a Amazon product / home page for the book
  • Blogging (as above) – World building and about the process
  • Writing Season Three and releasing on WordPress as I did with Season One and Two.
  • Find a way to get people to provide reviews of the published book
  • Print and send out author copies for review

Other decisions to make:

  • Investigate Goodreads as a promo platform

Step Six

Hit the publish button!

I’ll take Season One off WordPress and add in my own advertising to link to the book on Amazon. Lots more to learn here.


In parallel with all the above I’ll be doing the same for Season Two and writing Season Three. I’ve made a decision not to start working on Season Three until the book is released and I can put all my energy back in to writing again. 

Want to read Season One before I take it down? Here it is.

If I’ve made some massive misjudgement, missed out any step or you just have some advice, then please let me know in the comments.

Bug Out Bag: Water, Water Everywhere: But it might just kill you!

As part of my Bug Out Bag series, today I’m looking at another key task the kit in my bug out bag needs to perform. Water Purification.

When I started researching this post I thought I knew everything I was going discuss and I would just be topping up my knowledge, but I was wrong. My research revealed many surprises which could have left me in serious trouble if I hadn’t prepared properly when it came to a time when I needed the bag. I’ve never been more thankful to the water utility provider I’ve always taken for granted!

In the UK we’re very lucky to have some of the cleanest water in world delivered to our sinks and toilets with just a turn of a wheel and we take no time to think of the process, the treatment and the effort which goes into making sure we don’t get sick every time we take a sip. But out there, out in the wild, we need to think about what’s in the water which could make us very, very ill and all at a time we need to be at the peak of our fitness and the peak of our awareness or we just won’t survive.

So what’s in the water?

IMG_0311
Does it look clean to you?

The majority of the problems start and finish with poo. Yes, animal faeces, plus if the wilderness gets crowded we’ll need to concern ourselves with a growing problem of human faeces too. In a disaster scenario, the first priority is get safe, the second priority is to stop people from dying by giving them access to clean water and effective sanitation.

Why?

I’m no biologist, so the majority of the information in this post is taken either from the Centres For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, see link the below, and the product information for the LifeStraw.

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/travel/backcountry_water_treatment.html

Parasiteswater_parasites

Their technical name is Protozoa and we’re concerned with two common types, Cryptosporidium and Giardia Intestinalis. These organisms can cause nasty gastrointestinal illness, such as vomiting, cramps and diarrhoea in a healthy person, but much worse in someone with a compromised immune system.

Bacteriakoli-bacteria-123081_1920

Most of us would have heard of these culprits from limited outbreaks which make the news. Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella and E Coli. If you’ve ever had food poisoning then you’ll take this risk seriously. You’ll be lucky to get away with forty-eight hours of being unable to move from the toilet and the bucket, but imagine if you’re trying to run for your life at the same time!

Virusesvirus-1812092_1920

As a sixteen year old in the welsh hills my dad was hiking with his friends, he needed to drink from a stream and so walked against the flow for a kilometre and having found nothing of concern, he walked back again to take his drink. It was only when he headed home following the same stream he came across a rotting sheep in the river two kilometres from where he’d drunk.

I’m not sure how long after, but he was soon rushed to hospital and within days he was in a coma, diagnosed with meningitis. He survived, but suffered severe nerve damage along one side of his body, leaving him with poor sensation in his extremities. Thankfully he went on to live a full life and is still around to tell the tale.

Enterovirus, hepatitis A, norovirus, rotavirus, meningitis, could all be present in the water and along with giving you a real bad time in your stomach, the damage to your health could be much more serious and long term.

What does it mean for us?

fittings-2784899_1920
Will it fit in your pack?

We treat the water before we drink it. Seems obvious and it is, but what isn’t so clear is how we treat it. Before my research I thought the best way to treat water would be with chemicals. I’d tried this in the past, buying tablets to dissolve in the water, but its taste made me keen to find a better way.

What I found in my research surprised me and I’ve summarised for you all below.

The main ways to treat water start with a pre-filter. This means straining away the larger bits you can see, like plant life, bugs, dead & alive and larger bits of dirt and debris. I think coffee filters will be great for this, or nylon clothes would do just as well. We’ll look at the best choice in a later post. Pre-filtering does nothing to the nasties in the water, so now we’ll look how me neutralise what’s lurking to feed off your insides.

LifeStraw®_Personal_Water_Filter_for_Hiking__Camping__Travel__Backpacking_Outdoor_Sports_and_Emergency_Preparedness__Removes_Bacteria_and_Protozoa__5-__2-_or_1-pack__Amazon_co_uk__Sport
LifeStraw® Personal Water Filter

Rolling Boiling – This means continuously boiling the water. CDC recommend one minute of boiling, other sources recommend longer. The kit for doing this is in the bag, but it’s not quick and uses your valuable fuel or even more time gathering wood. The water will taste much like it did before you boiled it.

Filtration – With no pre-filtering required, we’re not just getting rid of what you can see, we’ll remove the nasties from the water, too. Different filter sizes are required to remove different contaminants, with the smallest being 0.3 microns. Quite literally this means the contaminants larger than the hole size won’t fit through and be drawn into your mouth. Currently there is nothing in the bag to do this, but a good example of the water filtration system is the LifeStraw discussed in my Battering for Your Life post.

Chemical Treatment / Disinfection – There are three common types of chemical treatment. Iodine, Chlorine and Chlorine Dioxide. All types of treatment are relatively common and available as either tablets or in liquid form, with the later being the result of mixing two liquids together. Chlorine Dioxide treatment is among the most common form of treatment used by municipal water authorities for the water in your pipes.

Each of the different treatment methods have varying effectiveness against the different hazards and I have summarised the information below, including the LifeStraw Personal on the right hand side as a good example of shop ready filtration method.

 

Hazard
Symptoms
Effectiveness of treatment
Pre-filtration & Boiling (1 minute)
Filtration
Iodine / Chlorine
Chlorine Dioxide
LifeStraw Personal Water Filter (0.2 micron)
Protozoa – Cryptosporidium
Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea
Very High
High (1 micron)
None
Low to Mod
Very High
Protozoa – Giardia intestinalis
Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea
Very High
High
(1 micron)
Low to Mod
High
Very High
Bacteria
Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea
Very High
High
(0.3 micron)
High
High
Very High
Virus
Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea, nerve damage, death
Very High
None
High
High
None*
Chemicals
Limitless
None
None
None
None
None
Salt Water (Ocean, Brackish)
Dehydration, death
None**
None
None
None
None

* LifeStraw Mission – There is a version of the LifeStraw which is effective against viruses and chemicals, called the LifeStraw Mission. It has a much larger water capacity, but is however designed for use within a community and its price tag is over five times that of the LifeStraw Personal Water Filter.

** Salt Water – None of the methods listed above provide the ability to make salt water drinkable. Salt water is not drinkable because the kidneys are unable to make urine which has more salt than is present in salt water, therefore you need more water to process the salt content and you quickly become dehydrated. The salt needs to be removed from the water before you ingest it and we’ll cover this in a later post where we explore how to obtain drinking water when it’s not so obvious.

lake-2063957_1920

Conclusion

The main education I take from researching this post is the filtration method, specifically the LifeStraw. It doesn’t give you protection from viruses, but does give you a high degree of protection from the rest of the biological hazards. To me it’s clear, where you are able you should be pre-filtering, then boiling your water for at least one minute, but where you cannot achieve this, water should be collected, treated with Chlorine Dioxide tablets, then drunk through the LifeStraw or some other filtration device. This will give you a good level of protection against what might be lurking in the water source you stumble upon after hours of running for your life.

So in the bug out bag we’re adding the LifeStraw, but we’re also going to add a whole heap of Chlorine Dioxide tablets for when we don’t have a chance to get the burner roaring.

Like what you see here? Why not take a look at my other posts where I discuss the contents of the bug out bag.

So what do you think? Let me know your thoughts or stories in the comments.


In the End…Why not read about what happens to IMG_3486a 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 no longer at the top of the food chain…

Here’s Season One to get you started!

Bug Out Bag: All Alone on a Cold Night

It’s a cold night and you’re all alone.

You wake to the sound of a noise alien to your ears.

Why are footsteps rustling leaves in your bedroom?

You remember you’re not in your house after all. Below you is not the comfy bed calling you back to a slumber. Instead the ground is hard, the air cold on your face. The noise comes again and you realise you’re in a forest somewhere, the ache in your legs reminding you of the long journey from danger, your travel in a vague direction without a compass. The wind confirms the thin layer of canvass between you and whatever’s making those footfalls, whatever’s cracking those twigs.

You reach to your side, pulling your hand from out of your sleeping bag and into your pack. Your fingers twitch around the contents, search out the reassuring touch of what?

Your heart rate spikes, adrenaline courses as you try to remember what you packed in your bug out bag for just this scenario?


As part of my Bug Out Bag series, today I’m looking at another key item of kit in my bug out bag. Self defence.

Whilst preparing this post I put the question to my friends and I had some great suggestions, but in the end it descended into a list of harrowing weaponry, leaving me surprised when no one mentioned packing a tank!

panzer-2466145_1280.png

The Criteria

As with everything in the bag, it needs to be light and portable and worth the space it takes up, so anything that’s multi-purpose has a significant advantage. Of course it needs to work well as a weapon. We’re talking self defence here and we need to know its ability to pierce skull!

I’m based in the UK, so I’ll say this right from the start. We can’t get guns legally. Can’t carry them. Can’t have them at home, so I’ve left them out of this review. However, if I lived in the US or somewhere where I could carry a gun in the kit, then of course it would be straight in there. With that covered, I’ll move on.

To start I’ve taken all the suggestions, added a few old favourites and a few of mine, some of the more reasonable suggestions from my friends and listed them below. Later we’ll look at some good examples in a bit more detail and see how they fair.

Domestic Items (Including Tools)

IMG_4044

  • Claw Hammer
  • Crow bar
  • Handheld Mattock
  • Hatchet
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Gas Powered Nail Gun
  • Chainsaw
  • Baseball Bat
  • Wit / Charisma
  • Pool Cue / Pool Balls in a sock
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Hunting knife

Weaponscrossbow-2959534_1280

  • Cross Bow
  • Tomahawk
  • Katana
  • Knuckle dusters
  • Shurikan / throwing star
  • Caltrops, made from nails

As with my previous posts on other items in the bug out bag, I’ve picked out key items, mainly those which are light and feasible to carry around, for discussion in a bit more detail below. Each item is scored from 0 to 5, with 5 being highest score. At the end we add the scores together to give us a total.

Here’s a reminder of the criteria we’ve decided to use:

  • Weight – The lighter the better, I’m sure you’ll agreed.
  • Lethality – For striking through the skulls of the undead.
  • Threat Factor – For putting off fellow survivors who might want to take your stuff.
  • Utility – What else could it be used for? The more uses the better.
  • Maintenance – Does it need to be maintained or take any fuel to keep it working?
  • Accessibility – How easy is it to get hold of for the bag?

Claw Hammer

It’s the current weapon in the bug out back and so is our reference, but can we do better?

  • Weight – 850 grams  – 3/5Amazon_co_uk__claw_hammer
  • Lethality – A blunt weapon one end and a penetrating claw the other side – 4/5
  • Threat Factor – You have to get close to use it, but it looks like it’s going to hurt – 4/5
  • Utility – Bring nails and it expands the possibilities – 3/5
  • Maintenance – Polish it if you want, but there’s nothing you need to do to make sure it can bring the pain – 5/5
  • Accessibility – You should already have one, unless you always get a man in! – 5/5

Score = 24 / 30


Multi-Axe

Whilst researching axes and hatchets to review I came across this bad boy. It’s an axe, it’s a hammer, nail puller and a pry bar! The reviews indicates the axe arrives dull, but it’s very easy to sharpen, which is great on one hand, but shows it wouldn’t be as good as a fully fledged axe.

  • Weight – 1kg grams  – 2/5Amtech_A3380_Multi-Axe__Clear__Amazon_co_uk__DIY___Tools
  • Lethality – Even a blunt axe will do a lot of damage – 4/5
  • Threat Factor – Not as striking as some of the other weapons, but like the hammer it looks like it’s going to hurt – 4/5
  • Utility – It’s a four in one tool, each role being a compromise over the dedicated tool, but for a third of the weight – 5/5
  • Maintenance – It’s going to need regular sharpening, which means you’re going to need something to regularly sharpen it with – 4/5
  • Accessibility – Very inexpensive from the online store – 5/5

Score = 24 / 30


Handheld Mattock

The micro mattock in my shed is cutter mattock, but I’ve also find the pick version pictured which seems more appropriate.

  • Weight – 700 grams – 4/5Roughneck_64011_Micro_Pick_Mattock_with_Fibreglass_Handle__Amazon_co_uk__DIY___Tools
  • Lethality – Easier to swing and with a sharp point on the end, it’s going to hurt – 5/5
  • Threat Factor – It’s sharp and pointy – 4/5
  • Utility – Dig stuff up. Knock stuff down – 4/5
  • Maintenance – Nothing needed other than cleaning off the muck – 5/5
  • Accessibility – If you haven’t already got one (I have) then you soon could have – 4/5

Score = 26 / 30


Gas Powered Nail GunAmazon_co_uk__gas_nail_gun

  • Weight – At nearly 5 kilos (11 lbs), it’s going to have to be worth it! – 1/5
  • Lethality – With a little modification it’ll fire the nails before your assailant gets in reach, but I doubt it would stop anything which didn’t have feelings – 2/5
  • Threat Factor – It’ll be painful and it looks like it’ll be painful – 4/5
  • Utility – Great for building a shelter and quick! – 5/5
  • Maintenance – You’re going to need a supply of nails and gas canisters – 1/5
  • Accessibility – Easy to buy, but it’s gonna cost you – 2/5

Score = 15  / 30


Wit / Charismawoman-3219507_1920

  • Weight – You’ve either got it or you haven’t and it you have it has no weight – 5/5
  • Lethality – You’re not going to charm the undead, but you just might convince fellow survivors you’re not a threat or worth bothering with – 1/5
  • Threat Factor – It’s the opposite. With the gift of the gab, you might get away with it – 2/5
  • Utility – If you’re any good then maybe you can convince them to give you stuff you need – 3/5
  • Maintenance – Keep it fed and watered and it might keep you safe for a while – 4/5
  • Accessiblity – You either have it or you don’t, and most don’t! – 2/5

Score = 17 / 30


Baseball Batbaseball-1646091_1920

  • Weight – It’s heavy and cumbersome, you’ll either have to carry it or strap it to your pack – 2/5
  • Lethality – It’s blunt so unless you’re super strong, you’re just going to have to swing again and again – 3/5
  • Threat Factor – I wouldn’t want it swinging in my direction – 4/5
  • Utility – You could always get a ball? – 2/5
  • Maintenance – None required – 5/5
  • Accessibility – Any sports shop will do, and there’s always the internet – 5/5

Score = 21 / 30


Hunting Knife71ytckcAdzL._SL1500_

  • Weight – We’ve got it in the kit already, so there’s no added weight – 5/5
  • Lethality – Get close enough and jab it in the right place and it’s going to do the job – 4/5
  • Threat Factor – No one wants holes where they weren’t before – 4/5
  • Utility – It’s already in the pack for so many reasons. Top score – 5/5
  • Maintenance – Keep it sharp and it should serve you well – 4/5
  • Accessibility – Although illegal to carry in the street, they’re easy to get hold of from the internet – 5/5

Score = 27 / 30


CrossbowAnglo_Arms_Cerberus_150lb_Short_Stock_Crossbow

  • Weight – Heavy at 2 kgs or 6 lbs and it won’t fit in your pack – 1/5
  • Lethality – A single shot can take them down and without getting close – 5/5
  • Threat Factor – I’m scared already and it’s only a picture – 5/5
  • Utility – Great for hunting, but not much else – 2/5
  • Maintenance – With moving parts and with a need for a supply bolts, it’s a low score – 1/5
  • Accessibility – Expensive, but easy to buy online – 2/5

Score = 16 / 30


Knuckle DustersFat-Boy-2-Camo-Belt-Buckle-Brass-Knuckle-Dusters

  • Weight – With negligable weight it’s a good score – 5/5
  • Lethality – You’re going to have to get up close and hit hard over and over – 2/5
  • Threat Factor – Difficult to see, you could easily pass this by – 1/5
  • Utility – Um? – 1/5
  • Maintenance – Nothing needed to keep it going – 5/5
  • Accessibility – Illegal in the UK, but can be bought online – 3/5

Score = 17 / 30


And the winner is?

I wanted the crossbow to come out well, but its cost, weight and the maintenance required has dragged the score right down. The outright winner is the hunting knife, which is already in the pack so it scored well on weight alone, but I don’t like the close contact its use would require. I’ll be adding the handheld mattock / pick to the bag. With a big swing it’ll deal with most ‘things’ that’ll come out you out in the wilderness, plus we’ve shaved a bit of weight over the hammer!


Honourable Mentions

Whilst discussing the ideas with my friends there were a few mentions about what we could look out for and scavenge as weapons if it all went to pot. Some of the more memorable are mentioned below:

  • Spray Can & Lighter – Both items are common in most homes and will give you a low power flame thrower! Light this baby up and you’ve got a ranged weapon I certainly would think twice about coming near. Just hope it doesn’t explode in your hand.
  • Wooden Spears – Use the knife to sharpen long straight lengths of wood. Collect a few and work on them in your rest time and you’ve got yourself a ranged weapon. With some practice you might be quite formidable.

Like what you see here, why not take a look at my other posts where I discussed the contents of the bug out bag.

If there’s anything else you want me to add to the comparison, then just mention it in the comments and I’ll take a look.


In the End…Why not read about what happens to IMG_3486a 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 no longer at the top of the food chain…

Here’s Season One to get you started!

My Publishing Journey – An Update – So much to do!

The latest version of this post is available here.

I’m about to embark into the unknown world of self-publishing my first book, In The End. Here I document my honest journey so far and the steps I think I’ll need to take. I’ll repost each time I have any major update or when I learn something new or if anyone comments with some useful or important information.

This is the first update after a week of activity on the project. All the updated sections are highlighted in blue.

Expected Publication Date – Autumn / Fall 2018


Step One

Write the book. DONE


Step Two

Build a following. Build a community.IMG_3486


Step Three

Under my own rules of how I wanted this work to develop, they’ll be no development editing of the work. It’s done! Now I need to get the work polished and hunt out those pesky typos, or mistakes as a good friend calls them! It’s the area I’m weakest at so I have to rely on my wife to do it for me and she’s a busy lady so I’m trying to be patient.

I’ve also decided to look through the work again myself and I’m glad I did. Although I’m not breaking my own rule set out above, I am changed more of the words and phrases than I thought I would have too. In the last week I’ve got through about three quarters of the chapters and I’m really enjoying re-reading!


Step Four

Figure out how the hell I’m going to get this published on Amazon. I want to publish as an e-book and also use Amazon’s print-on-demand service. CreateSpace. So I’ve bought the top selling books on the subject from Amazon which the reviews seem to think will guide me through the process! Lots and lots to learn here, so much more information to be added.

It seems that using an Amazon Print on Demand services was the right choice from what I’ve read so far and much easier to format the work this way and then publish for Kindle. Plus it’s free to get your book on the shelves and if you want a copy it only costs the price of the book through the Amazon store. However I’d assumed I’d be using CreateSpace, but during my research I discovered KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). This is also a service from Amazon and from what I’ve read it seems a newer and improved service, with benefits to those authors outside of the UK. This calls for more research!

I’ve started to read through the books and straight away new tasks are popping out:

  • Decide on the title. Is it right?
  • Same too for the strap line.
  • Come up with Keywords and Categories so people can find it when it’s sitting on the virtual shelves. Amazon is basically a search engine after all.
  • Come up with the blurb. Now that is a daunting task!!
  • Acknowledgements
  • I need to decide if I want to pay hundreds for my own ISBN I can use across all editions or just use the free Amazon one.
  • Figure out what i’m going to put in the back end of the book. Options include:
    • A call to action for Season Two
    • Short Biography
    • A link to my WordPress pages / Facebook
  • Back page cover image. Hadn’t thought of that!

Step Five

Continue to build the community and market the book. Lots to learn here. So far my marketing strategy consists of:

  • Preparing a Amazon product / home page for the book
  • Blogging (as above) – World building and about the process
  • Writing Season Three and releasing on WordPress as I did with Season One and Two.
  • Find a way to get people to provide reviews of the published book
  • Print and send out author copies for review

Other decisions to make:

  • Investigate Goodreads as a promo platform

Step Six

Publish I guess. I’ll take Season One off WordPress and add in my own advertising to link to the book on Amazon. Lots more to learn here.


In parallel with all the above I’ll be doing the same for Season Two and writing Season Three.

Want to read Season One before I take it down? Here it is.

If I’ve made some massive misjudgement, missed out any step or you just have some advice, then please let me know in the comments.

 

Bug Out Bag: Bartering for Your Life!

As part of my Bug Out Bag series, today I’m testing another item key item of kit in my bug out bag. Items for bartering.

Thanks to James Norbury www.jamesnorbury.com for his thoughts and collaborations on this post. He’s an amazing artist and the great designer who produced the artwork for my latest book cover.

Why do we need to prepare to trade?

Can you predict the future? No. Nor can I. In an emergency situation I want to be light and agile which means I can’t carry everything for every possibility in the bag. So let’s face the fact we’re not able to know exactly what you’re going to need in a world where currency may no longer have value. The new currency will be whatever other people, often desperate people, need to survive or to make their life more comfortable.

So let’s look at what we could carry in the bag to use for bartering.

IMG_2445

Everything in the kit has value in a survival situation. That’s why it’s there. However here we’re talking about including items in the kit specifically for the purpose of trading. You’d need to think long and hard before trading something in the kit you’d spent lots of time and effect selecting!

My initial thoughts were to carry gold in small denominations, but James disagreed, suggesting spending £1,000 / $1,300 on gold coins was a waste of money when many more items with their own uses in the survival world could more valuable if people were stripped back to their barest needs. So here we are.

What gives value in a survival / emergency situation?

Demand! When considering how valuable items would be in a survival situation we would consider those items which fulfil the needs of people in the world, with the most valuable providing the basic needs for life such as water, fuel, first aid. After those needs have been satisfied it would be anything else which would make life easier or more comfortable, but it’s not all about the value. We have to consider many other factors as we make preparations for a situation we hope never happens.

Weight & Size

You’ve got to carry it on your back and you’re already carrying a lot. The lighter the better and the more of the item you can carry.

Utility

Whole you’re not trading it, can we use for something else?

Fragility

broken-eggs-1711144_640

Can it survive the journey? There’s no point taking eggs! They’ll crack the first time you fall over. If they survive the hike you better eat them before they turn bad.

Abundance in an emergency

How easy will the item be to get hold of in a survival situation? The less abundant, the higher the value.

Abundance Before it all goes wrong

We have to get hold of whatever it is now, so it’s a key consideration, including its value now.


Where do we start?

I’ve made a short list of all the types of items I think will become valuable in a survival situation.

  • Water / Food
  • Treats – Alcohol / Chocolate / Cigarettes
  • Cooking Equipment
  • Sanitary Items – Toilet Paper / Feminine Hygiene / Soap / Nappies
  • Weapons
  • Survival Items – Paracord / Compass
  • Medical Items – Dressings / Pain Killers / First Aid / Medication / Vitamins
  • Fire Supplies – Matches / Fire Steel / Cotton wool / Kindling
  • Hand Tools
  • Toothpaste / Toothbrushes
  • Amusements – Playing cards / Dice
  • Salt – For food preservation
  • Batteries
  • Pencils and Paper
  • Books
  • Seeds

I’ve picked out some key items, mainly those which are light and feasible to carry around, for discussion in a bit more detail below. Each item is scored from 0 to 5, with 5 being highest score. At the end I’ll add the scores together and the items with the highest score will be the winner.


Goldeuro-1353420_1920

  • Demand – Everyone wants gold, right? Maybe not when the world’s gone to the wall – 2/5
  • Weight & Size – 28 grams & very small – 5/5
  • Utility – 0/5
  • Fragility – It’s metal – 5/5
  • Survival Abundance – The banks won’t have their doors locked, but still – 3/5
  • Abundance Now – Easy to buy, but pricey – $1,300 / £1,000 for the 28 gram – 2/5

Score = 17 / 30


Razor Bladespepperoni-273985_640

  • Demand – With many uses, it’s a high score – 4/5
  • Weight & Size – 180 grams for 100 – 5/5
  • Utility – Many uses – 5/5
  • Fragility – Keep them dry & they should be okay – 4/5
  • Survival Abundance – Depends if you’re the first to break into the DIY store – 2/5
  • Abundance Now – They’re everywhere & £10 for a hundred – 5/5

Score = 25 / 30


Water Purification Straw

LifeStraw®_Personal_Water_Filter_for_Hiking__Camping__Travel__Backpacking_Outdoor_Sports_and_Emergency_Preparedness__Removes_Bacteria_and_Protozoa__5-__2-_or_1-pack__Amazon_co_uk__Sport
LifeStraw® Personal Water Filter
  • Demand – High. Purifies 3,000 litres of clean water from any source! – 5/5
  • Weight & Size – 58 grams, but it’s 9 inches long. You won’t be able to carry many – 3/5
  • Utility – Only has one use, but it’s a good one, that’s why add already added one to the pack – 5/5
  • Fragility – It’s plastic, so a midway score – 3/5
  • Survival Abundance – Can only get them from an online or camping store, so would be near impossible when the internet or your luck is down. That’s good for the value – 5/5
  • Abundance Now – The internet is everywhere, only marked down for its £18 price tag – 3/5

Watch out for a future post about how to get clean water in a survival situation.

Score = 24 / 30


Antibiotics

  • Demand – High. They’ll save lives – 5/5
  • Weight & Size – Minimal – 5/5
  • Utility – Only one, but you might need them too. It’s not a perfect score because there are so many different types which fight different groups of bacteria – 4/5
  • Fragility – You’re going to have to look after them. Keep the safe and dry and they’ll have an expiry – 3/5
  • Survival Abundance – There’s a chemist / pharmacy in every town so at first they’ll be reasonably easy to get hold of – 3/5
  • Abundance Now – Prescription only, so difficult – 1/5

Score = 21 / 30


ChocolateyiOJ5AoySHCgNUp2x%SXXA

  • Demand – Medium. Who can resist? Maybe a drink of water first – 3/5
  • Weight & Size – Okay, but not as light as the blades – 4/5
  • Utility – You can eat it so many different ways, but… – 1/5
  • Fragility – Smack it around, crush it, get it a little wet and it’s still chocolate, but get it hot and it’s ruining the rest of your kit – 3/5
  • Survival Abundance – Store on every corner, still going to be easy to find in an urban environment, at first – 2/5
  • Abundance Now – Just add it to your weekly shop – 5/5

Score = 18 / 30


Toilet Paper

  • Demand – Only ultra-soft will do! – 1/5
  • Weight & Size – Lightweight, but even when you take out the tube, it’s bulky – 2/5
  • Utility – Help start fires, write notes you’re not too bothered about keeping… – 2/5
  • Fragility – You can throw it around in your pack, but don’t get it wet – 2/5
  • Survival Abundance – Once the local store is out, that’s it – 2/5
  • Abundance Now – Local store is full to the rafters – 5/5

Score = 14 / 30


Pain Killers / Vitaminspill-1884775_640

  • Demand – With a lack of food or water, these suckers will make things a lot easier and keep those middle age conditions at bay – 4/5
  • Weight & Size – Minimal – 5/5
  • Utility – Only one real use – 1/5
  • Fragility – Retained in their packaging they should keep safe from water and the shelf life is pretty long – 4/5
  • Survival Abundance – Who’s keeping the shop open when the lights go out? – 3/5
  • Abundance Now – Easy pickings, although the cost of vitamins is not to be sniffed at – 4/5

Score = 21 / 30


Batteriesbattery-1688883_640

  • Demand – High. Who can resist? – 4/5
  • Weight & Size – 10 AA batteries = 250grams & the box is bulky too- 2/5
  • Utility – So many things to power. Add in a bit of wire wool and you have yourself a fire – 5/5
  • Fragility – Keep them dry and you should be fine – 4/5
  • Survival Abundance – Rare as rocking horse poop – 2/5
  • Abundance Now – 30p per battery – 5/5

Score = 22 / 30


Salt

Those little salt satchels you get in fast food restaurants

  • Demand – Medium. Water first, then food, then shelter, then tasty food? – 2/5
  • Weight & Size – Minimal – 5/5
  • Utility – Preserve food. Keep the slugs away from where you sleep? – 2/5
  • Fragility – Can take the knocks, but it has to stay dry – 2/5
  • Survival Abundance – Like most things, they’ll be around in the first few days – 2/5
  • Abundance Now – Buy in bulk or get a decent pile for free. Start collecting now! – 5/5

Score = 18 / 30


And the winner is?

Razor blades, with the Water Purification Straw coming a close second. There’s many other great items which score high, so there’s lots to choose from and maybe the lesson here is to bring a range. Different objects will have different values to different people and you never know, to yourself too!


The list isn’t definitive, but the items I’ve looked at help to illustrate the various points.

If there’s anything else you want me to add to the comparison, then just mention it in the comments and I’ll take a look.

Keep an eye out for further posts testing the rest of the kit and see if I’ve made the right choices.


In the End…Why not read about what happens to IMG_3486a 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 no longer at the top of the food chain…

Here’s Season One to get you started!

Bug Out Bag: Cooking for Survival!

As part of my Bug Out Bag series, today I’m testing another item key item of kit in my bug out bag, the camping stove.

During years of hiking and camping I’ve used the Trangia Camping Stove together with methylated spirits for all my cooking needs, so I assumed it would be an essential addition to the bug out bag. However I always knew the key fault would be its reliance on a supply of liquid fuel. The fuel is heavy and would be difficult to source refills in an emergency situation. So inspired by a comment on a previous post, thank you thejohnhoman, I decided to look for a multi-fuel stove as another option.

After some research I opted to test the Wolfyok Outdoor Camp Stove with the MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot as an alternative to the Trangia.

The Wolfyok Outdoor Camp Stove can be used with either solid alcohol fuel tablets or burning firewood, or anything combustable. You simply stack the stainless steel components in different configurations in order to use the different fuels.

The Test

With a concrete slab placed on my decking, I set up the two stoves side by side and put them through their paces.

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But first a chance to learn from my stupidity

Before we dive into the results I want to issue a bit of a warning. Using the alcohol dish I thought it would be a great idea to put both stoves to the test on liquid fuel, so I poured the spirits into the metal dish, lit it with one strike of the flint and steel and only then thought about how I could put out the flame once I’d finished.

The Trangia comes with a cap which you drop on top of the burner when you’re done. It’s very safe and lets you save the unburnt fuel for next time. This is not so for the Wolfyok. Why was this you ask? I soon found out it was because it is not intended for use with liquid fuel. Once I’d compared the speed of boiling water on the same fuel, both comparing well, the Wolfyok only being a minute behind the Trangia, I decided it would be a great idea to drop a small lump of wood on top of the alcohol dish to extinguish the flame, an improvised version of the Trangia’s cap.

Looking back now I know it was a dumb thing to do, but at the time it seemed quite reasonable until the dish toppled, spilling the meths all over the cooker and the concrete slab (I was thankful for my forethought on that one!). I had to just leave the near invisible flame to burnt itself out, which it did in less than thirty seconds. Phew. I won’t be doing that again. Needless to say I won’t be included that test in the results below!

Okay, so now down to the results, split down by what I consider are the key aspects of performance in the context of an emergency bug out bag.


Portability

We all want a light bug out bag, right?

Much like the Trangia, all the components of the Wolfyok can be folded down to fit snuggly inside the MSR Alpine Stowaway 775ml pot, along with a single 80g pack of solidified alcohol tablets. The Trangia with no fuel is heavier by 100 grams / 3.5 ounces and larger when all packed down, taking up valuable space in the bag.

Winner – Wolfyok

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Wolfyok is quite a bit smaller than the Trangia when packed up

Cost

Let’s hope we don’t need it, so spend as little as you can.

  • Wolfyok & MSR 775ml Pot – £34 / $35
  • Trangia 25 – Kettle, 2 pan and 1 Fry Pan – £54 / $110
Prices approximate and correct on Amazon.com ($ price) & amazon.co.uk (£ price) as of June 2018.

Winner – Wolfyok – £19 / $75 Cheaper


Set Up

Speed and hassle for unpacking, setting up and deconstructing where you’re ready to move on.

Let’s call this one a tie. Both are simple to set up and deconstruct in no time at all.

Winner – Tie


 

Lighting

Getting the flame burning with a flint & steel

The Trangia is very simple to light. One or two strikes is all it needs.

Esbit_spirit_tables_4_grams__Amazon_co_uk__Sports___Outdoors

Wolfyok (Using Solid Alcohol Tablets) – With no luck lighting the alcohol with the flint and steel directly, I used lessons learnt from my recent post about fire in the wilderness and with a pinch of cotton wool taken from the kit, it lit with no hassle

 

 

IMG_3996

Wolfyok (Using with Wood / Twigs) – Okay, so here’s when the fun really started. I knew this would not be the simplest operation.

First I gathered dried twigs and set them in the burner around a ball of screwed up newspaper. I added kindling from my kindling block and then a pinch of cotton wool.

Strike one. Strike two. I had a flame, but it was going to take a bit more patience to light. So instead I put a single block of solid alcohol tab (half would probably have done) on top of the pile of wood and paper, then a pinch more of cotton wool and on the first strike it lit. Boom. Off it went. It was very smokey at first, but after a minute or so the flames roared and the smoke cleared.

Winner – 1st – Trangia

2nd – Wolfyok with Solid Alcohol blocks


 

Time to Boil

This test looks at how long it takes for each stove to boil the same quantity of water and secondly, how much fuel was used in the process, an important consideration if you need to carry the fuel with you.

Trangia – 6 mins and when done the fuel can be easily extinguished for later use. Total weight of fuel to boil in the kettle – 10g – Bottle standard fuel bottle has 500 grams – so could boil 50 times on one bottle.

Wolfyok (Solid Alcohol mode) – 8 minutes and having burnt through three tabs (12g), the water was just hot. I estimate it would take double the amount of tabs to boil (24g). For the same weight as the liquid fuel you would be able to boil water 21 times with the solid fuel.

Wolfyok (Wood burning mode) – with only one alcohol tab required (4g) and probably able to get away with 2g, the rest of the fuel would just need to be scavenged. Time to boil was 7 minutes. If you wanted to put the fire out before it burnt out by itself, you would need to use water, which if you weren’t next to a plentiful source then it could cost you dear. For the same weight of fuel you would get 250 uses.

Winner – Speed – Trangia

Winner – Fuel Efficiency – Wolfyok (Wood burning mode)

Using a fifth of weight of imported fuel plus it could still light it but would just be more time consuming.

 

Summary Table

  • Portability – Wolfyok
  • Cost – Wolfyok
  • Setup – Tie
  • Lighting – Trangia
  • Time to Boil – Trangia
  • Fuel Efficiency – Wolfyok

Winner

The results are in. In a survival situation the Wolfyok is the clear winner. It’s lighter, smaller, consumes less imported fuel and can be used without any need foe fuel which cannot be scavenged if needed. This means your pack will either be lighter so you can travel further, run away faster or use less energy, or have more space for other important items. Plus it’s considerably less expensive and you won’t feel quite so bad at leaving it inside your bug out bag, hopefully never having to use it.

The Trangia, although it is easier to use, which is great for camping and convenience, it’s  out of the bug out bag and the Wolfyok with MSR pot is in!

I haven’t updated the kit bug out bag contents yet as I’m planning a big update in the coming weeks after a load of testing posts you’ll see soon.

In the End…Why not read about what happens to IMG_3486a 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 no longer at the top of the food chain…

Here’s Season One to get you started!

Fire! A test for survival!

The next instalment testing the contents of my bug out bag: How to start a fire!

The essentials for survival: Water, Warmth & Food.

It’s no secret that the key ingredients to successful survival are clean drinking water, shelter from the elements, including warmth, and the ability to cook any food you can catch, but unless you’re stranded in a supermarket, for each of these you’re going to need a good fire.

The reality:

Fire can clean dirty water, keeps you warm, cooks your food and is a great moral booster. To survive in most emergency situations which require you to live outside your home, you must make sure the ability to make fire is contained within any bug out bag.

So how do you start a fire?

Fire_triangle_-_Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

We need the three elements of the fire triangle. We have oxygen in abundance, so all we need to consider is the heat and fuel.

Fuel: Why not just use wood and a bit of rolled up newspaper? I hear you say. The idea is sound in theory, but in practice wood is heavy and you wouldn’t want to encumbered lugging around, sapping all your energy and slowing any journey. With a little luck it might be available where you intend to camp, or in an urban situation you may be able to find some other fuel, such as cardboard. Newspaper on the other hand burns very quickly and it great to help get a fire established, but it easily ruins if it gets damp.

Heat: A lighter, now that’s a good idea. Or is it? Lighters need fuel and they’re no good in the wet. Same with matches, there’s only a finite supply. So what should you carry in the bug out bag instead?

To start a fire, you generally need two types of fuel. A lightweight material which burns quickly, but catches alight with ease, and then a slower burning material which can really establish the heat, but often is more difficult to catch. In a non-emergency scenario, such as camping, a liquid fuel is both easy to light and will provide a hot flame, but the flame is only localised enough to boil a kettle of water, i.e. in a camping stove like the Trangia. When you want a full blown fire, you need tinder and heavy logs. Ideally you need a few different types of tinder, fast and slower burning, so once you’ve go a flame, it won’t burn through all the easily burning material quicker than you can get your main fuel to catch and get the fire roaring for the long night.

