Authors: Ryan Casey
they were coming the second he heard the tapping against the front door.
His body froze. He was sat on the sofa back at his parents’ house, only it was cold and uninviting unlike the plush leather delight they usually had. A part of Hayden knew it was daytime, and yet beyond the curtains, it looked dark.
But he saw their silhouettes.
Saw them clawing their long, undead nails against the windows.
Scratching their way inside …
Hayden dragged himself to his feet but his movement was sluggish. He tried to walk across the carpet but it felt like he was wading in water—and when he looked to his feet he realised he was wading in something, only it wasn’t water but blood, thick red blood getting deeper and deeper and deeper …
He got to the bottom of the stairs. His heart raced. He knew his parents were up at the top, he knew his sister was up there, but the stairs seemed to be stretching out in front of him, the climb looked so far, and all the time the scratches were getting louder, stronger …
He ran up the steps as fast as he could, but it wasn’t fast enough. He could hear screaming. Shouting. Crying.
“Hayden, please. Please help us. Please.”
His mum’s voice. Or his dad’s, or his sister’s.
All of them, together, in pain.
He reached the top step and he looked at the door where the screaming was coming from. His body froze. Annabelle’s old bedroom. But he couldn’t go in there. He couldn’t go in his dead sister’s room. The voice inside him told him not to do that, not to go in there, to stay away.
Something bad was behind that door.
Everything bad was behind that door.
A smash downstairs. Sounds of gargling, gasping, groaning, unmistakable. So many of them, all clawing their way up the stairs, their footsteps getting louder, heavier.
Hayden didn’t want to turn back and look at them. He couldn’t accept they were real.
But he didn’t want to go in his sister’s old bedroom either.
Blood dribbled down the front of it.
Come On In Hayden Help Us Hayden Help Us Help Us Help Us …
He had to go inside.
Dead getting closer.
Clawing out for him …
He grabbed the handle and pulled the door open.
At first, he didn’t see a thing. He just smelled it. The sour smell of damp death in the darkness.
But then he saw it.
His mum. His dad. His younger sister.
Annabelle with a belt wrapped around her neck.
Annabelle with her forearm to her mouth, teeth wedged into it, thick blood and green vomit pooling to the floor as she tore the flesh from the bone, her face getting paler and paler.
Hayden wanted to stop her. Tell her to stop. Tell her to stop hurting herself.
But then she lifted her head. Smiled at him, specks of blood in her gleaming blonde hair. She laughed at the top of her voice, and then Mum and Dad and Clarice all joined in too and Hayden saw they were bitten, the footsteps getting closer behind him, the zombies of his family all laughing as they swarmed him, sunk their teeth into him, and he screamed.
“Woah. Hayden. Cool it, man. Cool it. You’re alright.”
Hayden looked around the dark room. His heart was racing. Sweat poured down his head. His throat was sore, presumably from screaming out. His teeth felt smooth, like they always did when he’d ground them in the night.
“You’re okay. Just dreaming. Which means you were asleep. Counts for something, right?”
Hayden lifted himself up as Newbie crouched over him. He put his freezing cold hands to his face. The door of the bunker rattled in the wind. Further in the distance outside, he could hear struggling and slicing—the sound of Sarah and Clarice dealing with the zombies stacked up to the fences.
“How long … how long was I—”
“I only just came in here,” Newbie said. “You were thrashing about like hell. But it’s good you’re awake. Got something to show you. Something I need you to hear before anyone else.”
Hayden frowned. His head was still under the clouds of sleep as he rubbed at the icy-cold corners of his eyes. “What …”
“Come on,” Newbie said. He held out a hand to Hayden. Hayden pulled himself up in the end, but appreciated Newbie’s gesture.
Hayden followed Newbie out of the main bunker and through the narrow little passageway that led through to the radio comms room that Newbie was spending a lot of time in. The old military bunker, evidently abandoned many years ago, was lined with rusty old pipes. Somewhere in the mass of pipes, Hayden could hear the tapping of falling water, the scuttling of rats.
“Whatever you’ve got better be worth waking me up for. First wink of decent sleep I’ve got since we arrived at this place.”
Newbie opened the metal door at the end of the dark corridor. “Yeah. And you looked like you were really enjoying that sleep. After you.”
Hayden stepped past Newbie and went into the small radio room. It wasn’t much impressive, not like the comms rooms you see on old war movies or like that amazing hatch in
Just a room about six by six metres with a little black stool in front of some old radio devices, none of which Hayden had any idea how to use or what they even did.
When Hayden was inside the room, Newbie walked past him and rushed over to the stool. He fumbled around on the desk in front of the radio equipment, grabbed some ancient looking headphones, went to sit on the stool, then held out a hand for Hayden to sit instead. “Sit down.”
Hayden rubbed the tops of his arms. His teeth chattered together. “I … I don’t—”
“Sit down. Put these headphones on. Listen.”
