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BLOOD SURVIVORS BOOK 2: DOWNFALL
Copyright: Nerys WheatleyPublished: 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval systems, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted, without written permission from the author. You must not circulate this book in any format.
Cover by Deranged Doctor Design
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“Phone’s ringing,” Micah called.
“Can’t you get it?” Alex called back.
“Not really, no.”
Alex sighed, wrapped the towel around him, and walked into the living room. Micah was exactly where he’d left him twenty minutes before, eyes closed, flat out on the sofa.
“Where’s my bacon?” Alex said, picking up the phone.
Micah waved a dismissive hand without opening his eyes.
“Hello?” Alex said into the receiver.
A smile spread across his face. “Hello, Hannah.”
“Alex, they’re here.”
His smile vanished at her panicked tone. “Who’s there?”
Micah opened his eyes and looked up at him.
“They killed Jim,” she whispered, the hint of a sob in her voice. “I’m hiding, but I don’t know how long...”
Alex heard a crash, and Hannah gasped.
“Hannah?” he said, his heart pounding. “Hannah!”
To Alex’s intense frustration, the lights didn’t switch on.
He lifted his foot from the step and put it back down again. Then he tried the second step, and the third. Finally, he tried jumping up and down. Still no illumination appeared on the staircase descending into the underground laboratory.
“Can you see anything?” Micah said from behind him.
“Stairs,” he replied.
“I meant anything on the stairs. Specifically anything that might try to eat us.”
“No. But without power, we’re not going to last long if there’s anything down there.”
“You can see in the dark,” Micah pointed out.
“Yeah, but not if there’s no light at all. We’re not going to be much use to anyone if we die.”
He stared down at the corridor leading away from the foot of the stairs. Even though he couldn’t hear any sounds coming from below, it didn’t mean nothing was happening down there. The underground facility was a big place. For all he knew, the little group of doctors they’d left here just two days before were somewhere in the darkness, fighting for their lives.
It was twenty minutes since he’d received the panicked call from Hannah. Twenty minutes on Janie’s motorcycle, picking their way through the vehicle snarl-ups blocking almost every road. Twenty minutes during which almost anything could have happened to Hannah, Carla, Dave, Larry and Pauline.
Hannah could be down there right now, in danger, waiting for him to rescue her. The thought made his gut clench. He’d only known her for a few days, but it was enough to know he wanted to know the pretty doctor for a lot longer.
Alex jumped, startled by Micah’s loud exclamation. “The mobiles aren’t working.”
“No, but I have a torch app.” Micah pushed his hand into his jacket pocket and frowned. He patted his other pockets. “I must have left it on your sofa. Do you have yours?”
“No. I didn’t think to bring it, with the signal down.”
Micah planted his hands on his hips. “We have got to start thinking ahead.”
Alex looked at the door to the shed through which they’d entered. “Maybe there’s something in there.”
They returned through the hidden door to the main part of the shed and began searching the shelves of gardening paraphernalia.
“Found matches,” Micah said, holding up a box. “We could make a torch out of something.”
“Or we could use this,” Alex said, pulling a large torch with black rubber casing from behind a box of lawn fertiliser.
He pressed the power button, relieved when the light came on.
“Those old torches guzzle battery power,” Micah said. “What if it runs out while we’re down there?”
“Afraid of the dark?” Alex said.
“If there are eaters in it, yes.”
“All we have to do is get to the generator and turn it back on. It can’t be that far.”
“If it is the generator.”
Alex headed back towards the stairs. “Well, I’m going down. I have to know if Hannah’s all right.”
He strode back into the small antechamber with the staircase and started down. Pulling one of the two skull-spiker stiletto knives he’d brought from his pocket, he kept the blade retracted into the handle, but clutched it ready, just in case.
“Wait for me.”
He looked back to see Micah following him, an aerosol can in one hand.
“If things get desperate,” he said, “I want a way to make some serious light.”
“Okay, but let’s try not to burn the place down around us.”
Alex led the way down the stairs and along the grey, featureless corridor to the entrance into the facility. The sliding security door was closed to within an inch of the frame, just like the first time they’d been this way.
That time, a body had been on the other side. He suppressed the fear that this time, it could be Hannah’s.
Handing the torch to Micah, he pushed his fingers into the gap and pulled at the door. The broken mechanism protested for a moment before releasing, the door sliding open with an unhealthy grating sound.
The storage room beyond was in darkness, just enough light filtering down the staircase to enable Alex’s Meir’s virus enhanced vision to make out the piles of stacked furniture dotted around. He stood for a few seconds, allowing his eyes to adjust and making sure there was nothing hiding in the shadows.
“Anything?” Micah whispered behind him.
Alex shook his head. “Looks clear. Don’t use the torch until we have to though. It’ll ruin my night vision.”
“I can’t see a thing in here,” Micah said, “so give me a heads up if I’m about to get bitten or anything.”
Micah placed his hand on Alex’s shoulder for guidance and they made their way across the room to the door in the far wall. Alex peered through the inset window. The wide corridor beyond was empty, as far as he could see, although his field of vision was limited by the door. He grasped the handle, pushed the door open slowly, and flipped out the skull-spiker’s blade in case anything rushed in to attack them. When nothing did, he took a step in and checked either side of the door.
