Authors: Derek Prior
A short story of 6,832 words by Derek Prior
Copyright © 2015 Derek Prior.
All rights reserved.
The right of Derek Prior to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictional and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be, by way of trade or otherwise, lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form, binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed upon the subsequent purchaser.
Mom was thump, thump, thumping on the door, but Dad wouldn’t let her in. It was raining cats and dogs out there. The rat-tat-tat on the roof was a gazillion BB guns firing, one after another. Thunder cracked and rolled away; I’d always been told it was angels dropping coal.
Inside, the TV was chattering, and Dad was nailing planks across the windows. My breaths were raggedy gasps, and my heart was bouncing in my chest. Under it all, I could hear the groaning of the zombies, and the screaming and the sirens, and the bang, bang, bang of the policemen’s guns. I couldn’t help myself. My fingers fumbled with the door chain.
“Don’t!” Dad dropped his hammer and shoved me out of the way. He checked the latch to make sure Mom couldn’t open the door from the outside, then he looked through the peephole.
“It’s her,” I said. “You have to let her in.”
He snarled as he turned and grabbed me by the shoulders.
“It’s not. Don’t you get it? It’s not her. Oh, Christ, I’m sorry, Wes. I’m not … I mean … I’m not angry with you. We just can’t let her in, is all. She’s bit.”
“Then make her better.”
He pinched the top of his nose and screwed his face up. I thought he was gonna cry.
“I can’t, Wes. I fuckin’… I can’t.”
I ducked under his arm so quick, he couldn’t stop me.
Pressing my face up against the door, I squinted through the peephole. Mom looked sickly and grey, and there was stuff coming out of her mouth, all foamy and disgusting. Her teeth kept snapping together, like she was saying something, but all I could hear was her growling.
“You little …” Dad yanked me back and squeezed my cheeks with one hand so I had to look him in the face. “She ain’t speaking, Wes. Don’t you see? If it was really her, don’t you think she’d be yelling or screaming? She’s bit, I tell you.”
My face was on fire. I stared him out, but couldn’t think of anything to say. I slapped his hand off me and went to look through the gaps in the planks covering the window.
I could see the side of Mom’s coat. There were shopping bags on the driveway next to her. Back a little way, there was a policeman all in black with one of them bulletproof jackets. He had a rifle gun pointed at her and was shouting the same thing over and over, only I couldn’t make out what it was.
Something shambled past the window. There was a shot and a spray of red on the glass.
“Get away.” Dad’s voice cracked, like he was crying. “Get back from the window. You don’t want… you don’t want them to see you.”
Mom hit the door real hard then, thump after thump after thump. The frame shook, and Mom’s growls turned into angry screams. All I could do was cover my ears and shut my eyes really, really tight.
The policeman called out again, this time from closer by. Mom must’ve thrown herself against the door, because the frame split. Thunder crashed, rain pattered, things moaned, the TV chattered.
Someone else shouted, “The head, you tosser!” and there was a deafening bang.
I screamed and fell to my knees, trying to breathe. I felt Dad’s arms around me, heard his sobbing, felt his warm tears on my neck.
“It weren’t her,” he said through sniffs. “She was already gone, Wes. It weren’t her.”
He didn’t try to hold me back when I stood and looked through the peephole. It was smeared with blood, and I couldn’t see out.
“I might be nine, Dad, but I’m not stupid. Got it?”
I pushed past him and headed through the lounge into the kitchen. I tried the back door. It was locked. I could see out into the conservatory through the kitchen window. I knew that was locked, too. We’d checked it earlier, after bringing the planks in from the shed. I heard Dad behind me as I took the key out of the lock.
“What’re you doing?” he asked.
“They break the window, they might reach in and turn the key,” I said.
He nodded at me. “Too clever for your own good, Wes. Good boy. Should be safe now. Front’s all boarded up, and there’s no sign of them out back.”
“We need to barricade the doors,” I said. “You, know, with chairs and stuff.”
“I’m on it.” Dad went back to the lounge and upturned an armchair.
“… still no official word on where it came from,” a reporter was saying on TV. He’d been saying the same thing for hours, and they kept showing a clip of zombies lumbering after a cameraman before they cut to the studio, where they asked a bunch of stupid people the same stupid questions and got the same stupid answers.
While Dad dragged the chair to the front door, I watched another scene of blue-grey zombies walking all stiff and creepy-like along a London high street. People were screaming and running from them. Then there was a still picture of pigs and birds, and it was back to Will Turner in the studio.
“Professor Worsley,” Will Turner was saying, “we’ve had dozens of emails asking whether the virus—that is what it is, isn’t it?”
“Possibly,” said a little round man with a silly beard and glasses. “It’s still early days. It could be a bacillus; it could be a freak manifestation of a latent mutation; it could be terrorists. No one knows.”
“But do we know if it’s spread by animals?” Siobhan Smith asked. She always did the show alongside Will. She had plastic hair and fake teeth, Dad said, and her chest weren’t natural.
“It could well be.” Professor Worsley took off his glasses and rubbed them on his jacket. “But it might not be, as well.”
