#18. The Halloween Virus by J. C. Gregorio

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Today’s Soundtrack – This Is Halloween by Panic! At The Disco

IT ISN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER.

And I’m not ready for it to be over yet.

Yes, guys, this story was supposed to be the last in our chain. (Apologies for the lack of a story last Sunday; the writer had personal circumstances.) But it’s not over ’til it’s over. What about the characters we’ve met? Don’t we need just a weensy bit of closure?

So, this one’s a free-for-all. If anyone feels they could write the final #ZombieProject story and take us out with a bang, please email me, Tweet me, or comment here. Even if you wrote one of the preceding stories. Take us to the end.

That being said, J. C.’s ace contribution to the project only gives us more characters to care for and play with. I’m in awe of J.C. with the way she stepped up and stepped in to give us not only a fantastic story, but one about my favourite time of year. J. C. is a very good friend of mine, and I sincerely recommend you follow her on Twitter and check out her blog.

Enjoy. Seriously.


The Halloween Virus
by J. C. Gregorio

The fact that the virus went air-born a week before Halloween was kept under wraps by the government. Maybe if they shared the knowledge an entire generation could have been saved. The only reason my sister’s and I survived was the fact that we pulled a major prank on the church next door and were all grounded.
The good-natured squeals turned into screams, soon morphing to the terrifying screech of the creatures rending the flesh off of children’s bones. My mother rushed to the door to let the crying children in, their tiny fists pleading in a soft thunder. We didn’t see what was out there. The fourth kid she let in got snatched back. She slammed the door shut, bolted it and wrestled the large book shelf in front of it.
Our dad had gone to the store just a few minutes before it all started and we prayed that he would return home soon. My mother’s head snapped up at the sound of glass shattering from the back of the house. A shadow moved across the window. She screamed for us to run to the basement and lock ourselves in, saying she’d grab the cell phone and be down in a minute. I grabbed my baby sister, Sarah’s, hand and yanked her behind me. A stiff shove got my feet moving, one in front of the other, and we were soon in the kitchen throwing open the pantry door. It took two of us to lift up the old wooden trapdoor that led to the damp darkness below.
Once we were all moving down the unsteady stairs I turned to see my oldest sister, Carey, holding the trap door open.
“What are you doing?” I hissed.
She waved her hands at me to shush.
I started back up the steps and she turned to give me a dirty look. She loved to boss me, and maybe it was the adrenaline in my veins that made me scream at her, “You shut up!”
As soon as the last syllable left my lips a bloody hand reached in yanking Carey back, her neck straining at a painful angle. My other sisters and the children my mother saved started screaming from below for her. Their wails echoing and reverberating in the musty cellar. As Carey was pulled through the cellar’s hatch I moved without thinking it through, grabbing her around the knees and pulling as hard as I could. Beads of sweat poured down my face and my muscles screamed at their use. Carey’s shrieks turned into grunts and gargled words.
She was being pulled farther into the pantry into God-knew-what’s mouth. My adrenaline and fatigue cleared momentarily and I knew the only way I could possibly get Carey away from the creature. Locking my hands together I shoved off of the stairs, my tennis shoes gripping the old boards. I threw my weight back as if I were doing a backwards summersault.
The sound of the hatch falling closed and the creature screaming was the only momentary victory I had before I landed on the hard-packed dirt floor of the cellar. The air was punched out of my lungs. Carey’s limp body landed on top of me, her shoulder striking me in the stomach. Nausea and vertigo struck me and I lay in a tangled heap of limbs for a minute. A small hand grabbed my shoulder and started shaking me.
A flash of light stung my eyes before they adjusted. Blinking back tears I looked from Carey’s still form to Sarah’s tear streaked faced.
“It’s okay,” I said. Clearing my throat and taking a deep breath I gently rolled Carey onto her back and looked her over. Other than a black eye and clump of hair missing she seemed to be fine. At least she was breathing. A reverberating boom was followed by a flash of light from above and the small light in the cellar flickered and went out. Sarah started whimpering and crying for our mom and dad. Trying to remember where I was in regards to the stairs I crawled on my hands and knees towards the stairs and shrieked when my hand struck warm, slick flesh. Back peddling in a crab walk my screams caused Sarah to bellow and howl. Her fear bouncing off the walls and driving into my head like a hammer to my temples.
“Shhh! Sarah, you have to be quiet!”
She was afraid of the dark and panicked in small places. Since nothing had come after us in the commotion and the only flashlight being stashed in the toolbox next to the stairs I crawled back. My shirt clung to my back and I recited French numbers in my head to keep from screaming. My arms shook by the time I reached the bottom of the stairs. I inched forward running my hand along the step until it hit the wood post, my hand outstretched until the cold metal met my feverish palm.
Turning to sit on the step and pulling the small toolbox onto my lap I opened the lid and fumbled until my hand wrapped around the rubber handle of salvation. Flipping the switch I immediately turned the light toward Sarah and Carey. Sarah was kneeling next to Carey, brushing the hair back from her face between hiccups.
I scanned the remaining faces. I recognized the Phelp’s 4 year old, our 7 year old neighbor Ricky, and his brother Jonathan who must have gotten trick-or-treat duty as he was 17 like me and would have rather been at a party, I’m sure.
Rather than acknowledging the terror and tears I saw in everyone’s eyes I focused on what I could do to help. Dad was always saying we should prep for disaster, but mostly when a hurricane had already struck or he was watching a show on it. He did buy a generator and some emergency food and water that he stashed down here. I just needed to find it.
As I moved the toolbox back to where I found it something flashed in the light near my feet. The hair on my arms stood on end as I stared at the soft flesh I had touched just a few moments before. Shaking hard enough to make my teeth rattle I leaned closer to confirm what I knew. Carey’s hair was still intertwined in the long pianist fingers of the creature’s closed hand. The ring my father had given her last Christmas gleamed in the dim light while I screamed.


Can you write the final #ZombieProject story and take us to the end? Email, Tweet or comment here!

#16. Code Words by Leah Rhyne

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Today’s Soundtrack – Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked by Cage The Elephant

Sincere apologies, readers – last night my blog refused to work, for some asinine reason. It still won’t work on the computer, so I’m posting this off of my phone. I think it’s my antivirus software. Stuff like that is supposed to help, not hinder, you know?

The lovely Leah Rhyne continues what Jani Grey started and Kat Ellis spectacularly followed up. This story made my hair stand on end. Leah has actually released a book *all cheer* in the zombie genre, so if you like this, make sure you check that out, here. You can find Leah on Twitter and over on her blog. I’ll be back to edit this post later, seeing as I have to leave the house in ten minutes and editing from your phone isn’t the quickest or easiest thing to do, but I couldn’t leave it a minute longer now my blog has finally decided to play ball. Prepare to be sucked in…


Code Words
by Leah Rhyne

The hot desert winds swirl across my face, carrying with them dust and ash and the foul, acrid scent of rotting meat. My stomach roils as I open my eyes to face the darkness of night in a world of death and decay.
Blood floods my ears, my eyes, tinting the yellow stars a deep red. The moon, once wide and bright – lustrous as my girlfriend Steffy said in another life, another world – glows scarlet in the distance. I lay on my back, staring at it, letting its sanguine light wash over me as the rush of blood in my ears begins to pulse.
Beat, beat, beat.
It’s the sound of my heart, pumping the disease through my body.
But at least my heart’s still beating.
My left hand burns. My stupid left hand. Of course it was my left hand. It’s always been weaker, more clumsy. I never did learn to pitch with it. Not that I pitch anymore. Now I punch, I stab. If I find a working gun, I shoot. Always with my right hand. Tonight I left my weak side unguarded. I was stupid.
Beside me is the broken body of the one that got me. The one that finally called my number. I roll over to face him.
Shit. It was a girl.
Of course it was a girl. Dad used to say some girl would be my undoing. Girls are always the undoing of ball players, he’d say. I doubt this was what he had in mind.
It was a little girl, too. In life, she couldn’t have been more than eight. Mouse’s age. Her dress hangs in stringy rags about her shoulders, and her left arm is long gone.
Irony. Pass it on.
Her face? Also gone. After she bit me and the world went grey, I lashed out at her face. I couldn’t see straight, but I could hit. I can always hit. And now, where her face should have been, maybe pretty, maybe not, but at least existing, now there’s nothing but a black mess of sinew. Gristle. The bone must’ve crumbled like powder beneath my fist.
My good, right fist.
I pull in a test breath through my nose. Air floods my lungs, and the scent of the dead girl beside me – all sticky sweet carrion – clenches my stomach. I don’t fight it, rolling to the side and retching out a thick, pulpy substance. It’s bitter – like death – but at least I’m still able to vomit.
It was quiet this far outside of town, and it’s quiet again now that the girl’s dead. She was a straggler, dormant, a silent bag of bones resting beneath a Joshua tree. I never saw her coming.
From here I can see Father Dave’s house way down the road – a road I’ve traveled a thousand times before tonight, on runs to pick up blow. Smack. Junk. Meth. E. You name it, Father Dave’s got it. It’s the stuff that keeps the addicts pacified through the apocalypse. Pacified and paying, of course. They pay top dollar for that shit, and I get a cut toward a trade. A car. I was gonna get us out of this place. Me and Mouse.
Maybe I should go to Father Dave’s. Maybe he can help me.
The thought flies away on the hot desert winds. I won’t go to Father Dave – the Father who’s nobody’s father. Just an ex-military Chaplain out to make a buck. Father Dave won’t help anyone but himself.
He’ll put a bullet through my head faster than I can say hickory, dickory, dock.
I can’t tear my eyes from the dimming light of the bloody moon, up there in the sky. Red and awesome. From my hands and knees, I push back to sitting. Through the wooziness of a head-rush, the moon wavers, splitting in two for a second – a heartbeat – before joining back together to sit its silent vigil amid the fading stars.
My left hand burns. Arm too. The virus does its dirty work quickly.
Maybe I can fight it. Mind over matter and all that shit. I’m not ready to die.
It’s not a great idea, but it’s the best I’ve had so far. I learned all about healing thyself in a religion class I took at the community college last fall. Transcendental meditation. Or was it transcendental medication? I don’t know, but I’ve got to try. Closing my eyes I picture my body. In my mind, it’s just a shadow, a crude charcoal smudge. In my mind, my left hand glows. The light’s traveling up my arm. I have to put it out.
Deep breaths, Josh. Deep breaths. Focus. Put out the light.
In my mind, the light begins to fade. As it does, I the burn lessens in my arm.
It’s working. I’m stronger than the virus. I can beat it.
Soon I can’t feel my arm at all. I’m stronger again, able to move, able to walk. I press my right hand against the rocky soil, and I push myself to standing. The moon wavers again, threatening to split. I close my eyes.
Deep breaths, Josh. You’re stronger than the disease.
Blood rushes beat, beat, beat behind my ears and the world drifts back into focus.
Okay, I’m upright. Now what?
I glance at Father Dave’s once more. No. That’s not the answer.
There’s only one other place. Home. To Mouse. Little Mouse.
If I can get to Mouse soon enough, maybe I can set him free. He knows what he needs to do, he knows the plan, but he’ll never do it unless I tell him. He’ll stay trapped in that house, waiting for me, and that’s not an image I can handle right now.
Mouse. That’s it. Save the Mouse.
Swaying on my feet but determined not to fall, I turn for home.

****

Beat, beat, beat. I step in time to the rhythm of my heart. It’s slow. It’s steady. Perhaps I’ve already won. I don’t know anyone who’s lasted this long after a bite.
Mouse, Mouse, Mouse. I use his name like a mantra while I walk, a constant reminder of my destination. I learned about mantras in that religion class too.
A breeze tickles my nose. I stop. I sniff.
What’s that smell?
A memory. Steaks on the grill, back in the old days. Celebrating a win over Harrisville, two towns over. Our archrivals.
Dad has a beer and Mom has a glass of wine. Dad hands me the bottle when Mom turns away. “Here, son. Have a sip. You earned it.”
The beer’s bitter on my tongue but I take a long pull and swallow. It’s cold, and it’s good. We share a conspiratorial smile, and Dad flips the steak while Mouse pulls on my arm and asks me to play ball.
The steak juices sizzle and pop, releasing the scent of charred heaven into the sky. I inhaled it then as though the smell would sustain me forever.
I inhale it now, though I don’t know from where it comes.
I’m so hungry. I’ve never been this hungry in my life.
I whip around. The smell of meat is tantalizing. Almost euphoric. I want it. I need it. I’m hungry for all the meat in the world and with each beat, beat, beat of the blood through my ears my hunger grows.
Where is that smell coming from?
And what’s that sound?
It’s quiet. Low. Rumbling. The sound a dog makes when threatened. The sound a coyote makes on the prowl. It’s a growl.
It’s me.
I’m growling.
Shit, Josh. Get a grip. You’re a person. You don’t growl.
But the sound continues as my hunger builds and that smell – that beautiful smell – grows stronger.
I have to eat.
No, I have to stop this. Stop the virus.
I freeze. In the dust behind me I can see my footsteps. My feet have been shuffling, lurching, when all along I thought I was marching to the beat, beat, beat of my heart. But the beat is slowing. I hear it now.
I turn from my footsteps. I turn from the blood-red moon. I close my eyes.
The virus is spreading. I can feel it.
No. I’m stronger than the virus. I can beat it. I can save my brother. I can save Mouse.
But my hunger is strengthening and the virus is spreading. God help me, I’m not as strong as I thought.

****

Hunger burns bright. It glows. It can hurt you. It can kill you.
It can also make you stronger.
My footsteps quicken as I follow the smell.

****

Beat…beat…beat…
My heart is slowing, more and more. That much I can tell. The virus is winning. I can tell that too. But I’m still here. I’m still in control. I still have a chance.
And I always pull for the underdog.
I see our house.
Of course, it’s not our house, not really. Just some trashy dump we found on the outskirts of town when I realized we had to hide. But it’s ours now. I stare at the bulky shadow rising from the ashes of the desert, and within, upstairs in the attic, I see a faint glow. A light. I smell meat.
Oh God if I don’t eat something before I get there I’ll eat Mouse.
Oh God I don’t know if I care.
Oh God I have to care.
But then: salvation. Footsteps behind me. I stop. I sniff. I smell meat.
I want it.
I can save Mouse. I just have to eat.
“Josh?”
The voice is tentative, quiet. A voice from another life. A girl. I knew her. Somewhere. I almost recognize it, but then I don’t.
I’m frozen, the smell of meat thrumming through my body, making it sing. Footsteps draw closer. I’m hungry.
“Josh, are you okay?”
Pressure against my body. A touch, gentle and delicate. The smell of steak sizzling on the grill in my nose. I turn. I pounce.

****

Meat is warm, and it is good. I will take this to my brother. My Mouse. A little mouse, trapped in a big house. Mouse. House. House. Mouse.
I drag the meat behind me as I walk to Mouse. To the house.
I push into the house. I stop. I bend over the meat.
Mouse. House. Hickory, dickory, dock. The Mouse ran up the clock.
I press my face against a warm, wet mound of flesh. I lick. I lap. I feed.
“Josh?”
I stop.
I sniff.
Mouse. House. Save Mouse.
There’s enough meat here. Share it. Save your brother.
I scoop up a bit of food, still warm and pulsing.
Here, little Mouse. This is for you.
The little Mouse steps back. His eyes are wide. Big. Round. He shakes his head.
No. Eat. It’s good.
Now the little Mouse steps forward. He takes a bite. Chews. Swallows.
Together we feed.

