David K Roberts – self-published author sci-fi thriller horror novels

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12 – Bridging The Gap

Pius unceremoniously skewered the helmsman standing in the wheelhouse from behind, thrusting up into the brain and taking whatever life it possessed, after which we threw the flaccid corpse unceremoniously overboard. I looked at where he had been standing and saw that the key was still in the ignition, a small, yellow plastic Homer Simpson hung blue-trousered and fat from the key – I guess they were getting ready to ply their trade up and down the river when the day went less well.
Today was turning into the ultimate ‘shit happens’ scenario for millions, perhaps even billions of people around the world and I was beginning to wonder why I and Becky were resistant to the populist trend of becoming a zombie. I guess there were exceptions to every rule. Maybe we were lucky, maybe not. That day began an increasing chasm of ambiguity over the definition of being lucky.
I looked at the shore, from which we had drifted some thirty feet. We had been just in time; thousands of zombies had amassed, pouring down the ramp onto the pontoon to which we had been tethered only moments ago. Their noise and stench was formidable, their groaning intensifying as I fancied their disappointment at our escape. Some began falling into the water as others came from behind, their weight of numbers forcing those at the edge into the Thames. They floated like logs.
I remember smiling as I felt safe for the first time that morning. Unfortunately that was a short-lived emotion as I noticed that their huge number was locking together like a floating logjam onto which others were clambering to try and get to us. The writhing flotsam was moving apace with our drifting vessel.
I heard Becky squeal in fear as she realised the implications of what was happening.
“Let’s see if we can get this boat going,” I said, speaking to myself mostly in my fear.
I turned the key, gave the glow plugs a moment and then pressed the starter button. The engine turned over several times before I took my finger off the button. Nothing.
“Shit!” I exclaimed angrily. “Start you son of a bitch!”
I pressed the button again and it turned over, the engine catching on one of the upstrokes. I tried again and suddenly the engine burst into life and a plume of diesel smoke belched out from behind the boat.
“Thank God,” Pius mumbled, fingering the cross that hung around his neck.
“Yes!” I exclaimed and moved the gear lever into the position marked by an ‘F’, presumably forward. There was a throttle next to it and I gently pushed it to its limit and we started to leave the lethal logjam behind.
A small cheer sounded from the cabin area and I smiled at Becky who smiled and gave me the thumbs up.
Looking out ahead of us at the great expanse of the Thames I suddenly realised just how far we had to travel by boat.
“Keep a look out ahead,” I warned our group. “If they can float they can get to us!”
At that warning they gathered at the bow to make sure they could watch out for obstructions. From where I stood in the wheelhouse I had a good view ahead so I was more interested in our people being able to repel boarders. This wasn’t the fastest boat in the world and I imagined a determined, floating zombie could potentially haul itself onto the decks. After all, they were completely indefatigable as far as I could tell.
“Are there any boathooks?” Pius asked, clearly seeing the same risk as I had done.
I look around the wheelhouse and saw a varnished wooden door. I opened it and was pleased to see it was a closet in which were the various tools of a boat, including half a dozen brass hooked staves.
“Here, pass these out to the troops,” I said to Pius and he smiled, taking them as I passed them over. In a moment our people were armed, at least minimally. Better than nothing, I reckoned. The brass ends would be good for stabbing.
Looking ahead I saw we were approaching the bridge over which trains travelled to and from Charing Cross. I was grateful we no longer had to fight our way to Waterloo, bypassing streets I could now see were crammed with zombies. On the shore roads I could see many zombies seemingly following us as we made our way seaward. I knew there would be obstructions that would stop them in their tracks so I stopped worrying about our shadows and gave them no further thought.
As we drew nearer to the bridge I gasped. The Golden Jubilee Bridges, walkways that ran alongside the trains as they crossed the river, were crammed with zombies. And we had to pass underneath them. I shivered as my hackles rose.
Looking along its entire length I could see no way of avoiding passing under dozens of the bastards – and their enthusiasm for our flesh would almost certainly make them fall onto the boat in their natural pursuit. Even if our people hid under the boat’s eaves, invisible to those on the footbridge above, I couldn’t be sure the vessel would not be swamped as they played lemmings as we came within their grasp. I used some rope I found in the wheelhouse to secure the wheel and ran to the lower decks where my gallant fellow survivors waited.
“Listen, guys,” I began. “We’re about to go under that bridge and those bloody things might jump or fall down onto the boat.”
“Can’t we avoid them, Emile?” Indre asked, almost pleasing. She stared at the bridge trying to find an answer I hadn’t been able to discover.
“I can’t see how,” I replied. I looked at Becky, I was only too happy that she was a strong swimmer, as was I. “If worse comes to the worst then jump overboard. They might be able to float but I haven’t seen any of them swimming.”
“I can’t swim very well,” Joshua piped up.
“Put on a lifejacket,” I told him, and it gave me an idea. “In fact we should all do that; the padding might offer us some protection if any do get onto the boat.”
We scurried around looking for the jackets. We found them in a padlocked central locker. One hit with a rifle butt and the padlock broke. Suitably attired I returned to the wheelhouse. If these zombies could be lured to the place on the bridge above where we passed, then perhaps I could draw them to a particular part of the bridge, thinning their number either side of the target area. Then a sudden turn to the left or right might allow us to slip under the bridge with many fewer zombies to worry about. At this moment it was pure guesswork because we still didn’t know if they would even try and get onto the boat. Whatever happened, I wanted to make sure we had the best possible chance of survival – after all there were quite a few bridges between us and Woolwich.
As we neared the bridge I tried to work out the best place to aim for. There wasn’t much in it so I aimed for one of the grey supports. Becky came up to stand by me in the boathouse.
“I want to be near you,” she said, her face bullish. I was not going to be given a chance to argue. I smiled and pulled her close to me in a hug.
“Love you,” I said, I think for the first time in our relationship. She looked at me and gently kissed me on the cheek.
“I have always loved you,” she replied.
We lapsed back into silence and I concentrated on keeping a straight line to telegraph our intentions to the brain-deads above. We were less than half a mile from the bridge at this point.
As we closed in I could see that my ideas actually held water, there was definitely a perceptible movement of the horde, ambling to where I looked likely to pass under the bridge. The bastards, I thought, they really do want to get to the boat. I looked down and couldn’t see our people, which meant the zombies on the bridge were likely to have the same empty deck in view. Clearly anything big or small that moved were targets to these creatures.
I was getting excited, my plan was working; either side of my target the numbers were thinning nicely. At about one hundred yards off I spun the wheel forcing the boat to take a sharp turn to the left. I heard a squeal as Indre fought to hold on against the manoeuvre. Some zombies saw the move and tried to change their direction of travel but they were moving too slowly to make a difference at this point.
As we drew under the bridge, the boat moving as fast as I could make it go, half a dozen or so bodies fell onto the cover of the deck, two or three of them sliding harmlessly into the water. The remainder fell to the deck and we pounced onto them stabbing our hooks at their heads, trying to dispatch them before they had a chance to attack. We were doing pretty well when another couple fell from the second bridge on the far side of the railway platform. They landed squarely on Joshua who had ventured out from under the deck cover to kill one of the first intruders.
I ran to his side but before I could help him one of them had taken a chunk out of his hand. He screamed in pain and terror as he saw bright red blood squirt from an artery in his wrist. I stabbed both zombies in the head with my bayonetted rifle – their focus was on Joshua and were an easy kill for me.
I dragged him over to a bench seat and lay him down on its white faux leather surface. The others came over to help.
“Stay focused!” I cried. “We might get more.”
They turned back to the main deck clearly dreading the arrival of more lemming zombies. Another couple of zombies fell into the water behind us as they misjudged their fall, one hitting its head on the fantail leaving a smear of black blood and brains on the white paintwork.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Joshua incanted, writhing in pain from his wound. His wrist was already turning dark, the blood vessels becoming noticeably dark under his translucent skin as they traced their path up his arm. I looked around for something to bandage the wound when I remembered I had seen a green-crossed white tin with the life jackets. I fished it out of the locker and ran back to Joshua. I wrapped the wound after pouring some sort of sterilising fluid onto the wound. He screamed as it seared his flesh. There was no point in pussy-footing around dabbing it on gently. If there was the slightest chance of stopping the infection I was going to do everything I could to do just that.
“Come on,” I encouraged when I had finished my work. “Sit up, you’ll feel better.”
Joshua struggled as he obeyed. Under his eyes there was already a growing shadow of death, veins and arteries becoming clearly visible under the skin as they darkened. I remembered that Brad Pitt had chopped some soldier’s hand off to save her from the infection, but this thing had travelled so fast up his arm it had taken me by surprise. Anyway, I didn’t have a machete to hand.
I looked up at the wheelhouse and saw Pius had taken the helm. He just looked sad and shook his head ever so slightly. I knew exactly what he was saying, I just didn’t know how much time before Joshua became the enemy.
Looking ahead I could see Waterloo Bridge looming. I thought about it and realised there were eight more bridges to get past. This was going to be the longest short journey in history.
“Do you want to try the same thing again, Pius?” I called to him.
He just nodded and focused on steering the boat. Making sure Joshua was comfortable I went over to Becky and Indre. Our little band was shrinking; I wondered if any of us would survive to get to Woolwich.
“Hopefully the next bridge won’t be as packed with the goddam things, but at least we do have a way of minimising their numbers above us. Waterloo Bridge has a bigger set of railings for them to get over so we might not have the same problem, but…” I shrugged my shoulders and held up the rifle. “We will be more prepared this time.”
“Why is that?” Indre asked.
“Because we survived the last attack and know what to expect. Stay under the awnings so they can’t land on you. Quick stabs to the head and move onto the next one. Okay?”
Both girls nodded and gripped their boathook staves more tightly.
I put my rifle down and began dragging the bodies to the side of the boat and rolling them overboard. The girls joined in. The last thing I wanted was for any of us to trip over a cadaver. That would be game over.
We were approaching Waterloo Bridge. I could already see the numbers of zombies on this bridge were fewer than last time. I heaved a sigh of relief as I could see that the same trick was working on this bridge as before. At the last moment Pius veered the boat to port and we dove under the bridge. This time only three flailing bodies landed on the decks and were easily dispatched.
“Emile!” Pius shouted from the wheelhouse. I turned to see Joshua coming at me, arms outstretched and fingers claw-like. His whole countenance had changed from gentle and decent person to blood-drooling creature with lifeless, nacreous eyes. Without hesitation I raised the rifle over my head and thrust down into his brain successfully flicking the off switch. Poor old Joshua dropped like a stone to the deck. Indre let out a small cry of grief and she clung to Becky, her second close associate cum friend’s departure too much to bear. Becky spoke gently to her, stroking the distraught girl’s hair while leading her to a bench. I left them and went to Pius.
“Only seven more bridges to go,” I informed him.
“Jesus,” he sighed.
“We really need another plan,” I decided.
*