In my bag I recently added a resinated block of wood bought from a famous online store. It’s waterproof and with a knife you can easily carve off shavings to give yourself tinder. Or that’s what the label says! Yes the block of wood has a label. Yes I bought a block of wood from Amazon, telling myself it was special wood and well worth the price!

Now to the heat. A flint and steel does the job every time. You can use it to light your camping stove with a liquid fuel and is great as a source of ignition in many survival situations. It’s lightweight, you can use it if it gets wet and it will never run out.

So gather up some dried wood, put the knife, tinder block and the flint and steel together and you’ve got everything you need. Right? I’ve never actually done this before, so one sunny afternoon I thought I’d put it to the test.

IMG_3537

It didn’t work.

img_3554.jpg

The thousand degree sparks kept coming, but there was never any danger the wooden shards would catch. It soon became obvious I needed something which would catch much quicker and just at the time I was scratching my head, out walks my fourteen-year-old daughter into the garden where I sat frustrated around the flame free fire pit. 

“In girl guides we used cotton wool,” she said and walked back away from my huddle, warm only from the sun pouring down. Okay, I thought. Couldn’t hurt to try. I live in a house with three woman so we must have cotton wool somewhere. Five minutes later I return outside with a massive bundle of the stuff in my hands, ready and kinda hoping this wasn’t going to work. I pinched a ball from the end, carefully placing it on top of the resin soaked tinder.

Strike one. It didn’t catch and I felt a certain feeling of victory in my stomach.

Strike two. Still nothing, but now I felt the victory turning to frustration. If this wasn’t going to work then what would?

Strike three. Nothing. But wait, the edge of cotton wool went black, then within a breath a flame sprung to life, soon catching on my wood from Amazon. I had a flame and if this was a real situation, I had time to add the main fuel, I had time to get a proper warming, water boiling, meat cooking fire going!

I was impressed, as was my daughter too, who I caught watching out of her bedroom window, looking at me with a smile bright on my lips. I nodded. Yes, I’d give her the victory and shouted a well done as she disappeared back out of view.

So there it is. Two lessons learnt.

Lesson One. A pinch of cotton wool in a baggy, maybe two for good measure, is a great edition to the bug out bag.

Lesson Two. Test your kit. Know how it works, then modify and overcome the challenges when you’re comfy at home so it will work if you every really need to rely on it.

And maybe there’s a third in there somewhere…talk to your kids. Listen to what they say! Take pride when they’re right and know more about a subject than you!

Here’s a list of the rest of the kit, which I’ve updated with the baggies of cotton wool!

Keep an eye out for further posts testing the rest of the kit and see if I’ve made the right choices.

In the End…Why not read about what happens to IMG_3486a 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 no longer at the top of the food chain…

Here’s Season One to get you started!

My Publishing Journey – The Beginning

The latest version of this post is available here.

I’m about to embark into the unknown world of self-publishing my first book, In The End. This is my honest journey so far and the steps I think I’ll need to take. I’ll repost each time I have any major update or when I learn something new or if anyone comments with some useful or important information.

Expected Publication Date – Autumn / Fall 2018


Step One

Write the book. DONE


Step Two

Build a following. Build a community.IMG_3486

  • Release chapters of the book to the world on WordPress. DONE – A new chapter released each day. Season Two published in the same way.
  • Blog about the world. Write blogs about all kinds of things to do with the world the book is set in. Our world, but there’s a terrible disease and life has just become a whole lot harder!
  • Blog about the process. That’s what this is all about!
  • Get WordPress followers, get Facebook followers and build excitement about the book’s release
  • Commission a cover – DONE

Step Three

Under my own rules of how I wanted this work to develop, they’ll be no development editing of the work. It’s done! Now I need to get the work polished and hunt out those pesky typos, or mistakes as a good friend calls them! It’s the area I’m weakest at so I have to rely on my wife to do it for me and she’s a busy lady so I’m trying to be patient.


Step Four

Figure out how the hell I’m going to get this published on Amazon. I want to publish as an e-book and also use Amazon’s print-on-demand service. CreateSpace? So I’ve bought the top selling books on the subject from Amazon which the reviews seem to think will guide me through the process! Lots and lots to learn here, so much more information to be added.


Step Five

Continue to build the community and market the book. Lots to learn here. So far my marketing strategy consists of:

  • Blogging (as above) – World building and about the process
  • Writing Season Three and releasing on WordPress as I did with Season One and Two.
  • Find a way to get people to provide reviews of the published book

Step Six

Publish I guess. I’ll take Season One off WordPress and add in my own advertising to link to the book on Amazon. Lots more to learn here.


In parallel with all the above I’ll be doing the same for Season Two and writing Season Three.

Want to read Season One before I take it down. Here it is.

If I’ve made some massive misjudgement, missed out any step or you just have some advice, then please let me know in the comments.

Season Three – Teaser

The first I knew was the interruption to the car chase raging across the streets of London.

The flash across the screen turning to words making me sit up from the sofa. 

The warning about the sensitive images made me sit forward and turn the volume even higher.

The beauty in the centre of the screen, the red jacket and skirt which seemed to be all she wore, her features radiating out towards me nearly made me fall to the floor. The background was a blur. The helicopter with its blades rotating and the people running towards it across the roof were the only details not pixilated. Her words weren’t censored, the emotion in her voice raw as she spoke of the children. The scrolling message along the bottom of the screen saved me the need to rewind.

It had happened. It wasn’t April the first. I checked my watch twice just to be sure. A disease raising the dead to their feet. The end of an era, of our civilisation.

I stood, blood draining from my face, but still I punched the air, a wry smile on my lips as I shouted.

“Now who’s laughing bitches,” just as the screen went dark and I ran upstairs to grab my Bug Out Bag,

 

Season Three. Coming Soon.

Not sure what this is all about, trying reading from the beginning.

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed, let me know in the comments or Like my Facebook page.

 

Season Two – Chapter 115

I’d done it.

It was prize winning material, even capturing the figures running across the roof. Sighting what could have been Toni, could have been her, miniature on the monitor screen. I was sure as she climbed to the helicopter. My breath caught, or almost, as the children were guided high along the roof. I carried on despite the woman’s words from the days before, the best hosts, hoping my words streaming from my mouth weren’t catching as I thought about a fate similar to mine.

But my power was to let everyone know, to use my words to narrate the story over the horrific pictures from the journey. Others could zoom and identify the culprits, could track the helicopter and end this madness.

They had more time left than we did.

Ryan left the camera rolling as I waiting for the upload to finish, staring at the destruction, only turning away as the automatic reply flashed across the screen telling me the footage had been received by the editor.

Now it was up to them to do what they had to do. I had to rely on them to make the choice to send it out to the masses, to push out my warning as far as it would go.

“What now?” Ryan said from the open doors of the van, his voice calming my rising beat.

“There’s probably a thousand, maybe more on their way here,” I said sighing through my smile.

“So what do you want to do? You’ve done it despite everything,” he said, his eyes wide, face beaming a mirror image of mine.

“We did it. Thank you,” I said letting my shoulders fall.

“Do you think they’ll use it?” he replied, his face set in a scowl as he nodded to the images still playing on the wall of screens.

“We’ll probably never know,” I said with a sigh.

“Doesn’t that bother you?” he said raising his eyebrows.

I nodded.

“But what can I do?” I said not letting my lips deflate.

“I don’t think this story’s over yet,” he said raising a smile in the corner of his mouth and turned toward the hospital while my eyes caught on the one screen showing the feed from the camera. I watched the wide angle as the helicopter lifted, the wind picking up even inside the van. My eyebrows raised at the sight as Ryan spoke.

“There’s two people on the roof,” he said, squinting as I turned. “A dog too,” he said, uncertainty in his voice. “We should go see if they’re okay,” he added turning back.

I closed my eyes taking a slow breath.

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” I said as I held my hand to my stomach.

Roll credits….

Yes…

…that’s it for Season Two. 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. If you enjoyed, let me know in the comments or Like my Facebook page.

Know who it is walking across the roof? Want to know what they had to go through to get there? Check out Season One.

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

Season Two – Chapter 114

First eye contact had been the test. His and mine, but for different reasons. The door creeping open as I gave the nod, told me I’d passed his. The muscle still beating in his chest as he pushed the door closed at my back meant I’d passed mine too.

“I thought you were dead,” he said through a grey smile, his hands reaching to the floor to pull up my red jacket before handing it over. I didn’t reply when he looked away while I dressed, grabbing the skirt with both my hands, clenching it hard in my right fist. I took joy in the sensation, pausing only a moment before pulling down my jeans mottled with darkness. Turning around, prim and proper again, my clothes at least, he drew me close. After only a moment’s hesitation I let myself in for the embrace, guilt rising, but the sensation dissipated when I couldn’t taste his scent, no desire building, no will pushing me to rend flesh from bone. As the realisation took hold, I drew in closer, gripping tight, letting the tears of joy, of relief, flow down to his shoulder. He didn’t jump back, his face not full of fear at my deathly cold skin as he burned against me. I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew what was going on inside my head or was it all in my imagination?

“What happened?” he said as we released, answering one of my questions. Perhaps?

The scratch and scrape on the thin metal came back, but we barely noticed as we looked with intent into each other’s eyes. He broke off first, leaning to hand me cleaning cloths and a bottle of fluid intended for the cameras. He didn’t press me for an answer, he didn’t need to know and I didn’t need to sully Jordain’s name with a pack of hastily prepared lines.

“The helicopter,” I said, my voice croaking, his head spinning to the windscreen as he nodded. “She’s getting away.”

“The engine?” he said returned with his face in a grimace, eyes wide as they locked back to mine.

“Try it now,” I said, scraping the wet cloth between my fingers, whilst Ryan dabbed his hand to his left cheek.

In moments we were pushing forward, my right hand gripping hard as we slid sideways and back again to avoid the swarm gathering. We’d been quick enough not to let the crowd build, quick enough to find the gap in the blockade, the small groups easy to avoid as we swerved in and around the cars abandoned in the road, leaving them instead to follow, forming on mass in our wake.

We didn’t stop at the second olive container by the roadside, slowing only to take the slalom of the concrete blocks without scraping, but with enough pace shed to know the position, like the last, had long fallen. As the road rolled under the tyres, the rest of the streets were no surprise, the desolation, the vacancy, even the lack of creatures didn’t cause me to look twice. Soon we could see every other panel of the hastily erected fence had fallen, the outer perimeter ineffective and we drove right through a gap, slowing only to stop the skid. No point in swerving the bodies when there was no way to avoid. Ryan drove us toward the building crowned with the swirled blades of the helicopter, turning away only as I put my hand to his shoulder, the view in the mirror forgotten, the crowd so much thicker than we’d already failed to get through, but it didn’t matter. I’d seen the communications truck Jordain had mentioned and with my beat so hard in my chest, I ran into the back whilst the wheels slowed, watching the equipment’s lights flashing green as it picked up the surrounding network.

We pushed the doors open at the same time. I straightened my skirt and jacket, staring into the tall wing mirror, pleased with what I saw, only needing to give a slap to each cheek to draw out the rose colour, the faint darkness in the grooves serving well to highlight and contour. With energy rising deep from with inside me, I took a breath and with my back to the hospital building, the destruction and carnage all around, I stared with the morning sun in my face and beamed at the red light shining back from the camera.

 

 

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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 113

The cold, hard ground felt like it had drawn every degree of warmth from my body, while sound pounded across my head, booming through the fresh air. Pain traced my eyelids as they opened, just like when I’d cried the entire night after coming home from a week of bliss with the woman I could no longer bear to think of. 

A new day had started, the signs obvious in the chilled air, the sky brighter than when my head had first rested, exhausted to the cold ground. I looked around, taking in the narrow picture, but turning my head and body together I could get a full view despite the tyres and a thin spear of something hanging down near the front. Turning to the other end of the van, I saw a body, or what remained. Bone and ragged fatigues drenched a dark shade told me what lay by the rear. I hadn’t needed the reminder, the moments still as fresh as if they’d just happened.

Wandering feet, some with shoes, some not, hung around in the distance, but were few and far between. The noise still lumbered in the air, a pounding, rapid battery of pressure. A helicopter, I said to myself. Pleased my mind had jumped back on the track, pleased I’d woken to conscious thought and I’d found my groove despite my eyes drifting back to the body every other moment. I knew there was only one way to get past this and I fixed my eyes on the remains, listening to the sensations radiating from my head.

After a few moments I knew I didn’t feel guilt. This had not been my choice. She should have to bare the pain. The regret hers, not mine.

Pleased with my conclusion, I turned away from the skeleton, flitting back to the noise of the helicopter, but fixing on what stuck out from below the engine.

Crawling along the road on my elbows to the rhythm of the battered air, soon my eyes caught the long shape, the white of the bone stripped of flesh, only sinew remaining to hang like thick white hair. With my right hand I took hold, first noticing the blood streaked across my fingers, nails jagged and broken, then wondering at the lack of pain, the return of definition in my touch as I gripped tight. Face distorting with the effort, I felt the pull of something across my skin, but didn’t need a mirror to know what had dried, soaked into my pores.

With the bone removed, rattling to the road as it dropped, I rolled from under the van, my blood brimming with energy as I stood. I felt invigorated, could feel no pain, no aches, the cold air so refreshing as I pulled it deep into my lungs. My eyes caught on the helicopter, now a dot in the distance as it lowered, the sound shrinking as it fell behind the far away buildings. I smiled, dried flakes falling as it cracked on my skin, pleasure rising from my chest as I knew I hadn’t lost my cause. She was still mine for the taking, she still had to pay. Jordain just another victim of the crime I would make her account for.

Pulling my t-shirt over my head, the cold air sending shivers of sensation across my bare chest, I did my best to wipe my face, but I wasn’t hopeful, the t-shirt already too far from its original colour. The dead still paid no attention as I walked around the van and I stared, taking a moment to linger on the bare bones close up. The body stripped clean, fatigues shredded, the laden holster at his side. I dragged it away from the door. No need for Ryan to see what had happened. Kicking the holstered gun under the van, I pulled up the handle, the creatures around only taking notice as tapped a light request on the metal.

Ryan’s bleary-eyed reaction paused much less than I’d expected, his look going from my face, from my chest to beyond my shoulders, returned to lock eyes again, my breath stopping as he spoke through the crack.

“Do you feel better now?”

 

 

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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 112

The road felt cold even through my trainers, the light brighter than I remembered. I moved to the right almost bumping into a tall man, half his face dangling at his side. I didn’t take a deep breath, didn’t scream, my blood pumping at the same pace as he pushed me to the side. I let him. Jordain’s feet slapped to the floor and I turned much faster than those heads all around making their long slow twists toward the noise, their bodies following.

I heard my name on the breeze, heard the sweet scent unlatching my stomach, turned as another shoved past to push a smile on my face. Jordain’s eyes were wide, his expression holding mine only for a moment, his concentration elsewhere, hands grasping to pull his only chance of survival from the holster. I didn’t waste the time on an apology, my hands busy pushing the door closed as the first of the mouths took hold. I didn’t waste time watching his reaction, watching his hands give up on the weapon, instead fists balled for a moment, striking out at the growing crowd. I gave in, let myself be consumed, taking my place, falling to my knees as he did, crouching to the ground, my face almost touching the tarmac as I filled like a baby sucking on a teat.

Full. Senses dulled from the feed, the man before no longer recognised. I rolled under the van, my stomach griping with pleasure as it gurgled, excited at the contents.

Coming to a rest in the centre I felt the van’s warmth all gone, but had no care. Tears streamed, rolling to my ears, but my mind wouldn’t let me linger on his face, pulling away time and again as the taste filled my senses, energy radiating from my core as I turned to my side and watched the sun slowly disappear like my humanity had drained away. Like my dreams flowed down the plug hole. Like my hopes for an ending which involved Toni paying the price for what I had now become.

 

 

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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 111

It didn’t matter which way he turned the wheel or how many times the key clicked in the ignition, the engine wouldn’t pay attention to his command. We soon travelled too slow to outrun, only heavy breath filling the cab as those we’d barged our way through gathered back around, hands slapping, clawing, scratching against our thin metal skin. A rising pressure gripped my empty stomach, a dread expanding deep down inside as the windscreen filled with faces, jaws slack, bloodied teeth bared and broken.

For the first time since we’d stopped, I glanced to Ryan and his stern expression, face fixed on the gathering crowd, but I knew he wasn’t looking, something else in his mind. I leant across, peering at the dashboard and lights of all colours flooding the view. With the fuel gauge hovering high above empty, I guessed the damage to the front had been too much, but still the question slipped from my mouth.

“What’s wrong with it?”

Ryan shook his head, looking down to the rainbow of colours staring back, none of which said anything other than we needed to find another ride.

“I won’t know anything until I can have a look,” he said, standing and heading into the back. I didn’t need to follow to know he was checking the rear doors were locked. I looked to Jordain, watching the raise of his brow in agreement. Ryan didn’t return and with a shot of energy surging from inside, I flashed a look around the cab searching for the guns, trying to remember how many we had. Not finding any of the weapons, but the rifle in Jordain’s footwell, a pistol back in the holster at his hip, I lifted out of the seat, lowering myself beside Ryan, moving the pistol from the seat as I planted, placing it out of reach on the shelf above my head with my eyes not leaving the tops of his hands as he buried his face deep within them.

“How long do you think it will take them before they move on?” I said, cringing each time I picked out a scrape of nails, the echo surrounding us. He lifted his head out of his hands, eyes searching when he’d found me in the seat. 

“I don’t know,” he said, voice lowering as he spoke, his expression set on mine with a question he seemed reluctant to ask. My eyes fell on the back of the van and the far corner sprayed with blood, drips clotting to a stop, dried as they’d rolled from where they’d first hit. Light disappeared and I silently thanked Jordain for blocking my view as he stood, coming through from the front, taking the seat opposite me, his voice only just above the dim echoing through the thin metal skin.

“We wait?” he said, nodding as Ryan gave a weak reply, watching as I repeated the gesture. He sat back, closed his eyes while mine searched, skipping the corner, body rolling with the gentle shake from side to side as the suspension absorbed the slap of hands and bump of the crowd, my mind all the while trying to judge if their activity was retreating or getting worse.

I could see no food, my hand reaching for my stomach as a cramp held my insides to ransom. I hadn’t eaten since the night before and it hadn’t been enough to hold back the pain. I kept telling myself over and again the same would be true if Toni, her name sticking in my thoughts, hadn’t done what she had to me. Anyway, I’d was cured. Right?

Jordain snored. The noise light and barely there, but from his posture, the slow rise and fall of his chest, it was obvious he was asleep, confirming my previous experience with the military. Rest when you can because you don’t know when you’ll next get the chance. Was he right to feel safe with me trapped inside?

Soon, like rain battering the canvas of a tent, the scratch and scrape formed a pattern and although my fear didn’t subside, my breath slowed as I concentrated on Jordain’s rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, the slow, gentle pace of his breath I imagined over the din and with it my eyes grew heavy.

I woke to silence, fearing the quiet had brought the end, but as my eyes adjusted, I saw Jordain leant against the metal opposite, Ryan to my side, asleep still with his head in his hands. The scratch and scrape had gone, but I daren’t move, instead sat there listening for any clue of what was happening beyond the metal.

With each passing moment without action, without conversation, trapped in the tin can, I felt the pressure in my gut tighten, pain radiating up and down. My body’s way of telling me it needed sustaining, needed fuel, but did it have to make me hallucinate?

First came the smell. Steak fresh from the packet. An odour I’d never been a fan of. I’d always held my nose until it sizzled in the pan, but now I craved to slide back the plastic and take a deep pull. The thought caught me off guard, but as soon as I backed away from the image I felt a fist gripped tight to my stomach, twisting my insides. Licking my lips without command, another smell, lamb I thought, came to mind and the pain relented. I stood, Ryan lifting his head out of his hands, asking a question with his eyes. I nodded as I trod my feet light with every step, swallowing down saliva and his face dropped back to his palms.

With my hand at my chest I looked out past the windscreen, heart leaping to see the crowd had dispersed. Creatures still walked around with no aim, but they no longer crowded the van. A hollow victory if anyone made a sound.

Tapping Jordain on the shoulder, I felt a rush of energy rise through my body, it was all I could do to stop the pain pulling my features down. His eyes lit up, blinking fast to clear the downiness. He stood, his movements slow and silent, air wafting all around and the pain relented. He followed my look through the window, followed me as I trod lightly across the back of the van. With his mouth opening wide, his pace quick, but it wasn’t enough to get to me before I’d slid the bolt across and pushed the handle open. Before the light and wash of cold air streamed from outside. Before I stepped to the tarmac, leaving the door open and 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 110

I kept my eyes wide. Chose to watch as our speed built, taking in the view, my body gripped with anticipation, head practicing for how the first impact would feel. I kept my eyes wide when the first clash of flesh and bone sent a shudder of emotion though my body, watching each creature mown down, heads splitting from their bodies by the neck, rolling up the windscreen, not able to un-listen to the solid thumps against the roof as they travelled along to echos of decapitation. I thought of the debris getting caught in the satellite transmitter, but tried to force my imagination not to picture tufts of hair wedged between the mechanical parts, eyes dangling down by connective tissue from where the metal connected.

With the windscreen wipers fighting to clear the blood, only smearing the liquor left and right, I could feel the van slowing, the metal complaining as I tried to relax back into the seat, tried to let the pressure of my blood release, only to spike again as a new horror presented.

The children were the worst. My imagination fixing panic on their features. Hands grasping for parents, instead of their expressions devoid of any reaction, even as they hit the metal, even as what life remained finally expired. I took a great gasp, seeing nieces and nephews I’d barely spoken with in the past few years. Their perfectly formed features showing no sign of affliction, their veins buried deep and out of sight, not raised to the surface, black and bulging.

A hand gripped my left, Ryan to my right shooting a look as I gasped for air, hoping it was my imagination alone which felt our momentum slowing with each hit.

We were slowing. My look to Ryan, then to Jordain confirmed, neither of them able to hide the fact from their features as we each tried to look on, to look beyond the sea of creatures which seemed unending.

“What’s your name?” I shouted out above the din of each impact, the complaint of metal, plastic, the fabric of the van now so fragile. I didn’t look as he kept quiet, just repeated. “What’s your name, your first name?” I said, shooting a look to my left. “It can’t end this way without knowing who you are?”

When he still didn’t reply I twisted for a look to see his expression narrowed, eyebrows heavy as he caught my glance, trying to ignore why no one had corrected my thoughts on how this would turn out.

“Don’t you know your name?” I said, nervous laughter spilling up from my throat. Ryan gave a flurry of air from his lungs and I turned to see his lips set in a smile as he shot me a look, the smile dropping, eyes widening as he looked back through the windscreen. I turned back to see Jordain’s eyebrows even further down his face, weathered skin lined across his forehead.

“Liam,” he replied, his white teeth on show as a smile soon parted his lips. Each of us flinched back to the windscreen, rocking against our seats as a dark shape disappeared at the top of the glass, leaving behind a great crack radiating where it had hit.

I renewed my grip on Liam’s hand, wishing I could hold Ryan’s in the other, but the tension alone caused pain to pulse up and along my right arm. With the last hit, the van seemed to have slowed more than ever. There had been hope before, we’d known the crowd of undead couldn’t have gone on long enough for us to slow to a stop, but now with the path unending it felt as if it we were only moments away from the worst situation.

Just as my mood sank lower than I thought I could recover from, I saw light, saw spaces between the bodies and their grasping hands. Air pulled into my lungs and I raised myself, squinting through the sheen of orange, the darkness filling the crack. I was right, the crowd was defiantly thinning. I could see the darkness of the road between and we had more than enough speed to carry us through, to knock the bodies to the side, to roll over those who wouldn’t get out of the way. I gripped Liam’s hand tight, pulsing my fingers, nodding towards the screen, hoping he’d seen the same, then turned to Ryan, my smile full of enthusiasm to end this part of the journey.

His face dropped as I caught his view. I flinched to the screen, but nothing had changed, our view was clearing, we were coming out of the danger. Then I felt it. Felt the rumble of the engine, the hiccup of our movement despite no impact from outside, despite having cleared the last creature Ryan couldn’t just avoid.

It came a second time and I twisted around to Liam, let go of his grip, hoping someone would say something as the engine stuttered for a third time. Blood drained from my head as on the fourth it failed to recovered and we slowed, rolling in the silence.

 

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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 109

I fell through the doorway, scattering to the cold road as the pair rushed the other side, calling through the sobs, the back of my good hand brushing across my eyes, smearing away the tears.

“Pick it up,” I screamed, regaining my feet, Ryan flinching back as I arrived at this side. “Pick it up,” I said wiping my face dry, letting the sharp wind lick with each shake of my head. “The camera,” I replied forcing Ryan’s shocked expression to the ground and away from the scene I had to capture. He nodded once, in a daze, stooping to grab from the ground on his second attempt, raising the camera on his shoulder as I checked for the red light. “The microphone,” I pleaded, stepping forward with his shrug, breath flinching in my lungs as Jordain clattered around inside the van.

Taking the microphone in hand, I stepped back, not looking to see the distance they’d closed, my already words pouring out, raw, unprofessional, less than a rookie could manage. I tried to slow, to cool my hurry, adding definition to the speech I hadn’t needed to prepare. When the flow stopped, I knew I’d done enough. The picture over my shoulder would have alone done the job. My emotion a ripe illustration of how worried the viewers should be, hoping they would take my pleading to prepare, to not sit back and hope to be served their life on a silver platter. Hoping I’d made them understand life was no longer a right. Life had become something you had to fight for.

Like a director in my ear, the stench told me my time was up.

I held the camera on my lap as if it were a child, fragile, precious, in need of constant care while Ryan reversed along the road. As the van slowed, in silence we took up our tasks, each knowing what the other was about with no need to ask.

Ryan circled the van, a rifle slung over his shoulder, every other moment sweeping the sight across the view, lingering on where they we’d come. He calculated we’d have half an hour if they’d continued to follow, but he wouldn’t let his guard down, knew the danger could come from any angle, even the sky, despite it having been empty for some time.

Jordain worked at a considered pace, taking care with the body as he lay what remained in the grass at the side of the road, covering him with a sheet of plastic, finding stones, boulders, what he could to give Sheppard the privacy he deserved.

I played the controls in the back of the van, ignoring the images uploaded to the suite of screens, there’d be no editing, a raw version is what they’d get, the images ready, the van giving the familiar shudder as the satellite transmitter raised.

Until its premature stop.

Pushing the button a second time, I heard the groan of mechanisms above my head, the whine of gears locked together unable to fulfil their task. I pushed the system into reverse, felt the shake as the metal settled home, then lift one more time, counting the seconds, finishing before it should.

With a deep breath I stepped to the road, moving away to get a better view. I didn’t need to climb the ladder held to the back doors, didn’t need to get up close to see great splinter of wood, no shorter than my forearm, wedged in the mechanism, just like I didn’t need to hear Ryan’s words. Our time had gone again.

“They’ll have what you need at the hospital,” Jordain said, his voice close at my ear making me jump. “All sorts of comms gear,” he said. “We can still deliver the message.”

I smiled at his unbidden words, turned and took his hand, squeezing until he pulled away before his pain rose any further.

“We’ll find another way,” Ryan said, his eyes, like ours, scouring the sea of bobbing heads, moving from hair matted with what could only be blood, to great rends of flesh across those leading the way with their wide, slack, but determined expressions.

“No,” Jordain and I replied in unison as he sat in the third seat to my side, his fingers pushing my seatbelt into place.

“We’re going right through them,” I said, bracing my good hand against the dashboard, the engine flaring as Ryan’s right foot grew heavy.

 

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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 108

Jordain shrugged, his eyes following mine, weapon raising as my face opened wide. I pushed my hand out, resting on his forearm, but still it climbed. I saw the resolve in his eyes as he first caught sight, the training racing through his brain with no thought, hands settling on the grip of the rifle as it travelled through the air to find its target.

This was a man who’d raised his weapon in combat before. The lines across his face set with a glare I’d seen so many times in the battlegrounds of Afghanistan, on other faces in other time zones and on both sides other the line. It was the look of someone who knew they would take a life. Knew they were putting themselves forward for the ultimate sacrifice, but never had I seen the pause, the raise of the head, the widening of the eyes as he pulled his head up from the sight, his humanity pausing for thought before he pulled the trigger, despite his most recent training telling him he had to put the woman with half her clothes missing and a great wound on her shoulder, down and down hard.

“No,” I said keeping my voice calm despite my inner panic, Ryan doing the same with Jordain’s colleague, the one we’d yet to know his name. Jordain turned, his fair eyes asking a question, a thought so obvious to anyone looking on, anyone seeing this played out in their mind’s eye, but not to those in the flesh, only moments from the creatures touch, the creature’s hungry bite. “We need to run, you’ll only attract more.” 

I turned around and saw I hadn’t needed to say the words, others followed behind the pace setter passing between the fence and the flat bed truck, with it their foul stench followed on the wind.

“No,” I said. “We need to go.”

Jordain nodded, turning to his left, his weapon gripped hard, but pointed to the grass.

“Let’s go,” he said, following my example with his volume, but his colleague’s rose as his head shook to the side. Ryan backed off, knowing what would happen next, ushering me in through the van door before he ran around the front.

The round went off and the woman’s head exploded, sending her body to the floor, the remains of her brain covering the creatures at her back as they passed over her body without a pause. Jordain knocked the muzzle of the rifle down before he grabbed his colleague by the arm and dragged him towards the van.

No one spoke as Ryan rolled us over the ground, the van pitching up and down, leaving the creatures to follow until they shrank to nothing in the mirror leaving us alone to skirt with the houses at our right until the wheels bumped through ruts and we joined the tarmac.

With the engine left to settle to a low murmur, I was the first to speak, peering over my shoulder, catching Jordain as he looked back. His colleague sat against the rear doors, eyes fixed to the side, his view somewhere else altogether.

“This road is a straight run to the hospital,” I said, switching a quick glimpse to the small screen suckered to the window. Jordain nodded.

“There are three checkpoints along this route, the first should be over the horizon,” he said, leaning forward and raising his rifle to look through the scope. “But take it real easy on the approach. They may have seen a little more action than us. May not be as controlled.”

Ryan interrupted.

“You mean don’t count on them knowing their arse from their elbow.”

I paused my breath, waiting for a reaction.

“He didn’t,” I said, but Jordain shrugged, letting a playful smile flash across his face before I could finish.

“Touché,” he said. “It might be better if I walk alongside.” My eyes darted around the view as I twisted back in my seat, searching out across the flat scrub rolling either side. Unless the creatures hid in the undulating ground, ducked down ready to pounce, we weren’t in immediate danger. As the thoughts settled I remembered the creatures who were different, those who displayed a higher level of intelligence, those who I’d fought in the compound where this all started, those who’d killed the pair of joggers. But they were rare, I told myself, nodding back towards Jordain, all the while trying not to think on the feral woman’s words. Forcing myself to think of anything other than how they connected to the creature’s intelligence.

“Let me drive,” I said, much to Ryan’s disdain. “We’ll be slow. It’s getting better,” I said, trying to hold back the muscles in my face from reacting to the pain as I raised my right, slowly flexing each of the swollen fingers. “He says there’s nothing broken.”

“I should drive,” Ryan said.

I shook my head.

“He also said you should keep it elevated,” he replied flinched a look into the back.

“I need you out there walking alongside. I need you to film what we’re seeing,” I said, raising my brow as I widened my eyes in a smile. His protest sank and as the corners of my mouth raised, guilt gathering in my chest.

“What’s your name?” I said calling into the back. My eyes flitted between Jordain walking with his rifle in both hands across his front, his eyes scouring the view and Ryan at his side matching his pace, the camera on his shoulder pointed forward and along the shallow climb of the road to the seemingly endless appearance of another over the brow.

“Sheppard”, his reply came after another minute of silence.

“I’m Jess,” I said.

“From the news,” he replied, but it wasn’t a question. I nodded anyway. “We were told it was an exercise,” he said, his voice flat. “Then we were told there’d been a chemical release. They issued NBC suits, sent us out on patrols. Then just as we got the orders to go build the fences, we’re not engineers mind,” he said shaking his head. “Patrols came back with men missing and entire patrols not returning at all. Then they told us about the disease, about people being bitten, coming back to life. They showed a presentation in the briefing, a Powerpoint with bizarre footage. We all thought it was a joke, checked our watches for the date, making sure we hadn’t skipped three months without knowing it. They were showing a horror movie for fuck’s sake. We still didn’t believe it even when we were out there, but when we lost comms with our oppos, with the FOB, it all became real.”

I didn’t fill the pause, had no words to help.

“I’m sorry for shooting at you,” he added, his words soft, distant.

Shaking my head, I was about to say how I understood, knowing how crazy, how fucked up the whole situation was, but I’d seen something, a building rise from the side of the road straight ahead as we slowly rolled forward. I soon realised it was a shipping container painted dark green, the first sign of movement raising the corner of my lips and seeming to brighten the sky, until I realised there was too much movement, too many people. My breath stopped, soon forced down in a sharp inhale. The checkpoint lay ahead, but we could barely see the concrete blocks in the road for the dead ambling around, the odd head turning to us, already drawing in our direction.

As the shot exploded in the back of the van, every creature in view turned in our direction. I twisted, a scream coming unbidden when I saw Sheppard’s body settling to the carpet, his brains running down the white paint of the bulkhead, fingers wrapped tight around the butt of the pistol.

 

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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 107

They were on us before we had time to flinch, the doors wide, dragged to the ground to the shouts I could barely make out for their volume. The soldiers seemed to call for an answer, expecting us to say something, but I couldn’t understand the question, their energy masking the words. I kept quiet, trying to protect my hand, then I rolled, dragged around to see the barrel of the rifle in my face, voice blaring, spit raining down as shouted for me to call him out, his view fixed onto my left eye then my right.

“Clear,” came a voice from the other side of the van, strong and confident, but with a question.

“Clear,” the guy said still leaning over me, but his brow told me he wasn’t sure. Then I got it. Although we’d been in the van, Ryan driving and we’d slowed when asked, despite all this they couldn’t be sure we were still human. Perhaps they thought this would be their first experience.

Was it disappointment I read on the soldier’s face?

“I’m okay,” I said, the words timid, voice trembling as I guarded my hand. His brow evened out, his expression falling as he stood upright to draw the long gun around the horizon.

“Clear,” he called again and I heard Ryan’s voice, his hand reaching down to help me from the ground.

“I’d keep your voice down,” he said in a light tone, his brow low as he turned, looking me up and down, mouth forming silent words. I nodded, confirming I was fine.

“What do you know?” said the soldier rounding on us. Ryan moved to block his path, raising his head high like a strutting stag. I smiled within, letting a flutter of laughter rise from my chest as he drew himself up to protect me.

“More than you, it would seem. They can’t drive,” he said, his words slow, head tilting to the side. The soldier narrowed his eyes, leaning forward, looking like he’d done this in a hundred bars around the world, when the other arrived at his side, pulling him away to a huddle for words we couldn’t hear. As he turned back mid conversation, his face lit up as he saw me, eyes widening as the rest of his features narrowed.

He stepped forward, keeping his eyes on mine, a slight smile on his lips, flinching a look at Ryan who flashed a raise of his brow as the soldier stepped past. Stopping a pace away, he brushed his hand through his short blonde hair, narrowing his eyes as he wiped his hand across his mouth.

“Private Jordain,” he said and held his hand out. I smiled, looked to Ryan whose eyebrows were lower than I’d ever seen, looked down to my right hand still ballooning and pushed out my left. Jordain swapped his hands after sucking through his teeth when he saw my injury and gently shook my hand. “Has anyone looked at that?”

“Jess,” I replied shaking my head.

“Can I?” he said and I nodded as my eyes fell on the camouflaged bag strapped to his belt with a dark olive cross in the centre.

I sat back in the passenger seat with my legs dangling out of the van while Jordain took great care checking out my hand, tracing the bones from my wrist to my finger, lightening the pressure each time I winced. As he examined, I watched out across the horizon, the other soldier scouring, his eyes through the rifle’s sight.

“Have you seen any?” I said. His hands paused and he looked me in the eye, shaking his head. “You’ll know when do you, there’s no mistaking.”

He nodded.

“I don’t think it’s broken,” he said, keep it elevated. I laughed. “If you can,” he added. The other soldier called at his back. Ryan cursed.

“They’re attracted to noise. They’ll be here soon. The gunfire,” he said catching my eye. I nodded, jumping down from the seat as we stood in a square, our backs to each other, covering all points of the compass.

“Why weren’t you evacuated?” said Jordain.

“We’ve got a job to do,” I said. 

“What job?” said the other soldier and I turned just as Jordain jabbed him in the back with his elbow, pointing to the three burgundy letters on the side of the van. “Oh,” he replied, turning, his eyebrows raising as if he’d caught my eyes for the first time. “Oh,” he said again.

“Where are you going?” Jordain said.

“St Buryan Hospital,” I said after a pause, holding my breath for their response. Their reply was instant, but not with words. I heard them turn, Ryan and I twisted around and we all faced each other. I could see the tension in Ryan’s fists, could feel mine in the rising beat in my chest, but their rifles still pointed to the ground, their faces open, surprised at my words.

“That’s our FOB,” Jordain replied, the other nodding.

“FOB?” Ryan replied.

“Forward operating base,” I said, the words flowing out, leaving the soldiers to nod, trying to hide their surprise.