****

Oh God, what have I done, what happened, where am I? What did I do to Mouse? Why is he bloody? Is he breathing? Oh, God, what’s going on?
He’s breathing. Okay, he’s sleeping. I didn’t bite him. Thank God, I didn’t bite him. I have to leave. Oh God. Mouse. Little Mouse. I didn’t say the magic words, our code words. Hickory, dickory, dock. I didn’t say them. Why did you come? You should have stayed upstairs. Oh God. Oh Mouse, I have to go.
I have to go.
I’m going. Walking. Leaving. Running.
He’ll never catch me. Not now.

****

— Josh?–
Warmth. Hunger. Food.
— Josh? —
Mine.
— Jo—
Food. Warmth. Wet. Food.

****

Oh god, what have I done? What am I? What’s going on?
Mouse? Little Mouse? Oh god oh god oh god…
Everything is red. Everything is wrong. I’m so hungry, still so hungry. Mouse, my little Mouse. I’m so sorry.
Oh Mouse, why did you follow me?


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the sizzling Lauren Spieller! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#14. Manic Missions by Jani Grey

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Today’s Soundtrack – F For You by Disclosure (I JUST EARWORMED YOU.)

Evening, ladies and gentlemen! Tonight I bring you the next instalment in the infamous Zombie Project, by Jani Grey. Jani gives us a fun, quirky tale with all the flavour of zombie but with the flair of sheer entertainment. I chose today’s soundtrack specifically for Jani’s story, to reflect that.

Jani has been a Twitter friend of mine from the start, but this project is one of the first times I have really seen her writing – and believe me, I was impressed. You can find her on Twitter and over on her blog. Her fears include falling out of a moving car and failing, but guys, she actually likes being scared – she thinks it’s a rush. All I’m saying is, don’t run into her in a dark alley.


Manic Missions
by Jani Grey

“The mission, should you choose to accept it, is to retrieve the keys from Dr Gerard Reid’s pocket,” Mike said in his best spy boss voice. “He’s a recently infected researcher, an important one, and we need to get into his office.”
The three of us – cousin Mike, my overly cautious sister Sienna and I – lay flat on our stomachs atop the roof of a small town’s rec hall. The town had recently been cleared, walls had been erected around it to keep the infected out, and it was a month away from being re-inhabited. You’d never smelled clean and fresh until you’d been in a place like this, the air so crisp it burned your lungs when you inhaled. Then again, the burn might be from the chemicals used to purge the place.
We pressed our chins to the brick edge as we scanned the grass-covered courtyard, waiting for the reason we were here. Pitch black night buffered us against everything, and when I glanced back I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the city’s lights. The only sounds filling the warm night came from the rustling leaves and the flap of a flag I could only guess the location of.
I lifted a hand and pulled my long brown hair over one shoulder.
“That’s not so bad,” I mused.
“Taria, I think that might be why I like you the best. Everything’s ‘not so bad’ with you. No offence, Sienna.”
My sister snorted and pulled a flashlight out of her back pocket. “From you, I will never take anything that way.” She flicked it on and ran it over the plush grass. “Hey guys, what’s that?”
Mike and I switched on as well and followed Sienna’s direction.
“The Z kids creep me the fuck out,” he said with a grimace. “How the hell did he get in here? Everything’s locked up tight to keep them out.”
“Did you remember to close the barrier when we came in?”
He grimaced at her. “Of course I did. I think. Yeah. Uhm… Maybe? Look at it this way, at least now we have an excuse to send in a cleaning crew to re-sterilize the place after we’re done.”
The child, he couldn’t have been older than seven, ran across the yard, oblivious to us even with the light. He must be fresh to the turn, he certainly moved like it.
I caught a glimpse of his filthy face, arms, and shirt, and noticed the mouse printed on the front of his top. What a sad thing to see, this gore-covered child carrying his lost innocence with him so obviously.
“I vote we let him go,” I said. “No matter what he is, I don’t take out kids, and I know you don’t either.” They nodded and switched off their lights.
“As I was saying,” Mike continued. “Get the keys from Reid’s pocket and I’ll get you that Xbox you want so badly. Word has it they’ve turned into quite the collector’s item.”
“Piece of cake,” I said. “I think you’re losing your touch, Mike.”
“You assume too quickly, my pet. There are conditions. Mike Conditions.”
“I shudder at the thought,” I said.
Sienna elbowed me in the side. “Can we get this over with? If they catch us here we’ll get into trouble.”
“Fine. Fine,” he said. “Mike Conditions are as follows: You are not allowed to kill Dr Reid to get at the keys, we need him intact. You are not allowed to dismember Dr Reid, knock him out, or damage him.”
“You’re basically making it impossible for me to win. I suspect what you’ll get out of this if I fail will be either ridiculously big or involve backbreaking labour,” I muttered and searched the dark. “Is that all?”
“Nope,” Mike said. That cocky tone of his hammered home how much I wouldn’t be getting that Xbox. “Sienna has to help. Call it a sisterly team effort.”
“You can forget about it,” Sienna said and made to get up. “I choose life.”
I yanked her back down. “We’ll do it,” I said and turned to her. “You owe me. I always take your night patrols when we’re not in the city and I do overtime for that stupid extra luxury you insist you have to have. Real fruit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“Excuse me? You like the night patrols and that ‘stupid extra luxury’ just as much as I do. That organic crap they sell-”
“Ladies, please. I need an answer.”
“Fine. But I have a condition as well,” Sienna interjected.
“Wait, what? You’re sick? How are you feeling? Is it contagious?” I tried touching her forehead but she batted my hand away with an annoyed huff.
“If we don’t get the keys, the consequences are Taria’s and hers alone.”
“Best sister ever! Thank you.” I rolled on top of her and kissed her face until she started laughing and heaved me off her. “I’ll take it. It’s happening tonight? That’s why we’re here?”
“Yes,” Mike said. His digital watch cast an eerie light over his face, throwing shadows along his cheeks that made him look skeletal and devious at the same time. “They should be here soon. Don’t you want to hear what you’ll be doing when you don’t succeed?”
“Lay it on me, cuz.”
Mike scratched his chin. “I want to take a road trip to two places. Jerusalem’s Peak and Whitehill. You’ll have to come with.”
“Acceptable. The city’s been feeling small lately. Though I have to admit, I thought my punishment would involve a lot more… uhm… punishing.”
“You thought correctly. I bought a house in one of the cleared towns.”
“Congrats! Let me guess, you want me to help you move.”
“Nothing as mundane as that, my pet. I want to dig a moat around it and you have to help me, start to finish.”
“Ha! I predicted backbreaking labour. I would refuse, but since I won’t lose, sure, I can dig a moat.”
“Great. I was thinking about getting piranhas for when it’s done.”
“Why not a croc or two?” I suggested.
“I’ll be in a town, Taria. Be logical please. I can’t spend half my time chasing wandering crocs. The piranhas I can control to a certain extent.”
“Makes sense, though I don’t know why you’re getting so excited about it. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment,” I said. “Failure is not an option for me. I’m jonesing bad for that console. I haven’t played anything in years, and I know they’re not making new ones. Stupid rules postponing my luxuries. The Zs making an appearance screwed up my life. I miss wasting my good years holed up in my room killing and shooting at things that aren’t supposed to exist.”
“You sound way too much like a guy. No wonder you’re still single. At least you get to do the shooting and hacking in real life now. And they screwed us all over, but we’ve made progress in the years since. We’re taking back the land one square meter at a time, one suburb, one town,” Mike said.
He perked up at the same time Sienna and I did. Pinpricks of light flickered into view, followed by the familiar hum of the dune buggies belonging to friends of ours. “Time to get ready. Prepare to wallow in your failure. After all of this is done, your righteous anger will give you the extra strength you’ll need for the digging.”
“You’re the best kind of family there is,” Sienna said to him and stood. She held out a hand to Mike and me, and pulled us to our feet. “The kind that gets her out of my hair.”
Mike smirked. “You wouldn’t want me any other way.”

***

When you spent so much time around crazy people, the disease sort of rubbed off on you. Not Sienna though. She mostly just made disgusted noises and checked that we ate regularly.
Mike had switched on his high-powered flashlight again and flicked it on and off in the direction of the buggies before starting a spastic version of what he called ‘The Classic Cha Cha Slide’. I was a second away from joining him when Sienna snatched the light from his hands and left the roof in a whirl of wavy brown hair and displeasure.
“Good thing we’re used to her being the disapproving mother, eh?” Mike said and elbowed in the ribs.
“Yeah. The townhouse will be quiet when she moves in with Nico next month.”
Mike’s brows drew together. “You should have told me. I could have moved in or you could have moved in with me. Too late now, I’ll have a new roommate two weeks from now.”
“Textbook example of bad timing. That’s what I am.”
“Don’t be sad, Taria. There will be loads to keep us busy. I haven’t told you yet, but another town’s been scheduled for clearing in a few weeks’ time. I signed us up, along with the twins and a few of the others. They only need a small group to take the infected out, clean it up, and erect barriers for the restoration crew move in. We’ll be about ten in all.”
“That’s good. We haven’t gone clearing in a while. I like being part of the crews that take back the land, you know? It’s like I have purpose.”
“I know what you mean. This is it for us,” he said.
“It is. And thanks, I appreciate the thought and work.” I cleared my throat, straightened my shoulders, and nodded to the buggies. “We should go. Don’t want to push Sienna further than we already have.”
Mike gave me an all-too-knowing nod. When we exited the building, we walked to where my sister leaned against a low wall.
“Anything else we need to know before we risk life and limb for something that will no doubt rot my sister’s brain faster than the infection would?”
“Well, Dr Reid’s fresh to the turn. A few hours at most,” Mike said. “Not really sure what happened, but my dad sent me a message this morning with the address of where he was last seen. The twins tracked him and found him wandering around just outside the city walls.”
“Why are the keys so important?” I asked.
“They’re for a lab.”
“This might be a stupid question, but why not just… uhm… you know… break it open?”
“You don’t watch enough sci-fi movies. It’s the kind of lab where they do infection testing. If the barriers or doors are breached, everything inside will be neutralized to prevent what they have in there from getting out. I’m not exactly sure what kind of neutralization will take place, but I know I don’t want to be close when that happens. So keys it is.”
I frowned then lifted an eyebrow. “Seriously though, keys? Aren’t there fingerprint scanners or something more hi-tech? I could chop off his hand. What kind of low-budget operation are they running?”
“How would I know? We’re just the grunts doing the dirty work, remember?”
One of the buggies sped toward us and Haydn swerved sideways a foot or so away from where we stood. Sienna shouted at him as we dodged dislodged grass and earth.
“Ladies. Mike,” he greeted and grinned, all teeth and impish eyes. “Ready to get started?” The sharp lights attached to the top of the buggy blinded me, and I lifted a hand to block it. He switched them to dim and turned the vehicle to the side.
“How’d you get him here?”
I asked because the second buggy drove into view, Haydn’s brother standing on the back with only one hand keeping him in place. Both had hair almost as black as the night and followed Mike in attitude. He had a light of his own in one hand, aimed at the good doctor, and a jar of some sort shoved in underneath his arm. In the driver’s seat I spotted Haydn’s girlfriend whose disapproving rants could be heard even from that distance. Surprise, surprise. She and Sienna got along famously.
“I had a bit of a tussle with Kyle just before we left home, and we ended up going through a window. I’m fine, but he cut his arm. Bled like a stuck pig, he did. So we caught some of it in a jar before having him stitched up. Good timing, right?”
When Dr Reid neared, I gave him a quick once-over, assessing how much trouble he would be and if getting my hands on that Xbox was worth the effort.
A short man with a mop of light brown hair, I guessed him to be in his late thirties, although with the glasses and dirty face it could have been either more or less. The red-stained white coat he wore hung to mid-thigh and had a multitude of pockets. I curled my lip at Mike who just grinned and handed me a baseball bat. “You get one weapon.”
“I’ll take that, thank you very much,” Sienna said and snatched the bat from my hands.
“What am I supposed to use?”
“Your sharp mind and lightning-fast feet,” Haydn suggested. “Look, we’re not completely heartless. Kyle’s busy setting a bear trap for you.”
“Doesn’t that go against the condition Mike set, the one about no damage?” I said.
“Well, sort of. But if you want to spend half the night being chased by the doctor, we won’t stop you.”
“No. No. Please. Trap away.”
He fetched two jackets made out of some kind of industrial-strength fabric and tossed them at Sienna and me. I slipped mine on, zipped it up, and I rolled my shoulders, my neck, and swung my arms back and forth. After that I tied up my hair, the ends still brushing the middle of my back.
Mike and Haydn got back into the buggy and drove to where Kyle was busy luring Dr Reid toward the bear trap. As I loosened up I watched him park the ride directly across from his brother’s and switch on the floodlights, illuminating the playing field.
Sienna cringed when we heard a sharp snap and crunch followed by the twins whooping and a slap of palms. Sometimes I thought all of us really were like a bunch of wild animals.
“You ready?”
“No,” she said. “This is stupid.”
“I know. Isn’t it great? We’ve done this a hundred times before. You know the drill.”
“Taria, stealing Mike’s food when he’s hungry is not the same as trying to get something from a fresh Z intent on swallowing you one bite at a time.”
“Of course it is. What are you complaining about anyway? You’re the one with the bat.”
Sienna just sniffed and walked to the playing area. She needed to loosen up. I’d have to have a word with Nico after this. He’d know how to get her to have some fun.

