The Gang Mugshots1

 

Kerb felt an electricity surge through him as he walked out of the apartment building; the adrenaline rush that came from facing danger was something new to him. He looked to his right at the overturned van close to their house, and looked left to see smoke rising from somewhere far off. ‘The adventure begins’ he muttered, and smiled as he started going over the possible ideas he had for finding weapons.

Part of him wanted to go absolutely berserk, to grab the katana he had stowed away in his room and chop off a few zombies’ heads. He had never thought he would actually be able to use it on anyone but it seemed the ridiculous amount of money he had spent on obtaining a genuine katana would finally give him real satisfaction. The only thing that really held him in check was the fact that his friends, his brothers needed him. His bond with them was far, far stronger than the need to fulfil his zombie hunt fantasies, and he needed to play his part in protecting them. And so, his mind returned to the duty he had been handed.

He already knew that finding firearms would be near impossible for him. Even the police officers hardly ever carried firearms and even if he did find one, finding enough ammunition for the gun to be effective for long was nearly impossible. No, he knew he should focus on the more unconventional weapons. With that in mind, Kerb headed off downhill from their apartment to where he knew he was sure to find what he needed.

The streets were mostly empty and most of the people they had seen hurrying off from their window seemed to have disappeared. For a little while, Kerb wondered if they had been too late in reacting to the disaster. Most people were already likely to be holed up in their houses. There were quite a few abandoned cars around that suggested that a lot of people had simply given up on driving and run. He could not puzzle out why they would run, though. There was not a zombie in sight. But the signs of all the urgency with which everyone else had left made him more anxious about whether they had been too cautious, too lazy. Would he even be able to find any shop that had not been raided?

The still silence around the large hardware store answered his question as he drew close. The silence was absolute in a sense and he felt like his feet were making enough noise to cause an avalanche. Even the birds seemed to be absent; as if they had decided to seek safety elsewhere themselves. There didn’t seem to be many other people around either, with a single van parked close to the store entrance.

This was a relief for Kerb as this store was his first, and only lead on finding the right equipment to fashion the weapons he had in mind. But one look at the hardware store entrance immediately put a dent in his relief: The glass door at the entrance lay shattered and the bits of glass lay scattered on the ground like little diamonds.

Kerb stood rooted to the spot for a few moments considering his situation. Someone had clearly forced their way into the store. His first instinct was to turn back and look for another store but as he stood there thinking of what other options he had he came to the realization that whoever had broken down the store doors had thought of exactly the same things he had. They had just gotten there before he could. Any of the nastier sorts of looters were much more likely to go looting in the city centre, instead of a tool store in the much quieter part of town.

Nevertheless, he decided to use all his caution as he crossed through the shattered glass door, taking care not to cut himself. Just as he crossed over into the store he heard something loud clank far to his right. He turned quickly to face whoever had made that sound, so quickly that he heard his neck crick. He regretted his decision just as quickly though; Even before he could turn his head he was lying flat on his back, having been blindsided from his left. As his head hit the floor he nearly blacked out from the sharp, piercing pain and for a while it was all he could feel, apart from the cold emanating from the steel of a dangerously sharp axe on his throat.

It took him a little while before his vision stopped swimming. The pain in his ribs rose quickly and soon took over from the pain in his head. It also helped him focus enough to see the face of the man holding the axe to his neck.

He was tall, middle ages and balding. But he had a hardened look to him that did not at all go with his expression of bewilderment.

“Why are you here? Do you work here?” he asked him, in a scared, breathy that seemed much more threatening than the axe. Nevertheless, it was the axe that forced him to keep his anger in check. He took a second, composing his thoughts and accepted that there was no harm in simply telling the truth. So he croaked “Supplies for defence” taking care to take the shallowest breaths possible, afraid of moving his throat too much.

“Calm down, Joe. You should’a let him go” said a voice from behind him. It was a strained female voice, and Kerb immediately recognized the Asian accent.

The man looked up from Kerb for a moment, as if he wanted to say something, but then thought better of it and turned back to him.

“Are you infected?” he asked, after a long pause, in a much calmer voice.

“Of course I’m not. I’m just here to get some tools, okay?” he said, putting a hand on the axe and slowly pushing it away. The man-made no move to stop him from escaping his hold either, so Kerb wriggled out of his grip slowly and carefully. The man continued to sit in the same position he had him pinned in, continuing to stare at the floor, his expressions a mix of disbelief, and perhaps self-reproach.

Kerb turned to look at the Asian girl who had calmed Joe down, and saw that there was in fact not one, but two girls standing there. The first one had a sharp face and shoulder-length wavy hair that seemed to sit perfectly with her slender figure. The other was taller, had a round face and had a more solid build that was visible even under the beige jacket she was wearing. The jeans and the parachute jacket gave her a tomboyish air that exuded confidence. All the same they were both wearing identical expressions of deep concern.