“But there may be a problem,” the other soldier said. The pair looked at each other, faces turning stern. Jordain stepped back, sweeping his eyes across the horizon before returning to the square.

“Our Oppos went back to collect more concrete blocks in the HIAB, but we’ve lost contact with them and Buryan.”

“When was this?” Ryan said, stepping closer toward the group. The two soldier’s looked at each other, Jordain pulling up, twisting his wrist to look at a bulky metal watch.

“Three hours ago,” he replied, his eyes catching on mine.

“You should come with us,” I replied, seeing Ryan flinch at the words. The soldiers exchanged glances, turning back when I spoke. “One question though?” I said, looking to the unfinished wall. “Were you building it to keep them in or out?”

As my words finished, the wind blew across my face. I didn’t need to look to the break in the wall, the breeze carrying with it the rancid answer to my question.

 

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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 106

I heard Ryan’s breath stop as the roar of the engine slowed and I opened my eyes, air drawn away from my lungs as I saw the sight, saw the road blanketed in bodies, not a head intact amongst them. Resting my hand on top of Ryan’s, together we pushed the stick back in the gear. I held on as he forced the truck clear, watching the line of water down his face glint in the low sun. With my hand on his shoulder gripping tight, my eyes fixed on his face while he turned the wheel, wincing as the van rolled up and down, the wheels spinning for a moment until they caught and speed built, all the while his eyes were high, trying to block out the worst of the view.

We stopped for a long moment when the ride smoothed out, lingering for a long while not saying a word. He knew without asking I wouldn’t let us drive away, didn’t want to leave these people alone without making a record, without putting their horrific deaths to some good.

As Ryan filmed out of the open back doors, I forced myself to look at every body, to stare at their erased identities and massive wounds. I lingered on flesh turned to pulp from the finger sized bullet, their empty brass cases littering where the van rested. With the final shot panning along the sides of the road, the camera tracing the river of blood long dried in the sun, we pulled the doors up as the first of the young creatures peered around from where we’d left them, driving away as they stumbled to get a footing on the carpet of the dead.

Neither of us talked as the van wound its way around the thin country roads. Neither of us spoke as we travelled barely making a detour in the hour, skirting around road blocks, through fields either side. We weren’t the first, instead following paths smashed through stone walls either side. The going was slow, but we weren’t in a hurry, although my time staring across the horizon kept the bodies of the dead repeating over and again only the glances to the Sat Nav shook the sights away, the dot on the white road, the number in the corner ever decreasing.

It was as the number fell below five miles, we first saw the metal fence circling, our eyes heading to the sky as Ryan slowed us down. For a moment I thought we might have headed in the wrong direction. We saw nothing in the air, instead turned our view to the fence stretching out across the road, curving inward as far as we could see either side.

“Left or right,” Ryan said, his voice devoid of energy, but still I raised a smile. I’d half expected him to turn the van around.

“You choose,” I said. “It won’t be long now.” He manhandled the wheel around climbing up the shallow grass bank to the left.

“What happens when you’ve got what you need?” he said, his eyes fixed forward like mine, following the sweeping  metal, my eyes tracing out deep ruts compressing the stoney mud.

I didn’t hold back my reply for any reason other than I didn’t know. I hadn’t considered a next step, still didn’t want to think of what would happen next. I hadn’t thought I would survive last night without another dose of Toni’s medicine. I didn’t know if I would survive the next. Now wasn’t the time. I’d spotted the end of the fence, a panel yet to be fixed leaning against the side of an olive drab flat-bed truck.

I nodded towards the army vehicle, turning to Ryan, his eyes already set straight.

I expected the body to rise from its lean against the fence when it saw us. Ryan didn’t slow, he’d expected it too, but neither of us anticipated the call from the soldier’s mouth, the hasty reach for the rifle. Neither of us expected another to appear around the side, fingers pulling up his trouser’s fly in a hurry as he searched for a weapon, finding it close at hand.

Ryan slowed at the solder’s demand, his breath remaining calm as I raised my hands to the air. Ryan did the same, but either of us expected the shot which rocked the van, slamming hard, sending shattered dark plastic shards high in to the air as it hit the engine’s grill.

 

 

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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 105

With the cold blast of air chilling the wet skin around my neck, my eyes leapt open to the truck bathed in light, revealing the blood soaked teeth clamped around the toes of my left foot, hands scratching at my jeans and the other soldier on the first ones back, competing to get passed and rend my flesh.

I felt pressure around my chest, hands interlocking across my breasts, grabbing tight, tugging hard, but I hadn’t moved, the weight of the two creatures and the vice-like grip too much for Ryan to overcome. He let go. Fear flooded through me, he’d given up, he’d decided it was all too much to be around me, too demanding. He could survive alone much better. But no, he was at my side, climbing up, his struggle sounding out from his lungs like a foghorn.

I screamed again, a long high pitch I couldn’t hold back as my toes crushed, vision blurring, going dark as I closed my eyes, nausea rising as I slumped backwards, dangling over the edge.

My senses exploded as the gun went off, the release instant before the echo died. The second explosion so much quieter. I was already on the ground, the pain in my shoulder taking my notice as I slumped.

He was by my side helping me up sooner than I’d expected, sitting me with my back to the hard metal of the truck without me realising.

“Can you stand?” he said, the concern in his voice secondary only to his urgency. I nodded, letting him help me up as I tested pressure on my left foot. I could walk, slowly, but could travel forward, which had been more than I expected. I followed Ryan’s gaze to the coach and the heads butting against the glass as we passed slowly, their touch leaving bloody shadows. So many times I flinched against the pressure, expected the glass to spray over, forcing us to have to run for our lives again. Instead the creatures moved along with us, following inside, not fighting one another, but bumped together like they didn’t see each other, had no consideration there was anyone else, anything else in existence as driven to feast on our flesh.

Arriving at the coach’s flimsy doors, Ryan held my arm tighter, hurrying me past, my eyes on the gap growing wider with every surge from the other side.

“Can we get through?” he said, jumping into the driver’s seat as he let me down softly the other side.

I stared on through the windscreen. I’d forgotten what I’d seen as I stared through the truck’s blood dripping glass, but again the vision was as clear as if still in the moment.

“Yes,” I said, nodding, my eyes fixed of the doors of the coach as they snapped open both sides. The plastic pushed open under the pressure and the creatures who’d lived such short lives, fell to the floor, faces hitting the road, not flinching, eyes not taken from the van and us inside. One by one they struggling to get up, despite more of a similar youth falling onto their backs until they could just step off and start their journey towards us.

After checking the van doors were locked and the windows were closed, the engine roared to life and we rolled. Ryan’s face hardening, his eyes tightened together, mouth bunching as each of the black veined faces disappeared below the view one by one until our bumper nudged against the back of the truck.

He looked at me and I turned his way, trying to ignore the faces past him, trying to ignore the marks left behind as bloody hands slapped against the window. I nodded and he revved the engine, slowly letting out the clutch.

We didn’t move, smoke billowed from the engine, the smell of burning plastic clawed inside our noses and I coughed, Ryan copying my action despite his best efforts, knowing to open the windows would be even more unpleasant. I could see he was about to let up, to let the engine relax and push the gear into reverse, when we moved forward. It was slow at first, but progress had started.

I closed my eyes, trying to ignore what would happen the other side of the truck as we rolled, not wanting to see its rise and fall as we pushed on relentless. Opening my eyes, I saw Ryan steering us close to the coach to despatch the creatures following, crushing their heads when the pressure grew too much. I closed my eyes to the sound of cracking bone, the faces gone from the window, nausea drawing up from my throat.

On hearing Ryan’s intake of breath I knew the time had come to open my eyes, to see what I knew would be the other side, but even as we edged forward, I struggled to bring myself to face the view again, despite knowing from his quickening breath, Ryan had taken in the full horror.

 

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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 104

Flinching away, falling, I pushed my eyes wide as my good hand grasped for something to hold, something to pull up, to strike out with. Ignoring the stars pinging across my vision, a clawed hand shot from the right to block my view as I collapsed, rolling left, falling between the seats, stunned, eyes fixed on the hand grasping through the missing clear partition. My back crunched into the cubes of glass, but despite my vision still stained with what I’d seen through the blood-smeared windscreen, I scrabbled backward across the line of seats in the dark to the strobe of light flashing as hands reached through the covering. No longer paying attention to the pain in my hand, adrenaline compensating, I reached the canvas where I’d entered and pushed against it hard with my back. It bowed outward but still left me trapped.

Breath drew in shallow and fast. I couldn’t tell left from the right, couldn’t tell from which side I’d entered. I’d turned, scratching at the canvas, still ignoring the pain, but it stayed firm, despite my frustration. I called out, my words getting weaker. His name ringing out, all the while knowing he would be too far away, he would be where I’d told him to stay, not close enough rip open the cover, to free me from the heat beating down inside the dark greenhouse.

My face dripping with sweat and about to stand, to push against the canvas, light flashed on for longer than it had before and I glanced around fearful, but excited to see Ryan saving the day. Instead I saw a gruesome head in the light, its face patched dark, soon joined by another as I stared, captivated by the dead soldier falling through the gap, its gnashing teeth energised by my panic.

I backed up, turned, forcing my trainers to kick out at the stiff canvas. Breath ran away, darkness descending as the first of the creatures fell through the partition, the sheet of olive drab covering the window, obscuring my only light. I screamed, the feminist inside me dying a little, but those concerns were nothing in the moment. I couldn’t see its advance, but its crawl was as clear as if I could, the scrabble over the canvas seat, the trickle of the glass to the floor as it follow in my journey. I screamed again even though I knew it would just remind the creature of my location, even though it was already so close, the stench of death I would never get used to stingy my lungs, bile rising as I coughed between gasps of air.

Why had Ryan listened? Why had he done as I asked and not followed me into danger, at least he could have stood to the side ready to help? Amid my panic I saw the faces of my parents, saw my colleagues in their buildings around the world, the buildings they thought they would be safe in, with the twenty-four-hour security guards and thick concrete walls. But how wrong they were. The army couldn’t protect us from these creatures, most of them were the enlisted. I’d yet to see a battle where we had won, where the mental jar of the creature’s appearance didn’t cause us to pause, didn’t stop us from striking out, didn’t prevent wasting those first precious moments.

They were relatively easy to defend against, if only you knew you had to protect yourself, if only you didn’t stand there transfixed, eyes wide trying to figure out if the creature from so many horror movies was real and how could it exist. Their main advantage was forcing us to kill our friends and family if we wanted to survive. If only people knew they were already long dead.

Chocking down a deep breath, I balled my fist, knowing it would be of little use, but at least I would go down trying, pausing my thought as I wandered if what I’d just felt was its rancid breath blowing across my face.

Light came from the front of the truck, the other creature falling through, but I barely took notice as I saw the first soldier, half his face covered in blood, nearly on me. Throwing myself back against the canvas in a vain hope it would give way, but I wasn’t surprised when didn’t. Instead I kicked out my legs, grabbing on to whatever I could in the dark, gripping tight to anchor myself down, ignoring the pain in my bulging hand. My foot made contact. Kicking again, harder this time, spurred on by the slap of my sole against something giving way each time I connected.

Another shot, followed quickly by my other foot, both hitting home, the creature snarling as it took the blows. I imagined its mouth lashing out, lips curled. I kicked again, following through with my left, then pulling back for another volley, I realised my foot was trapped, the pressure on my toes immense as tried to throw my legs left and right. The muffled sounds of effort told me what I already knew. My foot had clamped in the creature’s mouth. I felt the scratch of fingers, nails scraping down my jeans. I pushed my right foot out as hard as I could, but it sailed through the air not making contact. I closed my eyes, the intense pain in my foot sapping all my energy. This was it.

 

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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 103

I didn’t ask for her meaning, knew she’d turned and knew with her went my chance to question. I knew from the rhythm of her feet padding on the hard ground she was running in the opposite direction. I knew from her words she’d told the truth; the truth being what I’d sought. I’d done my job, fulfilled my role, explored my passion to expose wrong and those in authority abusing their positions, but it hurt no less to know such a big part of my life had been false. To know what I had given, tried to give, had been taken, chewed and thrown away.

I questioned if there had been signs of her disfunction, had blind feelings put those down to quirks of personality? I wandered if Hitler’s companions had done the same?

I tried to stop my breath flinching at the comparison.

Turning, I didn’t look after. She had every right to leave, to turn down a role in my task, my goal which could end so badly for me, for everyone. Who knew?

My eyes fell on Ryan, a smile lifting my lips to see him stood on top of the van, his hand shielding his eyes from the bright morning as he peered across the blocked road.

“Can we make it?” I said calling toward the roof as I walked back, knowing one way or another I was getting through the mess. He didn’t reply and I imagined the thoughts spread across his features. Imagined him scratching his head as I walked along the side of the van, my eyes elsewhere other than the movement in the coach frenzying as a drew nearer, elsewhere other than the slight rock of the olive drab truck in a slow side-to-side rhythm.

“Jess,” I heard him call as I neared the coach, only giving the rattle of the door the barest notice, ignoring the slight parting of the clear plastic as the short bodies clambered to be the first to break through, the first to pierce my flesh, the first to fill themselves. I paid more attention to the paint scraped down its side, the buckled panels, black scuffs running the white length until blocked by the back of the truck. I listened, tried to feel, to sense behind the canvas, what lay behind of the musty green cover. The truck rocked with a gentle movement, but the canvas didn’t bulge, didn’t pulse with hands reaching out.

I heard Ryan’s steps down the ladder, feet landing to the road and I lifted my hand behind me, palm out to stop him from getting any closer. When I could no longer hear his steps along the road, I moved my hand back, unpicking the ties with good fingers, taking in a deep breath as I lifted. It was dark inside, nothing came from where I couldn’t see, no fingers jumped out, clawing for the softness of my eyes. I undid enough ties for me to fit through and I climbed, awkward with only one hand to steady, but I’d made it into the back still alive, unbitten.

Welcoming the musty air, I blinked, testing my vision with each opening, the four rows of seats lining the sides and centre grew clearer in my vision with each opening. They were empty, but the space between was not, instead lined with boxes stacked higher than the rows where soldiers should have sat. I climbed on the nearest long rectangular box, plastic, but couldn’t be sure, my thoughts elsewhere, beads of sweat forming across my forehead as the morning sun trapped under the canvas. I headed forward, slowly sliding on my knees, eyes fixed on the edges of light toward the front.

Air pulled sharp between my teeth, forcing myself steady with both hands as my knee found the space between two boxes. I wouldn’t let it slow me as I bridged the gap and my hand soon felt the flap of canvas I hoped covered a window to the cab.

Reaching out with my left hand, I told myself I’d seen the worst. I tried to prepare for the horror I knew moved beyond the thin fabric, beyond the glass the other side. I told myself the worst I could see was traffic lined up blocking the road, ending our path, sending us for hours around another way. Blood and guts were nothing new. No injury could top what had already burnt into my dreams.

I took a deep breath before lifting the fabric. A pale pink light flashed my eyes shut, but as the image went to black, I’d seen enough to regret not bringing the gun.

 

 

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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 102

“What did you say?” I said spinning around to find her standing peering past me to the block in the road, the knife scraping around the inside of the tin.

“You need to go the other way,” she said, dropping the can to the thin table mounted to the side of the van.

“No,” I said stepping forward. “What did you say about the doctor? What do you know about Toni?”

She raised her left eyebrow, her eyes meeting mine for the first time as she licked the meat from the tip of the knife. Letting her right hand and the knife drop, with her left hand she swept hair from her face one side, then the next, tilting her head, before catching one last glance through the windscreen. Nodding forward, she spoke.

“That’s where they were going,” she said. “That’s where I don’t want to be.”

“Who?” I said. She narrowed her brow.

“The Doctors,” she replied. I took a step toward her, my heart pulsing in my ears and my swollen hand.

“What do you know about the doctors?” I said, voice raised. She lifted her brow, pulling herself up to full height, which was only just a little shorter than my five foot ten. “Speak, for goodness’ sake,” I shouted when she didn’t reply. Her chest thrust forward as she filled her lungs, her hand gripped hard around the knife. “I’m sorry,” I added, pushing out my palms. “They did things to me, the doctors,” I said softening my tone. “I need to find them. Make them pay.” I watched as her brow fell forward, lips covering her teeth. “How do you know the Doctors? Did they do things to you?” She squinted, her forehead creasing, fingers tightening around the knife handle again. I took another step. “You don’t have to say, just tell me what you know. Tell me where they are.”

The van moved, rolling, but in the wrong direction. I turned back to see the coach and the truck receding in the view.

“No,” I shouted, jumping the few steps to back within the seats. “No,” I repeated. “We have to find a way round. What if this is our only way of getting through, it could take hours to go another way, even if we can find an empty road?” The van rocked to a stop with Ryan silent, just his frown voicing his discontent with the plan, but the light coming from behind and the click of the lock span my attention around to the back.

I raced through the open doors, jumping to the tarmac as the woman ran down the road, she’d left one bag behind and soon dropped the last as I called after.

“Please, I need to know.” I watched on as she slowed, her head turning over her shoulder, her eyes falling from me to the bag and its contents spilt on the floor at my feet. She kept on walking. I sobbed, quickly turning back to make sure Ryan had done nothing stupid like getting out of the van and following. Picking up the bag I let the tears fall to the tarmac as I lifted the tins of food and pushed them back into the bag.

A breath sucked in hard as two dirty trainers arrived at the top of my vision. I stood up straight, wincing with the pain, offering out the full bag as I tried to draw my tears away with a deep breath. She stood in front of me with a crisp white handkerchief offered in her hand. The tears stopped, my face relaxing as I set the bag down between us, taking the folded square from her dirt clogged hand and dabbed at the moisture on my cheeks.

“Thank you,” I replied, her eyes staring as I wiped my face.

“Why do you want to find them?” she said, her soft voice nearly lost in the wide open space. “They’re terrible people. The worst.”

“I’m a reporter,” I said.

“I know,” she replied.

“I was in love with Toni,” I said.

“I know,” she said, nodding. I ignored her reply, putting it down to exposure, tiredness or maybe hunger.

“They did bad things to me,” I said. Still she nodded.

“They did bad things to many people,” she replied.

“They did this,” I said, sweeping my hands across the view, taking in the columns of smoke.

“I know,” she replied. “But what are you trying to achieve?”

“I want the world to know what they did, what they’re doing so they can be stopped, so people can prepare. I want to destroy them and make them pay.” She nodded. “Tell me,” I said, knowing the answer before I asked the question. “How do you know all this?” 

“I’ve seen your picture in her office. I’ve seen the grand plan spread across her wall.”

“How?” I replied. She took a deep breath and swallowed down hard.

“I used to be one of them,” she replied, drawing the knife up high, but my brain was too fogged to give any reply.

“What’s she doing at the hospital?” I said, ignoring the glint of the knife raised above my head.

“Collecting samples,” she replied, leaning down to take the bag. I didn’t move, didn’t back away, just stared to the ground, not seeing anything but Toni’s face.

“Samples of what?” I said, the words barely voiced.

“Children who’ve been exposed.”

“Exposed to what?” 

“The virus in the air,” she said, the bag raising through my vision.

“Why children?”

She didn’t reply, instead took a step back.

“Why children?” I repeated looking up.

“Because they’re the future. Right? And they make the best hosts.”

 

 

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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 101

Her eyes were wider than I imagined Ryan’s were at my back. Her surprise greater than his when I returned the long knife after what she’d done. Although the pause between us felt like an age, the creatures moving through the doorway had barely taken a step before her decision was made. Surging toward the opening, she soon blocked my view with her wide coat, her arms diving up and down, movement silent except for the slash of the knife as it connected to bone and the heavy fall of the bodies as they went down in quick succession.

Ryan stood at my side and we shared a moment. He’d had no time to put the equipment down, no time to grab the gun from the bed before it was over and she stood beckoning us through the corridor with her fingers in silence as thick blood dripped from the knife. With the gun in my hand, I followed, Ryan behind, laden with the camera and equipment to find her outside scouring the horizon, looking around the side of the building, searching for threats. She nodded towards the van and my eyes fell on the dark blood dripping down the side by the driver’s door, above the wide hole in the metal where the shrapnel had flown out and into Ryan.

I climbed in the back, Ryan insisting I go first and he took the driver’s seat, not starting the engine, instead looking to me for the answer as we watched the woman, the girl which we still didn’t know, slip back in through the open door of the building.

Sat in silence, giving him no cues, my eyes fell across the skyline. Columns of smoke lined the horizon. As my heart slowed I could taste the thickness in the air while watching the rainbow of depressing colour flowing from black to white across the spectrum. The green fields were void of life as they rolled out to disappear where they met the dirty, cloudless sky, the road empty of traffic as it travelled relentless left and right. The image had a certain perfection and I looked towards Ryan about to prompt him to set up the camera, but the girl, the woman, rushed from the building, her arms laden with bags bulging at the edges. She stopped as she spotted us in the van, surprise turning her head to the side, smile dropping from the corners of her mouth. It was clear she’d thought we would have left her and the raise of her eyebrows, eyes glinting with hope as she stared in our direction, broke my heart. Had it only taken a few days, a week at the most, to strip this girl, this woman, of her faith in humanity?

Her features hardened and she let her hair drop back to cover her face while she moved past the van, walking away. I ran through the back, regretting my enthusiasm as I jumped out the doors jarring my hand, but sucked down the pain as I called after her, not holding back my voice.

“Come with us,” I said. She turned, her lips curled up. What I could see of her face twisted feral, but she didn’t linger on mine for long, snapping her head around the view. I shouted again and watched her anger rise and I forced down a smile as I watched movement appear from around the front of the building, but instead of focusing on the chef whose uniform could no longer be called whites, I called again and jumped back in the van.

“Start the engine,” I said and Ryan did as I asked, the grumble of the mechanics coming to life only spurring on the middle aged man with a rend in his great belly. The girl, woman, scowled at me through the glass, but ran to the back, slamming the doors closed after she jumped in, her reluctance obvious in her scowl. Ryan pulled us in a wide arc away from the chef.

“You’re safer with us,” I said joining her as she stood in the back. “We’re safer with you,” I added, pushing my left hand out, my lips in a wide smile. She stood in the corner, clutching the bags to her stomach. “Sit. Eat. We can talk when you’re ready.”

We drove for five minutes before she let the bags drop, before she sat on the floor, pulling out a can of corned beef and turning the key to release the meat. I tried not to watch her, tried to stop my mouth from wanting the food, instead I asked her name again, looking away when she didn’t answer. Soon the van slowed and I called out to the front.

“What is it?” I said, standing when Ryan didn’t answer and we’d drawn to a stop. Arriving between the seats I felt the blood drain from my face as I stared on at the white coach wedged side by side with an olive green truck. Together they blocked the narrow road and despite the dark interior, I watched the writhing masses inside.

My heart jumped as a delicate voice spoke from behind, nearly fainting as I processed the words.

“We’re going the wrong way. We’re supposed to be getting away from the Doctor Lytham and her mother.”

 

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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 Hundred

“No,” I screamed. “No,” I repeated over and again, watching as Ryan stood tall, eyes wide as he tried to prepare for the attack, pain etched on his face as he spread his weight across both his legs. I picked up a thick candle resting on the floor, the only object close by and hurled it while still screaming for her to stop. Its weight slapped against her shoulder and she turned to face me for just a moment, eyes wide with confusion, giving enough of a distraction for Ryan to surge forward, smacking the knife from her hands, the blade clattering to the floor as Ryan wrapped his arms around her, squeezing hard against her convulsions.

Hurrying, I bent at the knees, snatching up the simple key I’d dropped to the floor, swapping it to my ballooned hand, biting down the pain. Fumbling in the lock, my hand like I wore five pairs of gloves. Relief flooded through me when the lock snapped open and I could let go of the key, freeing the stars from my view. I drew a deep breath before leaping the short few paces to Ryan and the girl still flailing in his arms, the vulgar language screamed on the edge of making even me blush.

“It’s okay,” I said, being careful not to get too close as she kicked out. “It’s okay,” I said again. “We’re the good guys,” I said, trying the softest voice I could manage in the moment. The rattle of the shutters didn’t help, the rise in the urgency of the beat did nothing to promote her calm.

Trying to normalise my tone, I looked up to Ryan, his face bunched with the effort. “Did you lock the door?” I said nodding to the corridor. Somewhere in the mix of his struggle I saw Ryan shake his head and I forced my voice to soften again. “It’s okay, we’re leaving now. This place isn’t safe any more,” I said, then pushed my good hand out, but drew back as her eyes locked onto my fingers and she tried to push her head forward, snapping her teeth together. “You can come with us.” I looked up to Ryan, his head shaking. Any minute now he was going to gave to let go, the struggle sapping his energy, her kicking legs so close to the injury.

“Let her go,” I said, looking back to the knife, making sure I knew exactly where it was. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m from the telly,” I said looking up to Ryan as I shrugged my shoulders. 

Hers eyes opened and she held my gaze, her motions slowing, legs taking her weight. Her head titled to the side as she frowned. I nodded up to Ryan and as his arms sprung wide, she fell to the floor, her body shaking.

Taking a step forward, Ryan stepping back, pushing his hands out as he shook his head. I tried to reassure him with a nod, holding my good palm out in her direction.

“It’s okay,” I said as her movement slowed on the floor. “What’s your name? When did you last eat?” I said, waiting for her head to raise.

There was silence between us, but the clatter of the shutters didn’t let up. I moved away. 

“We’re going,” I said. “Grab food and go on your way, but you’re much safer with us than you are alone out there.”

The rattle of the shutters stopped and I scooped up the knife, wrapping it in my red jacket and skirt, still damp at the edges. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Ryan tentatively move away from the girl, the woman, I couldn’t quite decide her age as she stood, her head bent low, eyes peering around the room through a tangled mop of brown hair.

“You thought I’d left you?” Ryan said as he picked up one of the camera cases, lifting the camera still connected to the tripod in the other hand. I looked sideways at him, but didn’t answer. “I would have left you the key,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, the words dripping with sarcasm. “My hero,” I added.

“Just friends,” he said shooting me a grin, the smile falling as he turned back the woman, my eyes following his as she stood there with the hair gone from her face, her eyes roving over the rows of shelves.

“Take what you need,” I said. “It’s yours.” She didn’t reply, instead turning rapidly on the spot, her hair trailing behind as she twisted to face the corridor, eyes wide. We both knew what she saw and swapping the bundle of clothes to rest on my other arm, I walked beside the young stranger, pulling the knife from between my clothes and offering her the handle with Ryan shouting at my back.

“NO!”

 

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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 Ninety Nine

I gripped the tin of beans bulky in my hand, my wrist weighed down by the chain hanging heavy. With the footsteps getting near I daren’t raise the tin high, afraid the rattle of the metal links would advertise my presence. Breath caught in my lungs as I heard another sound, the drag of something bulky along the floor behind each echoing step. My mind raced to form the worst pictures inside my head.

Searching left and right, desperate to find a space to hide, somewhere to give cover which I’d overlooked all this time, but no matter how my eyes flitted around the clearing, no miraculous safe room appeared for me to enter. Movement flashed into view through the doorway and I raised the can, the chains alive with song as I released towards the figure, the cuffs tight against my wrists, snapping back at the full extent of my reach. The can bounced off the torso, splitting against the tiles, tomato sauce flooding the floor as it skidded to a stop.

I stood open-mouthed, Ryan lifting his head as if struggling to raise, the first stage of a bruise reddening his left cheek. My eyes followed down his arms, skipping from the gun in his right to the bundle of heavy clothes held in his left, a mop of mousey brown hair falling around his hand as he held the bundle by the scruff of a jacket, a trail of blood in their wake.

I backed away until the chain would let me go no further, fear raging through my chest, until his eyes sought mine across the room, wide and seeking my attention. Ryan threw the gun to my bed and bent down, turning the sack over, sweeping the hair to reveal a young woman’s dirty face.

Breath held in my lungs until I remembered to pull deep, watching as he bent over, sliding up his left jeans leg, the bottom of which soaked with blood. He looked up as I peered at the black shard of metal stuck in the side of his ankle, his hand reaching out for the first aid kit beside my bed. I rushed over, the chain rattling as I did and he shook his head, the pain obvious as he pushed his hand to his pocket, pulling the key and swapping it for the open green box.

“What happened?” I said with the key held in my good hand, sticky with his blood drying on my fingers. “I woke and you’d gone. I thought,” I said, but couldn’t continue the words.

He didn’t reply, instead shook his head as he rifled through the contents of the small kit, letting the bandages and dressings spill to the floor. Then as he pulled apart the foil of an antiseptic wipe, he nodded over to the girl who still hadn’t moved.

“Is she okay?” I said, peering over.

“Is she okay,” he replied, the words darting from his mouth.

“You’re fine, looks like a scratch,” I shot back.

He raised his eyebrows, his expression stern. I raised mine back, mimicking his expression until his face melted to a thin smile.

“You were tossing and turning, that bloody chain kept me awake all night. I ended up spending most of it getting the camera to work.” I raised my eyebrows, titling my head to the side and he nodded in reply. “When I finally got to sleep, I woke to the sound of the engine running. I darted out of bed and there was this little shit driving off in the van.”

“You ran after her?” I said, a smile rising. He nodded, turning down to the wound, clenching his teeth as he pulled the jagged triangle of metal, dropping it to the tile with a high clatter. “Luckily she couldn’t get the gears working. I bet she’s never driven before. I caught up with her, yanked the door open.”

“You shot her,” I said, my eyes wide, looking back to the gun as I tried to reach out to check her over, but the chain held me back. 

“No,” he said, his tone defensive. “She tried to grab the gun and we got into a scuffle, it went off, the bullet bouncing off the metal of the van, shrapnel flying into straight into my leg.”

I looked down at the slumped body which still hadn’t moved, raising my eyebrows.

“Yes I hit her. What else could I do?” he replied. “No sooner had the gun gone off when there were creatures coming out of everywhere. I took two out, but I bet there’s more on their way. We should go,” he said, nodding back towards the door.

“If she can’t even drive, then how did she get into the van?” Ryan didn’t reply. “She can’t drive, but she can hot wire?”

He turned his head down, wrapping the bandage around his leg, drawing in sharp air through his teeth.

“I may have left the keys in the ignition last night,” he said, his voice quiet.

I raised my eyebrows, biting my tongue, my joy at his return holding back my outpouring.

“I told you you’ll be fine,” I said. “I thought you’d left,” I said. Ryan looked up, his head turned at an angle, his smile growing. I forced a frown, but it fell, my head darting around to the shutters as they clattered with a heavy bang. We both knew what it meant, especially after the words he’d just finished and together our heads twisted around to the corridor, but stopped as the sack of clothes jumped to the air, the coat unfurling, the long, triangle of a kitchen knife glinting in the sun pouring from the skylights. Her bright blue eyes fixed on the chain, rising to my face full of alarm, then resting on Ryan as she charged forward, her dirt smothered face bunched and the mouth full of white teeth bared as she raised the knife above her head higher with each bound.

 

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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 Ninety Eight

The pain in my hand told me it wasn’t a dream although the dull ache in my swollen fingers had improved from the sharp stab with each pump of my heart before I’d slept. The rattle of the chain as I sat up rang high in my ears confirming it wasn’t the result of chemicals forming pictures in my mind. As did the hunger deep in my belly when I looked around the ruffled blankets where I’d slept to see if he’d at least left me the key.

He hadn’t.

I should have known. Why had a trusted a man like him? Was he always going to do this all along, despite our burgeoning friendship?

I laughed to myself, shaking my head. Was it only a day since we’d met? But my thoughts darkened as the sound of the engine headed further into the distance. Was it his damaged ego which made him leave? The dent in his masculinity when I’d turned him away, when I’d killed any advance before it could cross his mind. Experience told me what thoughts were heavy in his mind. I’d lumped him with all the men I’d spent time with, each of them who saw me as a challenge, a trophy to turn and etch into the bedpost. A fantasy come true if only he could convince me to bring my girlfriend along to his bedroom.

They’re so kind at first, such gentle men like him. He’d saved my life and me his, but how much of it had been an act to get my clothes off and when he found I wasn’t going to fall, he took off. The pressure rose in my chest, the knot in my stomach growing at the thought of him not even unlocking my bounds or leaving me the key. Knowing I would be at the mercy of the first person to come through the door, alive or otherwise.

Since I was a teen I’d needed no one. Never a man before now and I hated Toni even more for putting me in this position. I knew she’d always wanted me in her control. Our fights, the ends of our serene weeks together came, at least partly because I am my own person. I could never be called hers, would never submit myself fully to another, would never end being me until my heart stopped beating in my chest. At least that phrase still has meaning. Although the dead rose, they weren’t the people they were when they’d lived.

Standing, I traced out the semi-circle with the chain fully extended and my arm stretched as far as it would go. I swallowed down the rising bile of anger and tried to reach out for the shelves as the chain links scratched against the pipe jutting to the wall and into the radiator, the metal like an amplifier. Still, I couldn’t reach any of the shelves and none of the useful items my imagination hoped could help me get free.

My eyes fell on one of rugged plastic boxes open by Ryan’s bed and the smallest of the cameras set up on a tripod, the lens pointing down the aisle; the manual resting open between the three legs.

I held my gaze, stopping my movement, taking a deep breath, my head tilting to the side. The space left by the terrible rattle of the chains filling with confused thought.

Why had he worked to figure out the camera when he would do a runner in the morning?

The thoughts fell from my head as I heard a gun shot in the distance, a second coming soon after with the crunch of gears in the distance. A third soon followed with barely a space as another shook through me, my eyes turning to the windows blocked by the shutters. I pulled hard on the chain, yanking till the tension was too much for my wrist, letting it relax, but it hadn’t come loose, didn’t release its grip. I drew a deep breath, holding still, welcoming the silence, my fear for the noise echoing out through the door sending an invitation to all those around. I hoped it wasn’t too late.

I listened out for more gunfire, for engine sounds, trying to keep still, but while looking around. My eyes caught on anything heavy, water bottles, a can of beans still sealed. Anything I could wield one handed, searching for what would give me the best defence against whatever made the slow, heavy footsteps coming from the corridor.

 

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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 Ninety Seven

With the torches dimmed, my eyes closed anyway, his fingers were at the hem of my vest and I slowly lifted my arms as his hands climbed, my skin prickling with heat, goose bumps rushing across my torso and not just because of the cold air licking at my damp skin. The sensation kept my mind from the pain as I lifted both my hands high, sinking to my knees while he lifted the vest over my head, over my arms as he stood behind, throwing the top to the pile with the jacket. I waited, listening to his breath, somehow the calm air still brushing across my body, licking away the last of the moisture, my skin alive with sensation, every inch prickling with electricity.

“Your bra?” he said, his words slow, punctuated with a heavy swallow and an abrupt finish. The deepness of his voice forced a pull of breath and I shook my head, standing, remembering the darkness.

“I’m not,” I said and he apologised.

“Oh,” he said to the rip of plastic as he pulled the t-shirt from its packet. I knelt in front of him and I opened my eyes, my breath catching in my throat as I could see his outline, his eyes looking away, head shaking. The room was brighter than I’d been expecting, I could see more detail than I thought possible. So could he. I didn’t care where the soft light came from. I knelt, my hands still to the air and looked up as he concentrated, guiding the fabric first over my bad hand, relaxing only when it had cleared, pulling it over the other.

I stood, letting my hands relax, he took one side of the hem and I took the other. Together we pulled down the top slowly, my breath catching as electricity sparked from my pronounced nipples as the fabric snagged as it passed. The rest I could manage, and I let the skirt drop, my hand hovering at the band of my knickers, but I didn’t know why, did not understand how my mouth curled, why I’d bitten down light on my bottom lip. Ryan stared at my silhouette, my shadow looked back, eventually he bent to the side and pulled a pair of fresh underwear from the pile.

“Do you?” he said. I held back my reply, swallowing down my thoughts, confusion at my body’s reaction clouding my mind.

“No, thank you. It’s fine,” I said and took the cotton from his hand and disappeared behind a shelf to finish dressing, waiting longer than it took, taking time to search my thoughts, to resolve the feelings rippling in my head.

“Thank you,” I replied, trying to ignore my disappointment he’d already changed as I arrived back to the clearing, the candles flickering as he stood by his bed.

We sat and ate cold beans from cans without talking, but I didn’t care, each mouthful soothing my pain as I listened to the air void of sound other from my companion eating. Tiredness fogged my thoughts. I hadn’t slept since I didn’t know when and I could feel myself drifting, eyes heavy, my heart beat rising at the thought.

“You need to tie me up,” I said. Ryan sat straight, not giving a reply. “I need to sleep,” I said, but he didn’t get my meaning, his brain frozen on the words. “It’s not safe to be around me. You need to tie me up in case I can’t control myself.”

I felt frustration bubbling in my belly, at least I hoped it was the reason for the feeling. Ryan sat up straight trying to force his smile down.

“I’m not going to fuck you,” I said, the raise of my voice seemed to echo out. “Women are my thing, right,” I said lowering my tone. “You’re safe from my advances, but if the medicine I’ve already had isn’t enough, then you won’t know what hit you.”

With my words his face fell and he stood, disappearing out of the light. I closed my eyes, letting go of a deep breath, using my good hand to rub the water from my eyes.

I heard him before I saw his shape in the light. Heard the rattle of the chain before I saw its gleam in the flicker of the candle, the cuff already around my good wrist, the empty bracelet ready to clip to the free ends once its length had encircled the pipes leading up to the radiator on the far wall.

