Authors: Barry J. Hutchison
“Phone’s not working,” said Col, pushing through the swing doors that led through from the back store.
“End of the world, dude. What do you expect?” said Jaden. He had moved closer to the window again, and was filming Wayne on his phone. The supervisor was currently punching the glass over and over, but if the last five minutes were anything to go by, he’d go back to mashing his face against it soon enough.
“Holy shit, he looks like he’s been a car accident,” said Col. “Then got chewed up by dogs.”
Col glanced at the phone. “You’re not really going to put that on YouTube, are you?”
“Hello? Haven’t you been listening?” said Jaden, not taking his eyes off the screen. “It’s the end of the world. There is no YouTube. This bad boy is strictly for my own amusement.”
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Col. He tried to laugh, but it was proving surprisingly difficult. “Power’s still on for one thing. OK, so the landline’s down and there’s no cell network. What else is wrong?”
Wayne sprang forwards and his bloodied face hit the glass like a water balloon. “Except him, obviously,” Col said. “I’m the first to admit, he’s completely fucked up.”
He studied the glass doors. “Think they’ll hold?”
“They’ll hold longer than Wayne’s skull, that’s for sure,” Jaden shrugged.
“Then what?” Col asked. “We go out and find, I don’t know, a cop?”
“No, we pull down the steel shutters, lock the doors and hole the fuck up in here for the rest of our days,” Jaden said. “Even when the power goes out and the freezers stop working – and they will – we’ve got enough food and stuff to last us into our forties. And who the fuck wants to live to fifty anyway, right?”
“That’s it?” said Col. He glanced back into the store. “That’s the plan?”
“That’s the plan,” said Jaden, zooming in for a close-up as Wayne smashed his forehead against the window with a
. “We just need to grab one little thing first.”
Col frowned. “What’s that?”
“Shit. I forgot about your mom,” Col said. He bit his lip. “I hope my parents are OK.”
“I know. Poor bastards,” said Jaden. “Give me the zombie apocalypse over a high school reunion any day.”
They both recoiled and let out an “oooh,” as Wayne drew back and mangled his face, nose-first, against the glass.
“That was a nasty one,” Col said. “That had to hurt.”
“I know. It was awesome,” Jaden said, grinning. He leaned in and squinted at his screen, then up at the car park. “Wait, is that Joe?”
Col stepped to the side so he could see past Wayne. “Shit, yeah. That’s Joe.”
Crossing the car park was a white-haired man in a security guard uniform that looked to be at least two sizes too big. He moved at a snail’s pace, but for Joe that was pretty much full tilt.
“Shit. We have to warn him,” said Col. He banged on the window. “Joe! Joe, don’t! Get away!”
Joe glanced at Col, but kept coming. He was saying something, shouting across to Wayne, but Wayne was too heavily invested in the face-mashing to notice.
“Wait, Joe’s got a gun, hasn’t he?” said Jaden. Col shrugged. “He does. They gave the crazy old bastard a gun, can you believe that?”
Jaden spun to the window and pointed to Wayne. “Shoot him in the head,” he shouted. “You hear me, Joe? In the head.” Jaden watched the old man hobble closer. “Did he hear me? He didn’t hear me.”
Jaden cupped his hands around his mouth. “Joe, you deaf old bitch, shoot him in the head!”
“What?” Joe shouted.
Wayne turned sharply and Joe’s eyes went wide. “Oh great,” Jaden sighed. “Now he’s fucking dead.”
The old man fumbled at his holster, but Wayne was already running for him, closing the gap between them in a frantic, frenzied sprint.
“Shit!” Col spat. He hammered on the glass. “Wayne! Wayne, come back here! We’ve been taking extra breaks! We drunk your Gatorade!”
“He’s got his gun! Nice work, Joe!” Jaden cheered. Joe had managed to pull the revolver free of its holster at last. He was halfway through raising it when Wayne pounced on him like a lion taking down its prey.
The old man crumpled and hit the ground hard. Wayne caught Joe’s head in both blood-soaked hands and twisted, as if trying to tear the damn thing off. Joe hollered and kicked and flailed on the tarmac, his arms and legs jerking like a broken puppet.
“What do we do?” Col yelped. “What do we--?”
There was a flash and a bang from Joe’s gun and the window to Col’s left disintegrated. Col and Jaden ducked for cover as thousands of razor-sharp shards of glass rained down over the checkouts.
