Journal of the Living is a reader-directed web novel. After some entries in Ben Smith’s journal, readers can vote on his next decision, directly affecting the storyline. This is the entire story so far.
JOURNAL OF THE LIVING
Ignore the blood on my face. It’s not infected. It’s mine. I cut my forehead a couple of days back raiding an Asda superstore in the territory of The Pure Bloods. On a whim I grabbed this laptop from the electrical aisle. I thought I’d like to write a journal about my life when I had some free time between hunts and raids. This blog might be the only record of what happened to me. I’m going to fill these blogs with things I consider important, so other people, like you, can know what it was really like living in Britain after Day One of The Zombie Apocalypse.
It’s no picnic, believe me.
Dear Reader, my name’s Ben Smith. I’m a survivor of the zombie plague, living in England ten months after civilisation collapsed. I’m alive for now – but I’ll probably undead by the time you read these words.
At the time of writing this first entry, I’m hiding out in an old farmhouse a few miles north of Watford, watching a gang of Pure Bloods hunting for me and my friends. They want back the food supplies we grabbed in the Asda raid. They’re coming my way now – so I’d better stop writing. I’ll write some more when it’s safe.
Bye for now.
The Pure Bloods have gone now. It’s safe for me to write some more – telling you some things that you should know.
I’m a member of a small group of survivors. There are currently six of us – me, Sadie, Neil, Angela, Jason and Hayley. We don’t have a permanent base because it’s risky to stay in one place too long – but we do live together in a camp. It’s currently hidden in a clearing deep in the woods miles from anywhere important. Our base consists of a camper van, some tents and lots of razor wire fencing. Sadie and Neil guard the camp while the rest of us scout out sources of food and essential supplies.
I’m the leader of the hunting party just because I’m the oldest. I wasn’t anything special before Day One like a ninja or SAS captain. I was just an ordinary guy with a boring job in the City. I sat at a desk all day staring at figures while writing witty emails and tweets. Nothing I ever did meant anything. I made a load of money for myself and spent it on expensive toys like fast cars and fast women – but I didn’t want to have real responsibilities, like getting married and having kids. Those were things you did after you were too old for clubbing and drinking all night. I didn’t want to settle down. Not me. I was Mr Party. You wouldn’t have liked me if you had met me a year ago. I was a thirty-five-year-old jerk acting like a hormonal teenager. I was forced into growing up by necessity. All the things I did back then were selfish and stupid – but now I have responsibilities.
I have to keep my family alive.
Robbing the Pure Bloods of their supplies was a pretty dumb move. They don’t exactly forgive and forget – but since we’re already on their hit list for just being untested I had to do it. We needed food and medicines from that Asda superstore because we were running out. Now we have enough food to last another month in the back our van. We’ll feast tonight – providing we get back to the camp.
I hid our van behind a disgustingly filthy cow shed that I knew the Pure Bloods wouldn’t go near because of the smell of the dead animals, which must have been ripped apart by zombies a few months ago. The rotten carcasses are covered with flies. I would have been sick smelling the composing flesh if I had not become used to smelling bad things – but it barely registers now.
“Are we leaving now?” Hayley asked me a few minutes ago. She looked desperate to go back to the camp. Her big blue eyes stared at me from behind a fringe of long blonde hair that had blown in her face as the wind changed direction, making a whistling noise through the broken windows of the house.
“Not yet,” I told her. “The Pure Bloods might still be nearby. We’d better wait a bit longer.”
“They’ll want to go home before it’s dark,” I said. “So we will have to wait another hour.”
“I hate this place,” she said. “It’s creepy.”
The farmhouse was creepy – but it was also deserted. The elderly residents had died upstairs by committing suicide in a bedroom with a shotgun. I’d found their skeletons lying on the bed next to the weapon. It had been empty – but I’d found some shells in a cupboard under the stairs. It had been a good day because of that. A shotgun was a great weapon against the living and the dead. It was better than the crossbow that I carried, except for its limited ammo supply.
After I had told Hayley she would have to wait here for a bit longer, she pouted and stomped off, acting exactly like a normal ten-year-old girl. She left the house through the kitchen and joined her teenage brother Jason, who was crouched low behind a stone wall watching the road through his binoculars. He was wearing a camouflage jacket and dark jeans, practically invisible. Hayley sat down beside him and tore open a Snickers bar, stuffing it into her mouth hungrily. It was the first chocolate bar she had eaten in several weeks. I couldn’t blame her to wanting to gorge on it.
“She’s right about this place,” Angela said, coming up behind me as I cleaned the dusty shotgun on the kitchen table. “It is creepy. I can feel the ghosts of those people disapproving of the way we’ve treated their house.”
We had ransacked the house for anything useful. “We had to do it, Angela. It’s better we have their stuff than the Pure Bloods.”
Angela sighed. I had not known her long – but I could see she was nervous. It wasn’t the fear of ghosts, though. “I don’t think we should wait, Ben. They didn’t find us because they didn’t look very hard. But another group could come back. We need to get back before it’s dark. You know what happened the last time we tried to drive at night.”
Zombies were not like vampires. They didn’t come out at night. But they did get drawn to movement and sound. A whole herd of zombies had been drawn to the headlights of our van the last time we had been driving after dark. We’d had to smash into them to break through. It had been terrifying. I’d never turn on the headlights again – but driving in the darkness without them would be just as dangerous.
I honestly don’t know what to do. It’s not like there’s a manual for this situation.
Should we leave now or later?
If there’s anyone out there, I’d love to know what you think we should do!
READERS VOTED FOR BEN TO LEAVE IMMEDIATELY
Entry 3: The Killing Floor
Okay. I did what you suggested. We left the farmhouse straight away. This is what happened after that.
We headed south-east towards London, which was the last direction the Pure Bloods would think we’d go. You had to be a little bit crazy to drive into zombie-infested areas, ignoring the warning signs left behind by the government, but we could not get back across the M25 border near Watford with the Pure Bloods hunting us.
There was a radioactive zone ahead. At the moment the Geiger counter stuck on the dash was registering an almost normal background level – but we were heading into a radiation hot spot. Great. Zombies and radiation. What a combo.
Anyone sensible would have done an immediate U-turn because Greater London was by far the most dangerous place in Britain – but if we wanted to slip past the Pure Blood patrols we would have to continue.
That radiation sign reminded me of what had happened at the beginning of the crisis, when nobody had even heard of the necrovitalis virus. Nobody mentioned the z-word at the beginning. The outbreak was treated as a mysterious disease that started in America.
I was at my trading desk when I first heard about something happening. A New York trader – a buddy of mine – phoned me.
“Yo, Benny-boy,” he said. “It’s Chuck. Get this. I just seen some weird things on the subway. It all started with this homeless guy biting an old lady’s fingers off.”
“What?” I said. “He bit her fingers off?
“Yeah. He chomped her fingers off like he was snacking on hot dogs – then he wouldn’t even let go of the stump. She was screaming her head off – but nobody wanted to get near the guy. There was something seriously wrong with him, man. It was like he was totally nuts. He kept chewing on her hand until her blood sprayed all over. Some cops tackled the guy at the next station – but he bit them too. I got out of the train and saw the lady he’d attack collapse with a heart attack. Next thing I know, a paramedic arrived and started pumping her chest. He saved her life – but then she starts going mental, attacking the man trying to help her. She grabbed his head and bit off his nose, tearing it to shreds. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen, man.”
