Australia's overrun. The rest of the world watches and waits.
A noise had disturbed him. Keeping low, Jacob started for the entrance of his current home. It was a small cave on the beach, with only a small hole as a door. Looking through the gap he saw that it was early morning, with wisps of white clouds in an otherwise blue sky. The gap to the entrance loomed above him, one meter above head height. This cave had been a good find. Dark, difficult to enter, and a tight squeeze, but safe from unwanted guests.
Something was making a dull thumping noise on the other side of the rock. Jacob stood very still. He had two options, ignore it, or climb up to the entrance and see what it was. If it was one of them, he wasn’t too worried. It could however be an animal or another survivor. He waited for a time, not moving an inch listening for another sound. None came. He wanted to call out. It had been four weeks since he’d seen anyone else and he was getting lonely. The prospect of another survivor excited him, whoever it may be. He’d joined up with several individuals and groups since this had all started a couple of months ago. Most were dead now, but whether the time with them had been good or bad, he thought it had been worth it. Most weren’t people he’d associate within a normal world, some were nice and others complete bastards but he was learning either was better than the days he’d had alone.
Making a decision he cautiously moved close to the entrance, being careful not to make too much noise. He took a hold of the rope he’d tied to the rock face to make the climb to the entrance easier. It was also useful for pulling supplies up into his home. Climbing to the opening he peered out the gap to look out at the beach. The glare on the water limited his view of the horizon. The first thing he saw was the body. It had been there since he’d arrived. Walter Simmons. The guy had obviously killed himself. Slit his own throat. Jacob had gone through his pockets the first day he got there, as there was no need to fear a dead body, as long as it didn't die from a bite mark. Two months ago, he might have considered burying the chicken shit, but the easterly winds sent the stench of his decaying body away from his home, and anyway he was one of hundreds of thousands who had committed suicide in the last two months. Thinking about his current situation, he figured maybe the guy wasn’t chicken shit for killing himself. God knows Jacob had thought of it once or twice recently.
Peering down the rock face to the floor of the beach he did a quick scan to see if he could find the source of the sound that had woken him. He couldn't see anything from where he had positioned himself, not wanting to be seen by anyone. They wouldn't reach him up here, as they couldn't climb, but if he was seen, it wouldn't go away and more would follow. They always did. He was safe here, but he had one week’s worth of food and water left at best. Soon he'd have to venture out. There was a gas station 2 kms down the road he'd been using for supplies. He'd been able to get a month’s worth of tinned food and fluids last time he'd been there and he figured he could survive on the supplies left in the store for another two months.
Slowing raising from a crouch he took a strong grip on the rock and poked his head out of the opening and looked down to the base of the cliff-face. He locked gaze with a pair of bloodshot eyes, staring up, straight at him.
Jacob stumbled, nearly losing his grip in shock and immediately went into a crouch to steady himself. “Fuck!” he whispered. He'd been out to the beach the previous evening to wash himself, which he did every few days. The creature would have spotted him returning and followed. It must have been standing there waiting all night.
Closing his eyes he breathed deeply to calm himself. His heart was beating fast, like it always did when they were near. He was getting used to the bodies, the death and gore he'd seen at every turn in the last couple of months, but the fear that went through him at moments like this was always intense.
Jacob crouched where he was for around a minute before standing up again to take another look. It was still staring at him, a girl, no more than ten years of age. Her dirty blond hair was a thatch of dirt, blood, sand and leaves. She was wearing a dirty pink dress with elaborately patterned white lace around the edges. A big chunk of her left arm was missing, probably where she'd been bitten. As she smacked her head against the rock in a feeble attempt to walk up the cliff, he realised where the thumping noise was coming from.
Sliding down the rope, Jacob walked to where he kept his assortment of weapons. He had gotten used to the fact that he even needed an “assortment of weapons” weeks ago. Picking up his jerry can of petrol he headed back towards the entrance. He thought it was the obvious choice in the current circumstance. She wouldn't even flinch as he poured it over her from above. Once he was back at the entrance of the cave he looked down upon her again. She hadn't moved, When she saw that he'd reappeared her dead eyes widened, a very human expression.
Jacob had never killed one so young. The fact that the creature was only eight or nine would have been a problem for him in the beginning. But he had learned over the weeks that it didn’t matter what age, sex, height or weight they were. They all had one goal and they all were a threat.
It was a good throw, most of the fuel covered the girl. Soaking a rag with the remaining fuel in the can, Jacob lit it and tossed it at her. This throw wasn't as good and the rag fell to the ground two feet away from her. “Fuck!” he whispered to himself again.
Looking at the girl he saw that the fuel had soaked her pink dress. If he could maneuver her towards the still flaming rag, he knew he could salvage this.
His blonde hair had gotten quite long in the last couple of months so he tied it back in a ponytail so it wouldn’t get in the way. Not his style he thought wryly, but it would have to do for now. He was quite sure the creature below wouldn’t judge him.