“Oh fuck,” groaned Jaden, staring at the twelve feet by nine feet hole where the window used to be. “That’s not ideal.”
Col shoved him towards the corner. “Get the hook,” he barked. “We’ll get the shutters down.”
Jaden nodded and hurried to grab the long-handled hook they pulled the shutters down with. Joe was still twitching underneath Wayne, but only barely now. “Is he eating him?” Jaden asked, handing Col the pole. “I don’t want to look.”
“I don’t want to look either,” Col hissed.
“Well, someone should look,” said Jaden, but Col shook his head and fumbled with the pole, trying to catch hold of the metal loop to pull the shutters down.
“Just help me get this.”
“Oh fuck, I looked,” Jaden said, and something in his voice made Col turn, too. Wayne – to his credit – wasn’t eating the old man, but he had smashed Joe’s head against the road so often his shock of white hair was a dark shade of pink.
Joe was still stirring, but faintly now. Col turned back to the shutters and tried to steady the hook. He didn’t turn again, not even when Jaden let out a sharp yelp and muttered something about Joe’s eyes.
Finally, the hook caught on the metal ring. Col pulled down, but the rattling of the metal sheeting made Wayne turn. “Hurry!” Jaden cried, as Wayne launched himself into another frenzied sprint. Col tried to move faster and keep steady both at the same time. A sudden yank, he knew from experience, would make the hook slip.
“Jesus, you’re like my fucking grandma!” Jaden yelped. He caught hold of the pole and tugged.
“No, don’t!” Col warned, but too late. The hook lost its grip on the ring and slipped free. The shutter squeaked to a stop.
Over his shoulder, Col could hear Wayne hissing and huffing towards them. There was no time to get the shutters down now. No time to do anything but run and—
Jaden thrust the pole sharply past Col. There was a
tearing noise that made Col’s stomach flip all the way over. The pole shuddered and shook for a few moments, then Jaden released his grip and it fell to the ground.
“Oh,” muttered Jaden, looking down at the ground. “Shit. That’s nasty.”
“Is he dead?” Col asked. “I don’t want to turn round.” He quickly turned round, but turned back before seeing much of anything. “Is he dead?”
“Well, he’s got a five-inch metal hook sticking out through the back of his head,” Jaden said. “So yeah, pretty sure he’s dead.”
“Jesus,” Col hissed. “So… what do we do now?”
“We stick to the plan,” said Jaden. “We go get my mom, then come back here and hole up. Only difference now is…” He nodded over to where Joe’s body lay. “…now we have a gun.”
Marshall leaned over the reception desk, on the off-chance that someone was hiding on the other side. “Hello?” he called, when he found no-one there. “Anyone about?”
“Where is everyone?” asked Leanne. There was a note of panic in her voice she was only barely managing to keep a lid on. The drive to the station had only been a mile or so, but it had been like navigating a warzone. She’d been relieved when Marshall had swapped seats with her, but had then spent the rest of the journey just staring in horror at everything going on outside.
A lot of it had just looked like bog-standard rioting, although quite a lot more enthusiastic than usual. There was the run-of-the-mill looting, vandalism and arson happening on pretty much every street, but here and there she’d seen groups of people chasing individuals down. She’d always looked away before they caught up, preferring to imagine that the person being chased had somehow made it to safety.
She’d expected the police station to be safe, but from the moment they’d entered she knew it wasn’t. She was filled with a sudden nagging doubt that nowhere would ever be safe again.
The glass doors hung off their hinges. Furniture was upturned, broken or both. Smoke poured from the windows on two different floors, and while there was a lot of blood spattered across the walls and other surfaces, there was no-one – police officer or otherwise – to be found.
“Martin? I said where is everyone?”
“I don’t… I don’t know,” Marshall admitted. “Maybe they left.”
“Left? What, all of them? They all just left?”
“Maybe! Like I said, I don’t know, Leanne, OK?” Marshall snapped. He squeezed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. “Sorry,” he sighed. “I don’t… maybe they’re upstairs.”
He looked to the ceiling, then frowned. “No, wait.” His eyes went to the floor. “Let’s check the cells.”
“Why the cells?” asked Leanne. “It’s cops we’re looking for, not prisoners.”
“Safest place in the building,” said Marshall. “It’s like a vault down there.”
He pressed the call button on the elevator. There was a metallic squeal and grinding sound from somewhere inside the shaft. Marshall shot Leanne a sideways glance.
