Curtis was definitely having a very bad day. The zombies were a big thing, the fact that their town had taken an apocalyptic look and had gone even more crazy than it had been the last few months was too. But right now, Curtis was mostly focused on the burden on his back, keeping himself slightly bended forward to ease the weight. Nathan had tried to wrap his arms around his neck, had almost strangled Curtis before he’d swatted them away, and now Nathan’s fingers were digging painfully into his shoulders. His long legs were swinging on each side of Curtis’ hips, looking ridiculously like Curtis had grown another set of limbs.
The others were watching them in silence. Simon’s big blue eyes looked about to bulge out of his head, and Alisha and Kelly were hiding their mouths behind their hands.
“Oh my god,” Alisha finally blurted out in a fit of giggles. “You two look so fucking ridiculous!”
This set Kelly off, and she was laughing too. Simon was smiling his closed-mouth smile that was equivalent to a chuckle for him. Curtis gritted his teeth.
“Quit it,” he said. “Seriously, quit it or I’ll leave him here, I swear I will.”
“Hey!” Curtis felt Nathan’s bony elbow hit him in the arm. “That’s not fair, I
didn’t do anything!”
“That’s debatable. Also, hit me again and die.”
“Fine, hit me again and I’ll dismember you and scatter you across the town, see how you survive that.
Nathan was silent for a moment and Curtis had the fleeting hope that he’d shut him up. No such chance.
“That’s a thought,” Nathan said. “Not that I want to try because it sounds horribly, horribly
painful but I wonder what would happen. Also, what if I get beheaded? Am I like this Highlander
“Shut up,” Curtis growled. “Let’s go now,” he said to the others.
Alisha had a look between the curtains, before nodding to indicate that there was no zombie in sight. And indeed, the street was deserted. There was an abandoned car in the middle of it, and when they walked past it Curtis saw bloodstains on the driver’s seat and on the floor, but there wasn’t any body in sight.
“Look like there’s been some zombie feast here,” Nathan said in his ear.
Curtis kept walking without a word. He didn’t want to encourage the idiot, and he was also thinking about Nikki, about where she was now and whether she was okay. Hopefully with her teleportation she had managed to avoid the zombies. They walked for a while like that, none of them saying anything save for Nathan whispering dirty jokes in Curtis’ ear.
“And she replies, ‘Yes, getting herpes – that’s why I’m here!’ C’mon, that one was funny, right?”
As much as Curtis wanted to clock the dick, he had to admit that the distraction was welcome, keeping darker thoughts at bay – not that he would ever admit that much to Nathan, of course. They walked until the light started to dim and the air started to cool. Curtis’ breath was getting shorter and shorter, and his back and arms hurt like a bitch. He was going to suggest they take a break when a silhouette profiled itself at the corner of the street.
“Fuck,” Kelly said.
“Maybe it’s another survivor,” Alisha said hopefully.
They all squinted at the figure. It was walking slowly, stumbling like a drunk, movements jerky and erratic.
“I don’t think so,” Curtis said.
Another figure followed the first one.
“Oh, shit,” Nathan said, warm breath tickling Curtis’s neck.
“Shit,” Kelly echoed. “We gotta go, now. Run!”
They spun around and started running in the direction they just came from, until they saw new zombies coming from the other end of the street. The things had obviously seen them because they were gaining in speed, moving intently in their direction as the wind brought back their growling and their putrefied smell.
“Retreat, retreat!” Nathan wailed in Curtis’ ear. “We gotta find another way!”
Alisha and Kelly, who were in front, made a tight turn at a narrower street. Curtis followed them and Simon as best as he could but exhaustion was starting to take its toll on him. His lungs were burning in a way they hadn’t in many years, he was aching all over, and the fact that he couldn’t use his arms to balance himself the way he usually did when running was seriously slowing him down. Mercifully Nathan had shut up and Curtis could concentrate on the run, put all his body and mind into it. He had lost sight of the others but he didn’t let it distract him, nothing mattered but putting one foot in front of the other. Until suddenly, his foot caught on something and he stumbled, sent face forward on the ground. His knees hit the asphalt hard, he heard Nathan yell and they both fell together in a flail of limbs.
“Fuck, get off me, get the fuck off me.”
Curtis pushed Nathan on the side, ignoring his groans of protest.
“We have to hide, get behind that car, quick.”