With the bracelets fixed he didn’t say a word and I lay down, turning back and forth to find comfort and closed my eyes, hoping I would see the morning with the same perspective. Knowing I was in his hands if I survived the night intact. Knowing with my good hand tied, I would defenceless against his or anything else’s advance. My last thoughts couldn’t help but wander if I should have let him down with a little less volume. It wasn’t his fault he was the latest in a long line of people who thought they could change my programming.

In the blink of an eye I opened my eyes. The room was the same, but different in every way with daylight pouring from the skylights I hadn’t noticed last night. An engine revved too hard close by, but it was clear it was moving away. I turned for Ryan to shout for him to wake, to call out so he would know someone was stealing the van, but his hand-build bed was empty, the gun missing from where it had rested at his side. If this wasn’t a dream, I’d made it through the night, but if this wasn’t just inside my head, I’d not only scared away my cameraman, he’d abandoned me and left me for dead.

 

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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 Ninety Six

“We have to do it now. We have to,” I said as Ryan arrived at my back.

A huff of air from his lungs was his only response as I felt him trying to peer past my shoulder.

“Your medicine?” he said and I gave a shallow nod. He kept quiet, not replying for a long moment. “How long have you got?”

“I have no idea,” I replied. Closing my eyes I tried to relax, tried to slow the thoughts racing through my head. How long did I have? How did I feel? I asked myself without speaking. The hunger was obvious, a sensation I’d learnt to dread, but the emptiness in my stomach wasn’t alone, accompanied with a deep pain in my chest and a vacant chasm where blood pushed out across my body.

“What can I do?” Ryan said, his voice solemn.

“We should go,” I replied with no time between the words.

“It’s too dangerous at night. We’ll end up in a ditch on the side of the road or in the middle of nowhere with no chance of help. Is that how you want it to end?”

I stood on the spot, taking in his words. I had to go. I had to be next to Toni when it was all over, but I didn’t want Ryan near me when the end came. The plan formed as the thoughts scattered across my brain. I would wait for him to leave to pick the lock. When the door opened and he was safely inside, I’d take the van and hope I could make it as far as the hospital. I knew she’d welcome me in, knew she’d be grateful to see me and then I’d change, I’d let myself go, let the resistance drop, go all the way without holding myself back. She’d be my first victim, then I’d end it all.

Opening my eyes, I turned to Ryan.

“Never mind,” I said. “Let’s get inside,” and watched as he smiled, turned, picking up the lock picks and handcuffs before opening the window, peering either side for a moment. Soon at the door, he concentrated on the lock as I moved to the driver’s seat watching left and right for visitors, practicing in my mind what I would do when I saw him disappear through the door.

The door opened before I’d thought it all through. He’s skilled, but I wasn’t sure it was something which deserved a compliment. Now was the time and I went to put my hands on the steering wheel, but had to stifle the scream as pain reminded me of how stupid my plan had been.

Ryan was back out, his face beaming, eyebrows twitching when he saw the grit of my teeth as he opened the door.

“You okay?” he said and I nodded. “You’ll love this place,” he added, forcing himself to keep his voice low.

I drew a deep breath, pushing up my on-camera smile and let him help me down the tall step, let him guide me through the door as he pointed a torch out in front.

Ryan saw a corridor with doors to the left and right.

I saw the radiators clinging to the walls, wandering if the pipes would be strong enough to hold the cuffs as I tried to rip my hands free.

Ryan saw the store room packed with rows of boxes on shelves. I saw the door banded with steel, trying to figure out where the owners lept the key and if the windows were reinforced enough to keep Ryan safe in the night.

Ryan saw rows of shelves containing boxes of food, much like a supermarket, racks of clothes on rotary hangers, giant numbers corresponding to multipack boxes at their side. I saw the lack of bolts holding the steel to the concrete floor, knowing I would pull it free, knowing I would drag it behind me when I turned.

“It’s great, isn’t it?” he said, then looked back, almost skipping the way we’d come, pointing to a row of torches hanging on shelves by their fabric cords as he passed.

“Yeah great,” I said, my underwhelming words quiet once he’d gone. “A great place to die,” I said, scanning the shelves, not taking any notice of what I’d seen.

I wandered through the isles, catching sight across the shelves as Ryan made trips outside, his eyes finding mine each time he came through the door carrying the plastic equipment boxes from the back of the van. After locking the door closed, he toured the aisles, his white smile beaming as he bundled blankets, food and water in to his arms before heading to the back of the shop floor. After what must have been half an hour he found me, carrying two lit torches in his hand, passing one over whilst guided me to the rear. I couldn’t stop my mouth forming a smile as I he shined his torch beam on the nest he’d been building.

He’d cleared away racks of clothes, pushed them to the side. In the space cleared he’d piled ten or more blankets on the floor, forming two rectangular beds, both spaced a good distance apart. Around each bed he’d placed unlit candles, batteries and boxes of food beside bottles of water and a first aid kit resting on the top of the bed to the left. My eyebrows raised at the jeans and t-shirt spread in the centre and I twisted, raising my eyebrows.

“Risky business,” I said.

“Huh,” he replied.

“Choosing a lady’s clothes,” I said and couldn’t help but let a gentle laugh trickle after.

“We should change first,” he said, his voice quiet and nervous as he watched my eyes raise until I winced lifting my hand from my chest. “I can,” he said then stopped, filling the air with a pause. “I can help if you don’t mind,” he said, the words slow and broken. “I could turn the lights off?”

His words caught me by surprise. Well, not the words themselves, but my body’s reaction. In the silence I could hear his breath, hear mine too, but I hoped he couldn’t sense the sudden race of the engine in my chest.

 

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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 Ninety Five

“Get the camera out,” I said, turning to Ryan. He pushed the brake pedal and we rocked to a stop, staring back open-mouthed. “We’ve got to film this, we’ve got to let people know. This is how we can help, this is how we can make a difference.” He looked on, staring wide eyed, his only reaction was to turn away, wiping his mouth with his right hand, taking a hard swallow.

“This is worse than we could have imagined,” he said. “I thought back there, I thought it could be the end of this. I thought it was over.” 

I nodded. 

“So did I,” I said, sliding along the seats, twisting toward him and placing my left hand on his shoulder, sucking back the pain as I shuffled. “There’s no dressing it up. This couldn’t be worse, it could be the end of the country, the end of the world, but we could give people a change if they can prepare, but they have to know what’s going on first. We could have a chance if those responsible were stopped from doing whatever it was they were trying to do.” If only I could live through the night without killing you, I didn’t say. He looked to my hand as it drifted down his arm. I pulled away, watching his brow lower. “We need to tell the world,” I said, ashamed of the pleading in my tone. “We need to find her and tell everyone what she’s done.”

He didn’t reply straight away, his eyes turning back to the road, fixing on the child’s body laying alone, then up to the creature passing between the blocks, its white eyes fixed square on our windscreen.

Ryan nodded, not turning to meet me.

“But not here. We need to keep safe, need to find somewhere to rest, get out of these wet clothes, find food and figure out how these fucking cameras of yours work.”

I looked out through the windscreen. He was right. There would be plenty of time to get some decent footage. I didn’t complain as the wheels rolled, instead forced myself to look at the child, to take in her pale cold face. Forcing the sight to my memory so I could describe her in great detail when I got on the air.

We varied our journey many times to avoid roadblocks found at almost every turn and the congregating dead walking along the line of hemmed-in cars, watching the number in the corner of the Sat Nav rise and fall, the sun sinking in the sky with each passing moment. Whilst in the back of my head a thought I couldn’t put my finger on nagged heavy and despite all my efforts I couldn’t pinpoint its source. After two hours we’d cleared ten miles, when we should have been in the hospital carpark setting up the camera, instead we were watching from so far away as the sun touched the horizon.

When eventually we came across a lone cottage on the side of the road, we both agreed without words we should stop and do the things we knew we should, but both soon decided without conversation this wasn’t the place when we saw the long line of blood covering the path leading up to the front door.

Darkness had fallen not long after, leaving only our headlights, the stars and the moon half bright in the sky. Ryan drove slowly knowing we had no spare tyre, the road so often littered with debris and cars abandoned at the side, pushed at rough angles down ditches and into hedges to clear a path. With little other choice, he pulled the van into the car park of a wide single storey white building, the headlights bright on it sign across the front, giving more than a flutter of optimism at the words ‘Cash and Carry’ in yellow on the dark board.

We drove around the perimeter slowly, turning the wheels to shine the headlights across every surface. The shutters at the front were down, but two wooden rear doors looked like they wouldn’t present Ryan with much of a challenge, if he was any good. Parking around the back to the nearest side door, Ryan emptied his pockets, searching for what, he didn’t say, but placed a brown leather wallet on the seat between us, a frown drawing on his face as in his left hand he pulled a thin metal screwdriver and the handcuffs I’d told him to bring along.

The realisation sparked through my head as I saw the metal bracelets. It had the medicine nagging my thoughts and I stood, my rise pulling at every aching nerve in my hand. I pushed between the seats into the back of the van, jabbing the light switch above my head and saw the vile, or what was left, the red liquid soaked into the carpet, drying around the broken glass edges and knew this would be my last night on earth.

 

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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 Ninety Four

The fingers of my right hand jarred against something cold and hard, curling around before I knew what it was, bringing it up before I could move my head, leaving my coordination alone to draw the rock down on the wide jaw sending its head twisting around. With a second blow, my heels pushed hard to get a grip, the rock smashing against its temple, the thick blood spraying out the least of my concerns. The charred animal went down, falling on top of me, its heavy head slapping to my empty belly, sending a wave of pain and nausea up through my throat, but I was more concerned to feel for its teeth unpicking my flesh.

When the pain didn’t sear through my once white vest, I knew it was out cold, or dead. I had no time to think about whether they had a consciousness to come out of. Two charcoaled creatures took its place in the attack, one either side with their hands out in front, lip-less mouths wide as they mashed their teeth. I threw the rock at the head of the one to the left, regretting as soon as my fingers released, the rock bouncing harmless from the side of its face, landing with a thump to my stomach and forcing the wind from my chest as my hands flailed left and right, pushing and shoving whilst trying to keep clear of both sets of mouths.

My hand slapped hard against a flash of white to my right, the pain radiating up my arm feeling bones broken into too many bits, stars in my eyes as I shook my head. There was only one row of assailants left, the right side clear, but I couldn’t tell how many had vanished, the one handed defence taking all my will. White flashed again, but this time to the left, the black of the creature attacking silhouetted against white, the large letters so well recognised hovering above its head.

With the slam of a door, Ryan appeared at my side, the creature punched in the head, then twice more. Ryan bent down and my ears exploded with noise and I was up in the air on my feet, pushed in through the open passenger door into the warmth. The van bounced over the ground as my hand throbbed nestled against my chest.

Breath settling, I watched the strewn bodies lifeless, but they had been before, now the word held new meaning. The bodies were still, except for one which some had power over its arms, the only bones able to hold weight. I watched as we drove past the abandoned flat tyre, the block of wood Ryan must have found in the back to rest the jack on top of, stopping it disappearing as he lifted the weight. The sky was clear until I peered over to the village where the wind blew the thick smoke in the opposite direction changing the bright daylight to night as it seemed there wasn’t a single part of the horizon not burning, not smouldering. I took hope in the strategy. The bombing had worked, despite our breach in their containment. There were no undead still walking.

Maybe, just maybe, this was the beginning of the end.

The pain had dulled by they time we were back on the smooth tarmac, my eyes scouring the horizon, scouring the sky for movement, for any sign of the living, for any sign of the dead.

“Thank you,” I said. 

“No need,” he replied. “You gave me the time I needed. I’m sorry about the hand. How is it?”

I looked down, afraid of what I’d see, but it wasn’t deformed or out of shape. The skin was darkening underneath and swelling up as I watched. I tried a tentative movement. My fingers wiggled slow, which was as brave as I got.

“I don’t think it’s broken, but it fucking hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” he replied.

“Rather the pain, than being dead.” 

He didn’t reply, instead placed the gun he’d left resting on his lap, to the seat in between us and fixed his face forward.

“What now?” he eventually said as he slowed for a T-junction with no signs showing the way.

“St Buryan,” I said, pulling out the Sat Nav from the glove compartment, handing it over to Ryan after trying to turn it on with my left hand.

He nodded and found the town, letting the mini computer choose the route, taking the left road as the van rolled slowly forward, the numbers in the corner falling from sixty as we did.

“We’re stopping for a change of clothes too,” he said and I closed my eyes, the thought of the candlelit bath coming into focus. “And painkillers and food.”

I let a smile bloom on my lips as we rolled slowly down the narrow country road only just wide enough for the white lines to mark the two lanes, but it fell as Toni’s image appeared in my mind. Her bruised face, the emptiness in my stomach when I first saw her in that place, the sound of her voice as she made the call which brought me here, which tempted me back to her. I’d fallen all the way down the rabbit hole at her command. She’d called me for help, said she needed me, but was it really the reason I came, or was it the want of a story.

Ryan’s voice saying my name turned me away from the window I stared as if with my lids shut. I drew my eyes back to road and saw another junction, this time leading four ways. I looked to the little screen, saw we wanted to head straight over, but giant concrete cubes blocked the way and even if we could get passed, cars parked the other side with their doors open, boot lids high, glass missing from the windows. Bodies lay across the road, I counted more as the van trundled on, slowing within each passing moment.

I saw soldiers, civilians and a tear caught in my eye as I watched a young body in a red top, its colour leeching to the road. My eyes caught on a column of black smoke rising in the distance, then on another, five more fires scattered across the view, but it wasn’t until I saw a figure walking towards us from between the cars, a line of blue seen through the great hole in their once pristine white coat, that the emptiness returned to my stomach and I closed my eyes.

“Oh my god Toni. What had you done?”

 

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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 Ninety Three

At my command, it seemed at first, an explosion lit up the back end of the undead procession. Disintegrated flesh went skyward in a foul spray, the pieces slapping down to the ground in a shower I could only use my forearm to protect against. Ignoring the stench of burnt flesh, I looked up the drone now clear in my view. I wanted to wave at the pilots, wanted to see their faces so I could thank them, shake their hands, put them on camera to tell the nation not to worry because they were on the case, wanted to tell everyone they had our backs even though they were in no danger of contracting the terrible disease themselves.

As I watched with those thoughts running through my head, I looked back to the trail and counted what remained, raising a laugh because now I only had to put down two with each of my shots. I stepped back, waiting for the next launch to even the odds, ready to turn and take cover from the spray of barbecued stink. The whine of the drone’s engine changed as I counted and my heart fluttered, my optimism in danger of draining even before I twisted up to the sky. I saw its grey underbelly as it turned away, its thin wings empty of the missiles which could cut the odds to something more manageable, like one or two for me to despatch.

Pulling in a deep breath, I glanced behind, but turned away at Ryan’s frustration, the jack ripped from the under the van as he released it to stop it from sinking through the grass with each turn of the handle. I closed my eyes, letting my breath free, drawing another though my nose, regretting as I did, but not stopping, stubbornness forcing me to endure the foul air. Opening my eyes, I bit back the surprise as I saw they’d been closing the gap for longer than I thought, the creatures so much closer, two seconds more and they’d be in arms reach. I had to give Ryan time and lots of it, so I ran at a right angle, heading deeper to the moor, watching their heads for a decision, watching what remained of their minds choose who would be on the buffet. I forced the decision, firing off a shot which glanced off the lead creature’s shoulder, increasing the number I would need to kill with each remaining round as its blood sprayed in lumps on its shorter companion, the rest of its individuality destroyed by the raging fires.

I had to slow my backwards walk, the ground unsteady, my first few stumbles too much for my heart to take. A second shot reassured those whose decisions were waning. I am the tastier treat and took out the twice-baked creature, causing its following companion to fall over, giving welcome time to catch my breath.

With one eye on the rising van, I led them further away, my mind turning to the water still in my trainers, the dampness running through my clothes and the rub of harsh fabric on the seams of my skin. What I wouldn’t give for a rest, a cat nap then maybe a shower, or a soak in a bath surrounded by scented candles, drying myself with a fluffy warm towel and stepping into dry clothes not covered in decaying human flesh. I thought of Toni, her smile as she knelt down beside the bath, her fingers dancing on the surface of the water, promising her touch.

I stumbled back, twisting around to see what had caught my foot, my hands wheeling through the air, the pistol heavy until it fell. At first I thought it was a judge’s wig, then I saw its belly wide open, the great rend surrounding a cavity picked clean of the organs which should have been inside, blood and dark gristle clinging to the woollen edges. All this seen before my ass hit the grass, sending a jarring pain shooting up through my spine, freezing my body with panic as I looked to the cloudless blue sky, all too soon interrupted with a blackened, bald head rearing down, its yellowed teeth pocking out from burnt gums, snapping open and closed. My eyes fixed on the pink of its tonsils as the sky blotted out, my hands blind as they swept the ground either side for the gun they just couldn’t find.

 

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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 Ninety Two

“We’re stuck,” he said. “We’re clinging to the fence,” he added, urgency raising the words as I turned with heavy eyes, mouth hanging open.

“Really?” I said twisting back as I dipped the clutch, pulling my foot from the accelerator.

“How?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I replied, my words loud, lowering only as I swore under my breath. A distant memory of a snowy day flooded into my concentration, the one week of iced water falling from the sky we’d get every five years blotted out the moan, the scrape of fingers down the window. I’d booked a driving lesson not knowing the forecast and with my test only around the corner, I was keen to be out on the road as much as I could. I wanted to cancel, my parents wanted me to cancel, but my driving instructor insisted it was an excellent opportunity for specialised practise. So I drove along, inching down the roads like I had a case of eggs on the back seat, but still I got stuck in the centre of a quiet road not visited by the ploughs. It was inevitable when the wheels turned and we went nowhere no matter how hard I pushed the accelerator.

I tried to remember my instructor’s words. Slid the gear stick into first, pushing on the accelerator and pulling up the clutch just enough for the van to rock forward, then I dipped the clutch again as we rocked back, added to the momentum with a little reverse, then switching back and forth until we were rocking in a decent rhythm. When I thought I couldn’t get more power into the forward swing, I jabbed the accelerator back as we changed direction and let the left pedal all the way out, clenching my teeth, not looking to Ryan as I held my breath.

A snap of metal came from the front and we jolted back. I let the clutch down, breath stole from my lungs as I celebrated the victory whilst bones crunched under the wheels, watching forward waiting for the creature’s expressions to form the disappointment, forgetting they had no command of expression. I hurried my view to the left mirror, mindful of the cars parked, strewn in our path, catching only a glance as my vision swung around to the metal hook attached to the fence and hanging from it a black section of plastic I knew would be missing from our bumper.

“Holy shit,” came Ryan’s voice. Not the response I’d expected and I swapped to his face. “Can’t they see we’re moving, don’t they know the dead can’t drive,” he said, his breath running hard. I didn’t look up, didn’t turn to the drone getting closer, didn’t look for the missile released, instead concentrated on turning the van, trying to avoid the creatures and the great trunks of trees littering the road as I tried to keep as much momentum while I twisted the van around.

With each turn of the wheel, each crutch of the tyres, each time I couldn’t avoid a great splinter, a great chunk of concrete, I thought we’d grind to a halt. I knew I had to keep the momentum up, had to keep our speed as I followed the journey I’d takin in my mind only moments before. The layouts were as I’d expected, the details much the same, only the van was harder to control, the sideways shift of our weight greater as the van listed in the turn. Ryan and I leant the other way in a vain attempt to balance gravity from taking us over and somehow we made it, the wheels scraping along the kerbstones, aiding our upright hold. Still, I piled on the speed, my eyes fixed on the last minute change of direction I’d need, the turn we’d have to make, the second leap of faith we’d need to believe in, to take us through the fence and into the garden to carry us still onward, crashing through the wooden panels and out into the freedom of the grass hills.

We made it almost intact, just leaving the air from the front left tyre behind, the suspension feeding us every lump in the grass, every divot, every hole bleeding our speed with every revolution of the rim despite my foot being flat to the floor. I had little control, but somehow kept us facing out to the moor. Kept us heading away from the village and the great gaping hole I’d made in what had kept us safe before, in what had kept those around us from the horde. Now what remained of the creatures, burnt and skinless, would be free to roam if they survived the explosions raining down from the sky.

The van came to its rest and I leapt out, Ryan throwing me the gun as he dived under for the spare tyre whilst I took slow paces toward the hole we’d crashed through and the first creatures making their way in a long trail, snaking into view. I counted thirty in their slow amble which wouldn’t be slow enough, before Ryan was out from under with the tyre. I checked the clip, counting ten rounds and wandered how I would kill three of the blackened creatures with each bullet.

 

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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 Ninety One

He didn’t reply to my fear, but turned to the hands slapping at the window and fixed for a moment until his head slowly crept around, his eyes wide, stopping on the growing dot above the fence line.

“No,” he said, the words loud. “The gardens, the wooden fences,” he said. “That’s how we can get out!”

I paused for a moment, the words catching in my mind, as they progressed the route appeared in my head, tracing the journey back from where we sat in the van, through the crowd scratching at the paintwork, turning the corner down the short street, the road turning to gravel, veering right just before the metal fence, seeing the clear air over the two short sets of fences to the rolling hills beyond.

“Yes,” I said, my eyes wide, looking up to the dot which was growing. It was too slow to be a plane, wasn’t a jet racing towards us to fire another salvo and I pushed it out of my mind, letting the accelerator go, letting the engine calm but only for a moment before jabbing the clutch, crunching the stick to engage reverse. Heavy on the accelerator, I let the clutch up, but the van moved less than half the turn of a wheel before it slammed to a stop and the engine stalled, leaving only the moan coming through the windows.

I looked up to the dot, a thought coming into focus with engine quiet, only the low hum from outside left behind.

“It’s a UAV,” I said looking to Ryan. “A drone. It must be,” I said as the thin wings were just in view. I saw the relief in his face, the corners of his mouth raising, despite knowing it was getting bigger as I looked back. “You know they carrying the same missiles as a Tornado, right?”

“How do you know all this?” he said. “Oh right,” he replied to himself as he saw my left eyebrow raised.

His eyes widened as he turned, then looked back to the aircraft and I followed. His breath caught, mine did too but without the noise as we saw a line of smoke appear on the horizon from the aircraft’s belly.

“Get down,” I said, pushing myself down to the middle of the van, my head crouching over the gear stick, just seeing Ryan heading the same way as I fell.

The explosion came much sooner than expected, the missile travelling the distance to its destination in a time which made me question. I looked up, not afraid of a fireball, seeing the rising cloud of smoke, of hot energy coming over the high fence some distance away. We weren’t the target. Ryan’s voice confirming.

“It’s not us,” he said, our eyes latching back on the dot in the sky gaining definition with every passing moment.

“Not yet,” I said.

“But,” he said, the words stuttering to a stop. “But they’ve got cameras right, they can see what’s going on back in the bunker.” I nodded. “If they see us, they won’t attack? Right?”

I paused for a moment.

“I guess,” I said looking through my window, the view only going as far as the face smearing a brown sticky fluid the other side. I turned to Ryan’s, looking past his optimism and through the glass seeing the near mirror image of mine, but through his was a person who’s gender I couldn’t tell, their features burnt off, hair gone in the blast. All that remained was dark flaking skin, lumps of which stayed behind as it scraped along the glass.

“You wanna get out and wave your hands in the air,” I said as I brought my focus back to the falling features on his face. He tilted his head to the side, but stopped himself from flicking his eyes to the window.

“Get us the fuck out of here,” he said, his voice resigned and I jabbed the accelerator down, letting go of the clutch and remember why we hadn’t moved, had gone nowhere yet. I remembered as the van moved back less than a centimetre, watching the fence flexed out as much, holding us firm as if tied by the bumper, the ground rocking, heat coming through the windscreen as we caught the evaporating trail of a missile exploding so much nearer than the last. 

 

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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 Ninety

Still numb, but not from the explosion, I picked myself up, dust falling to the ground, stepping over the body, pulling Ryan up by the arm. I led the way down the stairs, ears ringing, my view on the world swimming like jelly. I didn’t stop to check left and right, didn’t look for the dead searching us out. With my view fixed on a patch of white panel, the letters down the side I’d clung to for so many years, I trudged, hand clasped around his, pulling, dragging as he stumbled by my side. In my periphery I saw cars shunted, their windows smashed, the cacophony of alarms coming into the focus, the great fire consuming the woods, the spay of wooden shrapnel everywhere I placed a foot.

I saw movement, saw creatures, their bodies covered in red, skin torn off, stripped bare with the wave of energy. They saw us, walked our way, stumbling no more, no less than before. Ryan gripped my hand tight by my side as he built his strength and we dragged each other, both knowing our direction as the pace built to a level we could barely manage, our course steered only to avoid the debris, the cars blown in our path, shards of fist sized wooden splitters peppering each body panel.

I took no notice as a dead soldier, or at least the half remaining, reached out to grasp as I stepped over. Ryan pulled me to the side just out of its reach, my face not reacting, mouth not turning from the thin line, as numb as my body and ahead I trudged on, relief barely breaking the surface as I saw the van was too far from the blast to break out the windows.

The keys were in my hand in an automatic action, without a memory of my fingers reaching inside my jacket where I must have put them. The realisation came as I pushed the thin metal into the lock, the handle clicking when I pulled up and the clawed fingers reached through the gap, a foul odour rolling out, waking me from my trance. I stumbled backward, slamming hard to the hastily erected metal fence.

I’d forgotten all about her. The woman we’d picked up, the woman who’d helped me rescue Toni. Toni had turned on her in the back of the truck. At the time I’d accepted the accident in the heat of the moment. The suffocation as we’d tried to evade those in authority, tried to prevent ourselves from being trapped again. But now I knew it wasn’t the full story, there was more to her than I could have known. Now was again not the time to process this new information as the woman fell from the back of the van drew up to her feet to exact her revenge. I stood, staring on, watching the last of my days flash back, trying to test each of her words, each of her actions from a whole new perspective.

Ryan charged in from my side, pushing the woman down to the ground, lifting a pistol from a soldier’s hand, without the top half of his head he had no use for it, and slammed two rounds to shatter her skull. The explosion woke me from my daydreaming to Ryan’s concerned stare, his wide eyed look asking a question. Was I broken beyond repair?

I answered his question; I owed him that much and more.

“Thank you,” I said. “This is fucked up,” I added and he gave a slow nod in reply. “We’d better go,” I said looking to the sky, hoping the dot on the horizon wasn’t another jet, looking to the woods, knowing the blackened smoking creatures walking towards us were exactly what I knew them to be. He nodded again after following my view, slamming the door behind him as he climbed in after, sliding the bolt as he followed me to the passenger seat, both of us holding our hands over our mouths in a futile attempt to keep from breathing the stench she’d left behind.

The engine started and I almost gagged as the breath of relief came and I turned to the window, but knew I couldn’t give them even a crack to get their clawed fingers into, so I sucked down the bile and heaved the steering wheel to avoid the car pushed up against the bumper.

I closed my eyes as the engine pushed the van backwards and tried not to think of the crushing bones the suspension couldn’t mask as it pitched us one way and then the next, bumping into the fence, slamming us to a hard stop as the bumper banged, the sound resounding like a bass drum. Swapping glances with Ryan, I could see his knuckles white on the armrest and door handle either side and was ready to shout him down if he so much as offered to drive.

Moving forward I couldn’t pretend it was just a bumpy road, despite my attempts. We could see the bodies, those of dead soldiers and residents, those who had died and stayed dead and those who had not, before the great tyres rolled over in vain of my best efforts to avoid. I guessed there were at least half of the creatures left alive by the blast as they swarmed towards us and I checked my door was locked more times than I could have counted while we rolled along watching the horizon for an opening in the fence, watching the skyline for the dot in the centre growing bigger with every moment.

It was then we realised at the same time we hadn’t thought this through. Yes, we were safe in the van despite the surrounding crowd, but we had nowhere to go, had no chance to get away from the next missile surely on its way. I stopped with the bonnet of the van almost at the fence, then let it drip forward, nudging into contact with the metal. There was a pop, a grind of metal as we made contact, but we stayed firm, as did the fence, my mind’s eye on the other side and the great concrete blocks sat on the wide feet at its base. I looked up, the dot was growing, hands slapped at the windows but neither of us jumped. Hands slapped at the panels as the engine revved with the dot growing larger.

I turned and asked his down-turned face a question.

“Is this how it ends?”

 

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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 Eighty Nine

Numb body. Numb between my ears. Each part of me felt like it had lost some feeling. The smell of burnt flesh, burnt plastic, a cocktail of unpleasantness circled around the room, swirling as it mingled with the thin smoke clawing at my lungs. A shot of wind blasted against my sodden clothes waking me as the heat turned to a chill coursing along my spine. Glass fell to the duvet, chattering as I rose from the bed, every muscle ached as I lifted my head, as I arched my back to straighten out the kink. I saw the keys lain on the floor next to the bedside table in a pile of glass by the far wall. A flurry of delight rushed up from my stomach until I realised the van, in all likelihood, would be useless, totalled and a fitting ending, an apt punishment leaving my humanity to end when night fell.

Ryan.

His face flashed into my head and I stood, stretching out the crick in my neck, grasping for the gun just out of reach, gripping tight as I rounded the bed, knowing I needed to save at least one bullet. With dwindling hope I scooped up the keys and ran from the room, not looking back through the missing window, not looking down to the blood soaked carpet. Steadying myself, searching after bounding over the scarlet puddle in the hallway, my eyes looked left, looked right, the gun following shortly after, my neck just loose enough to follow.

To my right I saw the soles of feet upturned, pointed to the ceiling, trainers I could guess Ryan would wear, the ankles dressed in white socks disappearing behind a bed. I took a step, promising to take more notice next time, if given a chance. Glass crushed under my feet, but my eyes drew to the fluttering of the curtain, the plume of smoke passing by the window, carried in the wind across the view, its source somewhere in the distance. The bomb, the explosive, the missile, whatever, must have targeting the woods because we weren’t dead. I’d seen the result of targeted strikes before, had stood with in the blue press body armour and the bulky helmet, had seen the gutted buildings, watching on while families picked through the rubble for their missing.

I sped, under no illusion my steps could be the first and last if the roar of jet engines were heard on the wind, but on my next step a figure dressed in dark clothing emerged from the right of the room, creeping out of a cupboard. His hand held around his chest, his arm reaching down to Ryan, for his gun dropped in the blast, I knew, even though I couldn’t see past the bed. With a blink of my eye I pulled the trigger bypassing conscious thought, the explosive cracking through the air before I realised what happened, the man slumping to the ground, his reach dropping as Ryan’s foot twitched to life.

Bursting forward, my eyes taking in the detail for the first time. His black jacket, black trousers, everything dark, even the paint covering his skin, all but his nose flat to his face, the paint smudged clean off. The wound in his shoulder poured with dark treacle as I grabbed him by the shoulder and rolled him onto his back. It was the soldier I knocked unconscious, his left hand holding a scarlet dressing to his stomach. He’d been in the room when I’d killed Toni. It was his nose which popped against my knee. It was his gun I shot her with and now he was here, bleeding to death, already dying maybe.

I slapped him square on his cheek, his eyes flying open, blood and black paint sliding off with my hand. For a moment he stared on, but I caught the moment of realisation, the time when he remembered. Intrigued by what he saw in his head, was is it my face as I lay asleep on the bed, bound with my arms spread across the mattress or was he the one who disconnected the ropes only to force my unconscious hands into the cuffs behind my back, or was it my face in the darkness before he bent down and I smashed him in the face?

Wherever it was, I only needed him for one thing, only needed him to answer one question. I slapped him hard and pushed the nose of the gun into the exit wound I’d caused, damming the blood, electrifying his senses.

“Where the fuck has the bitch gone?” I shouted, ignoring Ryan’s rise and his open mouth stare in my peripheral vision.

He stuttered, the words catching in his throat as he fought to hold back the scream. I lingered with the gun, letting my insides boil with the memories playing in my head. Out of the blue my parents faces were in my mind, looking down from up high shaking their head. I pulled the gun from the ragged hole, his face relaxing the instant the metal withdrew. I watched the blood drip from the muzzle as I brought it up level with his face and breathed a long, deep breath through my nose.

“Where the fuck is the bitch?” I said and he turned his eyes up from the ground, locking his to mine, the pain in his expression all but gone.

“Which one?” he said, letting out an exhausted breath. I switched a look to Ryan who stared on with his mouth hanging open as he climbed to his feet, my mind was numb, thinking about what he could mean. Why would I ask where a dead woman was? Of course I meant her mother. Of course I meant the boss.

“The one in charge,” I said turning back from Ryan as he edged back in the room, flinching out to the window, his eyes shooting wide and his finger pointing to the sky.

A wry smile came across the guy’s face.

“Hospital, down south. Stage three,” he said, reciting words he knew so well.

“Where?” I shouted over Ryan’s panicked calls to get to the floor.

St Buryan Hospital, conducting field trials. The mother too.”

My arm fell under the weight of the gun, the weight of his words. Had I got this right? Was she alive? Was she more of a liar than I could have ever known? I needed to sit. I needed to think on the words. I had to interrogate further, but first I needed calm, quiet, a moment to get myself together. The moment came in slow motion as I sat to the bed. Ryan diving, soundless to the floor despite his agitated breath. The soldier collapsing to the ground, blood pooling around him, the shock wave from the second explosion ripping the curtains from the window, pushing me sideways, forcing my eyes closed.

 

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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 Eighty Eight

Ryan didn’t follow, instead staying behind to barricade the doorway, the drag of furniture so reminiscent but I couldn’t recall from which place or when. How many times had we repeated this process since the world changed? I didn’t know, couldn’t tell, concentrating lifting my heavy legs while I thought of anything but what I would find. Thought of anything but the flashbacks I knew would come, along with the embellishments my brain added as a punishment for my crime.

I looked down, my stare peering halfway up the stairs. Was this the first of the tricks played by my mind, or was the line of blood, widening as it rose, real or just in my head? I couldn’t remember if it had been there before. Was it dark when I was last here? I think so, but I couldn’t be sure. Was it hers? The question I should ask, but should I already know from the colour, or did it have a smell, her delicate scent I’d tasted so many times? If I truly loved her, should I be able to tell? I couldn’t. Did that answer my question? I shook my head and lifted another step. 

With Ryan still busy at the foot of the stairs and despite my legs gaining weight, or my muscles losing strength with each rise, I made it to the landing, following the blood rising to a pool in the centre. Yes, I had seen this before. My hand reached out to the soaking wet bandage I’d forgotten until now. I looked down, following the blood smearing, blotting with each of my damp prints. Turning up to the spread of blood, the previous events which hadn’t taken place in this house slowly drifted through my head and I raised the pistol, the butt sticky with blood and I pulled back the slide, priming the chamber with a bullet and pushed it out to lead the way.

Despite my fear, I turned left, knowing it was the place I least wanted to go. Knowing it was the most likely location for what I sought, the keys to the van. Or at least I told myself it was what I looked for.

The room was dark; the curtains pulled closed, the air heavy and perhaps not all the atmosphere projected by me. Try as I might I couldn’t see any detail from where I stood at the door. Try as I might I couldn’t stop the chatter of my teeth, the constant vibration of my limbs, the wave of the gun as it swayed left and right to counter the buzz of my frozen arms. Try as I might I couldn’t see beyond the bed, couldn’t see past the mattress, the space between where I’d been held down, where I was close to being raped, later handcuffed, betrayed. Couldn’t see beyond there and the window. With one step I drew a shallow breath, lungs stuttering to take all the air in one go, my face expressionless, pistol still pointed out into the vague darkness. With the second step I let out an exhale, letting my eyes close but only for a moment, before they shot wide and I surged forward when her form appeared, projected at the window, knowing it was only inside my head.

The sudden movement stopped the shakes, calmed my convulsions as I grabbed at the curtains. Sweeping left and right, drawing back as the light poured, my eyes opening, tears rolling down my face, hitting the carpet soaked in blood as my eyes darted between each of the littered bandages and red sodden dressings. I saw the chaos in my head, watched myself disappear down the stairs, watched Toni’s mother catch her in her arms, lay her to the floor, breathless and silent as she fought to find the wound, screaming the house down for help.

I watched as more joined the panic, as lights crowded, pouring their beams on the holes in her chest, her clothes pulled up and discarded. I opened my eyes, searched the floor, but found nothing. All that remained was her life force spread across the floor.

I crouched, the tears landing on the back of my left hand as I touched the tip of my index finger to the ground. The blood sticky, not dry. I watched as the pain drained from her face in the torchlight. I watched as she replayed my destructive force over and again in her head, her last thoughts before they brought the long black bag, before they zipped her up from heel to head.

The stairs creaked. I looked up. They hadn’t made a noise as I’d climbed. At least I hadn’t noticed. I looked back down begging for the pain once more, begging for the punishment to fill my heart, but I couldn’t concentrate, the noise on the floor too great. I stood, whispering his name.

“Ryan,” I said in a voice only someone next to me would hear, but the reply was greater than I could have expected. Ryan’s voice shouted a hurried command, a panic male voice matching his volume. The two bucks squared off with indistinct, hurried words, but as I took the first steps with the gun shaking out it front, an explosion drowned everything out, throwing me off my feet and on to the bed, shattering the window, spraying razors of glass.

 

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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 Eighty Seven

To my right Ryan stood, his eyes wide on the crowd, the haze of their stench rolling out before them. Beyond him the river bared to the left, sweeping in the perfect direction despite its narrowing, despite the water running fast, despite the surface white with foam like a big No Entry sign. To my left the water stretched out turning away from the village as it widened, as the banks fell gently either side, levelling with the calm flow, calling with its calm surface, calling from the wrong direction.

