I try to take the trowel but it’s wedged too deep in the skull. All the while the others are stumbling down our cul-de-sac. One big pull on the trowel snaps the wooden handle off. I fall back into the gate. Out of breath I try to take stock. A crowbar is protruding from under the fence. Shit I thought I’d lost that weeks ago. I pick it up. It feels good, strong, and weighty. A dead weight one might say I think and grin. A distant scream sobers me up, and now I have the problem of getting back in my house. The oak tree in next doors garden is my only hope. As deftly as I can I creep round the back, and hop over the waist high white fence. This tree is huge, and I haven’t climbed since I was a kid. But these monsters are getting close now, so the only one way is up. I jam the crowbar into my belt straps and leap for the first branch, which I cling to. Great. Now I’m dangling off a branch. As I wonder what to do next the bay window of my neighbours smashes as a hideous ghoul falls through it. Jesus! Mrs. Barras? Her face turns up, shards of glass creating ridges on her face. Now that’s the motivation I need. I’m up the tree like a cat. Problem number 2. Will this branch hold my weight so I can jump the fence into my own garden? There are three more of them below me now, gurgling and scratching at the bark. I go for it. My jeans catch the barbed wire and flip me over. My forehead is rammed into a steel fencepost and I slip into unconsciousness.
I don’t know how long I was out, but as my eyes started to focus, I really wish they hadn’t bothered. I’m hanging upside down and looking into the glass studded face of Mrs. Barras. This woman is…was nearly seventy, and right now she is chewing on…oh God…a hand. A quick check confirms it’s not mine. There are many more now, mostly gathered round a corpse in Mrs. Barras’ garden all gorging themselves. I yank my foot free and land on my head in the soft mud. Another wise move. I lay there in the dirt, the sound of sinew and flesh being torn from bones, the stench of death all around, my head throbbing, and look at the sky. The sun is lazily rising casting a dull light. A dim recollection stirs in my mind. Oh yeah. That bastard. Now he’s mine.
I gingerly open the front door, the hallway is dark, but my night vision is pretty good now, and I know this house inside out. From glancing through the windows I know he’s not on the ground floor. Up the stairs now, avoiding the ones I know creak, and I can hear him. Short, shallow breaths. He’s in the bathroom. Probably thought the lock would save him. I’m gonna enjoy this. I kick the door down waiting for his screams, his begging, his pleading moans, but there are none. He’s curled in the corner, wedged between the toilet and the wall. In this murky light I see his face, white as a sheet of paper. Lips blue. Barely the strength to sit up. Congealing blood covers the sticky tiles. My anger subsides; I know this guy’s not got long left. Might as well let nature take its course. One less death at my hands.
“I’m sorry.” he murmurs. “I didn’t know what to do. I…I…” tears end the sentence.
Heavily I sit down, tossing the crowbar aside.
“Forget about it. Jesus, what is going on?”
He tells me his story. Driving with his wife and kid to his sisters in Bath. Came across a car crash. While he went to look for help his wife and daughter stayed with the wreckage. When he got back his wife was gone, but his daughter was still there, in the middle of the road. When he broke into tears again I knew that not all of her was there, just the remains. Then some madman had jumped him, bit his arm, tearing a huge chunk of flesh out. So he’d ran. That’s when I found him.
“So where were you?” I ask.
“Your car, where’s your car? How far away?”
“I was running, maybe twenty minutes. Left it near some farm, Stonecross I think it was called.”
I know that farm. That’s some info I’m putting in the memory banks.
“You can have it if you want” He says, reading my mind, and tosses me the keys. “Not sure what I’ll use it for now. But where are you gonna go? On my way here I saw maybe fifty, sixty of those things. Who’s to say the whole country hasn’t gone to shit?”
“True. I’ve got stocks that should last weeks, maybe months if I stretch it.”
Not too much booze left though. Been hitting that pretty hard.
“I’m gonna try and find some bandages, try and stop the bleeding.”
His eyes are half closed now; he murmurs something and slides to the floor. By the time I’ve been down to the kitchen and back up, he’s motionless, his pulse I can barely register. I never even asked your name. Damn.
A couple of hours later, and I’m stumbling from room to room, a half empty bottle of whisky at my side. My bed, boy I could use some sleep. As I go to close the curtains I’m blinded briefly by a bright light. It’s a cloudy day, what the hell was that? Again, right in the eye. Then I spot it. Penny’s pointing a flashlight right at me! Excitement boils within me and I jump up and down waving. She’s still alive! I do my best stay there and don’t move impression and charge down the stairs, looking for my binoculars. My heart is thumping like a runaway train as I look across to Penny, her face now magnified. I see she’s been crying, and I remember what I did last night. She’s holding a large piece of what looks like white card, on it says -I saw what happened- My heart drops like a lead balloon. What can I say to that? But she turns it around; on the other side -he was already dead- Relief floods over me. Now I see that she’s wiping the message off, must be a whiteboard like they have at school or something. Her velvet black hair covers her face for a moment while she writes something else. -Do you know Morse code?- Christ, all the women in the world and I fall for a secret agent. I repeat my don’t move signal. I know I’ve got a book somewhere. I root through my bookshelf. Nothing. Down the hall room to room. Eventually I find it, along with my own flashlight. Back to the window, she’s still there, looking so beautiful, like a fresh apple on a branch just out of reach. Now she’s got some bino’s. I hold the book up proudly, and I see that electric smile briefly illuminate her face. The whiteboard she’s holding says -sorry, almost out of ink- But what do I care? The more time staring at this beauty is less time wondering what the hell to do now. As she starts to flash, something at the back of my mind is yelling at me, like a man who’s just missed the bus. Ah well, if it’s important I’ll remember it later. Right now I’m transfixed. For another hour we painstakingly flash out messages. She tells me she saw Mike get attacked, and die well before I saw him. She knows it isn’t my fault. She’s got lots of water, but food may not last long. I say don’t worry, I’ve got plenty. I can throw stuff into her garden. All the while I’m wondering if you can flirt using Morse code. Probably difficult to be subtle. I tell her about me and what happened to the guy who left me to die. That’s when that little thought I had suddenly gets my full attention, and a sliver of ice cold fear trickles down my spine. When I got the book, I had to go downstairs. Past the bathroom.
Past the empty bathroom…