“Are you all right?” the taller one said, approaching him. He recognized her voice immediately.

“Yes, quite all right, thanks” he said. The girl gave him an awkward pat on his back that made him feel like a 4-year-old boy being consoled by his father. He was much too grateful for her for having ‘saved’ him to really get angry at her right then, though. Instead, he watched as the other girl went over to Joe and bent down to speak to him.

“Is he gonna be all right?” he found himself asking.

“Yes, I reckon so. The whole… situation has rattled him a bit. He’s pretty cool most of the time though.”

Kerb felt that was a severe understatement of the reality of his situation and he had the bruises to prove it, but again, he let it go by being silent.

“He’s got good instincts though” she continued, “It was his idea we come here for weapons.”

“Those were my first thoughts as well” he replied without really thinking. The knowledge that his assailant had the same thoughts as him made him finally feel a hint of sympathy for him. In any case, sympathetic or not, he had to start his own weapon hunt soon so he tried to get himself away from the trio.

“If you don’t mind, I should get on with finding my supplies” he said to her.

“Well, good luck. Ask me if you need any help. We are just about done here anyway” she said, coming forward and giving him a firm handshake and a faint smile. “My name is Kim, by the way. That, over there, is Ting, and he’s Johannes— well, we call him Joe. Ask any of us if you need help. We’re not bad people, really.”

Kerb smiled at her earnestness as he turned away from them. His hunt had just begun.

The first order of business was deciding what would be an adequate weapon against zombies. His mind was exploding with hundreds of different weapons he could make, but he could also imagine a lot of them not being of much use against any zombies. Irij would have been useful in this situation, he thought, as he went through the different toolkits available. They had not yet figured out what would be effective against the zombies, and choosing a weapon would have been that much easier if they had already done that. It was unlikely though that he would be able to make another trip to the hardware store though, so he tried to think of something that would be useful in most situations.

“You want to go to the far right” said someone behind him, and it made him jump onto the shelf. Joe was standing behind him wearing a solemn expression. “Sorry if I scared you…” he added, extending a hand. “And… I’m very sorry about earlier” Joe added, looking a little ashamed.

Kerb looked down at his visibly shaking hand. This man is completely frightened he realised, and was filled with pity. He took his hand firmly and shook it. “No permanent damage done” he said, “Now, what were you saying about the far right?”

It appeared that the three of them had done their work on weapons, or at least Joe had. He helped Kerb resist the urge to grab a chainsaw, pointing out its weight and fuel-dependency as a flaw. “I think it will also make er… whatever you cut spray around so you would get a lot of blood in your face” he added, instead guiding him to a few glass cabinets. He opened them and helped Kerb to a couple of large fibreglass hammers and a few small hatchets inside. “These are both strong and effective” he said, raising a hatchet above his head and bringing it down with a soft swish. He was so pleased showing off his find to Kerb that he failed to notice how alarmed Kerb was from him suddenly raising the axe.

This man is a little crazy for weapons as well it seems, Kerb mused and with a pang of guilt realized that he was the same way… A little crazy for weapons as Ryan had once said. He felt some respect for the crazy man before him and continued to listen to him talk.

As they began gathering things, the two girls joined in to help and within half an hour Kerb had a small pile of weapons and tools sitting in the store entrance. He had decide to make an inventory of all he had gathered and so far his collection included lots of large nails, screwdrivers, flashlights with spare batteries, several sets of protective gear, duct tape, matches, a shovel, a pickaxe, lots of duct tape, a few crowbars along with the hammers and hatchets they had gathered earlier. Joe kept tossing in a few odd things as well, such saw-blades, explaining how they could be used. Kerb had no issues with it, since he was rather grateful for the help and enjoying his eccentricity at the same time. It was only when he noticed a potential problem when he moved in to stop him.

“I forgot to bring a bag” he told Joe, just as he put in a bottle of lighter fluid on top of his pile. “I don’t think I’ll be able to take all of this back.” Not that I could carry all of this anyway.

“No problem” said Joe smiling. “We have a van”

Kerb remembered the van parked outside the store and shook his head in disbelief. He had been expecting more of an adventure finding weapons or, perhaps, getting to kill a few zombies. But instead, the circumstances had made it all terribly convenient for him. All his weapons were found for him and the most danger he had faced was a scared man pushing him onto the floor in excitement. And he had not been able to handle that, either.