***

Turned out that wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe she had as many screws loose as the rest of us and just hid it better.
The more she laughed at how much fun she was having, the more irate I became. Everybody cheering her on didn’t help either.
Dr Reid proved more of a challenge than I’d anticipated. When I’d asked Kyle if the blood on the good doctor was his, he’d asked me for a better idea to get him here. Kyle was just catering to Reid’s needs, as it were. Apparently he hadn’t had a thing to eat since he turned.
For a second I almost sagged to the ground with the sad bizarreness of the situation, but if we wanted what he had without killing him, this was the only way. Tranqs didn’t really work when your blood couldn’t move it to the right places, and with a Z this fresh, they didn’t have enough rigor to slow them down.
Sienna stepped forward and swung the bat. It connected with Dr Reid’s upper arm with just enough force to get his attention.
I shot out of my crouch and darted at him from behind, aiming for his back pocket. This had been our tactic for the past fifteen minutes. Sienna would take a swing at him, not enough to do any serious damage as per Mike’s condition, and I would use the seconds to target a pocket. So far I’d come up empty.
The Z lurched forward and guttural sounds that once would have been intelligible tumbled out of his mouth. Both he and his nonsensical sounds lurched to a halt as the bear trap kept him in place. He stopped and took a moment to stare down at his bloody-black and mangled foot, and jerk-jerk-jerked his leg. Sienna went at him again and jabbed him in the back. He forgot about his leg and lunged for her. I sprinted forward and touched his left pocket. A hard lump and clinging metal greeted me. Triumph!
But Dr Reid turned too soon for me to retrieve it and swung back. I didn’t retreat fast enough.
He swung his arm at my head, hands clawed and tipped with black and blue discoloured nails. By some unholy misfortune, just as I turned sideways, his fingers tangled and caught in the middle of my ponytail, automatically clenching around the strands.
I yelped as first my head jerked back, followed by the rest of me. My girly screams were more from surprise than fear. Naturally. Really. Really.
“Shit,” I shouted and jerked at my head. My neck burned at the strain as I kept on yanking, and my eyes filled with tears. “Sienna, seriously. Some help?”
She ran to my side and hopped from side to side. “I’m going to grab the top of your ponytail and give it a few yanks, ok?”
“NO! What are you doing? Get the damn keys. Get the keys!” I shouted.
“What? Are you crazy?”
“I want my Xbox.” Dr Reid grunted something and started pulling my head from side to side. “Hurry. I swear, if he pulls out all my hair, I’m going to kill you.”
“You’re batshit crazy, you know that?”
“Keys. They’re in the left-side hip pocket.”
She left my sight, and for the longest minutes ever, all I heard was Dr Reid’s attempt at communication and the heavy beat of chopper blades in the distance.
I turned my head and watched Mike approach with a machete in one had. I met his eyes and waved him away. He hesitated only a second before retreating.
Sienna shouted her success. Dr Reid didn’t even care. He was too busy trying to pull me closer to his snapping, gunk-covered teeth.
She returned and dangled the keys in the air. “I think I’m in an excellent position to negotiate.”
“Argh. I swear, if you don’t get me loose I’m going to make your last days at home pure hell.”
“Fine. Fine. Give me a minute.” She disappeared and returned within seconds. “I don’t think I need to negotiate. Maybe this will teach you a lesson.”
She gave me the most evil of grins and brandished Mike’s machete in my face. “You can’t chop off the doctor’s hands,” I grunted and fell to the ground hard enough to bruise. My entire scalp burned and pounded, and I knew I couldn’t hold out much longer.
“It’s not for his hand,” she said and raised her arm.
For a second I really thought she would kill me. Even after all these years she still managed to surprise me at least once a month.
She dropped the razor-sharp blade, severing my hair from Dr Reid’s hands. I wasn’t prepared for it. My head hit the grass with a dull thud.
I opened my eyes only to see his face rush toward mine. Somebody grabbed my legs and hauled me out of the way seconds before the Z toppled onto the grass where I’d lain.
“Man, that was way too fucking close,” Mike breathed. He pulled me away another few inches just for safety’s sake.
“Next time rethink your missions, ok?” I said. I moved to tighten my hair and froze. My sister took a step away from me when I turned murderous eyes to her. “You. Cut. Off. My. Hair. I’m going to kill you!”
“I want my Xbox,” Sienna mimicked me and tossed the keys at Mike. “You owe her.”
“Yes I do.”
“What are we supposed to do with him now?”She pointed to where Reid sat on the grass stained black and green, uselessly tapping at the trap that kept him in place. He’d finally figured out what kept him from his meal.
The guy must have been extra hungry because he bent forward and latched onto where the most tainted blood spilled out.
“I’ll send my dad a message telling him where to find him and he’ll get his guys to come contain him. They want to keep him for when they find a cure of something.”
“Think they will?” I said.
“Who knows,” he muttered while typing away at his phone.
The helicopters that had been nothing but background noise the past few minutes thundered over us to hover at the outskirts of town.
The rest of the group joined us as we stared up at the black choppers. The pilots switched on spotlights and co-pilots aimed them at the ground. I hated the black helicopters. They always brought bad things with them.
“What are they doing here?” Haydn said. “It’s the middle of the night.”
“What do they usually do in the middle of the night?” I switched on a flashlight, searching for the flag I’d heard earlier. When I found it, I smacked Mike on the shoulder. “Culling. Dammit Mike, you led us to a culling zone? What the hell were you thinking?”
He swore something fierce as all of us sprinted to the two buggies.
“I forgot to check,” he yelled. “Sorry. There hasn’t been zombie culling in weeks.”
My pulse quickened and my heart beat like a hammer against my chest. Sienna had started crying, and as much as I wanted to join her, I pushed the fear aside and grabbed onto the best thing to beat it with.
“Mike, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get us out of town without being eaten by a horde of zombies or any of the humans finding out we’re here.”
“The stakes?” he said and managed to blink away his own fear for a few seconds.
“Life, cousin. Life or death.”


If you liked this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the spooktacular Kat Ellis! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is  now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#13. Jerusalem’s Peak by Chynna-Blue Scott

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Today’s Soundtrack – Death Valley by Fall Out Boy (I’ve linked that because I DEMAND YOU LISTEN TO THIS SONG.)

So today it’s my turn to be crucified – I mean, it’s my turn to post. I’m obviously not going to sit and talk myself up because, please, you already know I’m about as cool as a baked potato. Also, I literally just realised that my story is number 13, and I’m a little overexcited about that.

I will tell you what I’m scared of, which is pretty much everything. Pitch darkness (I like the nighttime…as long as I have a lamp), heights, spiders, small spaces, tendons (or more specifically, of someone cutting my tendons. Don’t ask why), bugs in my food, wasps, ghosts (I can’t sit down at night unless I have my back to a wall/am in a room full of people), being awake but paralysed during surgery, that when we die we’ll just remain trapped in our bodies, or worse, float in a black void of nothingness, the world ending (I make contingency plans in my head, one of which is featured in this story.) I could go on, but I won’t. I like to think being so nervy only contributes to my imagination, making me a better writer…. (right?)


Jerusalem’s Peak

by Chynna-Blue Scott

Michael.

They’d been at the bottom of the wall for days now, scurrying like beetles. Like rats.

I had three good reasons for standing at the lip of our doom. One – today marked the 716th day since the creation of Jerusalem’s Peak (or Trash Mountain, or Mordor, or whatever the fuck you wanted to call it.) 716 days since a small slice of humanity had stopped running around like pigs in the slaughterhouse and decided to Take Some Definitive Action. And so we took the remains of a town, beat the shit out of everything until it all fell down, and built ourselves a town sixty feet higher than the last one and with a damn sight less structural integrity.

I still had one of the old signs over my door for the sake of nostalgia, nostalgia for a town I only came across when it was no more than a bareboned corpse. Blue’s Diner, it read. I never spared a thought for who Blue had been as I nailed it over my doorway, or how they’d bit the dust. It took a while to lose that every man for ‘emselves outlook. But Jerusalem’s Peak sure as shit tried to knock that out of you. I don’t know who went and elected the religious folks in charge, but suddenly there’s a Church on Trash Mountain and no one to say nothing against it. And there’s my second reason for standing on the lip – it’s Sunday morning, though screw me sideways if I know how anyone’s keeping track of days in these times, and there ain’t no way I’m sitting through a service. I prefer to pay my religious respects overlooking the Lord’s own handiwork. I spat on one of the dumbass zoms scrabbling in the dirt below.

Is this your swan song, God? Your homage to the Black Death? A final plague to punish us all for our naughty, small-town deeds? Didn’t give to the collection plate, that’s an arm loss for you, Mrs Jones. But turning your own creations into vessels of the apocalypse, well, that takes guts. I guess the priests weren’t lying after all. My Lord is an Avenging Lord, and all that. The only prayer I needed was the one I’d thought every day since the black choppers stopped flying over: better here than pushin’ up daisies in Whitehill Frontier.

“Michael?”

I turned. Callie, her dark hair stuck through with a pencil she’d found God knows where and her waistband stuck through with her gun, was appraising me, her lips set in a hard line. They’d been set in that same hard line the day I found her, surrounded by ten gallons of blood and green shit that took that ‘frog in a blender’ joke to a whole new level. I never asked her what happened down in Montana, and she never told. My third reason for standing on the lip – avoiding Callie.

I shoved my hands down in my pockets, rocking back on my heels. The sun seemed to revolve in the air, sending out shimmering ripples that distorted the horizon. “Why, do I look like someone else?”

She raised an eyebrow, shades of the twelve year old she’d been when this shit started. She was sixteen now, but the ghosts behind her eyes and the sureness of her aim painted her older. Too old for my liking. There was a hell of a lot more men than women on the Peak, and I had a feeling I’d be breaking a few heads before the year was out. Callie could grow up all she wanted, but in my mind she was still the little girl too stubborn to admit she was scared but who held my hand anyway.

“Don’t be a dick. Janie was asking after you.” Callie strode over to the lip, echoing my earlier action and spitting on the zoms below. I held back a grin.

Now, if only there were a shortage of Janie’s. “Was she now? Sorry I missed her.” The back of my neck was itching; I rubbed at it irritably.

Callie grinned at my obvious distaste, her eyes dancing. “Slim pickings on the Peak, Michael. You have the sorry task of being the best of a bad bunch.”

I grunted. “If that girl knows what’s good for her, she’ll stay away from me.” Janie Prescott, barely twenty one years old and with more conquests than brains. It’s no riddle why she was after me. Girl like that wants one thing in times like these, and that’s protection. She looked at me and saw the epitome of a hunter, nothing more, and somewhere her female hormones started squealing and bumping into each other. She homemaker, me hunter gatherer, or some shit. I touched the ring I still wore on my left hand. Yeah, she’d better keep her distance.

***

Callie.

Michael had gone back to staring over the lip, and I knew I wouldn’t get a word out of him after that.

“I’ll see you back at home,” I called over my shoulder. He only grunted, squinting off into the distance, searching for God only knew what.

I could kind of see what Janie saw in him – sandy blonde hair, stubble, leather jacket and a gun belt. Still, he was Michael. He could probably be her father, allowing for a teenage pregnancy. I shuddered at the thought.

He’d burst into The Lodge like an avenging angel, axe in one hand and a pistol in the other, taken one look at me and spoke the first word I ever heard him utter. “Fuck.”

For a while there had just been us, until we happened across others and the idea for Jerusalem’s Peak was born. The break from nomadic living was welcome. The close quarters after so long living on the road were not.

The paths that wound through our little shanty town were mostly dirt and crushed rock, but they were uneven and sloped like crazy at times, meaning everyone walked around watching their feet. Just a few weeks ago the supply run had hit on Russian Vodka and one guy had gotten so drunk he slid right over the lip and down to the zoms below. I’ve never seen blood fountain so high in the air – Eric Pindle swore it topped ten feet.

I took a detour on the way back, knowing it would take me past Kenny’s, my heart already thudding unevenly as I laced my way through the slim backstreets. There was one sick advantage to seeing Kenny – as an orphan, he always had a free house.

I didn’t bother knocking, gently pushing the door open and half-whispering, half-calling, “Kenny?”

Arms encircled me from behind, a hand clamping over my mouth as I sucked in air to scream.

“Boo!”

“You fucker!” I fought my way free, glaring at him. He was laughing, blue eyes shining like I was the funniest thing he’d seen in weeks. Hey, no TV – maybe I was.

“Hey, now, what would Michael think if he heard you use a word like that?” Kenny smiled crookedly, pulling me back against him. The sizzle-pop smell of meat hung in the air and my stomach growled, making him chuckle as he nuzzled my neck. My own skin began to sizzle with tiny electrical pulses and I sighed, letting my head loll back.

“He’d probably be proud of me. If I were you,” I pushed a finger into his chest, “I’d be more worried about what Michael would think if he knew I was here with you. You know how overprotective he is.” I was a little breathless, a fact intensified by Kenny’s thumbs rubbing slow circles against my back. I pushed a hand through his dirty blonde curls, meaning only to feel them, pull them through my fingers, but then I was pulling his head down to mine, and for a moment we kissed, for a moment I could forget the blood and twitching body parts and death and feel life instead, in the fast beating of my heart and his breath on my lips and his hands pulling me closer, squeezing my hips…I pulled away, lips throbbing in that sweetly uncomfortable way, like fresh blood behind a new bruise. Kenny’s own lips were parted as he pressed his forehead against mine.

“There was a new priest in Church today,” he said casually, twisting a strand of my hair around his finger.

“Oh?” This was actually bigger news than it seemed – we didn’t get many new people on the Peak. Sometimes you’d get travellers who’d seen the high structure in the distance and come in for a closer look, but the zoms who hung out round the bottom of our trash mountain usually got them.

“Yeah,” he was nuzzling my ear, making it hard to think, “his name was Carver, or something like that. Carter.”

“Well, did Carver-Carter have anything interesting to say?”

He rolled his eyes at me. “What do you think?

“Why do you bother going if you don’t take it seriously?” I raised my eyebrows at him, only half curious. We all did things for the same reason nowadays – because the living did, and the dead don’t. We go to Church because we can. Because we’re alive to do it. Because there’s nothing fucking else to do except take your chances with the zoms at the bottom of Trash Mountain.  

He shrugged, echoing my thoughts. “What else is there to do?”

I grinned and slipped a finger under his waistband, deciding to take things in a lighter, more interesting direction. A ‘forget everything except me, baby’, direction. “I’m sure I could think of a few things…”

***

Janie.

For the millionth fucking time I sat at my shitty little table on my shitty little chair and stared out of the window. I mean, seriously, would it have killed someone to figure out how to get a satellite dish working? I couldn’t even remember how long it’d been since the last time I’d seen America’s Next Top Model. Too fucking long.

Kenny Chambers had tried to explain it to me. ‘They’re not broadcasting anymore, Janie. There’s nothing to see.’ Ugh. I flicked a bottle top I’d pulled off of a wall outside around on the table, trying to spin it like a top the way my daddy used to.

I couldn’t even lie to myself about the real reason I was so pissed off. Without TV, there was nothing to distract me from the inside of my own head. And my own head, despite its crappy effort in school, wouldn’t stop doing the same sum over and over again.

Two weeks late. I was two weeks late. The world ended but my cycle didn’t, and now I was two weeks late in the middle of a goddamn apocalypse.

I knew whose it was  – Ricky the Prick had his lucky night the day Eric Pindle and the boys struck liquid gold in the form of vodka. Ricky was dumber than a blunt tack and just as useful. I also knew whose it had to be if me and the little bodysnatcher had a chance of surviving. There was only one man worth his shit in Jerusalem’s Peak, and that was Michael Scott.

I smiled to myself, spinning the bottle top between my fingers. If there was one thing I was good at, it was leading men by the nose and straight into the bedroom – or whatever passed for a bedroom nowadays. Real beds were a shortage up on the Peak – the only big pieces of wood the boys would carry up were for building – and I’d settled for an upside down horse trough before now. He’d been avoiding me, and we both knew why that was. If I got him up close and all alone, he wouldn’t be able to resist even if he wanted to, despite that life raft of a wedding ring he still wore. Well, I didn’t see a wife anywhere. All it’d take was one night, and Michael would do the honourable thing. Jesus, all it’d taken was for him to run into Callie all alone and he’d as good as adopted her. His own child? Please. We’d be married before the day was out.

I was betting on it.

***

Michael.

I was sitting in what passed for a boozer on the Peak – a shack just as shitty as the rest of them, if not a little bigger, that served whatever Pindle’s boys had managed to scrape up – when I first saw him. Of course I spotted him straight away, even through the fug of cigarette smoke that revolved around the bar like the last wheezing breath of a dying smoke machine. If I hadn’t have noticed the suit, I’d’ve noticed the face. A stranger.

The chair squealed loudly against the floor as I stood and made my way over with slow, measured steps. The man broke off mid-conversation – he’d been chatting with Kenny Chambers’s cousin Albert, if I wasn’t mistaken – and looked at me with a strange gleam in his eyes, his head tilted back slightly as if to take me in all at once.

“Hi there.” I held out my chip hand, the standard greeting since handshakes became less a formality and more a means of checking the person you just met wouldn’t zom out without warning. He seemed to hesitate for a second, so briefly I almost didn’t notice, and when he held out his hand I saw why. The dot on his wrist glowed bright red, like the worst fucking skeeter bite you ever saw.

I’d yanked him to me and shoved my pistol under his chin before he could blink. His face was expressionless, though there was a small, steady tick under his jaw that said he was grinding his teeth.

“Whoa, chill the fuck out, Michael,” Albert tugged on my arm, eyes wide. “Carter’s cool.”

I curled my lip at him. “Did you even bother to check his chip before you let him saunter on up here, or are all of you dolts jonesing to be zombie bait?”

“You can’t exactly ‘saunter’ up the Peak…” One of Albert’s dumbass friends piped up. I silenced him with a look.

Albert was shaking his head at me. “Does he look like a zom to you, Michael? ‘Cause he definitely doesn’t to me.”

