Authors: Alex Laybourne
Copyright 2016 by Alex Laybourne
This is for my wife Patty and our five wonderful children, James, Logan, Ashleigh, Damon and Riley.
Jack fished a crumpled twenty out of his back pocket and handed it over to the waiting employee of the local pizza place, all the while balancing the extra-large pepperoni and mushroom pizza in his other hand, and trying his hardest not to stare at the moustache.
As far as facial hair went, it was not a spectacular affair, certainly not Kurt Russell in
quality, but it was far from being a pencil-thin fifties movie star look. It was simply a decent moustache of relatively dark colouration.
The reason he didn’t want to stare was because it adorned the face of a rather large woman, with dark eyes and a less than cheery disposition.
Jack was a somewhat regular customer at the local pizza parlour, and seemed to, more often than not, get stuck dealing with the moustachioed Amazon, who was taller than he was and certainly twice as wide.
He was sure that a strong correlation existed between her mood and the length of her facial hair, which never seemed to be trimmed or tamed in any way. He just never had been drunk enough to build up the bravado to ask her about it. Which was saying something because he had made more than his fair share of shit-faced takeaway calls over the years.
Twice he had woken up in bed hugging a pile of paper wrappings that smelled like the backside of a cow after a rather nasty stomach complaint. Wandering to the bathroom to find slices of salad and meat plastered over his face, and a headache more than worthy of the name threatening to tear his skull apart and leak its inebriated contents over the floor.
The woman fisted him his change and grunted her approval at his tip. Jack closed the door and went back to the living room. His girlfriend was away for a long weekend with her mother in the city, and his roommate was also out for the night. That suited Jack to the ground, because it meant pizza and video games. He had more than enough beer in the house to keep himself refreshed through the evening, and with the fifteen-inch pizza there to fuel him into the early hours, Jack was set.
He sat back, grabbed a slice and chomped off the end third. It was hot and gooey, the cheese dribbling over the sides, just the way he liked it. He downed the rest of his beer and let out a satisfied belch.
With the first slice inhaled, and a nice buzz growing, Jack returned to his video games. An ultra-violent third person sort set in a futuristic world laid low by a genetically engineered super virus. He had only bought it the previous day and was already engrossed in the world he was thrust into.
By the time Jack passed out on the sofa, it was the early hours of the morning. A pile of beer cans laid in the large pizza tray. The television was on soft, the midnight movie of the week playing.
At twenty-two, Jack was living the dream life, or so his youth convinced him. An athletic build, combined with an appetite that could never be suppressed and a metabolic rate that seemed off the charts, he was the envy of all his friends. His liquor consumption brought them back onto a level playing field. It didn’t take much for Jack to get hammered, although he was proud of his repeated demonstrations of intestinal fortitude. He would not stop until everybody else did, which had been responsible for many drunken incidents he would rather forget but somehow just couldn’t. Drinking had robbed him of many memories, but stupidity seemed immune.
Fresh out of university and with his own freelance software engineer business blooming, he laughed at those stuck in the Monday to Friday rat race. His girlfriend, Sarah Welch, was twenty-one and in her final year of university. She had plans to become a teacher, and had the patience of a saint, as often demonstrated with her ability to tolerate Jack and his often immature antics.
They had been together for almost two years, and while they were committed to one another, they had never had any conversation pertaining to anything deeper or more meaningful.
Like Jack, his roommate, Terry, was a similarly immature man, but only on the weekends. During the week, he was a pencil pusher for a local business. It was a job he hated every minute of but suffered through, much to Jack’s delight. All of it was done in order to earn enough to keep his girlfriend happy. A harsh featured, cold-eyed woman who had the personality to match. In the three painful years Terry and Sue had been dating, Jack could not remember seeing her smile. Terry spent the majority of his time trying to think of ways to avoid her, yet whenever Jack mentioned the notion of dumping her, Terry would get quite mad.
Jack didn’t understand why. His roommate was not the most attractive guy on the market, but he was far from being the bug-eyed monster you would find discarded on the market floor at the end of the day. He would be more than able to bring home a fit enough bird on the weekends, make her scream once or twice and then get rid of her, but the man seemed totally against the idea. Preferring to suffer with a sexually frigid woman who made spinsters around the world seem warm and fuzzy.
The fact the Jack had once walked in on her while she was coming out of the shower, and he had made a passing comment about handing her a weed whacker to help contain the shrubbery, thus irritating Sue beyond belief, had possibly played a role in her disapproval of him. While her inability to take a joke was in itself close to being one.
Still, it was not him that risked getting frostbite every time he boned her, so what did it matter.
Jack woke with a start. He was still on the sofa. His neck was on fire; stuck and stiff from how he had passed out. His head had a gentle ache to it, nothing terrible, but enough to be noticed. Jack was not sure why he was suddenly yanked back into the conscious world, but his still being on the sofa was a strange affair. Normally, he would have woken, or been woken by Terry when he got home. Still, maybe Terry had stayed out, booked himself into a hotel, dumped Sue, and hooked up with a waitress while in some drunken stupor.
A police siren wailed, but again, living in North London, that was no strange sound. The house was silent, outside it was dark and grey. A disorienting light permeated through the thick cloud base. It could just as easily be late morning as it could early.
Jack looked around, unable to shake the heavy knot from his stomach. It was a little after eight in the morning, according to the clock in the corner of the television.
Looking out of the window, Jack saw nothing that caused any alarm bells to ring. It was a Sunday, so the streets would be quiet; the weather also doing nothing to encourage folk out of their beds. Yet the silence seemed strange, almost too much.
“There’s a storm coming,” Jack said to himself as he tidied up the remains of the previous night’s binge.