He tossed the rope so it lay on the outside of the rock face. Gripping it, he rappelled down, slowing walking backwards, getting as close to her as he dared. He stopped and turned his head. He was about a foot above her outstretched hands, her mouth was opening and closing, chewing the air ready for when her hands delivered a meal. Being this close to her he could see that various parts of her body were rotten, with maggots covering all wounds, and he was forced to pause, resisting the urge to gag from the stink of rot and decay
Gripping the rope tightly he sprang out from the rock, and kicked her towards the rag. He wouldn't have tried such a stupid move if she'd been any bigger. It was a good kick and she fell, to land right on top of the rag. Jacob continued his swing and landed back on the cliff wall. Looking back he saw the dress light up and engulf her in a ball of flame. Still she stood, and started back towards him. He knew from experience that no matter what harm came to the undead, nothing but killing them would stop their drive for human flesh.
Jacob quickly scaled the rope and waited at the entrance to his home until he knew she wouldn't survive, then slid back into his cave. He had no desire to watch the corpse cooking. He lay down on his mattress and stared at the wall. As the smell of cooked flesh entered his home, he closed his eyes and retreated to a happier time, before all this began.
Howard Marshall took a sip of his tea. He sat in a directors chair in the middle of the road on a once busy freeway. It was free of any cars, there were no undead, no dead bodies and very little rubbish littered the surrounding landscape. Looks like we found the one part of Melbourne the plague decided to leave be, Howard mused.
Sitting opposite Howard was an Australian survivor. All around them his soldiers were busy at work, fortifying a fifty meter perimeter around their current location. They wouldn't be staying here more than a couple of hours, but it was still necessary. A freeway was a good place for a temporary camp, as you can see for hundreds of metres in all directions, and because there were no houses around, there were fewer undead to worry about. Not a good place to stage an attack mind you, unless you had defenses in place.
“Are you sure you don't want a cup?” he asked her. She shook her head. The woman had barely said a handful of words since they'd found her peering at them through the window of a deserted house. She also hadn't showered or changed her clothes in what smelt like weeks and Howard was finding it increasingly distasteful. He knew it wasn't entirely her fault, as water had stopped flowing through the pipes two months ago, but that didn't explain the clothes. There had to have been fresh clothes in the house. Perhaps this whole situation had driven her mad. If that was the case, she wasn't the first survivor he'd come across in his eight weeks here who had lost their marbles.
Howard was a soldier. Captain of his own private military company, traveling all over the world when governments or corporations called, if the money was right. Born in England, he'd joined the army at the age of nineteen, and raised through the ranks to Commanding Officer within eight years. Always ambitious, he used his stint in the '92 Iraq war to collect like minded soldiers into his employ. He now had two hundred men, all great soldiers, hired to go in to areas and perform tasks considered “undiplomatic” by most governments. Of course his main employers were those governments, making it easy for him to employ soldiers who would usually be denied resignation. His current assignment was obviously unique, but over the years he'd learned to be pragmatic. He had an objective and if he stopped to think about the details or repercussions, he'd probably be as mad as the woman sitting opposite him.
“Do you have any surviving family?” he asked. Howard knew the answer was no, but he usually asked the question anyway. The whole situation fascinated him and sometimes such a question would prompt a surviver to tell their story. One story that particularly stuck in his mind was from a man he'd met two weeks back on the outskirts of Melbourne. He'd been living in a grocery store, a pretty good place to hold up, all things considered. Plenty of food and water for months. They'd actually approached it to replenish their own stores, to find the door barricaded shut from the inside. It had taken half an hour to talk the guy out, and it only worked when they'd threatened to bash the door in and let some of the captured undead in for a meet and greet. They didn't have any captors, but the lie had served its purpose. Rather than the solemn silent type that was sitting opposite him now, the man rabbled on and on, his eyes darting to and fro looking for signs of the creatures. After Howard had sat him down and given him a hot cup of tea, the man had relaxed and told him his story.
“I did what I had to do” the man had started. After a brief sob he had soldiered through his story. His name was Adam and he was 32. Up until the city had become a ghost town he had worked at a retirement home, housing 150 men and women in their tender years. He was a nurse, looking after the sick ones, dispensing medicine, wiping their asses and all the gross things that come with the job. One night he was doing his rounds when he ducked his head into one Mr. Smith's bedroom to find him standing in a corner, facing the wall. Having just watched a full days worth of TV news, seeing that the undead had overtaken Sydney and was making its way at a steady pace to Melbourne, he naturally assumed this odd behaviour was that of the undead. This is not how Adam put the story to him, but Howard had deduced the guy wasn't very intelligent and read between the lines. Caught in fear, he'd run home at break neck speed not bothering to voice his concerns to anyone.
Three days later Adam went for his next shift. Having heard nothing of an outbreak at the retirement home he'd assumed happily that he'd been mistaken. On his return he'd gone straight to Mr. Smith's room to put his lingering doubts to rest. Mr Smith was gone. He'd asked two of the senior nurses where Mr. Smith had gone. Neither of them knew, but both of of them had told him to keep his mind on his job and not to worry about it. Over the next three days he noticed other patients had gone missing.
