Authors: Ryan Casey
an you fix it
?” Clarice asked.
Newbie leaned into the bonnet of the Range Rover. Rain lashed down from the grey storm clouds above. The smell of damp soil was strong in the air—a smell that took Hayden back to his childhood holidays in the New Forest. Always rained, always. But he kind of liked it. Liked that smell. It was fresh.
Which made a pleasant change to the usual rotting stench of the undead.
Newbie sighed. He wiped the rain from his face. “It’s the apocalypse. What d’you reckon my chances of fixing it are?”
Hayden stared into the evergreen trees at the opposite side of the long road. They cordoned them in on either side. There was no escaping them. Just a long road between them and trees that stretched into the sky like watchful gods, watchful demons.
And beyond the first of the trees, Hayden could hear the echoing groans of an oncoming army of dead.
“We’re gonna have to move on foot,” Newbie said.
“There’s still a chance we can get back,” Hayden said. “Head back the way we came. Go towards the cottage and—”
“Not a chance,” Newbie said, shaking his head. “We’re closer to Warrington than we are the cottage. Journey ain’t so far from here. We can push on. But we’d better get a move on.”
He turned his back on Hayden and Clarice and started walking down the middle of the road, leaving the Range Rover abandoned and stacked with the tins of food they’d risked so much to get their hands on.
Hayden looked at Clarice, waited for some kind of answer, some kind of decision.
She stared at the trees behind Hayden. She could hear them too, he knew that. The mass of dead. The dead that would be upon them at any given moment—not when they least expected it, because they had to be constantly prepared in a world like this. But they’d be here soon. They’d be here, and Hayden, Clarice and Newbie would be running again.
“I think … we can’t separate,” Clarice said. “Not after how far we’ve come.”
Hayden looked at Newbie as he charged down the central lines of the road. The rain dripped from his torn black coat. Hayden could feel the rain on his lips and he licked it, the freshest water he’d tasted in days. “He’s blinded by this idea of his kid being in Warrington. I … I just don’t see how we can go marching into another town.”
“And weren’t you blinded when you thought I was alive? When you heard Mum’s voice on the phone, weren’t you following the road purely on faith?”
“He walked into my house just after you, brother. As good as by your side. And he’s still here right now. We … we lost Sarah. We left her behind when we could’ve done more for her. We can’t leave Newbie to find his own path too.”
Hayden wanted to tell his sister that he just wanted to keep her safe. That he personally would follow Newbie, but with his sister it was just too much of a risk. He couldn’t put her life in danger. He couldn’t be there when another family member died.
Or, he couldn’t die on his one remaining close relative.
He couldn’t do that.
He was about to say something when he saw the branches of the evergreen trees rustle just over Clarice’s shoulder.
He looked at the spot where he’d seen the movement. A definite shaking of the leaves. And there was still that low, echoing hum of the gasps, the groans.
Clarice turned around slowly. “What is—”
“Ssh,” Hayden said. “We … we need to get away from here. We need to …”
And then the smell hit him.
He grabbed his sister’s hand and went to grip on the mallet … only he realised it wasn’t there. There was the gun. The gun he’d shot the guy called Dave at the cottage with. It was in his pocket, but firing at the zombies would be too loud.
He had to get back to the car and get a weapon.
He had to …
He saw the first of the zombies stagger out from behind the trees. It was short, skinny. Male. Bones stuck out of the pale flesh on its bitten ribcage. Its eyes looked like they were in two different shades, but then Hayden realised that’s because one of them had a bite mark on it that had sent eye fluid trickling down the poor thing’s face.
He stepped to the right when he saw more rustling in the trees.
To the right.
Further to the right.
And to the left.
Clarice tightened her grip on Hayden’s hand. “We need to go.”
And Hayden knew she was right. Zombies flooded out of the trees opposite them. Lots of them—ten, twenty, more. All of them staggering in his direction, in his sister’s direction, in …
He looked up the road.
Newbie was still marching down it.
Marching down, facing forward, the trees rustling beside him too.
Hayden wanted to shout and then he heard the rustling to the right.
Heard the gasps, the footsteps getting faster, smelled another bout of rotting flesh.
He turned to his right and he saw the zombies coming out of the trees on the right now, too.
A mass of zombies coming from the left, the right, from all around.