“It’s clear,” he whispered.
“Then why are you whispering?” Micah whispered back.
“I don’t know. It just feels like I should.”
“I know what you mean.”
Alex glanced back at him. Micah was staring straight ahead, his eyes unfocused, obviously unable to see anything. He looked nervous. Alex couldn’t blame him. He was nervous and he could see, just.
As they made their way along the corridor, Alex glanced at the doors they passed. All of them were closed and he couldn’t see anything but darkness through the windows set into each of them. He wanted to find Hannah, but they couldn’t scour every room in the dark. When the generator was back on they’d be able to do a thorough search, if they needed to.
They reached the door at the far end of the corridor and stopped. Beyond was the employee lounge where they’d first met Hannah and the other doctors. For some reason, opening this door filled Alex with dread. Visibility was getting so bad he could barely see any more. This far underground, with no windows and no light of any kind, even he had to admit defeat.
“I think it’s time to use the torch,” he whispered.
“Thank goodness,” Micah said. “I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m freaking out here.”
He switched the torch on and swept it around the corridor. Alex squinted, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and then opened the door. When nothing burst through it, he walked in.
Furniture was strewn about the room, chairs and tables overturned, a sofa tipped onto its front. The glass in the double doors on the far side of the room was shattered, covering the surrounding floor and making it sparkle in the torchlight. Alex spotted what looked very much like bullet holes in the walls.
Lying near the centre of the room was a body. It was James Lofton, the security guard at the underground government laboratory.
Despite only knowing him for a few days, Alex felt sad at his death. He was good company, something Alex had found out during the two days he’d spent in the lab waiting anxiously for Micah to regain consciousness after being bitten.
“So unless they’ve learned how to fire a weapon, this wasn’t eaters,” Micah said, crouching beside the body and shining the torch on the three closely grouped, bloody bullet holes in his chest. “Do you think someone from outside tried to steal their supplies and Jim tried to stop them?”
“How many members of the general public know how to use a gun? Not to mention well enough to shoot an armed man with that degree of accuracy.” Alex turned away from Jim and scanned the rest of the room. To his relief, there were no more bodies amongst the mess. “Let’s get to the generator.”
They crunched their way over the broken glass around the double doors into another corridor. The walls here on both sides were glazed from waist height up and Micah shined the torch into the labs beyond. But other than a couple more shattered windows, they appeared unaffected.
After traversing two identical corridors, they reached the double security doors leading into the Omnav-run section of the facility, where the corporation responsible for the nefarious part of the lab had developed the new strain of Meir’s Disease to turn the virus into a weapon and eaters into soldiers. The doors were closed, unlike the first time Alex and Micah had come here. Alex wasn’t sure what they would do if they were locked, but when he pushed the handle down, it opened.
Micah shone the torch along the corridor ahead of them, illuminating nothing. They continued in, letting the door close behind them. The atmosphere seemed thicker here, cloying. Alex detected the unmistakeable smell of eater, but he knew the cells where the scientists kept the unfortunate subjects of their experiments weren’t far. He hoped that was all it was.
“Is it my imagination, or is this beam getting duller?” Micah said, using the universal torch repair technique of smacking his hand against the rubber casing.
Alex glanced at the torch. “No, I don’t think...”
The torch went out.
Thick darkness engulfed them.
“You were saying?” Micah said.
Alex heard the torch switch being flipped off and on a few times, then a hand slapping against the casing again. They remained in the dark.
The blackness was so complete it was almost solid. Alex stared into the void, hoping his eyes would adjust, that he’d be able to see something. Anything. But with no light whatsoever, he was as blind as any normal person.
“Maybe we can find something in one of the labs,” he said, lowering his voice again, “turn a Bunsen burner on or something.”
“Yeah, okay,” Micah said. “I think this torch is dead and gone.”
Alex reached out and encountered Micah’s arm. “Give me your hand.”
“You want to hold hands? Now who’s afraid of the dark?”
“I just want to make sure we stick together.”
“Fine, but if the lights go on now and everyone is watching us, you can do the explaining.”
He felt Micah’s hand grasp his. Embarrassingly, it did make him feel a little better.
“Smooth,” Alex said. “Do you moisturise?”
“Feel free to not talk.”
Alex tried to ignore his rising heart rate as he felt his way along the corridor with his free hand. They were fine. It was just darkness. He was a grown man with superhuman strength. He was not afraid of the dark. He wasn’t.
He reached an open doorway and walked blindly in, feeling his way along a workbench running along the wall. He stopped and let go of Micah’s hand.
Something was wrong.
“Are you breathing?” he whispered.
“What kind of question is that?” Micah whispered back. “Of course I’m breathing.”
“Just hold your breath for a few seconds so I can listen.”
He heard Micah take a deep breath and hold it. He did the same.
Slightly raspy breathing remained.
“Please tell me that’s you,” Micah hissed.
Alex swallowed. “It’s not me.”
Across the room, a piece of furniture scraped on the floor.
“Do you have those matches?” Alex said, trying to keep the tremor from his voice.
He heard rustling, then the rattle of a matchbox. At the same time, he heard the sound of footsteps dragging on the tiled floor.