Howard had asked him at this point “And what did the senior staff say to you about those disappearances?” Adam hadn't asked them. Two weeks of 24 hour round the clock news of the Zombie epidemic had convinced him what was going on. The news told him what signs to look for in the undead, and it was clear to him the Home was keeping those signs under wraps. On his last day there, he broke into the medical supplies and swapped the daily medical rations with large doses of propofol and morphine. After dispensing the medicine on his daily rounds, he had left immediately. He killed 78 people that day. Adam killed himself four hours after telling his story. Howard guessed he'd gained a bit of clarity in the telling.
“Commander” a voice called, bringing Howard back from his thoughts. It was Captain O'Connor, his right hand man and second in charge of the company.
“Excuse me” Howard said to the woman as he stood and walked to the soldier.
“What is it?” he asked
“A squad just reported that a group of them are approaching from the west. Close to one hundred of them about 2km from where we are now.”
Howard grunted. While they'd dealt with gangs of up to 400 undead in the past, 100 was still a sizable threat, and a number that was best avoided until a proper ambush could be established. “We move out. Tell A squad we'll rendezvous 5km north up the freeway and plan our attack”.
“Yes Sir. And the woman?”
Howard turned back and looked at her. She still sat in the directors chair, her head in her hands, staring up the freeway. He'd get no interesting story from her. “Point her east and tell her to find a place to hide.”
He wouldn't have a survivor slowing them down. A woman at that! The men hadn't been in the company of a woman in over a month. Around them, she probably wouldn't last the night. Even if she did stink like shit. If anything he should have killed her. The Officer that had given him this assignment had made it clear there were no survivors in this area. Period. It wasn't a clear directive, but he'd been doing the job long enough to know what was meant by that statement. The 50 square km area assigned to his company was to be swept clean of all inhabitants. No doubt other companies were doing the same in all the major cities. His employer wanted Australia clear and ripe for the picking. Another type of invasion would be coming to this cursed land.
Twenty minutes later, Howard was standing over table staring at a map on the same stretch of road at the rendezvous point. The map was one of many they'd taken from a local council office, with detailed features of the surrounding area. In these circumstances it was perhaps overkill, but old habits broke hard. Having served in two wars, he was used to having an enemy that had, at least some level of intelligence. In a one minute glance he could see the strengths and weaknesses of their current location, and in a normal battle they would definitely be in trouble. He could see dozens of locations where a co-ordinated enemy could sneak up and overrun his men before they knew what hit them. They were standing in the middle of a six lane freeway for fuck sake. But this enemy wasn't intelligent and there was definitely no co-ordination in their walk or thought. He knew that they were following and that they would be coming up the same stretch of road that had brought him here. But that didn't mean it was going to be a walk in the park.
Howard preferred to call them Zombies. Because as everyone knew, that's what they fucking were. The papers and media seemed to steer clear of the word, preferring to use the word “undead”. No-one was really sure why, but Howard guessed it was to distinguish fantasy from reality. Zombies were in the movies, novels and kiddies nightmares. Not in our streets, hospitals and living rooms! But they were zombies. There were subtle differences, but writers of horror can't be expected to get everything right. Unfortunately one thing they didn't get completely right was how to kill them. In the stories a blow to the head was all it took. In reality, you had to hit them in the right spot. Blowing the head clean off obviously had the desired effect, but he didn't like his soldiers getting too close to achieve this. The bullet, bat, spear or whatever your choice of weapon had to hit the zombie at the base of the skull just below the crown at the back of the head. That meant if you missed, you could blow off half it's head and it would still be coming for you. Howard wasn't one to know fear, but the first time he sunk fifteen rounds into an oncoming zombie to little effect, he'd nearly needed a change of pants. Out on the field It had taken a few weeks for him to know his enemy. Zombies aren’t evil. They have no secret agenda or ambition. They only need one thing, and that is to eat us. There is no negotiation, and no reasoning.
Howard watched as his soldiers worked efficiently in setting up their ambush. He had ordered eight of the units light utility vehicles to be lined up in a horizontal line to form a barricade. Three rows of barbed wire closed the 2-3 metre gaps between them. For the undead who couldn't climb it was usually sufficient. Charges were laid fifty metres in front of the barricade in the hope of dismembering the majority of them, for an easy kill later. Behind the barricade most of his forces stood ready with sniper rifles and machine guns. The rest were either patrolling the edges in case more came in from the sides, or behind the wheel of one of the remaining vehicles in case they had to make a speedy retreat. They were ready twenty minutes before they saw the group stumbling along the horizon.
“Snipers” he yelled to his team.
The twenty soldiers holding the sniper rifles began choosing their targets.
“What's today's prize Captain?” One soldier holding a rifle yelled out from Howard's left.
