The Dying & The Dead 1: Post Apocalyptic Survival

BOOK: The Dying & The Dead 1: Post Apocalyptic Survival
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A meadow, 3 miles away from the Dome.

 

 

There
were no infected on the meadow. Or it seemed that way, at least. The grass
reached up to Dale’s knees and shook in the wind, but it didn’t seem to hide
any infected within it. They were too stupid to sneak and only crawled when
severed at the waist, so the danger today was the infection in the air.

 

The
wind carried the muffled shouts of two children. Dale watched Luna and Eric
chase each other up the hill in the same way that he and his brothers had
chased each other decades ago. It was strange that the context of the world had
changed, yet the behaviour of children was exactly the same. Luna, the younger
and more boisterous of the siblings, reached her brother and tugged the hair on
the back of his head. Eric gave a yelp that was smothered by his mask. He
stopped and tried to punch his sister’s arm, but the girl was too quick and side-stepped
at the last moment.

 

“Come
on, idiots,” said Dale, hoping the command was loud enough for them to hear him
through his mask, and that the word ‘idiots’ was taken affectionately.

 

Stephanie
stood at the bottom of the hill with her hand sideways across her forehead. She
stared out into the distance, her body still, her ears oblivious to the antics
of her kids. Dale followed the direction of her stare until he saw what she was
looking at.

 

Miles
away, but still large enough to cover the horizon, was the Dome. It was a
man-made spherical construction of Plexiglas and plastic that looked like an
onion. One day he hoped someone would take a knife to it and cut through the
plastic so that they could see the slime and corruption ooze out of it. When he
thought of the occupants of the Dome and the power they thought was theirs, he
felt his teeth grit together.

 

He
turned away from the Dome and looked at Stephanie, and straight away he felt
lighter. The grass blew against his knees, twisting tendrils that seemed to
want to climb up his body. How long had it been since he was last here? He
reached down, grabbed hold of a couple of blades of grass and snapped off the
ends. As Stephanie turned and walked up the hill toward them, Dale tucked the
blades in his pocket.

 

“Luna,
Eric, come here,” he said.

 

The
kids looked at him, and for the hundredth time he was stunned by the absolute
symmetry of their faces. He’d seen twins before, that was nothing new, but none
of them had ever seemed such flawless copies of each other as Luna and Eric.

 

It was
crazy how much his life had changed since he had taken them in. Since the day he
opened his bedroom curtains and saw Stephanie and the kids fleeing down the
street in terror. Capita soldiers followed shortly after, but by then the woman
and children were stood in Dale’s hallway, their white faces panting. They were
just strangers back then, but what were they now? Could he call them his
family?

 

 A
rush of nerves hit his stomach and made him uneasy. Today was the day, he knew.
The day he would let Stephanie know how he felt. It seemed so long since he had
taken them in, but at the same time the months had gone by with the speed of a
runaway train. He wanted to tell Stephanie that they should be more than just
people sharing the same living space. The truth was that he’d wanted to say
something since the first week after they’d started to live with him, but he
never knew if she thought the same way. It was hard to gauge how people felt
about you even when their masks were off, and the consequences of failure made
it dangerous to take a chance.

 

He
looked at the grass of the meadow. Green bases and yellowing, knee-height tips,
every so often interspersed with dandelions. Despite the decades between visits,
he still remembered what the flowers smelled like. It wasn’t a usual memory for
a man to keep, the smell of flowers, and certainly not something a school boy
would normally pay attention to. But this meadow was pure, distilled nostalgia
for Dale. The curve of the hill, with memories of pushing his brothers down it.
The ditch at the far end, just short of the road into town, where they used to
play Prisoner of War.

 

The
sky above them was streaked red as the sun started its fall. He looked down at
the dandelions and wished he could breathe in their smell now. He put his hand
to his face and felt his mask. The straps that secured it around his head felt
tight. He ran his fingertips over the grooves of his mouthpiece and felt his
filtered breath drift through. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his
Air Virus Sensor.

 

Stephanie
approached him, her hips swaying like the grass. He felt his throat tighten and
his well-rehearsed words disappear into the cracks of his mind. Was he going to
be able to tell her?

 

“What
are you doing?” she said.

 

“Checking
the AVS.”

 

The
solar-powered sensor registered three out of four bars worth of power, which
was reassuring. He held the sensor above him, pressed the button and held it in
until an LED blinked green twice. The sensor sucked in air, whirred, and five
seconds later flashed red five times.
Damn
.

 

“Five
reds? You shouldn’t be here Dale, mask or not.”

 

He
remembered the day the government planes flew over every city and town in the
country. The eerie drone that grew louder as the four-engine aircrafts swopped
overhead, opened their cargo doors and dropped parachute-covered boxes to the
ground. All told, around sixty million cheap air filter masks and ten million
AVS modules were dropped across the land. Those were optimistic days, when the
government still had vehicles, planes and a vague clue of what to do. They
still thought they stood a chance. Dale remembered his disgust of the
government’s mishandling of the crisis, as he had perceived it back then.  In
reality, the government were just guilty of the same things as the rest of
them. They thought they had a hope.

 

Stephanie
put her hand on his shoulder, and her touch seemed to tingle through his woolly
jumper and coat until it zapped his skin.

 

“Would
you have taken your mask off even if it were clear?”