“Micah,” he hissed.
The footsteps were getting closer.
A match flared into life, illuminating a small area around them. The vacant face of an eater burst into the light with a grating moan, lunging at them.
Before Alex could react, Micah yelled, raising the aerosol. The match became a flamethrower.
With a dull whoosh, the eater was engulfed in flames. It didn’t slow down at all.
Alex pushed Micah out of its way and dived to the side, hitting a cupboard before crashing to the floor.
The eater, now a walking inferno thanks to being drenched with whatever Micah had sprayed on it, turned to face him. He scrambled to his feet and backed away.
“Kill it,” Micah shouted.
Alex darted behind a table as the eater advanced on him. “How am I supposed to kill it? It’s on fire.”
“I don’t know. A gun would be really useful at this moment.”
The eater attempted to walk through the table. It tried to open its mouth to moan, but its lips were melting together. So much heat was radiating from it that Alex wondered if he still had eyebrows. Sweat dripped down his forehead.
“Pity I used up all our ammunition saving your arse.”
The table inched across the floor as the eater reached its burning arms towards him. Bits of skin peeled off and dropped in little smouldering heaps onto the Formica. Alex backed up against a bench, coughing. The stench was overwhelming.
“I just knew you’d never let that go,” Micah said, picking up a chair and smashing it onto the eater’s back. It staggered around and lunged towards him.
With the eater distracted, Alex darted from behind the table, panting from the heat. Micah threw himself across the metal surface of one of the exam tables, scattering medical instruments in his wake, and dropped to the floor on the other side.
Alex grabbed one of the operating theatre spotlights. Off the floor it was unexpectedly top heavy and he was pulled to one side, off balance. The eater started to turn towards him again.
“I miss my gun,” Alex muttered, adjusting his grip on the spotlight.
“Right now, I miss your gun too,” Micah yelled, waving his arms to get the eater’s attention back on him.
Alex turned the stand round so the bulbous light was towards him. He ran at the eater and shoved the splayed base at its torso, driving it to the floor. Ignoring the searing heat, he lifted the light into the air and smashed it down with all his strength onto the eater’s head.
Finally, it went still.
Alex dropped the spotlight and backed up to the far end of the room, as far away from the eater conflagration as possible. He tried to ignore the pervading odour of charred flesh. Micah joined him.
“I think we’ve learned something here,” Alex said, wiping the sweat from his face, “and that is to never set an eater on fire.”
A moan from the corridor drew their attention.
“On the plus side,” Micah said, looking out the window at another eater shuffling towards them, “we now have a source of light.”
“I’ve got it.”
Alex walked out into the hallway, pinned the eater against the window behind it with his foot, and stabbed his skull-spiker into its temple. It crumpled to the floor.
More moans emerged from the darkness further along the corridor.
Micah walked out to join him, pulling his long, black, Meir’s resistant gloves from his pocket and tugging them on. “We need to kill them all before the eater goes out.”
Alex stared in the direction of the sound. He was scared, and not because of the danger the eaters posed. “What if it’s them?”
“We do what we have to.”
Alex didn’t know if he could do what he had to if Hannah came down that corridor.
The first eater entered the flickering circle of light in the corridor cast by the still blazing corpse in the lab. To Alex’s relief, it wasn’t anyone he knew. Micah stepped forward and stabbed one of the two skull-spikers he carried into the man’s temple.
Over the next half a minute, six more eaters shuffled into the light. Alex and Micah dispatched them with a skill and efficiency garnered from years of training and a week of fighting for their lives as their city was overrun. Alex had hoped that he would get more than a few days respite from slaughtering ordinary men and women whose only crime was falling victim to a virus he himself had once contracted. But as Micah said, they did what they had to.
Standing side by side in the corridor, they waited for more eaters to appear.
“Is that it?” Micah said.
Alex shrugged, staring down at the bodies littering the floor in front of them. The choking stench of flambéed eater was making it difficult for even his enhanced olfactory senses to smell anything else, but he was getting something.
“I think these are all the original Meir’s strain eaters,” he said.
“I thought there weren’t any of those left.”
Alex stared into the blackness ahead of them, remembering their first visit here and the room of cells built to hold the eaters the Omnav-paid scientists used for their experiments. “Only a few.”
Micah followed his gaze. “The ones they were experimenting on here. But didn’t you say they had both originals and new strain?”
Alex nodded, still staring into the dark. The extent of their illumination was closing in as the flaming eater in the lab died down and, thanks to his enhanced night vision being hampered by the light, he couldn’t see much beyond it. Had he heard something?
Micah raised his spikers. “Well come on,” he shouted. “We haven’t got all day.”
The patch of light contracted further. Alex could now only see seven or eight feet in front of them.
Micah glanced at him. “If this doesn’t happen soon we’re not...”
They came all at once.
Six eaters, spanning the corridor side by side, more visible behind them. Silent.
As the cloying pheromone fragrance wafted into the air, they attacked.
While still relatively slow, their reflexes dulled by the disease that drove their hunger for human flesh, these eaters were far more coordinated than Alex was used to. He chose the biggest as his first target, aiming a kick at its knee and plunging the spiker into its head as it fell. The eater next to it grabbed his right arm, pulling it towards its mouth. He twisted from its grip and slammed a heavy kick into its stomach, sending it tumbling into two more behind it.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Micah take down two in quick succession then dance back from the grasping hands of a third. While he didn’t have Alex’s Survivor strength, he made up for it with speed and dexterity.