Hayden reluctantly walked over to the stool. He perched on the end of it, and it creaked under his light weight. Newbie stuffed the headphones over both ears, and for a moment Hayden felt like he was going to get some weird form of electric shock therapy.
And then, amidst the loud crackle of the static, he heard a voice.
It was only slight. And if you didn’t concentrate, it was easy to miss completely. But it was there. It was definitely there.
“What is … what’s it saying?”
Newbie reached for one of the dials and turned up the volume, but all that did was make the white noise crackle even louder.
Hayden pulled one of the headphones away so he could just hear through one ear. “What is it?”
“It’s a radio transmission,” Newbie said, something close to a smile on his face.
Hayden tried to listen to the voice but he could barely make out the words. Something about a “safe haven.” Something about Warrington.
“Do you hear it?” Newbie asked.
Hayden strained to listen but he was beyond hope. “I … Not really—”
“It says there’s a safe haven. Just outside Warrington. That’s—that’s only thirty or so miles from here. It says everyone is welcome.”
Hayden wasn’t sure what to make of the message. He couldn’t hear it properly. Couldn’t make out the words as clearly as Newbie had managed. It was all just crackle. Static. Speculative at best. “Newbie, I’m not sure this is—”
“It’s a transmission. A radio transmission. I’ve been trying to find a transmission like this for days, and finally I’ve found one. Someone else out there. A safe haven. Someone else alive.”
Hayden couldn’t ignore the bad feeling in his gut. “How do we know it isn’t military? Some kind of trap to round up those who’ve been exposed to the infection?”
“We don’t. But we can hope. Otherwise, what’s the point? If we can’t have some hope, what can we have?”
Hayden still wasn’t certain. He was too tired to be making any kind of decisive call. “I … I don’t know. I don’t know I like it. I don’t know I—”
“No. I figured you wouldn’t. Part of me hoped maybe you’d …”
Hayden heard the agitation in Newbie’s voice. He could tell from the way his eyes went bloodshot that he was pissed with Hayden. That a small part of him had been expecting, hoping for, a different kind of reaction.
“I … I just don’t know,” Hayden said. “I don’t know who I can trust. I don’t think any of us can–”
“Then we just stay put here. Stay put in the cold and the damp. Stay put with no food. Then we die.”
“I thought you were with me on this place?”
Newbie looked at the radio. His eyes had gone even more bloodshot. “Yeah. Yeah, I was. I was. Until …”
He didn’t finish what he was saying.
A loud, blood-curdling scream echoed from outside.
Hayden’s sister’s scream.
hen he heard
his sister’s scream, Hayden sprinted out of the comms room and through the hallway.
His heart raced. All his mind could focus on was that cry. It sounded just like it had in his nightmare. The nightmare where Mum and Dad and Annabelle and Clarice were all there, laughing at him, all bitten, all dead.
He ran into the main bunker, slipped around on the damp floor and raced towards the ajar door. He heard another shout. A shout for help. Somewhere behind him, he could hear Newbie following. He was saying things too, but Hayden couldn’t work figure the words out.
All he could focus on was his sister. Making sure she was okay.
Making sure the images of blood spurting out of her savaged neck didn’t come true.
He grabbed one of the sharpened metal pipes by the door. His stomach tensed. He almost didn’t want to see his sister just in case something terrible had happened.
Be there for her, Hayden. Don't fail her. She’s all you’ve got left. The one thing you have left to protect. Don’t fail her.
He ran out into the greyness of winter.
Held his breath.
Both Sarah and Clarice were beyond the fences. They were surrounded by undead. Fallen undead in the most part, but for three of them that were cornering them. Clarice’s sharpened pipe had wedged into the eye of one of the undead, and Sarah was busy trying to hold off one that was coming at her.
Hayden tensed his fists around the pipe and ran down the grassy verge towards the fence opening. A million thoughts flooded his mind. Why the hell were they beyond the fences? He’d specifically told Clarice so many times that she wasn’t to venture beyond the fences. Cleaning the fallen undead was Hayden and Newbie’s job, and sometimes Sarah’s. But not Clarice’s. It was too much of a risk for her. She wasn’t as strong as the others. Wasn’t as adept at killing the zombies.
The risk of losing her was way too high.
“Hey!” Hayden shouted as he ran down the bottom of the grassy verge and approached the gate. “Look here! Look here!”
The zombies lifted their wobbly necks. Their glassy eyes drifted in the direction of Hayden’s voice, but it wasn’t enough to stop them approaching both Sarah and Clarice.
Hayden grabbed the gates and tried to pull them open but … but shit. They were still padlocked. How the hell had they got outside if the gates were still padlocked? The vent at the back of the bunker? Shit. Sneaky shits.
Hayden rattled at the padlock then realised he wasn’t doing much good.