He didn’t wait to see if Nathan was listening and crawled until he’d gained the protection of the car parked there. Nikki
, he thought desperately, the thought of her helping him fighting the fear. He held his breath while the zombies ran past them, his heart pounding so loud he was worried they would hear it. He waited several minutes after they were gone before he breathed out.
“Fuck,” Nathan said breathlessly. “That was a close one.”
Curtis turned his head to glance at him. Nathan looked terrible, pale and panting, sweaty locks of hair sticking to his forehead like he’d been the one running with a dead weight on his back instead of being carried like a princess.
Still, Curtis felt he had to ask. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Nathan mumbled, voice muffled by the hand he was running over his face.
This, more than the way Nathan looked, alarmed Curtis. Nathan complained all the time, often for stupid shit. That he was being all stoic and shit right now was worryingly out of character.
“Are you sure? You don’t look fine. Is it… Is it that zombie shit again?”
“I don’t think so. Doesn’t feel the same. I just generally feel like shit.”
“Think you can get up and walk on your own?”
They couldn’t stay there, they had to find the others, and to be honest Curtis felt like crying just thinking about getting Nathan on his back again. More of that and he was the one who was going to need carrying.
“Yeah,” Nathan said. “I can try.”
Curtis got up, rolled his shoulders trying to ease the ache, and held out a hand; Nathan took it and pulled himself up. His grip on Curtis’ hand tightened briefly once he was up, and he shut his eyes tight.
“Ow, fuck,” he moaned.
“Nathan?” Curtis called.
Nathan raised a hand. “I’m good, I’m good. Just getting used to new heights.” He opened his eyes, blinked. “Okay, I’m alright.”
“Great. Care to let go of my hand, now?”
“Oh.” Nathan released his hand like it had burned him. “Sorry, man.”
“It’s alright. Let’s just move it.”
They started walking. It was eerily silent again but it didn’t make Curtis feel any less twitchy. He thought he should have taken something from the house to use as a weapon – that knife they’d killed Nathan with, maybe. Although, thinking about it, maybe it wouldn’t be of much use to him: if he was close enough to use a knife on a zombie then he was probably toast anyway. No, what he needed was a shotgun, to blow up some zombie heads like in the movies. Hell, right now he would settle for having Alisha and her surprise zombie-killing power at his side.
Nathan suddenly grabbed his arm.
“Hey!” Curtis protested. Nathan’s nails were digging into his forearm. Curtis tried to shake off the painful grip. “Don’t touch me!”
“Shh! Did you hear that?”
“Shut up, you moron.”
Resisting the urge to rip off Nathan’s arm and shove it up his arse, Curtis complied. At first he couldn’t hear anything and was ready to get mad at Nathan, but as he opened his mouth for a tirade of righteous wrath a faint noise caught his attention. Tap, tap, tap.
“What the fuck?” he murmured.Tap, tap.
“Sounds like footsteps,” Nathan said. “Maybe we should turn around…”
Simon materialized in front of them.
“AAAAAAHHHHH!!!” Nathan screamed, jumping back.
Curtis’s own little yelp was thankfully drowned by Nathan’s cry.
“Shit, Barry, don’t fucking do that you prick! You almost gave me a heart attack!” Nathan pressed both hands against his chest for emphasis. “I’m too young and beautiful to die of a heart attack, it would just be pathetic!”
The ease with which Simon ignored Nathan was nothing if not practised. Curtis could only hope to one day reach such a level of zen.
“Come on, the girls are waiting for us. They’re holing up in someone’s garage.” Simon gave Nathan an up-and-down look. “You look better,” he added softly.
There was enough genuine concern in Simon’s expression for Nathan to squirm a bit. Curtis repressed a snicker. Seeing the prick seemingly at loss for words was always a treat.
“Yeah, well, you know me,” Nathan said. “Always bouncing back. The perks of being immortal.”
Curtis shoved at Nathan’s shoulder, not enough to hurt though it didn’t keep Nathan from sending him an outraged look.
“We’re burning daylight. And the girls are alone.”
“Well,” Nathan said. “Alisha is the one who can kill zombies with the power of sex, so I’d worry more about us being out there without her protection, at the mercy of any zombie who wants to take a bite of us. Now that they had a taste of me I’m sure they’re going to want more. I’m probably too delicious to resist.”
“Oh shut up, Nathan. Just shut up.”
Curtis had to silently concede Nathan’s point though. He would just feel better when they were all reunited.
“Think they’re okay?”
Kelly didn’t avert her eyes from the door to answer Alisha.
“They’re alrigh’, they’re just taking their fuckin’ time. Don’t worry.”