Two more eaters lunged at Alex, forcing him to back up to give him room to manoeuvre. Ignoring their hands grasping his jacket, he drove a spiker into both foreheads at the same time. Their grip loosened as they fell. The last eater on his side of the corridor tripped over their bodies and he bent to finish it off before it could get back up.
Micah was further along the hallway, backed against the wall, the remaining three eaters almost on him. Alex started in his direction, stopping when Micah leaped into the air and caught hold of one of the service pipes running along the ceiling above him. Swinging forwards, he drove each foot into the chests of two of his attackers, knocking them to the floor as he let go, twisted in midair and landed beyond them. Spinning round, he drove a spiker into the side of the head of the eater still standing before it could turn, then dropped to one knee and stabbed both eaters on the floor at once.
Alex’s jaw dropped.
Micah stood up and grinned. “Who needs super strength?”
“Show off,” Alex said, rolling his eyes to hide how impressed he was.
They waited for another minute for any stragglers. Alex searched the faces of those they had killed, but none looked familiar. That meant there was a chance Hannah, Carla, and the other doctors were alive.
There was still hope.
When no more eaters appeared, they returned to the lab where the fire was running out of eater to burn.
Alex cast a glance at the gruesome sight and looked away. Thanks to everything in the room being made of metal or plastic, the flames hadn’t spread. But they were losing light fast.
“We need to find something that will burn,” Micah said.
They spent a few minutes rummaging through cupboards and drawers before Micah exclaimed, “Yes!”
He pulled something from a drawer and tossed it to Alex. It was an LED torch on an elastic strap, no doubt used during whatever inhuman experiments the Omnav scientists performed on the eaters they brought here. Micah produced a second head torch and pulled the strap onto his head, pressing a button to turn it on. A powerful beam of light shone from the cluster of tiny bulbs.
“That’s a relief,” he said. “I thought we were going to have to set fire to some more eaters.”
“Not if we have to feel our way around here in the pitch dark,” Alex said, settling the torch on his forehead and switching it on.
They made their way past the corpses and continued along the corridor. The torches were very effective, lighting up everything before them. Alex’s nerves uncurled from their hidey holes and pretended they’d been brave all along.
They followed the hallway round a corner to the left and came to the room where the eaters had been imprisoned. The door was closed.
Micah grasped the handle. “Ready?”
Alex nodded, raising his skull-spikers.
Micah opened the door and stepped back. After nothing happened, he ventured in, Alex following.
No eaters were loose. The cells were open, which wasn’t a surprise as they’d just killed all the former occupants, although why anyone would let them out, Alex had no idea. And they had undoubtedly been let out. No eater could have forced their way from the ultra strong and secure clear polycarbonate boxes, and there was no evidence of any of the multiple bolts on each door having been damaged. This had been done on purpose.
He turned to Micah who was staring into the far corner of the room. Alex followed his gaze and his stomach dropped.
“Oh, no,” he whispered.
Phil Heaton was still in his cell, his pale, vacant eyes locked on them, white coat grubbier than it had been seven days ago. He’d been one of the Omnav scientists. His wife, MI5 agent Carla Heaton, was the first person Alex and Micah met when they came to the facility.
Beside Phil, Carla stared out at them. Her mouth opened in a hopeless, ravenous moan.
Alex walked up to the cell. “How could this happen?”
Micah bent to pick up a piece of paper lying on the ground by the cell door. He read it before handing it to Alex.
Dear Hannah, Pauline, Dave, Larry, and Jim,
I’m sorry, I can’t go on. Phil was my life. Before him all I had was my career, but when I met him I learned to live. We never had any children and without him I have nothing.
I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I know that you will be fine without me and that you will fix all this. Phil once told me he’d never worked with anyone as talented as the group of scientists in this lab. I don’t know why he did what he did, why he was a part of the cause of this outbreak, but I know he must have had good reason. He was a loving, good man and a wonderful husband.
Don’t be sad, this is what I want. Please leave us to die together.
Alex dropped the letter, closing his eyes. “She did it on purpose.”
He knew she was devastated to find her husband turned, but he’d had no idea that she was on the verge of doing something so drastic. Could he have done something to stop her?
“She must have let him bite her, waited until she was close to turning, then locked herself in there with him,” Micah said, indicating a bite wound visible on her hand. “What should we do?”
Alex looked at the couple standing side by side. “Leave them, like she wanted.”
Micah nodded and they left the room, closing the door behind them.
They were subdued as they made their way through the facility, not saying anything. No more eaters were roaming the corridors and it didn’t take them long to reach the room containing the boiler, backup generator and fuse boxes. When they got there, they discovered the electricity had simply been turned off at the mains. The fluorescent strip lighting hummed into life as soon as Micah switched it back on.
They made a sweep of the entire facility, but found no sign of the doctors they’d left here less than forty-eight hours ago. There were some signs of a struggle in a couple of the laboratories. More telling was the fact that every computer, laptop and tablet was gone.