“A reward for all of you. If you gunners can shoot down 60 of those beasts before they reach the charges, we'll all have a few drinks tonight”. Howard yelled, which got a cheer from his men.
The cheering stopped and the shooting started. The first round of shots took out one zombie, bullet straight through the neck, exploding out the back of its head. It fell instantly. All the other shots struck either the wrong part of the head or chest area, merely slowing down the enemy. The zombies were around one hundred metres away and as they closed the gap towards the charges, more began to fall. Bullets that missed their target blew arms off shoulders, chunks of skull fell to the ground. It slowed them down, but not much. Howard had discovered early on that they didn't feel pain. One zombie, who had one arm blown clean off as well as a sizable part of his head caved in, stopped his walk and seemed to stare at them. He looked confused and then after a while carried on, stumbling towards them. By the time they had reached the charges, around 40 of the 100 had fallen.
“Ready charges” Howard said calmly to Captain O'Connor, who was standing to his left. O'Connor barked the necessary orders. They let the first of the undead pass over the charges and when half were on either side Howard yelled “Fire Charges!”
Bodies flew up into the air. Legs and arms tore away from their bodies as the explosion ripped through the group of undead. Of the thirty that had been remaining, five still stood. Howard knew more would get up, but things were going well. He waited until the remaining five were within 20 metres of the barricade and yelled “gunners, take them down!”. Immediately all soldiers aimed their guns at the remaining five and ripped them to shreds until bullets hit home and put the zombies down for good. A cheer went up from his company. This fight had been one of the easiest yet.
“What are you cheering for? We're not done yet! Clean up! I see at least ten twitches out there. Let's get this finished and then we're on the move to camp”
With that, O'Connor shut them up and had them on the move to finish up. Howard turned away. He had a big grin on his face that he couldn't shake. His company had done well today, and damn it, so what if they hadn't met the challenge he'd given them. They'd all have a drink tonight.
Australian Prime Minister John Rudd sat at his desk pouring over reports that had come through in the last 24 hours. His office for the last month was in Perth, Western Australia, the last city in Australia to be free of the undead. He was exhausted, having not had a good night sleep in weeks.
The PM role was more military than government now. His main staff were mostly corporals and officers and John felt like a war leader, pouring over intel, trying to stop an invading army. On paper it sounded quite easy. The undead didn't carry weapons, they didn't communicate or strategize. They couldn't even bloody well run, but stumbled on at a steady pace. But they had failed at all attempts to stop the spread and Australia was down to its last city. Reflecting on past failures was pointless, but he continually did it, in the hope they wouldn't make the same mistakes yet again.
On June 10th 2010, Fred Carson rose from his open casket and tore his sobbing mother's throat out with his teeth. She was rushed to hospital, while family members attending Fred's funeral held him down, careful to avoid his snapping mouth. Another ambulance came for him and he, too, was taken away. Within 12 hours, the undead had started pouring out of the hospital they'd been taken to. The infection had spread fast. People who didn't know better (and why would they!) had stopped and stared at hundreds of people in their hospital greens stumbling along the roads and footpaths. They were easy prey for the undead and soon hundreds had turned into thousands. A bite from the undead, no matter how small was enough to turn anyone.
The Prime Minister had been informed of the outbreak when it had reached a 10km radius from the hospital, around six hours after they had emerged. Under the advisement of the military, he'd agreed to attempt a barricade 100km out from ground zero. This in itself was no mean feat. All military and Navy staff available, as well as hundreds of thousands of volunteers had been used to make it happen. When all the police blockades had been used up, schools, churches and some homes had been torn down for materials. Roads were blocked off, gaps between houses filled. But it was too big an area, and the spread was a lot faster than anyone had anticipated. Soon the undead were filtering through the outer edges of the barricade, and the volunteers had either fled or fallen prey to them.
Once it was realised that the city of Brisbane would be overrun, most citizens decided to flee. News and radio was replaced by a loop recording from John himself, recommending people head west, or down to Sydney. What it didn't say was John's first regret. As a result, all people fled; young, old, and the ones who were bitten, but yet to turn.
“With South Australia over-run, it's anticipated we'll start seeing signs of the undead in Western Australia within weeks” Carol informed him casually as she strolled into his office.
Carol was his Deputy Prime Minister. In her fifties, she was fit, determined and throughout this whole ordeal, the most dependable person John had on his staff. His wife had often been jealous of the amount of time they spent together, and he guessed he understood why. While Carol wouldn't be called beautiful in the classical sense, she was striking, and add that to her determination and brilliant mind, she was definitely a catch in his eyes.
John looked up, making eye contact with Carol. “I know. I've just gotten some new reports saying that some have been stopped 50km from the border. Another family infected.”
That was the main problem. People were fleeing with infected people in their cars. Whether it was family members refusing to give up their loved ones for dead, or people just hiding the fact they'd been bitten, it came down to the same thing. It was the reason it had spread at such a devastating rate.
John had done another announcement days before Sydney was over-run, telling people to think of their fellow Australians.