Copyright © 2016 David Kingsley Roberts

If you want to read a completed Zombie series, The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle, click here.

11 – Taking In The Sights

It was weird but as we ran for the trees I kept on thinking how this place looked in normal times – filled with office workers, civil servants, tourists, protesters, and the encampments of long term political complainants. All of that was now gone, in its place huge amounts of rubbish, torn down tents, discarded placards and of course diseased people with no obvious thoughts other than getting to us in search of sustenance – that and converting us into one of them I now knew, having seen Sneaky Bastard come back after being bitten.

At the beginning of our heroic dash my legs felt like jelly, my strength was being sapped by my fear. Running out into the open like that was a serious challenge to me – if I hadn’t had Becky by my side, well, honestly I don’t know how I would have fared. I’ll be frank, I’m not the bravest soul in the world, which may or may not explain why I’m still alive to tell this story so far into the Apocalypse. Anyway, back to the present, I listened out for the footsteps of our group behind me to make sure we didn’t get separated as we made our hurried way towards the trees.

In spite of our relative silence the zombies quickly picked up on our presence and began their shuffle dance in our direction. My heart beat faster as I realised that somehow they were moving not so much towards us as more to block our passage across the square. Up to now I had only attributed the most meagre of mental abilities to them but definitely not this. Seeing this group activity at the very least indicated some sort of basic innate hunting skills, if not some form of group communications. All the way across I wondered if we were doing the right thing, although by now there was no going back. I looked over my shoulder and caught sight of Pius dispatching a zombie that had been more enthusiastically chasing us than the others. He seemed very proficient with the rifle and bayonet – deep waters lay there I suspected.

Arriving at the trees and thankfully still alive I pushed on, Becky staying by my side. I could see Winston’s statue almost urging me to fight on, the square and riverside our twenty first century beaches. Looking beyond him I judged there would be just about enough space for us to get over the bridge and down to Westminster Pier but it would be one hell of a close call. It was a serious gamble so I just prayed there would be a boat waiting for us. Even if we couldn’t get the engine started I still maintained that we would be safer by simply casting it away from the shore, out of reach of those deadly hands.

We were running hell for leather now, our restraint and carefully planned moves thrown out the window in our rising collective panic. We were nearly at the far side of the square when the first of us met our end. The upside was that it was only Matt. Fair do’s to the fella he appeared fearless in his struggle against the one that caught him. Struggling to overpower each other they both went down and were almost immediately set upon by another four zombies who were already close behind out group, their lumbering gait relentless. His screams brought more zombies to the scene. Dinner was served.

I grabbed Becky’s hand and cried out to the others to keep moving. Indre just stood there and seemed nonplussed at Matt’s demise, their sparking relationship now evident for what it had been. Pius grabbed her roughly by the arm and pulled her along, she all the while looking over her shoulder at the food lust behind us. From what I saw I only remember bright red. It seems that Matt did indeed step up in the end, although I don’t imagine it was exactly a voluntary contribution on his part to give us a small hiatus in the chase so giving us precious seconds to get further away from death. What do they say: you existed as long as someone remembers you. Well, I remember all of them.

We were now alongside Portcullis House, that great modern edifice built to house our MPs and their minions as they struggled to keep our country afloat on a daily basis. As we passed by that monstrous folly I am absolutely certain I saw a couple of members of our cabinet, only now their own concern was in chasing us. I wasn’t about to stop and ask for an autograph. They joined the chase as the pier appeared, guarded by Boudicca as she had done since 1850, although this time she merely watched as we panted and struggled to stay ahead of the ever increasing horde of zombies collecting at our rear.