“The kid is right, Michael,” Carter drawled. He wasn’t even breathless. He sounded almost bored, as though he were discussing chess over tea, not hanging by his throat in the middle of a makeshift refugee camp. “Do I look like a zom to you?”

I jabbed the pistol against his jaw and he looked away, grimacing. “I’d show a little more respect if I were you, seeing as I’m the one with a finger on the big red button of your life right now. I’ve got a hand around your wrist, Mr. Carter, and I ain’t feeling no fucking pulse. Want to explain to me how that could be?

“You may not look like a zom,” I fixed him with a cold stare, leaning in until my nose was centimetres from his, “But you sure feel like one.” I drew out the words, wanting to make him sweat, but he just smiled, a sickly grin that showed too many teeth.

“If you’d just let go of me, I’m sure we could get this all smoothed out,” his voice was calm, as though he were talking to a child who’d grabbed a pair of scissors and started jabbing them at people, not a forty year old man with firepower and a healthy fear of red chips. My eyes slid to my wedding band and I blinked, hard.

“Uh huh, sure. And why don’t I just lay down right here while you take a bite out of me.”

I heard the bar door swing open, followed a second later by a small gasp. “Oh!”

My teeth snapped together. Janie fucking Prescott.

Carter was watching me, his eyes narrow, scrutinising my face. He glanced over my shoulder at Janie and I shook him roughly. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.”

Janie gasped again, but it was muffled, as though stifled behind her hand. I felt the itch on the back of my neck start up again.

“You can see for yourself I’m no zom. I’m lucid – we’re having a semi-intelligent conversation right now – and I haven’t tried to take a bite out of anyone since I got here this morning. I also haven’t dropped down in a dead faint. You heard of the living dead, Michael? Well, you’re looking at him.” Carter hadn’t stopped smiling as he gave his little speech, but now his smile dropped away, leaving his face a cold, slack mask, like something out of a waxworks. “Kill me? Well, that’d practically be murder.”

The temperature in the room seemed to plummet a few degrees as we stared at one another. In the back corner, Eric Pindle cleared his throat loudly. “Maybe you should let go of him, Michael. The guy’s a priest, for chrissakes.”

I swung my gaze to him. “Or so he says. You honestly believe this son-of-a-bitch is safe to be around us – around our families?” My thoughts went to Callie. I didn’t want this slimy motherfucker anywhere near her. Carter smiled wetly, as though he could hear what I was thinking. No one answered, and I let go of him in disgust, shoving him back so he almost skidded to the ground, managing to right himself at the last second.

I couldn’t stay in the bar a second longer. My skin was crawling like a swarm of beetles were running over it, and I knew it was from touching whatever that thing Mr. Carter was. He wasn’t human, and he wasn’t in Jerusalem’s Peak for any good reason. You could count on that.

There was a sour taste in my mouth as I looked around the bar, taking in one dumbass patron after another. Eric Pindle and his brother Micky nursing dirty glasses of stale beer, Louise and Lauren Keller dolled up with melted, waxy make-up as they tried to catch the eyes of the Pindle brothers, Albert Chambers picking right back up in his conversation with a deadman, Janie Prescott batting her glassy eyes at me – all slack-jawed and slow witted, too stupid to feel the blackness rolling off the thing in their midst. To hell with them all. I shoved out of the bar and into the cold air beyond, sucking in breaths as I stalked my way toward the lip, jamming my balled up fists in my pockets. It would be just too fucking bad if that thing zommed out and killed them all. Too fucking bad.

Just needed to get calm, and then I’d go home to Callie. It wasn’t safe for her to be alone, though she’d probably be with Kenny Chambers, a thing I knew she thought I didn’t know about. The girl underestimated me sometimes.

I stopped right at the very edge of the lip, toying with the pretend idea that I might just walk the hell off the edge. Some of the zoms were braver tonight – instead of scrabbling around the bottom, it looked like a few of them were actually trying to climb. I frowned. I’d have to make sure Pindle furthered the range of their next scavenging mission. We might need a few rifles if we were going to be picking off zoms from on the side of the mount.

“Michael?”

So, so similar to the way I’d been called for this morning, and so not the fucking person I wanted to hear from.

“Go away, Janie.”

She huffed, but then, seeming to collect herself, slipped slowly closer, hands behind her back as though a student approaching a teacher. I stiffened as she sidled up to me, her arm just brushing mine. The moon was like a penny on a string, almost sagging in the sky, dragging the backdrop down with it until the blue folded into black.

“Why do you pretend like that, Michael?” Her voice was carefully honed to be sugar on top of cream on top of sugar, and it seared my ears with its sickly sweetness.

I didn’t look at her, focusing on the shapes of other far off, abandoned towns in the distance, like cardboard cut-outs on long-lonely movie sets. I almost thought I could see the silhouettes of people, but no doubt they were zoms, the seemingly human-like gait a trick of the light. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”

She moved closer, and I could feel the outline of her breast pressing against my arm. “I think you do. I think you got some crazy idea that you and I would be wrong, Michael, like you’d be betraying your wife or something.” She bit her lip, making the pink flush a darker, cherry red. “But it’d only be one night. Wouldn’t she want you to be happy, just for one little night?” She caught my hand in hers, tracing my wedding band. I seized her wrist in my other hand and she gasped, eyelids lowering.

“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t mention my wife again.” My voice was razor sharp, but she only smiled lazily when I released her hand, lifting it to pop the first two buttons on her shirt. Deftly she flicked the edge of the cotton so that the two sides fell apart, revealing the curves of her breasts. She gazed down at herself as she traced along the smooth curves with her finger, and when she looked back at me her gaze was heated, hungry – but with a hint of something else she was trying too hard to hide. What was that – desperation?

She slid her arms about my neck, pressing her chest against mine so that her breasts swelled. “Just give in, Michael. It’ll be good, I’ll make it good for you, baby…” Her breath was too warm against my cheek, her arms too smooth on my neck, body too hot and ready against mine, like a ten dollar slut trained to get hot on command. I looked away, disgusted, and shoved her back, and for a moment the entire world teetered on the brink as Janie’s eyes widened, her arms wheeling frantically as she fought for grip that wasn’t there, her cherry lips opening in a soundless scream that was more terrible than any sound she could’ve made as she tumbled down over the lip, pale as the moon that watched her fall.

I stared, slack-mouthed, seeing nothing. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t bring myself to lean and see what I knew was happening even as I stuck my head in the safety of Trash Mountain and refused to hear the deafening snaps drifting up from below, the snuffling and gleeful grunts, cutting me like axe blows.

“My, my, Michael,” the snake-like drawl slithered across my skin. “That poor, poor girl.”

My muscles locked. That fucker had followed me. “I didn’t…I couldn’t…” I couldn’t force words past the revulsion, both at what I’d done and at the thing now standing before me with his hands clasped behind his back. Carter leaned to take a look over the edge, his face twisting in distaste. The wet, tearing sounds had started and my stomach roiled. I clamped a hand to my mouth, swallowing back bile.

“But you did.” He grinned, and for a moment his eyes seemed black. “I could always use one like you, Michael. Mule-headed, stubborn as a horse, but strong. A grunt worker.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” My mouth was suddenly dry, palms prickling with sweat.

He only smiled again. “I wonder how poor little Callie will go on without you?”

I snarled, lunging for him, catching him by the throat. “You stay the goddamn fuck away from her, or so help me God…”

Carter’s expression was serious again as he leaned to whisper in my ear. “God isn’t here anymore, Mr. Scott. This is my world now.” As he leaned away, the moon caught his eyes in a way that made them glow red as the chip in his arm. “Eric! Albert! You need to fucking come see this! I think Michael’s gone crazy!”


If you liked this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the ace Jani Grey! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is  now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#.12 One Girl. One Shot. by Kristen Jett…

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I’M BACK, BABY.

Today’s Soundtrack – Monsters by Hurricane Bells

Hey, babies! I have returned from sunny Morocco, and I come bearing gifts – the twelfth Zombie Project story by the fantastical Kristen Jett! Kristen was actually the first person I spoke to on Twitter, and she’s remained one of my Twitter friends for all of this time. She’s an ace person and an ace writer, and when the Zombie Project was no more than an undead seed I knew she had to be a part of it. She knows things about almost EVERYTHING. If you’re not following her on Twitter, then you have a problem.

Kristen is also co-founder of Pen and Muse, which you should definitely check out if you’re a fellow writer (which, let’s face it, most of you probably are.)


One Girl. One Shot.

by Kristen Jett

Shopping is the best thing about the zombie apocalypse.

It’s a bitch thing to say, but it’s true. If a girl has to be running around lopping off zombie heads like she’s some bad ass movie star, she might as well look good. Lucie Theroux, zombie slayer. Call me Luc. Everyone does.

That practical-yet-chic leather bomber I eyed last season? Perfect to protect me from rogue bites, and pairs well with my current ensemble. And since I was the only living person in Barneys, it was mine. All mine. Not that you can spend all day trying on brand name clothes…which was why I’m in the hunting goods store. I grab another box of rounds from the shelf, tucking as much ammo as I can carry without slowing me down into my bags. A machete swings at my hip, while a dagger hilt protrudes from my pink cowboy boots. Always be prepared. Once a girl scout, always a girl scout.

I should have been more prepared. My own father created this. Caused this. The apartment was practically a bunker, but he couldn’t even explain why. I wonder if Mom is still sitting there, locked away, certain he was going to come back to save the day. Hoards filled the streets, slowly making their way up our posh penthouse buildings, and still she sat waiting patiently.

Screw that.

A noise from the back of the store startles me, and instantly Berta, my pistol, is in my hand. The shotgun does more damage, but is a real bitch to get to quickly. Besides, shotgun ammo is heavy to lug around, even when I do wear that ugly bandoleer under my jacket.

“Don’t shoot!” A deep voice calls out from a corner I thought I’d cleared. This one little mistake could have gotten me killed. Most of the zoms are slow, but a fast one could have taken me out when I’d had my back turned. People are worse. They’ll feed you to a hoard if they think it’ll save their ass. Which it might. Except then they have to live with themselves. And the men? Well, let’s just say it’s been awhile since most of them have seen a girl who breathes. Not reassuring. I keep my gun trained on the corner, ready to blow his head off in an instant.

“Who are you?” My voice doesn’t even tremble. No one at my school would have believed it. Little blonde girly Lucie became Luc, the tough fighter who curses like a sailor. All it took was for the world to go to hell.

A figure steps out of the shadows slowly, carefully. His face slides into the dim light of the room. Seriously? Another hunk? Does it have to be another hunk? Hey Universe, haven’t I had enough to worry about what with the whole zombie apocalypse, and the boy, and having to leave him behind?

“Mason. Mason Hutchings. Who the hell are you?” I see him eying Berta as he talks. I push my jacket to the side to show off the fluorescent grips of the Glock tucked into my waistband. No need for him to get any funny ideas.

“Luc.”

“Like a boy?”

I roll my eyes. “You catch on fast, darling. Pronounced like the boy. You clear?”

He waves a wrist in front of me, and I catch a glimpse of green. Implanted. Makes my life easier. I try to notice anything else about him, like the just tousled enough to be sexy hair. If this was a movie, we’d be falling in love faster than you could say zombie apocalypse. But this isn’t a fucking movie, and the only thing moving fast around here is my killing arm.

“You.”

My wrist raises in the air. “No implant. I’m clean.” I eye him carefully. “In more ways than one. You know there is water in this town that’s not tainted, right?” Is there ever an excuse not to shower?

In a normal conversation, I’d ask where he was from, who he was, what his interests were.  This isn’t a normal conversation. None of us have any of that anymore. We’re just beating hearts trying to survive – not to be confused with the undead hearts trying to survive.

“How do you-” His question cuts off at my sharp stare. There’s no time for any of that.

Instead I toss him a bottle of water. He misses. Catch like a man, why can’t you? I flinch before it happens, knowing exactly what is going to happen.  There’s nothing worse than watching a big effing mistake happen and knowing you can’t do anything about it. It’s almost slow motion. The bottle flies past his head, knocking over metal (and empty) thermoses destroying the store in one noisy round of dominoes.

“Grab the fucking water and let’s go.” I can see the hesitation in his step. “NOW. Haven’t you ever watched a horror movie before? Noise attracts them.”

He doesn’t look as if he believes me, but something flashes in his eyes, and his feet start moving. Mine do too – in the opposite direction. I hadn’t seen a gun on Pretty Boy, and I certainly wasn’t going to give him one of mine. I may have morals, but you’re not separating me from any of my weapons. My mind’s racing – what would be best? “Can you shoot?” I yell across the store, not caring about the consequences. We’ve got maybe two minutes tops to get out of here, and my ass is going to be out that door regardless.

“Um….I’m a little rusty.”

Of course he is. Fucking pretty boys. Next time someone creeps out of the shadows, it better be a man who knows the difference between a .38 Special and .357 Magnum. I shake my head, grabbing a shotgun for him – better chance of getting a hit with a shotgun round than a rifle. My elbow smashes a glass case to grab the Walther. Easy enough to shoot, even easier to find ammo for.

“I only need one.” He’s climbing across the debris to reach me. The only answer he receives is a grueling look from me. To his eyes, I must look paranoid. Berta. The Glock. The pink shotgun. One machete. One dagger.  And he didn’t even know about the Lady Derringers I had tucked into my clothing. Because sometimes one shot’s all you need.

“I have an axe,” he continues. My second mistake of the day? Turning to see why his voice falters as he says that. The proof of my mistake groaned in through the door while my back was turned…with a few of his undead friends, and an undead man in a suit that I’ve been spending months trying to avoid. Since the boy. And we are not talking about what happened then. Or to the boy.

Ever been in an army surplus or a hunting goods store? Typically the owners are serious about protection. Which means there’s usually only one fucking exit. Which means we’re trapped.

It takes 2.7 seconds for me to grab the shotgun on my back and cock it. I timed it once. It looks damn impressive too. Not that the zombies care. My old faithful is in my hands, reassuring me. I’d shot my first zombie with this gun, and if I was going out, I’d take out my last with it. “Get the fuck over here, Mason.”

For once he obeys, and even realizes he’s the sub in this relationship and stands behind me. We back ourselves into a corner, where at least we know nothing can grab us from behind. “You know how to hold your own.” His breath is in my ear.

Of course I did. How the hell did he think I’d made it this far? “My dad taught me.” Couldn’t this boy see I didn’t want to talk? Especially not about that.

“It’s kinda hot.”

Seriously? Seriously? That is what you choose to think about in the middle of a life and death situation? Men.

Boom. One zombie out. “Mr. Carter. You figure out how to control them now?”

Mr. Carter smiles at me. That cruel unbreathing smile. “You look healthy, Lucie. I’m sure your daddy would be happy to hear that.”

That son of a bitch is going to talk about my daddy? I take out the zom to the left of him as my only answer. Mason’s eyes are narrowed. “I’ve seen this guy. Where I came from.” There’s an awful hiss of a pause before he spits out the words, “I think he got my parents killed.”

Well, what do you know? Pretty Boy is smarter than he looks. I don’t have time to be his comfort blanket. “Take out the zoms first. Son of a bitch can control them.”

Know what’s sexier than a man with a gun? A man with a gun who only needs one shot to kill the walking dead. There’s more to this one than what meets the eye.

We take down the next seven in unison, while I mentally try to count rounds. Five guns, but no time to reload.

“Can you fight all day little Lucie? What about the boy…Mason? Doesn’t he want to join his family?” Mr Carter grins, a healthy glow to his cheeks.

The bastard’s playing with us.  The Glock raises to the ceiling, taking out the last lights that still manage to shine. If we’re going to play his games, we need to even the odds.