Kerb could not afford to brood for very long though. He had already gathered more than he had hoped to be able to gather, and since the others were done with their own supplies they decided to get going. They began picking the items, stuffing them in small bags and carrying them over to the van. Kerb was surprised at how much Ting could carry being as fragile as she looked. She had hardly said a word to him and mostly just squeaked and jumped when he talked to her, but she was carrying bags full of tools like they were nothing. Looking at Ting made Kerb awfully aware of something quite curious about the group all of a sudden and so he decided to ask Kim about it with as much subtlety as he could gather.

“Say Kim, how did two young girls like you come to know an old guy like Joe?” said Kerb, and then screamed internally at what he had said.

Kim blinked, staring at his face for a second and then started laughing hysterically, bending down to hold her knees for support as Kerb just stood there feeling stupidly awkward.

“Must have been a really good joke!” said Joe as he came back into the store. He let out a bark-like laugh as Kim told him but did not seem to mind Kerb’s question either.

“We’re live together” he said, with a serious face.

“Uhh..” said Kerb not understanding what he meant as Kim started laughing again.

“I’m their landlord, I mean. These girls are– ” He never had the opportunity to tell him as they heard a piercingly shrill shriek from somewhere outside that quietened the three of them.

“Ting” said Kim, her expression changing rapidly. They all rushed out as quickly as they could to find Ting backing away towards them, as two zombies prowled around her. Joe got out first and Kerb had barely gotten out through the shattered door when Joe let out an almighty roar and rushed towards something to their immediate left.

The world seemed to slow down for Kerb as he saw Joe kick a third zombie in the ribs mid-leap, preventing it from biting Ting, who had slowly been backing towards it. The sheer force of the kick sent the zombie flying into the gravel on the edge of the store. But the danger was far from over. The other two zombies who had been slowly cornering Ting chose that very moment to strike and leaping at them was all Joe could do to defend a petrified Ting. He caught the first zombie in the face with his left hand and kept him at bay and managed to grab the other one by the throat and slam him down into the floor with his right.

For a moment Kerb stood in pure awe of the mighty warrior that Joe had turned into all of a sudden, but a cry of “Help him!” from Kim quickly brought him back to his senses. He ran straight past Joe to the van and picked up the first thing that came to his hand: A hammer.

“Joe, CATCH” he yelled, lobbing the hammer towards him.

Joe looked up at the hammer just as he slammed the zombie to his right back into the floor again. In one fluid motion he pushed back the zombie to his left, caught the hammer in his right hand and brought it down with a mighty swing right on top of the skull of the zombie he had just pushed back, crushing it like a watermelon in a splatter of blood and brains. The zombie fell down, lifeless like a human shaped rag-doll. But, even before he hit the floor Joe had already swung the hammer again, this time like a perfect backhand tennis drive, into the face of the other zombie that was attempting to rise from the floor again. There was no blood, just a metallic ‘thunk’, but the zombie did not move afterwards.

Kerb had been so engrossed in watching Joe that he had forgotten all about the third zombie. He grabbed another weapon from the van, this time a hammer, and rushed out to help Kim, but got to her only to find her silently hunched over it lying motionless on the ground.

“You alright there, Kim?” he asked her. She did not reply. She did not move either. ‘Oh no’ he thought to himself, and started moving towards with, tightening his grip on the hammer. “Kim? Are you all right?” he asked again, but raising his hammer again just in case. The moments passed by, each making his heart thud louder and the rest of world quieter. He steeled himself for what he had to do, and then –

“She is fine” said Ting, grabbing his arm. He looked back at her to see her face covered in tears “She is just crying.”

Kerb bent down to look at Kim and found that to be true. She had simply been crying. Kerb did not understand. Why was she crying? He was mad at himself, having gotten that close to doing something monstrous. But what on earth was she playing at?

Kerb looked back to Joe to help him out. He would probably know what to do. Instead, he found him kneeling down on the floor staring at his hands with wide-eyed shock. “Not you too”, he said taking a few steps towards him. And then he saw, and understood.

His left hand looked like it had been mauled by a wild animal.

He looked up from the bleeding hand to Kerb, shaking visibly. “My blood feels like it’s burning. It’s over for me…”, he said.

Kerb could not respond. Joe had been a warrior. He was real. He was fantastic. How could it simply be the end for him?

“Are you LISTENING? I’VE BEEN BITTEN!!!” he started sobbing as he said it.

Kerb tried to console him but he held up a hand at him and yelled “STAY AWAY FROM ME!”

It was tragic for Kerb Joe slowly turned from an invincible warrior to a defeated old man right before his eyes. He did not think he could bear to watch it for very long.

“I need you to get out of here before I turn” Joe finally said, going quiet for a while. His eyes had a quiet determination in them as he spoke and his very expressions were steel.

“Girls, do you understand?” he said, shifting his gaze. Kim had recovered, and though she was still crying, she was now standing holding Ting for support. They nodded silently but vigorously.

“Get going then” he said, standing up straight. Ting made a move to hug him but was stopped by Kim holding him back.