Vlad, our erstwhile impaler seemed not to be so much of a barbarian as I’d hoped, he was beginning to lag behind us, something that didn’t seem to go unnoticed by the zombies. Vlad was holding his left side and looked like he was suffering a debilitating bout of cramp. They seemed to smell blood in the water and from all around they began to converge on him. I felt for the guy, he seemed to be a pretty decent person.

I turned to face a couple of zombies that at that same moment thought it was a good idea to deliver a frontal attack. On the first thrust I delivered on the leading zombie I felt and heard the crushing skull as the blade penetrated into the brain. She fell motionless at my feet and I suddenly realised the blade was being held in by suction, her lolling head soaking up my efforts to get free. The second one sensed opportunity but instinctively I fired a shot and the woman’s head opened up releasing the bayonet. I read once that firing a shot was how troops in WW1 quickly released their long bayonets from a resistant body. The ancient wisdom seemed to work and so I managed to skewer the second one in the chest, not being in the right position to attack its head. Its arms flailed in an attempt to close the gap the rifle afforded me. This time I kicked at the torso, delivering it a heavy duty blow born out of the adrenaline rush I was experiencing right at that moment. It flew away backwards from me, giving me the precious moments needed to place the blade between its eyes. I twisted the rifle and the blade came out easily.

Looking back I saw no sign of Vlad other than a crowd of zombies gathering around something on the ground. Damn, I thought. I was beginning to feel rather freaked out by now, the adrenaline rush notwithstanding. The sensation of stabbing a person, the thought of being torn apart by teeth, it all felt overwhelming and almost too much to bear. I kept running and finally saw there was indeed a boat at the pier. Together we rushed down the steps and leapt aboard.

“Untie the ropes!” I shouted. “Pius and I will clear these bastards off.”

The two of us rushed at the three crew members which had clearly turned at some point in the night and were standing at their stations as if waiting for passengers. As they appeared to be in a trance-like state they put up little resistance. We gave them no time to wake up from it and quickly dispatched them with increasingly practiced bayonet thrusts. I was surprised how little blood came out of our victims. It wasn’t at all like the films; I guess no pulse equals no blood pressure equals no squirting blood. Pius and I threw them overboard as we began to drift out into the river, Becky, Indre and Joshua having taken the initiative to cast us away from the shore.

On the pier dozens of zombies crowded, inadvertently toppling some of their number into the water in their blinkered enthusiasm to get to us. I was right, or so I thought, the water would be a safe place to be for now. I sighed with relief.

“Let us get the motor started,” Pius suggested.

“Sure,” I agreed and went with him to the wheelhouse.

*

Copyright © 2016 David Kingsley Roberts

If you want to read a completed Zombie series, The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle, click here.

10 – Once More Unto The Breach

Looking out of the window in the stairwell we could see that the zombie herd had moved away, probably inflicting misery and terror wherever they went.

“Now’s our time to leave,” Pius suggested.

“Where are you going?” Vlad asked.

“He has to get to his family in Woolwich,” Becky piped up. “We’re going with him.”

“Can you even do that? Wouldn’t it be safer to stay indoors until all this is over?” Indre asked, her voice quavering with fright at the thought.

“Over?” I replied. “I think it’s already over, the world we knew that is. Anyway, you saw how quickly they got into this building. If there hadn’t been a loft walkway we would have been trapped with them and, well, who knows what if that happens.”

“At least we can outrun them,” Becky agreed. “We have already done that – more than once.”

Indre whimpered self-pityingly.

“Come on, girl,” Matt, the fourth staff member interjected, putting an arm around her shoulders. “I’ll keep you safe.”

Indre’s withering look as she freed herself from his clutches said everything about their relationship.

“You two had better keep it together once we’re out there,” I told them. “I won’t have your personal problems getting one of us killed. We may be able to outrun them but it won’t be a walk in the park, not by any means.”

“I will not be a problem,” Indre said through gritted teeth.

“Don’t worry about me, mate. I’ll step up,” Matt retorted arrogantly. Strange, I thought, I hadn’t seen much evidence of that up to now.

“You better do so. We won’t wait and I won’t risk one of our lives for your lives so we have to stick together. If any of you want to come with Pius, Becky and me then you are welcome but the only decisions that count, at least until we get to his family, are ours.”

Pius raised himself to full height as if affirming my little speech.

“Let us go before we meet anyone else,” Pius suggested.

“Righto,” I agreed. “You ready, Becks?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

With a look of steely determination she began to descend the stairs, Pius leading the way, gun at the ready. The rest of us followed and I wondered how seven of us would make it in one piece across the ravaged city.

Pius collected a couple of clips of ammunition as we passed Sneaky Bastard in the stairwell. The squaddie’s neck was broken, the head resting unnaturally close to his shoulders. His face writhed as it spotted us coming nearer. The teeth clacked in some sort of deathly anticipation and his legs flailed uselessly on the smooth floor. Without hesitating Pius crushed the man’s skull with the rifle’s butt and began searching the corpse’s pockets, recovering a couple of ammo clips and his stash which the big man threw away. There was something very unnerving about Pius’ emotionless state at that point and it deflected me from a more pressing matter – the soldier hadn’t been bitten, leaving the reason for his zombie state unanswered. I gave it no more thought at the time.

Coming to the Victorian glass and wrought iron frontage on the ground floor we crouched down and gingerly made our way towards the door. Lying on the ground next to the door was a rifle, bayonet still fixed; one of the drugged up squaddies must have dropped it in his frightened flight. He must have really been out of it to leave that behind. Pius shared one of the ammo clips he had recovered with me as I picked up the weapon. I guess I was going to learn how to use it in the field, so to speak.

I signalled for everyone to stay back and wait as I slowly opened the front door. Fortunately it was on a spring and had slammed shut after the troopers left or we may have had to work our way through unwelcome guests. Looking down the road in each direction I could see that most of the zombies had cleared off, leaving a few stragglers behind wandering around aimlessly.

The road seemed slick with something I couldn’t recognise – the smell it gave off made up for any visual clues as to what it was. The Zombie Apocalypse taught me that an unfortunate yet normal reaction to death in a human was to release all sphincters, hence why death was rarely the dignified event films mostly portray. Because they were standing up their bowels behaved like a bucket with a hole in the bottom, so to speak, spreading faecal matter in their wake. Thousands of them walking down the road was neither a pretty sight nor something to be easily forgotten, especially in the early days. And I thought what the drone had done was appalling enough! I pulled my head back and shut the door while trying to get my breath back. The others groaned and Indre retched as the odour caught them full in the face.

“Oh, Jesus,” Becky groaned, her face going pale once more. “We can’t go out in that!”

“We have no choice, babe,” I replied, trying desperately not to vomit. Before the ZA the worst thing I’d had to do was pick up my old dog’s poop using a plastic bag. “You know, I think I’ve just had a good idea. We’ll never get to Woolwich if we have to get across the town. What if we could get to the river and grab a boat? They couldn’t get to us if we travel down the middle of the river, surely? What do ya reckon?”

“You can’t steal a boat,” Matt said indignantly.

I looked at him in disbelief before I remembered he probably hadn’t stepped outside since all this began.

“Let’s just say that it’s quite possible ownership is no longer an issue,” I countered. “Anyway, I wouldn’t want to keep it, so technically it isn’t theft.”