“If you, or anyone in your group is bitten, we advise that they are put down in the most humanly way possible. Once dead, the head must be removed, or the entire body cremated”.
Most people didn't listen of course. It had been the hardest instruction he'd ever been forced to give. Thinking of his children, he doubted he could have done something that awful himself.
Carol walked over to the desk and seated herself on it. They were all tired and decorum had flown out the window long ago.
“A senator from the US flew in this morning. He wants to discuss some new policies put in place regarding their “ongoing involvement”. I don't like the guy, he's all smiles and as obnoxious as his cologne”.
John smiled. Carol was a good judge of character, but overseas relations were becoming increasingly strained, and she seemed to be wary of any outsiders these days.
“Did this obnoxious senator shed some light into why he's here?” John inquired.
Carol sighed, turning around to look out the window. “That's what I like least about him. He treated me like I'm your fucking personal assistant and not worthy of his time. "At your earliest convenience" he wants to talk to you and only you.
Standing, John replied “Well let's go disappoint him. Care to join me?”
Three days after the incident with the girl, Jacob was climbing down the edge of the cliff on his way to the gas station. He was nearly out of food and didn’t want to put off getting more. His biggest fear living in the cave was being stuck there with no food or water, the exit blocked by a horde of undead. The girl had been a good reminder to never get complacent. He always had to be alert, watching his surroundings constantly and never losing his guard. It was why he was still alive, probably one of only a thousand of survivors around the Melbourne area. He figured the undead would eventually make it all the way to the West, or they could already be there. He had no way of knowing. Electricity had stopped flowing a month ago, and despite using it sparingly, his Iphone had gone flat two weeks after that. There was no news, or internet he could access, so as far as he knew the whole world was over-run.
Making his way up the sand and on to the road, Jacob moved into a steady jog. It didn’t take long before he’d worked up a sweat. Grinning, he recalled his mates had always given him shit for being a health freak. Before the outbreak he didn’t smoke, rarely drank and played various sports all year round. He'd been quietly chuffed that at 26 he could still out perform the younger players on his football team. Now, after a 200 metre jog he was sweating. Holed up in the cave didn’t give him a lot of opportunities to work out, plus the “rarely drinking” had escalated to frequently of late. Alone in a post apocalyptic world often looked a bit sweeter through drunken eyes. Still, he was happy to be outside in the fresh air with the suns heat upon his face.
Jacob reached the end of the road and turned right. He did a quick scan for signs of life, and seeing none proceeded up the road. He was still around 400 meters from the station, which was around a bend coming up. Walking down the centre of the street, he looked at the houses to the left and right of him. For the most part it looked like a normal neighborhood street, albeit a very quiet one. Most houses looked untouched by the plague that had swept through the area. But some had broken windows, some had dried blood covering various parts of the front yard. There were no bodies. They’d all gotten up and walked away. Rounding the bend, he saw the gas station straight ahead of him. Standing at the pumps were a group of people, the first he’d seen in what felt like months.
Jacob ducked behind a car sitting on the side of the road. He was quite sure he hadn’t been seen. The people ahead were obviously alive and healthy, as they were talking amongst themselves. Peering at them from under the car he counted three of them, two men and a woman. One of the men, a big fat man was filling his van with petrol. He could hear a generator going in the background, which explained why the pumps were working. The woman loading food into the van started laughing. Jacob took this as a good sign that they were approachable and he longed to jump up and run towards them, but he needed to be cautious. They all carried weapons. That was normal, everyone carried weapons these days, but he needed to be sure that wouldn’t be turned on him.
The fat man finished filling the car with gas and started getting in the van to make a move. Jacob was torn. Usually in these circumstances he'd like to watch new strangers for a period of time, see them interact and make a clear judgment on whether or not to approach them. Obviously he wasn't going to get the chance to do that this time, and he had to decide whether to bite the bullet and approach them, or take the cautious route and remain on his own. It took him little time to make his decision. Raising his hands above his head, a baseball bat in one hand, a bunch of empty bags in the other, he walked out from behind the car and started towards them.
The woman noticed him first, her instinct response was to grab her weapon, a rifle. He hadn’t noticed that earlier, they were a lot better equipped than he was. Taking a deep breath, he continued on towards them.
“I don’t want trouble” he croaked out, realizing he hadn’t spoken above a whisper in quite some time. Clearing his throat he tried again “I don’t want trouble” he called out again, this time in a clear voice. The fat man had pulled out a pistol while the other man hadn’t moved, looking him up and down, appraising him. It was him Jacob decided to make eye contact with. None of them spoke, so he tried again. “I’m a survivor, just like you” he called out. “I’ve been on my own for some weeks now. I’m here to stock up on food. Tell me to fuck off if you want to, but please stop pointing those guns at me. I don’t want trouble”.
Both the fat man and the woman looked towards the other man questioningly. The man continued to stand there saying nothing. He was slight, around 50 years of age with silver hair and intelligent eyes. After a full minute he broke his gaze from Jacob and placed the bag he was holding in to the van.
