By DJ Tyrer
“Dammit!” Mark yanked his hand back, blood dripping from his fingers. The barbed wire had torn a gash across his palm.
Gina grabbed his arm and yanked it up. “Let me look… It’s not too bad. Wrap something tight about it.” She glanced back. “And, hurry – those things are getting closer.”
He tore the sleeve from his shirt and twisted it around his hand.
“Take off your coat.”
Gina looked at him. “It’s cold.”
“You’ll live. My jacket’s back in the car and my shirt ain’t thick enough. We need to cover the spikes. Hurry up.”
She gave a grunt of annoyance, but slipped her jacket off and handed it to him. Mark dropped it on the fence, then pushed it down and helped her over. He followed her a moment later.
“Here.” He tugged the jacket free and tossed it to her.
“Hey, you’ve torn it.”
He held up his hand.
Gina reddened. “Sure. Sorry.”
Mark looked behind them. Three men were stumbling towards them across the field. “We have to go.”
Gina nodded and began to run.
“Look.” He pointed with his good hand. “A house.”
They turned and headed for the rooftop that rose above a line of trees.
“Please, please, please,” gasped Gina, “let it be safe.”
“Hey, it looks like the windows have been boarded up.”
Gina paused and gripped her side, massaging a stitch. “Do you think it’s abandoned?”
“Might be, or else someone’s home and they know about… about those things. Come on, let’s find out.”
He ran up to the front door and hammered on it. “Hello! Anyone there? Anybody home?”
Mark fell silent, there were sounds inside, movement, then hushed voices.
He banged again. “Hey, let us in!”
“Look!” Gina pointed at a face that had just appeared at a gap between the boards over the nearest window.
“Go away – and stop making so much noise,” the man shouted.
“You’ve got to let us in. They’re out there.”
“And, you’re bringing them here.”
“Please,” interrupted Gina, “you can’t leave us out here. If you don’t help us, we’ll die.”
There was swearing inside, then several loud sounds and, then, the door opened and the man waved them in, saying, “Hurry up.”
The moment they were inside, the man and a second, who’d been behind the door, began to nail planks of wood back in place across the door.
“I’m Steve, and this is John,” the second man called back over his shoulder as they worked. “That’s Lydia in the front.” He gestured with his hammer and they turned to see a woman leaning around the frame of a doorway to look at them. “My wife. Who are you?”
“I’m Gina and this is my boyfriend, Mark.” She looked at Lydia. “Do you live here?”
“Not yet.” She gave a fragile laugh. “We were house-hunting. John’s our estate agent. We were attacked by… by…” She waved her hand, vaguely.
Gina nodded. “We know.”
“It was a little old lady. Looked like a little old lady. She got John’s assistant. Then, she… came back. John and Steve… well, they… Anyway, after we heard the news, we began boarding ourselves in here.”
“News?” asked Mark. “How many more are there? We’ve seen a dozen, maybe twenty.”
Steve gave a scornful laugh. “There’s thousands of them. Nobody knows what’s causing it, but people who seemed dead are getting up and killing people – eating them, if you can believe it.”
“I can,” muttered Mark.
“Some people are saying they were dead – that it’s the end of the world and the dead are walking the earth. I dunno.” Steve stepped back from the door. “Well, we’re done.”
“Come through,” said John, “and we’ll get you a coffee. We’ve still got water and power, so that’s okay. No phone signal, though – we’re too far out and the landline’s disconnected, unfortunately.” He stepped through into the kitchen.
“So, we can’t call for help?” Gina sat down. “Nobody’s going to save us?”
Steve shrugged. “Who knows if there’s anyone left to do the saving.”
“Things are pretty screwed up,” said John, returning with two mugs, which he handed to them. He looked down at Mark’s hand. “What the hell happened to you?”
Steve leaned in. “Were you bitten?”
“Uh, no. Caught it on some barbed wire. Bloody painful. I’ll probably need a tetanus shot.”
“You’re sure you weren’t bitten?”
“Nah, they never got that close to us. Why? What’s got you so worked up?”
Steve stared at him, clearly doubtful. “They were saying, on the radio, that it’s the bites.”
“Oh, nobody knows that for sure,” interjected Lydia, but he ignored her.
“They say that you get bitten, you die, you come back – as one of them.”
“I wasn’t bitten.”
“He wasn’t, honest.”
“You’d better not’ve been.”
“So,” said John, “how, uh, did you come to be here?”
“We nearly crashed. There was a man in the road; I swerved to miss them and clipped a tree, instead. Of course, it was one of those things, so I should’ve swiped them and kept going… hindsight and all that.”
“There was a man on a bicycle and it managed to grab him.” Gina groaned at the memory. “Well, that’s when we realised something was wrong. The car stalled, so we got out and ran as fast as we could, hoping to find help.”
Mark patted her arm. “Only, there wasn’t any, just them. We headed into the fields to get away, but they followed us. That’s when I gashed my hand.” He glared at Steve, who glared back. “Then, we spotted this place…”
“You better not be infected,” muttered Steve.
John patted his arm. “I’m sure he’s not.”
Just then, there was a sound from the front door, a rattle, and they all fell silent. John crossed over to the window and peeked out.
“It’s them,” he said. “There of them: Two male, one female.”
Steve swore. “You had to bring them here, didn’t you?”
Gina glanced down at the floor and murmured an apology.
John patted the planks. “Well, they can’t get in. We’re safe as, well, as safe as houses.”