“You can walk around town if you like,” Indre said to Matt, her lip curled in disdain. “I’d feel safer on the water, especially if these things are everywhere.”

“Alright then,” I interrupted. “If no-one has an objection we’ll head down toward Westminster Bridge – if the plane’s fire hasn’t blocked that route of course. There’s a pier next to the bridge so I’m sure there must be something there we could use.”

“What plane?” Joshua interrupted. “We heard a noise…”

“That was it,” Becky explained. “Right next to the Houses of Parliament. Half a mile further off course and this place would have been under it.”

“Oh, crap,” Joshua muttered as the explanation sunk in.

All conversations over and with no objections we made our way down the road towards Parliament. As before, we kept close to buildings and ducked from hiding pace to hiding place. The temptation to simply run the route as fast as we could was strong, but all of us were frightened of the risk of running into a crowd of them. I firmly believed we could outrun them but all one of us needed to do was turn an ankle and we’d be in trouble. I used to have a blue t-shirt with the words ‘I like you but if zombies attack I’m tripping you’ printed on it in brilliant white. I remember I used to laugh at it thinking it was amusing. Oh well, times change and now I couldn’t imagine leaving a single person behind, without a fight at least. For me, in these desperate days jokes don’t really seem to be particularly relevant. I think part of everyone’s humanity died when zombies started living.

We came to Parliament Square Green with little or no trouble; a couple of stray zombies met the sharp end of my and Pius’ bayonets but other than that we were in the clear. We stopped by the corner of the Middlesex Guildhall building and crouched down as low as we could against the iron railings. I felt disheartened as I looked across the expanse – it looked way bigger than I remembered. While there were plenty of obstacles we could use for cover on the journey, everything from slender trees to good old Churchill’s statue plinth, I could see quite a number of zombies milling around, waiting for a meaty meal to come wandering across their attention. At the far side a crowd of them were gathered around a lump of something on the ground, their attention riveted on it. I tore my gaze away and quickly calculated our chances of getting through. I saw no other options: it was across Parliament Square or bust, as they say.

“Okay, now listen,” I whispered to my fellow survivors. “We are going to have to run for it. It isn’t far to the river but it’s far enough with those things on our tail. Pius and I will clear our way forward using bayonets unless we become cornered. Whatever you do, try not to make any more noise than you have to.”

“Duh,” Matt muttered under his breath.

“Just for that, you can be our rear guard,” I spat, glaring at the idiot. “You’d better take this seriously or you won’t get across the square.”

“Oh, I will,” he countered.

“You might just be a brave young man but if you do get anyone killed,” Pius said, speaking quietly enough that everyone had to listen carefully. “I will be having words with you about it.”

The look on his face made Matt swallow involuntarily and I smiled inside. I didn’t care whether the git respected my command over him or not; with Pius glowering at him he certainly got the picture.

“We can’t go in a straight line, we will be out in the open too long,” I said. “We can follow the line of the trees to the left. As it happens the zombies seem mostly to be out in the open, at least from what I can see from here. No-one stops or hesitates. If you get left behind we probably won’t be able to go back and help you. So we have to help each other all the time. I would like it if you each chose a partner for this.”

The look Indre gave Matt stopped him from making the obvious comment.

“I will partner with you,” Pius told Matt. “We can protect from behind.”

Initially I thought that only one bayonet up front might prove problematic but if it came to needing a second weapon then we were probably done for anyway.

Becky and I were obvious partners, and the others paired up somewhat sheepishly.

“Ready?” I asked and received nods from each person. “Okay, let’s do this.”

My heart was pumping so loudly that I was sure everyone else would hear it but I guess they were too busy with their own to hear mine. I grabbed Becky’s hand and we ran for the first trees.

*

Copyright © 2016 David Kingsley Roberts

If you want to read a completed Zombie series, The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle, click here.

Halloween Zombies and Superheroes

“Come on, Love,” I encouraged my wife, Angela. “We won’t get back in time to set up before the kids start coming around.”

“Stop being childish,” she chided gently. “We’ll get home in plenty of time.”

Practical Ange had spoken.

The queues to the tills were like long, winding snakes, backing up into the aisles, causing me irritation and consternation. What I had in mind was going to be spectacular, at least for our street. I had obtained actual police cordon tape, pumpkins already dug out and carved, lanterns to be hung with spider webs, and so the list went on. I don’t know why I wanted to do it, perhaps I simply enjoyed the fun of the occasion; we didn’t do Halloween when I was young and I was probably trying to make up for lost time.

Finally, we were at the till and I handed over my credit card.

“How much?” my wife exclaimed.

“It’ll be worth it,” I replied, smiling at her.

“I guess,” she acceded, looking at me as a child that had to be humoured.

We fought our way past the other shoppers, many of whom didn’t seem to have any idea as to what they were doing or even where they were.

“Bloody people!” I mumbled to myself, elbowing my way past a knot of people who had simply stopped in the entrance to the shop, oblivious to those that had a mission. It looked like I had just missed some incident; perhaps there had been a fight as some of the milling masses had blood on their faces. “They won’t need makeup if they’re going out tonight,” I mused to myself.

Getting to the car on the far side of the car park I sighed with relief as I sat down. It felt like shopping was becoming more and more of a chore with each passing year. Maybe my temper was just on a shorter fuse. I turned to my wife.

“That was pretty weird, wasn’t it?” I observed.

“I think most seemed to have been on the pop already,” she replied, looking at her watch. “And at this hour.” It was only half past four in the afternoon and Saint Ange had spoken.

“Did you see those shoppers with blood on them?”

“I did. It scared me a bit, they must have been fighting or something.” She leant over and kissed me on the cheek. “At least we’re away from there now, we’re safe.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, still feeling unconvinced about our safety. It felt like something was in the air, something forbidding, malevolent. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

halloween zombies short story david k roberts
Zombie Mum

I started the car and carefully weaved our way out of the car park, dodging more drunks on the way. Suddenly a people carrier hurtled past me, its horn blaring as the driver thumped the steering wheel repeatedly in what seemed like extreme road rage. The other two people in it seemed to be arguing and exchanging blows, blood splattering the windscreen. I swerved out of its way and watched it careen out of the exit and across the road only to be side-swiped by another car travelling at speed.

“What the fuck!” I exclaimed.

“Don’t use that language,” my wife said, admonishing me for my profanity.

“But…”

“No buts, just call the police.” Pragmatic Ange had spoken.

I braked to a halt and attempted to make the call on my mobile. A recorded voice told me to try again later. I tried again but with the same result. That was definitely weird but before I could give it any more thought I looked up and saw a crowd gathering around the scene of the accident; ghouls, I thought. Some were gesturing aggressively at the drivers while others dragged the occupants from the car. A brawl broke out and I decided that retreat was the better part of valour – things just felt wrong. With a vision of bright red blood splattered on the bonnet of one of the cars still burnt into our brains we made our way home quickly but carefully, dodging another couple of wildly driven cars. Sometimes there were just days like this.

Pulling into the drive even my wife sighed with relief.

“I’m glad that’s over,” she announced. She held her hand up and I saw that it was shaking.

“Me too,” I agreed and gave her a long hug. She was as upset as I was and I hated to see that.