 

He
sighed. “Guess not. One gust of wind and the air’s thick with it.”

 

“What
are we doing here, in any case?”

 

“I got
you a present. Take off your mask.”

 

Stephanie
scanned the meadow around her. At home, she was the boss. It was Dale’s house,
technically, but there was no disputing who ran it. Out here though, in open
air, she looked vulnerable. It was strange that she should seem that way when
out of the two of them, she clearly had the natural advantage when outdoors.

 

“There’s
no one around,” said Dale, “Take it off.”

 

Stephanie
gave another look around her and then she reached to the back of her neck. She
unstrapped her mask delicately as though it was the top of a cocktail dress, and
then pulled it away from her face. When she took a deep breath her eyes
widened.

 

“It
smells beautiful. That’s the only way I can describe it. Beautiful.”

 

At the
top of the hill Eric walked toward his mum, but he didn’t see his sister’s
outstretched leg carefully placed to make him trip onto the floor. Within a
second he was back on his feet and had turned to meet his sister, fists
clenched.

 

“You
wanker,” he said.

 

The
curse made Dale angry and amused at the same time. To hear it from a ten year
old just seemed wrong, and he felt that he should say something. But they were
Stephanie’s kids, and he still didn’t feel right reprimanding them. He had been
guilty of every curse word ever created when he was growing up, before he
mellowed out, so it seemed hypocritical to scold the boy.

 

“Stop
pissing about and take off your masks,” said Stephanie in her blunt northern
accent.

 

Eric
and Luna fiddled with their masks and took them off. They took deep breaths,
but the smell of the meadow didn’t seem to have the same effect on them as it
had their mum. Stephanie sucked in more of the air as though she savoured it.

 

“Does
it not make you sad?” she asked Dale. He knew she was alluding to the fact that
he couldn’t take off his mask and smell the air himself.

 

“Sometimes.
But this is what makes you special. You, Luna and Eric. You’re the future of
this world. I know that sounds corny, but it’s true. I guess there will come a
time when you don’t need to wear masks or pretend you’re something you’re not.
I hope there will be, at least.”

 

Stephanie's
stare turned hard. “You haven’t seen what the Capita do when they know you’re
immune. May as well get my mask grafted to my face. ”

 

He
thought for a moment of the Dome and the Capita. Nobody had ever seen the men
and women at the top, but their soldiers were a daily intrusive presence in
everyone’s lives. Still, there weren’t many places in the world that could say
they were safe from the infected. Perhaps intrusion and loss of freedom were
the cost of safety.

 

The
sound of galloping came from across the field. The pounding of horse hooves
wasn’t so strange a sound these days, but rarely did they carry riders with
good intentions. Dale turned to Stephanie and the kids.

 

“Get
your masks on. Come on, don’t mess about.”

 

Stephanie
and Luna put theirs on with fluid movements, but Eric fumbled with the straps
of his. Dale bent down and helped him, aware that the galloping sound grew
louder as he put the mask on the boy’s head.

 

Fifty
feet away a horse’s angry face came over the crest of the hill. Since petrol
was no longer a viable option, horses were the go-to mode of transport. You had
to be part of the Capita to get one unless you lived far away from their
borders, somewhere remote where their fingers didn’t reach. But living in such
places often gave you a heap of other problems, such as mobs of infected
waiting to tear you apart.

 

A man
sat on top of the horse and held its reins in one hand, directing the animal across
the meadow with smooth control. He cut a frightening sight. He wore the mask of
a fourteenth-century plague doctor, his face completely covered by black
leather and with a sharp beak extending eight inches from his face. Eyeholes
were cut into the mask and stern eyes stared out from them, and their glare
seemed to be trained on Dale’s face. The man wore a long leather coat that
flapped against the side of the horse and made him look too bulky to be carried
by the mare. On his back, extending just above his shoulders, was the head of a
pickaxe.

 

Dale’s
heart thudded against his chest, and the wind felt colder as it teased its way
through his jumper and over his skin. He knew who this man was and what he did.
He knew his reputation. He suddenly wanted to be far, far away from the meadow,
and wished he had never had the idea to come up here. As the man got closer,
Dale looked at Stephanie and tried to catch her eyes. He wanted to tell her to
be calm, but he was far from that state of mind himself.

 

The
man stopped his horse in front of them. Up close the mare looked thick with
muscle and probably weighed half a ton. It could have crushed Luna or Eric with
the rise and fall of one hoof. The horse snorted and spit flew from its
nostrils.

 

“Do
you know me?” said the man.

 

Dale
tried to keep his voice level. “I know of you, yeah.”

 

“What’s
my name?”

 

Dale’s
throat felt dry. He swallowed and tried to lubricate his vocal chords, but they
felt cracked.

 

“The
Bull,” he said.

 

The
man swung a leg over the side of his horse and dropped to the ground with more
agility than his body should have allowed. The grass trembled against him as he
walked. He was the same height as Dale, but something about him made him seem
much taller.

 

“Charles
Bull, actually,” he said, walking closer and then stopping a few feet in front
of the family. “Mum didn’t christen me The Bull, you know. It’s just a nickname
so please, call me Charles. What else do you know about me?”

 

Dale didn’t
want to offend The Bull. He knew what the man did but it felt wrong to say it,
as if the words were too blunt.

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