“Maybe we should take the stairs.”
The basement level was in darkness. Marshall flicked the light switches a few times, as if that might somehow fix the fault. When it didn’t, he reached into his pocket for his mobile to use as a torch, then remembered it was back in the flat, still wedged under his mattress.
Marshall backtracked up to the ground floor and rummaged in the front desk until he found a torch. Halfway down the stairs again, he heard Leanne whisper.
“Ssh,” she urged. “Quiet.”
Marshall tip-toed the last few steps. “What is it?” he whispered.
“I heard something,” Leanne said. Marshall could only faintly make out her outline in the dark. She pointed towards where he knew the main cells door lay. Sure enough, if he listened, he could hear something, too. It sounded like…
“Is that… is that someone muttering?” Marshall said. He clicked on the torch. “Sir? That you?”
A circle of light illuminated the small square window in the door. A flabby, pock-marked face scrunched up in the sudden glare. “Fuck. Watch where you’re pointing that thing,” spat Detective Chief Inspector Hoon. “Marshall? Is that you?”
Marshall approached the door. “Aye. Aye, it’s me.”
“About fucking time,” Hoon snapped. “I told you to knock off early, no’ vanish off the face of the fucking Earth. D’you know how many times I tried to phone?”
“I’ve a pretty good idea, aye,” Marshall admitted. He reached for the button to open the door, but Hoon’s sudden shout stopped him.
“Don’t open it!”
Marshall froze. “What? Why?”
Hoon took a deep breath. “How fucked up is it out there?”
Marshall glanced back at Leanne. “Pretty bad.”
“Aye, well it’s no’ exactly been a bed of roses down here, either,” Hoon said. “Morrison’s dead.”
Marshall blinked. “Morrison?”
“Fuck’s sake,” Hoon tutted. “Sergeant Morrison. You know. With the wife that got caught shagging her stepbrother.”
“Sergeant Watson?” said Marshall.
Hoon twitched with irritation. “Whatever his fucking name is. He’s dead.”
“Shit. You sure?”
DCI Hoon glanced back over his shoulder. “I’m pretty sure, aye,” he said. “If he’s not, it won’t be for want of me fucking trying. Now, about that button.”
Marshall reached for it again.
“No! I didn’t mean press it! Jesus. Listen.” Hoon took another deep breath. “There’s something in here with me.”
Marshall frowned. “What?”
“Bugs,” said Hoon.
Leanne stepped forward. “Bugs?”
“Who the fuck’s she?” Hoon asked.
“My upstairs neighbor,” Marshall explained. “It’s… It’s a long story. What do you mean, ‘bugs’?”
“I mean bugs. I can’t put it any more plainly than that. There’s bugs in here. A lot of bugs. If I was feeling descriptive, I’d go so far as to say it’s fucking hoachin’ wi’ bugs.”
There was a long silence while Marshall waited for more. “So?” he asked, eventually.
Hoon laughed to himself. “‘So?’ he says.
, we don’t want the bugs getting out there. Trust me on that.”
Marshall felt himself frowning again. It was becoming a habit. “So… what? We just leave you in there?”
“Aye, you wish,” Hoon said. “No. You’re going to open the door, then slam it behind me before any of them get out. Got that?”
Marshall nodded. “Got it.”
“Right,” said Hoon. He rocked from foot to foot. “Don’t hit the button until I tell you. I’m going to scare these wee bastards back a bit.”
Marshall shot Leanne a concerned glance. “Scare the bugs back?”
“Aye. They won’t come near me. Christ knows why. Not that I’m complaining.” He cricked his neck. “Right, get ready,” he said, then he turned and ran into the corridor, roaring at the top of his voice.
“Is he always like that?” Leanne asked.
Marshall started to shake his head, then stopped. “I’d like to say ‘no,’ but… pretty much,” Marshall admitted, then he jumped when Hoon screamed at him to hit the button.
A single tone rang out as Marshall slapped the door open button. Hoon hit the door hard and tumbled through. “Shut it!” he bellowed, tripping and falling forwards onto the floor.
Marshall put his weight behind the door and slammed it closed. There was a sound like heavy hailstones hitting the metal on the other side.
“Check the floor!” Hoon barked. Marshall swung the beam of the torch down. He found himself sighing with relief when he saw the floor at their feet was a bug-free zone.