Carrying the shopping in, I brushed off my earlier doubts and fears and pulled out the Halloween items to begin my annual ritual of setting up, all the while thinking about the shopping trip and how society was going to hell in a hand basket.

Outside I used the police tape to set up a pathway around the car and up to the front door. Sometimes I think I used the tape for its secondary purpose: to keep the kids away from the car. I love my car.

I set up the garden over the next hour not noticing that the sun had well and truly set by the time I was finished; looking around I was beginning to see people wandering around in the dusk, clearly getting into the mood by walking like zombie extras in The Walking Dead. What was it about zombies these days? What was the all-fire attraction of dressing up like one? If a zombie apocalypse actually happened I think I would want to be a survivor, not one of the undead. So far none of them had come close to the house but from a distance they looked pretty well made up, some looking very realistic. I shivered with enjoyment of the moment, wondering what they used to make such realistic blood.

At times like this I liked to pretend it was real, that the Zombie Apocalypse was upon us and I was a survivor. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit of a kid at heart, so my wife keeps reminding me, always with such maternal patience; I don’t think I ever heard her swear or show even a hint of frustration at the kid she had married. She was a saint, I reckon. As for me, I like to swear, it’s a great way of venting anger for me, sometimes I would do it without being told off – those times Ange was not within earshot. I loved her but sometimes I mentally begged for her to be a little less tightly wound.

I stood back to admire my handiwork; it looked great, especially the lanterns glimmering warmly, the spider-web effect dangling perfectly. I caught it all on my phone’s camera. Another year’s photos for my collection.

Going back inside I caught the delightful aroma of our dinner cooking. My wife may have abhorred swearing but she sure as hell knew how to cook. I walked into the kitchen and kissed her neck. Arching her back she leaned into me and we cuddled for a moment or two.

At that moment the doorbell rang.

“Already?” Angela complained, pulling away from me in irritation.

I sighed again. I always seemed to be sighing these days. Opening the front door I saw three kids and their mum standing there on the front porch, while behind them a line of others wound their way within the police tape confines towards our door. It was going to be a busy night.

At the front of the line the kids were done up as an assortment of witches and superheroes – how superheroes figured in Halloween I didn’t know. The mum was done up as a zombie. Shocked at her realistic outfit I stepped back in surprise.

“Nicely done,” I complimented her.

“Trick or treat!” the kids shouted excitedly. The mum remained in character and moaned, a little bloody drool escaping her mouth. That was a little over the top I reckoned, especially in front of the rugrats.

I held out the bucket of treats I had purchased and the children grabbed hands full of the sweets and dumped them into their collection bags, smiles on their made-up faces.

I offered an adult confection to the mum but she didn’t respond apart from giving a louder moan. Looking at her eyes I wondered with more than a little awe as to how she projected such absolute rage and ferocity through contact lenses. My wife arrived by my side at that very moment.

“Good Lord!” she exclaimed.

“Brilliant isn’t it?” I said, still mesmerised by the mother’s outfit and make-up.

Next moment the woman made to lunge at us, bowling her children aside. They squealed in surprise and terror and I was knocked out of the way as Angela reacted immediately to the threat. Reacting with a lightning speed I’d never imagined possible to the mother’s sudden aggression Angela threw herself at Zombie Mum. In response the mother focused her full attention on my wife and they grappled for a moment before the woman managed to bite deep into my beautiful wife’s shoulder, cutting her to the bone. Angela’s scream shocked me to the core, while blood spurted warm and metallic from the gaping hole and covered the mother’s face at the same time spraying the children and me with her ebbing life force.

With her dying breath my wife uttered her last words.

“Fuck! That hurts!” Relaxed Ange had finally spoken.

Copyright © 2016 David Kingsley Roberts

If you want to read a completed Zombie series, The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle, click here.

9 – The Rise And Fall – And Rise – of Sneaky Bastard

Sneaky Bastard was right behind me. In spite of his drugged up state he’d managed stealth in spite of my precautions. The squaddie’s gun was pointing unerringly between my eyes – it was one of my worst moments in the early apocalypse. My fear for Becky was intense; I didn’t want these bastards to harm her, or the other women for that matter.

I glanced behind him and mentally sighed with relief; the staircase was empty, his buddies had clearly declined to accompany him on his little adventure. Or maybe they were too high to care.

“What do you want?” I demanded, trying not to show my fear of his gun.

“Dumb question, you poncy bastard,” he replied. “Move out the way, I wanna meet your girl. Is she the security guard?” he continued sarcastically.

Jerking the bayonetted rifle he commanded me to move aside. At first I hesitated, desperately thinking about what I could do without getting myself killed. Dying wouldn’t protect Becky. I had to be smart, play for time. He prodded me painfully in the middle of my chest, his face full of anger and a burning hatred. My face drained with fear – I forgot to tell you, I have an intense fear of being stabbed which started in childhood, but I won’t go into that now.

“Move it, fucking civvie bastard,” he hissed, his bloodshot eyes glaring venomously into mine.

I stepped slowly backwards and sideways to my right. Somehow, and I’ll never be able to explain it, I could feel Pius above me in the darkness of the attic, waiting to pounce. I kept moving backwards and closer to the open trapdoor, my now hidden right hand plucking at Becky’s sleeve drawing her slowly around me, sideways and away from the open loft aperture. Sneaky Bastard was being drawn along with my movement, his drug-addled brain dulling his instincts for a trap.

The squaddie was licking his lips now in anticipation, the look in his eyes telling me he was mentally stripping Becky – and liking what he saw.

“You’re a pretty one, ain’t ya?” he whispered hoarsely. Becky cringed in horror at the sound of his voice and gripped my arm tightly.

“I told you to get out of the fucking way!” he blared at me, pulling his rifle back in anticipation of using his bayonet.

He never got the chance. Pius fell through the aperture and landed on him feet first, his enormous bulk inexorable. Together they went down and on hitting the ground there was a loud cracking sound as Pius’ foot crushed Sneaky Bastard’s chest, bones splintering and creating their own internal bayonet-like havoc. The soldier gasped in agony, blood spilling from his mouth mixed with pink foam. A couple more gasps and he stopped moving, dead as a door nail. I checked for a pulse in his throat. Nothing, it was the first time I’d touched a dead man.

“I do not like men who abuse women,” Pius stated, spitting on the dead man. “I left Nigeria with my family to get away from that sort of thing.” Pius was glaring at the man as he said his piece. I liked Pius man more and more, a man after my own heart.

“Thanks, Pius,” I said, tearing my gaze away from the crushed dead soldier on the floor.

“It was nothing,” he replied – somehow I really believed his words. I think he might have a story or two to tell about his previous life but his lips would always be sealed.

I hugged Becky, relief flooding me. Her eyes were not filled with relief but a hard flinty look as she stared at the corpse. She broke free of me and hugged Pius.

“Thank you, Pius,” she whispered. “You are a good man.”

The big man suddenly looked sheepish. He could crush a man easily but a woman’s thanks floored him.

“It is nothing, truly,” he replied to her, then looked over at me. “Are there any more of them?”

“Yes. There are two on the ground floor.”

“Are they like him?”

“I think they are high on something but I don’t think they followed him up here so maybe he’s the rogue one.”

“Uh, guys,” Becky interrupted.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Look,” she replied pointing at Sneaky Bastard.