The choice was clear; the choice required now; the creatures stumbling down the bank, falling to their knees, head over heels, already rising to their feet unsteady with the flow. Still, we stood with the bank no longer visible for falling bodies, my head left and right, ignoring the pain as I twisted back and forth, turning left to safety, but away from the house, turning right to danger and the goal I couldn’t give up.

With no time to discuss, Ryan would make his choice, and determined not to look back, I turned to the crowd, their bodies stumbling, piling up to dam the edge of the river, but as a group, closing the distance each moment. I moved right, pushing through the growing flow, not looking back, not wanting to know his decision.

The water deepened with every step, but still I didn’t look around, didn’t want to see the creatures following me on the bank, didn’t want to see Ryan not following, heading the other way or overcome by the dead’s advance. Forcing on, the pressure against my legs gave me hope I couldn’t be followed by those without dexterity, the rising level my only concern. I edged toward the far bank now on my right; the mud rising higher than I could see over even if I stood out of the water. With my hand I grasped for roots I couldn’t find, something to hold as the flow grew with every step. I found nothing but the sheer walls of dense dirt. Breath pulled in as the water reached my crotch, the pain in my throat less than I’d expected as the air pulled in with the cold shock. I took the silver lining.

With the water reaching over my hips, I clawed the air for traction, white foam bubbling around my belly, my eyes fixed forward, searching out the banks in the darkness. My next footfall landed higher than I expected and tripped forward only to be drawn back by the current, swept the wrong direction against my will, my lungs pulling sharp at the air as I sank, the water above my shoulders. A firm grasp grabbed at the scruff of my jacket and I was high in the water again, cold wind washing across my soaked clothes, pulled close to Ryan and to my feet. I grabbed him around the waist and we trudged on, holding against each other as the banks slowly spread, lowering with every step, the flow calming, the water receding. Excess water cascaded down our bodies, the wet remains clinging tight, pushed firm by the chill in the air as we shivered for heat. About to pull to the left, I turned, stared down the river, surprised by the distance, surprised by the clear banks. We hadn’t been followed. The plan had worked.

With slow, considered steps, we stepped from the water and onto the grass, fixing to the spot each time the water gave any sound, glancing around, ready to climb back in at any moment. No milky white eyes stared back as we walked the grass through the last of the thinning trees and into the meadow at the edge of the village. We watched along the side of wood, my gaze constant reaching out the last house by the only road running through the settlement. We’d done it, we’d thrown them off the scent, the only price to pay was the constant vibration of each part of our body, the chills running deep into our core. We had to get out of these clothes, had to change and fast before hypothermia took away our choices.

Together we ran across the meadow peering through the trees, switching ahead every other moment, waiting for the time when we’d see the creatures and the timer would start before we had to run again. It wasn’t until we cleared the trees, rounding the wood on our side of the road, we realised we were on the wrong side of the fence and saw movement within its boundary, the olive drab vehicles crowded the other side, the house I was so desperate to avoid, the house I had no choice but to enter.

Steeling myself with a deep breath, my teething chattering so much I thought at any moment they would fall out, I jumped, catching the tall top of a fence panel, hanging from the edge as it swayed under my weight, until I felt Ryan’s hands so warm, so large, around my waist, lifting me until I had my arms resting on the top, my feet on his hands boosting me high. Precarious on the top of the fence it swayed with my movement, but the concrete at its feet stopped it from toppling. Twisting over the edge, I lowered too fast, keen to avoid the discarded bodies, my knees banged against the metal like a bass drum as I landed.

I couldn’t stay and wait for his climb, knew the drum would have called them near. Finding a pistol was easy. Pulling it from the holster soaked in blood was not when despite my best will, I couldn’t take my eyes from the empty cavity where its owners organs should have sat. Picking my way around the truck blocking my view, I ran toward the first house, ignoring it entirely, instead fixing my gaze on the wide open door to its side. I saw straight through to the garden and the place I’d run, my escape route after I’d killed the woman I once thought I loved. In the background I heard feet landing to the road, but soon a heavy tone in the air took my attention, a tone which could be only one thing, but I took longer than I should have to realise I’d been right as we’d first approached the village. There had been a reason the army penned the creatures in.

The sound grew louder as Ryan arrived at my back, soon turning, looking to the sky using his hand to shade his eyes from the sun. It was there even though it couldn’t be see it. It was there even though it would be too late for us when we did. But we had no choice. We had nowhere to run, so I carried on regardless and climbed the stairs thinking how Toni would have laughed if the bombs hit as I stood over the place where I’d taken her life.

 

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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 Eighty Six

I didn’t hear the shot, only the shock wave across my face. I didn’t feel the grip release, only the cooling blood tightening as it dried across my skin. With pressure under my arms, my legs were the first to wake. No. My lungs were already pumping before I realised I was travelling, before I realised I was being dragged. Held up. Pulled along. My eyes opened to the trees moving either side, but my alarm didn’t hold back when I figured we were going in the wrong direction.

“No,” I shouted, the words dry and raw. We slowed, my arms pulling away, pulling from his hold until I juddered to a stop, leant over, gasping for breath. Each pull like flesh ripping inside my throat. Ryan paid no attention as he faced the other way, faced behind us, feet not holding still as he waited for me to rise.

I coughed, spluttered breath into my lungs, holding my throat as if it would drain away the pain, would ease the pressure still surrounded.

“Hurry,” I heard his vague words. Vague to my ears at least. I stood and looked up, his eyes still behind, only briefly catching on mine, then back to the sight of his rifle trained the way we’d come. With the car alarms still strong in the background, I twisted around, breath painful as it drew, painful as I saw the crowd in the distance. No need for magnification. The crowd easy to see at the edge of the wood, shutting out the sun as they ambled in our direction, the open door easy to glimpse. The place where I needed to be.

I tried to speak, but held back knowing the pain, instead holding my hand out, finger pointed toward the house.

Ryan shook his head.

“Change of plan,” he said.

“No,” I croaked, pulling myself upright and turning the way he’d dragged me, taking one step and then another as I squinted into the darkness of the woods as it pulled us in deeper. “No,” I said again, putting one step forward after the other. My pace built with Ryan at my side, the pain throbbing as each beat careered through my body. On and on I jogged, jumping over fallen trees, finding the energy somewhere to bound over roots sticking out, swerving left and right to avoid the undergrowth until I could see the ground fall away out of sight, my lips painful as they curled into a smile.

“Shoot them,” I said, holding back a repeat, fearful of another painful flare. Repeating once more but only in gesture, pointing to the crowd now barely visible with the naked eye. He stared back, turned, squinting, but soon followed my outstretched finger, the rifle stayed pointing to the ground. When he made no move, no effort, I grabbed the rifle ignoring his dumbfounded stare. Dropping to one knee, I shut out his protests, shut out his fears, pushed my eye to the sight and centred the iron in the view. With tip touching the movement, the white of a head bobbing in and out of view, I fired. 

Not waiting for the echo to die, not waiting for the rustle of birds to get to their wings, the scrape and scrabble of those on the ground escaping on four legs from their hideouts, I fired again and again until the echo of the empty click gave me no other choice. Still, I left the gun level, ignoring Ryan’s feet, ignoring him searching for movement, for a large tree to climb or some other escape. I watched them grow bigger in the view, standing as they grew near, moving back, closer and closer to the river until I no longer needed the sight to see the detail, the bruised, broken faces, limbs missing, the same shade of red they all wore. I threw the rifle to the ground, following Ryan’s downward glance as it clattered against a stone, adding to the racket.

Knowing Ryan would fix to the spot, I grabbed the arm of his shirt, dragging him from his stare, peeling him from the approaching crowd, letting go only as the ground fell steeper, giving neither of us a choice but to fall knee deep into the river. Splashing through the water, slapping my feet to the surface, we reached the other side to find the bank too steep to climb, our feet sinking into the rapid incline. Twisting around, heads rose over the bounds, teeth gnashing as they fixed their stares on the veins proud in our necks. I saw through milky white eyes. I saw their dreams of our blood coursing, could feel as if inside their riddled minds, their instincts desperate to pull our flesh 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 Eighty Five

Tiny stars appeared at my eyes as I held firm, disbelief fixing me to the spot, fixing my right arm hovering over his corpse. My left hand pushed out to its chest, holding it back as it tried to sit up, mouth snapping open and closed in silent, swift motions. Nothing came as I tried to pull deep, fighting against the blockage at my throat. Ryan still faced the other way, looking into the distance as I felt my will drain. My eyes caught on the knife still held out and adrenaline shot along my arm. I jabbed, pushing all my weight behind my balled fist wrapped around the hilt, the knife diving deep, slicing through the skin with no resistance. Slice after slice, jab after jab it gave no reaction and we were locked in a stalemate, knowing I would give out first, despite the destruction I’d made to its stomach.

Still, Ryan looked away and I tried to force my remaining energy away from trying to figure the reasons why he couldn’t hear the sounds which should have been so obvious. My vision closed in from the sides, a dark border encroaching with every moment. I switched my effort, turning the blade to its outstretched arm, its hand at my throat, but I could feel the power lessen with each jab digging to the bone.

With my vision nearing to a dot in the centre, I felt myself relax, with nothing left to stop it from taking over, nothing to stop myself falling.

 

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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 Eighty Four

“Jess Carmichael?” came the breathy, surprised words. My finger stopped moving, but remained firm on the trigger.

I lowered the gun, but snapped up again as the soldier stubbled forward, a foot catching on a raised root.

“Hold it right there,” came Ryan’s voice, his form becoming visible as the soldier collapsed to the ground. Ryan lowered his rifle first, his eyes catching mine for a second before we both ran in, meeting over the slumped body, our hands twisting him around, covering his blackened half, rolling so I could push two fingers to the pink skin at his throat. I lifted my head. Ryan looked on hopeful as I looked past him, my tips seeking his veins and the momentary bulge I couldn’t find.

Looking upward and with a shake of my head, I stood. Ryan remained on his knees, peering down to the body as it  relaxing, the body’s pained expression draining, chest lowering with each moment.

“Come on,” I said. Ryan looked up. 

“Did you know him?” he said, confusion written across his features. I looked down, held on his face for a moment, the pink of his skin, its colour darkening as my eyes followed to the char I was thankful for being mostly hidden. I shook my head. “But he knew your name?”

Watching his face, my eyebrows raised. I waited for his head to catch up, but when it didn’t and he turned back down to the man, his hands at his side, looking lost, I spoke.

“You know my name. Half the country knows my name.”

He raised his eyebrows as he looked back, then sank as his thoughts caught up.

“We need to go,” I said, turning when he hadn’t followed my pace, listening to the whine of the alarms fading in and out of the background. “What are you waiting for?”

“Shouldn’t we,” he said not finishing his words. “Shouldn’t we,” he repeated. “Isn’t he going to rise again? Won’t he join them?” he said pointing his arm toward the crowds of dead still ambling between whichever car made the most noise. I looked at the crowd walking away, but turned as I watched, as the closest car’s alarm rose from its silence. “Shouldn’t we put him out of his misery?” he said in a voice I barely heard.

My eyes fixed on the soldier’s face, looking down to the ball chain necklace I knew would lead to two circular discs and the tags used to identify him when all this was over, when his body decomposed beyond recognition, here or wherever he finally fell to his rest. One more of their ranks would be no different in the grand scheme, but would I rather have a knife through my temple, through my eye socket, than wonder around with a squatter driving my empty body. Too right I would.  Ryan was right. I nodded, closing my eyes, shutting out the view as Ryan stood, dipping his head in a shallow salute.

The world began a slow spin, fatigue calming my breathing, a blanket of calm surrounding me. I felt myself about to stumble and my eyes shot open to see I hadn’t moved, but caught on Ryan, his head bowed, the rifles on the floor behind him and a knife held out in both hands like he was about to sacrifice a virgin on an alter. A tear dripped down from his face, darkening a patch of the green fatigues. His head shook slow from side to side and he looked up, pulling in a great breath. I kept my expression calm, held my hand out for the knife and he gave it over taking a step back.

Dropping to my knees I pushed the fingers of my left hand to his throat. Slowing my breath, closing my eyes as I pushed all concentration to the tips of my fingers. I had to be sure. I had to be sure again. There was nothing. Still nothing. My fingers tightened around the hilt of the knife in my right until a bump of sensation rippled across the fingers pushed into the side of his throat.

I looked up to Ryan, eyes wide, but he’d turned. Snapping down to the soldier’s face, but there he lay, eyes closed, chest still, no matter how long I lingered. Breath drained from my own as I relaxed, closing my eyes, my fingers held in place.

Nothing.

The sensation must have been a something else, a need for there to be a reason to turn away my course. But no. I had to be brave. Had to do the right thing and pulling my fingers away I moved the knife, but my eyes sprang wide as the scorched hand clamped around my throat, cutting off my scream as his milky whites stared back.

 

 

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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 Eighty Three

“Step aside,” came Ryan’s breathy whisper from behind.

“No,” I said, hushing my voice as I stood between the passenger side window and the raised butt of his rifle. “No,” I repeated, turning along the road to check I hadn’t disturbed the withdrawing masses. As I looked I saw through the creatures crowding, scratching at the Freelander with its hazard lights blinking, its electronic beat pulsing out, drawing the creature’s hands to open and their teeth to smash together as they groped to feed on the metal. The sound dulled in my head. I could still hear it but through cotton wool ears, my eyes fixed on the clustered olive drab vehicles and the hint of the house where I’d been taken, where I’d been held, where I’d been betrayed.

“No,” I said again as he lowered the butt, the confusion thickening on his brow as it lowered. “It’s alarmed, you’re just going to bring them back. I need the van too, the transmitter’s hard wired. Without it I’ll never get the story out.”

Ryan’s face melted away the confusion, but then rose again as he questioned.

“So where are the keys?” he said, staring at me with a deep intent, his brow low, before he looked around. I peered past him, turned to the side, past the flailing mob of the dead to the house where I’d last seen Toni. To the house where she’d died.

“Fuck off,” he said, his tone high and mocking. I turned his way, eyebrow raised. “You’re kidding right?” I didn’t reply, didn’t lower my brow. He thought for a moment, his eyes fixed on mine. “So we’ll need another distraction?” he eventually said. I could have hugged him, could have wrapped my arms around him tight, but I didn’t, instead leaving my gratitude to a shallow smile, cheeks bunching as my face relaxed. I watched him sling the air rifle over his shoulder and pick his way around the dead soldiers, plucking a rifle dropped to the ground, in favour of those still intertwined with their former owners.

“Go around the edge,” he said. “I’ll draw them away,” he added as he lowered the gun down, peering through the optical sight toward the ground piled with what were once people.

“No,” I replied, but he didn’t listen, he was already climbing the ladder set into the back of the van, his hands already on the rungs at the top, ready to pull himself up to the folded satellite dish. “No,” I replied again and turned away. “You should come with me,” I said gripping the bat as I crept around the back of the van. Walking along the new fence-line, I peeled a pistol from the cold fingers of a soldier whose face could no longer be seen, keeping my concentration fixed at my feet, only glancing ahead with every other step and not looking back, hoping he’d heard my words as I disappeared into a small copse of trees.

Hunger, the old type I hoped, left a cavity in my chest, in my stomach as I walked peering between the trees, the gun out in front as I fixed on the line of buildings, on the car alarming with flashing lights, the crowd five or more deep surrounding it. The alarm halted, but not the lights and I stopped, paused my breath as the crowd lost interest, each ambling in random directions. The pain in my chest grew, but it wasn’t real pain. It was a feeling, a hunger, no. Anger, maybe. A let down. I felt betrayed when he hadn’t followed. I felt stupid for the way it churned my insides. I was emotional. Of course I was. Any normal person would be in this situation. Even someone who knew who they were, knew what they would become, would have a hard time with what I’d done, with what I was doing. Alone.

An alarm took off again in the distance, the crowd drawing away like metal to magnets. He hadn’t needed to stay behind, hadn’t needed to play the hero. He should have come with me.

I stopped my thoughts as the alarm ceased, the silence broken only by twigs snapping, the rustle of the thick undergrowth under my feet. I’d known him for less than a day. My girlfriend. No. My lover, had been dead for the same time. The thoughts vanished as the view of the house became clear, the dark scorch marks across the front, the shattered clusters of bricks which somehow still kept the house held up straight. I stared at each of the trucks, but tried to avoid the burning carcasses. It had been a great battle, the start of which I’d seen, but the solders, the military hadn’t been the victors, with so many lain across the street, so many dead but walking, how could they have been?

I tried to ignore the scene, looked beyond the chaos and peered at the wide open door. Saw it fallen, great chunks of brick, of wood, missing from where it had hung. I moved, letting caution go, readying myself to make the run, preparing for the bounds, the long strides I would need to get over the bodies in time.

My heart jumped as the nearest car alarm went off again. It was so much closer now and drawing the creatures near. With my heart already going crazy, I heard footsteps behind, the gap in my chest, the emptiness filling. I turned to see Ryan, but he wasn’t there. Where he should have stood, another did, walking towards me with his arms raised out. A soldier, half his face burnt beyond recognition, a bloodied mess down his fatigues. I dropped the bat from my right, raised the gun, gripping tight with both hands and pulled the trigger half the way, stopping only when he said my name.

 

 

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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 Eighty Two

I listened to the lull as the echo died. Watching Ryan and his wide-eyed daze, we fixed our stares, both afraid to move, afraid to rattle the aluminium bell any further, but with the sound, the bass vibration coming clear, even if only in my mind, I jumped to my feet. Holding my hand out for Ryan, he clambered up, pulling the ladder, no longer caring for the noise,  we ran.

With a glance to my left and down the side of the house as I arrived at the fence, the crowd had turned, faces pointed in my direction, eyes opening further as they caught my movement, caught my scent. With the ladder planted firmly at the base, I climbed, but my feet tripped as they hit the first step. Swearing under my breath I raised again, taking more care to plant my feet as Ryan held the metal to hold back my shake.

From the top step I ignored the fence, only peering with a glance over the wood before checking back between the houses where the creatures were getting so near. Dropping the baseball bat to the other side, I jumped, a sharp pain rising along my shin as I landed only to look up and see more of the undead this side of the fence walking our way. I looked up from the ground, with no sign of Ryan and rolled out of the place where I’d landed, getting to my knees, raising up and putting tentative weight on my pained foot.

It took my weight and I breathed relief as I saw Ryan rise from the other side; the rifle coming my way as we met eyes, his attention turning to test the top of the fence before I’d caught the rifle in its case midway through the air. Indecision paused me for a moment as the crowd grew closer, but soon I dropped the rifle bag, picking up the bat, raising it high over my head. I took one step, eyes focusing on the pair heading the crowd, a tall woman with a barrel of fat around her midriff, her belly button on show through a rip in her shirt, the fabric open from her chest bone to her hips, a scored, jagged line following the broken material on her pale skin. Two, I said in my head, moving my eyes to avoid her face, instead catching on the tall man at her side, his arms outstretched, milky white eyes fixed toward me, his fingers pointing in different, unnatural directions. Three and I raised the bat higher, stretching out the muscles in my arms just a bit more, trying not to think of who these people had been and on the fourth number counted in my head, I swung down with all my breath.

The middle aged mother of two, her children were doctors, one with a kid of her own on the way, fell to the floor as the wood bounced from the front of her skull, sending a shiver through the bat. The young bank clerk who’d lived with his wife and two point four kids, seemed relieved when the bat cracked his skull open. His eyes fell closed, sending blood and lumps of flesh spraying out with a sound like hitting a melon against the ground. A second swing to the mother whose birthday it would have been tomorrow, and she went the same way while I tried to scrub their made up lives from my memory with a raise of the bat, blood dripping in an arc as I pulled it up, eyes staring on the next two in line, the fairy tale of their lives already forming when the car alarms took up again in near unison.

The front row of two kept up their advance, but the outnumbered crowd at their backs took a slow turn, their arms pointing back out towards the road and I twisted around, racing to Ryan who was at the next fence, holding the ladder ready for me to climb.

We were in the last garden before the alarms silenced, with a line of sight down the side of the house to the teeming mass of creatures only just dispersing in all directions with no single noise to call the herd. Whilst I peered over the wooden fence to the van, I welcomed the thin smell of creosote cutting through the sewerage taste. I turned to Ryan, for a moment watching him peeled off, pulling the rifle from its case.

There it stood all alone. The van I’d wanted to get back to all this time. There it was, a little dirty with red smears and with a few new finger sized holes in the panels giving me concern. Still, there it was, a short run from the other side of the fence and with only a handful of creatures who hadn’t made the journey towards the alarms. An unfamiliar electronic song rang off from the road and I turned, catching Ryan relaxing the rifle down, a wide smile gleaming across his mouth.

Up the ladder before Ryan reached me, I stared out watching the backs of the last few humanlike creatures receding. My eyes fixed on the carpet of bodies, of soldiers, lain across the road, across the path, guilt tugging my insides as I fought with my joy at seeing the discarded pistols, the fingers gripped around the triggers, the rifles, real rifles with deadly bullets. Deadly even for those who’d died once already. I didn’t see these bodies as people, as once I would have done, as now I should. Ryan took hold of the ladder and I landed on bent knees in a spot I’d picked out between two bodies I was desperate to see as someone’s people.

I shook my head, tried to keep to my goal. There would be time to work out how I felt, to work out if I was a bad person, if my experiences had killed my humanity. Now was time for action, time for those we could still save, to warn the community, to warn the country, to tell the tale to the world. I stretched out my fingers, grabbing the cold handle and pulled, but the locked door held firm. My vision filled with Toni in the flash of light. She held the keys in her hand as the patch of red grew around her chest; the smile widening on 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 Eighty One

The wail of the alarm didn’t come, leaving only the silence to continue to scream out.

“Again,” I shouted, regretting the volume, but couldn’t take my eyes from the door to check he was doing as I commanded. I could hear the rustle of the plastic bag, the patter of metal pellets forming a pile, but still I couldn’t look away, listening to the silence only broken by the rhythmic creak of dry wood vibrating through the floor.

Air rushed from the barrel a second time, but nothing other than Ryan’s under-breath curse replied. I shot a look, listening to the change of pitch from the other side of the door, the break in the melody of the steps getting closer. Ryan twisted, resetting his aim near, resetting his aim to a target he could hit as he snapped the air rifle in two, pushing the pellet in, cracking it closed soon after.

The handle moved and I pushed the sole of my trainer to the door, raising the bat high over my head.

Air rushed from the barrel, the handle twisted and a scream replied, a shout of pain from behind the door whilst Ryan congratulated himself. Only when the scream faded, the pierce receding, did I hear the call of the alarm outside. He’d done it.

“Another,” I whispered, repeating louder, raising the bat over my head from where it had fallen as glass shattered from a different room. “Another,” I said as he kept his eye through the window, the gun held in one hand at his side. He twisted around, his eyes falling to my foot at the door, flinching back as he turned toward the window, moving out of the view, his free hand beckoning me over. I looked to the door, looked to the handle. I’d heard the beast depart but still I couldn’t move, couldn’t take my guard down. “Another,” I said and he backed away from the window, reloading, taking aim, taking his time.

The second call added to the chorus. He didn’t need to be told again and reloaded. Three alarms sang out into the street, echoing off the buildings, pulling and pushing the drums in my ears. Only then could I take the comfort, moving towards the window and Ryan, his arm out so I wouldn’t get too close and with one last look to the door, to the handle, I peered over the ledge, around the wall, a smile rising as the creatures, one after the other, lolled toward the three screaming cars. He’d done it and as I peered, I could see the naked beast, his engorged, blood soaked belly as he climbed in the closest car, head raised to the air, then down to the floor, following his nose, seeking the source of the sound.

Creature after creature kept up the pace and Ryan lifted the gun, I guessed with his aim on one of their heads.

“Don’t bother,” I said. “Even if it works, there’s a hundred to take its place.” He took a moment to lower the gun, I was already collecting up the pile of pellets from the floor, was already with my hand on the door, pulling down slowly before he turned and joined at my back, the rifle held in two hands, stock first, ready to jab.

The coast was clear, the carpet not. Footsteps imprinted red on the beige. Mine. Ryan’s much bigger and two bare feet, just the toes leading off along the hallway to the other room at the front, cold air whistling in the corridor with each step. I placed my feet around the marks, moved toward the second room at the back, but turned before I crossed in, bile rising in my stomach at the thought of the mess ready to greet me, to greet us, but we had little choice, the ladder left behind.

The mess was no greater and no worse, the white of the clean bones no brighter, no duller. The red of the carpet no more vibrant, the metallic cloud no thicker, no thinner.

I couldn’t avoid the slick covering the floor, using the tips of my toes my only defence, the only respect I could pay as I leant out of the missing glass, my hair billowing behind me in the draft. The last of the creatures were leaving the garden and didn’t look up, didn’t see. The last of the creatures were rushing as much as they could, clattering and bumping into each other with the greatest haste they could give. The step ladder was still there and I was on the roof without a helping hand. I took the rifle from Ryan as he climbed down, gave it back as I lifted the ladder, checking all around before I placed it to the grass, before I climbed down, brushing up along the side of the building, peering along the edge, staring at the backs of the creatures moving away.

Up the ladder and jumping down the other side, Ryan sat on the wooden fence, the thin slats bowing in and out as he balanced, as he pulled the ladder up before handing it over. Both of us landed on the grass the other side, ladder in hand. It was going so well. Too well, I knew. We were three houses down of six, three more to go and with the ladder being handing into the four garden it wouldn’t be long before I could get what I needed, could get the last vial, could take footage, could start the journey to warning the masses, to breaking the story, getting the scoop.

The chorus of alarms turned to a pair, and soon to a single voice as I stepped off the ladder, jumping down the other side. Then none. A pause in the commotion, but still I didn’t panic, my pulse didn’t inflate too much, until Ryan sat on the top of the fence and it collapsed as he swayed, the ladder in his hand, the metal slapping down to the flagstones, the cacophony echoing like a dinner bell as Ryan landed on top sending a second chorus ringing out.

 

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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 Eighty

With the sound, the vibration through my feet, adrenaline, energy, a will to survive raced through my veins as my vision cleared. Ryan let go as he saw me raise up. I nodded, turning away, looking for our escape.

Holding my palm out for him to stay put, I light-footed it across the hallway and into the bedroom on the right, my first choice of three doors. Inside I found what I needed and came back with a dark wooden chair having tipped the clothes to the floor. Ryan moved as I pushed the wood under the handle and followed me back into the room, carefully easing the door closed behind us with his palm. With the chest of drawers covering the door, I didn’t let myself relax, didn’t let myself calm, not ready to find out if my thoughts would take me. Instead, I took in the full room, the window with the single pane looking out over the extension roof from where we’d come, looking out on to the roof next door where we wanted to be, looking down at the sea of the dead which hadn’t thinned even one bit.

Inside the room I pulled out the drawers, raked out clothes looking for what, I wasn’t sure. Inside the room I rifled through the wardrobe, jabbing at the buttons on the electronic safe while I listened to its negative reply. Pushing the hanging clothes to the side, I pulled out empty suitcases, my smile gleaming at the sight of the gun case,  heart screaming at the luck finding the baseball bat at its side.

I turned with both in hand, passing the rifle to Ryan, who pulled it from the case, but his expression lacked my excitement.

“It’s an air rifle,” he said. I thought for a moment, fighting against the drop in my will.

“Any bullets?” I said watching him crank the barrel like he was snapping it in two, then pulled a bag of what looked like metal balls from inside as he nodded. I ran to the window, a plan already forming, but the view was no good, just gardens edged on the vast space of the moor. I ran to the chest of drawers covering the door and without dropping the bat, I heaved the drawers to the side with only a last minute hand from Ryan.

Bat out in front, I looked left and right. With the coast clear and no noise coming from the room we’d left the creature, I stepped out into the hallway and we were through the second door, raking the curtains to the side, breath pulling in as I saw between the two rows of houses the road teeming with dead soldiers and residents, some of which I recognised from our last visit. I didn’t linger on their faces for fear of what my mind would project, instead I fixed on the cars parked outside each house, most of them only a few years old, most of them perfect for my plan.

I turned to Ryan.

“You any good?” I said, nodding to the rifle. He looked down at the gun and shrugged his shoulders, giving me wide eyes in return. I’d never fired one before and turned away, scanning again, eventually pointing the bat and looking down its length to the furthest away car. A Freelander in a dark red, but the details didn’t matter. He didn’t ask questions, didn’t look confused, but still I told him to make sure he understood. “The windows, right?” 

He nodded, matching my expression and I turned away. Covering my eyes, I jabbed the bat end-on shattering the glass, turning and wheeling it around to remove the remaining shards. As the music rained all around, landing to the carpet and to the tarmac outside, we snapped back behind us, the corridor alive with the sound of heavy thuds against the door.

“Do it,” I shouted, holding back the full force of my voice and I turned around the room, cursing myself for not blocking the doorway before, searching around the edge, frantically trying to find the large piece of furniture I needed to block the door, but finding it wasn’t there, the room only filled with a light divan bed, a cheap wooden frame surrounded in thick cardboard. Still, I shut the door, cursing as it slammed with the draft, heard the chair wheel along the corridor and come to a rest. “Do it,” I said when I hadn’t heard the push of air. With the bat up high, gripped with both hands, after a practice swinging its weight through the air, I turned to Ryan, watching his eye to the sight, watching him move the gun and steady his feet, pushing the butt into his shoulder. The chair careered along the corridor a second time and he took his eye away, glancing back. I raised the bat ready for the door to swing and heard the puff of air. Holding my breath in the long silence I urged it to fill with the car’s screaming alarm.

 

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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 Seventy Nine

The scream came next, a shrill call in tune with the outward spray of glass. I stumbled back, pulling the ladder with me as I grabbed the metal for safety, but still I fell. Ryan’s body caught my weight and together we collapsed to the roof, the cold metal following. With no chance to recover from the shock, I peered up, pushed the ladder away, willing my ears to close off the pain, eyes watching as from the window the creature burst out in a blur, bringing with it the remaining shards of glass.

My legs wheeled in circles as I struggled to my feet, Ryan’s arms in the same frenzy, words coming, shouting his disbelief. Scrabbling to his feet, his hand on my arm, his view alternating between me and seeking the creature who’d jumped right over us and disappeared from view. We looked to each other, looked to the ground, span to the window, eyes wide peering as we held our feet firm. Neither of us knew what to do, we waiting, questioning why the inevitable hadn’t already happened.

After what seemed like an age, but was more than likely just a fleeting second, I picked up the ladder, Ryan grabbing the other side and just as we got our grip, the creatures was in view, jumping from the ground, shaking the roof as it landed, standing before us, its bloodshot eyes wide, chest heaving for air, recovering its breath. At first I couldn’t believe the pause, looked to Ryan, but this was his first view, but not mine, I’d seen these before. I’d shot one over and again and watched it stay upright, charging onward with a fury at home in a horror film. Now it stood before me, its naked, blood soaked, heavy belly sagging out in front. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn it was tired and drunk from its full stomach.

I didn’t wait more than a blink of an eye, surged forward, Ryan bringing the rest of the ladder at my side, taking no time to understand my plan. The creature could have jumped, could have charged forward, but just seemed to watch, only acting when it was too late, giving a dulled call, a weak scream costing it more breath, and unable to hold us back, its feet stepped off the edge and fell to the ground, taking at least one of dead with it.

We didn’t look over, our instincts told us it wouldn’t be that easy, told us we had to go, had to act, we’d been given a gift and would be dead if we didn’t take full advantage. Ryan let go of the ladder so I could take hold and I hopped with wide steps across the roof, planting the feet of the ladder as I pulled apart each half. Running, I clambered up the side, jumping in through the window, missing the glass, not looking back, already knowing why the ground was sticky and wet, my eyes concentrating on finding the door I could put between us and the creature when it followed. 

Through the open door, my eyes flitted along the hallway, only now looking back and seeing the disgust in Ryan’s face as he looked to his hands after rolling away from the landing.

“Come on,” I said trying to keep my voice low and he jumped up, his feet slipping as he struggled for traction in the mess, eventually bursting through the doorway, then settling back, leaning with me to the door, our lungs pumping the surrounding air, my mind desperate to slow the pull, the whistle of wind, knowing the creature must have got in somehow and if it could get inside, then others would lurk ready to pounce when their opportunity came.

We weren’t followed. 

The house was silent.

We weren’t followed. If we believed our ears.

The low rubble of breath over dormant vocal cords had become the norm and now with it gone it felt like something was missing, something wasn’t right. At least when you could hear their low hum you knew they were there and could prepare. Now in the silence I felt blind, didn’t know if they were there and were just being quiet. I wanted to be back out in the open. I wanted to see all around, hated being inside the house, hated the confinement.

A drip of sweat drifted down my forehead, my hand already clammy as I swatted the droplet away shaking my head, feeling my breath running away. I pulled at Ryan’s arm and he looked, concern in his eyes, but he didn’t move, held the door firm pushing with his back. I raised my right hand, opening the palm and he grabbed my wrist. I raised my left and he grabbed it too, as my heart raced and my head went light having my hands bound once again, I heard the thump of something heavy landing on the other side of the 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 Seventy Eight

He didn’t catch me, didn’t stop my fall, didn’t pull me back as I raced down face first to the rungs. Instead, I collapsed to the metal, hands grabbing a hold either side, gripping hard, the sting of my arm tightening as I took the weight. The two halves of the ladder clattered against each other, the metal jumping, snapping back together. I held firm waiting for when the ladder would turn and twist, falling with the metal into the crowd who even if they couldn’t infect me, would frenzy, pulling flesh from my bones.

The ladder stayed put, despite the claw of nails down my face as hundreds of fingers willed me to the ground.

“Go,” came Ryan’s voice from my back. My pause ended and I pushed up, arms outstretched, the tips of my feet on top of the rungs, surging forward, giving full respect to the ladder as it stayed in place. My feet slipped off but I recovered over and again until I could rest on the solid roof the other side. I turned before I calmed myself, fear raining down as I worried for the strength of the wood underneath my feet, but I hadn’t collapsed yet and held my ground, watching as Ryan took my lead, using his hands and feet to guide him quickly to my side. The ladder fell as he pushed off the last step and I bounded over, forgetting my fears for the roof, skidding to my knees, feeling the sting of skin coming loose, but I had the cold metal in my hand and yanked and pulled it free from a tangle of hands and arms and heads, slapping it side to side, jabbing at heads for no other reason than to vent my tension.

Ryan helped me to my feet, helped lift the ladder, settling in down to the roof, his movement as stilted as mine, his caution understandable. We both looked back to the wreck of a roof we’d left behind, the felt ripped away and two great holes where they hadn’t been before. The guilt weighed like a knot in my stomach. It was someone else’s house. Someone else who might by alive and when all this was all over, if they returned, they’d feel the devastation we’d caused.

“What’s wrong?” Ryan said and I turned, my face fixed in a scowl, not hiding my anger pointed in his direction.

“That’s someone’s house,” I said. He turned back to the wreckage and nodded and gave what I thought was a shallow shrug. “Don’t you feel guilty?” I replied, my face turning to a scowl.

“Sure,” he replied and turned away. “But what’s the alternative,” he said as he bent for the ladder, looking towards the pitched angle of the next extension’s roof.

“Oh, sorry, I forgot,” I said, letting my voice harden. He turned, his face nonplussed, the ladder still held in his hand.

“Sorry?” he replied. I took a step toward him.

“I forgot you wreck lives for a living,” I said and walked past him, knocking the ladder in his hands as I did.

“You have no idea,” he said with no change to the tone of his voice. I stopped, turned back and he held my eyes, his expression didn’t change, his eyes snatching away only for a moment from the slope of the next roof. I turned away, this wasn’t the time, and took in my own view of the tiles.

The pitch wasn’t too great, if we could get onto the roof it was shallow enough for us to climb with probable ease, little fear of slipping down, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how the hell we would get across.

At least we had time. At least we were safe for now and I turned on the spot, Ryan doing the same search for inspiration, both of us coming up empty. Then I looked the windows just about our heads, noted the single panes of glass, looked to Ryan and he raised an eyebrow in return and pulled the ladder nodding, opened the metal either side and set it on the roof. I didn’t wait for him to take his first step, didn’t wait to listen to his argument and I climbed, raising up the level and squinted in from the light to the dark. With little surprise, I stared into the bedroom, a double bed in the centre, the quilt ruffled, the sheet cast half off and I could see the mattress, could see the dark, abstract pattern on the white and took no note, my heart only sinking when I took another step up and saw the white of the bones on the floor, the mess of blood underneath, the leather like covering discarded to the side. I watched the blood up the side of the bed, its brightness catching stark in the light from this angle.

I felt bile rise from my stomach, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the bones, the flesh missing, picked clean, scattered around the floor. I couldn’t help fear for the creature, searching the room for signs of it still there. Ryan asked if I was okay, a reply to the sharp intake of breath when my eyes caught on the skull cracked in two across the eye sockets, the contents of the protective shell missing. I never gave a reply, didn’t have a chance before a bloodied face appeared at the window from below, its mouth chewing in a round circle like a cow, a thin collection of bones, a hand, hanging from its mouth, dropping to the floor as its eyes flared and its forehead surged toward the thin layer of glass and my only protection.

 

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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 Seventy Seven

I’d like to say I fell gracefully, keeping an elegant line while the chipboard crumpled, while my feet snapped open the plaster beneath. I’d like to say I didn’t scream, didn’t wave my arms wild at my sides despite the pain as I abandoned the previous second of planning. I’d like to say I watched the fall, stared with my expression fixed, a picture of composure as the floor raced towards me, watching as I knocked the ghouls out of the way either side. I’d like to say I didn’t open my eyes only as my legs bent and I arrived cursing the slap of the ground to my knees, broken bones only prevented by the crack of plasterboard catching my fall.