“Richard Dawkins said it was an act of God,” Will said.
Worsley huffed at that and put his glasses back on. “Professor Dawkins was being ironic.”
“What do you say to the people who claim it started in a Verusia Labs facility? Do you think it’s fair to blame—”
I switched the TV off.
“What’s ‘ironic’ mean, Dad?”
“Metal,” he said, walking into the lounge and looking like he’d forgotten what he was doing, same as Granddad John used to.
“The back,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, right.” Dad dragged the other armchair through to the kitchen.
“Fuck!” he yelled, dropping the chair as the cat flap banged shut and our cat, Watson, hissed. His fur was standing on end, and his eyes were all white and milky. Dad let out a sigh and bent to stroke him.
“You scared the crap out of me, kitty-cat,” he said. “Ow!” He snatched his hand away when Watson bit him. “Fuck. Shit. That really hurt.”
Blood was seeping between his fingers and pooling on the floor. He grabbed a tea towel to wrap around the bite, but Watson hissed again and pounced. Dad fell backward into the armchair, and the cat was on top of him, biting and scratching.
“Get him off me!” Dad cried, thrashing about with his arms and legs. “Wes, get him off!”
I half-screamed, half-cried as I grabbed a bottle of wine from the rack and clubbed Watson with it. He turned and snarled at me, and I hit him again, right in the face. Blood sprayed onto the cabinets, and Watson flopped to the floor.
Dad pushed himself out of the armchair and crunched his foot down on Watson’s head. He kept it there until the cat stopped moving.
I put my hand to my throat as sick burned its way up my windpipe.
“Go upstairs!” Dad shouted.
His face was all scratched up, and his neck and arms were bleeding.
“But he’s dead.” I pointed at the cat’s splattered head.
“Now!” Dad yelled, and shoved me back into the lounge.
I stumbled at first, but then turned and ran upstairs. He followed me, and he had that look about him you didn’t want to argue with. When we reached the landing, he fetched a chair from his room to stand on. He reached up and unbolted the trapdoor to the attic, then pulled the wooden ladder down.
“Go on,” he said.
I did as I was told while he threw the chair aside.
When I reached the top, I looked back and saw him head downstairs.
“Are you coming?” I called, but there was no answer.
I paused in the opening, straining to listen. Dad was crashing about in the cupboard under the stairs by the sounds of it. When I heard his heavy footfalls returning, I crawled into the attic and lay on my tummy so I could watch.
He appeared on the landing with the big hammer he’d used to break up the decking last winter, when it went all rotten and slimy and someone might have slipped on it and broke their neck. When he reached the ladder, he didn’t start to climb up like I’d thought, but he took a swing with the hammer and went right through the wood. He swung again and again, cracking and splintering the ladder until the bottom half fell away.
He kept on bash, bash, bashing till there was a pile of broken wood in the middle of the landing. Then he righted the chair and climbed on it.
“Love you, son,” he said with tears in his eyes as he started to close the trapdoor. “Stay still and keep real quiet. Everything’s gonna be all right.”
In that moment, I realized what he was doing. Dad, my daddy, always said he’d protect me from everything. He knew what was going to happen. I did, too, only part of me didn’t want to believe it. It was like when I kept trying to believe in Father Christmas, even after everyone at school said it was just my parents pretending. As the trap shut and he slid the bolt across, I was left in the dark.
The air was dusty and smelt of wood chips. I heard Dad jump down from the chair, then there were more bangs, cracks, and snaps. He was smashing the chair so he couldn’t climb up. He was making sure I was safe.
I did as he said and kept as still as a statue, not even daring to breathe. I could hear him moving around for a bit, but then there was a loud thud and nothing more.
I sat back against something soft and giving. It rustled like a plastic bag. I lay there for a while, my mind all horrid pictures and no thoughts, body shaking so much I had to hold my knees tight to my chest and rock myself to make it stop.
I kept seeing Mom’s crazy face, those empty eyes like puddles of milk; the dribble running down her chin. I imagined what it must’ve looked like when her head exploded all over the door. My brain wouldn’t stop playing it over and over, as if I’d really seen it. Bang. Splat. Bang. Splat. Bang.
I became aware of the rain cascading against the roof. There was still the odd gun shot, muffled and far off. People occasionally cried out, but the moaning and groaning never went away. I went from only hearing the sound of my breathing to being deafened by the noises from outside. I wanted them to stop. I needed to hear what was happening indoors. I needed to listen out for Dad. I got back on my tummy and pressed my ear to the trapdoor.
“Dad?” I called out in a shaky voice. “Daddy, are you there?”
My heart started flapping about in my ribcage like a bird trapped in the chimney. I sat up and tried to suck in some air, but none came. I squeezed in a tiny breath, then another, till I was panting like a dog. As my breaths got faster and faster, my heart speeded up, too. I could hear it inside my head, big sloshy whooshes, like when you’re underwater. What was happening to me? Was I ill like those people on TV? Had I got Watson’s blood on me? Was I gonna turn into one of them? I needed to see. Had to see.