“Chuck,” I said, not believing a word of his story. “You sure this wasn’t a dream?”
“It was real, Ben. I’m deadly serious. I got out of that station fast, man. I saw dozens of people were going crazy. They were biting other people and eating chunks of flesh. Then the ones bitten started biting other people. It was like instant rabies, man. I’ve never seen anything like it. Half the people on the platform were infected with whatever it was, attacking the rest of us. I was real lucky to get out of there. It’s all over the news if you don’t believe me. They’re calling the Subway Madness. Look – I got to go.”
“Thanks for telling me,” I said, thinking that I would have to do some trades in pharmaceutical companies. A new disease meant big bucks for the industry. The cold, hard, cynical trader in me didn’t care about what was going on in New York as long as it didn’t harm my trades. I put CNN and Fox News on my screen to check out what was happening over there. The American networks were reporting an outbreak of a rabies-like disease, origin unknown. The weird thing was it wasn’t only happening in New York. There were outbreak in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. All big cities, all suffering an outbreak of a new disease simultaneously? Only one thing could explain that. A biological or chemical attack. I turned to my colleague Harvey, sitting at the next desk on the trading floor.
“Looks like we got a major terrorist incident in America, Harv. A biological or chemical attack in several big cities. Get your money out of the US now.”
Watching the news showed the chaos in America.
Even then I was only thinking about the damage to the international markets. Terrorism meant new opportunities for investing – with the governments of the world increasing taxes to spend buckets of cash for military contracts to get those responsible. I needed to shift some money around before the markets reacted. For a few minutes, I had an advantage. My hands danced over my keyboard, making money for my company. In an hour I had made a killing thanks to my buddy in America. I called him back to thank him – but I only got through to his voice mail.
“Ben!” someone called out. It was Harvey. He was looking down the hall towards the elevators, where someone had just got out covered in blood. It was a dark-haired girl from the legal department called Mandy Something. She was staggering as blood poured down her right arm. She was begging for help. A group of concerned people rushed over, asking her if she was all right.
“No,” she said. “I’ve just been attacked. I was about to leave for my lunch when this businessman ran into the building. He was snarling and biting people. I bit me as I tried to get away. It was mental. There were other crazy people outside, banging on the windows, trying to get in. I ran to the elevator to escape. I saw one of the security guards get his throat ripped open as the doors were closing.” She sobbed and showed everyone the nastiness of her wound. “Ow! It really hurts. My arm feels like it’s on fire.”
There was a ring of teeth marks in her flesh. The skin around it was pale and slightly bluish. Blood was running down her arm, dripping on the carpet. Some people helped her to a seat. A woman with first-aid training opened a medical kit and applied some antiseptic and a bandage. Mandy’s condition was deteriorating rapidly – too rapidly for it to be blood loss. Her skin was turning grey and mottled as she breathing became shallow and raspy.
Everyone had turned their attention on Mandy – forgetting about the elevator, which opened again. There was a security guard inside it covered with blood. He staggered out and fell down. His uniform looked like it had been caught in a shredder. His face, neck, arms and legs were savagely wounded. He was holding onto his own stomach, keeping his entrails inside his chest. “They’re attacking like maniacs. Don’t let them come up here. Stop the elevator.”
The elevator doors were shutting. I jammed my foot in the way. The doors stayed open. Harvey saw what I was trying to do. He brought a desk across to the block the doors from closing when I removed my foot. I turned around to ask the guard some questions – but he had stopped breathing. His eyes were open and he as definitely dead because his entrails had spilled out onto the floor in a steaming mass. Remembering what my buddy Chuck had said about the paramedic, I didn’t rush forward to do some heroic CPR, like stuffing the man’s insides back in. It was just as well that I hesitated. Within seconds of dying, the security guard suddenly sat up, opening his mouth very wide, emitting a moan that I felt in my bones. He glared at me and crawled towards me, gnashing his teeth, leaving his entrails behind. There was no humanity in his eyes any longer. They were dead. I knew what he was – but the word “zombie” seemed so ludicrous, so B-movie that my mind rejected it. I would have stood there until he reached me if Harvey had not smashed down a swivel chair on his head. Harvey hit the security guard over and over until his head resembled a large squashed tomato.
“That guy was a zombie,” he said.
I nodded. “Yeah. He was.”
We both looked at Mandy, knowing she would be next to turn. We had no choice but to lock her into an office, quarantined from the rest of us. She lasted forty minutes before passing away. A minute later her pale dead face pressed against the glass wall. Then she began to moan.
There were twenty-two living people on the trading floor that day. We all knew it was safer to stay on the thirty-fourth floor than risk leaving. We barricaded the exits and waited there, expecting a rescue that never came. We were fortunate to have full water coolers and vending machines to use while we waited. We watched what was going on in London through the windows and on our computers until the power failed two days later. Then we used our phones to keep track of what was happening on the outside. Though it was obvious to us that the infected were zombies, the z-word wasn’t mentioned by the authorities until three days later. By then the capital was overrun with millions of the undead.
For a while the PM stayed in Downing Street, protected by the police and the army, giving reassuring interviews to the BBC and Sky News about dealing with the problem soon. He convinced a lot of people to stay in their homes, barricaded in, waiting for the army to rescue them from the zombies taking over the streets. He promised effective action in a few days – but he was lying. On the eighth day the PM fled Downing Street in a black helicopter, leaving behind thousands of Whitehall staff to fend for themselves.
In a last desperate attempt at stopping the zombie plague spreading, the prime minister decided his government would drop a nuke on London. Being a gentleman from Eton, he issued a warning, telling everyone in London to get out before the detonation in twelve hours.
Our safe haven was about to turn into a radioactive wasteland – so we all had to leave the building. We armed ourselves as well as we could with weapons made of the office furniture – then we descended down the emergency stairs floor by floor. I grabbed a fire axe on the way. We encountered no zombies until we were on the eleventh floor – but then they appeared below us. Hundreds of undead employees. We had to fight our way down to the underground parking structure floor by floor. Of the twenty-two people in my office, I was the only a handful of people to make it down to the underground parking lot alive and uninjured. My red Porsche was still in my private parking space when I got in it with a couple of other weary survivors. We drove it out onto the streets of London, which were eerily quiet. Harvey was in his blue Jaguar right behind me. Another two vehicles were behind us. There were zombies everywhere. We ploughed through crowds of them until we were out of the city heading north. We didn’t slow down until we reached an army check point. The soldiers detained two people with bite wounds. I heard gunshots and knew they had been summarily executed. Harvey was one of them. The rest of us were released and told to keep driving north, joining a mass exodus up the M1.
Exactly twelve hours after the PM made his announcement, a nuclear bomb exploded over the Square Mile. It turned the city into a radioactive wasteland, contaminating most of the south of England with fallout. The bomb destroyed millions of zombies and thousands of innocent people trapped in the capital – but it proved ineffective against the plague. The zombies were like cockroaches. The ones that didn’t die in the nuclear furnace survived and moved out of the city in search of new food sources. Instead of slowing the plague, the government made the zombies hungrier and more dangerous, scattering them into a wider zone.
I had been lucky enough to get out of London before the nuke exploded – but I was stuck in a traffic jam on the M1 when the mushroom cloud rose into the sky.