It was easier said than done. Alisha glanced at Kelly, trying to draw confidence from her. Kelly was tightly holding a crowbar in her hands, her jaw set in a determined line. She looked ready to bash any zombies who would dare to force entrance. Alisha wished it could make her feel safer.
She had rolled up her sleeves, showing the bare skin of her forearms, and it was her only weapon. She would have liked to feel more confident about it; she tried to tell herself that she shouldn’t be afraid, she was the only one who had a real fighting chance. But she couldn’t escape that image of being submerged by a sea of zombies, being drowned into them, the smell of death all over her and their growls and the drool dripping from their mouths.
“They’d have to get through me first.” Kelly waved her crowbar. “See how fast they move without half of their face.”
Alisha gave her a smile, as a thank you for her comforting words and to show that she didn’t mind that Kelly had read her thoughts. She did feel a little better now. After all, Kelly had practice with bashing heads.
Time stretched infinitely like chewing gum. Alisha chatted nervously to Kelly for a while, trying to forget that they were waiting in a garage for their friends or maybe zombies to show up, that it was cold and damp, that she was tired and thirsty and scared and so, so cold, like she had never been before, like she would never be warm again.
She was afraid that Simon and Curtis might not be coming back. Okay, she worried a bit about Nathan too. She was afraid that the zombies would
come. The idea of being turned into a zombie was somehow scarier than death – she hated the idea of becoming something so ugly and disgusting.
Finally the zombies came, and in a sense, it was almost a relief because at least the terrible wait was over. They were heard before they could be seen, groaning and moaning in a way that should have been ridiculous because it seemed taken straight up from some cheesy zombie movie. But ridiculous, it was certainly not.
They pounded at the door, and there wasn’t much that Alisha and Kelly could do except get ready for them to get in, because the door leading to the rest of the house was locked and they hadn’t found any key. When the zombies finally shattered the door, Alisha couldn’t help but let a small yelp escape her. She and Kelly walked back as much as they could, which wasn’t much because a car was taking up most of the space in the garage. The zombies were coming at them slowly, maybe because they were unable to go faster, or maybe because they savoured the tension and the fear, and Alisha felt like she was stuck in slow motion in some action movie.
And then, they were on them.
From that point everything went confusingly fast – the zombies were groaning and drooling, cold and smelly and all she wanted was to shy away from their touch until she remembered that her
touch was poison to them, and then she threw her arms in front of her. They tried to bite her and she punched and slapped and kicked, moving uncontrollably as long as her skin touched their own cold, discomposing flesh. Disgust was almost more overwhelming than fear for a few moments.
The zombies fell one by one around her, screaming themselves hoarse like wounded beasts and dying – or dying again
. When Alisha felt that she could finally draw a full breath without choking on zombie stench, she heard Kelly scream.
There was no time to think, so Alisha simply jumped forward and started trying to push the zombies away from Kelly. The zombies were slow to notice her but they were strong and intent on getting Kelly – who had bashed a certain number of zombies’ heads to a pulp, if the bodies were any indication. Alisha changed tactics and started to tear at their clothes and get her hands all over their faces and necks, anywhere where she could access naked skin. When the groaning stopped and silence fell on the garage, Kelly said, “Thank you.”
Her voice was rough and there was blood on her cheek. Alisha started to reach out but stopped mid-motion.
“You’re hurt,” she said.
Kelly rubbed at her cheek, her expression a little frantic. She smeared the blood but when the wound was a little more visible, Alisha saw that it looked more like a scratch.
“It doesn’t look like a bite,” she said, trying to sound reassuring. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“Some bruises, probably.” Kelly’s eyeliner had smeared and it made her eyes look huge. “How do we know that I can’t catch that shit through a scratch?”
Alisha gulped. She didn’t know what to say. They had no reason to think that only a zombie bite could turn you into a zombie, and Kelly knew that as well as she did. She thought about Kelly turning, about having to kill her. She looked down on the zombies on the floor and for the first time it occurred to her that they had been people before. They’d had family and friends, and Alisha had killed them.
“I’m sorry,” she said, stupidly, and Kelly blinked at her.
“What are you sorry for?” she asked. “Saved my fuckin’ life didn’t you?”
Alisha nodded, but she couldn’t help the burn in her eyes. She dropped her head, trying to hide her tears. Fuck, she was so exhausted that her head hurt and she felt like she was floating.