“What … what do we do?” Clarice asked. And she said it in a fearful way that terrified Hayden. Gripped his hand like she used to when they were kids and begged him for an answer.
And he always had an answer. He always had some words or some solution to pick Clarice up, to give her strength, give her confidence.
But as the zombies piled out of the trees on both sides of the road, Hayden didn’t have an answer.
And that’s what terrified him more than anything.
down the open road away from the emerging mass of zombies.
He held his sister’s hand tightly. Felt cold sweat trickling from her palm onto his. Up ahead, he saw Newbie turn around and look at the zombies as they staggered out of the trees, staggered from both directions, getting closer and closer.
He could hear their footsteps. Hear their gasps and their growls. It was a noise that he’d never get used to. A sound that would always ring in his ears, set his mind on fire. And right now, there was nothing any of them could do but run. The car was surrounded and broken down. All the food they’d gathered from the cottage and the handheld weapons they’d acquired—except for the axe Newbie was holding and the gun in Hayden’s pocket—were gone.
Right now, all they had were their feet.
All they could do was run.
Hayden felt his sister slowing down as she ran beside him. He felt pains aching, creeping through his body as the mass of rotting undead pursued them, just like they’d keep on pursuing them until the very end. He wondered how many people had died this way. Died running, filled with fear and adrenaline, tripping over a lace or cocking over and made themselves zombie food.
Gasps and growling and footsteps getting closer, closer …
“We need to go into the woods,” Hayden shouted, abandoning his silence policy now it was glaringly obvious the zombies knew exactly where he was anyway.
Newbie kept on running. He shook his head but didn’t look back. “Not … not far down this road. Need to keep going. Nearly there.”
Hayden glanced over his shoulder and regretted it instantly. The pack of zombies was so dense that it was filling up the road. He could just about make out the abandoned Range Rover through their mass, but it was barely noticeable.
So many of them.
Flesh spewing out of their red-raw limbs.
Maggots biting into their decaying skulls.
All chasing, all approaching.
“Shit,” Hayden said, as he kept on running, kept on holding his sister’s hand. “We … Sis, we need to go into the woods. Need to try and lose them.”
from the woods,” Clarice said.
Hayden looked at the trees on his left. He could see movement, rustling. A sign that more zombies were preparing to join their companions. Readying themselves to hunt.
Then he looked to the right and he saw the branches and the leaves were still.
“I think we can go right,” Hayden said, cold sweat dripping down his face. “We can go into the woods and lose them if—”
“But what about Newbie?”
Hayden looked ahead at Newbie. Looked at him striding away. And a part of Hayden saw himself in Newbie. He saw himself making his stupid, life-threatening decisions when he’d gone back to the bombarded Preston to try and save his family.
He saw himself, and yet he saw exactly what those decisions had done for him.
Those decisions had saved his sister.
“He’s made his choice. There’s nothing we can say to change his mind now.”
Hayden gripped Clarice’s hand tighter.
“But … we can’t just …”
“I’m sorry, Sis,” Hayden said. And he was. He really was. Newbie was a good man. He was a man who’d been there for him all this time, except for their occasional spats that could be forgiven in the circumstances.
But he was a man with a mission of his own. A man with a journey, a quest, to pursue.
A quest that he had to see out alone, because following him was just too much danger for Hayden to risk putting himself in right now.
Way too much risk putting Clarice in.
“Not too late to take a right,” Hayden shouted. “You … you know where we’ll be. You know where we’ll be if you need us.”
Newbie didn’t turn around. He didn’t nod. He just kept on moving, kept on speeding up the road.
Hayden’s stomach sank, but he couldn’t let himself be sentimental anymore.
He tightened his grip on his sister’s hand and pulled her to the trees at the right of the road.
As he moved towards the evergreen leaves, he prepared to be swarmed in the clutches of zombies he hadn’t seen hiding away, waiting to pursue their prey.
He held his breath as he sprinted at the trees.
Took one final look at Newbie.
Then the leaves and the branches scratched against Hayden’s face and the woods surrounded him.
The pair of them ran through the trees in no real direction and with no real end point in mind. Just getting away from the zombies was a good enough goal in itself. Hayden’s shoes snapped against loose twigs, splashed through thick mud, and he lost his balance a few times and almost dragged Clarice down with him.
But they were alive. They were alive, and the sounds of the zombies’ gasps were getting gradually less pronounced behind them.