A few days later the prime minister was shot by one of his own bodyguards. Then the country descended into total anarchy.
Now – Again
I ignored the warning sign and drove on. The Geiger counter stuck on the dash started to click faster after a couple of miles, making everyone nervous because the radiation around London was just as lethal as the zombies, probably more so because you could not see it. The radiation was still not at a dangerous level when I saw a crowd of zombies on the road ahead – several hundred of them walking and crawling over abandoned vehicles. They looked like an army of homeless people.
Our grey van was almost impervious to the undead because we had modified it, turning it into an armoured killing-machine, but I was reluctant to drive on. You didn’t look for trouble.
“What do you think?” I asked the others. “Drive through them or turn around?”
I knew all of the windows were protected by wire mesh. There were slits for shooting out. The doors had been reinforced. An escape hatch was in the roof that could be opened so somebody could shoot out as we were driving. There was also another under the passenger seat for emergency escape. We could confidently drive through a group of a dozen zombies or even fifty without a problem – but the number ahead looked like it was exceeding our capabilities.
Angela, Jason and Hayley answered me at the same time.
I could see the zombies were reacting to our appearance, becoming more lively, no pun intended.
“We’d better turn around now,” Angela advised. “I can’t even count how many are coming, Ben.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. There were thousands of the zombies coming towards us. All hungry for fresh meat. They had seen our vehicle and increased their speed. Some were very slow – but the freshest ones could run at the speed of a normal person without slowing down for miles and miles. Dozens were sprinting down the road, leaping over the fallen, racing each other. My heart thudding, I turned the van around and got the hell out of there. I didn’t slow down until I lost sight of them in my side mirrors.
We drove parallel to the M25 for about ten miles before turning north, avoiding the major roads because they were controlled by the Pure Bloods. They had roadblocks on the M1 and every intersection of the M25 – but I knew it was possible to slip by them on the B roads and across fields if you don’t mind getting out to push your vehicle if it got stuck in mud or a pothole.
I won’t tell you our exact destination or exact route because the Pure Bloods might find out about this blog and use it to track us. Here’s a map of the area we were in, but I won’t mark it with a WE WERE HERE.
Now in the area around London you not only have radioactive zombies – but you have thousands of very sick survivors living like wild animals. On the edge of the radiation zone you have the Pure Bloods. They are fighting a war to keep the zombies from spreading beyond the M25. They have a noble cause to eradicate all of the undead – but they kill anyone trying to leave the zone that doesn’t surrender at their roadblocks. They kill first and ask questions later.
To avoid them, we sneaked through small villages and along narrow country lanes until we were past the perimeter of the M25. Even then we remained cautious. There was still the chance of encountering some Pure Bloods – or some other gang – or some zombies. I watched the road ahead as I drove with Angela sitting next to me looking through binoculars. Hayley and her brother Jason were in the back with the supplies stolen from the Asda superstore. Hayley was drinking a Pepsi Max and burping as the fizzy liquid refreshed her. Jason was looking out of the back window, making sure nobody was following us. The van jolted over every pothole in the road – so I was only going forty.
To my right, I noticed a couple of zombies in a field feasting on the corpse of a crow. The sound of our vehicle had made them turn to look our way. One had only half a face. The other had lost its arms. They shambled in our direction, but they were soon tiny figures in my rear-view mirror. No threat at all, really. Just sad, pathetic creatures. I didn’t see many more zombies on our journey through the countryside – but I stayed constantly alert because a relaxed person was a dead one. I opened my window and let some fresh air into the van. It would have been a pleasant journey if there had been no threat of attack.
It was getting dark so I looked for a place to stay the night. I picked an industrial estate where I parked inside a lock-up garage.
That’s where I am right now, writing this journal.
I’ll continue writing this after I get some sleep.
Entry 4: Insomnia
I’m wide awake and unable to sleep because I’m wired – so I’m back online, letting the others get some well-earned rest in the van. This internet connection is kind of dodgy – but it is pretty amazing that I can a signal at all. After the national grid broke down you’d think nothing electrical would work – but this laptop uses a satellite link. I don’t know how it works to be honest – but somewhere there must be a load of computers still working on solar power, keeping the internet functional even though most of the people who designed it are now long dead. Anyway, enough about boring technical issues.
I should tell you something about myself and my new family while I have the time.
You already know I was a banker before Day One – so no need to go over embarrassing confession again.
Right now the ‘me’ from then wouldn’t even recognise the ‘me’ from now. He wore designer suits and a big gold wristwatch that made his wrist ache because it was so heavy. He only wore it to show off his wealth. His bling was worth more than a family car.
These days I don’t wear a suit. I wear a dark waterproof jacket with lots of pockets, all stuffed with life-saving items, including two machetes, a torch, a walkie-talkie radio, bandages, sterile dressings, alcohol, a claw hammer, and some fireworks that I could set off as a distraction in an emergency. I also wear black jeans and steel-toed boots. I look like I should be on the poster for a Robert Rodriguez movie: Machete 3: Zombie Takedown.
As well as keeping weapons on me, I always keep a hold-all of other weapons and tools in the van. My bag contains long-range weapons like a crossbow and a modified air rifle that is silent and lethal over a short distance. I also contains more fireworks, some knives, bolt cutters … It’s useful to keep it all close as a backup to my more portable weapons. I couldn’t lug those things around all of the time – but it is good to know they are available if I encounter a tough situation.
That’s enough about me for now.
Let me tell you some important things about the others.
Hayley and Jason
I wouldn’t be alive if Jason and Hayley had not saved my life a six months ago. I’d been living on my own, surviving day to day by looking for food in empty houses on a zombie-infested housing estate when some teenagers robbed and beat me. They’d left me to die in the street where the zombies were bound to get me – but I’d been rescued by a little girl. She had fought off the zombies with a nail gun while her older brother got me into the back of a van. Jason had driven the van back to their camp while I lay semi-conscious. At the time the kids had been on their own because their parents had died. They looked after me for about a week while I was recovering from my injuries. Had the kids left me behind that day, like most adults would have done, I would have died without doubt. I would have been bitten and turned – but they risked their own lives to save mine. I owed them more than my life. I owed them my soul, which they had changed that day, by making me a better person. Until then, I had been surviving on my own – Ben Smith versus the rest of the world – but they showed me it didn’t have to be that way. I became a new man, a man willing to do anything to help those kids survive.
Angela is the newest member of the family. I don’t know anything about her past because she had never talked about it, though I know it must have been very, very bad.
One day we found her locked inside a garden shed. She was naked and half-crazy because she had not eaten anything in days. Someone had locked her in and left her there, trapped with just a bag of potatoes and source of fresh water from a rain barrel. She would probably have died in a week if I had not busted the lock off the door to see what was inside.
I remember it had been dark in the shed, the smell foul, like death. I had shone my torch in and caught a movement in a corner. A flash of dirty red hair. Pale skin. Naked breasts. Then a wild thing launched itself at me, screaming. (Zombies don’t scream. They moan and groan and snarl – but they don’t scream.) But for a second I didn’t realise the thing attacking me was a living breathing woman. It wasn’t easy to stay cool when a screaming naked thing was clawing at my eyes with sharp fingernails. I pushed her back and raised one of my twin machetes, my favourite close-combat weapons. With her dirty red hair covering her face, her green eyes wide and angry, I had thought Angela was a recently turned zombie that I would have to decapitate before she bit or scratched me – but then suddenly all the fight went out of her when she noticed I was with the Hayley and Jason.