Ryan stood as I raced to my feet knowing either side the creatures would climb to their own. Their slow, toddler awkwardness my only advantage. Fists balled, I stepped forward, eyes fixed on this dazed expression, seeking hope, recognition, searching for any sign of humanity.

He blinked.

I racked my brain for meaning. Was it only a human action? Had I seen the creatures blink?

“Speak,” I shouted, knocking him sideways as I jumped over the mound, my hands landing either side of the cold metal ladder. Still, he hadn’t uttered a word as I swung around, pushing out each half and thrusting it to the floor, my feet already to the second rung as it landed, swaying to the side with rubber resting on the even ground.

Back to the roof, crawling to my front, I twisted, turning, scraping across the sodden board as I landed, peering down below, my hands back to the top rung, ready to hoist it high and out through the hole if Ryan no longer wanted to follow. He stared up, mouth wide and coughed.

The dead didn’t cough.

“Ryan,” I shouted, eyes wide looking to his side where the creatures were on their feet and closing, teetering with traction on the rubble. He blinked, recognition there, he turned, twisted sideways, eyes alarming as he caught the sight. Grabbing the rungs, he sprung alive with action, climbing, feet kicking, slapping away hands before they could get a grip. Dust rained down as he climbed to the edge, following my lead, spreading himself as thin as he could, but I turned away as soon as I knew he was out of their reach, pulled at the aluminium, yanking hard to take it from their grip, hands reaching high and I pulled, Ryan’s hand grabbing hold, pulling up the ladder, swatting, jabbing each wayward, clawed finger.

I climbed to my feet, resting each on the line of the beam beneath, pointing to the edge of the hole as Ryan’s face alarmed. My eyes settled a shape to the floor in the centre from where Ryan had risen. The shape of a gun, covered in a white dusting. I turned, his own had followed.

“I’m sorry,” he said and I turned away.

“As long as you’re all right,” I replied, my voice coming out flat, hands grappling with the ladder, forcing it to fold as I walked along the imaginary tightrope.

“I’m sorry,” he said again as he joined me, the remains of dust floating down as he stepped to where the end beam held firm underneath, his foot sinking as he let his weight settle.

I didn’t reply, stuffing the anger, pushing it down and together we held the ladder, one side each, eyes fixed ahead on the flat roof opposite, slowly lowering until the angle grew too great, its length too far for us to do anything but hold back the fall, guiding the drop with a hope it would reach the other side.

It reached, but only just, the width of the top rung barely at the edge, hands clawing to the air, my eyes alarmed as bloody tips of fingers tapped and clawed against the hollow metal. We had to race, had to get across before something tall, something with long arms come along and grabbed a leg or tipped our bridge as we clambered over.

Looking to Ryan, he nodded across the ladder, showing I should go first, his chest puffing as if to stay behind, to go second would be the more dangerous operation. I didn’t wait, didn’t linger to change his mind. One of us had to go first. I scratched and scraped my soles on the remainder of the felt and put the first of my weight on the metal and slipped, falling forward, the river of upturned foul faces, their clawed fingers outstretched racing to meet me as I descended. 

 

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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 Seventy Six

With my arms either side, flat against the cold brick, I held my breath as the dust and chaos of the moment settled, my ears keen for his call to say he was fine, for the shout through ragged breath he’d made it down safely. The dust stopped falling, but the only noise came from the grotesque crowd’s excitement as their instincts told them they were about to feed.

I took a tentative step, it would serve no purpose to join him at his side on the floor as I imagined him curled. I sank to my knees, dropping to my hands, the pain in my arm easy to ignore as I spread the weight across my limbs in hope, in desperation, to get close. The surface felt springing, giving just a little as each part of me touched, felt as if with just a little more pressure I would by his side. I crept forward, craning my ears but all I could hear was the racket of creatures crowding, there was no sound of effort from below, no stirring of a man trying to get to his feet, trying to raise himself before the creature at the window realised a tasty treat waiting below.

I shot a glance behind me and up to the window and sped, cursing my caution when I saw no shadows behind the glass and I soon arrived at the edge peering down. At first I saw the mess of debris, split, sodden wooden sheets, folded, bent and buckled, broken apart with the white dust of plaster, scant remains still hanging from the ceiling. My eyes followed the neat lines of thick wooden beams, their surface dark, covered with a frosting of mould where in-between the chipboard had completely gone. Laying my front flat to the wood, I edged myself forward, peering in, eyes fixed on the centre of the mess, hoping, urging the pile to move.

The extension was a workshop, tools lined the walls hanging on metal, a wooden bench ran along the closest wall, notched and paint flecked from years of hard use. I looked to the tools and tried to think how they could use each, if, I corrected my thoughts. Once, we’d got over this hump. Then I saw it, saw the clear of the metal ladder sat in the corner at an angle, its length too great to fit flat to the wall. It would be perfect to bridge the gap, perfect for Ryan to climb back out and out of trouble. All he had to do was wake up.

I saw movement, spotted it at the bottom of my vision, but not in the centre as I expected. A sheet of plaster pushing up from the edge. I shuffled forward as far as I dared, leaning my head down whilst holding on to the soaked edge, my eyes searching out Ryan’s hands or his legs pushing the pile, waiting for him to rise, to appear from the mess. I caught sight of a foot, upside down from my perspective as I hung. The boot had a thin covering of mud, flakes falling off as it rose and fell over and over, trying to raise high enough to mount the pile, but not managing. I stared on, couldn’t understand how Ryan was standing, was at the edge and I crept further forcing myself out of what I thought was a safe distance over the limit of the beam to get a better look.

With my new vantage I regretted the improvement to the view, regretted the blood soaked trousers connected to the boots, the second pair of legs joining at their side. A creature from upstairs, or fresh from through the front door, it didn’t matter, and now the pile below me rose, another groan, adding to the low moans already filling the air. Ryan’s hair coming through the rubble as he sat up. His face covered in plaster dust, his complexion pallid, pale like the creature’s at his front, the only colour coming from a line of bright red dripping from a scratch to his forehead. If he hadn’t died and turned from the fall, he would soon succumb to the fate unless I did something and did it now.

I stood, taking care where I placed my feet behind me, then jumped as I high in the air as I could, clenching my teeth and pulling my hand tight to my chest.

 

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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 Seventy Five

Stepping back from the edge of the roof I looked up, Ryan’s hand steadying me with a touch at my arm. The stench continued to rise from between the houses and writhing bodies walking on two feet, hands in the air, fingers clawed, scratching at the brick for traction. Looking away before I had a chance to see her in the crowd, I turned to Ryan, his eyes falling to my bandage and the crimson brightening the white.

I twisted, moving my arm from his view, looked up and across, watching the crowds gathered, waves of the dead rippling forward in every space, every patch of ground. I turned back to the van, my eyes dragging along the seething path we would have to take to get to the goal I had no choice over. Looking back, I caught movement in the house from the window where we’d climbed. I turned to Ryan, his eyes locking with mine.

“What now?” I said, then shook my head, turning away, frustration racing my heart each time I landed on a surface free of the swarm, but each out of reach without a helicopter or a dash through scratching hands and biting teeth surging for us even now while we were out of reach. Directly in front of me and between the van, were six or more houses, their back gardens at least, all but one had a single storey extension of some size, more or less as deep as the one we stood on, around three meters projecting out, all but one with a flat roof, but it didn’t matter, the gulf between each much longer than we could dream of ever jumping.

I looked around the garden, but only with half a heart, it didn’t matter if an aluminium bridge lay on the grass, the teeming crowd of scraping clawed hands and snapping mouths would get us the moment we dropped to the ground. I didn’t find what I needed. As my anger grew I could feel blood pounding in the wound and I turned at a strange high sound ripping over the low moan. With surprise I found Ryan not standing at my side, a sprint of panic lit up inside me until I saw him kneeling by the edge of the roof as if he was about to climb down.

“What the hell? You won’t stand a chance,” I said rushing towards him, the steps sponging as if compressing the insulation under the felt. About to grab his arm, he lifted, the bitumen felt coming away in his hand, a curious smile on his lips. I stood back, let met myself calm on my heels, pulling in my breath as he turned back around, his cheeks still bunched. “What are you doing?” I said, moving around his side along the centre of the roof to get a better view.

He didn’t speak at first, his breath lost in the effort as he stood, the muscles in his arms building against his shirt as he heaved at the felt and it stuttered up, the nails popping as they gave out their grip.

“We need to get something to bridge the gap,” he said, flicking a look over his shoulder. “Can’t think of anything else. You?”

I ignored the question and he didn’t linger for the answer.

After standing at his side for a moment thinking his plan through, I leant in, I’d had no ideas and he let me take the felt which I dragged back with my good arm, while he stood to the edge and inspected what we revealed.

Beneath the felt were chipboard panels with no insulation, its surface swollen with water, scattered with stubborn nails still in the surface with skirts of the old felt.

“Will it hold?” I said drawing back to the edge next to the brick. Ryan didn’t answer, but the wood did, as did the dust spraying out of the gaping hole he disappeared through.

 

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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 Seventy Four

I woke to birdsong, but the music went the moment my eyes opened, replaced with a relentless scratch and scrape echoing from the stairwell. A dark figure stood looking out through the window, turning as I moved, their features in shadow. A sharp pull of breath sent my head ringing with a hangover of pain, my neck stiff as I looked down my body. Sitting up in the bed, lain on the duvet covered with blood, my legs were clean, arm high across my chest, the wound dressed, bandage still white, crisp and new, beside the pink of the oval already healed.

The first bite flashed through my mind. The haze still covering my time back in the compound, the teeth in my flesh, the feverish nightmare I’d let my mind park out of sight.

“The bleeding’s stopped,” Ryan said stepping from the light, his downcast features coming into focus.

“I’m not going to die,” I said. Now was not a time to be coy, he deserved that much for staying at my side, cleaning me up when he thought it was the end for me, thought if I woke I would be alone, a ravaging hunger coursing through my veins. He deserved to know even if it meant he would run a mile.

Ryan watched my arm as I bit down on the pain as I lifted.

“The tests?” he said. I nodded, raising my eyebrows. “What did they do to you?”

I paused, speaking when I realised I was thinking too much.

“They gave me an antidote.”

His eyes went wide.

“There’s a cure?” he said, his voice high, words coming quick, face alive, lit bright, but shrank away at my reluctance to reply.

“A vaccine,” I said looking away. I could see the thoughts running through his brain, the twitches of his brow as he tried to figure out my words.

“You were bitten after they gave you the medicine?” he said, eyes widening.

I nodded.

“They were testing the vaccine,” I said.

“That’s horrible, but,” he said pausing. “Good at the same time right?” he said seeing my eyes close.

“It wasn’t ready.”

He shook his head, his features bunching.

I tried to sit up, but the world span, my arm felt as if tied to a weight keeping it down.

“Don’t get up. You lost a lot of blood,” Ryan said turning around and grabbed a pint glass full of water and a packet of digestives open in the other hand. “Have something to eat,” he said pushing the cup to my good hand.

“We need to move,” I said.

“It’ll hold for a little while longer,” he replied, listening to the unchanging sounds coming from downstairs.

“No,” I said between sips, the water cold on my lips, absorbing into my pores the moment it touched my skin. “We need to get to the van. I need the cameras,” I said.

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” he said as I crunched the second digestive.

“Look,” I said, letting my eyes close for a moment as I tried to slow the spin. “I’m on a course of treatment. The last dose, hopefully, is in the van too and I need it before nightfall.”

He didn’t speak, instead watched as I ate, his head turning side to side.

“What happens if you don’t?” he said, but didn’t finish the sentence.

I paused, knowing what I should say, knowing what I wanted to say would be too much, should be too much for anyone to take. I watched as he raised his eyebrows in our silence. He expected an answer. He deserved an answer.

“Do you turn into a werewolf?” he said, forcing a laugh. Part of me was glad when I heard the front door collapse under the assault, but soon changed my mind when Ryan pushed his arms under my knees and at my back, scooping me up, my breath going from my lungs, chest tightening, water spilling to the bed. He didn’t rush, took great care, carrying me out of the door. Through blurred vision I saw the creature no longer in the doorway and my thoughts sprang for the gun, but the light had gone and I couldn’t see it on the floor. We were in the hallway and his pace hurried, soon out the other side, in another room, the window wide open and I balanced on the window ledge, daylight bright in my face. Cold air stole what was left of the breath from my lungs, the drop to the other side would have robbed the rest if any remained.

“Give me your hands,” he said and I turned, the world a soggy mess as I looked down to mattresses piled on the flat roof. Despite his preparations, I could predict the pain. “Give me your hands,” he said and I could do nothing else but what he told. With a firm grip he lowered me down, the bite screaming with pain until my feet touched cushion of the springs. I wobbled off to the bitumen roof, leaning against the brick to slow the vertigo and felt a weight hit the mattress, a rucksack, the wooden roof beneath giving just a little as he landed at its side. With my head settling, my heart leapt as I looked up and there it was. Seen across the gardens at the back of the row of houses, the van glistened in the bright morning light. It was in one piece, but soon the excitement died when at its back I couldn’t miss the hastily erected metal fence hemming in the densest collection of the creatures I’d ever seen, the van rocking side to side as time and again the walking dead crashed and bounced off its paintwork.

 

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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 Seventy Three

He was there before the pain finished its journey, forcing past me, brushing my shoulder, the knife through the creature’s pale temple in the same movement, its teeth letting go as it went limp. He stumbled over the body, falling, rolling, the knife left behind as he tumbled. His eyes were all around the room, his hand on the hilt, pulling, wiping the blade on the clean edges of the bedcover. He turned, his featured coming to rest on mine.

He stared into my eyes, not looking at my hand covering the wound, blood dripping between my fingers, messing the floor. He stared on, face blank and I replied locking my eyes, waiting for his reaction. A heavy bang on the front door came from downstairs, his face lit and we separated, our eyes parting, his mouth closed, head shaking in slow motion. He ran past, making himself small, trying his best not to touch my arm as he sprinted from the room. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the pain, the pulse of energy shooting out from the wound. I heard footsteps on floor boards racing away and I stumbled forward, almost tripping over the body, my senses too overwhelmed to take in all but the edge of the creatures smell.

I sat on the corner of the bed following my trail mixing with the dark of the creature’s, watching the blots of blood shrink then expand, a record of my journey as the blood continue to ooze, to make its way from the surface of the gun I’d dropped to the carpet as my first reaction. I tried to concentrate past the pain, tried to ignore the hurried escape of the man I’d misread, reaching out for what was happening in the wound, sensing, imagining the tiny diseased critters invading my blood. The start of the war I knew I’d lose.

A calm came over me as the pain lulled to a thud, a dull ache to the beat of my heart slowing every other moment, until I moved, until I tried to pull off the jacket one handed. At least the scarlet was only a little darker than the two piece Toni had picked out, it shouldn’t dry too dark before I could reach the cameras and make my first, make my last, piece.

I stood and landed back down to my butt, my head light, swimming, lolling around in my skull. I would need a moment to compose myself, to let the blood stop, although the growing puddle falling down my lap, running along my legs told me I may need to give it some help.

With a deep breath I let the jacket from my shoulders, pushing past the world shrinking to a spot in the centre of my vision, waiting only a moment for the dark border to retreat before I lifted the arm I doubted I could use for much longer, tugging at the collar, pain surging, but only for a moment before the darkness took over.

 

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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 Seventy Two

I’d let go of his wrist, but still felt him by my side, his body twisting as he searched for a way out. While I tried to slow my breath, I felt his warm hand linked into mine, gripping hard, gripping tight, pulling across my chest. My body followed, feet soon after, if only to stop me falling face first to the tarmac. He took control, had me completely. I gave no resistance as he dragged me toward the row of houses, my feet barely keeping up as we headed to the opposite side of the street to where we’d arrived. To our right the metal fence rang with fingers scratching, hands slapping, shoulders barging as teeth snapped and the metal pulled its grip against the wooden posts rocking, swaying with each wave of effort.

His hand released and I slowed, a weight pulling at my chest as if I’d lost something, some part of me, my gravity. He didn’t slow, raced passed the garden gate, shoulder first. Not stopping to test the handle, he barged at the door. I saw his pain. Saw the shatter of his bones, his agony as the door held, seconds before he connected. What was wrong with me? I’d lost all will. I’d lost all hope, could hardly believe what I was seeing as the door gave, his shoulder connecting, wood splitting at his side as he took the barrage in his stride without a stumble, not faltering, only pausing to make sure I’d followed.

I had and I hated him for it.

Ryan ignored me, stepping past to push what remained of the door back into its hole, rushing back past me to the living room, grabbing at the straight back chair, barely noticing as I moved out of his way and climbed the stairs.

I hated the way I felt. Hated my growing anger. Hated the resentment brewing each time he took control, each time I stumbled, but still the anger rose with each step, the cloud in my head thickened as the seconds ticked by. I knew I should have been alert. I knew no matter what I’d been through these last few days, no matter how wronged I’d been, how unfair the world had been, it owed me nothing. All my life I’d been a strong independent woman who had needed no one else to get me what I needed, to keep me safe, to achieve my goals, the goals I’d set for myself. I’d never needed a man to hold my hand, never needed a woman to take the lead. I’d made difficult choices in my life, but they were my choices and I’m here right now because of me, not because of some woman who’d chosen to bring me into their mess, or some man who thought he was my hero come to save my life and turn me from my current path.

As I reached the top step, I saw the mess. As I reached the top step, I realised how stupid the words sounded in my head. I pointed the gun and tried to push the thoughts away as I scoured the landing, following the trail of blood back down between my legs, following the scarlet track which should have been obvious so much sooner, the volume lessening as it fell. I followed it back up, lingering on the pool of blood just past the top step, soaked into the grey carpet and stepped, the wood creaking with my weight.

I’d made it up in my head. He wasn’t trying to take control. He’d done what any person would have done, any brave individual, any selfless person. I’d frozen, my brain clogged with grief, clogged with too much, with no chance to resolve any of it. Now was not the time, I knew, but I wasn’t in control. I shook my head as I took another step. He wasn’t trying to change my path. I was the first, my head was the first to bring it up. He’d done nothing wrong.

The floor creaked as my foot pressed weight on the carpet. I should stop, I knew, but my brain asked why I should wait for the man to come and take control. I shouldn’t have listened to the voice. My voice in my head. I shouldn’t have kept taking those steps, should have listened to the feet running behind me, shouldn’t have opened the door, should have let go when I felt the handle, sticky with what anyone would know was blood. I should have left it alone, waited, called for his help, he would soon be behind me. I should have left it well alone. I had nothing to prove. I didn’t need to turn the metal I kept in my hand, didn’t need to push open and look into the room, letting the daylight flood into the corridor until the sun shadowed with the lunge of the creature, its teeth sinking deep into my arm.

 

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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 Seventy One

“No,” I shouted as Ryan reached for the gun, with no pause in his reaction as it thud to the grass. His hand froze, hovering just above its black and our eyes caught, breaking off as the sound of movement came from in front, the sound too loud, too busy for what we’d seen. Alarm lit our faces at the crowd of bodies ambling around the corner, none of which had been there only a moment before. With my breath already caught, it felt as if a vacuum pulled my lungs from my chest as I saw Toni, her chest rended wide, ribs pulled clean of their flesh with a blanket of thick, clotted blood covering her face.

I looked to the Toni pulling her intestines behind her, snatched a look straight back to her double with the white of her ribs bared. I knew only one could be Toni, despite what my eyes were screaming, knew even when I saw her for the third time, her clothes a perfect match, at least what remained, at least what I thought the colours would be underneath the blood and dirt. 

I saw her head on every other body, saw her smile on mouths hanging slack. I looked between each, stared at the face of a solider, the face of a man dressed in military fatigues, a rifle hanging loose around his front. He wasn’t her, I was sure, but I couldn’t look elsewhere, couldn’t let my imagination take over. I would have calmed, should have calmed, should have taken a deep breath and centred myself, but Ryan had taken my pause to reach for the gun and he’d raised up and pointed it out to the crowd. Blinking, his motion slow, all I could do was observe, could watch, seek his line of sight, follow where he pointed. Straight at Toni.

“No,” I screamed, regretting the volume as the world came back in focus. I grabbed both hands around his upper arm and yanked. The gun went off and I screamed again. “No,” I could move, but didn’t grab the gun. With a twitch I saw the shot must have missed, each still stood as I pulled him hard. Letting go with one hand fixed tight, he followed as I dragged him behind.

A second from the low fence I put my faith in him and let go, jumping as high as I could, pulling my legs around the side, barely stumbling as I landed. I kept running, racing through the garden, chasing down the house, eyes fixed on the bright green back door, only looking back as I pushed the handle down and it held under my weight.

He’d followed. Relief lit my face, raising my cheeks when I saw he wasn’t aiming the gun towards me, wasn’t carrying a thin smile as he forced me to do his bidding. Relief raised the corners of my mouth until my focus fell at his back, fell to the creature falling over the short fence, the resemblance still there as they floundered to their feet the other side, our side, already making their slow but dogged journey in our direction as I watched.

His hand grabbed at mine, pushing the gun into my grip, his other at my back drawing me away from their route, pushing me in front, down the side of the house and the second short fence. I was numb to the climb, to the cautious raise of my leg as I stepped over the chain-link while Ryan held it low. I didn’t look on to where I’d landed, to the other side while Ryan climbed, my eyes fixed on my thigh exposed by the long rip up the side of my skirt rising to the waistband, trying to think back to when it happened, knowing Toni would be cross. If she’d lived long enough.

“Jess,” Ryan said, grabbing me by the shoulders, shaking. I looked up and saw the concern in his face. He shook again and I seemed to watch, despite not realising I’d been anything but wide awake. My eyes fell over his shoulder, the resemblance still there in too many places. I nodded, pulling in a breath, sounds crisp again, despite not realising they’d become anything but. I turned, grabbing his wrist despite him running parallel to my side not needing encouragement. My eyes ran across the view, jumping every few steps to launch over the bloodied mess of bodies littering the once sleepy village street.

I’d seen the Tee junction. I’d seen the steeple of the church, couldn’t quite see the white of the van but knew I shouldn’t be able to from here. I’d seen the street thick with Zombies, but hadn’t connected there being nowhere to go. It was the pull of Ryan’s wrist guiding me away from the junction, the road littered with the smoking remains of Land Rovers and trucks and black sticky piles with steam still rising nearby.

We’d turned around, had no choice, found no alternative, all but one house on each side of the once quiet street had their doors open and movement ambled toward each opening from inside. We had nowhere to go but back the way we’d came and we ran until we saw the creatures which had followed climbing up from the grass as they pulled up from their fall our side of the second short chain link fence.

I looked to the sky for a miracle. I looked to the blood soaked ground at my feet as we pulled up. I looked to Ryan and his wide eyes twitching to every point in view. I didn’t know how many bullets remained, but I had enough to make sure we both could make the choice not to be eaten alive.

 

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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 Seventy

“What next?” Ryan said, but I barely heard the words, my concentration fixed on scouring everywhere but the house where I’d been held, the house where I’d shot the gun, the house where I’d done the deed I couldn’t bring myself to think on. I was glad of his interruption when he spoke again. “I have a cousin in the next village over. We could hold out with him?” he said. I sped my pace, twisting back to see his face in the burgeoning light, his weathered complexion for the first time without the shadows. It wasn’t an unpleasant sight. The thought reminded me of Toni, reminded me of the look she would shoot, the accusation she’d give just with her narrowed eyes.

“Nothing’s changed,” I said turning back as he jogged to catch up.

“You’re looking at the same place right?”

I nodded and he stared on before speaking again.

“They’re hemmed in, packed in like kippers,” he said.

“Sardines,” I said.

“Yeah, whatever. Fish in a tin. They’ve shut them in there for a reason,” he said looking to the sky, which was now mostly blue.

“I get it,” I said and speeded my descent.

“And you’re still going in?” he said hurrying at my side.

“I have no choice.”

“We can get another camera,” he said, but by now I was jogging, the distance between us growing as we closed in on the village. By now with each breath of wind I caught the concentrated odour, could hear the low grumbling moan, the ground itself seemed to rumble as it to complain at the weight of the creatures. The metal fence panels swayed in and out, the creak of the metal clamps scratching to keep hold. Through the gaps between the metal sheets clamped together to the vertical poles, constant movement passed back and forth. Somehow I knew Ryan was about to talk and I turned, light full on his face, his mouth open, words primed to spring out. He paid attention to my request, my index finger to my lips, then pointing to the slow sway of the fence, he changed course with me, heading to the right and the wooden fence panels marking the start of the village’s gardens.

Not slowing from the jog I followed the path of the fence, not able to see over, but I could feel the house, cold sweat ran down my spine and I picked up the pace, slowing only when we came to a corner. Around the turn the fences were lower and made from chain-link, the deserted gardens easy to see. I kept my eyes flitting to the windows, looking for movement, for signs of life. There’d been many people, tens of villagers caught up in the fright the last time I’d been here. Was it last night? I said to myself, trying to remember the details. I wanted to see movement at the windows, hands waving, anything but open-mouthed stares. I needed to see reason still for the Army not to forsake this place, to lock it up, light the blue touch paper and stand well away. They’d evacuate first, right? Then again if that woman was in charge, maybe my hopes would be unfounded.

We ran on, neither speaking, not even when I saw the familiar row of houses, the row we’d first come across, where we’d stood and seen the two runners chased, dropped to the floor, at least one of their lives ended, leaving just hope for the remainder. I saw the back of the house where we’d escaped over the roof. Saw movement, but those memories were clear. The house was a bust. We’d run because I’d let them in to save the boy. For a moment I wandered if he was safe, if the woman, already forgetting her name, was looking after him, or was alive at all. I let the thoughts drop, I only had enough emotional energy to keep it together.

“Jess,” Ryan’s sharp but quiet call pulled me back from my memories and about to admonish him for breaking the silence, I saw the reason for the word, his outstretched arm, finger pointed to the movement which had caught his eye. A woman with her back to us, her spine pronounced through the thin bright running top I’d seen before, the two great rends of flesh where the material broke in ragged tears. She was the second jogger, the one I’d hoped had survived. I let my eyes close, but just for a second, I told myself, just enough to take a deep breath. I had time, she hadn’t seen us yet and I imagined her drawn features, drawing on what I’d seen at a distance. Her mouth hanging slack as her attention focused on the metal fence which hadn’t been there last night, but she wasn’t trying to escape, she was trying to get in, she was on our side.

I stopped, Ryan halting, and watching his wide eyes snapping around, but I could see nothing in the overgrown grass he’d could use to improvise as a weapon. I pulled the gun up, but I wouldn’t fire, it would be a last resort, knowing we had to get inside quietly, the shot would call the dead over and our easy hop over the fence into their enclosed territory would turn to a death sentence.

I took a step and a twig I hadn’t seen snapped under my foot. I stopped. Holding my breath, I flashed a look to Ryan who stared back, both of us drawing in relief which blew straight out as we twisted back around. The woman still hadn’t turned, but coming around the corner another stared in our direction already picking up speed, her hands rising in the air as my gun fell from my grip, stomach stabbed as if hit with a bold of lighting. It was Toni, her face red with blood, shredding with deep scratches, hair missing, scalp gone with it, the white of her skull on show for all to see, her stomach an open cavity, intestines uncoiled like a rope dragging behind.

 

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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 Sixty Nine

“Mother-in-law?” he said, the words tailing off.

“I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t mean Mother-in-law, I meant something else. She’s the mother of my,” I stopped, the words confused in my head. Toni hadn’t been my girlfriend for longer than two weeks and only way back when we didn’t know what happened when we spent long periods together. Yes, we’d seen each other plenty of times since, snatched time together as our memories lapsed. We’d laid in each other’s arms, but only for the briefest of moments had I considered calling her anything but a friend. I paused on the word. It didn’t sit right either, even more so now she’d handed me over to the woman who’d plunged an infected needle in me, who’d locked me in a cage to see what happened. Breath caught in my mouth as I rambled inside my head, the images of Toni’s body stumbling back, her hand to her stomach so clear in my head.

“Are you okay?” Ryan said, one hand reaching for my arm, the other in the small of my back as I bent. With his touch I pulled upright, shaking off his grip.

“I tripped, calm down,” I shouted and he pulled away. He didn’t speak and I was glad for the quiet. I needed space to concentrate on pushing away the thoughts as we walked. As time went on my mind went over old ground and I needed him to talk, to fill the void left by my feelings pushed down inside, needed his words as a weight to keep them from rising.

“It’s getting light,” I said my voice low, not turning to see if he’d been watching the first glow of orange on the horizon.

“Yes,” he replied and let the silence cover us again.

“Sorry I snapped,” I said. “I’ve got a lot to deal with, you know. It’s no excuse, but,” I added and he quickened his pace to catch up.

“It’s fine,” he said and I could hear the smile in his voice, seeing the curl of his lips as I turned. It was still too dark to make out the detail, but he seemed to have a smile not compatible with his anti-social line of work. I looked ahead, could see nothing on the horizon as we climbed, the rising light highlighting the clean line of the hilltop. There was still a long way to go.

“So you want to talk now?” he said, his words seemed genuine enough, not an accusation. I nodded. “So what’s all this about? What do you know?”

I should have realised he’d want to talk about the one thing I’d had enough of.

“What do you mean?”

“You said something about what’s going on, the dead reanimating. I’ve seen for myself, but I need to know more,” he said. “From the beginning.”

I got it. I would be the same. I am the same. I’d have to know everything I could in his position.

“It’s patchy, but I’ll do my best,” I said and turned to see him nodding out of the corner of my eye. “From what I can gather it started in a laboratory near to the village. The scientists were doing work on the disease, trying to find a cure, an antidote.” He nodded, only moving his eyes from me to check his footfalls as the ground undulated. “It got out of control. There was infighting about how to deal with it, scientists squabbling about the best approach. I got a call, my girl,” I paused on the word. “Toni, was in trouble and I rushed here to see if I could help.”

“Your girlfriend right?” he said and I closed my eyes and drew a deep breath.

“It’s complicated, but yes,” I said, opening my eyes as the sole of my trainer kicked against a stone. “Anyway, fast forward and it turns out through some questionable ethics, to say they least, the virus or disease, call it want you want, hasn’t only mutated, but the creatures, I want to call them the dead, but that’s not right, they overran the place. Not even the army could deal with it.”

“And that’s when you escaped?” 

I nodded.

“Why you?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” I said.

“Where did it come from? The disease?” he said. I paused. It was a good question, one of many I would ask when the gun was in the Doctor’s face. I shook my head.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “All I know is you have to damage the brain to kill them.”

“Like in the movies?” 

“Like in the movies, yes.”

“So,” he said, stopping before he continued. “They’re zombies, right?”

I didn’t reply, but my shoulders gave an involuntary shrug. The name had been on the tip of my tongue since I’d first seen them, but to use the word to describe the creatures seemed both perfect, but too cartoonish, too trivial at the same time.

“They’re the dead come back to life?” he said. I nodded. “They’ve got an insatiable thirst for flesh?” he said. I chewed my bottom lip and gave the slightest tip of my head. “What happens if you get bitten?”

“Okay,” I said. “I get it.” The world obsessed with zombie culture on the TV, in books and in film. Now they’d need to obsess in real life too. “Call them Zombies if it makes you happy,” I replied. The silence hung for a few hundred metres.

“Is this legit?” he said.

“In what way? Do you mean am I telling the truth? Let’s not start that again.”

“No, no, no. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve smelt it, felt their cold skin. I get it,” he said holding up his palms. “I mean the work they were doing, was it legit? Is it the government doing this to us, or is it some rogue outfit?”

I thought about his words. Another sensible question. If he hadn’t chosen the path to his scum of the earth profession, then maybe he would have made a good reporter.

“Like a super villain?” I said.

He laughed. I wasn’t smiling.

“I guess, but less like a comic. If this was sanctioned government work, then surely they would be better prepared. They’d have protocols for protecting against a release, back up, enough protection, enough troops to contain any situation.”

“You could be right,” I said. 

I looked up realising the light was growing fast and we were heading downhill, the sun blueing the sky enough for us to see the buildings looming larger than I would have thought. My eyes drew to the dark smoke stacks rising on the horizon. With each step I could make out more detail, houses, the olive drab trucks parked along the road leading into the village, the road blocked with a tall metal fence gripping tight to the buildings either side, the wooden fence over which I’d jumped, where I’d run, the house I’d run from, its sight sending a shiver down my spine. I slowed, gripping the gun tight and Ryan kept at my side as we stared on trying to make out if the wriggle, the maggot like movement in the streets, could be anything other than a sea of zombies, looking nothing like they did in the cartoons.

 

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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 Sixty Eight

In silence he walked in my wake with my hand around his wrist. I felt his tension, the questions on the tip of his tongue as we headed parallel to the growing amber glow, the cacophony still roaring at our side. With the fade of each short-lived scream, I imagined increasingly more people forced out into the open as the fires caught neighbour after neighbour. With nothing I could do to help, under my breath I thanked them for their help even though they didn’t know what they were doing, drawing away the infected, keeping us safe.

With the amber glow at our backs, Ryan twisted from my loosening grip and grabbed my wrist. I pulled away, rubbing the tender skin, turning to see the shadow of his apology, hands raised, palms out in the air. Before he spoke my eyes lingered on the halo above the village, the growing plume of dark smoke rising to blot out the stars. To the side I saw distant torchlight flashing, scanning the horizon, circling in search for someone. Searching for us.

“Why didn’t we go with them?” Ryan said, his voice quiet. I turned, walking slowly away while my eyes adjusted from the light.

“I told you, I have something to do. I have to get my cameras, I have to tell the world what’s happening here.”

“Shouldn’t we have brought them with us?”

“It’s too dangerous. They’re better off doing what I said.”

“Isn’t it too dangerous for us too?”

“I don’t have a choice,” I replied letting my pace quicken.

“And I don’t?” he said, his mouth sounding contorted.

“Of course,” I said. “You can catch up with them if that’s your choice.”

He didn’t reply for a while, his voice was quieter when he spoke.

“You need my help?” 

“It’s your choice?” I said, letting go of a bubble of laughter.

“You want me along though?”

I paused, a smirk rising on my lips.

“I doubted myself back there, it’s a lot to come to terms with, but when I saw you with the fence post I knew.”

“Knew what?” he said his pace quickening to catch up.

“I knew you’d be okay, knew you’ve got what it takes.”

“Takes for what?”

“To stay alive. To survive.”

He didn’t reply.

We walked in silence for what must have been ten minutes, with still no sign of light on the horizon.

“What’s the plan?” he finally said, catching up after falling behind. I paused and thought about the question.

“Get the camera van,” I said. “Do you think you can operate a camera?”

“I guess,” he said. “How hard can it be? What are we going to film?”

I paused again and thought all of what had happened so far, thought of all the missed opportunities, each time I should have captured the images, sent them back to London and rest of the world would have known, would have come to the rescue. I thought of all the lives I’d seen lost, thought of all the needless death and tried not to imagine the scale, knowing I’d only seen a fraction of what was going on.

“We film what we see. We won’t need to be picky.”

He paused again.

“Where’s the van?” he said. I stopped and looked around the horizon trying to get my bearings.

“The next village over?” I said, the words uncommitted. He stepped ahead, repeating my turn around the view and pointed to our left, almost in a right angle direction and starting walked. He spoke as I caught up.

“Why’s this down to you?”

“It’s what I do,” I replied, the words a reflex.

“What I mean is if this is so bad, and it’s easy to believe if what I’ve seen is just a fraction, why is the world and his wife not down here kicking their asses?”

I thought for a moment and looked up to the sky. Looked at the pinprick stars I often stared at to make sure I remembered how minuscule my part in the universe is.

“My thoughts exactly,” I said. “And that’s what else were going to do.”

“Huh,” he replied.

“We’re going to find out why the rest of the country is letting this happen.”

“How?” he said.

“I’m not sure yet,” I replied, my words slow. “But I’ve got a feeling if I stick a gun in my mother-in-law’s face we’ll know a lot more.”

 

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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 Sixty Seven

The heat beat me back once I’d stood, unsure on my feet, but the screams, the pain resounded between the houses. The realisation came from the crowd, echoing out, panic sparking to life. People ran into the dead, confronted with jaws locking to their fleshy parts. Some ran to the fires, adding to the orchestra of screams, while others ran to their houses shutting out those who tried to follow even though hearts still beat in their chests. Some jumped over fences and out of sight, some stayed put, fixed to the ground in disbelief. 

I couldn’t watch, had to turn away, took a step forward, but the fire beat me back. My thoughts flashed to Ryan. He’d gone. I tried again to get through the heat but still the heat forced me away and I bounded back a few steps until I could just bear the energy pouring out. With a call, a familiar tone, an angry shout, I turned overlooking a pair in a tussle, until with a flash of light from a nearby fire, I saw his checked shirt, saw the long fencepost wielded in his hands, the club swinging left and right, figure after figure knocked to the ground. With pride rising in my chest I saw it was Ryan beating back the onslaught of the dead.

I turned as many hands gripped at the post, the fire at my back dying down and I ran past the flames, scooping up the gun and turned back racing towards the battle, but he’d disappeared again, leaving just a crowd surging forward where he’d been, hands grabbing at those whose brains were miss-wired, gripped to the spot with fear. I ran, a gust of wind almost pushing me over with the stench of the sewers and I looked beyond the front line of the group, high on my toes, but he was no where to be seen. They’d overcome him.