“Hey, Alisha,” Kelly said, curving an arm around Alisha’s shoulders. Of course, there was no use hiding from a mind-reader. Alisha started sniffing helplessly, furious at the emotions bubbling inside her – exhaustion, fear, and confused guilt.
“Sweetie, don’t cry, you only did what you had to do,” Kelly whispered into her ear, uncharacteristically gentle, which only made Alisha cry harder. She didn’t know how to explain to Kelly that it wasn’t just the zombie killing, wasn’t just her worry for the guys, but a combination of the whole shitty situation and the fact that she was so. fucking. exhausted that she couldn’t think straight anymore. Whether it was because of her mind-reading ability or just her intuition, Kelly stopped talking and settled on rubbing Alisha’s shoulder.
Alisha and Kelly both startled, even though it took Alisha no more than a split of second to recognize Simon’s voice. She wiped her face frantically with the back of her hand before she turned. Simon was standing by the entrance, his wide blue eyes going from the shattered door to Alisha and Kelly, then to the pile of zombies on the floor.
“We’re okay,” Alisha said quickly. “And you?”
“Yeah, I’m fine… Are you sure you’re okay?”
Alisha started to smile when Curtis and Nathan gathered behind Simon’s back, gaping at the scene. They both looked tired and sweaty, but intact. Alisha felt some of the knot inside her stomach unwind slightly.
“Holy shit,” Nathan said. “Did you do this, ‘Lisha? Well, let me say that I’m glad you’re on our side.”
“You look better,” Alisha said dryly, and it had the unexpected effect to make Nathan flounder and blush.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m okay now.” Then he frowned. “Kelly, you hurt? You have, uh, blood on your face.”
Alisha and Kelly exchanged a quick look.
“It’s just a scratch,” Kelly said, and Alisha wondered if it was as obvious to the others as it was to her how hard Kelly was trying to be brave.
“But we don’t know how this thing is transmitted,” Nathan said, loud and oblivious idiot that he was, “And if you’re infected you will…”
“God,” Alisha snapped, “can’t you shut the fuck up?”
Curtis, who was standing the closest, elbowed him for good measure. Nathan looked outraged, but thankfully shut his mouth.
“It is very likely that biting is what does it,” Simon said. “The zombies were trying very hard to bite us.”
“Maybe they just like the taste of human flesh,” Nathan mumbled, and received a collective glare.
They stood in silence for a moment, Alisha and Kelly separated from the guys by a heap of foul-smelling zombies. It was obvious what everyone was thinking – Kelly wasn’t like Nathan, if she was infected there was no reset button. They would have to kill their friend. None of them voiced the fear, but Kelly was probably able to hear it in stereo as loud and clear as if they had been talking out loud.
“In any case, it won’t be long before we know for sure,” Simon said softly. “We should move.”
Alisha wasn’t going to object, that was for sure. She glanced at Kelly, who looked composed enough but a little pale under the blood on her face, and she wished she could take her friend’s hand.
“Let’s go,” Kelly said firmly.
They slipped out carefully from the garage to the street, trying to do their best impression of shadows against walls. Alisha noticed that Simon didn’t turn invisible though, and the show of solidarity warmed her heart. She brushed her fingers against his elbow, and he smiled at her.
The silence in the street was nerve wracking. Alisha had never realized how used she was to city noise – cars driving by, horns honking, people walking the pavements and talking to their phones – before a wet blanket of silence just fell on the world. She walked on autopilot, tiredness making things distant and fuzzy. After a while she realized that she was falling behind Kelly, Curtis and Simon, and started to speed up when she heard Nathan stumble behind her, and felt him catch himself with a fistful of her shirt. She let out a startled cry.
“Sorry,” Nathan said.
Alisha twisted her neck to look at him.
Nathan’s lips curved up, but it looked a little off.
“Still not 100% there, I guess,” he said, too serious and weary for Nathan.
The others had stopped, probably after hearing Alisha’s cry. Alisha and Nathan quickly caught up with them.
“We should pick a direction,” Curtis said, looking quickly over Alisha, like he was making sure she was fine. “We’re all exhausted, we can’t keep wandering aimlessly like that.”
“The community centre,” Nathan said. “We all know the place well, and there’s stuff there that we could use as weapons. We could hold the fort and rest for a while.”
The five of them exchanged looks, and Simon shrugged.
“Why not, it’s fine with me,” he said.
“I keep food there,” Nathan said, before they heard his stomach grumble, as if on cue.
“Then we agree? The community centre it is?” Curtis asked, his eyes resting on them, one after the other. Then he snorted. “Where it all started. Fucking ironic, isn’t it?”