“Not them?” she mumbled. Tears of relief ran down her cheeks. The only sound out of her lips after that was a sob as she collapsed into my arms.
It had taken Angela a week to get strong enough to train with me – but now she was a hardened member of our little group. She was good with a crossbow and a crack shot with a rifle. She carried an axe in her backpack for close combat and a knife taped to her ankle. She was fearless – but not foolhardy. More than once, she had saved my skin and surprised me with her bravery. She was no longer the scared naked thing from the shed. She was a strong, beautiful woman, a valuable addition to our family.
Angela wears a black T-shirt and jeans with a green jacket over the T-shirt, her red hair hidden under a backwards baseball cap. She looks very sexy in a tough girl way, like Angelina Jolie playing Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films. She is in her mid-to-late twenties, but I had not asked her exact age. She doesn’t talk personal. Maybe one day she will open up and say something about her life before I met her – but she isn’t ready for it yet.
I don’t even know her surname.
Sometimes at night I hear her moaning in her sleep, reliving in her nightmares the bad events in her past that were none of my business. She’s doing it now. I’m tempted to wake her before she wakes the kids – but she would panic and slash at me with her knife. It is better to let her sleep on. We all have things in our past we don’t want to share. For me, it is my life as a rich and over-privileged banker, leeching off society. I want to forget about that arrogant jerk. He is dead as far as I am concerned.
It’s a few hours until dawn. I’m yawning now. Must be tired. I’m going to shut my eyes for a bit.
Entry #5: The Ambushers
The day was warm and sunny when we left the lock-up garage on our way back to the camp. It was almost possible to forget we were living in the Zombie Apocalypse. The countryside was beautiful. Spring daffodils lined the roads as we rode homeward, avoiding major towns and Pure Blood patrols. We were all in a good mood because we were so close to making it home. Unfortunately, our good luck didn’t last long. We were in the Thames Valley in sight of the Chiltern Hills when I saw something ahead that alarmed me.
There was a quaint village coming up – the sort of place you’d see in an episode of Midsomer Murders. There was a little church and some thatched houses and a small streets of shops that had once sold touristy things like genuine fake antiques. I’d been through it a dozen times – only something was different. Something was wrong. I slowed down on the narrow country lane approaching it.
“You see that bus?” I asked Angela. She had been half-dozing, but she snapped awake.
“Yeah,” she said. “What about it?”
“It wasn’t there last time. It’s almost blocking the road – forcing us into a narrow opening between it and those houses. I think it’s an ambush site.”
Her eyes widened. “You think it’s the Pure Bloods?”
“Maybe – but I doubt it. This isn’t like them. They’d just do an obvious roadblock. This is more subtle. More sneaky.”
“You want to go another route?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “We’d better go back to the last intersection.”
I braked and reversed down the lane because there was no way to turn around.
“Uh-oh,” Jason said. “Ben, there’s a big black car behind us!”
The car had pulled into the lane from behind a stone wall leading into a farmer’s field. It was an SUV.
“Check it out,” I said to Angela.
She scrambled into the back and looked out through our pair of binoculars. “There are four guys in it. They don’t look like Pure Bloods – but they look like trouble. They’ve got guns. The driver’s talking into a radio.”
“Contacting the ones in front of us,” I said. “Great. Hold on to something. We’re in for a bumpy ride.”
I accelerated and drove off the road through a closed wooden gate that broke apart on impact. Beyond the fence was a fallow field of black soil. The van had never been designed for off-road driving – but the field was flat and didn’t slow us down much. After thirty yards something hit the van. It sounded like a coin tossed on a metal tray.
I knew what it was instantly.
They were shooting at us.
Ping. Another bullet struck the van. Hayley screamed because the bullet had shot through a crate of drinks near her head, spraying frothy foam all over. I was glad it hadn’t been her head that it hit. Another bullet struck just missing Hayley by inches. Jason covered his sister with his body, protecting her, as another bullet hit our vehicle, making a dent in my door. I pressed the accelerator to the floor and yanked the wheel left, then right, trying to make whoever was shooting lose their aim. It worked – for a second. The next bullet didn’t hit us. It raked up some dirt.
There were some oak trees and bushes on the far side of the field. We had to get to them. Ping, ping, ping. Holes appeared in the van. Pieces of metal ricocheted around like angry wasps. I felt something cut my neck. Angela yelped as she was hit somewhere. So did Jason. I veered between two trees over a bramble bush that sprayed the window with twigs and leaves as we hurtled down a steep embankment towards a fast-flowing stream. I couldn’t afford to crash our van filled with vital supplies – so I braked and stopped us falling into the water.
Everyone was yelling for me to keep driving – making it hard to think what to do next.
I saw the stream was shallower about a hundred metres to my left. The pebble stones on the bottom were visible there. We could drive across there. I backed up, the tyres kicking up dirt. “Anyone seriously hurt?”
“No,” Angela said.
“No,” Jason added. “Just a flesh wound.”
“Nothing hit me,” she said.
I drove along the edge of the stream towards the shallow section. The van struggled over the uneven muddy ground.
“Angela, keep looking out for them!”
“I am! I am!”
I was almost there.
“They’re here now!” Angela yelled.
Looking back up the bramble-covered slope, I could see the black car had stopped at the top of the embankment. Its occupants were jumping out with handguns and rifles. They looked like thugs from a prison movie. They had shaved heads and hard faces. The shotgun was no match for them at a distance – so there was no point in using it. I had to just get us out of there. Quickly.
“Keep your heads down!” I ordered, moments before a bullet zinged through the rear window and blasted the flame-retardant stuffing out of the passenger seat where Angela had been sitting two minutes earlier. She was lucky to be in the back with the kids.
One of the men was running down the slope firing at us. He was a skinny rat-like man in a leather jacket. He was grinning and aiming a gun.
Angela poked the shotgun out of the side door and fired at him, catching him in the left leg. He fell down with blood pouring from his knee – looking more surprised than hurt. He fired his gun again – but his aim was off. The bullet went straight into the blue sky. His injury made the other men stay back, dodging behind the trees, firing off shots that missed. Angela fired back, taking chunks out of the trunk of an innocent oak tree. She was wasting shells – but she was keeping them back. The sound of the shotgun made my ears ring.
I drove into the shallow river and up the embankment on the other side, hearing our van’s engine groaning and straining. The van had never been designed for this abuse. I begged it to keep moving. It crawled up the bank. We got to the top with everything not tied down sliding on top of Angela, Jason and Hayley so they were buried in tins and packets and bottles and toilet rolls. The men fired a couple of wild shots before we were out of their range – then appeared to give up.
I drove about a mile through woodland until we reached another road – a dirt road through a forest. I increased speed then, eager to just get out away from our ambushers. I thought we had escaped fairly unscathed – but a red light was on the dash telling me we were running out of fuel. I couldn’t understand it. I’d filled the petrol tank that morning from the cans we kept in reserve. We should have had enough to get back to the camp with no problems – but we were registering nearly empty.
I looked back and noticed the van was leaving a dark line of petrol on the road behind us.
“We’re going to have to stop,” I told the others. “We’ve got a petrol leak.”
“We can’t stop here,” Angela said. “Those men will be hunting us.”