“Jess,” a call came to my left. “Jess,” it came again as I searched, but only on the second call did I see Ryan beckoning me between two houses as he stood beside the stream of people waving them through, circling his hand. I took one quick glance toward the crowd, watched wide-eyed as a middle aged man, his face grey, hand clutching his chest, disappeared, overcome by the crowd of faces bearing down as he collapsed to the ground. I ran.

Ryan followed behind me, the last of those who could still walk. The screams had died, the lights had gone dim, beams flicking around the night as those running dispersed. The sirens and car horns still blared away, calling more of the dead ever closer. We had to get away. Everyone should get out, everyone had to go. The right choice to run, the wrong choice to lock yourself away hoping the cavalry would come around the corner and save the day. It was my job to tell them, my job to let people know. It was my job to tell those people who could still hear me they had to prepare for the worst or die. It was my job to break the news and save as many lives as I could.

Once between the alley we filtered through the garden of the house on the right and followed the thin crowd down along the grass and over the tall wooden fence lain on the floor, out onto the fields and back where we’d started. Stumbling in the dark, Ryan gripped my hand, catching my fall as I listened to the sounds diminish and the smoke thin in the air but cling heavy to everything else.

Moonlit figures dotted around the field, most had stopped and turned back to their village, shining torches across the horizon with sharp pulls of breath following each moment someone caught a fright, saw movement from some unseen part of the field. Ryan stayed at my side, his eyes scouring like the others as we slowed. Words in the scattered group built to a hurried conversation and people drew together. Tears fell and rose and fell again as they sought and received comfort, their mouths full of questions.

“What now?” a deep voice said, the loudest of many voices. A reply came from one of the many.

“Wait for the police,” a woman said, her voice on the edge of tears. I looked to Ryan and could just make out his face in the dull glow until a torch shined right on him and he pushed his hand out to block the beam as he turned away shaking his head. The beam swapped to another face.

“We get away,” I said and the beam was on me, but I was used to the brightness and didn’t shy away. “We walk, find somewhere safe, stay in the fields until it gets light, till we can see where we’re going.” 

A murmur ran around the thin crowd, tears dried and breath slowed.

“We should get back to our houses,” a man’s voice shouted towards the back of the group.

“You need to be quiet,” I said, hushing my voice and crowd murmured in agreement as they stepped closer. 

“What are they?” a woman’s voice said close by, the clearest of the many questions pouring in my direction. I paused, not wanting my words to raise their blood.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I know what they look like.” Noises of agreement ran around us. “All I know is you need to stay away, you need to keep quiet, you need to find somewhere safe, somewhere with food until you’re rescued.” Voices of encouragement greeted my sentiment and people shouted names of places, loud at first, then repeated quieter, the crowd broadly agreeing on a supermarket a few kilometres away.

“Great,” I said and stopped. “Which way is that?” I said and watched in the moonlight as many hands pointed to our right. “Okay,” I replied, watching as the crowd moved, following the outstretched hands. Ryan walked away until I put my hand on his forearm and held him back, my finger to my lips as he turned in my 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 Sixty Six

“Fire,” the word came slow and dry. “Fire,” I repeated, heaving against the force on my chest. Alarms rose and fell in the street. Car horns bellowed for attention. Bright lights flashed in and out like a white disco singing to the music of embers crackling and the burn of plastic, all while smoke thickened, collecting in my lungs. With a great heave I rolled the weight to the floor, glass scratching under my trainers as I pulled myself up against the table, snatching the gun as I leant heaving for breath while squinting around the room. The pizza boxes were just embers glowing orange, flames licking along the adjacent unit, the microwave melting, dripping down the counter, leading flame to catch on the floor.

I turned to the doorway. It was clear, the floor strewn with glass, but checking my feet I found the oversized shoes still there. My eyes fell on Ryan still quiet and pushing my hand into the crook of my elbow, I nudged him hard with my foot. When he didn’t respond I admonished myself for a thought even though it barely had time to form. Turning to the doorway, I pushed the Glock into the band of my skirt and gripped him under shoulders, nails pulling hard with each tug. His body moved with each pulled, glass sweeping along the floor, soot smudging in his path, but we were soon through the doorway with only a short distance left to escape.

The key sat in the lock and I praised my fortune when it turned, sucking out smoke billowing from behind me as the first chill of fresh night air sucked deep into my lungs. We were over the step before his body complained, lungs heaving, coughing as the icy air hit his face and the cold tarmac pulled from beneath him, a cacophony assaulting our ears. With heat pouring from the house at my back, I stared at the scene of destruction while I dragged Ryan a few more metres away from the house and towards the left. I pulled him backward into the road, the pathway blocked by parked cars pushed over, including his, found resting on its door, the tang of petrol in the air.

What I could only guess was once the police car, sat in the road just a short step away, black smoke pouring from the multicoloured flames dancing inside its glowing red cage, with no sign of what had caused the crash. Along the street half the houses, ten or more, whose owners were yet to update to double glazing, had no glass remaining, except for the odd finger dangling down ready to fall at an inopportune moment. We were the first out, but not the only house on fire. Two others, both opposite the centre of the blast, were alight and only now people burst into the street followed by smoke, trailing tears and pained, longing looks for their worldly possessions. Fingers jabbed at the keys of mobile phones, but I could see even from the other side of the street they weren’t able to make the call. Maybe no one would come, no one could come, even if they could get through.

Alarms continued to ring, boxes on the side of houses strobed, car headlight’s flashed, heat cracked wood splitting the air. As I looked down, I watched Ryan sit up and as he coughed, I let my lungs clear with each cold breath, ignoring with each intake of air, the sting of petrol vapour. Petrol, I thought, the word hanging in my mouth and I grabbed at Ryan’s shirt. He looked up as I shouted and tried scrabbling to his feet, eventually able to get up with my hand as a guide.

“Petrol,” I said out into the street, pointing back as I squinted to the orange light, but no one took note, my cotton wool filled head shook as we got to what I thought would be a safe distance. “Petrol, get back,” I shouted this time, my voice hoarse and with little power. Ryan joined me to make a chorus, but his voice gave little help against the chiming of the bells and the two tone alarms. I looked around, the street was filling, everyone must have been at home. There were people stood in their pyjamas, some covered with dressing gowns. Women cried, children screamed, people held torches, people held candles to stave off the darkness. Up the road the crowd was building, people walking, ambling along, the noise would have woken everyone up, would have woken up the village, or the army base by the look of those coming down the road. I pushed my fingers in my ears, the chaos enough to wake the dead.

I tried to concentrate, to fix on the crowd, watching their movements with intrigue. My eyes went wide as the realisation came, my hands raising up as the first of the crowd passed into the group of houses, as the crowd spread, turning this way and that, moving to those standing by the side of the road. Those watching on weren’t scared, weren’t worried until it was too late, their screams adding to background. Only I saw those weren’t people. Only I saw those weren’t rescuers. Only I saw those were the infected.

I grabbed for the Glock, but it wasn’t at my waistband. I scoured the floor, frantically turning to stare across my path, running back towards the house knowing I must have dropped it inside. I jogged, but fell to my knees, my arms covering my face as the cars on the side of the road exploded one after the other.

 

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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 Sixty Five

The candles stopped flickering. The room fell silent. Dust and smoke rained down between us.

Past the barrel I watched Ryan stood straight like a statue, his face fixed, eyes staring, open-mouthed.

Letting the gun drop, he bent his neck towards his chest; the light dancing once again across his shirt, his hand shadowing the light as he scoured for a disturbance. He looked up, watching as I flicked my eyes over his shoulder. He followed, twisting to the wall behind. Air pulled deep in a gasp and he stared into the cracked plaster at head height, his eyes disappearing down the round hole in the centre.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d fallen to his knees, was ready to catch his head as he turned, but he returned, fixing in place, his mouth held open, catatonic.

“Still think it’s a fucking joke?” I said, my eyebrows raised as I fidgeted the gun in my grip.

He shook his head, eyes flicking to my hand.

“You almost killed me,” he said, all the colour gone from his voice as he raised his head.

“I never almost do anything,” I replied, making a show of placing the gun on the tabletop. I let the air hang with silence, watching the sharp contours of his face in the flicking orange light.

He took at least a minute to move, any longer and I was ready to walk out of the door. If he came with me he’d see so much worse by the time the day was over. Moving to the sink, he leant against the metal basin, letting water dribble into the bowl before pushing another glass from the draining board and holding it until it overflowed with water. Leaving him in peace I waited for the glass to finish, waited for his turn before I spoke.

“This is real. The dead walk the streets infecting more each minute. Tomorrow it will be so much worse, people will wake to the horror and it will overcome them,” I said nodding to the window. He turned back, following my gaze. He’d seen something out there, I’d seen it too. Fear forced him back from the window. “There are people out there trying to help, the military, the police, but others will use this as an excuse.” He was white as a sheet as he turned back towards me, but flinched back to the window at the sound of a glass bottle rolling along the road. “And that’s not the worst,” I said raising my eyebrows. I didn’t finish my words and he didn’t ask.

Taking a deep breath, swallowing hard, he was about to speak, but stopped himself, turning, pushing the glass under the tap till water rolled over his fingers.

“What are you trying to do?” he said once he’d gulped the glass down.

I let a smile rise in the corner of my mouth.

“I’m trying to let everyone know. It’s the biggest story in history, but unless you see it coming down the road, you’ll have no idea. You won’t be prepared.”

He stared on, head turning down to the gun.

“So why do you need that?” he said, his voice slow.

“I need to survive,” I replied my eyes following back up from the gun. “I won’t give a shit when I’m dead and not in control.”

“And why do you need me?”

“I need someone to help me get my camera’s back.” He raised his eyebrows before letting them fall. “I had to leave them behind, next village North.”

“Why me?”

“I thought you had big balls. I thought you wouldn’t be afraid. You have skills,” I said shrugging my shoulders. “And I can help you.”

He looked down to the gun again before meeting my eyes.

“I’m surviving. I know how to survive. I can help you stay alive.”

His brow furrowed, a question forming on his lips, but he didn’t ask, turning instead to the blue lights building in the darkness outside, staying quiet as a strobe of light raced past the window. I knew he would turn as the lights faded, but they didn’t disappear, instead a great screech of tyres came from outside, beyond the angle of window no matter how far he craned around. He twisted back, looked at me as if he wanted to know what we should do, but turned back to the window when I gave no response. I stood there, eyebrows raised. An orange glow mixed with the flash of blue, searing through our night vision with every pulse.

I shook my head.

“I might have been wrong about you,” I said shaking my head. He twisted back and forth to the window, each time looking back at me, his brows low. “We can’t help them,” I said, but before the words settled in the air, a shock wave shattered the glass pushing Ryan toward me, the pressure hitting before I could move, before I could steady myself, sending a bright light through the room.

A moment later my senses were recovering, it was dark, my body covered with a great weight. My hands hit out at what lay over me, but it wouldn’t move, lay lifeless across as my ears rang, the room getting brighter with dust and smoke catching in my throat.

 

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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 Sixty Four

“You’re from the TV. You’re Jessica Carmichael,” he said, lifting the candle from the table and holding it towards my face. “Off the news, right?” he said, his voice eager, face contorting as he leant further and further over the table to get a better look.

Sinking back into the chair I let my hands fall as the air sighed from my chest.

“Oh my god. I’ve never met anyone famous before and you’re in my house.”

I shook my head. 

“You are, you are. I watch the news every day. I see you there in London interviewing all those important people.”

Another sigh escaped from my chest.

“Yes, I’m Jess Carmichael,” I said not hiding the resignation from my voice as I shook my head.

Blind to my response, he let the candle back to the table and pushed his hand back out with a great smile on the right side of his face as he waited with his hand offered mid air. When it seemed he would stand there forever if I didn’t respond, I shook his hand with a weak grip.

“We’ve done this already, you’re Ryan, I’m Jess.” 

“Jessica Carmichael, yes,” he said, gripping my hand with a great enthusiasm. “I can so see it now.” He sat back in the seat, hovering on the edge, leaning forward, edging his arm further across the table. “So all this,” he said his eyebrows raising and lowering. “It’s a TV show, right?” He looked around the room as if searching for hidden cameras or waiting for a TV crew to burst through the doorway. “No wonder you look so glamorous for this time of night.”

I peered down to the dirt, the creases covering my jacket and looked back up with a raised eyebrow. Maybe this guy wasn’t the full biscuit.

“Those things,” he continued. “I should have known. How did you do it?” he said standing, not waiting for a reply, walking past me and reaching up to a cupboard just at my back. “You like whiskey?” he said, but before I could reply. “Oh shit, can you drink on the job?” he said, his face widening as if I’d taken offence.

“I’m not on the job,” I replied and must have seen the curl of my lip as he reached for another bottle.

“Of course you can, you’re not a copper. Vodka?” he nodded, his smile wide again as I replied with a reluctant nod.

“If only,” I said, but he ignored my words, pouring a slug of the clear spirit into my empty glass.

“I mean,” he said before having to catch his breath while he poured a good few fingers into another glass grabbed from the drainer. “The make up is amazing and the smell, oh my god, how did they get it so realistic? Made my stomach turn.”

“It’s real,” I said letting the glass down, but he carried on talking like I hadn’t spoken.

“And you picked me,” he said, his smile beaming wider than ever. I sighed again turning down to the table as I slowly shook my head.

“It’s real,” I said, letting the words build in volume. I looked up to see he’d stopped talking, his eyes watching as my head rose, but he burst into laughter as our eyes met.

“You’re good. You’re so good,” he said, taking another look around the room. “So when do they burst in to spring the surprise? Are there camera’s hidden all around this place? I hope I haven’t ruined this for anything?”

“Listen,” I said and he was about to speak again, but I stood up from my seat and slapped my hand down on the table sending the glasses jumping into the air. As the glasses landed without spilling, he paused, the colour draining from his face as the candles flickered. “It’s real. It’s fucking real,” I shouted watching his smile fall.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his smile creeping back, but not quite building to its full strength. Anger boiled in my chest. I grabbed the glass and downed the liquid, revelling in the sting as I wiped the back of my hand, letting out a great relief of air. He looked on, his uncertainty growing as the smile sunk. He looked around the room, searching again. I’d had all I could take and slapped the table, sending both glasses toppling as they landed.

“On Christmas Day I had a call,” I said, my voice quiet, but forceful. “My ex called me. She was in trouble.” I did my best to ignore the twitch of his eyebrows. “I raced here to find she’d been imprisoned in the middle of a quarantine zone. They held me too, the government. They conducted tests on me and on my camera team. They’re both dead and I barely survived to escape with Toni. There were so many people infected, dying and coming back to life. We were attacked from all sides. We nearly died. This thing is real and if you still don’t get, step outside and it won’t be long before you’re surrounded. Let one of them, let all of them bite into your flesh, then you’ll know how fucking real this is.” I drew a deep breath and held my lungs full, silently congratulating myself on holding it together.

He didn’t speak, stared on and I let him. I gave his mind time to get to grips with what I’d just said, with my story. The first time I’d told anyone. The first time I’d opened up. The first time I’d told anyone anything about me.

I watched the excitement slowly grow on his lips, my chest rising into my mouth, breath constricting with each moment.

“You deserve a fucking Oscar. Where’s Toni now?” he said. I hated the way he exaggerated her name like she wasn’t real, like she was part of a lie. I moved around the table, careful to place my feet where I could see. I leant toward him.

“I shot her,” I said, letting the alcohol breath pour out before I stepped back.

His smile fell, but not completely, his eyebrows twitching.

“We had to run. We had to run for our lives, but still those things found us. They’re everywhere. We got split up and some fat fuck tied me to a bed and almost raped me.” I could no longer see the detail in his face, the rage pumping blood so fast in my head. I took another step back. “Toni rescued me, but then turned me over. I killed her trying to escape. It was an accident, but it was my finger pulling the trigger,” I said, raising my palms out towards him. “Does that deserve a fucking Oscar?” I said.

Part of me wanted him to smile. Part of me wanted him to give me a way out, to give a release to my rage.

His smile came and he shook his head as he saw the gun in my hand as it raised. He saw it as I did, just as I realised I’d picked its weight from the table as I’d passed. The smile fell with each angle of the gun rising in his direction.

“If this is a performance, if this is a show, if this is entertainment, this bullet won’t kill you.”

I raised my eyebrows, his smile no longer there, but still he couldn’t help but flinch a look around the room.

I pulled the trigger.

 

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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 Sixty Three

“Wait, what?” Ryan said standing, his hand reaching out. I stood, backing away from his reach, my eyes fixed on his scarred knuckles, looking up only as he withdrew and saw his intent on the gun limp in my right hand. “You,” he said, but stopped as the churn of my stomach radiated across the room. Raising his eyebrows, a smile widened across his mouth. “Do you want something to eat?” he said, his perfect white teeth gleaming in the candlelight.

My defences fell, leaving my insides knotted with pain. The feeling wasn’t new, but the cramps hadn’t been my key concern. Until now my concentration had focused on impending death or incarceration. A compliment to Ryan, I guessed. Mind and body relaxing. I drew in a deep breath, a few minutes of delay wouldn’t hurt, a few hours perhaps. Daylight would be our friend and we could use the time for the area around the van to clear.

I nodded and his smile grew wider. 

“Sit down. I’ll go see what I can rustle up.”

I didn’t like being in the room on my own. Hated the flicker of the candle and the shadows it cast, the hypnotic movement sending me within myself, the chaotic dance resembling the flashes of light I kept seeing in my head. In the strobe I saw Toni, her wide-eyed expression, a bloodied wound growing before my eyes, despite knowing my head filled in the blanks. I didn’t want to think about this right now. I never wanted to think about it again. Standing, I lifted the candle before the anger, the sorrow grew too loud and watching my feet, I headed towards the kitchen.

“Gas still works?” I said as I found Ryan stirring a pan in the glow of the blue flame with the grill bright below.

“It’s pressurised,” he said turning his smile widening with my frown. “Doesn’t need electricity,” he added returning to the pan. “You don’t have to carry that around you know,” he said. I looked down at the gun. He was right, at least I hoped. “I took the cuffs off,” he said still looking at the stove. You had your chance and didn’t take it. I heard the words only in my head.

“I know, and I’m sorry I didn’t say thank you,” I said and turned away. “Thank you.” I wasn’t ready to give up the gun just yet.

“It’s okay. Take a seat,” he said turning, nodding towards a small table on the opposite wall of the small kitchen where he’d laid out a single place with a lit candle in the centre. Behind the table were stacks of pizza boxes piled high like a memorial to a single man’s life.

I pulled out the wooden chair and sat, resting the gun on the top to my left with care and he placed a steaming plate of beans piled high on two slices of toast.

“You not eating?” I said, grabbing the knife and fork, not waiting for his answer before I dove in. He sat opposite and watched as I ate, but I enjoyed the food too much to hear his reply. Looking up after my mouth was too full to add any more, I saw him looking on with a question still hanging on his lips.

“I said when did you last eat?”

I thought back to the tastes of food I could remember, the fresh, gamey meats I could smell in my head. The char-grilled BBQ overpowering the tomato sauce and I nearly choked as I forced myself to stop those thoughts, remembering the last meal of a cheese sandwich, Toni’s smile as she offered out the plate.

“Yesterday morning,” I said holding back the cough and I ate the rest of the meal in silence, too distracted to care about my audience, then gulping down the water Ryan offered.

“So are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Ryan said as the last of the water disappeared. I sat back in the chair basking in my full belly, enjoying the stretch of my stomach, trying to ignore the lack of satisfaction, trying to forget I may never feel it again.

“People have different names for it,” I said and watched him stare as if hanging on each word. “Are you a religious man Ryan?” 

He smiled and shook his head with a look of confusion on his brow.

“Good, nor me, but don’t tell my parents.”

His smile grew and I enjoyed his white teeth again.

“It’ll make this easy.” His brow grew heavier. “They are what they seem,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “A virus, a plague has taken over the land,” I said as I tried to think of how I would say this on camera. “Reports of a deadly virus are coming out of a secret government research facility in Devon.”

His brow furrowed even further.

“Sources say the plague has infected hundreds of people, if not more,” I said, the words slow as I carefully chose. “Causing symptoms including reanimation from death.” I watched as his mouth dropped wide and he stood, scraping back his chair.

“Oh my god,” he said, pushing his hand to his mouth and I could almost see the colour draining from his face and I made a mental note to tone down the words. “Oh my god,” he said and peered closer. “Oh my god,” he repeated, his eyes getting wider, not able to turn away from me.

I stood, scraping back the chair as he drew in close, my right hand moving to my face afraid I was changing, hairs sprouting out of my chin, teeth ripping through my lips, my left heading to the gun.

 

 

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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 Sixty Two

“No,” I said with the last of my breath, the muscles in my neck spasming as I fought to keep my face from the carpet. My hands darting left and right from the warmth of his fingers trying to get a grip. “No,” I repeated with little success, my fingers going limp as he took a firm grip, pushing my wrists into the small of my back.

“Hold still,” he said in the struggle, but his words made me wriggle harder against his weight until I felt his pressure release, like I’d won the battle. For a moment it felt like my wrists were coming away from each other. My hand was free, I thought for a second time and I tried pulling my arm up to my side and it came away. I couldn’t believe it, despite the ache in my shoulder as I moved. As the reality settled, I pushed my hand to the floor and rolled, searching in the darkness and there he was looking down with a heavy brow, his face illuminated by the candle flicking on the floor, his hand offered out.

“Ryan,” he said pushing his hand towards me.

I lay on my back swapping my view between my wrists, the cuffs still hanging on the right. I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know what to do. I’d been so wrong about this guy, about Ryan. My right hand touched his and he gripped as I pulled, taking my other hand with his left until I was on my feet, but he kept hold of my right before pushing a small key into the cuff’s lock.

“You have a handcuff key?” I said, rubbing each wrist as the metal released, working my shoulders around in circles, the relief flowing over my head like cooling water after being in the sun for too long.

“Five pound ninety nine on eBay,” he said pocketing the key. 

“Why would you need that?” I said and paused, my head too busy to think about his words for long. “Jess,” I said when he replied with a flash of his eyebrows and pushed my right hand out again and we shook, his grip more gentle, more considered than I’d expected.

“Sorry about the,” he said nodding to the littered floor. “Are you okay?” 

I thought for a moment. I felt fine, my head ached a little, the fall not helping, but I was overwhelmed enough with surprise to keep other thoughts I didn’t want to dwell on pushed to the corners of my mind. I raised my hand to my forehead and touched as the tender bulge, relieved it wouldn’t stop me fitting through doorways.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I said as he bent down, piling the household electronics back it to neat stacks against the walls.

“Shall we?” he said as he finished, offering a hand towards the end of the corridor and picking up the lit candle, before lighting another and handing it over.

I took the candle and followed him in to a living room dominated by a wide TV hanging on the wall. Even in the low candlelight I saw there were no decorations of the season, just a single Christmas card on the mantlepiece reminded me we were supposed to be jolly. Apart from the TV, a man of Ryan’s age didn’t look like he’d belonged to the decor, to the chintzy decoration.

“Take a seat, please,” Ryan said as he took my candle, fixing it with dripping wax into a mug resting on the nest of tables at the side. I did, choosing a single overstuffed armchair in the corner where I could watch the door. He went to sit on the three seater couch, but first had to pull the pistol from his trousers before resting on the edge, laying the pistol to the side.

“My gun,” I said, tipping my head beside him. He looked down at the pistol as if he’d already forgotten and nodded back.

“You’re not going to shoot me are you?”

I paused for longer than I should, but instead of speaking I let a smile bloom on my lips as I ran my hands over my hot wrists, head shaking. He watched my reply before picking up the gun by the barrel and leaning over. The warm grip felt solid and reliable in my hands, its power buoying inside me. I had been wrong about this guy and looked up to see him watching my every move, his expression intense and unsure. I lay the pistol on my lap, smoothing down the wrinkles in the skirt either side and smiled back. Noticing my feet, I tied the trainer’s laces. Being prepare for whatever could come next was a habit I knew I should get into.

“So you’re a burglar?” I said, in such a matter-of-fact fashion it took him by surprise and he stuttered the first word so much, he gave up and instead nodded, his eyes falling back to the gun on my lap. I stared, he had a face my parents would like to see me bring home. Less lipstick. Shorter hair. I pushed the thoughts away, now wasn’t the time to open the box of demons I knew would take years to sort out, if I ever could. Right now I had more immediate concerns. “Are you any good?” I said. My second question came as an equal surprise to the first, but after a moment he let his open hand to point to the hallway and his hoard of bounty. “Good,” I replied, nodding. “I need your services,” I said standing. “And bring the handcuffs. You might need them.”

 

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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 Sixty One

There was nothing I could do. His body blocked the door. His arm extended, hand reaching deep into the footwell. I paused, thoughts of kicking out flashed through my head, propelling myself forward, smashing my head against his. None of the glimpsed ideas ended well, only in pain with the cuffs still tight around my wrists.

“Mine,” I said as he pulled the pistol up, turning it in his hands as he swapped his view between me and the black handgun. He mouthed a word I didn’t quite catch, his face stretched with surprise, eyebrows high on his face. He stepped back, turned away, but something made him stop and stare along the road. My heart sank as I thought of the creatures coming our way, the thought of having to run again, this time without the gun.

“Help me out,” I said as I struggled in the seat, twisting to get my feet to the road with the memories of my previous plans to escape coming back to ridicule me.

He turned and seemed to remember, came back to a long-forgotten part of the night. He snapped around in a hurry, bounding over in two long steps, pushing the muzzle of the gun into the waistband of his jeans before taking both my shoulders and hoisting me up.

I was out into the night and saw flashing blue lights at the far end of the village and let him hurry me along after slamming the car door shut. Let him escort me, his hand on my wrists as he ushered me to a door, his grip never releasing as he pushed in the key, guiding me over the step, almost not waiting for me to get inside the darkness before he pushed the door up, letting go for the first time to lean against the wood.

We waited, both slowing our breath, watching the floor as the flash of blue grew between the gap under the door. Together we watched it grow so intense I could see my legs in the eerie blue while listening to the growl of the engine before it died back. He turned his back and I listened again as he pushed his key, twisting the lock into place.

“They’ve gone,” he said, his voice still quiet and I felt his hands reach out, but with a firm touch they were at my forearms, guiding me around, urging my back to the wall as he slid past. “Wait here,” he said and I heard his footsteps place with care on the carpet, stopping in a room nearby where I listened to him rifle through the contents of a drawer. I urged my night-vision to improve, but the concentration did nothing for my pounding headache centred on what felt, without being able to touch, was a melon-sized bruise reaching out from my forehead.

A heard friction from a match striking out of sight and watched the doorway off the hall build with an eerie light, growing brighter to the sound of footsteps. He was at the doorway with a burning candle resting in a glass tumbler in one hand, a bunch of unlit candles in the other, the pistol still tucked into his jeans and his mouth in a wide smile looking very pleased for himself.

“Follow me,” he said and he stepped into the hall holding the candle out in front. It felt like I was about to follow a priest to my execution, but what choice did I have? I took one slow step and then another, keeping my eyes forward, not noticing my foot snag until it was too late. I fell forward, stumbling over whatever was in my path, the object skittering across the floor until I stepped on it a second time, taking my feet from the floor.

The fall felt like it took an age. The carpet lit as the guy turned, the flickering light revealing the stacks of metal boxes with multicoloured wires coming out of the back, the home electronics with their black cords wrapped around their middles, the stack I’d knocked still collapsing. As my shoulder hit the carpet, I watched DVD players, Sky boxes, games consoles cascade down around me to thoughts of the hand tools littering the footwell of his car and his fear of the roadblock, of the blue flashing lights and with my wrists scraping hard against the cuffs, I caught his wide-eyed look, his eyes following me down, his features shadowed in the candle light, before I felt his hand push against my arm, turning my view down to the carpet. I’d been right all along. I’d stepped out of the frying pan and jumped, hands bound, into the witch’s oven.

 

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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 Sixty

“Come back,” I said, the words slurred and without the powerful pitch I’d intended. “Where the hell are you going?” I tried to shout, but the sound came out more feeble than I’d expected. The world span as I twisted either side, nausea rising as my eyes darted, flicking left and right across the darkness. All I could see were tall shadows approaching from all around, their slow, ambling approach getting ever closer.

I reached to touch the pistol, but before my fingers found its reassurance and my vision could catch up, I felt the car moving, the motion doing nothing to stop the sickness forcing my eyes shut. I slid left and right in my seat without the belt to hold me fast and I forced myself hard against the door, bending to get traction. With my head turned away, my eyes closed tight, something hit the car, the sound much as before. This time we didn’t stop, even at the third impact, the crush of something under the wheels, the scratch of metal over the roof. We kept going, kept bouncing along the rocks, the ground undulating beneath us until the impacts stopped and with a great thud against the tyres I felt the smooth road beneath us. Our world calmed.

I turned, daring to open my eyes and almost with surprise I saw the man back in the driver’s seat, his hands on the wheel, fingers blooded.

“Are you okay?” I said, my voice hoarse and unsure.

“It’s not my blood,” he replied, his eyes not leaving the road. I didn’t speak for a long while, remained quiet letting my stomach settle. When it had settled enough, another feeling took over, an overwhelming urge to stop, to get the cuffs from my hands, to find out what this guy’s intensions were.

“Can you let me out?” I said as buildings grew on the side of the road. 

“Where are we?” he said still facing forward.

“I don’t know,” I replied with the truth.

“You plan on just knocking their door? Seeing if they’re kindly strangers who wouldn’t turn you into the police?”

“I think the police have more on their plate than me?” 

He thought for a moment without reply.

“I guess, but do you want to take that chance?” he said after a letting the silence hang. It was my turn to pause, despite not wanting him to think I was. I didn’t want him to change my mind. I didn’t want him to think I was even considering his words. “I should be able to get those off, the locks are straight forward. If not I’ve got a hacksaw,” he said, for the first time making eye contact.

“How far are we from your house?” I replied, keeping the scowl fixed to my face. I didn’t want him to think I took any pleasure from the suggestion, despite my obvious eagerness to rub my wrists free of the ache.

“Five minutes,” he replied, turning the headlights back on at the sight of another pair of lights on the horizon. I flashed a look inside the car as it passed, it was full of teenagers, the back windows steamed, the driver’s face fixed forward, looking half asleep.

“What day is it?” I said. He turned in my direction and looked at me, raising and then lowering his brow.

“New Year’s Eve,” he said. “I assumed you we at a party,” he said looking back down to my wrists hidden behind my back. I shook my head and turned away to look through my window.

We passed a building on my side, but it had gone out of view before I could take a proper look. I turned back though the cracks in the glass. We were lucky, apart from the mess in the centre, the damage limited to long fissures running the width of the screen which didn’t affect the view.

Another building shot by and I realised we must be in a village, but the lights were out here too. Even this late shouldn’t there be someone awake on New Year’s Eve? I caught the guy’s concentration just before he spoke.

“Power’s out here too,” he said and I nodded. “I’m just up here.” 

“Wait,” I said as he slowed the car, pulling right up to a house right on the road. As the car stopped, he turned in my direction, twisting in his seat as I turned my head around the view, slower than I would have liked, but any quicker and I could feel my vision blur. “It looks clear,” I said once I’d satisfied myself. His eyes shot across the view with a look of panic as if I’d reminded him of the nightmare. “It’s clear,” I said in a softer tone. He nodded and pulled from the car still checking the horizon and jogged around the bonnet.

I took a deep breath, but stopped halfway through the pull, my bound hands searching the seat, touching at the small of my back as I wriggled to get to each part. I couldn’t find the gun and his hand was at the door, I snatched a look down the right side between the centre console, peered left between the door and seat and as the door opened, I looked up at his hand reaching out to help me up. I’d expected the light to come on above our heads so I could get a better look, but it stayed dismal and I remembered it hadn’t when he’d opened the door in the field.

Something made me turn away, a noise in the distance perhaps, but I never noticed the source because as I turned my foot touched against one of the hard objects out of place, my eyes following down to the dark pistol on the floor sat next to a long claw hammer, a crowbar, a metal box with coloured wires coming from the rear and the man’s hand reaching toward my 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 Fifty Nine

My lungs emptied as I hit the bonnet. Instinct bent me at the waist to slow the impact as the bumper hit. It worked and worked well, so well it took a few seconds of resting on the warm bonnet to realise the car had slowed before it hit, leaving my feet still under me, the borrowed shoes barely scraping along the floor. There was no pain as I pushed up from metal and stumbled back into the blinding headlights. I listened to the click of driver’s door as I struggled to walk sideways out of the dazzle. The man had climbed out of the car, but he’d turned away, not facing me, instead snapping toward the way he’d come, looking long into the distance with his neck extended, his head pushed out like a chicken. The rev of motorbike engines grew stronger and he finally turned, barely noticing me, his brow low, forehead pale and bunched. About to jump back in the car, he hesitated before looking again in my direction, surprise lighting his face.

“Get in,” he said, confusion clear on his voice. “Quick,” he added when I hadn’t move. He didn’t wait and was back in the car, leaning over the seat to push open the passenger door. I hovered, waiting for what, I wasn’t sure, staring past the car, searching out what he’d been looking for. The car rolled forward and he nodded with impatience to the open passenger door. Motorbike engines rang in my ears, dots of light bounced in the distance and I swear I could hear the heavy breath of the four legged beasts racing in our direction. I had no choice.

I barely touched the fabric before I was forced back in the seat, my hands crushed together against the gun as the car sped. Lunging forward, metal clattered in the footwell as he dabbed the brakes and the door slammed at my side. I caught the mirror image of ambling legs in the glow of the red lights before being enveloped again by the darkness. 

“Where are we going?” I said, my voice a little unsure as I stared out of the side window to search the dark horizon. I caught the tang of alcohol in the air as my eyes roved along the line of the land in the distance. Lingering on every imperfection I squinted, but the car moved too quickly for me to make out what I was seeing. When he hadn’t replied for what seemed like a long time, I turned to watch his profile, his concentration as he leant forward, his body nearly at the steering wheel, eyes peering out wide into the distance. The beat in my chest refused to settle, doubt filling my mind as I looked at his face only just more than a silhouette. Had I left the hornet’s nest only to jump straight into the web of a poisonous spider?

From what I’d already seen, he was young, a similar age. In the darkness he looked like he’d not seen the sun in years, his face white, apart from the stubble of a beard. He was tall, but not lanky, wore a black t-shirt over a dark shirt half tucked into his jeans. If first impressions were anything to go by, he didn’t look like he scared easily.

“Where are we going?” I said again and he replied straight away, his voice deeper than I expected.

“Anywhere,” he said, coughing away the tremble in his voice. “You saw those things? Right?” he said as he gripped his hand back tight to the steering wheel. He turned to catch my reply and I nodded. “What are they?” he added, his eyes wide on me. I shook my head and he turned back to the road. With the moon high in the sky, my night vision had improved, his must have too and he turned back for the first time seeming to take note in the dark, looking at how I sat uncomfortable with my hands at my back.

The car slowed as we took a corner, both of us pulling up in our seats as we couldn’t help but see the floodlights lighting up the road up ahead, the dark trucks parked across its width, dots of figures moving around in the light. A roadblock. His hand jumped at the switch for the lights and he slowed the car, turning back then looked forward to the road, letting the car stop, before twisted around, his brow furrowed in my direction.

“What’s wrong with your hands?” he said. I took a deep breath, my options racing through my head. I could jump from the car and run in to the darkness. The dogs would have lost the scent by now. We’d travelled far enough away to get from what had frightened him, but would he risk following me? It all depended on his intentions. I shouldn’t take a chance. I should run, my gut told me over and again. If only I could get the door open.

I twisted in my seat, showing my cuffed hands, leaving the gun still resting in the small of my back. I waited for his reaction, trying to suppress my urge to scream as I questioned why I was giving myself up to him.

“You weren’t running from those,” he paused with the same hesitation I’d seen before. The same stall in the brain people have as their minds try to come to terms with a new reality. “Those things?” 

I shook my head whilst trying to keep calm, opening my eyes wide and holding my breath.

“What were you running from? Did you escape from the police?”

I gave a shallow shake of my head.

“A man,” I said, letting my voice catch. “He tried to rape me,” I said. “He, he,” I stuttered.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to say,” he said, pushing out his left hand in my direction.

I backed away, pushing myself to the door, conscious of the pistol pinching in my back as he snapped his hand away.

“But, he, he’s a soldier. I can’t,” I said looking up to the roadblock. “I can’t let them find me,” I said, peering straight into his eyes. He stared at my face, then looked down to my hands still twisted down on show at my side. He turned to the lights ahead, twisting back at me with a nod, then grabbed the wheel, pinning me in my seat as he accelerated, swinging the car out to the side as he turned the wheel, bumping us off the road. The car jumped up and down, metal clattered in the footwell, the underside of the car scraping against what sounded like giant boulders. As I peered into the dark night ahead, we both screamed, a dark figure flashing into view, a great cracking sound ran through the windscreen as its head hit square in the centre. In a flash the body had gone, but the scrape if its bulk across the roof was clear to hear. I lost my concentration as my head hit the screen.

Waking from a daze, I realised the car had stopped. Through cotton wool ears, I listened to a door open, cold air rushing in as my eyes flashed wide to the see a blurred crowd of faces in the moon light stumbling towards us across the uneven 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 Fifty Eight

The smash of glass brought me back to the present and with no time to turn to check the source of the noise, I was upon the fence, blinking away the tears, my face expressionless, numb to the emotion. I looked left as I slowed, my shoulder hitting hard against the wood, pain forced through the ache I already felt as the wood stayed firm, not creaking as I slammed hard against it. I ran to the neighbour’s boundary, the fence only half the size and made from wire mesh. I was over without slowing, the only thought to choose my left shoulder to take the pain instead of my right.

