Authors: Richard Murray,Richard Murray
“Has anyone checked the barn and stables” I asked Claire who shook her head in the negative and continuing with her cooking.
“Guess I will then since I am already caked in muck” I offered.
“You do that and I’ll see if anything in the wardrobes will fit you” Lily said.
I stepped into the yard. It was raining again and growing dark. We were well into October and before long this rain would turn to sleet and then snow and ice. After the mild summer the experts had all been predicting a rough winter. Any day now we would likely lose power and gas. Most likely water pressure too. It would get bad.
As I walked across the muddy yard to the barn I was considering what we would need. Clothes obviously and food, bottled water and some way to purify any water we came across of course. Perhaps bottled gas and heaters, a generator would be nice. The list was growing too big. The more people we needed to look after the harder it would be. It was all the more reason then, to cut our numbers down a little. The problem of course would be doing it without breaking the promise I had made to Lily.
The barn was big and old. The cracked and warped wood of the walls, offered little barrier to the elements. Dark stains covered the wood and a small pool of rainwater had formed at the base of one wall. A number of rusted farm implements were attached to hooks along the wall. Old bottles, tyres and other odds and ends had found their way into the barn to be forgotten. Dust covered cobwebs covered nearly everything.
One piece of luck, a small hatchet lay amongst the old junk. I wiped off the dust and picked it up. It was a little rusted and definitely blunt. The handle was old but still firm. I swung it a few times to feel the weight. It would do nicely as a weapon. I could find nothing else of value so I left to go and check the stables that were attached to the back of the farmhouse.
The first thing I noticed about the stables was the smell. Old straw covered the floor of the two stalls that were all the low stone building held. A plastic bucket still sat in one of the stalls, full of water long since turned stagnant. I had no idea what had happened to the horses but they hadn’t been here for a little while. I could see nothing of use to us so left the stables and headed back into the house. I paused before the door to wipe most of the mud off of my shoes.
Lily met me as I stepped through the door. She was wearing a dark green bathrobe and had a thick blue robe in her arms. “Hey. I don’t think any of his clothes will fit you. Put this on and give me your clothes. I’ll put them in the washing machine for you. May as well use it while we have electric.” She said as she handed me the robe.
“Better be quick, Claire is about to serve some pasta” she added.
At the thought of food my stomach gave an embarrassingly loud rumble, which caused Maggie to look up and burst into giggles. It was nice to see her smile. I went up the stairs in search of a bathroom.
By the time I had found one, stripped and washed up, Claire was calling everyone to the table. I headed down the stairs and paused at the bottom, bemused by a scene of friendly chaos as six adults and a child all tried to serve themselves at the same time. Lily stepped up and shortly had everyone standing in line as she filled bowls with long strands of pasta and a thick red sauce.
Mike and his friends carried their bowls into the living room where they had seemingly staked a claim. Claire sat with Maggie at the table with a smile as she watched the little girl wolf down the food. Lily with a smile placed a bowl on the table and told me to sit as she took my soiled clothing and put them in the washing machine with her own equally soiled clothes.
She set the washing machine to work and satisfied that her domestic chores were done, joined us at the table with a bowl of pasta for herself. The food was simple but tasty with enough left for the little girl to have seconds.
As we ate we discussed our options. Mike and Pat had claimed the living room to sleep in, with the central heating on and some blankets they had found in an airing cupboard on the second floor they would be cosy enough. The farmhouse had three bedrooms. Two had belonged to the farmer’s children, they were small rooms but Rachel and Ellie were happy to stay in one.
Claire and Maggie would take the second room as neither wanted to sleep in the master bedroom the farmer had been found in. Lily believed that the farmer must have been one of those who had the original flu like bug and had died in his sleep. Whilst the mattress was not totally ruined, it would certainly need a good clean and would be better turned. The blankets and sheets that were on the bed would be burned.
The whole room would need a scrub down before it was habitable, so she would sleep on the floor in Claire and Maggie’s room. The living room floor with Mike and Pat had very little appeal but the only other option would be the kitchen floor which was tiled and no doubt uncomfortably cold. I decided to sleep on the living room floor.
Decisions made, Claire and Maggie went to their room. It had been a long and exhausting day. I stayed to help Lily wash and dry the dishes as we waited for our clothes to finish in the machine.
“We will need to have a proper inventory of food tomorrow” Lily said as we sat back down at the table.
“Not just the food. We will need to find containers to fill with water.”
“How long do you think before we will need them?” she asked.
“To be honest I am surprised we still have water and power. I think we are on borrowed time with them.”
A frown appeared on Lily’s brow, lips pursed as she considered. “So what do we do when the water stops?”
“Well. We will need to find another source and purify it. For a little while at least we will possibly be able to find some bottled water in houses and any shops that we can reach.”
“You want us to steal bottled water?” Lily asked with surprise.
“I don’t think its stealing so much as making use of things that will just be wasted otherwise.” I said. “It’s not like we will have to worry about the police.”
“I suppose not. How do we purify water anyway? Will boiling it be enough?”
“I have no idea.” I laughed. “We will need to find a library or a working computer with internet and a printer.”
Lily groaned. “Another library. Really! I would have thought once was enough.”
“Perhaps a smaller one this time, and we will be better prepared” I told her. “Besides we will need to know more than just how to purify water. Food is going to be a priority soon.”
Mike entered the kitchen followed by Pat and sat at the table uninvited. “TV station just went offline. Just getting snow now” he said.
“It was bound to happen sooner or later.” I replied. “You said you worked here before. How well do you know the area?”
“Well enough. Why?”
“Supplies. We will need some which means someone has to go and take a look at any shops that we can get to.” I told him. A thought occurred and I added, “Perhaps you, me and Pat can go get a look and see what we can find tomorrow.”
