Spoiler alert: This story follows on from the events in the zombie apocalypse novel Journal of the Living. It is best if that is read first.
A Zombie Apocalypse Story
I’ll never forget where I was when we won our first victory against the Pure Bloods. I was in a farmhouse watching the destruction of Oxford on a TV projector screen. It seemed surreal watching the city burn – but the satellite pictures were real and live. The Family had defeated an entire base of our enemy in one day – a victory we soon celebrated in the back yard with an assortment of alcoholic drinks and music, reminding me of the wild parties I’d gone to when I was a DJ called Riz K Bizness. That life belonged to a stranger now, thanks to the zombie apocalypse, but for a few hours I forgot about the zombies and our psychotic enemies.
I enjoyed myself like an ordinary twenty-five-year-old – the same guy who had last year gone to Ibiza with his mates and partied 24/7. They were all dead or undead now – but I didn’t want to think about that. I just wanted to forget everything bad and feel good for once. I used my former DJ experience to set up a playlist on an iPod Lynchpin had hooked up to a sound system powered by a solar panel. The music got a few people dancing – then a few more, attracting by the pulsing beat. They included Pipa, my new girlfriend. She had come into my life just a few days earlier – but I felt like I had known her forever. It turned out Pipa was a great dancer.
Our leader Dex did not join in the drinking or dancing – but he made an appearance every few minutes when he was not busy inside the farmhouse. I saw him chatting to people, laughing, looking like he was having a good time too. He only started frowning when Maggie returned started talking to him after returning from a mission. I liked Maggie – she had taught me how to use a sniper rifle – but she was a serious mood-killer. I saw her speaking to Dex, then Dex talked to Ben, then Dex walked over to me. I was standing next to Stu, our amazing cook, who was barbecuing chicken and hamburgers. I had a juicy chicken drum stick in one hand and a cold beer in the other. Life was good – for once. But when I saw Dex’s sour expression I knew that was not going to last. “Kris, we need to talk where it’s quieter.”
“Oh – okay.” I didn’t want to leave the party – but Dex was walking inside the farmhouse and expecting me to follow. I sighed and handed my beer to Pipa. “The boss needs me. I’d better go after him. See you later, okay?”
“Don’t be too long,” she said. “There are other handsome men here. I think they’d like to see me twerking.”
“I’d like that see that too,” I said, kissing her. “Don’t do anything sexy without me. I’m the jealous type.”
I walked into the farmhouse wondering why Dex looked so moody after the huge victory we’d had over the Pure Bloods. I followed him into a room where Maggie and Ben were sitting at a table, looking at a road map. They both looked too tired to stand up. Dex turned to face me. His eyes were cold. “Close the door, Kris.”
I closed it, then walked forward. “Have I done something wrong, Dex?”
“How many beers have you had?”
“Just two, sir.” Three, technically. But I didn’t count the one I’d not finished. “I am sober, sir. I wouldn’t get drunk. I know I’m on guard duty tonight.”
“Forget guard duty,” he said. “Relax, Kris. You’re not in trouble. It’s the opposite. You’ve been doing a great job recently. I’m impressed. That’s why I want to discuss something with you. I need a volunteer for a mission. Are you interested?”
“Yes,” I said. “Absolutely. What can I do?”
“You know the new people we brought here this morning?”
“The good ones in the lorries or the bad ones we captured?”
“The good ones. The innocent people Ben and Maggie rescued. Some of them ran off when Maggie had to stop on the way here. They ran off because one frightened idiot killed someone infected with the zombie virus, making them flee for their lives. Those people are out there near Oxford – lost and scared. There’s seven people missing. They might not live long if we don’t find them and convince them to come with us. They’re in zombie-infested territory with no idea what danger they are in. Ben and Maggie need to recover their strength – so I need someone brave to search for the missing people. I thought of you because you’ve got a knack for killing zombies and you’re fit and healthy. I want you to pick a small team of volunteers and go looking for them – but I don’t want anyone losing their lives doing it. Want the job of team leader?”
It was a huge leap in responsibility from boring guard duty. I was eager to say yes, even though I was reluctant to leave the relative safety of our camp, where I shared a caravan with Pipa. Some people would think it was mad to volunteer for a dangerous mission – but I did not feel like I was contributing enough just protecting people in the camp. I had been training for weeks in combat and tactics. I felt ready to prove myself more useful. “You can depend on me, Dex.”