“It’s OK. Nothing came through,” he said.
“Something nearly did,” said Leanne.
She bent at the waist and leaned down to look at the bottom of the door. There, trapped between the door and the frame, was a shiny black insect. Only its head and front pincers had made it through the gap. It wriggled and squirmed, the pincers grabbing at the air.
Marshall shuddered. “That’s the biggest beetle I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“It’s no’ a beetle,” said Hoon, standing up and dusting himself down. In the glow of the torch, Marshall saw a spray batter of blood on his shirt and heavy grazing on his knuckles. “It’s a bug.”
“How do you know it’s not a beetle?” said Leanne. “It looks like one.”
Hoon rolled his eyes. “I don’t care what it fucking looks like, sweetheart, it’s no’ a beetle,” he said. “And how do I know? Because it told me.”
Leanne’s brow furrowed. “It told you?”
“Aye,” Hoon growled, rounding on her. “What’s wrong with that?”
Leanne quickly shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Bollocks. I just told you a bug talked to me. Everything’s wrong with that. Grow a fucking backbone, sweetheart,” Hoon said.
“So… it didn’t talk to you?” Marshall asked.
“Oh, no. It did,” said Hoon. “Well, no’ that one, but another one. It’s talking to me now, actually.” He looked slowly between them both. “It’s telling me I should kill the pair of you. Shove my thumbs through your eye sockets.”
Marshall and Leanne stiffened. They both reached for the knives they had tucked into their belts.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to listen to it,” Hoon said. “See, I think I’ve figured out what’s happening.” He glanced left and right, as if about to impart a great secret. “I think these bugs are turning people into big angry mad bastards, but I had something working in my favor.”
He tapped himself on the temple again. “I was a big angry mad bastard to begin with. I think about killing half the bastards in this place on a daily basis.”
Marshall swallowed. “That’s… uh… reassuring.”
Hoon nodded his agreement, then puffed out his cheeks and pointed upwards. “Now, what’s say we go up there and find out just how fucked we all are?”
“Pretty fucked, I’d say,” said Marshall. He and DCI Hoon stood in the station doorway, gazing out at the city. Most of it was burning now, but there were no more sirens to be heard, just shouts and screams and breaking glass. The sound of a city dying.
Marshall looked at his boss. “What do we do? Should we try to help?”
Hoon shook his head. “We’re far past that stage. Get your girlfriend. We need to go.”
“She’s not my girlfriend, she’s only thirteen!”
“Fifteen,” corrected Leanne from behind them.
“Still illegal, though,” Marshall protested.
Leanne joined them in the doorway. “What’s illegal?”
“Us, you know, having… uh…
Leanne’s eyes went wide. “Jesus.”
Marshall blushed. “No, I’m not… I wasn’t saying…” He looked imploring at Hoon, but the DCI was shaking his head and frowning so deeply he appeared to have just one big eyebrow.
“Fuck’s sake, detective inspector,” Hoon muttered. “Get a hold of yourself. As I was saying, we need to get out of here.”
“And go where?” Marshall asked.
“My sister’s got a place up north. In Highbridge.”
“Never heard of it,” said Marshall.
“No-one’s fucking heard of it. That’s the point, there’s no bastard there. It’s just outside Fort William. We’ll head there and see what the score is.”
“What about my mum and dad?” Leanne asked.
Both officers turned to look at her. “Where are they?” asked Hoon.
“Oh, well in that case we’ll swing by and pick them up on the way,” Hoon said. “I’ve got my private jet on standby. We’ll whizz over there and--”
“Uh, OK, sir. She gets the point,” said Marshall.
Hoon opened his mouth to say something else, then stopped himself. He looked at Leanne, but she kept her face turned away. “Sorry,” Hoon said. “That was out of order.”
Leanne shrugged, but said nothing.
“I’m sure they’re fine. I bet none of this is happening over there. They’re probably having a great time,” said Marshall. “And we’ll look after you until it’s all sorted out. Then you’ll be back with them.”
Leanne glanced up at him. “That’s bollocks,” she said. “But thanks.”
Hoon clapped her on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit. Right then, campers, let’s hit the road.” He made for the door, then hesitated. “Oh, but before we do, has anyone got the key for the gun cabinet?”
Marshall shook his head. “No.”
There was a jingling of metal as Hoon held up a hefty bunch of keys. “Good job I have then, eh?”