They ended up back in the staff lounge.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Micah said, taking a packet of biscuits from the counter in the small kitchen area and sitting at one of the tables.
Alex nodded. It was the only logical conclusion. “Omnav.”
He sat at the table and took the ginger nut Micah offered him.
“So,” Micah said, “they came here for the research, but there are no other bodies apart from Jim. Which means they took Hannah, Dave, Pauline and Larry with them. They must intend to continue developing the new strain of Meir’s and they need their expertise. And that means...”
“...they’re still alive,” Alex concluded.
Micah smiled. “Yes.”
Alex drew in a breath and let it out slowly. They were alive. Hannah was alive.
He looked at Jim’s body still lying in the centre of the room. It disturbed him how quickly he’d become used to seeing dead bodies. “But for how long?”
“We have to find them,” Micah said, finishing his biscuit and taking another from the packet.
Alex nodded and started on his own second ginger nut. He hadn’t had breakfast and now he’d started eating, his growling stomach was urging him not to stop.
“We should bury Jim,” Micah said, looking at the body.
Alex nodded again.
After finishing a third biscuit each, they walked over to the body. It had been less than two hours since Alex received Hannah’s panicked call telling him Jim was dead, but rigour mortis had already set in. He crouched, took hold of Jim’s stiffened arm, and immediately let it go again, a wave of revulsion shivering through his body.
“What?” Micah said, standing above him.
“He’s... the body is stiff.”
Alex stood up. “It’s deeply unpleasant. You try it.”
Micah rolled his eyes. “Fine. Let the men take care of it, little flower.” He bent to slide his hands under the body’s shoulders then yelped and jumped back, rubbing his hands on his jeans.
“Oh yes, very manly,” Alex said, smirking.
“That’s...” He shuddered. “Why does it being stiff make it so much worse?”
“Probably some ingrained aversion to dead things. Maybe it would be easier if we wrap him in something.”
A quick search produced a roll of black plastic bin liners and they taped a few together to make a sheet on the ground next to the corpse.
“Okay, on three,” Alex said from his place at the head. “One, two...”
He grasped Jim’s shoulders and lifted, scrunching up his face in disgust. Micah did the same with the legs, mirroring Alex’s expression as they moved the body onto the bin liners. Something dropped to the floor and Alex picked it up. It was a phone.
“Maybe we can find his family’s phone numbers on there,” Micah said. “They should know what happened to him.”
Alex was studying the smartphone. It had a red case with swirls and flowers on it. It didn’t scream Jim the ex-military security guard. It did, however, scream Hannah the geeky virologist.
“I think this might be Hannah’s,” Alex said.
Micah came to stand next to him as he brought it out of sleep mode. He was expecting to be faced with a request for a password or thumbprint, but instead a note appeared on the screen.
[It’s Omnav. Taking us to headquarters outside Sheffield. Don’t know what will happen to us. Please help. Hannah]
For a moment Alex couldn’t breathe, until Micah placed a hand on his shoulder.
“We’ll find them,” he said. “We’ll get her back.”
. . .
It was the second grave they’d dug in the lawn behind the warehouse.
Alex carried Jim’s black plastic bag wrapped body from the underground laboratory’s back door, carefully lowering it into the four foot deep hole.
“He saved our lives, when I brought you here after you’d been bitten,” Alex said as they stood looking down into the hole. “If it wasn’t for him and Carla clearing the eaters at the door, I would have died there and you would have turned.”
“Neither of them deserved this,” Micah said.
Alex raised his eyes to the overcast sky. “I really want to find whoever is responsible for all this and make them pay.”
After filling in the grave, they dragged all the eater bodies out and dug a second, shallow grave. When they’d rescued the doctors, and they would, Alex was sure of it, they would need to use the lab to complete their work into developing a cure and creating a way to control the eaters ravaging the country. He didn’t want to return to a pile of rotting bodies. Even though removing the corpses was the most unpleasant thing Alex had ever done.
The incinerated eater was the biggest problem. Alex and Micah stared down at the pile of blackened, gooey flesh melted over scorched bones, shovels in hand and pillow cases wrapped around the lower half of their faces in a desperate and largely futile attempt to deaden the smell.
“I’m going to put this on my list of things I never, ever wanted to do in my entire life,” Micah said, his voice muffled behind the fabric covering his mouth.
“Just another pleasant morning in eater land,” Alex said. He suddenly realised he’d lost track of time. “What day is it today?”
Micah frowned, looking up at the ceiling. “I don’t know, Thursday?”
Alex shrugged. It was strange how not having regular things like work and TV as an anchor disconnected a person from the passage of time. “Let’s get this over with.”
He slid his shovel under a foot and moved it into the black rubber trug they’d brought from the shed. Instead of separating from the rest of the leg, it simply stretched out the gooey flesh and muscle so that when he dropped the foot into the trug, strands of red and black goo trailed over the side, clinging on to the rest of the corpse.
The smell could have laid out an elephant at thirty paces. He turned away to compose himself.
Micah coughed several times. “I’m going to be sick. We killed the things, why do we have to clear up too? The cook shouldn’t wash up as well.”