Now what? We’re backed into a corner, with a dead man who can control zombies in front of us. The room is clean of zoms, but who’s to say he can’t call more in? This situation can’t get any worse.

Until it does.

Even in the dark, I can see the glint of the gun as Mr. Carter points it at me. “Sorry, darling Lucie. I know this is hard to take in. How someone who’s known you all your life could want you dead. But it’s for the country, darling. One girl and one shot…doesn’t mean all that much when you think of the greater good. Your boyfriend here will just be a bonus…much like the last one was.”

Have I mentioned that I hate dead men? Because I fucking hate dead men.

“Shotgun down, Lucie. Slowly.” Mr. Carter’s voice is flat. “That pretty little Glock next. I believe Berta is empty now, so you can keep that.”  Guess I wasn’t the only one counting rounds.

My elbow nudges Mason, urging him to do something.

“I’m out of ammo.” His voice is a whisper in my ear.

“Cleavage.” I hiss the word with annoyance. Of course it would come to this. I slowly put my Old Faithful down, pushing my body further back into Mason to make this easier.

“What?”

“Gun in my cleavage. One shot.”

Sometimes all you get out of life is one shot. Mason’s hand reaches around me in the dark, sliding into my shirt, grazing maybe a little more than he should before settling on the gun. Three seconds to raise it, two seconds to steady his hand, one to pull the trigger.

One shot. Ready. Set. Aim.


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by ME! (Yikes!) Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is  now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#11. Firebreak by Cassandra Page

TODAY’S BREW: Caramel Apple Coffee. Yes, it’s me, Julie. Still blog-sitting while Blue Morrocco’s it up.

I get to post the next Zombie Project story, and it is by none other than Cassandra Page, who is hilarious, beautiful, creepy in a good way, and wildly talented.

“Firebreak”

Someone had killed her zombie.

Ruth Ann realized something was wrong as soon as she entered the back of Blue’s diner. The stench of rotting vegetable matter and tattered flesh hung in the air like offcuts on a compost heap. The zombie stink had been barely noticeable when she’d gone out; now it was so heavy in the air she could taste it.

The broom closet door hung ajar. Someone had tried to shove the dismembered limbs back in and slam the door—but several decaying fingers were jammed in the gap, ragged fingernails blackened and broken.

She opened the door, braced for an attack, and saw the zombie’s corpse. The stink hit her with a noisome fist. She swallowed bile.

The zombie had been decapitated, dismembered.

Trembling, Ruth Ann nudged the hand inside with the toe of her shoe. One of the fingernails fell off, plopping to the linoleum: a jagged accusation.

Someone knew her secret. She was poisoning the townsfolk with zombie toxins: a death that left their corpses inanimate, as a corpse rightly should be, not shambling around as this one had. Mr. Carter, the government agent who’d contracted her in exchange for her own survival, had given her another week to “take care” of the small town of Haley. No survivors.

But someone knew.

I don’t want to die.

She’d have to move more quickly.

*

There were so few of them left, Ruth Ann thought as she welcomed her dinner guests. Only a dozen—plus Ruth Ann—out of a population of over three hundred. Some had fled when the virus came. The rest, the stubborn ones who hadn’t wanted to leave their homes…well, they’d died.

Earlier that day Ruth Ann had crisscrossed Haley on foot, spreading the word that she was cooking up a batch of chili and wanted everyone to come along. The walk was harrowing, not because Haley was big but because Ruth Ann kept jumping at shadows. Every time she spoke to someone, she expected they’d thrust an accusatory finger at her and thunder, “WHAT HAVE YOU GOT IN YOUR CLOSET, RUTH ANN?” Her guilt was an invisible shroud that covered her, head to toe.

But no one could see it except her. With each cheerful acceptance of her invitation, her smile felt more brittle.

When she was sure everyone knew about dinner, and that they’d come—desperate for one last chance at community before the Lord took them all, she supposed—she’d returned to Blue’s to prepare the feast.

Ruth Ann’s sister, Penny, had disappeared—she hadn’t been seen since the day before. Ruth Ann was pretty sure she’d run away with her friend Mason, fleeing north toward rumors of sanctuary. She’d seen them whispering together yesterday, had thought about asking them—but had then decided it was for the best if they left.

She hadn’t served the contaminated food to Penny. She’d hoped Mr. Carter would take both of them in at the end, but had been too afraid to ask until her work was done. Until she’d earned the ticket into the uncontaminated compound that he’d promised her.

But Penny running away made things easier.

“It’s not exactly a Sunday roast, is it?” Father David said, smiling to take the sting from his words as Ruth Ann brought a steaming pot of chili to the table. She’d shoved the smaller tables together and covered them with checkered cloths to give the illusion of a big dining table. A wilting sprig of rosemary served as a centerpiece, its scent overwhelmed by the chili; Ruth Ann had gone heavy on the garlic and chili powder to compensate for the lack of fresh onions and jalapenos. And for other things.

“No sir,” Ruth Ann said. “All we’ve got left is mince. And packet food.”

“What I’d give for a plate of fresh roast beef,” Father David sighed, taking the pot from her. Bobby retrieved the ladle and slopped the chili into the Father’s bowl and then his own. “Not meat you need to curry or spice so you can’t taste how old it is.”

Ruth Ann clenched her jaw, nodded.

“On the bright side,” Bobby said, sniffing appreciatively, “Ruth Ann makes a mean chili.” JC, Bobby’s drinking buddy, wasn’t there. He’d succumbed to the fever days earlier. Bobby’s face still showed the traces of the heavy drinking he’d done after the funeral.

“Thanks,” Ruth Ann said, swallowing nerves that tasted like acid. “Would anyone like a drink?”

“What kind?” Wade rasped. The town alcoholic, he’d never pass up free liquor.

“Well, I sure ain’t serving you water. I got some whiskey. On the house.”

Laughter. Money hadn’t been worth spit for almost a month. And Blue’s owners were dead, the bank manager too probably—who would care if she gave away the last of the stock? Ruth Ann went behind the counter and sloshed brown liquid into glass tumblers, hoping no one would notice how her hands shook. Then she carried the trays back to the table. “It’s bottom-shelf whiskey,” she apologised as she handed out the drinks.

“That’ll be just fine,” Wade said, cupping his glass in his hands like it was precious. Ruth Ann used to feel that way about coffee, until the waters were contaminated with corpses. Would they have fresh coffee in the compound?

“May I say Grace?” Father David asked as Ruth Ann sat. She nodded and he bowed his head. “Oh Lord, we thank You for the bounty we are about to receive, here at the end of days. Please have mercy on those of Your flock who are left on this Earth, and let our final passage into Your arms be one of grace. Amen.”

“Amen,” everyone murmured.

“A toast.” Father David held his glass high. “To Haley’s Last Supper. And to Ruth Ann, for providing it.”

Ruth Ann’s fingers tightened on the greasy tumbler. Did he know? But, although their eyes were afraid, the others were laughing. And so was Father David, expression untroubled as he patted Ruth Ann on the hand.

Her guests downed their drinks, some of them coughing as the liquor burned down their throats like napalm. Rick, a sheep farmer who clung to his land despite the lack of livestock, gasped. “You weren’t kiddin’, Ruth Ann. That’s rough as guts.”

She dimpled a smile at him, leaned forward so her cleavage caught his eye, distracting him from the alcohol’s sour aftertaste. “When the supply trucks come through, I promise I’ll get you the sweetest whiskey. And a roast for the Father.”

“Get a doctor out here too,” grumbled Betty, a woman in her eighties who was as weathered—and tough—as old rocks. She slurped at the chili. “If we had a doctor, maybe that damn fever wouldn’t have taken the whole damn town.” Her husband nodded emphatically but didn’t speak, too busy eating.

Father David looked crestfallen at the profanity, but Betty ignored him.

“Sure thing.” Ruth Ann sat back in her chair as the others ate, talking about what other luxuries they’d order from the imaginary supply truck. Fresh bread. Cheese. Peanuts. Chocolate. She nibbled at a dry tortilla chip, pretending to sip her whiskey. None of them noticed she didn’t touch the meat, or the way she carefully wiped her lips after each touch of the glass. None of them noticed the level of whiskey in her glass didn’t change.

The zombie had already been crudely dismembered, and its flesh hung loose on the bone. Still, grinding the meat and drawing enough of the juices to spike the whiskey bottle had taken her all afternoon.

The sickness struck suddenly. Before, when she’d shown restraint in how much of the zombie’s flesh she’d served a customer, it had taken days for the fever to hit. She’d never had to see the consequences of her actions. But now, the cramps were swift and brutal. First one, then another of her guests—her neighbors—clutched their stomachs, eyes widening. Father David stared at Ruth Ann, clutching his belly with clawed hands, a dawning awareness in his eyes.

“Poison?” he gasped. The veins on his throat stood out like snakes.

Of a sort. “Heartburn from the chili, most like.” Ruth Ann jumped up, knocking her chair over. It clattered to the floor. “I have some antacid out back. Be right back.”

She ran to the kitchen and, taking a deep breath, locked the door behind her.

They took a long time to die, screaming and cursing her name. Ruth Ann hid in the kitchen until the agonized sounds ceased, covering her ears to block out their cries. Rocking in a corner of the kitchen where she’d prepared their last meal. The decaying stench of zombie flesh was noticeable despite the air freshener she’d used to try and hide it; it sent rotten tendrils up her nose and made her gag. Tears stained her cheeks, but she ignored them.

I don’t want to die.

Silence finally settled like gravedust. It took her another half hour to muster the courage to walk back out to the diner.

The air stank—not the putrid vegetable smell of her zombie, but of human waste. Shit and piss stained pants and skirts already dirty from lack of washing.

When the diner’s door slammed open, Ruth Ann very nearly voided herself too.

Mason stood in the doorway, framed by the setting sun. His hair was disheveled, his eyes wide. A filthy axe hung from his hand, forgotten as he stared at the corpses. And at Ruth Ann, standing behind the counter.

“You killed them,” Mason said. The light in his wrist glowed orange, like hers. Like the ones in the corpses’ wrists. How long would it be before they went out?

“The sickness—”

“Yeah.” His voice was flat. “Where’d you get the zombie? There ain’t been any around Haley. We were safe.”

“Not for long.” She inched toward the shotgun under the counter. “They were comin’. Where’s Penny?”

“Dead.” His words were a punch to the gut. Ruth Ann gasped. “She got bit.”

Her eyes were drawn to the axe like metal filings to a lodestone. The gore crusted across the blade was fresh. The world swam around her; she clutched the counter with both hands to steady herself. “You killed her?”

“Your zombie killed her,” Mason growled. And he lunged across the room, leaping over Betty’s still twitching corpse. She grabbed for the shotgun as Mason’s haymaker struck her jaw, hard; she flew back into the empty cake rack, knocking her head against it.

When her vision cleared, Mason was standing over her, axe raised, knuckles of the other hand ragged and bleeding. His eyes were mad—not angry, crazed. Small rust-colored specks covered his cheek like blackheads. The shotgun was behind him, out of reach.

“Why?” He narrowed his eyes at her.

“They offered me a way out.” Ruth Ann’s mouth tasted of copper. She ran her tongue across her teeth. Loose. The inside of her lip bled where her teeth had bit into it.

“The government?”

She nodded. The axe that filled her vision trembled, about to fall, to behead her the way it had her zombie. She glanced around, frantic, for some weapon. All she could see were rat droppings.

“For the love of God, Ruth Ann, why?” Mason’s voice broke on the last word.

“They’re buildin’ a firebreak.” Tears stung her eyes. “The zombies don’t travel far, and if there are no people to infect it stops them spreadin’. He said it would save America. What’s left of it, anyway.”

“So you poisoned them with fuckin’ zombie bits?”

“He said they ran out of everything else,” she whispered. “Used it up. All the chemical weapons and poisons. Gone.”

A moan on the other side of the bar, like a ghost rising from the grave. The sound of folks stirring, fingers scrabbling against dirty tiles.

Ruth Ann, behind the counter, couldn’t see what was happening on the other side, but the sight of Mason’s face, bleached pale, told her.

The rotting vegetable stink oozing across the room confirmed it.

“Oh, Christ.”

“I think you fucked up, Ruthey,” Mason said. He snatched up the shotgun in his free hand and darted toward the kitchen. She leapt to her feet, tried to follow—and he slammed the door in her face, locking it.

“Let me in!” she screeched, pounding on the solid timber. “I don’t want to die!”

“Neither did they!” Mason screamed back.

Ruth Ann turned. The people she’d slain were shuffling to their feet, bodies contorting as foaming green liquid spewed from their mouths. Father David was closest to her. He growled, a low, crazed sound, like a rabid dog. His eyes were glassy, and a red LED glittered in his wrist.

She’d given them too much. A quick transformation instead of a slow death.

“I don’t want to die,” Ruth Ann whispered as they closed in around her.


#10. Craving by Louise Gornall

TODAY’S BREW: All of Chynna-Blue’s coffee. THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S ME, JULIE HUTCHINGS, AND I HAVE INVADED THIS BLOG. Actually, I’m house-sitting, more.

And I get to introduce the incredible Louise Gornall, author of IN STONE, the only book about gargoyles that I know of, and the coolest one by a long shotm, even if there were others. Check out Lou’s blog here: http://t.co/6Vbq354gSx and follow her on Twitter @Rock_andor_roll. Now, enjoy your craving….


Craving

by Louise Gornall

I’m going to die a virgin.