We both looked down and saw him move.

“But…” I began.

The crushed squaddie moved his head and opened his eyes.

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed. Pius felt for the cross hanging around his neck.

Sneaky Bastard’s eyes were like those of the people we had seen earlier. All of a sudden it made sense as to why we hadn’t seen loads of corpses everywhere. They were reviving to turn into zombies. This implied whatever it was affecting London’s population was more than a simple infection; would we all turn into one of these things when we die?

I didn’t get any more time to think on this. The zombie clumsily got to his feet and we backed away from it. It stumbled backwards a little, off-balance like a new-born foal on fresh, unused legs and I saw my chance. As it lined up with the entrance to the stairwell I rushed it and pushed with all my might. It rode with my force, its legs flailing to keep it upright. At the top of the stairs I skidded to a halt and its momentum propelled it through the air before finally hitting the staircase a dozen steps or so down. It bounced bloodily off the walls and went down another two flights before it came to a halt.

I could hear the remaining two squaddies running up the stairs to investigate what was happening. Roaring gunfire erupted next to me as Pius fired Sneaky Bastard’s gun down the stairwell. I jumped back in surprise, shielding my face instinctively from the flashes and noise. I heard a scream from below followed by running feet as the soldiers beat a hasty retreat. Next minute we heard the front door opening and slamming shut. I peered out the window in the stairwell and caught a glimpse of them running for it along Broadway behind the New Scotland Yard building. In their panic they bowled over a few zombies who tried in vain to capture the two before they disappeared from view.

“Bastards,” I muttered before turning back to Pius. He was holding the rifle which in his hands looked like a plastic toy.

*

When Fiction Becomes Fact

I’m quite excited. There have been two recent science articles that show technology is catching up to my science fiction book, The Animus Portal. I love it when fiction becomes fact.

the animus portal science fiction scifi When Fiction Becomes FactMy book describes the journey of a single piece of technology, implanted in the brain to cure dementia. Humble beginnings that sour as it is adapted for wider social solutions, everything from social media to through influencing human behaviour. Although done for the best of reasons, allegedly, it becomes a challenge to put the genie back in the bottle. I am currently writing the sequel.

node human Bryan Johnson kernelLooking at the two articles to which I allude, $100million project to make intelligence boosting brain implant, and Forget typing, Computers will be able to read your mind and convert thoughts to text you could argue that in time they could head in a similar direction. Do you think the military or politicians would leave this technology in a benevolent state? Would it become too great a temptation to use in their ultimate goal to build the ultimate soldier that would do their leader’s bidding? Is it in everybody’s interest to link our brains together to create the ultimate super computer?

These articles speak of the chasm yet to be crossed in this work. How can we get technology to accurately both understand and communicate with the brain and its inputs.

Below is a small good and bad table I’ve worked up as to whether this technology would ultimately be bad for us:

GoodBad
Understand the brain in fine detailUnderstand the brain in fine detail
No more need to lieLying is a safety feature of the human race
Influence behaviour to halt recidivismInfluence behaviour to remove free will
Cure ailments of the brainIs nature giving us these ailments as a way of telling us we need to die as part of the normal order of things
With no more lies comes the honest politicianCan politicians and leaders influence the voter?
Interacting directly with the Brain is the ultimate scientific goalShould we ever tamper with the brain?
We don’t need a private, unreadable spaceMore than anything we need a private, unreadable space for sanity’s sake

 

Have you noticed how circular the arguments are for this work on the brain? The one thing you can be sure of, the people who work on the brain are not like climbers who climb Everest ‘because it is there’, but because they are sure that this is a step that needs to be taken.

The one single question that needs to be asked is ‘should we go there?’ I believe it is certain that this question is being asked by these scientists. Whether you agree with their answer is the real point.

TWD Is Not For Snowflakes

I’ve read some pretty strange things in the last few years, and a lot of it pointing in the direction of a society that is more easily offended and damaged than ever before. I think it is even possible to get PTSD from thinking a bad thought nowadays. One thing is for sure: TWD is not for snowflakes.

twd negan snowflake david k roberts TWD Is Not For SnowflakesWhen I first heard the term ‘snowflake’ used implying the delicate nature of the modern young I felt a mixture of agreement combined with a little indignation for the upcoming younger generations. It’s on a par with the expression ‘poor white trash’ which denigrates a whole sector of the population who cannot fight back.

Reading an article in the Daily Mail today about people’s reactions to the first episode of series seven of The Walking Dead I burst out laughing, not because I am cruel by nature but because people even filmed their reactions to the programme. Now I know that social media has hit a new all-time low when it raves about people’s horror at a programme that has always been violent – it has zombies and dangerous people in it, for God’s sake! Why would you film yourself being horrified at something you deliberately watched knowing that someone was to die in the first few minutes? There has always been a copious supply of fake blood in TWD.

I suspect people are less horrified at the programme and more determined to get their own five minutes of fame – even if they have to look like a horse’s ass in doing so. Is this the point of the snowflake generation as it’s now known? They will do anything to get public recognition? Complaining seems to be the fast track way of being noticed – talent be damned!

Whatever the reason for this reaction, one thing is for certain, TWD Is Not For Snowflakes!

Neighbours And The Zombie Apocalypse

We all have them, some we love and some we loathe. Come the big day, will neighbours and the Zombie Apocalypse collide?

Neighbours And The Zombie Apocalypse david k roberts
Probably not these Neighbours

Man is an opportunistic creature, a strange mixture of altruism and self-interest resides within us all. Assuming you are not at work or on holiday when the ZA strikes, you will probably be at home. Perhaps you will go outside, wondering what is going on only to be attacked by a frothing-at-the-mouth neighbour who has succumbed to the awful end we all dread. If you have sense you will remain indoors until you have made some sort of decision as to what to do. If this is your big plan, don’t forget to fill anything that holds water, you could be stranded for quite a while.

A few hours in and you’re still alive. You start thinking about your next steps: do you try and go it alone and/or remain with those in your household, or do you try and get to your friends and loved ones if not with you already? Eventually you will start thinking about your neighbours. Are there any you would want to help, ignore, or even take drastic action against? I’m not being morbid or thinking vindictive thoughts. Consider this, if you are thinking like this, so are they. Are you now realising the risk you are under from non-zombies that live nearby?

Neighbours And The Zombie Apocalypse david k robertsWe’ve all seen programmes featuring neighbours from hell, those people for whom a leaf falling on their property creates a litigious opportunity or worse. People who will never relent on the most trivial of things. What if they are thinking as I’ve just described – perhaps they see the Zombie Apocalypse as an ideal time to remove neighbours that have been giving them a hard time. If you don’t at least consider the ramifications of the breakdown of law and order beyond mere marauding thugs to consider your emotion-filled and perhaps psychotic neighbours, then you may be in for a big surprise.

So, what’s the answer? Go out there and kill them? Well, I would not do this for three reasons: 1. You have to go outside and risk your life among the zombies, 2. Your neighbour might just be a better fighter than you, your sticky end leaving your loved ones further at risk, and 3. Perhaps wantonly killing breathers is a bad thing to do for the future of mankind.

In the end, as with all threats, don’t go looking for trouble, instead, be prepared for it when it comes troubling you. Beef up your security, make sure you have appropriate weapons to hand in each room, and secure your doors properly. Finally, if there is more than one person in your digs, make sure someone is awake at all times.