“We can’t drive on leaking fuel. We won’t get another mile at the rate we’re losing it. I’ve got no choice, Angela. We’re stopping.” I pulled off the road and stopped. “Okay – I’m getting out to check the damage. Angela – cover me. Hayley and Jason – keep watch for the ambushers. Jason – get in the driver’s seat. Honk if you see trouble.”
I took off my jacket before jumping out to crawl under the van, looking for the source of the leak. It was much worse than I feared. A bullet had ripped a fist-sized hole through it too big for a quick repair. The petrol was pouring out. It had already covered my T-shirt so I stripped it off and stuffed it into the hole until the petrol wasn’t leaking out too fast – then I rolled out from underneath. I went back to the van to get a clean shirt on. I pretended I didn’t notice Angela checking out my muscles – but a shallow part of my liked her interest in my body. When she realised she was staring, she looked away, embarrassed.
“So …” she said. “How bad is it under there?”
“It’s bad. We can’t make it back to the camp – but I’ve patched it temporarily so it won’t leak if we add some more petrol just to get us a few extra miles. Ideally, we need to hide the van somewhere until we get it repaired. Somewhere with fuel.”
“I’ll look at the map,” Angela said, opening the glove compartment. “Maybe I can find some place nearby.”
I grabbed our last can of petrol from the rear and topped up the tank with a couple of litres. That left the can empty. It’d get us a little bit further – but one bump in the road would dislodge the rag. I hurried back to the driver’s seat. Jason hopped back into the back. I drove on. My patch job had stopped the petrol leaking onto the ground – but I doubted it would last long. We desperately had to find somewhere before it leaked again.
Angela was studying an Ordnance Survey map unfolded on her lap. “There’s a small town coming up. Turn left ahead at the next fork, then right at the next one. It’s about three miles. Can we make that?”
“Yeah,” I said confidently, though I wasn’t feeling it. The van was making disturbing noises. There must have been more damage done to it than just what I had been able to see. We were probably lucky the petrol tank hadn’t exploded. Somehow my T-shirt stayed stuffed in the hole until we reached the town.
It was always potentially dangerous driving into a strange place without scouting the area from a good distance – but I didn’t see anything worrying as we approached in on a road winding down into a green valley. We checked it out with binoculars. There were several rows of houses built around a High Street. No zombies were visible on the main street. The town looked deserted. There were many places like it. Ghost towns. The living had just abandoned their homes to head north to the refugee camps in the highlands of Scotland. They had fled north hoping to find safety and civilisation, but I had heard the Scottish refugee camps had been turned into hellish prisons by the new regime up there.
I cruised into the town slowly, looking around nervously. The noise of our vehicle would disturb any zombies in the buildings. They would be coming out of their hibernation state, listening, moving, feeling hungry. The hairs on the back of my hands were standing up. I always hated the crawly feeling inside my chest when I was venturing into unknown territory. So far we were good – but I didn’t like the quiet streets. I couldn’t even hear a bird. There was a boarded-up house on my right with the words GONE NORTH written on the front door. There were also some empty shops with broken windows and abandoned cars. A dead dog was rotting on the pavement – but since nothing was snacking on it that was actually a good sign. It made it less likely there were any zombies around. They would have picked that corpse clean if they had smelled it. I passed a pub called The Red Queen. I idly wondered if there was any beer left inside.
Ah! There was a petrol station ahead with a large auto-repair garage. Just what I needed to find. I pulled into the empty forecourt, noticing weeds growing on the petrol pumps. The little shop looked like it had been looted because all of the windows were broken. Evidently the petrol station had been closed for several months once it ran out of petrol. The garage was around the side, where I could hopefully find the tools for making the repairs. The grey metal doors were closed. Somebody had sprayed a message on them in huge letters:
The three exclamation marks seemed a little excessive – but I appreciated the warning.
I looked at the fuel gauge. Empty. I couldn’t drive the van on much further on the fumes in the tank. I swore. The garage would probably have everything inside needed to fix the leak, including a pit for getting under it. It could even have some full fuel cans. What if the message was just a bluff to make people afraid of breaking in? I’d seen that before. Writing ‘zombies’ on anything kept people away better than a BEWARE OF THE DOG sign.
It was worth checking out. I got out and approached the garage doors. They were secured with a strong lock – but I could break it with my bolt cutters. I banged on the door just to see if there really were zombies inside.
I heard moans and groans.
It was no bluff.
It sounded like about a dozen flesh-eaters were locked in, maybe more. They started pounding their hands and feet against the doors, shaking and rattling them, attempting to break out.
They sounded angry. I was lucky the door was made of solid metal. There were not going anywhere – unless I unlocked the garage. No way was I doing that.
I walked back to the van, sighing. “Okay – we got a problem. There are zombies inside – so we either have to take them on or leave the van here and look for alternate transport. We might find a car and some fuel somewhere in this freakishly quiet town – but it might not be as good as the van. Either way, we’re stuck here for some time unless we get some petrol.”
Jason was looking back up the road. “Uh – we have a bigger problem, Ben. The black car. It’s on its way.”
We all looked. The car was on the road leading down into the town. It was about a half mile away – but it was moving fast. My heart did some dancing in my chest that hurt. “Okay – grab what you can. We’ve got to hide somewhere.”
“We can’t leave the supplies,” Hayley whined. “We can’t!”
“Hayley, we have to,” I said. “Come on! Let’s go!”
I grabbed my bag of weapons and the shotgun. Angela and the kids grabbed their own backpacks filled with their essentials. That left a lot of food and other things left in the back that I was very reluctant to leave – but we didn’t have the time to move everything. The ambushers were getting closer.
We dashed across the road into a side street of small shops. We turned a corner into a back street filled with green and blue recycling bins that had been left full of uncollected rubbish. It smelled like an open sewer. I could hear the car coming. We hid behind a disgusting pile of black bags and bins just as the black car drove past on the high street. It was moving more cautiously – at about twenty miles an hour. We peered around the corner, watching it. It moved on. I hoped it would keep going without spotting our van. But then I heard the car stop. I could see two armed men jumping out. They fanned out, looking around. One looked inside the van, seeing we’d abandoned it. “They’re not here!”
“They must be nearby!” another shouted from the car. “Find them! They shot me!”
The man injured by Angela stayed in the car, pointing a gun out of a window. The driver also had a gun.
Our weapons were not a match.
We were better off hiding among the rubbish. The smell was likely to keep them men from exploring the back streets.
Just then something black moved between two bin bags. I feared it was a zombie – until it ran across my feet, revealing itself to be a black rat the size of a cat. The rat frightened Hayley. She saw it and opened her mouth to scream – but her brother clamped his hand over her mouth just in time. He held onto her until she calmed down – but the rat made a noise as it scampered under another bin, knocking something over. In the silent town, the clattering noise felt as louder as a gunshot.
The nearest man heard that. He turned and headed our way, keeping in contact with the others on a radio. We couldn’t hide there any longer. I pointed towards the boarded window of a building. Everyone understood. I got out my claw hammer and ripped the nails out as quietly and quickly as possible. Once the board was loose, we crawled through the broken window into a dark room that smelled just as bad as the street outside. I put the board back after getting inside, hoping the man would not notice it wasn’t secured. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. We were in the stock room of a butcher’s shop where all of the frozen meat had defrosted. We stayed quiet as the man passed the boarded window and tested the exit door, which was locked, fortunately. He sniffed the air and muttered something. He kicked something. The rat squeaked.