Of all the things I should be thinking right now I’m stuck on virgin. Shame pulls my chin to my chest and I focus my attention on a tiny spider, building its web in the corner of the window.
“Divorce is so passé.” Chase chuckles from behind me. His cheek is pressed against mine, and every time he talks a thick patch of stubble scours off a layer of my skin.
“You’re sick,” I tell him and throw my elbow back into his stomach. A voice inside my head shouts hypocrite so loud I wonder how the windows don’t implode. I narrow my eyes as the spider switches course and starts weaving a new section of her web.
Deep breath.
I look back at Mr Wilson. Think respect. Think sadness and sorrow. Think black. Think candles; a boys choir singing Amazing Grace. Think anything but virgin.
Mr Wilson is led motionless in the middle of the road. His wife, of 55 blissful years, is knelt on his chest, slurping up a string of his intestine like she’s chowing down on a bowl of spaghetti. Every Halloween the Wilsons used to drop a can of sugar free soda and a one dollar bill into my plastic pumpkin. At Christmas they’d always send over a box of star-shaped cookies. Such sweet memories. But it’s no good. The only person I feel sorry for right now is me. Maybe if Chase’s arms weren’t wrapped around my waist, and his junk wasn’t poking me in the back… I clear my throat, ignore the sudden inferno engulfing my face. “Maybe we should say something.”
“Something.”
I elbow him again. “You know what I mean, like a prayer or something.”
“A prayer?” He repeats. I look back over my shoulder. His eyes narrow. He’s looking at me like I just spoke in a foreign language. “Anna, we’ve watched a hundred — two hundred people die on the other side of that window in the past few weeks. We haven’t prayed yet. Why would we start now?”
I shrug myself free from his arms and make my way over to the mattress on the floor. My knees buckle and like a sack of stones I collapse on top of it. “I don’t know.”
“What’s bugging you, sis?” He asks. I shudder, get this overwhelming urge to bleach my brain. I’ve told him a thousand times not to call me sis. It’s weird. It makes the crush I have on him take a nosedive into daytime talk show territory.
“I’m not your sister.”
“That’s what’s bugging you? The world is going to shit and you’re upset because we’re not related. Aww.” He curls his bottom lip under.
“Why do you have to turn everything into a joke?” My human self has slipped away and I snap at him like a rabid Jack Russell.
“Oh god, Anna. Please don’t fall to pieces on me now,” he says, planting his face in his hands and kneading his eyes with his fingertips. His shirt rides up at the waist and exposes a slice of skin, half the size of a mailbox slot. I can see the beginning swirls of his tribal tattoo.
His shirt was white, wet because he’d just come back from a run. Now it’s covered in dirt and droplets of his dad’s blood. Before I can check myself I’m trying to melt it away with the power of my mind.
“You’re not falling to pieces on me, right?” He repeats, yanking me back to the here and now. He drags himself over, pulling up clouds of dust with his feet, and flops down next to me on the mattress. He throws his arm around my shoulder and pulls me into his side. Lumps of muscle, coming at me from every angle. He smells like metal. Sharp and metallic. So strong I can taste it on my tongue.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” he says. I shake my head, and he puts on The Voice. Sort of childlike, sort of girlish, all emotionally disturbing. It makes me think of clowns. “Come on Anna-Banana, tell Chase what’s wrong.”
I can’t tell him about my virgin issues, can I? Maybe. How wrong is that I’m less worried about him judging me and more concerned that he won’t offer to help me out?
It’s not like I can fix the zombie apocalypse with purity. If radio reports are to be believed a group of folks a couple of towns over already tried torching a virgin. Nothing changed. It’s not like spending my last days alive, mourning the collapse of civilization is going to make everything better. I’ve already mourned. I cried a river when Chase’s dad went nutso and tried to eat me. I have a split in my heart the size of Brazil from watching Chase fight him off with a nine iron. Nothing changed.
There’s nothing anymore. There’s no emotion, no feeling, no laws, no love — I just watched a wife eat her husband’s heart. The universe is throwing metaphors at me.
“I’ve never gotten’ an F,” I tell him. To my surprise, I’m not referencing sex.
“What?”
“In school, I’ve never gotten’ an F.”
“That’s bad?”
“I said no to dates and movies and parties and life because I wanted to get into a good college and get a great job. I wanted to make stupid money and buy a nice house.” I sigh. “I wanted a pool in my backyard.”
Chase nods, heaves a sigh heavy enough to shake the stone walls of our basement hovel. He knows exactly where I’m going with this.
“I’ve never driven a Ferrari,” he says. “Never got round to seeing Blue Snake in concert, or won the 60oz steak challenge at Bob’s.” He pauses, smiles at a memory. ”Never got chance to track down my mom and attempt one of those of crazy, emotional, rollercoaster reunions.”
He leans across me, an outstretched arm reaches for the box of food supplies at the foot of the mattress. He’s heavy on my lap. I don’t know why but my breath catches. He sits back up a second later, a rusty can in his hand.
“Yum, peaches.” He flicks his eyebrows like he just discovered a can of Caviar. He picks up a stray rock and goes Neanderthal on the can lid, smacking it hard until the metal splits, then starts plumbing for peach slices with his fingertips.
“Are we gonna die?” the question bursts from my lips and explodes in the air like a nuclear bomb. We haven’t yet talked about how this will all end.
“Shit,” he seethes as he snags his skin on the metal teeth he’s made. He drops the can. It hits the floor and barfs its contents all over the dry concrete.
“I’m sorry,” I gush as he sticks a bloody finger in his mouth and starts sucking. He says nothing for what feels like forever.
“Do you?” He asks.
Yes. But then, I’ve never thought any different. When we first shut ourselves down here Chase talked about search missions and rescue parties. He hasn’t mentioned being saved in days. I don’t want to die, but my pragmatic, Plato reading inner nerd, is a glass half empty kind of girl. His eyebrows meet in the middle as my silence stretches. I watch him struggle to swallow something thick and sour.
“I didn’t get into college,” he says.
“What?” He laughs, tucks his hands up behind his head and flops back. He sighs the sort of sigh that you expel when you flake out on a tropical beach. “Are you serious?” I’m shocked because he told us he’d gotten into Harvard. I saw the letter. We even went out for a family dinner to celebrate. He tugs on the back of my shirt. I’m too stunned to fight against it and fall back beside him.
“I can’t believe you lied.”
“I can’t believe I almost pulled it off.”
“What were you gonna do when the semester started up?”

He shrugs. “Hadn’t thought that far ahead. Guess I don’t need to now.” My smile dies, his cocky demure diminishes and misery washes over us, an icy wave; cold, deep, suffocating.
“I’m gonna die a virgin,” I say.
He bursts into a fit of laughter. I don’t care that my insides are curling, I’d take embarrassment over misery any day.
“It’s not funny.”
“It’s hilarious.”
“Shut up.”
He keeps laughing. It’s infectious, and less than a second later I’m howling; holding on to my stomach because it hurts. I’m still going long after he’s stopped. Beside me everything is suddenly still, I wonder briefly if he got up and walked away. But when I turn my head he’s looking at me. Staring at me. I feel like a child and my insides turn to mush.
“I’m not ready to die,” I say. “Chase, I don’t want to die.”
A soft smile blooms on his lips. He lifts a hand, tucks a stray length of hair behind my ear. I think he’s going to kiss me. My stomach squeezes. I hope he’s going to kiss me. I close my eyes, that’s when I hear the sound of shots being fired outside.

#9. The Light by Jolene Haley…

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Today’s Soundtrack – Miss Missing You by Fall Out Boy

Jolene Haley is one of the nicest people I’ve met during my time on Twitter. She truly is. Finding someone who doesn’t like her would be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. And her story is killer – following directly on from its predecessor, #8. Thinking Big by Julie Hutchings. Jolene will light up your Twitter feed – so follow her. If you want to see more, check out her website, which is coming soon. She likes gritty stories, strong female protagonists and things that go bump in the night.

Less of the preamble; on with the show!


The Light

by Jolene Haley

Goodbye Haley.

I never actually thought I’d make it out of the small, crappy little town of Haley. Most residents were born here, raised here, and died here. Haley was the kind of town where kids have one dream: get out of town and actually make something of themselves.

Dreams.

Dreams were, of course, before the outbreak. Dreams were before things were hopeless. Before I had a glowing chip unwillingly implanted into my wrist to sell me out the second I was infected. Dreams were before the citizens of Haley started to drop like flies.

The warm night weighed on my shoulders and the stars glittered in the sky, like always. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that nothing had changed. But the stars lied. Nothing ever remains the same.

I stood alone in the dark, feet planted firmly in the dirt outside of Blue’s Diner, ready to run if anything unexpected were to leap out at me. I’d never experienced a zombie attack nor had I ever actually seen one in person, but you couldn’t be too careful these days.

Come on Mason. Where are you?

My head jerked in the direction of movement; the sound of shoes on dirt. My heartbeat quickened. I gripped the small axe in my hands.

Soon, the silhouette of Mason Hutchings emerged from the darkness, his bright blue eyes in all their glory. He looked like he normally did: blue jeans, black sneakers, and a dark hoodie. His hands gripped the straps of the backpack strung on his shoulders.

When he saw me he tucked a strand of unruly brown hair behind his ear before giving me a quick wave of his hand.

“Are you ready?” he asked, with a grin.

Boy had things changed. I’d met Mason Hutchings in the 7th grade and every day since that I’d spent my time lusting after him. Of course, he’d never known, but I had hoped one day I’d have a chance to tell him how I felt.

Now, I couldn’t find a time that was right. A crush was stupid and irrelevant to survival.

I flashed a confident smile; one that didn’t reveal the thunderstorm raging inside me.

“Ready.”

I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to leave this town yet. Though I’d spent all of my teens talking to anyone who would listen about how I’d get out one day, fleeing my own imminent death was the last way I imagined my escape. I wasn’t ready to leave my family. I didn’t want to leave the familiarity of home, even though now it was covered with dust and overrun with rats.

“You didn’t tell her did you?” Mason stepped closer and placed his hand on my arm.

Ruth Ann was my sister who ran Blue’s Diner, the main source of food in town.

Most of the town recently started getting really ill. Two of the latest to succumb to the fever were Mason’s parents. I saw Mason at his parent’s funeral and we got to talking. We talked about life, the outbreak, and discovered that we both had the same goal: to get out of this town. Alive. So why not do it together?

I moved my arm out of his grip.

“Of course I didn’t tell her.”

But I almost had. One thousand times.

“It’s for the best, Penny,” Mason assured me with a lazy grin. I used to go weak at the knees for that grin.

He led me to the back door of the restaurant. I unclipped the keychain from my jeans and selected the spare key I’d “borrowed” from Ruth Ann a few hours before.

Mason and I had talked about this a few times. The plan was to sneak into Blue’s, grab a few sealed containers of food and alcohol (since all the uncontaminated water no longer existed), and leave this town forever.

I didn’t really like the idea of stealing this stuff. Believe me. If money still mattered and we even had any, lord knows I would’ve walked to the nearest store (had one still been open) and paid for the few items we planned on taking with us when we left.

I wasn’t about to die a victim. If there was a chance we could make it somewhere else, I was going to take it.

The door groaned when it opened, revealing dark empty halls and peeling paint.

Frankly, I didn’t want to be in front or in back of Mason. What I really wanted was to be living two years in the past. Mason must have sensed my unease, because he grabbed my hand as the shutting door enclosed us in complete darkness inside Blue’s.

I reached in my backpack and pulled out a small flashlight, handing it to Mason. He led us to the kitchen and I couldn’t help but wonder how differently this could have ended if it were a movie.

“Aha!” he said as he found the large walk in freezer.

When he opened the door, nausea hit me as the smell of rot hit my nostrils. Mason’s hand shot to his nose, clamping it shut. He slammed the heavy freezer door as quickly as possible, but it was too late. The hallway now smelled of putrid stink.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” Mason said gagging, leaning forward with his hands on his knees.

I didn’t blame him. I’d already swallowed down the bile rising in my throat. To think that I’ve possibly eaten something from inside was too much.

I snaked the flashlight out of his hands and motioned towards a storage room door.

“I’ll check in here.”

The door was heavy as it swung open and —

Holy shit.

A hand reached out from the inside the closet and wrapped around my wrist—hard. In shock, my axe tumbled from my hands.

“Mason! Help!” Shaking my arm I tried to wriggle free but it didn’t help. It only seemed to grip harder on my wrist, pulling me towards its gaping mouth and digging its blackened fingernails into my flesh.

It had a human form but it was no longer human. There was no skin. In place of skin were large red boils seeping clear and green fluids. Its mouth hung open revealing chipped teeth. It managed an eerie shriek from its open mouth that was spilling bloody saliva down its face.

Mason reached me quickly, just as the thing’s jagged teeth clamped down on my wrist. I howled but the screams made no difference. The pain was searing. It wasn’t just biting me, it was grinding its sharp teeth through my flesh.

“Help, Mason! Get it off me!” I managed, in between kicking and punching the thing.

“I’m trying. It’s not fucking letting go!”

Mason rushed over to the axe that  I dropped and came back swinging. I was freed quickly and Mason was already pulling me out the door with our bags slung hastily over his shoulder.

We didn’t stop running until we both couldn’t run anymore, and even then, we ran.

We only slowed our pace when we came to a sign that said, “Welcome to Ackles, Population: 247.”

“Mason,” I started turning to him. “That was—”

“You’re fine.” Mason placed a hand gently on my cheek. “We’re okay.”

I pulled him close and to my surprise he didn’t pull away. I melted into his arms and I was certain that everything would be okay.

I took a deep breath in. Everyone smelled of dirt these days but not Mason. He smelled amazing. He smelled like the forest. Like the air after a rainstorm. Wait, that wasn’t it. Mason smelled amazing like…a steak.

The realization of my thought made me gasp. What did I just think?

We slowly let go of each other and I turned towards the sky that was starting to change colors from the dark night to pinks and purples.

I was just tired. After all, we’d run for miles and miles. Everything was going to be okay.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner.” Mason said softly behind me. “I tried. I want you to know that. You understand.”

I turned around. What the heck was he talking about?

But when I turned back to Mason, my face wasn’t focused on his. It was focused on the axe in his hands that was raised and ready to strike me.

“Mason, what are you doing?” My heart was thundering. I was too young to die. This was ridiculous! I didn’t flee a town just to get killed.

“I saw that zombie bite you, Penny. I saw it. I’m not stupid. It’s just a matter of time.” His eyes were welling up with tears. He kept the axe raised and ready to swing.

“If I was turned, wouldn’t I be after you already?” The axe only lowered for a moment, but he quickly changed his mind and raised it back up again.

The breeze was blowing now, whipping through the hills and carrying a few clouds through the sky.

“Show me your chip, Penny,” Mason commanded.

I didn’t really know how they worked other than red meant you were infected, yellow meant that you were in the process, and green meant that you were okay.

“This is absolutely insane!” I threw up my hands in frustration. I held out my bitten arm to show Mason that he was way out of line.

A faint red light blinked up at me from under my flesh.


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the sizzling Louise Gornall! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is  now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#8. Thinking Big by Julie Hutchings

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Today’s Soundtrack – Highway to Hell by ACDC

Introducing this awesome piece of writer ass is making me feel redundant. Julie Hutchings is so hot on the writing scene she sets off smoke alarms. Her book, Running Home, has just been published, and is available on Amazon. One half of The Undead Duo, Jules is like the tipsy fairy godmother you never had – and if you’re not following her on Twitter, then Jesus, there must be something wrong with you. I hear people actually pay real cash money for tweets from her.

Yeah. It’s like that.

Oh, and you can find her here, too, on one of the best blogs you’ll ever read. (Did I mention she’s awesome?)


Thinking Big

by Julie Hutchings

Thinking small was something the town of Haley did well. Even before the Reds came, there were only three hundred and forty townies, every one of them up in the business of their closest neighbor, who wasn’t even in shooting distance. A small place like Haley made for small people, without much to say or do. There was the Mayor, of course. But we’d all but lost him when the Reds came. He never came out of his big house by the woods anymore, and could be one of them for all we knew. There was Amber Wright, voted Miss Haley six years in a row, even after she became a Mrs. Haley, and had four kids. It didn’t matter to our town, she was still the prettiest girl at the Haley Day Parade. The town of Haley did love a parade, and they loved a familiar face.

So, when The Man walked into Blue’s Diner, it raised some interest.

I’d worked at Blue’s, the only diner in town, for almost twelve years. It was mostly regulars, but the truckers who pulled off the highway to grab a bite always tipped well, as did the supply truck gentlemen that brought us our frozen food. Not to mention, one of those supply truck drivers was just about the handsomest man anyone in Haley had ever laid eyes on. So the ladies from Haley were always trying to take my job, for the tips, and maybe for the chance to hitch a ride with a handsome trucker who could take them somewhere bigger. There was nothing big about Haley, and there was no getting out. That was even more true now that the Reds had taken over anywhere nearby. Now, no truckers came through, and I didn’t have enough to feed them anyhow. The rats had seen to that, coming and eating anything that wasn’t already spoiled or moldy. What was close to edible was rationed out to the town whenever folks had the nerve to leave their houses. It was dark, sad, and we were poor. Nothing was ever new, and nothing was ever interesting anymore.

So when The Man walked in, dressed in some fancy suit, looking healthy and like he was on some vacation, heads went up.

He strolled right up to the counter, staring at me the whole time behind these nice, black sunglasses. He smiled at me. Nobody smiled in Haley, not anymore.

He sat down right in the middle, picked up a menu that hadn’t been touched in months, and said something outrageous.

“I’d like a cup of coffee, please.”

I raised my eyebrows, and smiled at how ballsy he was. “You want  a cup of coffee?”