And if you are in the UK and don’t have access to guns, pray your neighbour doesn’t either!

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Surviving 1st Five Minutes Of The Zombie Apocalypse

I’m now writing my ninth book on the ZA, but the truth is I often wonder if I, with all the research and thought I give to the Event, have any better chance of surviving 1st five minutes of the Zombie Apocalypse than the average Joe Public. I still don’t know the answer to this question and I guess I hope secretly that I never have to find out.

Surviving 1st Five Minutes Of The Zombie ApocalypseI saw an article back in the early nineties when computer games began to rise in popularity for young people. While older people were predicting doom and gloom – with eye problems and millions of new cases of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) some people noticed certain benefits. With the advent of more computer controlled aircraft, the similarities between flying military aircraft and computer games were narrowing. New applicants to the Airforce were becoming split into two camps, those who regularly played computer games and those that didn’t. The gamers frequently scored higher in hand-eye coordination and technology aptitude tests. Obviously this put them ahead of the others.

Move forward about 20 years and a new ‘computer game’, although it’s not actually a game, has surfaced. It’s called SurviVR. As you might expect from its name it is a virtual reality environment that simulates survival in the office. It’s not about getting one over on the boss, but an altogether frightening and unfortunately more frequent occurrence – the ‘postal’ worker.

The premise is that, if you are unprepared you will not be able to use instinctive survival skills to survive some marauding, suicidal and disgruntled office worker as he or she takes out your colleagues who have chosen to either freeze in the headlights or hide under the desk. The office is not a natural hunting environment, so what would you do under the circumstances? Most people haven’t a clue or simply do the obvious, all with fatal consequences.

SurviVR is designed to give you that instinct back, attempting to give you a safe environment in which to think about survivable options.

Why do we need this? Because most of us are so numbed and guided by process and the daily grind that we have suppressed our survival instincts more or less to zero. If we can’t defend ourselves against a lone gunman, how can we even recognise the signs that a zombie apocalypse is even happening?  If a crowd of zombies ran at you, how long would it take you to 1. believe your eyes, and 2. take some form of affirmative action? Would this give you the precious seconds to formulate a plan for escape AND survival and execute it?

I am a pilot and the one thing we are taught from day one is to expect the unexpected, and in our case it’s usually in the form of your engine going silent without warning. As a result, we may look calm in the front seat enjoying the sun and the view, but trust me, in every pilot’s mind is one thought: in which field down there could I land safely. It’s a pilot’s forever thought.

What’s yours?

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8 – Division In The Household

After climbing the stairs at full tilt we burst out into an open foyer that had two elevator doors at the far end and a cheap-looking plastic imitation veneer reception desk. Off this same area were several office doors. Seeing this floor I was dismayed. If we sought safety in one of these rooms we would really be trapped. We needed to keep on going up, away from our pursuers.

I turned back to the stairwell – my gut told me it was probably no more sensible to use lifts in a zombie apocalypse than it was in case of a fire. Coming at me was a large, obese man who may have eaten all the pies when alive but was now expanding his horizons into foods new and from what I could see in that moment the Paleo diet was his latest fad. In his left hand was the remains of a leg with stringy globs of meat stuck to its blood covered femur. Without a thought of what I was doing I ran towards him, grabbed the top of the door jamb and swung at the meat mountain using my feet as a battering ram. I guess I was lucky and caught him in his upper torso and he was toppled backwards onto his followers, leaving our way upwards temporarily clear.

“Come on!” I urged and we all ran up the stairs, this time I remained with Becky and Pius. Our feet clattered on the marble steps as we raced onwards and upwards. Below us I could hear the rabble rousing itself again in its endless pursuit of living flesh.

If I remembered correctly, these old buildings were five or six storeys tall and if we could create a suitable barrier further up the building we might be safe for a while, at least to gather our thoughts and come up with a plan. At the next floor we dragged the reception desk into the stairwell and jammed it at the top of the stairs, blocking easy ingress. We did this for another couple of floors and then finally came to the top floor.

“What now?” one of the staff members asked. His name badge announced him to be Vlad. I hoped he was an impaler – that would be of use right now.

“Dunno,” I replied, breathing heavily from exertion. “We rest for a moment. Shame we didn’t have time to bring any sarnies from downstairs. I’m famished.”

“Funny you should say that,” the girl I spoke to earlier said, holding out a carrier bag full of sandwich packets. Her name tag said Indre.

“Nice one, Indre,” I replied, smiling.

She opened the bag and offered it to me. I pulled out a pack. Chicken salad. Well, at least it was a healthy option. I piled into it as the others grabbed a pack each and began munching in silence. I looked over at Becky and she seemed reasonably recovered from all of our trials up to now; still a little pale but at least her colour was returning.

From downstairs we could hear moaning and the crashing of furniture as they struggled to get past our hurriedly created barriers. From the increasingly enthusiastic sound of splintering wood echoing up the stairwell I estimated we had no more than about twenty minutes before they joined us.

Glancing up at the ceiling I noticed a hatch. Gut instinct told me that climbing up there would set us free. In a worst case scenario we could hide out until the zombies moved on, assuming that’s what they did of course. I looked around and pulled a table over until it was under the hatch. I climbed up and pushed at the cover. It opened inwards so I pushed it all the way open.

You’re going to think I’m a bit of a sad fucker, but for as long as I can remember I always carried an 8cm long Maglite Solitaire LED torch with me – even before the ZA – you never know when you might need one. At least in the end I was justified so all of you that rolled your eyes at my little habit – bite me, so to speak. I needed my torch that day and so used it to check out the loft area. There was nothing up there of any threat; the entire length of the area was boarded and only contained a few storage boxes and old zinc-coated water cisterns. Thinking of water suddenly I realised just how thirsty I was. Mind back on the matter in hand I saw that the loft area extended the full length of the building. Just as I thought, I preened happily; it ran the length of the offices along the street. That meant we didn’t have to remain trapped in this one; the building below me was a sinking ship and it sounded like it was quickly filling with death dealing zombies. We rats had to get clear, and quickly.

Looking back down at the group, I saw all their expectant faces looking up at me and I smiled. It’s amazing how a little hope buoys you up.

“There’s a way out up here, we can get away from this part of the building,” I announced happily.

Looks of relief converted the worried faces.

“Come on,” I encouraged, climbing easily into the loft space.

I reached down and beckoned to Becky. Leaping onto the table in her enthusiasm she nearly fell over but I caught her hand and held on. Recovering, with my help she hauled herself on up. Pius was arranging the others ahead of him and so between us they all clambered into the safety of the loft. Finally, Pius hauled his big frame onto the table and we heard an ominous crack from under it. Office tables weren’t designed for this kind of abuse and this one was letting us know that the ghost was being given up. Grabbing at his outstretched hand I hauled with all my might and held him aloft of the collapsing table while he struggled to fit through the aperture. Damn, he was heavy and it felt like my shoulder was being dislocated but I held on.

Hearing running feet below I saw Pius’ eyes widen as the zombies grabbed hold of his legs.

“Oh,” was all he was able to say – his increasingly desperate struggles taking all of his breath.