With his back to Jacob, he called out ““What’s your name?”
“Well Jacob, my names Richard. This is Charlie and my beautiful wife here is Becky.” He replied, turning around and making eye contact once more.
Still Charlie and Becky kept their weapons pointed on him. Becky in particular worried Jacob. With her wild orange curls and stern gaze, she was anything but “beautiful” in his eyes. It looked like she was ready to pull the trigger and be done with him. Slowly lowering his arms, he dropped his baseball bat and bags to the ground. He was starting to think this had been a really bad idea.
Richard continued. “We’re part of a group of around 20 people camped up the road. We’re open to letting newcomers join us, but I’d like to ask you one or two questions before we do that”.
Jacob nodded his accent.
“Firstly, when was the last time you were with other survivors and why did you split up from them?” Richard asked. It was obvious this wasn’t a random question, but one he’d asked of people before.
“I’ve been on my own for about a month. I met an elderly couple hiding out in their home. They took me in and I stayed with them for 2 weeks. They…” Jacob paused in the telling, finding it difficult to put the experience into words. Clearing his throat he pushed on. “They were good people. They had a nephew a bit younger than me that didn’t make it, which is why I think they took me in. They said I reminded them of him.”
“Touching.” Charlie cut in, his fat cheeks wobbling as he spoke. “Why’d you leave them then?” he demanded.
“The woman. Judy. She got bitten one day when she went out to the garden to grab some potatoes and she didn’t tell either of us. She turned and then attacked her husband. I escaped”.
The statement was true, but just skimmed the surface of what had happened that night. Jacob didn’t feel like retelling the whole event as the memory was still painful.
They had all been sitting eating dinner when Judy had turned. She had been quiet all night, but she’d been that way a couple of times over the weeks, so Jacob hadn’t thought much of it. Her husband Walter was passing the salt to her when she bit into his wrist. Blood had sprayed out of the wound, covering Walt and his dinner. Jacob had leapt to his feet in search of some sort of weapon. Grabbing a large kitchen knife, he’d circled around Judy while she stood over her cowering husband, ready to take another bite out of him. Jacob thrust the knife into the base of her skull, striking true and she slumped to the floor immediately. The initial look Walt had given him was murderous, which soon washed away to fear as he saw Jacob staring at his wound.
“No.” Walt whispered. “No”. It seemed to be the only word he could find.
“I have to” replied Jacob softly. “I’m sorry”.
Jacob swung down with the knife, taking Walt in the heart. Moving swiftly, he tore the knife out, grabbed him by his grey hair, tilted his head and again stabbed into the base of the skull right to the hilt. Tears rolling down his cheeks, he had then left.
Someone made a noise and Jacob looked up, making eye contact with Richard again. He must have tuned out and he realized again the pain of that incident was still quite fresh. By the way Richard was looking at him, Jacob could tell that he would like him to elaborate his answer, but he mercifully moved on.
“You have a gun?” He asked.
Jacob shook his head. He pulled out the large knife he kept strapped to his side, and nodded pointedly to the baseball bat, indicating that, and the knife were the only weapons he carried.
“Right then. You can come with us back to the camp. We cleared the area of undead this morning, but there’ll be more, and our camp is safe. We just have to make sure you have no bite marks on you.”
“Strip!” Becky called out with a nasty grin.
It was the first thing she’d said to him. Taking off his shirt, Jacob thought to himself that her voice was as grotesque as the rest of her. Richard must be delusional. His wife wasn’t beautiful, she was a feral dog.
The van came to a stop outside two fortified metal gates. Charlie, who was driving beeped the horn twice with his humongous hand. Jacob sat in the back, peering through the window at the camp. He found it strange that there were no fences surrounding it, until he looked down. A massive trench surrounded the area, at least three metres wide, and from his vantage point he couldn't see how deep. He was impressed at the idea. The only way he could see the undead getting through is if there were enough of them to fill the hole, so even more could climb over them to reach the other side.
The trench had been constructed by heavy machinery. The lines of the hole were too straight to have been dug by hand. He figured this must have been made before the invasion had set it. At the beginning this would have been a futile gesture. The initial wave of undead had been in the millions. There were still quite a lot of undead in the city, but there were a lot less around these days. He wasn't too sure why, but he knew a lot had continued south, traveling together not so much in a group but all in the search of food. Now, this camp was as safe as his cave had been. As long as the people inside the camp were more hospitable than the three he'd met so far, this would be a good place to stay for a while.
Charlie beeped the horn once more, before the gates started opening. Once they were completely open, he drove the van over the one strip of dirt that served as a bridge into the camp. Coming to a stop alongside 5 other vehicles, Jacobs companions immediately opened both front and back doors to venture out of the van. Slowly rising from his seat, he leaned out the back door to peruse the camp and its inhabitants.