Alisha smiled at the quip, but the truth was that she felt an amount of comfort at the idea of going there. She hadn’t been back since the end of their community service, but it held good memories.
Nathan’s vision was starting to get blurry, which admittedly worried him a bit, but not enough that he thought it was worth mentioning to the others. It didn’t feel like the zombie whatever he’d felt earlier – he just was really, really tired, like he had gone through a day of community service work, then a whole night of playing video games until his eyes crossed. Not that video game nights were something he could do since he’d left home, which was a damn shame. Thinking about video games and home made him think about his mum, and wonder whether she’d come out of this apocalyptic bullshit safe and unzombified. Knowing her luck with men, chances were that fucking Jeremy had got himself turned and had attacked her. That would be just like the twat.
Nathan clenched his fists in preventive anger on his mum’s behalf, and was distracted enough by the thoughts that he stumbled again; this time Alisha was out of reach, and Nathan’s knees hit the ground painfully.
“Nathan? You all right?”
It was a female voice, but the ringing in his ears made it difficult for Nathan to be sure whether it was Kelly or Alisha – or Simon
. He should get up; the others were all going to piss and moan about how he was slowing them down; they probably would have a point and Nathan really
didn’t want any zombies to catch up with them. Even knowing that there was a possible out for him, he didn’t want to go through the whole fucking ordeal again. And the others could get turned into zombies – Kelly, maybe Kelly is already a goner
– which would just suck. Get up, Nathan. Fucking get the fuck up and walk it off.
He tried to get up, but just fell on his arse and then didn’t have it in him to move. He was just done, worn out like a pair of threadbare jeans. He’d tried to hide from the others just how exhausted he was, because he didn’t want them to get the idea that he was having a relapse and try to dig in his chest with a knife again. Being immortal was cool, but dying was a fucking literal pain.
“I’m fine,” he said, sensing that at least one of them had come to his side – or rather, seeing their shadow on the ground next to his. He waved a hand at whoever that was.
“Yeah, you look totally fine.”
Nathan looked up, and it was Curtis; not that the amount of annoyed sarcasm in the voice hadn’t been enough of a clue. Sometimes Nathan wondered what was wrong with the guy.
“Well I don’t feel like I’m dying or anything, and it’s my new standard for fine.”
Curtis crouched down next to him, and the sound of footsteps told Nathan that the others were gathering around them.
“Seriously, Nathan,” Curtis said in that special exasperated voice that he reserved for Nathan. “What’s wrong? You look like you’re going to be sick. If you are, by the way, say the word and I’ll take a step back.”
Nathan rubbed his face with his hands. He did feel a bit nauseous, but not bad enough that he thought he was about to throw up. He almost regretted it, as he felt that Curtis deserved a little puke on him right now.
“I’m just tired.”
He was so tired that he would have given his right hand for a bed, was what he didn’t tell Curtis. Wait, no, maybe not his right hand. You could always use a right hand. Maybe his left, then. The point was, he was ready to lie down and sleep off the rest of the week.
It was Kelly, and it was her hand on his shoulder. Nathan wanted to lean into the touch but even that was too much effort.
“Maybe you need a break,” Kelly suggested. Nathan still had his hands pressed against his eyes, so all he saw was black with little flashes of light, but he imagined Kelly looking up at the others for approval. “I think we all need a break,” she added firmly.
Oh, Kelly, sweet Kelly. Nathan really hoped she wasn’t going to turn into a zombie.
“We can’t stop here,” Simon said. “We’re too exposed. But we could look for a safe place to rest for a bit.”
Nathan didn’t know when Simon had started to get assertive like that, but once he said that it was like the decision was made. Only problem was, it meant that Nathan had to get to his feet and on the move again, if only for a little while.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m up.”
Nathan hauled himself up on his feet, his body heavy like he was wearing clothes doubled with lead. He kept his eyes closed, feeling like he could fall asleep right here and now. Someone grabbed his arm, a little roughly so he knew it was Curtis, and – what happened next was a little blurry in Nathan’s mind. They must have walked some more but the next time he opened his eyes, Kelly was propping him up against a wall.
Nathan blinked a few times, wondering about the time he’d lost.
“What time’s it?”
“I dunno. Simon?”
It was dark, wherever they were, but Simon’s pale face was standing out. He looked like a ghost straight out of the lamest horror movie ever.
“It’s 1 pm,” he said.