“Help me!” I called to the others and immediately Vlad lent down and helped by grabbing Pius’ coat and hauling for all he was worth. Slowly but surely the big man was hauled to safety and we collapsed panting on the floor.

I peered down through the aperture and saw the zombies’ and their rabid attempts to climb up. Fortunately the table was now in pieces on the floor and couldn’t have been used as a step up. One of them managed to slap the side of the aperture frame but it was becoming clear that they had chased us as far as they were able. I closed the trapdoor and the noise from below ebbed as the creatures lost interest. To make sure the entrance was really secure we piled some of the cardboard boxes, presumably belonging to one of the businesses below, on top of it. It’s amazing how heavy tax files are and how grateful I was for them.

Walking quietly the length of the loft I stopped by one of the cleaner looking cisterns, cupped my hands and drank deeply. I had not realised just how dehydrated I had become. Becky and Pius followed suit, slurping greedily at the slightly warm water. Finally we arrived at an identical loft hatch at the far end of the building. Lifting the cover a little I stopped and we waited in silence listening for any sounds from this particular office block. There was nothing to be heard. Lifting it a little more I peered down and could see that the office and stairwell were empty, at least on this floor.

“You lot wait,” I instructed. “I’m going down to check it out. Be ready to help me back up here if necessary.”

“Sure we will,” Vlad assured me.

Pius was crouching near me at that moment and I glanced at his shoes.

“Jeez, Pius!” I exclaimed quietly. “I didn’t realise they got that close to you.”

He looked down and saw the bite marks on the heel and side. There was something that I later realised was brain matter on the toe. Pius just smiled.

“I kicked him good,” was all he said.

I raised my eyebrows and smiled back. Gently I lowered myself down, dropping quietly the last couple of feet. Perhaps I should state now that, before the end came, I was a martial artist studying Shorinji Kempo. Although not an expert I was fourth kyu so at least I had fitness, some suppleness and quickness about me. Perhaps this explained my willingness, once I realised what the hell was going on, to have ago and push myself a little more than most of the others. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m no hero – heroes don’t usually endure, they shine brightly before being snuffed out – at least in the ZA.

Adopting silent mode I searched the room in which I had landed as well as the adjacent rooms and found no-one. It was clear that this floor had not been occupied since the start of the fun. Maybe their staff members were out on the street below, no longer interested in working for a living.

In the distance I heard a huge explosion that sounded remarkably similar to the 747 we had seen die. I tried to imagine all those aircraft up there, their occupants probably zombified. I shuddered at the terror the uninfected must have felt trapped in those aluminium tubes of death.        Bringing myself back to the here and now I finished the search and went back to the hatch and signalled it was clear. I stopped them from coming down while I went down the stairs to investigate further. Better for them to be up there if things got nasty.

The first two floors were clear and I was starting to breathe a little more easily. Reaching the ground floor                without incident I made my way cautiously to the glass-doored entrance and peered outside. The throng appeared to have walked on by, leaving a few stragglers wandering aimlessly and a small knot of them crouching over something. It was hard to make out what they were doing but when one of them turned around and seemed to stare straight at me I gasped in shock. Its hands were bright red and it seemed to be munching on a limb. I drew back quickly and rested against the cool, marbled wall letting my heart rate slow a little.

“Get back from there, you stupid bastard!”

I started in shock again and saw three troops hiding behind the reception desk. One of them was pointing his rifle at me.

I skirted the open area and joined them behind the desk.

“What you doin’ here?” the same soldier asked aggressively. “Are you lootin’? We’ve got rules about that.”

“Fuck off,” I replied instinctively. “We’re hiding out, just like you.”

The squaddie gave me a derisive look. Looking at his face I could see his pupils were dilated which I initially put down to the fact that they were skulking in semi-darkness behind a desk.

“You said ‘we’,” he continued.

“Yes, there is a group of us hiding out upstairs,” I offered, not suspecting anything about them other than their justifiable fear of zombies.

“Any women among ya?”

Now alarm bells rang.

“Nope, just a security guard and a couple of other blokes. Why?”

“No reason,” he replied. Looking at him more closely I could see he was a sneaky one, this one, and the other two didn’t come across much better. Shit, what had we walked into? If I didn’t respect the fact that they were squaddies and supposed to be our protectors I would have sworn they were all in the grip of some narcotic, their jittery disposition could be nerves or something else – substance abuse. I hate drugs, always have. I watched a couple of good people go that way after the ZA started, they seemed to think it was the easy way out, although when you consider they were eaten alive because they were too out of it to fight back, I question that wisdom.

“Who are you guys?” I asked, hoping to deflect any further enquiries about my group’s makeup.

“We’re from the Palace, Household troops. We got cut off from the rest of the patrol when that lot showed up,” he said jerking his thumb at the front door.

“Why are you so interested in women? Not that I’m not,” I added quickly hoping to play on their thought process.

“It’s pretty obvious from everything that goin’ on that nothing is normal out there, probably won’t be – ever again.”

“What do you know about all this?” I asked, hoping he would be forthcoming.

“Not a lot. All we know is that civil law has been suspended and the army is now in charge.”

“When did all this happen?” I asked incredulously. It seemed that any notification of this sort had passed by me and that Becky and we’d had to find out the hard way.

“About four this morning. Bastards got me up early. Now we’re stuck ’ere, nuffing to do. It woulda been good if you’d ’ad a bird or two, that’s all.”

As he was speaking he was absent-mindedly fingering his rifle in a way that I’ll bet was not taught on the parade ground.

“So, are your guys coming back for you?” I asked.

“Nah, they’re pretty fucked I reckon. We’re on our lonesome.”

I thought about what I should do, the others would be getting nervous, wondering what had happened to me if I didn’t return shortly. The last thing I wanted was for these guys to see the women in our group. There wasn’t much we could do against three tweaking guys with rifles and fixed bayonets. I’d done very little weapon fighting practice and so I’d probably be about as competent as someone with no training. Anyway, as far as I could tell there was a world of difference between training and the real thing.

“Right, I’ll be getting back to the lads, they’ll be wondering what’s happened to me.”

“What? Are they so pussy they sent you out alone?”

“It’s not that, it’s just that there’s no point in risking more lives than you need to. Anyway, I can move more quietly and quickly on my own.”

The soldier just shrugged.

“Whatever.” He’d already lost interest in my story. “Just stay out of sight. Don’t want you bastards bringing them down on us. I’m warning ya.” The last words were accentuated by lifting his gun up to aim at me again.

“Sure thing. I don’t want them near me either. Good luck.”

Quietly I slipped away from them and returned to the top floor, occasionally stopping to make sure I hadn’t been followed. I thought the Household Division at Buckingham Palace were the elite of the British Army. I guess rotten apples existed everywhere in life.

Arriving, I noticed Becky had already descended from the loft and was waiting anxiously at the top of the stairs.

“What are you doing?” I asked anxiously. “I need you to wait up in the loft.”

“Why? I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” I loved it when she jutted her jaw in defiance.

“Because there ae some doped-up troops downstairs and I don’t like the look of them one bit. They asked me if there were women in our group. I said no. I think they believed me.”

“Oh,” Becky exhaled, suddenly apprehensive.

“So I want all the women back up there and out of sight for now, and we’ll wait for them to leave.”

“Aw, she doesn’t have to hide,” came a voice from behind me.

*

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