I’d expected the fall, expected the agony, but did my best to roll as I landed. Shocked at my grace, I was on my feet in one swift move, the momentum still with me as I headed towards the next line, a bushy barrier I wasn’t prepared to find out what lay beneath. The garden’s rear fence was just as tall as the last, but my excitement grew as I spotted a wooden structure only half as high in the corner, the kind used to store bikes or other garden things in and at the base was a neatly stacked collection of pots and wooden boxes I hoped would make the perfect set of steps.

As I ran, I had time to think this one through. Not enough time to do anything but give a yes or a no. I committed, buoying myself up, taking comfort in the graceful forward roll I’d just accomplished only seconds before. I plotted the line. My right foot would go for the larger box and I would push up as hard as I could, landing my left on top of the roof, then hoping I hadn’t lost my school-aged skill at athletics, I’d Fosbury Flop over the next fence, not caring to think about the landing.

The time to plan was over too soon. I’d committed, any more thinking would just have added corrosive doubt. I had it all planned out in less than a second, now was the time to follow through with as much confidence as I could muster. I took a great breath of air, filling my lungs in more than just a symbolic act, I adjusted my stride so my next footfall would be on the wooden box, hoping it wouldn’t collapse under my weight.

It took the weight of my body and the right trainer. Didn’t buckle with the extra weight of the lace of my borrowed left shoe. Didn’t crush as I pushed off taking my body with it, but my left foot went only as high as the lace under my right would stretch, which was about the height of my lower leg less than I needed to get on top of the box. Instead, my left shin smacked against the roof of the container, the momentum carrying my knee down the sandpaper-like roof before my right foot raised. Skin scraped away as I came to a halt, but I was able to stop my nose cracking to the wooden roof as my torso fell forward.

I paused, took stock, relaxed the grip around the gun. I tensed at the sound of dogs barking, the noise picking up, getting closer. With air sucking through my teeth, I stood, took a single glance back, saw torch beams scouring the garden I’d already left and let myself flop over the tall fence, bracing myself for whatever came next.

Thorns. A blackberry bush, or something with spines I’d never paid enough attention to, but my shoulders were thankful for the jabbing of the spines, much better than being crushed hard under my weight for the second time in a row. I rolled off, landing on my knees with my breath still intact, I ran as hard as I could along the fence in the darkness, lunging forward every other step to keep my balance on the uneven ground, veering off into the fields when I heard the first hint of the smell humans knew instinctively to avoid.

The only feature on the horizon, apart from the rolling hills, was a tree and that’s where I headed, not looking back. It wouldn’t change what I had to do. I had to run. It was my only choice.

At the tree, a great wide species that must have been there for years. Like me, it was alone in the wild, its branches bare and gnarled and sloped heavy to one side. Fighting against my breath, I let the solid trunk take my weight, leaning with its trunk between me and whatever was chasing. With my breath slowing I gripped the gun and peered around the bark, listening to the dogs getting louder in the distance. Fear gripped hold and I turned, running, new sounds coming all the time. There was the sound of an engine, more than one. I looked to the sky, looked for blinking lights on the horizon, then looked down to the ground as I felt myself stumble onto tarmac. A road.

I turned as the engine noise grew, as did the sounds of dogs and smaller, whining notes. I imagined motorbikes chasing after the dogs they’d let loose, turned again to see two headlights bright and coming towards me. I was standing in the middle of a road, fixed to the spot, unable to move, the lights so close I could see the young driver, his face pale white, his eyes disbelieving as they locked together with mine.

 

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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 Fifty Seven

Running down the stairs with tears streaming down my face, my shoulder slid across the wallpaper to keep me steady as I raced to the ground floor. Not able to slow without toppling, no arms to balance, all my hands could do was grip the gun. My right upper arm took the force as I slammed hard into the thin door, the hardboard cracking down the middle as it stopped my fall.

With an ache in my hand, I let it my grip relax. Head darting left and right, I sought out shadows, but the only disturbances in the light were thin flashes through the remains of the front door’s glass. Twisting my wrists still held tight by the cuffs, I turned towards the back door, moving past the sideboard and ran, slowing to a stop as the first shards of glass pricked at my bare feet. I turned, squinting under the stairs, looking for anything I could use to protect my feet. Seeing a rabble of disorganised shoes, I ran back and pushed my feet in a pair of white trainers which were way too big, sliding on with no need for my hands. A scream came from up the stairs and I looked to the door, hesitating while I searched out its surface for some lock, some mechanism I could use to slow their return, but found nothing I could operate without my hands. I would have to hope the slowing gunfire had been enough to hide the call. I twisted, keeping my feet wide and ran towards the back door, flashing a look down as the laces whipped up, slapping at my ankles.

Contorting my hands around the side, I ignored the tension at my wrists as I tried the handle with my right, unable to stop slapping and scratching the gun against the metal. It was locked. Still locked, I thought, as I remembered the last time I’d tried, desperate to escape. With my night vision improving, I looked to the wide windows at its side, shuffling along the dining table to follow. Not able to raise my hands high, I angled the handle of the old fashioned window with my nose and it moved just enough for me to push it wide with my forehead. Feeling the chill air wash over me while I used my foot to hook a chair from under the dining table. The chair scrapped across the tile floor, the loudest sound in the moment, my actions no longer drowned by gunfire, only competing with the footsteps above.

Teetering for balance on the frame, I toppled headfirst, my hands letting go of the grip, the gun landing before my shoulder. Thankful for grass under the window, I shook off the ache, pausing for the pain to dissipate, taking a deep breath as I tried not to think what would have happened if it had been concrete under the window. After the darkness inside, the outdoors glowed with moonlight. Standing, the gun caught my eye. I dropped back to my knees and fumbled it from the ground, adrenaline racing as I heard shouts inside the house.

Not able to stop myself as I stood, I looked back through the window. Ignoring the hurried sounds, my eyes froze on the fat fuck’s body abandoned, open mouthed, on the floor. Eventually I ran, could do nothing else, but instead of trying to figure how I could climb the tall fence growing in my vision, my mind instead played over the three frames of light as the room brightened in the bullet’s flash. The frames hung for a second, fixing on Toni’s evolving expression with each pull of the trigger, her body forced back, unable to absorb the momentum while she watched me desperately trying to correct my aim.

 

 

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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 Fifty Six

“Not like this,” I said, the chasm in my stomach growing.

“It’s okay,” Toni replied to the background of low laughter coming from beside the doorway. “You’re not helping,” Toni said and the laughter slowed.

“Not like this,” I repeated, my voice low. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I replied, twisting my body, testing the grip on the cuffs.

“You were dead to the world,” she replied. “I got a call.”

“You didn’t have a phone,” I replied, not succeeding to keep the emotion from my voice. I waited for the reply, but it didn’t come. “You could have waited, discussed it. Like adults do.” There was no reply other than a snort from the doorway.

“Please,” Toni pleaded, but not in my direction.

“Why am I so shocked you’ve let me down again?” I said out loud, shaking my hands, but they held firm.

“Jess, don’t do this.” 

“No. You don’t do this, Toni,” I said letting my anger build. “But then again it’s what you do, right? It’s what you have to do. You always find a way to fuck us up.”

A huff of laughter came from the doorway.

“Please ladies, stop with this sickly crap. We need to hustle, I’ve got the fate of humanity in hands and I haven’t got time to listen to this disgusting, deviant talk. She’s just a phase Antonia, you’ll get over it. We’ll find you a nice man and you’ll never look back. Trust me.”

“Are you going to let her talk to us like this?” I snapped, trying my best to shake my hands from the hold. Toni didn’t reply. “My hands Toni, really?” I said, trying to let the whine out from my words as I looked in the general direction of where her voice had come from, but the lights still dazzled bright in my eyes. Before she could ignore me for too long, there was a call from below, a man shouting for everyone to get moving. Something was coming and it didn’t take a lot to know what. The lights from the doorway disappeared down the stairs and I pushed back against my braced arms, wincing as my wrists pushed upwards, forcing my shoulders down. “Really,” I said and Toni’s voice came from where she’d moved to the corner of the room.

“You said you wouldn’t hurt her,” she said, more than a little childlike in her high tone. I couldn’t tell but the mother must have given a wave, or some other signal to let the pressure on my arms relax enough for me to stand up tall. Another shout came from downstairs, but with more urgency this time and the figure at my back tried to push me along without pulling up my arms. Another call came, it was too late and he held me back, stopped my travel, shadows from the beams of light downstairs scattered, hurrying as they danced on the walls before disappearing. I heard the front door slam shut and a call went out from outside, replied soon after in the distance.

I didn’t flinch at the gunfire, instead I turned around to the window and saw two figures standing either side, their silhouettes barely visible until the guy at my back glanced their way, his head torch following. Toni was to the right, that woman, her mother to the left, both had the side of the curtain lifted, their faces hidden as they peered out. The guy flinched away when he realised what he’d done and the light was back on me, but it was too late, I’d seen that other than the three, we were alone.

To the orchestra of gunfire raining lead outside, I dropped to the floor and he let me fall rather than being dragged down, but before his breath had huffed out in annoyance and he completed his bend, I’d twisted around and had my knee in his face. With all sound masked by the explosions lighting up the night outside, I felt the bone crack, but no pain, I assumed it was his nose shattering. He was out cold, had fallen to the floor and I paused, watching the line of light from this head torch along the floor. I saw my chance, the first instinct to run abandoned, instead I twisted, squatting backward to the carpet and blindly fumbled, the pistol coming out of the holster much easier than I’d expected.

Ignoring the pain in my wrists, I pulled the slide back and hoped it was a Glock, I had no chance to feel for a safety. I stood tall, angled my body sideways, the gun toward the window, crudely swapping between the pair’s shadowy positions I could only just make out. I kicked the head lamp, glancing the guy’s head, he didn’t complain as the torch span, the elastic sending it in a short spin and it came to rest, facing me, stealing the tiny amount of light coming from the window.

It was then they noticed, one turning, Toni first, but the other followed her heavy pull of breath. Despite the chorus of the fight outside I could tell they were looking on. Toni had moved, her voice coming from closer than I expected.

“What are you going to do with that?” she said, her voice calm and slow, somehow heard over the slowing rate of fire from outside. I looked down past the light, the guy who’d held me had woken and was crawling slowly away towards the window.

“I thought I needed you,” I said, pulling in a deep breath, not thinking before I spoke.

“I need you,” Toni replied, her voice moving closer. The woman gave a push of air from her lungs in disgust, tutting between the slowing shots from outside.

“That’s what I used to think,” I said, closing my eyes and twisted the gun to the left, pulling the trigger three times.

 

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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 Fifty Five

Surrounded by a sea of creatures of the night, the starless dark sky all around me, I stood on a stone column rising high above in a white shimmering lace nightgown, watching as they clawed at the air, their disfigured, rotten faces melting to the floor. I had no emotion, didn’t fear, didn’t want for anything, the hunger in my belly satisfied.

As I watched, my head turned down without my will and I saw my once pristine white gown dripped with blood congealing as it rolled down my front. My face wet, sticky as I touched with my hand, red as I looked, cracked, and dried on my fingers. My focus fell to the floor far below, the creatures had parted, were spreading wide, each running away from the naked body lain at the base of the pillar. My vision zoomed and as it did, I saw the creatures had changed, screams raising from their voices, they were human now, real, alive and were running in fear from the body surrounded in a spot of light I couldn’t look up to see the source.

Dumbfounded, unable to find breath, I could only stare down, unable to look away as I saw a woman on her back naked, her white pale skin perfect in every way, her mound of hair neatly trimmed to a line, her breasts the perfect size, not too big or too small, her arms spread, hands upturned at her side. I knew it was Toni despite not being able to see her face, the skin missing, leaving just the sculpt of her bones and a ragged mass of flesh. It was Toni, her scent undeniable, thick, strong, shivering down my spine and I stood there on the pillar now less than a foot high, the darkness empty of all but her slain body. I wanted to stare on, wanted to take her in, but something drove me forward, my hands stuck behind my back and I felt as if pushed from the plinth. I screamed with anger, with pain, tears rolling from my eyes as I opened my mouth. With no breath I panted for words as I lunged, my face forced to her fleshy stomach as she called out my name.

“Jess,” her voice said and I opened my eyes to the darkness. My hands were bound around my back as I lay on my side. “Jess,” she repeated and I opened and closed my eyes to take in more light. My legs were free, but I was on the bed, the shadowy shape of the room coming into focus. “Jess,” she said one more time.

I nodded, afraid I would have no voice.

“They’re here,” she said.

“Where?” I replied, surprised at my voice. “Who?” I added as I processed. “My hands,” I said as my thoughts evolved.

“How you feeling?”

I sat up, my abs aching as I pulled up to sit and I remembered laying on the bed, remembered the fat fingers doing up my buttons and looked down not able to see anything, but knew from the tightness at my chest, she’d covered me up.

“Hungry,” I said, realising they were the wrong words as the shadow I could only just make out, stepped back pushing out something square in her hands. “Thirsty,” I said. “Eggs, bacon, that kind of thing,” I said, not knowing how else to express myself. I watched as she relaxed and drew in close. Her scent had gone, the powerful elixir only a dreamlike memory.

“Good,” she replied. “It only took half the time,” she said with warmth in her voice. “That’s good. It means it’s having an effect.”

“What time is it?” I said.

“One,” she replied.

“Can we have some light?”

“Power’s out,” she said.

“My hands,” I said, shaking my wrists to make sure it hadn’t been part of the dream.

“Soon,” Toni replied. “I had to be sure.” I nodded in the darkness.

“Who’s here?” I said, remembering her words and for the first time I could sense someone else close.

“I am,” came a woman’s voice pulling at a memory, sending the blood from my face as I twisted around to the doorway.

“Toni,” I replied. “What’s your mother doing here?”

A rumble of laughter came from the woman’s throat and I struggled to turn my legs, shuffling to the side of the bed, bright torch lights beaming at me from the doorway as my feet found the floor after too long. The lights were moving and figures were around me, the cuffs grabbed firm, pushing my arms up my back, forcing me to move towards the door.

“Toni?” I said, pleading.

“Come quietly,” Toni’s voice breathed from somewhere in the room. “I told you we had to find her.”

“And here I am,” said the woman, the smile obvious in her voice.

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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 Fifty Four

Toni. It had to be her. She was here to save the day, to take care of me. He couldn’t hide his motion down the stairs, she would hear him coming long before she would see the massive target lumbering forward with the taser. She would shoot him down before he had any chance to react.

I screamed, louder and longer than I thought I could and the gunshot came sooner than I could have hoped, the second soon after, quickly followed by the third, leaving only silence after the echo died. I listened hard, listened long, let myself relax, taking deep breaths though my nose. The last of his fresh scent had gone, leaving only the odour I tried to ignore. Was there another mixed in with the musk? Could I smell Toni, the memory of how she would taste in the forefront of my mind, the scent to which all others compare and fall short? No, I couldn’t make her out, couldn’t find her in the blankness of the palette.

Then it came. Not the smell, but the noise, I heard the hum, the motion of the masses beyond the walls. They’d followed the sound, sought the cause of the loud noise, but would stay to get at what created that glorious smell. There was movement in the house too, controlled, not frantic, the scrape of heavy furniture, at a guess. At first I pictured Toni hauling heavy cabinets across the room, moving solid wood to block the door she’d just smashed open, but why wasn’t she racing to find me? Why couldn’t I taste her on my lips? The hunger was great enough, the chasm in my belly bottomless, my need singing out for her. Maybe it wasn’t Toni after all and the nightmare was about to start over, but with a smirk, I pitied whoever else would come into the room.

I tested the bounds, pulling hard against the strain, trying to judge if I let go, let the beast inside grow at its will, could I pull free? Would I be submitting myself to the creature I wouldn’t be able to turn off when I needed?

No, I told myself. I must fight on and concentrated back on the noise. I could hear definite footsteps coming from the hallway. The steps were so light compared to what had come before, so calm and relaxed. I caught the first scent, the glorious smell, the intoxication. It was Toni standing there in the doorway; hers was the slender figure I could just make out in the last ebbs of the light through the windows, but why was she at the end of the bed not saying a word?

“Toni,” I said without question, but she didn’t respond. “Toni,” I said. “Let me out please,” I pleaded. The figure moved with a grace only confirming what I knew, but with an unhurried pace I couldn’t understand, why wasn’t she rushing to free me? Instead as she grew near, I felt her fingers on my ankle, tracing with a light touch against my skin, the electricity stronger than the taser’s punch. My nerves were on fire as her taste sparked the inside of my nose, energy coursing between my legs. I raised my hips up and down as she slowly travelled her fingers as a guide, getting closer and closer to my knickers and where I was desperate for her touch.

She raised her hand as she was about to arrive, my body aching, hips bucking to find her touch again, but she’d gone and I couldn’t make out her form, only knowing she was there in the shadow, her smell nearly solid in my mouth. The light shot on and I squeezed my eyes closed, the lamp moved toward the ceiling and I opened to see Toni looking me up and down, a playful grin on her face.

“Let me out,” I said with a stranger’s low tone to my voice.

She shook her head, the smile gone in an instant.

“I think you better stay there for a while longer,” she said, but when she didn’t raise her eyebrows, didn’t give a childish giggle, my face screwed up and I shook my head. I didn’t want her to take away my senses on fire, to take what I had, what I could feel. I bucked and I pleaded as her fist came down to my stomach, the syringe of the red liquid curled in her fingers as I snapped my teeth towards her hand.

 

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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 Fifty Three

His fingers were back at the buttons along my chest, his touch light as he fumbled with each disc of metal until they popped open one by one, his breath drawing deep with each success. I felt the cold through the thin vest top as I lay only just winning the war to keep my breath even, knowing I would need my energy soon to stop myself destroying this man and diving too deep into what I could feel coming.

With surprise, he kept his hands from the white of the vest top, holding himself back, perhaps waiting until I was ready, until he’d unwrapped me. Even now with all the buttons gone, my jacket open, he held himself from grabbing me, instead taking his time to fold the loose fabric of the jacket neatly either side.

“No,” I said. “Please no,” I added as I watched his arms, his hands hovering as they ran down my body, watched his face dip in and out of the light, his stare square on my skirt held tight by my thighs. Despite my pleading he grabbed either side at the hem, despite my attempt to push down with my ass, in one swift movement he had my skirt up around my waist, taking his time to roll and gently lay the material across my hips before he’d gone.

I felt my body shake, tiny tremors glittering my body, goose bumps prickling my skin. He hadn’t moved in the dark, his breath strangely quiet, but my hunger knew he was still there, the taste of his meat still thick in the air. I fought against his intoxication. He was just watching, staring, savouring what he’d exposed.

My legs spread further by his will, dragged either side, slow and with precision, the floorboards creaking in-between his movements. I tugged with my hands, tugged with my legs, I was strung wide, tight between the bounds, it was all I could do to raise myself slightly off the bed. Despite being so exposed, part of me was thankful I was bound, part of me craved to be held back to save the world from what would happen if I didn’t find Toni real quick, despite knowing what would happen when I next saw the creep’s pudgy hands in the light.

His smell was morphing, the difference subtle. I could sense his arousal, could smell the texture of his meat change, could taste his hormones in the air and knew his flesh would be all the sweeter. I shook my head, realising I’d been urged him on inside my head and stopped the flex of my hips, flattening the snarling smile which had taken shape without my command.

His hands came in as I stopped and heard him pulling air deep through his nose, his fingers heading for my middle. I froze, tensing as he picked up the hem of my vest top and collected up the material, the back of his hand cold as it brushed at my stomach. By the catch of his breath, the touch not intended, he paused, raising his hands higher as he slowly rolled to expose my skin, slowing just below my breasts like he was savouring every moment. His wheeze had gone, his breath so shallow, his movements so controlled, anticipating what he would find. With each roll, he got closer, couldn’t help but bring himself in. His scent double handed, the odour of the unwashed folds clawed at my throat, made me want to cough, but with it, like I was two people all at once, I wanted him right in my face, I wanted him to place his neck at my mouth so I could breathe in his sweetening meats.

A sheen of sweat glistened my body, despite the cold, each of his movements sending cold air, chilling the heat I could not control. The cotton touched my nipples and they stood to attention. I would have barely noticed if not for the spark licking out. I wanted them to deflate, wanted not to urge him on, didn’t want him to see part of me enjoying the sensation, even if it was for reasons that would have chilled him to the bone.

His breath stopped altogether and he let go of my shirt, before grabbing again and pulling up with a yank, exposing my breasts, dropping the material just under my neck. He stepped back without a pause, withdrawing from the light. His breath was heavy and any moment I knew it would get heavier. Any moment it would go bad, my body wanted him away, but my hunger wanted him on top of me so I could satisfy the empty pit in my stomach.

He moved, swifter than I could have imagined, he was around the other side of the bed swiping the lamp was off, plunging the room in complete darkness. This was it, this was the time, the next event to change the way I saw the world, but instead I listened as he ran from the room, he must have heard something before me, some pre-warning I hadn’t caught, only now I heard the glass falling to the floor somewhere downstairs.

 

 

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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 Fifty Two

My vision blurred, sounds rolled into one, his stench thick in my face, I felt his heaving breath as he carried me over his shoulder with each slow, painful step higher than the last. I kept silent, not able to talk, not able to think what would come when we reached the top of the stairs. Tears boiled over as he laid me down in a dark room, the musk of months old bed clothes all around me. I tried to fight as he grabbed at my hands, but when his face lit up with an arc of electricity, I let him take them, sealing the Velcro around my wrists, clipping the cuffs to straps either side. My instinct told me to kick out as he forced my ankles wide, but the memory of the spasm won and I let myself go.

I shuffled up, resting my head on a pillow to get a better look and tried to bring my hands together, but when I could almost touch my fingers, the straps stopped my progress. A lamp clicked on to my side, its long arm tilting with a hand wrapped around its shaft, the light falling to my body, turning my eyes away from the brightness and he disappeared into the dark.

I heard his weight rest in an armchair, the leather creaking under his mass, a huff of air from his chest as it pushed out the effort, leaving just the rattle of his lungs with each laboured breath. I looked to the window, the daylight almost gone, what remained of the light doing nothing to help me see the room. I waited with nothing else I could do, the grate of his breath somehow reassuring as he sat there. He wasn’t the worst thing I’d had to deal with this day and I knew with certainty I would deal with worse before all this was over. I told myself again and again, it was another story to be told, the underbelly of rural England, of humanity. Collect as much information as I can.

With a great bubbling surge of noise from my belly, his breath paused, the silence disconcerting, leaving me only in pain. I thought of Toni out in the darkness alone. She would be safe, she had the gun, but her worry would be uncontrollable. By now she’d be at the van for sure, she’d be searching and I listened out for the distant call of my name. Laughter was the only reply, his laughter, a low, bass grumble from his vocal cords, his shot lungs doing their best to give voice to his joy as he tried in vain to let his breath settle. Maybe I could send him over the edge, make him clutch his chest as he fell to the floor. I found my legs opening as the thought progressed, his breath rising with each tiny move, the leather of the chair creaking with each fidget.

I stopped moving, my brain catching up. What if he keeled over? I’d be stuck here until Toni searched each house and by then who knows what I would have become. Who knows if the pit of hunger would deepen beyond where I could get back from. I wanted that less than I wanted to battle this creep. I pulled my legs as far as they would close.

The void had grown in my stomach, a cloud descending into my head. I remembered the first time I’d had this feeling, the first time I’d experienced the alien depth of want in my belly. He must have seen my expression change as I heard a deep breath and the complaint from the chair, air hoofing from his lungs, the floorboards creaking with each movement. I looked into the darkness, following as the noise travelled around the room, but the light was too bright at my eyes to make out any shapes in the dark, even with his sound close by my side.

The straps pulled at my right arm, a slow, gradual movement I was powerless to stop. His short breaths told me of his concentration as movement by movement my hand pulled out wide from my body. When the progress stopped, his rattle and the creak of floorboards told me of his travel, I pulled, gentle at first, the pressure building, but all I could feel was the velcro tighten, each hook and loop increasing their grip. He was around the other side, my left hand doing as my right had done and I could feel the breath in my chest speeding, but only shallow as I glimpsed his sweaty round face in the light before he drew back with realisation.

My hands spread and I knew what would be next, my leg going the same way as my wrist, until my left was at the edge of the bed, the floor boards creaked again and I shook my head.

“No,” I said, cursing myself for the feeble sound as my other ankle pulled to the right. “No,” I repeated. “Is this the only way you can get girls?” I said, the yank of my ankle making me regret the words, my leg going no further, my thighs tight against my skirt. His breath panted just beyond the light, spraying me with decay from his mouth as his hands came down, reaching for the join of my jacket, his fingers like butcher’s best sausages, fumbling for the gold buttons holding the fabric together. Footsteps ran across the tarmac outside and I screamed, letting the girl out I wanted so much to suppress, bellowing my lungs before they were empty, a fist thumping hard into my belly.

Pain seared upward from my stomach like a knife dug in deep, my stomach thrust up as I bucked against the pain, my eyes wide, the surprise not hidden in his expression as it dipped into the light staring down at my chest. The pain settled and I saw the arc of electricity at his side.

I could smell the ozone snapping in the air.

I could smell his flame grilled beef.

 

Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed, like my Facebook page and drop me a message. Let me know if you like what you’re reading.

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

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Kit List for Emergency Kit / Bug Out Bag

Up to date and maintained list of the essential kit for an emergency situation or scenario. Find out how it fairs here.

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.

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

Two Baggies of Cotton Wool – Recently added as fast burning tinder when I found out wood shaving just wouldn’t do the job alone.

Proper Knife – I’ve ditched the folding fruit knife for something more substantial. Great for carving wood and helping to make a shelter, plus more comforting when I don’t know what I’ll face while I’m out there and the world has gone to the dogs.

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 toothbrush 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?

Wind up Torch – Works without batteries. Enough said?

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.

Water – As well as bringing as much as you can carry, NHS guidelines are for 1.2 litres per day to keep dehydration at bay, but you will need a constant supply. 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.

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 & Gold Coins – 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. 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.

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 may be 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, it’s 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 may be limited, if available at all.

Emergency Rations – In their simplest form they are high calorie biscuits which in emergency situations can sustain one person for 72 hours. They have a five year shelf life, but will still keep the calories after. At half a kilo, they’re heavy, but worth the weight.

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!

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.

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.

Antihistamines – If you suffer from hay fever then it’s a must, but also useful for bee stings and for all things that go bump in the night. It likely won’t save your life, but if you’re going to be living outdoors for the next few months, they could make it a lot more bearable.

Wind up radio – You can get them with solar power too, plus USB charge to give you that first kick start, plus they come with powerful emergency lights. Keep on top of the latest details of the emergency.

Compass – Even without a proper map you can travel in a vague direction and keep yourself on a course. Overlooked first time around, but invaluable, especially if you already have one.

Camping mattress – It may seem trivial, but not when you’re lying on the cold hard ground trying to sleep with one eye open.

IMG_3486In 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 no longer at the top of the food chain…

Season One

Your Ten Minutes are Up!

The pack’s on my back, my hand on the door handle, but I pause before I pull down and rush back to the phone, my finger jabbing at the digits for the second time. There’s still no answer. They’re doing what I should be doing. Running.

Pulling open the door, I hang back behind the threshold. I look left, look right and my brain freezes, I have no idea where I’m going. The only decision I’ve made is to go it alone and not follow the crowd. If this thing is a contagious disease, if it’s an invasion or reanimated bodies wandering the streets, I want to be well away from everyone else. That said, I need to meet with my friends. We’d talked about this, usually drunk in the pub. Someone mentioned Ikea Southampton would be the place to go, plenty of beds right? Then again, I think I suggested there’d be no food and it would be a terrible place to defend, so big and in a major city. That idea’s a bust, but I can’t remember if we decided somewhere else.

The only other place we ever talked about was Dartmoor, somewhere we’d spent so many weekends. It’s desolate, deserted and full of wildlife, well ponies. I just hope they have the same idea.

I walk to the car, holding back from opening the door, the keys in my hand and the street is clear, the road quiet. For a moment I wonder, did I dream all this?

I jump in the car, having decided to drive as far as the quarter tank of diesel will take me, about a third of the hundred and eighty miles if my estimate is sound. Just then I notice people streaming from their houses, some with packs on their backs, others surrounded with stuff in their hands, shoving duvets into car boots, loading furniture on roof racks. Traffic is already building and I can wait no longer. Why am I waiting at all?!

I turn off my street and into a trading estate; the road is blocked with traffic trying to head the same way. I turn the car around before I get to the back of the queue. The road’s blocked going the other way now too. I pull over to the side of the road, lock the car and start my journey on foot. People are still streaming out of their houses, I try not to look them in the eye, try not to judge their decisions, try not to think of those people in developing countries you see on the news carrying their whole life on their heads. I avoid their paths, the clutter of their possessions strewn along the road, dropped by the side of their cars as they try to pack everything in. They won’t get away before it’s too late. I resist the urge to shout for everyone to run, to get out of here as quick as they can, like the alert said.

Diverting through a park, the pedestrian traffic is much less, but as I leave one road behind, the angry shouts and the call of car horns are ready to greet me on the other side. I live in the suburbs of a town and it’s about 3 miles, 4 km, until the map looks green from above, so I divert north west, knowing I need to get away from the buildings, or away from people as quick as I can.

My choice of pack, if not my choice of footwear, stands me in good stead for the light jog, diverting this way and that to avoid crowds who seem to surge together for safety, even though they’re shouting and hollering in each other’s faces. As time goes by and the buildings thin, I slow, wondering if whatever caused the alert has happened, was it all over, had the crisis really hit? I look to the cloudless sky, but seeing no meteors streaming down, seeing the sky empty of parachutes, or rockets raining down, or dust rising on the horizon, I think myself a little silly and slow, but not silly enough to turn around. That’s when I realise there is something missing from my kit. A radio, preferably a wind up, or solar powered.

I’m in a small wood a few miles from my house and I’ve seen only a scattering of people as I walk with my pace quick across a place I walked before, where I’d walked with family and friends, guided dogs sniffing every fallen leaf, pissing up every tree trunk. Now I don’t care for the scenery as the woods thin, the motorway in the distance, cars crawling along. I divert again, following parallel to the road, but trudging through field after field, tracking across fallow, boggy land to save the hazardous climb of fences never intended to make my journey easy.

My legs are tiring, the adrenaline has well and truly drained to nothing, leaving that horrible lethargic hangover. I want for company, this is the first time I’ve hiked with a pack on my back alone. I think of my friends as I stop to take a rest, pouring water down my throat, crunching on a cereal bar. I’d like to say it was the first of the trip as I spot an isolated house on the horizon. A farmhouse I guess. I could find out the latest, they probably won’t be there anyway, should be on the motorway I can see has been stationary since I’ve been following, about an hour now. With that I turn my Apple Watch to low power mode and check my phone, it’s been no use since I left, no bars, just a cross in the corner.

Dogs bark as I come out of the field and into the yard. I see cows peering over the side of their stalls, the smell of stale shit wafting, clawing at my throat as I arrive at the door, trying to listen past the animals going crazy the other side. There can’t be anyone at home, no car around, just a tractor parked under a canopy a short walk off. There’s no chance I’m getting in the house with those crazed animals. I walk off. It’s getting dark. It’s the winter and it’s only three in the afternoon, I’ve been on the road for a few hours already, the only thing keeping me heading forward is the thought of not being able to find somewhere to put the tent up whilst its light.

I walk the next hour scouring the land for somewhere good to stop, somewhere well away from the road, away from those who might abandon the route and try to find shelter. I don’t want them to find mine. I stop and pull off my pack after diverting south, trying to keep my heading in the vague direction of the motorway, thinking all the time I should have brought the compass my hand passed over when I was packing.

I stop with just enough light to find somewhere flat enough next to a hedge with the lights of the cars on the motorway just disappearing and with no other noise around, I can just about see the contents of the tent spread across the long, yellowing grass. I’m thankful for my choice of tent, it’s lightweight and pitches in less than two minutes single handed. It would just about fit two, so it’s easy to fit me and my pack. As I lay on the ground checking for stones underneath, I think of the extra weight a camping mat or self-inflating mattress would have added. It seemed like a luxury at the time, but not right now.

Sitting up on the grass, the tent’s too shallow to sit up inside, I hug myself, the cold biting now I’ve stopped. I unpack the pack, getting the Trangia roaring with a mugful of hot water, wishing I’d brought coffee. Instead I shove in the rice and let it warm through. It’s a good meal and I eat it with the stars already bright in the sky and I spend the next half an hour figuring out I could be on the road with all my supplies gone by the time I reach Dartmoor. Five days, four if I’m lucky. I will have to find out what this is all about, figure out if I should stock up or find civilisation again, find the safety of the shelter they talked about on the bulletin or if I’m already out of harm’s way.

I can’t wait any longer to zip up the tent, choosing to unfold the knife, it looks so short as I lay it beside the hammer, taking off my boots for comfort, hoping I won’t regret the decision. I lay there with my eyes closed and listen. A hunger builds, which I force myself to ignore, whist trying not to concentrate on every unnatural noise in the night, hearing alien sounds making my mind work overtime whilst longing for the camping mat as I try to shake off the cold rising from the ground.

Lessons Learnt

I’ve added the following to the kit list, a copy of which is available and updated here.

Wind up radio – You can get them with solar power too, plus USB charge to give you that first kick start, plus they come with powerful emergency lights. Keep on top of the latest details of the emergency.

Proper Knife – I’ve ditched the folding fruit knife for something more substantial. Great for carving wood and helping to make a shelter, plus more comforting when I don’t know what I’ll face while I’m out there and the world has gone to the dogs.

 

Compass – Even without a proper map you can travel in a vague direction and keep yourself on a course. Overlooked first time around, but invaluable, especially if you already have one.

Camping mattress – It may seem trivial, but not when you’re lying on the cold hard ground trying to sleep with one eye open.

It’s a real shame I didn’t pack these extras, but I’ve got plenty of time for my regrets as I shiver on the hard floor waiting to see what comes for me in the night….

IMG_3486

In the End…Why not read about what happens to a group of friends whose worldcollapses 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 no longer at the top of the food chain…

Season One

Season Two – Mid-Season break

After fifty one chapters and forty seven thousand words, it’s time for a mid-season break while I can recharge my mental batteries.

Keep a look out for a new blog post, I’ll be working on the next instalment of Ten Minutes to Go and it won’t be long before I’m back on the case with Season Two. If you haven’t started reading here’s the rest, where you can read it on a single page.

 

Not read Season One? Here it is.

Season Two – Chapter Fifty One

He was alive. His hands warm to touch. I tried to let my breath catch, tried to push away the musty tang of dust in the air, tried to let my chest relax as I sat on the floor, staying where I’d landed, the carpet in the hallway of the stranger’s house.

“You were done for, before I saved your ass,” the man’s voice said in a thick, west country accent, his body just a wide shadow at the door.

“Thank you,” I said, my breath yet to slow. “I’m okay, but thank you.”

“Unless you’ve got eyes in the back of your head, you’re a lucky girl,” he said still staring through the open door, looking left and right, before stepping back into the hallway. The room was too dark to see very much, the carpet a shade of grey, the walls stained with what seemed like damp, the thick air only helping my conclusion. I looked around, saw the door open directly to my left, another to the right at the base of the rising stairs.

“Thank you again,” I said. “But I’ve really got to go. I have a friend out there, she’ll want to make sure I’m okay.”

He paused and I watched his head twist, but the light was too dim to catch more than a pudgy outline of features as they lingered in my direction. He turned around through the doorway, took another look left and right, pausing in each direction, before he let the door close at his back. The silhouette of his hands turned and pulled the key from the lock.

“I’ve really got to go,” I said, my heart rate still not falling, the heels of my feet stinging as I pulled myself up.

“Wait it out here,” he said in a breathy, asthmatic voice, offering out a hand while he pushed the key into his pocket with the other.

“I insist, but thank you,” I said, already at my feet without his help, trying my best to keep my voice even. A shadow passed by the front door, and then another. I thought about screaming, but I could have read this all wrong, my first fears a hang up, annoyance creeping in. I’m not a weak woman. I couldn’t be dominated, especially not by a man. “Look, I really am thankful for your help, but I have to insist you open the door so I can rejoin my friend.”

“Insist all you want, you’re not going anywhere.”

Bile rose in my stomach, but I held back from my gut reaction to scream and call for someone to come to my rescue. This guy just needed to be told to stop being such a prick. What could he do anyway, the size of him? He looked like if I said boo, he’d have a heart attack and fall to the floor clutching his chest.

“I’m going. Now get out of my fucking way you big fat creep,” I said, taking a step forward. Despite the darkness, with my first foot forward I saw a smile bunching in his cheeks, his hand pulling something from behind him and pushing it out towards me.

He mumbled something under his breath with all but an aura of light around his wide frame blocking the doorway. His face lit from below, his chins and heavy hanging features shadowed as the crackling blue light of electricity arced between the two prongs of the taser in his hand.

I turned and ran to the back of the house, racing through the hallway, knocking a thin, tall telephone stand to the floor, the bells pinging as the Bakelite hit the carpet. In the kitchen I had my hand on the back door, pushed down, pulling as hard as I could. It was locked. Of course it was. I picked up a bowl filled with rotting fruit from the kitchen counter, raised it above my head with both hands and felt his grip against my wrists and his pull backward as my legs buckled from under me. I screamed, but the air went from my lungs before I could get any volume, each of my muscles contracting and relaxing at the same time. All I could do was listen to his words brimming with laughter.

“You’re mine now.”

 

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

Not read Season One? Here it is.