Hayden slowed down his running when he was pretty certain the rotting stench was far enough out of his senses. He let go of his sister’s hand and rested his palms on his knees. His heart pounded, and a crippling stitch gnawed at his stomach and chest.
He could hear his sister panting, puffing beside him. And although she sounded like she was exhausted, like everything was a struggle, it was just a relief to hear her breathing.
Hayden never let go of how lucky he was. Never.
“So I guess we’ll have to find a diverted route to Warrington?” Clarice said.
Hayden looked up at the sky. He was pretty certain they hadn’t veered too far off the track, but he couldn’t know for definite. “I … I think if we head west from here we’ll be parallel with the road again,” he said. “We just … we just have to stay quiet. Move slower. Keep our guard up.”
“So Warrington’s definitely still the destination?”
Hayden thought about it. He tried to picture another possible destination now that the bunker had been overrun, and he realised just how out of options they were. Wanderers. Nothing but wanderers, with a distant hope of a safe place in Warrington in the back of their mind.
“I guess we don’t have a choice,” he said. He walked past Clarice and led the way through the thick trees.
“Whatever happened to ladies first?” she asked.
“Looking out for my sister happened to ladies first.”
And then he stopped.
He stopped because he heard twigs to his left.
“I don’t remember you being so witty—”
“Ssh,” Hayden said. He held out a hand. Searched the thick leaves of the trees beside him, but couldn’t see any signs of movement. “You … you hear that?”
Clarice frowned. “Hear what?”
Hayden thought maybe he’d been imagining things. Maybe it was just his mind screwing with him.
And then he heard the twigs snapping again.
And this time, he heard the gasps somewhere beyond the twigs.
He became suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he was. Without a weapon—or at least, a weapon that didn’t frigging blast like a gun. Without a weapon and all alone in the woods.
He took his sister’s hand. “We need to get out of here. We need to—”
And then he saw the leaves rustle in front of him.
Saw the branches shake.
He tensed his fists.
Prepared to take on whatever was coming his way.
Newbie tumbled out from the branches, panting, sweating, shaking.
Hayden stared at him in disbelief. His stomach was still going, and his tensed fists had turned to jelly. “Newbie, what—”
“You two might wanna try keeping your voices down,” Newbie said. He looked up and pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “I think I’ve driven our friends off the road. But the bad thing is they’re heading our way.”
Hayden listened to the sounds of the oncoming footsteps, smelled the scent of death, and he readied himself for another bout of running.
down the centre of the country lane and he knew the dead couldn’t be too far ahead.
The stench of them was still strong in the cold winter air. Smelled like shit. No: way, way worse than shit. Rotting shit mixed with rotting piss smelled with all kinds of awful.
But he knew the living had been here, too.
He walked along the road, Bob, Sammy and the gagged bitch whose name they still hadn’t figured out beside them. The sun poked from behind the thick grey clouds, which were like smoke from an addict’s lungs. The zombies were like a cancer that hung over their every living moment.
He could go places with similes and metaphors, especially when there was jack all else to do these days.
They stopped beside the Range Rover. Ally recognised it right away. The bonnet had got a bit dusty and muddied, and there were things inside—tins, cans, stuff like that—which weren’t there beforehand. He could smell burning from the engine. Always did mess up like that. A problem he’d had ever since he first bought the thing.
Luckily for him, he knew how to fix it.
He turned to Bob, Sammy and the gagged woman and he pointed at the car. “Throw her in the boot. I’ll get this up and running.”
The brunette’s eyes widened as Bob and Sammy opened up the boot of the Range Rover and tossed her inside. He heard the crack of her face against the hard laminate flooring he’d put in there. He kind of liked it.
Used to throw Claudia in there when she pissed him off. Locked her in there for the night. He’d had it custom fitted so a little section acted as a cage. Trapped whoever was in there in complete darkness.
He used to go to sleep to the sounds of her crying and screaming.
Didn’t matter. Lived way out in the countryside. Bitch could scream all she wanted.
Bob and Sammy closed the boot and walked over to Ally, who leaned on the bonnet.
“What d’you think it means?” Sammy asked, reluctance in her voice.
Ally looked up at her as he reached into the engine. Smiled. “It means they’re on course for Warrington. And it means we’re gonna be there to welcome them.”