The camp was on a good half acre of land. At the centre stood a small rustic house. Smoke streamed out of a chimney on the roof. While it was obviously in use, he saw that it was not where the people here lived. At the front of the house, tents and tarpaulins littered the yard. He could see a large firepit, which he assumed was a meeting place at night. He counted around 15 people, old and young. Two old men were tending to some plants, talking amongst themselves. A young mother and her child were running around chasing each other, laughing. Others were about their business, washing clothes and cooking food. It seemed like a welcoming place. Grabbing his bat, he stepped out of the van and started towards the camp. To his left, he noticed that Richard had stopped walking and was observing him and seeing that Jacob had noticed, he gestured for him to approach.
“Welcome to our home” he said as Jacob approached him. “You'll have time to meet everyone later, however Colin likes to see all new comers straight away. Charlie!”
“Who's Colin?” Jacob asked. Richard ignored him.
Charlie made his way towards them, reminding Jacob of a penguin as his short legs struggled to move the massive weight on top of them. Before he'd reached them, Richard called out “I want you to take Jacob to the house so he can meet Colin.”
Charlie grimaced and gave Jacob a “this is your fault” look, but then shrugged his shoulders, turned and started towards the house. Jacob caught up to him and matched his slow pace as they entered the centre of the camp. As they walked past the other survivors, some looked up to stare at him while others greeted Charlie with a wave. Looking from face to face, he saw the same semi vacant look most survivors wore then they were alone in their thoughts. All of them had lost so much and that pain was still new for everyone.
Jacob entered the house on the heels of Charlie. The first thing he noticed was the smell. The place was stuffy and there was a underlying smell of decay and rot. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was definitely noticeable. They stood in a dark hallway, the sun creeping in through the front door the only light source. He’d noticed that all the curtains at the front of the house had been drawn when he was approaching it. They walked down the hall and reached a closed door. Charlie knocked twice, and not waiting for a response opened the door, and stepped aside so Jacob could enter first. He got the impression Charlie didn’t want to be there. Walking through the door the smells intensity increased, and he instinctively cupped his nose to try and ward it off. He walked into a study. An old oak desk took up a large portion of the room. A large assortment of weapons were laid out upon it. The curtains in this room were open, filling the room with the bright glow of the afternoon sun. Sitting on a chair facing the open window, sat a man staring out at the landscape. He was a slim man, around 40 or so, with wild brown hair, and a clean shaven face. Jacob followed his gaze outside and froze, a moment of shock passing over him. Not too sure of what he was seeing, he walked closer to the window. Just inside the perimeter of the trench in a fenced off area, dozens of large poles had been driven into the ground. Chained to the poles were undead, at least ten of them, all naked. As he looked over them he noticed one was crouched on the ground, covering her breasts, staring at the others around her. She was very much alive, and she looked terrified.
“She’s alive! ” Jacob blurted out in shock. He looked at the other two men who had turned to face him. “She’s...she’s alive. Why is she out there?”
The man remained in his seat with a bemused smile on his face as he spoke. “Charlie. I see we have a new member in our group, won’t you introduce us?”
“His name is Jacob” Charlie said gruffly. “This is Colin, he’s in charge”. It was a poor introduction, but then it was also the largest amount of words Jacob had heard him string together. Charlie then stepped back in to a corner of the room and started looking around the room like a nervous child who'd been sent to the principles office.
“Hello Jacob, it’s a pleasure.” Colin said jovially, standing up and holding his hand out for Jacob to shake. “Charlie, I thank you for bringing our latest member to meet me, but I believe I am holding you up. I seem to recall that last night you were bragging of a stew you were going to cook for everyone this evening. Or was that just the whiskey talking?”
“Yes...No. I mean yes I have to go and make it.” Charlie muttered. He then turned around quickly and left the room, glad he’d been given the opportunity to escape.
Shaking Jacob’s hand, Colin returned to his chair, gesturing to Jacob to grab one for himself and join him. Returning his gaze to the undead outside, Colin said “Charlie’s been with us for a couple of weeks now. He’s harmless, but how he survived so long on his own is a mystery to everyone. Now. Back to your last comment. Yes that girl down there is indeed still alive. Her name is Jessica and up until two days ago, she was a part of our group. She’s been bitten, along with the two others closest to her.”
“Two days ago?” Jacob replied as he sat in a seat he’d placed alongside Colin’s. “I’ve never heard of anyone lasting more than 10 hours after a bite. No one has. Are you sure she’s bitten?” Jacob’s mind was racing, trying to recall an instance where this had occurred before. Like everyone else, he’d read and watched hours and hours of news when the outbreak had first started. Everyone knew that a sever bite would turn someone within minutes. A small bite that just broke the skin took longer to kill the body, but two days? It wasn’t possible.
“Yes, I’m quite sure. I saw it happen.” Colin replied dismissively. “However, I am in agreement with you. Two days is a long time to not show any symptoms of turning. ”
Jacob continued to stare at her. She couldn’t have been more than 20 years of age. Her blonde hair was tied back, with wisps that had broken free blowing in the breeze. She was slender, but curled up in a ball as she was, he couldn’t make out too many features. “Why are they naked?” he asked.