“Jeez. There are huge rats here, guys. No sign of them. I’m coming back.”
That was a few hours ago.
Now it’s dark and we’re hiding in the top floor of an old furniture store opposite the pub. The black car is still parked in the middle of the street. There’s also another one parked next to the pub that belongs to some other members of their group. It’s a white van. There are also five motorbikes. I’ve seen at least fifteen men out there. All tooled up with guns, knives and baseball bats. The men have stopped looking for us now it is dark – but they might start again in the morning. Earlier they unloaded our van into their van. Then they took some crates of beer that I’d included in our shopping haul into the pub where it looks like they are having a party eating and drinking our supplies. A few men have been left on guard at their cars – but they don’t look too vigilant. I’ve got some ideas about what we could do – but my ideas could make things worse.
We could do nothing and hide until morning, hoping the gang will leave after having an all-night feast on our hard-earned supplies.
Or I could sneak back to the garage and release the zombies. The zombies would then attack anyone on the street. Including me if I didn’t get away fast. But they could make the gang panic and flee the town.
Alternatively, we could sneak up on the men guarding the cars. Angela and I could take them out with crossbows and air rifles – but we’d have to be fast and accurate. Then we could steal their van.
None of my options make me really happy.
Does anyone out there know what I should do?
NO READERS VOTED BEFORE THE DEADLINE (SO BEN MADE NO CHOICE)
Entry #6: Indecision In The Night
It’s been a week since my last entry. A lot of really bad things happened in that time – and it’s all my fault. Nobody helped me make a decision – so I made no decision at all, which created a worse situation … Maybe if someone had answered my last blog we’d all be at our camp now, happy and alive, but no-one voted to help me choose what to do. I feel sick about what happened next – but I can’t blame anyone else. Ultimately, it was my indecisiveness that caused the trouble and cost my family so much.
It’s hard writing about that – but I will because you need to know everything.
Last week we were on the top floor of an old furniture store, watching a gang across the street. There were about fifteen of them – but only four of us. The gang were enjoying themselves in a pub with some of the supplies we had taken from an Asda inside the M25 danger zone. The rest of our stuff was in a van parked on the street guarded by a couple of armed thugs. I’d had various ideas for taking them on – but I couldn’t decide what to do. Instead we all started arguing about it. Jason and Hayley wanted to strike back immediately – but I was reluctant to get them involved.
“It’s one thing to kill zombies,” I said. “But it’s another thing killing living, breathing, thinking humans. It isn’t something to be done lightly, guys. Those guys are scum – but they’re not zombies. If we start killing other people, we aren’t much better than they are. Have either of you killed a living human?”
They shook their heads. Hayley was close to tears. “No – but they stole everything off us, Ben. They deserve to be killed.”
“Yeah!” her brother agreed. “They shot at us. They need to die.”
Angela was standing in the darkness, peering down at the street, saying nothing.
“What do you think?” I asked her.
“I think we could take out those two at the van with no problems. Then we could steal the van and get out of here.”
“That sounds good to me,” Jason said. “Let’s do it!”
“Hold on,” I said. I didn’t want to make a hasty decision. “If we kill them, the rest will want revenge. Are you prepared to fight a whole gang?”
“Yes!” Jason said. “We could release the zombies and -”
“No,” I said. “I need more time to think. Maybe someone out there on the internet will help.”
I wished someone had given me some advice – but I had received no messages on my laptop.
Angela sighed. “The people out there aren’t going to help, Ben. There is probably nobody left out there alive, anyway. The decision is down to us. To you. You are our leader. What do you want to do now?”
I didn’t know. I walked over to the window where I could see the men down below. I imagined sneaking up on them and shooting them with a crossbow. Could I kill in cold blood? I had never killed a living person that hadn’t been trying to kill me. Could I do it? What if I lost my nerve? “Let’s wait a little longer. We’re going to wait while I think about this, okay? We can’t rush the decision. Guys, get some rest.”
The kids grumbled – but they settled down on some dusty beds that were so comfortable I heard them snoring within minutes. That was one of the benefits of being in a furniture store – lots of comfy beds. Angela and I moved some soft-cushioned chairs to near the windows so we could watch the street in luxurious comfort. The men outside looked bored. They also looked cold. One was shivering as he smoked a cigarette. He walked up and down the street, muttering to himself. Maybe he would go into the pub, leaving just the one man guarding the van.
For an hour I stared at my laptop – hoping someone would give me advice. But nobody did. Eventually I turned it off to save the battery charge.
The two men were still guarding the street.
“Ben?” Angela whispered in the dark.
“I never thanked you for rescuing me.” She paused. “Whatever happens, I want you to know I’ll always be grateful that you found me. You saved my life, Ben. Thank you.”
“You never talk about what happened. Do you want to tell me?”
Angela was quiet for a minute – but then she answered, keeping her voice low. “I was kidnapped by a gang of men just like the ones out there. They did bad things to me. They kept me locked up with a group of other women they were using as …” She breathed deeply. “It was a living hell. Once we tried to escape – but they caught us. They killed two teenage girls in front of me – but they locked me in that shed as punishment. They thought they could make me more compliant if they left me to starve for a week. I’m glad you found me before they returned, Ben. I’d rather die than be captured by a group of men like them.” Her glistening eyes reflected the moonlight. “Those men out there remind me of the others. They’re parasites, not people. We could kill them all while the kids are sleeping, Ben. Just you and me. We don’t have to involve the kids. We could come back for the kids after it’s done, after we’ve done what needs to be done.”
“There are too many of them,” I said. “The risk is too great. We can’t go up against them all. It’d be suicidal. We’re not soldiers. We’re just survivors. We have to be smarter than that, Angela.”
“Yeah, I guess so. You’re right. Forget it. We’re better off waiting.” She sighed. “If you want to get some sleep, I’ll keep watch. There’s no need for us both to be watching.”
“Yeah. I’ll wake you if things change out there. Take your own advice, Ben. Get some rest.”
I was tired. I had not slept much the day before in the lock-up garage. I didn’t think there was any harm in napping for a while because I’d be in better shape to think of a plan afterwards. I closed my eyes and rested my head into the deep upholstery. I almost moaned in pleasure. The easy chair was the most comfortable thing I had sat on in months. So comfortable … This building would make a great home if …
I jerked awake upon hearing a noise like a gunshot. No – not a noise like a gunshot. An actual gunshot. From outside. I jumped out of my chair completely alert, reaching for my shotgun. It wasn’t there. And the other chair was empty. Angela had gone out alone. All that talk … I should have known what she intended to do. She was taking on the gang by herself.
The kids were sitting up. Hayley looked around for Angela. “What happened? Where’s Angela?”
“Outside,” I answered. A quick look out of the window showed me enough to figure out what was going on outside. There was a dead gang member on the road with a crossbow bolt in his chest. He’d been killed silently, like we planned, but the other gang member was crouched behind a car, shooting towards the van. It was his gun that I had heard. From my high position, I could see Angela crouched behind the van, shooting back with her shotgun. She hit the man and he went down – but more members of the gang were already on the street, firing at the van from behind the other vehicles. Angela was trapped in the middle of the street. She kept returning fire – but they outnumbered her. She needed help – fast.