He grinned, teeth sparkling white. I hadn’t seen teeth that white my whole life. When you lived in a town like Haley, nobody cared about your teeth, or even noticed them, until after you went Red, and they turned black, or fell out, or both.

“Yes, Ruth Ann, I would love one,” he said, looking at my nametag and smiling still. And damnit if he wasn’t a little handsome.  There weren’t no handsome men anymore.

“Coming right up, sugar.” I winked, and rolled my hips a little slower than usual when I walked to the coffee pot. I poured some of the black muck into a mug, and threw it in the microwave. You never knew when you walked in what was going to work better, the coffee machine or the microwave. That day, it was the microwave. Every day I was surprised that we had power at all.

Bobby and JC were sitting in their usual booth, both staring at The Man as the mug clunked down on the counter. Even they hadn’t been brave enough to drink the coffee anymore, and they’d been good for three or four cups a day. The thing with the coffee was, we knew exactly how old it was, knew the water it was made with was full of dead Red, and that the rat droppings were impossible to see in the grounds.

“It’s gotta be black, darlin’, but I bet you knew that,” I said, leaning on the counter enough to let my cleavage do its job. He smirked at me, and took a good, long sip of that coffee.

That’s when I knew that he was scarier than any zombie could be.

He stared at me from behind those black glasses the whole time, and when he put the cup down, he licked his lips with a pink tongue. None of our tongues were that shade of pink now. None of us was that healthy.

“That was delicious, Ruth Ann.”

“He drank it,” Bobby said from the booth. I knew The Man heard, but neither of us looked away from the other. I was scared to.

“You see many visitors this way, Ruth Ann?” he asked.

“Not anymore, just the regulars. You drank the coffee.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Sharp looking man like you must know where that coffee’s been. Ain’t safe to drink, you must know that.”

“Then why do you serve it still?”

I laughed, I couldn’t help myself. “Ain’t nothing safe anymore anyway. And at least I can put it on the table and things could feel like they used to for a while.”

“Well, that’s a lovely sentiment,” he said kindly.

He drank the rest of the coffee without even wincing. Bobby and JC were getting suspicious of him, and for some reason, I wanted them to just shut up and leave The Man alone. I knew they probably wouldn’t, but I wanted them to.

“Would you like another cup, Mr.—“

He took his glasses off and showed me movie star blue eyes that went with his rosy cheeks and suntanned skin. I gasped, I couldn’t help it. We were all so dirty now, even when we were clean.

“Carter. Mr. Carter.”

“You got a first name, Mr. Carter?” I said with my best come hither smile.

“I suspect we all do, Ruth Ann, but mine isn’t important.” He smiled back, and he was right. I didn’t care.

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about the food here, Ruth Ann?”

“All right, I’ve had enough of this,” Bobby said, standing and coming towards us. “You leave Ruth Ann alone.”

“Bobby, we was just talkin’, now leave us alone.”

“Man like this ain’t got no business in Haley.”

The Man stood slowly, straightening his suit jacket. Not a drop of sweat was on him and it was at least ninety degrees in Blue’s. He was half Bobby’s size, but when he looked up at Bobby, he backed away. I’d never seen that happen before.

“Come on, JC, time to go,” Bobby said. JC got up as he was told, the way he always did. He walked around Mr. Carter as far as he could, and when they got to the door, Bobby turned around.

“I’d be getting’ on my way real soon if I were you, mister,” Bobby said.

Mr. Carter smiled at him, showing off those pearly whites again. “How do you know I can’t do you some good here, sir?” he said. But I think we all knew he wasn’t there to do us any good.

The door slammed behind the men, and Mr. Carter turned back to me. I wasn’t afraid to be alone with him, that’s what shotguns were good for.

“Alone at last,” he said. “Let me ask you, Ruth Ann, about the quality of your food here.”

I sat on the one stool without a ripped seat, and tried to size him up, but I had no idea what I was looking at. No idea where he could have come from.

“What do you want to know?”

“it seems to me that this is one of the only places in town still up and running. I imagine you do a fairly good business.”

“Sure, for one that doesn’t need money anymore.”

He sat next to me, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t smell good. Like the cologne samples you used to see in magazines.

He unbuttoned his blazer and took it off, and when he did…. When he did, there it was.

The chip in his wrist. It was red.

I screamed and ran behind the counter for the shotgun, but he didn’t come after me, just sat down again slowly and watched. Well, that made me feel right stupid, and if he’d wanted to eat me before, he could have. So I slowed down.

“How are you red and not dead? You look better than anyone I’ve seen in—well, my whole life, maybe.” I was shaking, and I’d be a terrible shot at this rate.

He shrugged, and grinned. “I work for the government.”

That was even scarier than seeing the red chip in his wrist. I glanced at my own yellow one, and wished he’d never walked into Blue’s.

The Reds may kill whenever they could, but we all knew the government was killing us town by town, all at once. We’d seen the planes flying overhead, and prayed they didn’t poison Haley. Genocide, the Mayor said it was. The best way to contain the outbreak. The government could save us by killing the right people.

I wondered as I looked at Mr. Carter, if I was one of the right people.

“Are you telling me,” I whispered, “that the people of Haley are going to die?”

“Without a doubt, Ruth Ann.” He put his elbows on the counter, showing off that bright red chip. “But you can help make it all easier.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? You want me to—you want me to—“

“Kill people. Yes.”

I got dizzy real fast, and had to put my head down on the counter. I didn’t pick it up when I heard him move, I was too afraid to see what he might do. But I heard the front door screen door slam shut. No car starting up. A few seconds, and it slammed shut again.

“For you,” he said. I sat up, the room spinning slower, and saw an ice cold bottle of spring water on the counter, dripping fresh, clean droplets on the counter.

“Holy mother of Jesus,” I said, still staring, afraid it would disappear if I touched it. “Where did you get that?”

“The government.”

How could they have such good things and let us all suffer this way? Tears stung my eyes as I pictured men in fancy suits, watching  big televisions, eating hot meals. I went home at night to a dark husk of a house, thirsty, wondering how long the rations at Blue’s would last. Nothing to keep me company but the constant worry that a Red was waiting in a closet for me, or that my chip would suddenly glow red.

“You’ve got a big personality, Ruth Ann,” he said, snapping me out of it. “And you could handle a big job.”

I felt like a monster, but I was becoming a monster more every day by living like this.

He kept going. I’d shown I was weakening. “The zombie population will take over this town shortly, they are closing in as we speak.” I sobbed, and he patted my back. “We need to find a new way to confine the contagion, Ruth Ann. You are a bright woman, so I’ll tell you straight. The toxins that the government has been blanketing communities with are not having the desired effect.”

“What are you asking me to do?” I sounded like a robo

He slid the water to me, and I drank.

His voice was softer, as he patted my back, like a regular person would. “We need to find a kinder, gentler method of exterminating the community before the undead move in. We think we have.”

“There really is no way out, is there?” I asked. I knew the answer, he didn’t have to say it.

“It’s a matter of when. And who will be left standing.”

Those last words hung in the air like the stench of rotting food and rat feces.

“What do I get in return?”

“We’ll keep you safe. Fresh food, water. Clean clothing. And when it’s over, you come to our compound.”

“You mean when everyone in Haley is dead?”

“Yes.”

I must have been quiet a long time because Mr. Carter said, “I believe you can do this. Let me tell you how.”

I watched a tumbleweed blow by outside, and rats scuttle behind it. Who knew how many of the rats were Reds themselves? Who knew how many were turning in town right then? Or who was getting a nasty surprise in their shower to attack them? Who knew how long I had, out here in public view, seeing the most of the town once or more a week?

“Show me.”

He brought me outside, something that was always nervewracking as hell these days. His car was as dark and looked as nice as he did. I couldn’t see in the windows, they were too dark.

But then the car rocked.

“What the hell is in there?”

“Don’t be afraid. You’re not in danger.”

He opened the back door, and a Red was stretched across a tarp on the back seat, hogtied and gagged. I could barely focus on it because of the God awful stench of the thing.

“Jesus Christ! You had a Red in the car with you?!”

“I assure you, he is quite secure. And I’ll show you how to make him secure as well. There is a certain drug that makes them more docile. If you can get your hands on them.”

The zombie stared at us with lidless eyes, chest heaving as it wriggled back and forth. I almost threw up, but I managed to stay calm. This was my only chance.

“Why me?”

“Why you? You are in the perfect position to administer the toxin that will exterminate the community.”

“I am? What is it?” I was so confused, I couldn’t piece together what he was saying.

But instead of answering me, Mr. Carter quickly reached in and pulled the zombie out of the car, It’s tattered flannel shirt ripping more as he was handled, the rest of its naked body covered in pus and wounds that seemed to be moving on their own. God knows what was living in there. Mr. Carter pushed the thing forward into Blue’s, straight to the kitchen.

He turned to me after locking the zombie in the broom closet.

“Ruth Ann, I will explain this once, so please listen carefully.” I felt like I was back in the seventh grade. “The people of Haley come here to eat. It is likely the only place in town that can consistently serve semi-edible items due to your stores, small population, and electricity. We will administer the toxin to the townspeople through their food.”

I was no genius, but it was coming together fast. The Red in the closet, tied up, meant to keep. Me, in the perfect position to serve my neighbors food.

“Holy shit.”

“Indeed. Ground flesh from the Red, fingernails, hair, fluids, especially fluids, in every meal you serve. It will act as a slow poison, ultimately attacking the nervous system and resulting in death.”

The kitchen went fuzzy, and spun. I saw a blur of Mr. Carter reaching for me, but I fell backwards and hit the floor just hard enough to actually wake me back up.

“More water.”

He ran to the front to get the bottle of water, and I was dying for it. The door of the broom closet rattled twice, then stopped.

Mr. Carter came back, still looking every bit as put together as he had before he wrestled a zombie into a broom closet. He held the water to my lips, his movie star eyes looking into mine, trying to get me to focus. When that water went down my throat, I didn’t think of anything except getting more of it. I would do anything to make sure I had it.

“Sit down,” I told him.

He sat without question next to me on the floor.

“I have to—cut—pieces off of it?”

“Unless they fall off first. Or you can always use a syringe to extract fluid. I will supply you with those to dope it anyway, to keep it under control.”

“And my neighbors will die?”

“They will. But you will not.”

I looked once more at the red chip in Mr. Carter’s wrist. I looked at his nice pants, nicer than any material I’d ever had. He smelled good. I wanted to smell good. And what the hell had Haley ever done for me except get me good trucker tips?

I drank the last of the water and held out my hand.

“It looks like this small town girl has got herself a big job.”


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the wonderful Jolene Haley! And if you really loved it, don’t forget Julie’s book, ‘Running Home’, has just been published and is available on Amazon! Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.

#7. Red and Dead by Ruth Shedwick…

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Today’s Soundtrack – God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash

We’ve reached the seventh story in our chain, and before I introduce you to the fabulous writer who produced it, allow me to remind you – comment on any of the Zombie Project short stories and be entered into a prize draw to win a copy of Warm Bodies, an eBook copy of Julie Hutchings’ Running Home and possible other prizes to come! If you want to go back to the start and find the first short story in The Zombie Project series, click here.

The writer of this short story is none other than my cousin, Ruth Shedwick – because it runs in the family, don’t you know. Ruth is one of those people you’d never forget, and not just because she owns nine cats. She has a connection to the supernatural that seems inherent within our family, and is one of those writers who’ll make you suck in your breath whilst drawing you into their world. Her most recent work, Trembleath, is a NA Paranormal series following the story of Amelia Scott, a young woman rebuilding her life in southern England. Idyllic coastal life goes array when young girls go missing at night. If you like werewolves, pagan rituals and sexual tension – this is certainly one for you. You can find Ruth and her fear of clowns on Twitter, here, and on her blog, here.

Moving right along, then…


Red and Dead
by Ruth Shedwick

++ I sat idly scratching my forearm before realisation brought me back to the dingy café we occupied. The smell of stale coffee had clung to my tattered clothing and my nails were unusually dirty. There was a time that dirt under the fingernails was one thing I couldn’t stand; now I looked at them and wondered if there would ever be a time when I’d think about such frivolous things. My forearm had turned pink under the constant scratching, but I couldn’t forget why we were there, how we ended up sipping the contents of the ten year old whiskey, nor that we were now considered extinct.
++ “Don’t scratch, you’ll make it worse.” He said looking over his glass at me.
++ The implant was particularly annoying today, ice water usually sorted out the itch, but we hadn’t come across any uncontaminated water source in months and I couldn’t risk the infection. I downed more of the murky liquid and sucked in air to savour the flavour muttering a curse under my breath.
++ “Where you guys heading?” asked the waitress.
++ I looked across the table to my companion and we exchanged the usual bittersweet look. We often found people would try to tag along, but travelling in smaller groups didn’t attract attention. I felt her staring at me, and all pleasantries were beginning to fade from my vocabulary.
++ John put his glass down and turned to the waitress. “North.”
++ She stood for a couple of minutes and I was prepared for the questions, but they didn’t come, thankfully. Placing the coffee pot on our table, she turned and left us alone. I looked down at the black liquid, we both knew it wasn’t worth the risk and, lifting our glasses, we continued drinking the golden nectar.
++ The distant sound of the TV above the counter filled the silence of the café; the only channels available these days were the news bulletins. More riots, more dead, more tests. It was an endless cycle. I knew all that GM crop bollocks and animal testing would come to bite us in the arse one day. Only I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime. Shit just happens.
++ They had bagged and tagged us over the course of four months. Bagged the infected, tagged the rest of us. We were now walking time bombs, but at least we had a warning. Dr Zimmerman had been hailed the saviour to humanity – finding the hormone imbalance that reacted to the infection. Those of us lucky enough to get through rigorous testing were tagged with a small chip, if it stayed green you were fine, but if it turned yellow – orange – and eventually red, you were pretty much walking dead. I looked at the faint green underneath the skin in my forearm just visible through the redness.
++ “Fucking hate this shit.” I muttered.
++ “Better than being a Red. Better than being dead.”
++ Reds. That’s what John referred to the infected. I found myself looking at everyone we came into contact with, if its red you’re dead, or pray to be dead. The waitress turned up the volume on the TV set drawing my attention away from my arm.
++ The presenter announced another village had been taken, the images were the usual daily standard playing on these channels – helicopters dropping shite down on the town, people screaming, black clouds billowing into the air. If you survived the infection, you’d hope to god you didn’t survive the crap they were releasing. There were rumours of genocide, the government had taken a hit for the biggest mistake known to man and they were cleaning up their mess without remorse. No one could have thought something that started out as an innocent cure for cancer had mutated into something nightmares were made of. The government named it Rezerection; we called it death.
++ I sighed into my hands.
++ “We’ll set off, get some miles behind us.”
++ “Formby isn’t that far away from here, we’ll be getting the tail end if the coastal winds move this way.”
++ He pulled my hand towards his. “Jennie, don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”
++ John was the worst liar I had ever met, but he meant well. He stood and gulped the rest of the whiskey and left some change on the table. I downed the remainder of my drink and headed to the toilets listening to the roar of the motorbike as he revved ready for departure. I sat on the cold porcelain reading the graffiti in the stall. It reminded me of a time of innocence, and also reminded me that the people who had written those words were probably now dead. Noises from the next stall made me kick myself for not using the one nearest the exit. Always look for your exit, that’s what John said. Never get yourself backed into a corner. I quickly wiped myself, opened the stall door and hurried out of the café. John was sat on the bike tapping his wrist; he was always making a joke about how long it took me to get ready. I smiled and jumped on the back, wrapping my arms around his waist. He turned and kissed me on the lips.
++ “Mmm. Bourbon, just how I like my women to taste.”
++ “You’re an odd man John Harper, but you’re my odd man.”