Which didn’t really help Nathan, as the last time he’d known the time was on Monday evening, when the zombies had shown up at the bar. A lifetime ago. It didn’t matter much that it was daytime – that didn’t seem to stop the zombies.
“You alrigh’?” Kelly asked.
She cupped his cheek briefly, before her hand fell back on her lap. Nathan missed the warmth as soon as it was gone – he’d felt chilled since he’d woken up from death and hadn’t managed to shake it off.
“Hmm, yeah. You?” He remembered something and a jolt of adrenaline made him straighten up suddenly. “Hey, what about the…” He gestured at the scratch on Kelly’s cheek.
“Oh, that.” She raised her hand to her face. “I’m okay, I think. No symptoms or anythin’.”
It meant she would be fine, then, because even though Nathan didn’t know how much time had passed, he remembered that he had started to feel bad pretty soon after the bite. So there was that, at least. No zombie Kelly. Nathan sagged against the wall in relief.
“Where are we?” he asked, fighting wearily against sleep. “Another garage?”
“No, we’re in someone’s tool shed.”
“Why don’t we get inside the house?” His arse was getting numb, and he shifted uncomfortably on the hard ground.
“Um, the house is… We’re better here.”
Against his will, Nathan’s eyes had closed again, but he forced himself to open them and frown at Kelly.
“Nothin’. Go back to sleep.”
“What happened? More zombies?”
He was so fucking tired of zombies. They were only fun when he could shoot at them on a screen with his controller.
“We found rotting bodies
in the house.”
Alisha’s voice made Nathan jump, and realize belatedly that she’d been sitting not far from him all along, leaning against the wall. She looked about as tired as he felt. Instinctively Nathan looked around for Curtis, the only one in their merry band not accounted for, and found him huddled in a corner, half hidden by shadows from a pile of rubbish. The only distinguishable part of him was the white of his eyes.
“Hey,” Nathan said.
The white spots moved slowly in his direction.
“Feeling better, arsehole?” Curtis asked almost amiably, his voice low with exhaustion.
Nathan shut his eyes, not bothering to dignify the question with an answer. He needed a nap – or a medically induced coma. He closed his fists and pressed his nails into the palms of his hands, trying to use the pain to keep him alert. He wasn’t sure whether he was supposed to fight sleep or if it was okay to let go.
“Are we safe?”
“For the moment,” Simon said. “You can sleep. It’s alright.”
Nathan didn’t need to be told twice. It felt like he’d been hanging from the edge of a cliff by his fingertips – when he let go, he fell into a bottomless pit.
The nap was all too short-lived – it felt like mere minutes had passed when Nathan choked out of sleep, waking up in cold sweat from a dream where he’d died – again
. It was a wonder he’d lasted all those years without getting himself killed, because now that he was immortal it seemed that all he was doing was dying.
It was even darker inside the tool shed, but he could hear the others breathing and they didn’t seem to have moved from where they were when Nathan fell asleep. He wondered if they were sleeping, and was about to ask his question aloud when a hand was shoved brutally against his mouth. He started moaning in protest.
“Keep silent, Nathan,” Kelly whispered urgently, her breath warm against the shell of his ear. “Not a sound. They’re here
It was one of those situation where the meaning of they
was perfectly clear: zombies, the only they
left in their lives – and besides, Nathan could hear them now, hear the desperate howls and gurgling groans. They sounded halfway between animals and people in slow agony, which wasn’t a comforting combination.
They remained like that for a while, Nathan’s muscles coiled for fight or flight and Kelly breathing harshly against his neck. And then, very suddenly, the moans of the zombies died. The silence that followed was positively graveyard-like.
‘Think it’s safe to get out?” Alisha whispered after a moment.
“One way to find out,” Curtis said. None of them had the time to say anything: he was already gone.
They didn’t hear him yell in fear or agony, but the silence that followed Curtis sliding out was oppressive, until they heard him call, “You can come out.”
He sounded odd, but Nathan didn’t think much of it before he pushed the creaking door of the tool shed and stepped out in the backyard.
For a moment, he didn’t have enough breath to even say a word.
Then, “Holy fuck
The garden was crowded. The good news was that the intruders looked like people, not like zombies. There were people of all ages, men and women, and they weren’t really doing anything, mostly just hanging out in the narrow backyard and looking confused. Somehow, it was one of the most disturbing thing Nathan had seen since the zombies had come.
“Who the hell are you?” he blurted out.