“Good. Ben and Maggie will brief you.”
Maggie and Ben proceeded to show me on the map where they had lost the people. It was on a road a few miles from Oxford. Maggie pointed at a field. “They ran away in that direction. There’s some woods and a town on the other side. Horton Bishop.”
Ben told me he had given a gun to an elderly woman who had stayed behind to look for her young niece, a little girl aged ten or eleven called Julia. “I gave the woman my gun and instructions to find somewhere safe. I told her to mark an X on the ground outside her location so someone could find her. Look for that.”
“Got it,” I said. “What about the rest of the missing people? How am I supposed to find them?”
Dex answered. “One of the ex-prisoners will brief you. Her name is Alice. She’s just come through a terrible ordeal, but she wants to help us. I’ll take you to her.”
Ben shook my hand. “Good luck, Kris.”
“Don’t get yourself eaten,” Maggie said.
I left the farmhouse with Dex. Alice was in a caravan at the far side of the camp site. Dex knocked on the door and we waited for someone to inside to invite us in. A group of hungry newcomers were gorging on hot chicken pieces like they had not eaten in weeks. They had all been prisoners of the Pure Bloods. One twenty-year-old girl looked up when Dex and I entered. Her face was almost hidden inside a grey hoodie, with her dark hair covering her eyes. Her big blue eyes analysed me for a few seconds like I was a great white shark about to attack. She gulped it down a chicken piece like a bird of prey. Then she looked up at Dex. “Who’s that, Dex?”
“He’s Kris. He’s going to look for your friends.”
I smiled reassuringly. “Hi.”
Alice nodded for me to sit down. “They are not all my friends – but I know them well because we were locked up together for a week. There’s an old woman called Eileen and her niece Julia. Julia’s about eleven with long blonde hair. She’s a very clever girl – so I think she’ll be still alive. There’s also a really posh ex-accountant called Miles. He was nice – but he was very scared. I imagine he’s hiding in the first place he found that looked safe. There’s also a middle-aged teacher called Sandra. She’s kind. She has bad arthritis so she won’t have gone very far. There was a teenage boy, too. Sean. He was a bit of a paranoid loner. He had no friends because he didn’t trust anyone. One time he stole my food ration.” Alice shook head head. “The cage turned us all into animals – so I suppose I can forgive him.” She swallowed another piece of chicken. “Oh. There was another woman, younger than Sandra but a little older than me. She was a stand-up comedian before the zombie apocalypse, but I hadn’t heard of her. Her name is Fay. She’s tall and looks like Beyonce. There was another teenager. A Welsh girl. Gwen. Fay and Gwen are good friends – so they probably stuck together. That’s everyone. I can give you a basic description of them or I could draw them – I was good at art at school – so you’ll know what they look like.”
“That will be useful,” I said. “But I can see a problem. They won’t trust a stranger like me. They know you, Alice. I think you should come with me. You can reassure them it’s safe to come back to our camp.”
“No, no. I don’t want to go out there. The Pure Bloods could get me.”
“The Pure Bloods are dead.”
“Not all of them. There are more of them in other places. And I bet you didn’t get them all at Oxford. Some will have got out. I don’t want to end up in another cage waiting for them to inject me with the virus. They are evil and insane. There’s also the zombies. I don’t ever want to see a zombie again.”
“Your friends need to see a familiar, friendly face, Alice. I’ll keep you safe, I promise. You won’t be put in any danger. You can stay in my vehicle with the driver, who will be armed. I just need you to be available so your friends will trust me when I find them. You can tell them it’s safe to come with us. They’ll believe you – but they might not believe me. Will you do that, Alice?”
Alice shook her head. “No. I can’t. I can’t.”
“What if little Julia is hiding somewhere, scared and alone, hoping someone will rescue her?” I wanted to make her feel guilty – which was a cruel thing, but I saw it working on her conscience when she sighed, tears running down one cheek. “Do you want little Julia to die because we left her out there alone?”
Alice sniffled and wiped her face with her hoodie’s sleeve. “Do you swear on your life to keep me totally safe?”
“I promise, Alice. I swear on my life.”
It was a promise I did not keep.