Mike nodded slowly. “Sure. There’s a petrol station a couple of miles from here in the village. I think they had a corner shop too.”
“One of those big supermarkets was built last year as well” Patrick added.
We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing what we would need to get. Rachel and Ellie came into the kitchen to let us know they were off to try and sleep and Lily soon followed. I sat back in the chair for a while as Mike and Pat talked. I had some plans of my own to make. I said goodnight and went to find a place to curl up in the living room.
I awoke before dawn the next day. A restless night on the hard floor had left me with a sharp pain in my neck whenever I turned my head. I roused myself and paid a visit to the bathroom. I was dismayed to find no toothbrush and mentally added that to the list of needed supplies. My mouth had gone several days now without seeing a brush and I had the distinct feeling that my breath would smell as rancid as it tasted.
No one else was yet awake so I retrieved the hatchet I had found yesterday and slipped on my shoes then went out into the yard to look for something to sharpen it. The sun was just beginning to rise, the darkness retreating. The world around the farm was still and quiet, dew heavy grasses waved in a light breeze. It was almost enough to make you forget about the apocalypse that had engulfed the world.
A squelching sound followed me as I crossed the yard. The rain that had arrived late yesterday had reduced the already muddy yard to a quagmire. The only bonus I could see was that I would hear any undead wandering around long before I saw them.
I had a fruitless search for a sharpening tool in the barn and was left with little choice but to laboriously run the blade back and forth against the rough stone of the stable wall. It made a mess of the wall and took a considerable amount of time but I did finally get a bit more of an edge to the head of the hatchet. I would not be splitting hairs with it, but it would make a mess of any zombies I encountered.
Whilst I worked I had spent my time trying to think of ways to reduce our party number on this little trip into the village. I had yet to come up with anything definite and it looked like I would be forced to come up with something on the fly. That was certainly not my preferred way of working. I went back to the house to get dressed.
The house was still and quiet by the time I was ready to go. My attempts to rouse Mike and Pat were ineffectual. Bored and annoyed I rooted noisily through the kitchen. Nothing jumped out at me as really useful, though I did find a writing pad and some paper so spent the next thirty minutes writing down lists of all the items I thought we would need.
By the time the first member of our little group was awake, I had finished my lists and was busily making a large pot of porridge whilst a dozen rashers of bacon were slowly cooking in the oven and filling the kitchen with a most delightful odour.
Maggie was the first to join me, she bounded down the stairs full of energy and good cheer in a way the few adults could manage first thing on a morning. Claire and Lily soon followed smiling appreciatively at my cooking efforts.
“Where did you find bacon?” Claire asked with a wide smile.
“There were a couple of packs in the bottom of the freezer” I said and pointed at the small chest freezer in the corner of the room. “We will need to start using the food in there first, save the cans and packaged stuff for when the power goes.”
The girls nodded and joined Maggie at the table. I filled a bowl with porridge and added a few rashers of bacon from the oven before placing it on the table before the little girl.
“Here you go little lady. You get to have the first taste of my cooking.” I said with a wink and my largest possible grin. The shy little girl smiled and tucked in to the food. It was nice to see her smile. I had always appreciated the younger children. Teens irritated me and adults were of little worth, but the younger children, well they had an innocence and general joy with life that I rarely encountered and I appreciated it when I did.
After filling bowls for the others we sat and talked about our plans for the day. Maggie finished her food and I passed her the notepad and pen to keep her entertained. I read through the list I had prepared and Lily quickly added a few more items that the girls would appreciate. I looked at the list and thought that the first thing we would need to loot would be a dozen bags.
Lily and Claire were going to strip and scrub clean the master bedroom. If the weather stayed clear they would wash as much clothing as they could and have it hung out to dry. I reminded them that we would need an inventory of food and received glares from the girls and a scathing reminder that they were not stupid and knew what was needed.
I felt it would be a good time to forcibly get the guys up and moving so retreated from the table. Mike and Pat were reluctant to move, but with enough prodding and some cursing they were fed and ready to leave. We said our goodbyes to the rest of the group and I retrieved my hatchet as we set out across the yard and along the muddy track to where we had parked the van.
Mike climbed into the driver’s seat after a quick check to ensure we were zombie free. Pat took the passenger side and I was left to climb once more into the back. As I tried to find a comfortable place to sit Mike said, “We are running low on diesel. Should have enough to get us to the village but if we don’t find any there we will be walking back.”
“Well let’s make the petrol station our first stop then.” I suggested.
A grunt was my only reply as the van roared to life and we were on our way.
Sat in the back of the van I was largely ignored on the short trip to the village. Mike and Pat chatted and laughed at this and that, whilst I sat with hatchet in hand and wondered which of them we would be returning without.
We arrived at a small petrol station set on the edge of the village. I climbed from the van and stretched. Even a short trip had been unpleasant. Around us spread fields of short grass surrounded by low walls of dark stone. A dozen shaggy white sheep lay in one field. Their bodies still, splashes of crimson covered their forms. It was the first proof I had seen that the undead would attack prey other than humans.
The petrol station itself was a simple one story building with large glass windows that looked onto a dark interior. Two fuel pumps sat on the forecourt, the signs indicated one was petrol, the other diesel. A couple of zombies had noticed our arrival and were slowly shuffling towards us.
I was struck again by the differences in the undead I had encountered. Some were fast, vicious and almost intelligent, a very real threat. Others like these before me, through injury or some consequence of whatever had resurrected them were slow and stupid. I had an urge to test my hatchet so quietly moved ahead of the guys, arms to the side and weapon at the ready.
The undead were both walking stiffly, arms outstretched and mouth opened wide to reveal their broken teeth. Blood covered them liberally and they each bore a number of deep wounds across their necks and faces. I Paused and took a slow deep breath and tightened my grip.