“Please don’t mention food,” Alex said. He wiped the back of his sleeve across his forehead. “Okay, let’s just do this as quickly as possible because I don’t plan on breathing again until we’re back outside.”
There followed a period of scraping, squelching, grimacing and occasional dry heaving as they filled the trug with body parts. Starting with the extremities turned out to be a mistake when they were faced with a trug full of greasy, gooey bones sticking out every which way, with a ribcage still to fit in with them.
The torso made a disgusting shlurping sound as they pushed a shovel beneath either side and levered it from where it had melted into the tiled floor. Together, they transferred it to the trug where it balanced precariously on the top of the other bones and globs of flesh. Something vaguely kidney-shaped slid from inside the torso cavity, landing on the floor with a soft splat.
“I’m not carrying it like that,” Micah said. “It’s going to fall on us.”
“Maybe we can squash it in more.” Alex gave the torso an experimental push with his shovel. It shifted down a little.
“Okay,” Micah said, placing the blade of his own shovel by Alex’s. “Together, on three. One, two, three.”
They both pushed down at the same time.
The torso shifted.
A fountain of liquidised viscera erupted sideways from the body, showering their legs.
They both yelped, leaping backwards. Alex slipped on something squishy and landed on his backside on the floor.
“That’s it!” Micah exclaimed, dropping the shovel and throwing his hands into the air. “I’m done. We take this outside, bury it and leave the rest. No arguments.”
Alex looked down at the reddish liquid seeping into his jeans. “What makes you think I would argue?”
They buried the gooey remains, still inside the trug, along with the other eaters, then headed for the facility’s showers where they rinsed themselves down, fully clothed, for a solid twenty minutes.
They rode back on the motorbike, dripping all the way.
After a brief detour to Micah’s flat so he could shower, change, and pick up supplies, they drove into East Town.
They heard the ruckus before they saw it.
Rounding the final corner before reaching the makeshift compound, they came to a small crowd gathered at the wall of cars their friends had set up across the road. People were shouting. A group of camouflage-clad men and women were pointing a variety of weapons at the barrier. Faces were visible peering over the top. One man was lying on the ground, groaning.
“I say we just go in shooting,” a woman said, waving her rifle at the barrier. Alex sagged in his seat. It was Creedon, the rabid anti-Survivor who wanted nothing more than to put a bullet between his eyes and those of every other Survivor she met.
“Just try it, bitch.” Alex recognised his friend Janie’s voice from the other side.
“You injured Wright...”
“He tried to climb over. He was warned.”
“You didn’t have to punch him in the balls.”
“I could have punched him elsewhere, but they were so convenient. You’d have done the same.”
Creedon hesitated, pushing her dark hair back from her face.
Alex pulled the bike up behind the group. He had no doubt Janie was right. He’d only met Creedon once, but it was clear she was crazy. Not the jokey or cute kind of crazy, the real kind of crazy, where people got maimed or killed.
The camouflaged group turned to look at him and Micah as they dismounted.
“Aren’t you dead yet?” Creedon said to Alex.
“Nice to see you too, Creedon,” he lied.
“I see you’re still hanging around in questionable company, Micah.” A tall man with cropped salt and pepper hair stepped out from the centre of the group of around twenty people.
“What’s going on, Bates?” Micah said.
Janie stood up on the roof of one of the cars holding up the barrier, hands on her hips. “What’s going on is these militant idiots have an issue with us defending ourselves.”
Bates pointed at her. “We have no idea what you are doing in there. For all we know, you’re using this crisis to prepare a white-eye army to take over the city.”
Alex’s next door neighbour, Leon, climbed up beside Janie, his huge frame towering over her. “You’re the ones carrying guns and wearing camouflage. What’s up with that anyway? We’re in a city.”
Creedon raised her rifle and aimed at him, her face filled with hatred. Alex darted forward and grabbed it from her hands before it accidentally, or not so accidentally, went off. She shrieked and took a swing at his face that he wasn’t quick enough to duck, his nose catching a glancing blow from her fist.
Alex let out a roar of pain. He was still healing from being head butted by an insane woman who wanted him to impregnate her.
Lunatic women were becoming the bane of his life.
“Creedon!” Bates snapped.
She halted halfway into the execution of her second punch and looked at him. “What?”
When he did nothing but raise his eyebrows at her, she transformed into a petulant child, pointing at Alex. “He took Sylvester.”
It was a couple of seconds before Alex realised she was talking about the rifle.
Bates didn’t say anything. Creedon puffed out a breath, walked over to him, and lowered her voice. “But, Dad...”
“You’ll get your baby back,” Bates said.
Alex looked back at Micah. “Creedon is Bates’ daughter?”
Micah nodded. “Chip off the old block.”
“It’s her married name.”
Alex gaped, trying to process this new piece of information. “Somebody married her?”
“Yeah, it surprised me too. They’re divorced. I never met the man.”
Alex shook his head. “He’s probably in a nursing home somewhere being fed through a tube.”
Creedon looked at them sharply when Micah let out a bark of laughter.
Alex went into police mode. He’d been trained in techniques for diffusing tense situations like this, although he hadn’t had to do it in over four years, since he became a Survivor.