His friends looked at him strangely. For some reason, they’d had their eyes turned to the ground the moment before, but Nathan dismissed it.
“What are you doing here?” he asked a blond woman who was standing not far from him.
She turned a frightened look toward him, her pale eyes open wide, eating her face.
“I don’t know,” she whispered, her voice so low Nathan could barely hear her. “Nothing makes sense. I think – I think I bit my husband
Nathan frowned. He was about to ask the woman more questions when Alisha interrupted him harshly, “Who the hell are you talking to
“Not to you
. I’m trying to have a conversation here, Alisha.”
“With that woman.” Nathan waved a hand impatiently. “What’s your name anyway?”
Nathan sighed in irritation. “What?”
The others were starting at him. And they looked, like, scared
, like when they had figured that a zombie had bitten Nathan and that it was killing him. Nathan was starting to get a bit worried.
“Nathan,” Simon said seriously – even more seriously than usual, which was a feat in itself. “There’s no one in the backyard but us. No one alive
Against his best instincts, Nathan looked down to the ground and saw that it was covered with bodies. Rotten, smelly zombie bodies, which for some reason he hadn’t smelled before. It meant that all the people he was seeing were dead.
Unfortunately, some of them had heard what Simon had said, and had looked, and now a wind of panic was blowing over all the dead-undead-dead people crammed in the backyard.
I’m not dead, am I? I can’t be dead,” Lucy was wailing. “Oh god I can see myself over there. Oh god. I’m disgusting
And so on. The other ghosts were all babbling along the same lines, like distorted echoes in a cave.
“Ooookay,” Nathan said to his friends. “Let’s get out of here.”
He turned on his heels and started walking without looking back to see if they were following.
They were, of course.
“Wait, Nathan,” Kelly said. “What happened? What are they sayin’?”
“What do you think? They’re dead
. They need to get used to the idea. They’re freaking out. I know I would be – except that I don’t die, of course.”
As it happened, leaving the backyard didn’t free Nathan from dead people at all. It seemed that they were fucking everywhere
, and at various stages of comprehending what had happened to them. And once they realized that Nathan could hear and see them, it was like he was the fucking Messiah – only it wasn’t as cool as it sounded. They were following him and yapping at him, and Nathan tried to do his best to tune them out but they were as tenacious as ghosts as they had been as zombies. The others kept sliding worried glances in his direction, like they were afraid he was about to lose his mind or something.
“It’s all because of Lauren! I’m telling you, she
did this! Hey!”
A young man of about their age, tall and lanky and as stubborn as a one of those ankle-biting dogs, kept yelling in Nathan’s ear and trying to grab him to stop him. At first it was annoying, but as the other ghosts gave up when they saw Nathan wasn’t acknowledging them and he
wasn’t, it became downright infuriating.
When he couldn’t take it anymore, Nathan stopped dead and clenched his fists. “What the hell
is your problem?” he asked the ghost. “I’m not a ghost whisperer, I won’t lead you into the light or some other bullshit of that kind, so leave me the fuck alone.”
“It’s Lauren,” the ghost said.
“Yeah, I got that. Who is Lauren and why the fuck should I care?”
“She’s my girlfriend.” Nathan cocked an eyebrow and the young man added hastily, “She’s the one who started all this. The zombies, I mean. We were, um. You know. Well, she bit me and then I… turned. And I bit someone else, and… But then I died – for real this time. And I know she’s the one who did it.”
“Uh, Nathan?” It was Simon calling him, but Nathan shushed him impatiently.
“Do you know where she is? How’s she doing this?”
The ghost shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know she is. I thought I should tell you. Someone has to do
“What am I supposed to do?”
Another shrug, and Nathan would have punched him if it he had been able to – now that he had said his piece, the man seemed to think that it was Nathan’s problem to deal with. Nathan took a breath and turned to his friends, who were watching him with various combinations of worry and irritation.
“Okay, so according to this guy,” Nathan threw a thumb over his shoulder, then remembered that the others couldn’t see the ghost, “well, according to him his girlfriend Lauren – who is a biter apparently – is the one who is responsible for the zombie epidemic. She bit him, he bit someone else, and the rest is history. He also thinks it’s because of her that the zombies are now dropping like flies.”
A silence followed his declaration. He waited for one of them to make a suggestion, until he realized that they
were waiting for him to say something.
“Um,” he said. “What do we do now?”
“We should talk to this girl,” Alisha said.
“Only we don’t know where the fuck she is,” Curtis said.