“Jason, the big rocket!” I shouted.
“I’m on it!” he said, understanding what I needed. While he was busy, I lifted up my chair and hurled it at the window. The noise it made crashing through alerted the gang to my position – providing a new target for the enemy – hopefully diverting their attention from Angela. Some started shooting towards our building as I took cover behind the brick wall next to the window.
Jason had opened our bag of weapons and found the biggest firework. It was one normally used for professional displays containing a serious amount of gunpowder. With bullets whizzing over his head, he crawled across the floor to me. I lit the firework when Jason passed it over. I shoved it into a metal waste basket that would hopefully contain the blast, then pointed the rocket towards the pub. The basket jolted in my hands as the firework ignited. The firework streaked out, screaming, as it whooshed across the street like a glowing missile. The rocket smashed through a bottom-floor window into the pub, where it exploded with a series of bright flashes and loud bangs.
I doubted it hurt anyone inside – but it caused confusion. Smoke spilled out onto the street and burning phosphorus and magnesium shot into the sky.
Angela used the momentary distraction to run for the side street filled with bins – but I saw her stumble as at least one bullet hit her in the back. She dropped the shotgun and staggered on – barely reaching the corner before more bullets got her.
I prayed she wasn’t badly wounded.
Unfortunately, I had no time to worry about her when we were in just as much danger. A crackle of gunfire blasted out the windows around me – sending broken glass into the air. Hayley and Jason dived behind a double bed as the men ripped apart the room with their bullets.
I’d jeopardised the safety of the kids for Angela – so we had to move now before the men figured out a way of killing us. I grabbed the bag of weapons, yelling at Hayley and Jason to run for the stairs. We had to get out of the shop via the back exit. It was a wise decision – the first of the night. Behind me, a Molotov cocktail landed on the floor, shattering, the petrol setting fire to the furniture. I reached the top of the stairs with smoke stinging my eyes. Hayley and Jason were running ahead. I followed them down into the main floor, which was filled with kitchen and dining furniture. Another three or four Molotov cocktails had been tossed into the display room, spreading a fire, which was a pretty dumb move because it prevented the gang coming into the building from the front entrance. They had stopped themselves trapping us upstairs. Instead they were trying to burn us to death. Luckily, the flames didn’t stop us escaping through the rear exit, out into the cold night. I closed the door behind me before dashing towards some houses on a small estate behind the High Street. We hid around the side of a home just as a couple of men ran around the back of the warehouse. They approached the exit cautiously. One opened the door and tossed a Molotov cocktail inside. He probably thought he had caught us in the building – which meant they did not expect us to outside, watching them. I heard one on his radio. His words confirmed my theory.
“We’re at the back. They’re toast. You got the other one yet?”
I didn’t hear the reply – but the men ran off down the street. By then the furniture store was fully ablaze, casting a yellow-orange glow over the streets. Thick black smoke rose into the sky as parts of the roof caved in. The fire was spreading to the other buildings nearby. The gang must have decided to torch the whole street. Maybe the whole town.
I could hear the gang shouting and firing their guns – but they were some distance away. It sounded like Angela was still causing them trouble. Good for her!
Hayley and Jason could also hear the fighting. Jason grabbed my arm. “Ben, we have to go back! We need to help Angela!”
We’d all die if we did that. Right then, the bad guys thought we were dead. They would not look for us. But if we went to help Angela we would all die.
“We can’t,” I heard myself saying. It didn’t sound like me saying it. It sounded like a pathetic coward – but I wasn’t afraid for myself. I didn’t want Hayley and Jason murdered by those men. “We can’t rescue her, Jason. They have her surrounded by now. If we try to fight them, we’ll all die. We have to save ourselves. We have to let them keep think we’re in that burning building.”
“No,” he said. “We have to go back!”
I shook my head. “No, Jason. Not now.”
I grabbed his shoulders. I looked in his eyes. “Would Angela want you to risk your life for her?”
“No,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it. We can creep up on those guys and shoot them with our crossbows. We can -”
Just then I heard a scream.
Entry #7: A Scream in the Night
The high-pitched scream startled me – until I realised it was one of our enemies. When I heard him screaming for help because he had been hurt, I didn’t feel bad. I felt relief because Angela was still alive and eluding capture. Good on her. She had lost her shotgun – but she was fighting with her other weapons. Any thoughts of abandoning her to save myself vanished once I knew she wasn’t captured.
I switched on my walkie-talkie to her frequency. “Angela, if you can hear me, get to the alpha site. H and J will come for you while I provide a distraction. You copy?”
Angela answered my question by her turning her walkie-talkie on and off, creating a short burst of static. That was the code for yes. That told me she had heard me – but she was too busy to speak because the gang were hunting her. I silently wished her luck, hoping she could get to the alpha site. Whenever we went somewhere, we always designated some places with codes so we could talk on the walkie-talkies even if someone was listening it. If Angela could get there, she could hide inside and wait for Hayley and Jason. They both had good enough emergency medical training to treat her bullet wound (at least on a temporary basis) until we could get back to the camp.
Hayley and Jason were staring at me. Waiting for commands.
“Okay – I’m going to do something seriously dangerous,” I told them. “You guys find Angela at the school. Stay there until I give you the all-clear on the walkie-talkies. If my plan works, those guys will be leaving this town really really fast.”
Jason’s eyes widened. “You’re going up against the gang on your own?”
“Not exactly on my own,” I said. “I’m going back to the garage to let out the zombies. Now go! Save Angela!”
They dashed off. I grabbed my bag of weapons and headed back to the High Street through some back streets. I avoided crossing the street until I was far from the parked vehicles belonging to the gang. I crossed between some abandoned cars. I was very lucky. I narrowly dodged detection by a two-man patrol of motorbikes scouting the area. I could see several men on the street outside the pub. The leader was giving orders on a radio. He was not dressed like the others. He was wearing a black suit. He looked like a businessman – except for the rifle in his other hand. That made him look like Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs.
“Find her and kill her!” I heard him shouting. I was tempted to take a shot at him with my crossbow – but the range was too great. And shooting him would not get rid of the rest. I had to stick with my insane plan.
I sneaked around the rear of the pub and some other buildings until I was back at the garage where I’d left our van. The noise on the street had excited the zombies trapped inside the garage. They were banging on the doors and moaning. I checked nobody was looking my way before creeping up with my bolt cutters. What I was about to do was incredibly risky, but I didn’t hesitate. I snapped off the lock. The zombies moaned louder, sensing they were close to a living tasty human. I returned my bolt cutters into my bag, strapped the bag over my shoulder, then grabbed the bottom of the garage doors. I pushed them upwards until the doors continued opening under their own momentum, releasing the hungry zombies lurking in the dark.
I’d expected a dozen – possible twenty – but the garage had been completed filled with them. There were over a hundred of them. I wondered how they had been lured inside – probably with a fresh corpse as bait – just as they started to move forward, lurching towards me. They had been trapped in the garage for months – but they had conserved their strength by going into a hibernation state, waiting for an opportunity to feed again.
They saw me and poured out of the darkness, gnashing teeth, slobbering, groaning.
They wanted to make me their dinner.
No time to dawdle.
