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.
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.
“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.