Jack didn’t believe it, but it was what his grandmother had always said to him on the very same type of dark and gloomy mornings.
Jack drank his coffee, checked the flat to make sure he was alone, and then took a shower. He hoped that would wash away the lingering feeling of ominous portent that seemed to be following him like a cloud in a cartoon.
Dressed and relatively confident that the hour was acceptable for phone calls, he tried to contact Sarah. He did so because she was his girlfriend, and he was interested in hearing how the show had been. Sarah’s cousin, one of her closest friends, was a dancer in the West End production of
. Sarah and her mother had gone to the city together to watch the show, which was in the opening week of its second run.
The phone connected, but there was no answer. He tried again and left a voicemail message, but half way through it, the phone cut out. Trying for a third time, sure that if Sarah was somehow still sleeping, his good intentions would see him firmly placed in her bad books … but nothing.
Looking at the screen, Jack was confused by the lack of connection. The words ´No Service´ were emblazoned across the screen.
The knot in Jack’s stomach turned to ice. He turned on the television and flicked through the news channels. They all spoke about the same thing. Riots had broken out in the city. Information was scarce, but helicopter footage showed hordes of people running around the streets, buildings being looted, cars broken and overturned. Small fires burned in some residential areas. The images were short and fleeting, yet their impression was powerful. The message behind them was simple: Stay inside, and do not go into the city.
Under most circumstances, that would have suited Jack to the ground. He disliked the city, especially during the weekend, and staying in was not a problem. He had plenty of games to keep him entertained, as well as several projects he needed to start working on.
But it was not any other Sunday. There was something going on, and it didn’t sit well with him.
Outside, Jack heard a commotion. A group of people were in the street. They were running, but not an out-for-a-jog-in-our-designer-tracksuit kind of run. It was a run of terror.
was the word that came into Jack’s head.
In the street, someone screamed. From his third floor apartment, Jack watched the crowd disappear, the dense atmosphere of the day and the approaching sirens swallowing their cries and shouts of panic.
The view from his apartment was of a moderately busy road, which had a roundabout to the left and a crossing to the right. Both were visible from the apartment, depending on which room you were in and how far you were willing to crane your neck.
Two streets over there was a park. From the living room, it was possible to make out a small sliver of green through the gap between the A and B block of apartments on the opposite side of the street.
Jack looked around, trying to spot what had caused such panic. That was when Jack saw the woman lying face down in the middle of the road. He watched her for a moment, but she didn’t move. Nobody came to her aid, and so he turned and sped from the flat.
He took the stairs down; they were far more reliable than the lift. Bolting two at a time, the voice inside his head was chirping to him.
Something is wrong. Something is definitely very wrong.
Jack reached the ground floor and stepped out onto the street. The bare concrete steps that led to his building’s door were as cold as ice. It was then Jack realized he was not wearing any shoes. It had started to rain, fat drops falling slowly but with the promise of an increased tempo.
The woman was still lying in the street. Her legs were moving, kicking as if she were trying to swim through the tarmac. The eerie whispering echo of screams and panic hung in the air, but Jack paid it no mind. He just wanted to check on the woman, call an ambulance if needed. He wasn’t looking for trouble.
“Miss? Miss, are you okay?” he asked.
The woman gave no discernible answer. She gargled something, but the words were swallowed up by the road. She was wearing a long-sleeved black top and a tartan skirt, which had been pushed up during whatever scuffle had led to her current predicament. The curve of her ass cheeks could be seen beneath the pair of fishnet tights that covered her legs.
“Excuse me, Miss?” Jack tried again.
Crouching down, he placed a hand on the woman’s shoulder. He could feel her body shaking. Pulling gently, he tried to roll her over. At first, she resisted, her body heavy in spite of her slight-looking frame. She rolled over and groaned. She looked at Jack, her vivid green eyes stared at him. Jack felt his world spin out of control. He cried out and fell backwards as he saw the woman’s face.
The skin had been removed, and a large chunk of flesh had been removed from the left cheek. Torn slivers of what had once been her face hung from the skull like a frill. Her lidless eyes stared, the whites stained red with gore. The muscles of her face twitched as her jaws gnashed in hungry, snarling movements. Wet streaks of fresh blood and leaking body fluid ran from her face like sweat, staining the road beneath.
With Jack in her sights, the woman flipped onto her stomach. She reached forward, her hands grabbing for him. Her long nails were painted with an array of symbols. Red polish atop a black base coat.
She snarled and growled. Her meatless left cheek revealed all of her teeth, extending back into her mouth.
“What the fuck!” Jack yelled, unable to help himself. He crab-walked backwards, stumbling and falling as he went. The woman continued to crawl after him, her speed impressive.
Jack picked up speed in his crab walk, but met opposition in the form of two sets of legs that were standing behind him.
Jack looked back and up in surprise. He saw the two figures, their faces wrapped in the gloomy shroud of a stormy sky.
“Thank fuck. Help us,” he cried. “She needs an ambulance, and I–”
His words fell still when a string of intestines spilled from the gut of one of the men. It slapped him in the face as it thrashed from side to side like a snake held against its will.
The man whose insides were dick-slapping his cheek let out a growl. It was an unearthly, guttural raw that eclipsed being a simple cry of pain, confusion, anger and sorrow. It was a sound pulled from the deepest pit of human experience, and melted into the roar of hell beasts. He made the blood in Jack’s veins freeze, and for a moment, that was exactly what Jack did.
It was only when the second man dropped to the ground, crushing Jack beneath his weight, pinning him against the concrete, that a will to survive replaced Jack’s paralysing fear.