Colin turned to look at them “Because they are not human. They’re beasts.”
“And the girl...Jessica? Is she a beast?” he countered
“Yes.” Colin said simply. “though I will confess, a lovely beast” he said with a happy grin. Changing the topic, he went on. “Now Jacob. Tell me a bit about yourself. You were obviously picked up by Richard while he was about some errands.”
Jacob nodded assent and briefly gave an account of his last few weeks and his meeting with Richard.
Colin laughed. “No doubt Becky gave you a bit of a scare. She’s more wary of outsiders than anyone else in the camp and from what she’s told me of her past, I’m not surprised why!”
Jacob said nothing. He was beginning to feel uneasy sitting in Colin’s company. His jovial demeanor didn’t fit the conversation they were having and he wondered if he was always like this. Suddenly a gate opened outside, into the area where the undead were chained up. Richard and Becky entered, each carrying a bucket.
Colin turned to Jacob excitedly. “What you are about to see is a little experiment I’ve been working on.”
Richard walked to the far side of the yard, pulled a piece of meat from the bucket and tossed it to one of the undead.
“You feed them?!” Jacob asked incredulously.
“Some of them. Five to be exact. I’m trying to find out if feeding them has any effect on their mobility and life span. It’s only been 5 days, but in the coming weeks I hope I get a result.”
“What are you feeding them....” Jacob trailed off. Everyone knew the undead only ate one thing. They didn’t feed on each other, and he’d heard no reports of livestock or pets being attacked. The only meat that could be in that bucket was human. He glanced over to Colin who was watching him, grinning. He seemed to be enjoying watching Jacob come to his own conclusion.
“The errand I mentioned earlier? There are plenty of people who killed themselves rather than fall prey to those beasts. A couple of weeks ago we collected some of them and we’ve been storing them in the freezer at the gas station where you met up with Richard.
Jacob, still sickened by the realisation turned back to the yard. Richard was feeding the last of the five undead. They chewed into the meat like ravenous dogs. One of them was pulling the meat apart with his hands and putting strips of meat in his mouth. Jacob found the behaviour odd until he realised it had no teeth.
Meanwhile, Becky had approached Jessica with her bucket. She put her hand in and pulled out an apple and something else Jacob couldn’t make out. Holding it high above her head, she grinned down on at the poor girl. Jessica looked up at the food and then around the yard. Seeing that Richard was facing the other direction, she turned her head to the window, and made eye contact with Jacob, who immediately turned away embarrassed for her. After some time, not able to help himself, he looked back. Jessica had stood up, covering her breasts with one arm and her crotch with the other. The chain restricted her from walking any closer to Becky, forcing her to reach for the food that was arms length away. Reaching out with her right hand she exposed her breasts as she frantically grabbed for the apple. Becky pulled it away from her at the last second, cackling out loud. Jacob couldn’t help but look at her breasts, the first he’d seen in months. Realising he was getting excited by watching her, he turned away, slightly disgusted at himself. Colin showed no embarrassment from watching the show, but instead laughed out loud along with Becky. She continued to toy with Jessica for another full minute before tossing the food onto the ground at her feet. Monsters, Jacob thought to himself.
Once Richard and Becky had left the yard and Jessica had returned to her position on the ground, Colin turned to Jacob, and after a moments consideration said “We’re starting to believe there might be something special about our Jessica. She may not be a beast after all. It’s too early to tell of course, but if she doesn’t turn in the next 12 hours, we suspect she won’t turn at all.”
“What does it mean? She’s been bitten” Jacob replied perplexed.
“Yes she has. Not badly but bitten all the same. Yesterday, Jenny, whom I doubt you’ve met, was feeding her and noticed that the bite mark had begun healing. Something no one I know has come across. I didn’t see anything like it on the news. This is something new. It's possible she could be immune. If she is, it means it might be possible for doctors to develop a vaccine!” Colin said excitedly.
“That’s....amazing” Jacob said sitting forward in his seat. “But what doctors? We’re talking a laboratory, specialists. You’d need highly trained people to develop a vaccine.”
“Blood is easy to transport, and I'm sure we'll get the help we need. In fact, I've already taken the necessary steps” Colin replied slyly, not caring to elaborate.
Abruptly Colin stood. “Where are my manners? You’ve been sitting here a good 10 minutes and I haven’t offered you so much as a drink. Better yet, why don’t you go down and meet the rest of the group? You’re one of us now and I think you’ll find that you will be warmly welcomed.”
With that not so subtle hint, Jacob stood, thanked Colin and walked towards the door. He looked once more out the window at Jessica. She was still eating away at the apple, watching the undead with the same terrified expression he’d seen earlier. It wasn't right that she was tied up down there like an animal and for reasons unknown to him, he feared for her safety. She was still human after all. He didn’t know what Colin had in store for her, but he intended to find out.