Steve began to pace.
“There’s more of them.” Lydia had just come downstairs from a rest break. “I think there must be thirty or forty milling around out there; mostly on the drive, but there are a few in the garden.”
Gina wrung her hands. “Why are they coming here?”
“Who knows?” said John. “Maybe they can smell us, or perhaps, they go where others of them are. Could be random bad luck and they just recognise a house as a place to go. Still, we’re safe in here.”
“If they’re not dead,” said Steve, “they’re brain dead.”
Lydia nodded. “They do seem stupid, or unmotivated. They rattle the door, a bit, but mostly just mill about.”
Mark looked up from where he was clutching his increasingly painful hand. His skin was pale and shiny with sweat. “I wouldn’t want to press my nose up against the glass, though – that might get them excited.”
Steve turned and looked closely at him. “You sure you weren’t bitten?”
“He does look sick,” said Lydia, her voice tentative.
Gina touched her boyfriend’s arm. “It’s an infection. It could be sepsis. Oh, I wish we could get him to a hospital.”
“We should take a look at his hand.” Steve was trying to keep his tone casual.
Mark glared at him. “It’s a cut, not a bite.”
“Well, then –”
John cut Steve off: “What was that?”
He glared at him. “What?”
John stepped out into the hall and swore.
“What is it?” called Lydia.
“The front door. I think the weight of numbers is breaking it open.”
Steve swore. “Upstairs, quick.”
Gina grabbed Mark and helped him to his feet and they followed after the others as fast as they could.
Crash! Behind them, as they began to climb the stairs, the front door burst open and figures stumbled into the entrance hall, reaching clumsily for them. Some looked almost normal; the flesh of others was grotesquely torn or blotchy. Gina screamed.
“Quick!” shouted Lydia.
A hand caught Gina’s skirt and they faltered and nearly fell. Then, with a loud ripping sound, she pulled free and they clambered to the landing.
“You hurt?” Steve looked at them, wildly. “Are you hurt?”
“Just my modesty,” said Gina, pointing to her torn skirt.
“Out the way,” said John, shoving them aside, before pushing a wardrobe down the stairs. It was enough to throw back the ones climbing it and came to a rest at the bottom, broken, but still an impediment to easy climbing.
Lydia tugged at Gina. “In here.”
They ran into a bedroom as John and Steve pushed a sideboard across the top of the stairs as a makeshift barricade, then joined them, blocking the door with furniture and hammering a couple of planks across it.
“Our final stand,” murmured Gina.
Lydia clapped her hands. “No need for gloom. It’s a decent-sized room and there’s a bed, so we can sleep.”
“In shifts, I hope,” Gina interjected, helping her boyfriend onto the bed.
Lydia ignored her. “And, there’s a bathroom, so we’ve got water, and, you know…”
Gina slumped onto the edge of the bed, leaning awkwardly against the headboard. “So, we’re good for a couple of days. Then, what? Have we got food?”
Steve sneered. “The only food in here is us, if they break in.”
John sighed. “We just have to hope help is coming.”
Gina shook her head, but said nothing.
Steve began to pace back-and-forth, casting looks at Mark every so often. Downstairs and, later, on the landing, there were sounds of movement as the dead milled about.
Suddenly, Steve halted and looked directly at Mark. “He’s worse.”
“He wasn’t bitten,” Gina said, quickly.
“Doesn’t matter, does it?”
John looked at Steve. “I don’t understand…”
Steve ran his hand over his hair and looked about, eyes wide. “If he was bitten, he’s going to turn into one of them, soon enough.”
“And, if not, we know dead people have been coming back to life and they can’t all have been bitten, can they? There’s a couple out there, too far gone to have died today…”
Lydia looked at her husband, eyes almost as wide as his. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that, soon enough, he’s going to die and, then, he’s going to get up and try to kill us. Doesn’t matter whether he was bitten or not. It’s a certainty.”
Gina gasped. “You don’t know that.”
“I do. I was listening to the radio. There’s nothing we can do. They say, to be certain, you have to destroy the brain…” He raised his hammer, meaningfully.
Gina threw herself around Mark, defensively.
There was silence for a time, save the occasional clatter caused by the walking dead elsewhere in the building, then Steve spoke: “We have to act.”
Gina gasped. “Don’t you dare touch him!” She looked at Lydia, but she glanced away. “He just needs medical aid. A bit of medicine and he’ll be fine.”
Steve shook his head. “Ain’t no medical help coming. Ain’t no Mary Poppins planning to pop in and help out. Ain’t nobody coming – we’re screwed.”
Mark managed to find his voice. “Says you.”
“Says common sense,” Steve replied as Mark sank back, exhausted. “But, we’re even more screwed with you in here with us…”
There was a rattling at the bedroom door and John stepped back without a thought. “Well, they’ve found us.”
“And, there’s going to be one more in here, shortly, too.” Steve raised his hammer. “We have to deal with him, now, before he becomes a threat.”
Mark groaned, too weak to say or do more.
Gina leapt to her feet. “You can’t hurt him – I won’t let you.”
Lydia grabbed her. Gina pulled, but couldn’t quite break free as the two of them tussled in the corner.
“It’s for the best,” said Steve as John looked away.
Mark opened his mouth a little, groaned, shut it.
Steve raised his hammer.
The door continued to rattle.
For Mark, it was over. The others would join him soon enough…
Gina screamed. And, screamed.