He handed the rifle to Micah and stepped forward. “Bates, you don’t have a problem with the residents of East Town protecting themselves, just with the fact that you don’t know what they’re doing?” He wanted to add, ‘and you’re a paranoid, bigoted, conspiracy theorist nut’. But he didn’t.
Bates frowned and glanced at Janie and Leon. “I... suppose.”
“So if you were able to satisfy yourself that we don’t pose a threat to you or the rest of Sarcester, you’d leave us alone?”
He narrowed his eyes. “I’d consider it.”
Alex guessed it was probably the best he was going to get. “Alright, then you can come in with Micah and me and look around. But only you, and unarmed.”
Creedon looked incredulous. “You must be...” She stopped when Bates held up his hand.
He looked from Alex to Micah. “Did you find the secret laboratory you were looking for?”
“We did,” Micah said. “We can fill you in during the tour.” He indicated the barrier.
Bates considered for a few seconds then nodded once. He handed his pistol to Creedon and looked round at his people. “Stand down until I get back. The first person who shoots anything other than an eater will answer to me. Is that clear?”
There were a few nods. Despite being fully aware that Bates was deranged, Alex was impressed at the loyalty the nut commanded from his equally deranged followers.
“It’s too dangerous,” Creedon said.
Bates smiled at his daughter. “Penny, a good general does what needs to be done, regardless of his own safety. I can look after myself.”
Ignoring the fact that Bates was no more a general than Alex, the discovery that Creedon’s first name was Penny came as something of a shock. Alex would have expected something more along the lines of Pit Bull or Viper.
Alex retrieved the motorcycle and wheeled it up to the barrier, lifting it up so Leon and Janie could take it from him and lower it to the ground on the other side. He was well aware of the scrutiny of Bates’ underlings. It was one thing to be theoretically aware of the strength of a Survivor, it was entirely another to witness one lift a four hundred pound motorbike into the air as if it weighed nothing. Of course, it didn’t feel to Alex like it weighed nothing, he was in actuality straining quite a bit. But he thought he hid it well. He resisted the urge to beat his fists on his chest when he’d finished.
Micah handed Sylvester back to Creedon, who stroked it as if it was a long lost lover, and walked up to Alex.
“You totally did that on purpose,” he muttered. “Who’s showing off now?”
Alex smiled and vaulted up onto the barrier. Micah climbed up after him and Bates came last. Leon and Janie followed them to the ground on the other side, leaving other Survivors to man the fortifications.
“What happened?” Janie said. “Did you find Hannah?”
Alex shook his head. “I’ll tell you all about it when we’ve done this.” He nodded at Bates.
He, Micah, Janie and Leon spent the next half an hour giving Bates a guided tour of the area of East Town the residents had shut off when thousands of eaters began roaming the streets. The leader of the paranoid anti-Survivor group met some of the normals who had come for sanctuary and even spoke with a degree of civility to Alex’s friends and neighbours.
Alex had to hide his annoyance at the whole thing. This was all a stupid waste of time, time he could be spending going after Hannah and the others. Instead, he was left babysitting the ignorant idiot. He could have handed him off to someone else, but since it had been his suggestion, and he was reluctant to let Bates out of his sight around his home, he stayed. On the way round, Micah filled Bates in on the underground lab he and Alex had found, the involvement of Omnav in the outbreak, and the real purpose of the new strain of Meir’s.
Others Alex had told had been sceptical at first, not that he was lying, but that anyone would do something so heinous as making a terrible disease even more efficient, turning it into a terrifying weapon of death and its victims into nightmarish armies. Bates showed no such disbelief. This was the kind of thing he was waiting for, vindication that he wasn’t a paranoia-spreading extremist, but a herald of future manmade catastrophes that were now here. In his mind anyway. He appeared almost gleeful as he listened to the story. Alex didn’t bother to hide his disdain. Just because Bates had been right in a general kind of way didn’t mean he was any less of a lunatic.
At the end of the tour they returned to the barrier where the Survivors on one side and Bates’ little demented army on the other were still glaring at each other.
“So,” Alex said to Bates, “are you satisfied we aren’t here building a Survivor army to take over the world? Can we agree that we have a common enemy in Omnav and whoever created this new Meir’s strain?”
Bates looked like a man in the grip of severe internal conflict. Alex silently cheered on the conspiracy theorist crackpot side of Bates’ brain to win out over the bigoted, death-to-all-Survivors crackpot side of Bates’ brain. He glanced at Micah who shrugged.
“You know how I’ve felt about Survivors since Caroline died,” Micah said.
“But one thing this last couple of weeks has taught me is that normal people aren’t good and Survivors aren’t bad. We’re just people, all of us. And we can work together. I know it seems impossible, but if Alex and I can do it, so can you.”
“I admit,” Micah continued, “there were times when I’ve wanted to punch him, hard.”
“And even now, after all we’ve been through, he can be intensely annoying.”
“But that’s just because of his personality, not because he’s a Survivor.”
“Is there a point to this?” Alex said, raising his eyebrows.
Micah smirked. “My point is, we have made it work, so can you and the others.”
Except for Creedon, Alex thought, but he kept it to himself.
They waited while Bates stared at the ground.
“Alright,” he said eventually. “It’s obvious things are very bad and I will concede you had nothing to do with it.”
“How kind of you,” Janie said.