I turned and ran, knowing they would follow me like rats following the Pied Piper. I could hear them chasing me – but I didn’t have the time to look back. I didn’t have time to go around the side of the garage either because so many zombies had already blocked that exit. I had to head into the street where I could not avoid being seen by the gang. The zombies chased me into the High Street. My bag of weapons was weighing and slowing me down – but I didn’t want to ditch it because I needed it to fight them and the gang. My shoulder ached as I sprinted towards the pub where the leader and a couple of bikers were standing. They saw me and the horde of zombies at the same time. I tossed a lit firework at them before they could aim their guns. It wouldn’t kill them – but it had the desired effect of making them scatter as it exploded. The leader ran into the pub, but the other men were left on the street. Through a cloud of acrid black smoke, I dashed past them and hid behind the corner of the pub, leaving the gang members to fight the zombies.
I dropped my bag to get out my air gun. Around the corner, I could hear the gang members shooting at the zombies.
“There’s too many!” one shouted.
I heard a man running my way. He appeared around the corner – and I shot him in the face. At close range my air pellet was fatal. It blasted a small hole in his forehead. He looked surprised when he fell over, his limbs twitching. A second later a green-faced zombie was feasting on him, ripping his throat open. It turned to look at me – another meaty meal – before returning to its current feast, sinking its yellow teeth into the soft flesh of my man’s neck.
I grabbed my bag and hurried away.
A minute later I heard more gunfire as the other gang members encountered the zombies. The zombies were spreading out for fresh food.
I had to make my way to the alpha site now.
The school was behind four rows of houses on the other side of the High Street.
I got there without encountering anyone living or dead.
The school was a modern brick building with flat roofs and a concrete playground behind a chain-link fence. I’d seen it only from some distance when we were hiding from the gang during the day – but now I could see some words sprayed on the main entrance doors in red paint.
Entry #8: Do No Harm
I could hear angry moaning on the other side – but something wasn’t adding up. The message sprayed on the primary school’s doors looked like the one on the garage where I’d found over a hundred zombies – but the paint was fresher and smelled of chemicals. On closer inspection I noticed it wasn’t even dry. I grinned. The message was a fake designed to fool the gang. Someone had tagged it recently. I knew it had to be one of my friends. With the sound of a motorbike heading my way, I quickly approached the door. It was locked from the inside with a chain. The moaning continued.
“Hey! It’s me! Let me in!”
The moaning stopped. I heard the chain rattling. The door opened. Hayley appeared, holding her favourite anti-zombie weapon, her nail gun. The nail gun looked comically huge in her small hands. She looked at me and grinned. “You made it!”
“Yeah. Quick. Someone’s coming.”
I entered the school and shut doors behind me. We secured it with a padlock and chain. I could hear a bike roaring up the street. It slowed as it went by – but it didn’t stop at the school. It accelerated away. Whoever was driving it didn’t want to stick around to fight the zombies. They were leaving the town, and I couldn’t blame them because it sounded like a hell of a fight was going on back where I’d released the zombies. All the gunshots and screaming sounded like a New Year’s Eve firework display. Right now, the gang were too occupied with staying alive to bother hunting for us. Good.
“The warning was a brilliant idea,” I said. “Did you think of that?”
She nodded proudly. “I didn’t want the bad guys coming in. I thought they’d be scared of zombies. You think it will work?”
“You had me fooled – until I smelled the fresh paint. Where’d you get it?”
She rolled her eyes like I was stupid for asking. “Duh! This is a school, Ben. There’s like loads of stuff in the art class.”
“I don’t suppose you found an Uzi?”
She frowned. “What’s an Uzi?”
“A type of machine gun. It was a joke.”
“Oh,” she said. “No. Nothing like that. Just art stuff. Your jokes aren’t very funny, Ben.”
“Have you cleared this place for zombies?”
“Of course!” she said, sounding insulted. “There aren’t any. The whole place is empty. Jason’s in the staff room with Angela. Should I stay here and guard the door?”
“No – the gang won’t be looking for us any longer. They’ve got bigger problems. Let’s go to them.”
We hurried by several classrooms filled with small desks and child-sized plastic chairs that made me feel like a giant. I could smell crayons and chalk and plasticine. The smells reminded me of my childhood. It was strange being inside a school again. Especially one that was empty of children and teachers. I wondered what had happened to them. I hadn’t seen any small zombies coming out of the garage – so maybe the kids had escaped. I liked to think that, anyway.
Jason and Angela were in the windowless staff room, where Jason had set up a few torches so there was some reasonable light. The room smelled of blood and iodine. Angela was lying flat on a cheap-looking leather sofa, stripped down to her bloody T-shirt. Jason was crouched beside her, inspecting the small bullet wound in her back. Blood flowed out with every heart beat. The blood loss itself wasn’t a lot – but that was only what I could see on the outside. Her internal damage could be much worse. The bullet could have perforated an artery or entered an organ. Angela was gasping and breathing shallowly as Jason cleaned the wound with iodine. Her face was pale and damp with cold sweat.
“No … exit wound,” she said when she saw me. “That’s bad, right?”
“We’ll get it out,” I said. “Jason, can you see the bullet?”
He shook his head. “Too much blood.”
“Okay – let me look.”
I stepped closer and shone a torch on the wound. I’d have to cut wider to have a better look – but Angela was already in pain. She’d go into shock if I started butchering her. I spoke to Jason quietly so she would not hear our conversation.
“We’ll have to look inside for the bullet – but it will hurt her. You’ve given her painkillers?”
“Yeah, I’ve given her some of the morphine,” he said. “Ben, I don’t know what to do now. This isn’t a cut on her finger.”
Since the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, I’d had to learn some survival skills, like basic medical treatments, but I’d never done major surgery. There were two types of injury, according to some medical books I’d read: hollow organ damage and solid organ damage. Hollow organ damage was caused when a tube carrying a fluid was nicked. For that kind of injury, you needed to clean the area and sew it up and pray gangrene didn’t kill the patient. The other kind of injury could stop an organ working. Her liver, kidneys, spleen and bowels were all kind of close to the entry wound. If any of them had been damaged, there was nothing I could do.
“Okay, we’ll have to cut her open,” I said. “Angela, I’m going to give you a local anaesthetic.”
I took some things out of our emergency medical kit. They included a scalpel that I sterilised with alcohol. An injection of lidocaine into the area around Angela’s wound made her skin go numb before I started cutting. Making the first cut was the hardest thing I had ever done. I hated hurting her. She grimaced when the scalpel sliced her flesh. Hayley held her hand.
“Ben knows what he’s doing,” she said. “He’ll get it out.”
I loved her confidence in me – but I was nervous. Doctors swear upon the Hippocratic Oath. Do no harm. I wasn’t a doctor. What if I made things worse?
Very carefully, I widened the hole so I could feel inside for the bullet. That increased the amount of blood coming out. Angela gasped as my fingers probed. I swore to myself. I couldn’t feel the bullet. It had gone too deep. There was no way of finding it without an x-ray. And even then I wouldn’t know what I was looking at. All I could do was sterilise the damaged tissue and stitch her back up, hoping she’d stop bleeding when her blood clotted. I covered her wound with a gauze pad and left her to rest. She didn’t look well, though. I’d seen zombies in better health. It was entirely possible the bullet had missed her organs and done only minor damage that could heal itself. Possible? Yeah. Likely? No.
We’d just have to wait and see.
Journal of the Living (C) John Moralee Updated 16 May 2014
This story now continues with the next entry here.