“She has to be somewhere around here,” Simon said, his eyebrows knitted together in a frown. “If she’s killed those zombies, she must not be very far.”
Nathan looked around. To the others the area was probably eerily silent and empty, but to him it was crowded and bustling with ghosts in the middle of an existential crisis. The girl had to be hiding somewhere, but the idea of spending time and energy trying to find someone who most likely didn’t want to be found had Nathan exhausted all over again.
“Lauren!” he yelled suddenly. “Come here right the fuck now! We need to talk!”
His friends and
the ghosts were looking at him like he’d finally lost it, but he didn’t care. Because he was tired of it all. His mum was probably dead, as were the parents of Kelly, Simon, Alisha and Curtis; his friends, everybody
else in the town was maybe going to die and where would that leave Nathan? Alone, undying, standing on a pile of decaying bodies.
It was only because all the ghosts had stopped talking that Nathan was able to hear the faint voice saying, “Stop yelling.”
He turned. The others gathered at his back but none of them said anything. The girl was young, younger than Nathan by a few years, short and tiny in a big, worn out jumper with too long sleeves that were hiding her hands. Her long, greasy hair hung in front of her face like she was trying to hide behind it, but her eyes were fixed warily on Nathan.
“I talked with your boyfriend,” Nathan said, because he figured he had to start that conversation somewhere.
Lauren’s eyes widened. “It’s impossible. He’s…”
“I see dead people.”
“And I’m immortal.”
It wasn’t clear whether she didn’t believe him, or was too shocked by the awesomeness of his powers to think of a reply.
“Your boyfriend told me you’re the one who started the zombies. Is it true?”
She flushed a bright red and bowed her head so that her face was almost completely hidden.
“I didn’t want to,” she mumbled. “We were just making out, and I bit him and then he changed and tried to bit me. I didn’t realize it was my fault until…”
She paused for so long that Nathan got impatient. “Until what?”
“Until I discovered I could kill the zombies.”
“Yeah,” Kelly said, “How are you doing that by the way? Because you don’t seem to have any weapon, and I know they’re not easy to kill because I got some of ‘em myself.”
“I just look at them and I… imagine I’m shooting them. Like in some of the games I play.”
“You like video games?” Simon asked, sounding surprised.
“Yeah, and so what?” Lauren replied defensively.
“Oh, uh, nothing.”
Nathan rolled his eyes. He bet Simon had been about to ask her what her favourite games were.
“Tell me, Lauren,” he said, trying to take back control of the conversation. “Were you by any chance in town when there was this weird storm back a few months ago?”
“Oh, yes, I remember that.” There was a general gasp behind him, but Nathan couldn’t imagine that the others were any more surprised than he was. “I was walking back from David’s,” Lauren went on. “I was almost hit by lightening.”
Nathan was pretty sure that “almost hit” was some kind of euphemism for “I was totally hit but I don’t know how I’m still alive and it freaks me out.” Although seriously, after decimating most of the town population, Nathan would imagine that Lauren had more important things to be freaked about.
But he didn’t say anything. Whether Lauren realized or not that the storm was responsible for her new zombie making – and unmaking
– power didn’t really matter. The town had fallen under the actions of a girl who liked zombie-shooting video games, and really shouldn’t be allowed to bite anyone even in sexual circumstances.
“All that because she bit her boyfriend,” Kelly muttered, either reading Nathan’s thoughts or just stating the obvious.
And that was just so fucking funny Nathan could have laughed until he cried. He didn’t have the time to break into hysterics though, as Curtis gripped his arm tightly.
“Uh, guys,” he said. “We’re about to…”Oh, right,
Nathan thought, Mr Time Traveller finally remembers he has a power. That’s ab…
At first Lauren tried to ignore the bell ringing, because David’s hands were under her t-shirt, her mouth was on his neck, and she really had better things to do than answer the door.
Only, when the ringing stopped, it was replaced by furious knocking, like whoever was behind the door was trying to break it. Lauren pushed David aside, and threw her legs off the couch.
“Want me to come with you?” David asked.
“No, but stay by the phone.”
She went to the front door and opened it: it revealed a group of about five or six people she didn’t know. One of them, a black boy she thought she might have seen somewhere before, looked her up and down and said, “Tell me you didn’t bite your boyfriend.”
He walked past her and entered the house without permission, followed by his friends. Lauren was too stunned to try and keep them out.
“Lauren,” the boy said, leaving Lauren to wonder how he knew her name, “we need to have a really fucking long conversation with you. You like zombies, right?”