“And since you are the only other group of people in the city who have organised themselves in the law and order vacuum where we find ourselves, I can see the benefits in working together.”
Despite doing his best to make Bates see reason, Alex was shocked that he had.
“Well, um, good,” he said, mentally reeling. “I’m glad we could work it out.”
“I’d send someone to go with you two to Omnav,” Bates said, “but everyone has family that I couldn’t ask them to leave in these dangerous times. Except for my daughter. I could ask her...”
“No,” Alex said immediately. “No. So nice of you to offer, but no. No.”
. . .
They left Bates working things out with Leon and Janie while Alex and Micah returned to Alex’s flat.
He left Micah settling onto the sofa while he went to shower any remaining melted eater off himself and changed. He threw his jeans into the bin. No matter how much they were washed, he knew it would never, in his mind, get rid of the glutinous mess that had soaked him. It made his skin crawl just thinking about it.
The smell of bacon and the sound of voices greeted his return to the living room and he walked into the kitchen to see Micah standing at the cooker, a spatula in one hand and a small child in the other, settled on his hip.
An older child was sitting at the table, spreading butter onto slices of bread.
“Good morning, Emma,” Alex said to the girl at the table, leaning down to kiss the top of her head. She giggled when his stomach rumbled loudly.
“Are you hungry?” she said.
He smiled. “A bit.”
The little girl Micah was holding twisted around to look at him. “We’re making bacon sandwiches.”
“My favourite.” He kissed Katie’s cheek and she smiled.
“Mine too,” a deep voice said. Leon walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table next to Emma, taking one of the buttered slices of bread and stuffing it into his mouth.
He looked down at her, speaking around the mouthful of bread. “What?”
She slid the loaded plate across the table away from him. “Those are for the sandwiches.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll save room.”
She rolled her eyes and kept on buttering, painstakingly covering each slice right up to the edges with a uniform layer of butter before moving on to the next.
Alex sat on the other side of her and reached for the plate of bread.
“Don’t even think about it,” she said, without looking up from her work.
He smiled and pulled his hand back. “How’d it go with Bates?” he said to Leon.
“That man has a screw or three loose,” he said. “Sorry, Micah, I know he’s your friend.”
“I think ‘friend’ would be stretching it,” Micah replied. “I’ve known him for a long time, but we were never really friends.”
“Well, he has some lunatic ideas. But I think we’ve managed to hash out a plan. We’re going to start a schedule of patrols of the city, to try to keep order until this is all over. And so one of us can’t accuse the other of doing anything, each patrol will consist of a Survivor and one of Bates’ people.”
“That wasn’t what I was expecting,” Alex said.
“Actually, it was his idea,” Leon replied. “I think it will be an education, for both sides.”
“That won’t be a bad thing for his lot,” Micah said. He glanced at Alex then back at the frying pan.
Alex couldn’t help smiling. “As long as no-one is left alone with Creedon.”
“We’ve already had a volunteer to partner with her,” Leon said, smirking.
Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “Who?”
Scott was new to East Town. At thirty-six a few years older than Alex, he’d only become a Survivor and moved into their building three months ago. He was still adjusting. Alex remembered what it was like after he was cured and subsequently had his whole life turned upside down. He felt for the man.
“I think he wants to...” Leon glanced at his two young daughters, “...make friends with her.”
“Brave man,” Micah muttered.
“Oh, Dad,” Emma said, rolling her eyes, “I know what make friends means.”
The three men exchanged glances.
“You do?” Leon said carefully.
“Of course. It means he wants to be her boyfriend.”
Three relieved breaths were slowly exhaled.
“That’s exactly what it means, sweetheart,” Leon said.
Emma nodded and smiled.
Micah turned towards them. “I need both hands. Who wants this little one?”
Alex held out his arms, beckoning with his fingers. “Hand her over. I haven’t had my hug today.”
Micah handed Katie to him and he settled her on his lap facing the table, wrapping his arms around her little body and kissing her cheek several times, making a ‘nom nom nom’ sound. Her giggle made his chest glow with warmth.
“So when do you plan on leaving to go on your rescue mission?” Leon said.
“As soon as possible,” Alex replied. “After breakfast.”
Micah placed a plate heaped with slices of crispy bacon onto the table. Alex began to salivate as Emma started assembling the sandwiches.
“Brown sauce?” Leon said.
“Top cupboard,” Alex said when Micah looked at him. “On the right.”
“How are you going to get there?” Leon said.
“We thought we’d go back to Kenny’s dealership and get a couple more motorbikes,” Micah said.
Leon nodded. “And you know where you’re going?”
Alex and Micah glanced at each other.
“More or less,” Alex said. “In general. We still have to iron out the specifics.”
Leon nodded again. “And you have all your supplies in case it takes longer than you’re thinking? And weapons and ammunition and other stuff you might need?”
There were a few seconds of silence.
Micah looked at Alex. “You remember what I said earlier about thinking ahead? This is precisely what I meant.”
. . .
It took them the rest of the day, frustrating Alex no end at not being able to leave.
He knew Leon was right about them needing to be prepared, but the thought of Hannah being held captive made him want to punch something. More than once he vowed to himself that if anyone hurt her, they would suffer.