“I can get the key,” Newbie said. “I—I can get the—”
“No frigging time,” Hayden said. He lifted the pipe and swung it at the padlock as hard as he could. It wasn’t the toughest of padlocks so it had to break away with enough force.
But one blow wasn’t enough.
He pulled the pipe back and went to swing it at the padlock again.
Clarice tumbled over onto her back.
The zombie standing over her reached out its filthy hands, two of its fingers missing, the remnants of gnawed bone poking through the ends.
Hayden swung at the padlock.
Harder than ever.
It cracked away. Split and hit the ground.
The gate was open.
Hayden pushed it aside. Rushed out into the land beyond—the land beyond that always felt so uncharted, so unpredictable, so dangerous—and he turned to face the zombie that was standing over Clarice.
He pulled the pipe back and swung it at the back of its neck even harder than he’d cracked the padlock.
He heard a thunk as the metal connected with bone. Watched the zombie slip to its knees, its hands holding on to Clarice’s thighs.
Hayden pulled the pipe back again. He wasn’t in control of himself, his thoughts, his anything.
Just swinging at the zombie.
Putting it down.
Because it wasn’t taking his last living family member away.
It wasn’t taking the last person he loved away.
He shoved the sharp end of the pipe into the back of the zombie’s neck. He split through the rotting grey flesh and pierced the muscle, which was like the insides of an under ripe orange. He kept on pressing as blood spurted out, kept on pressing and shoving the sharp end of the pipe inside until he felt bone, and then he kept on pressing until he felt the bone crack and then the zombie went still.
It landed at Clarice’s feet. She shuffled away. Her grey jogging bottoms were smeared with blood. Sweat covered her face, dripped from her dark hair.
“Shit,” Sarah said. Hayden noticed Newbie had helped her take down the zombie that she was struggling with. “Thanks for the help. We could’ve handled them but—”
“What the actual hell were you doing out here?” Hayden shouted.
The release of the words took him by surprise. He reached down and dragged his sister up. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as he looked in her eyes, his jaw quivering, his entire body shaking. He could see the way she was looking at him with narrowed eyes, too. Narrowed, curious eyes. Eyes that looked at Hayden in a way that told him she didn’t recognise him.
“It’s okay,” Sarah said. “We had a close call. We—”
“I told you not to come out here,” Hayden shouted. “I specifically frigging told you not to leave the bunker grounds in case exactly frigging this happened.”
“Hey,” Clarice said. She pushed her brother back. “Don’t shout in my face. I appreciate you helping me.”
“Just lay off her,” Newbie said.
Hayden turned and squared up to Newbie. “She’s my sister. My frigging family. Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do.”
Newbie lifted his heavy hands. Pressed them against Hayden’s chest. He stared down at Hayden. “Don’t. You don’t want to fight here. Believe me.”
Hayden backed away and turned to his sister. He stepped over the remains of the dead they’d been burning and grabbed his sister’s skinny arm again. “You stay inside in future. You stay—”
“Oh piss off, Hayden.”
Clarice’s words surprised Hayden. He’d never heard her swear at him. They never argued, not really. They didn’t even bicker much as kids, probably because they were bound together by the collective loss of their older sister.
“I’m just looking out for—”
“I don’t know what frigging guilt complex you have going on inside your head, but you’re right to be feeling it.”
Sarah stepped up to Clarice. “Hun, leave it.”
“No, I won’t leave it,” she said, pushing Sarah’s hand away. She looked Hayden right in his eyes. “All my late teens I’ve had to deal with disappointment after disappointment from you, bro. I’ve had to go through things alone because you were too damned lazy to show up. I’ve had to struggle through my exams, sleep on park benches because I was too scared to go home drunk to Mum and Dad, all because I didn’t have a brother there I could rely on.”
“Don’t you dare blame your drink and drug problems on me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of blaming them on you. But the fact is, you could have been there, Hay. And not just for me. You could’ve been there when Dad needed help retiling the kitchen. You could’ve been there when Mum had a seizure and needed some extra company in A&E.”
“A seizure? When did she—”
“Exactly, Hayden. Exactly. So whatever guilt problems or responsibility bullshit you’ve got going on, don’t take them out on me. I stepped out of these fences. I took that risk. That was my bad. But it’s not for you to criticise like I’m some kind of disobedient child.”
She turned and walked back through the gates at the front of the bunker.
Then, she stopped. Turned around. Looked at Hayden with tearful eyes. “I don’t know exactly what happened in that bedroom with Mum and Dad. I don’t envy what you had to do. But you stepped up. Whatever you had to do, you stepped up. But this man I’m seeing now … I’m seeing nothing more than a coward. A controlling coward. Don’t be that man, brother. Don’t be that person. You’ve isolated enough people in your lifetime to know when to stop.”
She turned and walked up the grassy verge towards the bunker.
Hayden watched her disappear, and although he’d saved her, he saw her drifting further and further away, just like everyone involved with him did eventually.