*

++ The motorway had become treacherous to travel these days; everyone knew it attracted The Reds. The backwater drives were idyllic, but they took a lot longer. We drove for three hours until we hit the Lakes and I felt my stomach wobble as childhood memories of camping lurked at the back of my mind, but the memories were all too distant for my liking, maybe when we got as far North as we could, John and I could start making our own memories. Or was I just a romantic fool. We parked outside a small cottage with B&B sign hanging outside and he killed the engine. He pointed to the side door and nodded, I slowly got off the bike and walked to the rear of the cottage. No sign of life. It was hard to tell whether that was a good or a bad thing these days. John knocked on the front door and I heard the door creak as it opened. Walking around the rear of the garden, I saw a children’s slide, chicken coop, water barrel and dog bowl on the lawn. The rear door opened and John walked towards me.
++ “Empty. Looks like they had a couple of kids from the photos on the mantel.”
++ “And a dog.” I said looking at metal bowl with green algae forming along the bottom.
++ “Have a look inside the chicken coup I’ll go raid the cupboards, see if we can eat today.”
++ We hadn’t eaten anything substantial in days, apart from a few pieces of beef jerky we found stuffed in the glove compartment of an abandoned vehicle. We had siphoned the petrol and took what we could carry on the bike. I looked at the rotting wooden coup and found myself tensing. The infected humans were bad, but infected animals were just bonkers. A couple of weeks back we had come across a herd of infected cows, and if you thought being chased by cows was scary, they are nothing compared to zombie cows. That day will haunt me to my dying day. I looked down at my arm. The redness had subsided and I saw the faint glow of green. Not Red, not dead yet. I cautiously approached the coup and lifted the lid, and breathed a sigh of relief to find it empty. Stepping backwards I accidentally kicked the dog bowl, the metal sound stopping me in my tracks. Sounds attracted The Reds. I listened. Nothing. And so continued to the back door where I could see John preparing food in the kitchen, when I heard a low growl from behind me. I stopped, my leg mid strike, ears pinned back and broke out in goosebumps all over my body. John was unaware of my predicament and the moment I spoke or moved I knew I was dead. I prayed he would look up, wonder what was taking me so long. Another growl sounded and I stopped breathing. Scanning my eyes left I saw a black dog crouching at the side of the house its dead eyes trained on me and rotten teeth barred. Green puss was oozing from its nostrils and covered the snout; its yellowing canines were long and sharp, white froth covered its tongue and lower lip dropping like gloopy wallpaper paste onto the floor. Its rib cage and backbone were pronounced, a far cry from its former self. The dog lowered its head, putrid eyeballs rolled back into their sockets; he was ready for attack. It was then that I felt completely powerless. John looked out the window and frowned, he followed my eyes and then quietly walked to the back door. I was two feet away, too far to leap unaided. He motioned to me and mouthed 1 – 2 – 3. On three, I launched myself at him and the dog lurched forward at the same time, now occupying the spot I had been seconds earlier. John had me in his arms and kicked the door shut. The dog threw itself at the back door, scraping and gouging at the wood.
++ “He’s attracting too much attention.” John said searching the house for a weapon. He came from the pantry holding a rake and walked to the front of the house. “Keep it occupied.”
++ I yelled something incomprehensible that even I didn’t understand or care to. If something happened to John I’d be on my own and that wasn’t something I was prepared for. The dog continued to scratch with a ferocity I had never seen before, making the door shake in its frame. I held the door to prevent the frame coming loose when the dog suddenly stopped. Looking out of the window John was stood above the dog, the rake embedded in its stomach, legs twitching and head shaking. Black blood spilled over its stomach and onto the grass like an erupting volcano of thick treacle. He picked up the spade by the water barrel and cut off its head. The animal lay still. I felt relief, relief that our arrival could now be covert, and relief that the poor animal was out of its misery.
*
++ We sat down to watch TV, tucking into our sandwiches and red wine. Flicking between limited channels we found old re-runs of Abbott and Costello, the scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen a constant reminder of the news bulletins informing us of the world going on outside. I remember seeing the words flit across the screen, something about a high school in Montana, many casualties; we curled up together and rested in each other’s embrace. It felt good to be close again; we rarely got the opportunity to rest, let alone in a warm house. I traced the scar along his chest with my finger, and watched the translucent skin bounce back into place. I remembered the first time we met, over six months ago at a supermarket raid in Manchester. He was quietly stacking up on meats and booze while the other looters were taking electrical goods. Smart boy. But he always had been. Before the infection epidemic spread he was a lawyer, when the call came he did the noble thing and joined the army, he never really talks about it, but when his barracks were hit, John said he could never go back. He would talk about conspiracies and friendly fire so I have my own theory of what went down.
++ “Tell me a story.” I said rolling my head onto his chest.
++ “About?”
++ I shrugged my shoulders as best I could under his tight grip. “I don’t know. Didn’t you say your unit had been involved in some stuff at Hutchings Res?”
He let out a slow release of breath that parted my hair, as I looked up he had closed his eyes and his lips were tight.
++ “I’m sorry, you don’t have to if you don’t want. Its just that I want to know more about John.”
++ “That wasn’t me, it wasn’t my life, or the life I wanted.”
++ “We’re all in the same boat. Do you think I wanted to be travelling the country on a motorbike with a hot guy?”
++ He looked down at my smile and he gave a short laugh. “The least you know the better.”
++ “I beg to differ, you’re the one who has seen most up front and personal with The Reds, forewarned is forearmed, be prepared and all that shit.”
++ “Stop quoting me.”
++ “You always do that when you deflect.”
++ “Seriously, we’re getting into a fight over this?”
++ I came up on my elbow. “Oh sweet John. If you think this is a fight, you’ve been missing out.”
++ He grabbed my waist and pulled me on top of him, resting his hands on my hips. The dangerous look he gave me was all the invitation I needed.
*
++ Exhausted we lay together catching our breath when I heard a faint banging noise. We looked at one another and then upwards. The noise came again. I pulled myself off him and fastened my jeans, reaching for the cricket bat by the stairwell.
++ “Thought you said it was empty.” I whispered.
++ He stood beside me at the bottom of the stairs looking upwards into the darkness. “It was.”
++ Scraping noises sounded above us and we had to choose fight or flight. I would rather have done the latter, but we could stand to have a roof for a couple of days before hitting the road again. We took the stairs one at a time, slowly and steady to avoid making a noise, and reached the landing to four closed doors. It was like one of those lame game shows – in my mind I could hear the game show host ask the contestant ‘what’s behind door number one’. I looked to John who had his serious expression. I stood back to allow John to do his thing, my grip tightening on the cricket bat, his hand hovered over the door handle when the noise sounded again, but it was coming from above. We looked up to the attic door, the string handle gently swaying. His expression became hardened and his brow knitted together. My heart was now banging so hard in my chest I thought it was going to burst through like a bad Ridley Scott movie. He reached up towards the handle and I found myself grabbing his arm.
++ “What if there’s a Red up there?” I whispered.
++ He looked down at me and squeezed my shoulders. “We have to know this place hasn’t been compromised.”
++ Compromised, I repeated in my head. He would slip into army mode in seconds and when John got serious, I couldn’t ignore his instincts. He kissed me hard on the lips, I dropped the bat and held him tight never wanting him to let me go, but when he pulled away and gave me his sad look I knew this could be goodbye. He stepped back and gently pulled the cord to the loft access. As the hutch gave way, dust rained down towards us like confetti, I quickly closed my eyes and bent down picking up the cricket bat, trying hard to stifle a sneeze from the dust that made it to my nostrils. Rubbing dust from my eyelashes, I saw John tease out the ladders and bring them towards the floor. We stared up at the darkened hole above us and waited, the faint noise of air rushing through roof tiles whistled around the opening. John started to climb the steps and my heart started to pound again, when his head was level with the ceiling he scanned 180 into the attic, I anticipated an attack but it didn’t come. John gingerly lifted his foot onto the next step and paused, I’m pretty certain I hadn’t breathed in hours when my lungs started to burn. He turned towards me and shrugged and I smiled, that’s when the attack came… from behind me.
++ My head connected with the steps and I felt my brain move from one end of my skull to the other. I closed my eyes as I hit the floor; the ringing noise of blood in my ears deafened me I thought my head would explode. Muffled voices were all around me, and someone was screaming. I felt the floorboards underneath me moving and the banging of feet on wooden floor reverberated around my skull. Lifting my hand to my head I felt the wetness upon my brow, I quickly brought my hand within eyesight and stared at my crimson coloured fingers. Someone grabbed my leg and pulled me away from the ladders. I quickly grabbed the cricket bat as I was pulled along the floor, my shirt caught on a nail and ripped, and as the nail connected with my skin it pulled flesh from my side. I screamed and thrashed the bat as best I could. The pain in my ankle was numbing I hoped I still had a foot, and then it stopped. I felt cold underneath and the door banged behind me. As I looked up, John was bolting the door and switched on the light, and we were now in the bathroom. John pushed his weight against the door, as its shook from the bombardment on the other side.
++ “You hurt?” he shouted.
++ I began to stand, the blood rushing to my head making me nauseous, before I knew it I was being sick in the bathtub. I bent over and that’s when the skin on my back tightened. I screamed in agony and held my side, my tattered shirt wet from blood. The banging continued.
++ “Are you hurt?” he shouted again.
++ Twisting my torso, I looked down at the puckered flesh and fatty tissue peeking through darkened blood. Fuck. I put pressure on the wound as blood seeped through my fingers. He threw me a towel and I wrapped it as best I could. Catching my reflection in the mirror, I saw the lump and trickle of blood on my forehead. Picking up another towel I dabbed my injury, every touch felt like knives pushing into my brain.
++ “Have a look in the cabinet see if they have any antiseptic, anything to stop the bleeding,” he said between gritted teeth.
++ His feet slid as the banging increased, I had to act quickly if we were to have any chance of getting out alive. Opening the cabinet I found tablets, lotions, cosmetics, sanitary pads and condoms. I bent down to the storage underneath the sink… bleach, toilet roll, soap, and rubbing alcohol. I picked up the bottle and poured it into the wound yelling from the searing pain. As quickly as it came it went, the smell of antiseptic clinging to my skin and in the air, that’s when I realised the banging had stopped. I turned to John, his brow wetted and worried expression concerned me. I had never seen him like that.
++ “Come here.” He said in a croaky voice.
++ Walking towards him he held out his hand and stroked my face. “If anything had happened to you…”
++ He left it unfinished and I was grateful. Kissing my forehead gently over the lump now forming John whispered something I thought I would never hear again.
++ “I love you.”
++ My gut tightened. It was the first time he had ever said those words. If I’d known it had taken a life or death situation to have him utter those words I would have done it sooner. I smiled and kissed his lips, salty from sweat. He held my hand and turned it over looking at my implant, following his gaze I looked down. Green. He smiled and exhaled. As I pulled at his sleeve, he stopped me.
++ “Don’t.” He whispered.
++ I frowned. “Don’t be silly.”
++ Tugging at his sleeve he grabbed my arm in a firm grip and shook his head.
++ “Go.” He said between gritted teeth.
++ “John, I’m not leaving you.”
++ The banging started again on the door, John pushed all his weight behind it to stop them getting in. The screams from the other side pierced my ears making my teeth itch. He pushed me away and I slapped him across the cheek as hard as I could. The pain in my side shot through my body and I growled. John looked at me.
++ “I’m dead Jennie.”
++ The words had no meaning; and I didn’t want to believe them. As all logic flowed from my senses I started to believe that if he were infected, we would figure it out, find a cure. I just couldn’t believe he was Red, if he was we were both dead.
++ “Get as far away from here as you can.” Putting the bike keys in my hand he closed his over mine. “Find an army camp, tell them you were with Lieutenant Harper tactical unit Titan. Here.” He pulled out his dog tags and put them over my head.
++ “You’re coming with me John. I won’t hear another word.”
++ “Please.” He closed his eyes and sighed letting his forehead connect with mine. “Do this one thing for me, for us.”
++ I stepped back. The door was starting to splinter from the barrage of assault. He screamed at me to leave one more time and I turned to the window above the bath. Stepping on the edge of the tub I lifted the latch and climbed onto the window ledge. The banging and screaming became louder, I heard John curse as he fell to the floor with a thud. Turning I saw the door open as he tried to push it back. Bloodied arms forced their way through clawing at the air. I saw him grimace under the pressure as he held out his arm across the door, and that’s when I saw it. His implant was green.
++ I cursed screaming his name, furious at his betrayal and yet elated that he wasn’t infected. His selflessness was his weakness. I knew that, he knew that, always had to be the fucking hero. I had minutes to think fast as a panel on the door exploded, wood splinters showered down on John. Jumping from the sill I wrapped by hand in a towel and smashed the mirror, shards of glass fell into the sink. I picked up the largest piece and ran at the door. I put all I had into stabbing anything that presented itself to me; arms, torsos, necks, heads, eyes. It was a bloodied mess of mucus and putrefied flesh. The stench alone made me heave; I tried breathing through my mouth to avoid throwing up again. John found his footing and picked up a shard of wood and embedded it into the skull of one of them, it screamed and fell backwards, but another quickly occupied its place.
++ “I told you to leave.” He shouted.
++ Between thrusts I managed to answer him. “I’m… Not… Leaving… You.”
++ I looked to the opened window. “Make a run for it, I’ll keep ‘em occupied.”
++ “You go first.” He elbowed one in the face; its nose exploded leaving a concave hole of black and yellow goo.
++ “I’m not getting into the whole ladies before gentlemen shit. You’re bulkier, and take time getting out of the window.”
++ He gouged one in the arm, which fell to the floor between us. “Charming.”
++ “Go, now. This door isn’t going to hold much longer.”
++ John gave one last blow towards the infected, jumped on the rim of the bath and onto the windowsill in one graceful move. I heard a thud from outside and then he was on the other side beckoning me to join him. We were lucky there was a single storey extension to aid our landing from the first floor.
++ I dropped the piece of glass and ran towards him. The door splintered and four of The Reds fell into the room. Two clambered over the bodies writhing on the floor and stumbled towards me. I lost my footing on the tub and banged my knee on the taps yelling from the pain and cursing my clumsiness. John grabbed my arms and pulled me through, the wound on my side opened and stung like a bitch, but I had to ignore the pain and we had to get out. He yanked me out of the window and we fell backwards onto the roof, they were fighting with one another trying to climb out of the window. The government led us to believe they had no thought or consciousness, it had me doubting what truths we were actually being told.
++ John helped me upright and we held each other’s hand standing on the edge of the roof. There was no counting to three, no time to prepare for the drop, they were now making their way out of the window behind us. Drop and roll, that’s what they tell you, lessens the impact, but it didn’t help my knee that was still aching from being smashed against the taps. John was running beside me and we managed to get to the bike, I pulled out the keys from my pocket and John caught them. He revved the bike and we floored it.

*

++ I held on tight to John as we rode through the night. Images of those we left behind embedded behind my eyelids, and the smell, god the smell; it was like it attached itself to you. I prayed we found somewhere we could take a shower and finally get the stench out of my hair.
++ Lights up ahead blinded me; we hadn’t come across a military roadblock in months. This meant we were heading in the right direction, having John with me meant they would look favourably upon us. I hoped. He slowed the bike and I sat back running my hands through my hair, the skin on my right palm tightened and I looked down to an opened wound which I didn’t recall. My eyes then wandered down to my forearm and the unmistakable faint glow of yellow under my skin.


If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by none other than the infamous Julie Hutchings! Not only that, but her book, ‘Running Home’, has just been published and is available on Amazon! Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.