“And keep them safe” he said to Kerb, before turning and starting to walk away from them. Kerb wanted to shake his hand out of respect but was not sure if he would allow that, either. He was right, in a way. None of them knew how the ‘disease’ was spreading or if it was contagious. And if it made his blood boil minutes after being bitten then it was definitely a rapidly acting one. Even knowing that, he felt quite guilty about not trying to help him. The three of them just stood there watching him slowly disappear out of view.

Sadness gripped him but he knew they could not afford to linger. The zombies had already claimed a victim from them and he was determined not to let them do any more damage. So he urged the two girls to get in the van so they could get going.

Kim agreed with him soon enough, seeing the futility in staying there. So she went over to the van took the keys out of the ignition, handing them over to Kerb.

“What are these for?” he asked her.

“Neither of us can drive. I’m assuming you can?” she said, slowly guiding a sobbing ting into the back of the van.

“Well…yeah”, said Kerb, trying not to let any of his discomfort show. It had been a year and a half since he had not driven anything. Just imagining being behind a steering-wheel made him uneasy. But they did not have many options. The van was the only way they could keep the weapons, and he was the only one there who could drive.

Driving the van was not nearly as hard as he had imagined it to be. As soon as he started driving, all the fear and discomfort faded away. All the awful memories he had of the horrible accident were soon exactly what they were; just memories. All the same he was careful and concentrated on the road, aware that things could go horribly wrong at any moment in a general state of panic.

“We live at Miller’s lane off Cherry Swinton Road” said Kim after a few minutes of driving.

“Weren’t…Weren’t the two of you coming with me?” he asked them, taken aback.

“No, we’ll be fine on our own”, she said, firmly.

“Are you sure? I have friends who could help keep us safe.”

“I… don’t think Ting can handle that. She finds it… difficult… with new people” she said, looking back at Ting, who had her head in her lap sobbing at the back of the Van.

Kerb was confused. But he decided not to push her on the topic. In any case, after he dropped them off he would know where they lived, and he could check on them in case they needed help.

Two minutes later, they were parking in front of a comfortable looking house with well-maintained hedges growing up front. They did not talk much as they unloaded their ‘shopping’ up in the lobby. It was a peaceful, yet sorrowful sort of quiet and Kerb did not wish to destroy it with unnecessary words. But as they finished with their things, Kim came to Kerb and gave him a short hug.

“You should probably take the van” she said, in a voice that sounded more like a whisper.

“But it’s your va”—

“It’s Joe’s van. Joe is …gone. Besides, you can’t take your things back without it.” She said.

Kerb did not need much more encouraging, but was grateful for all they had done for him in any case. He hugged her back, told her to give his regards to Ting, who had already disappeared into the house, and left with the van.

*

He had a strange feeling as he drove back home. He had met three strangers, barely two or three hours ago. He had grown to respect one of them, and had also watched him die. He had felt the need to protect the other two of them. And now that he was driving away, it was hard to believe it had all happened that quickly.

He shook himself back to stop brooding and to concentrate on the road again. He felt the need to do something that would cheer him, and realized that he had not as yet killed any zombies. So, he decided to kill the next zombie he saw. A bit of zombie road-kill would definitely be a brilliant way to start his kill-count.

He did not get his opportunity out on the main road. Soon, he was taking the exit to the street that would eventually lead to his apartment and he felt both impatient and frustrated at the fact that he had failed to kill even one zombie till now. Maybe if he had reacted faster when Joe was attacked… not only could he have saved Joe, but he would also have finally killed a zombie after years of doing it in games.

His frustration changed quickly to excitement as he drew close to their apartment. There was a very human-looking creature lurking in front of their apartment building on all fours. The zombie had its ears to the ground, either smelling or listening for something and was slowly moving towards the small entrance off the narrow alley that led to the apartments.

Kerb’s eyes lit up seeing the zombie and he decided to go for it. He accelerated quickly and veered the van into it. He realized his mistake only when the van’s tyre hit the curb, making it jump, and swing out of his control. He missed the zombie by a few inches, instead crashing the van right into the already narrow alley, nearly blocking it.

For a few moments all he could hear was the crashing and clatter of glass and metal. His ears were ringing from the crash, but mostly he was uninjured. Still, his vision dimmed all of a sudden as his mind returned to the trauma it had experienced in the car crash a year and a half ago. The tree that had appeared out of nowhere appeared before his eyes again. The three ribs he had broken ached. He could smell his own blood. The world spun before him, and the spinning was in his stomach. So he threw up and put his head on the steering wheel that had been bent out of shape from the impact.

The growl brought him back quickly. He heard it and remembered the zombie he had failed to kill. He barely had time to open his eyes and jump to the passenger seat. The zombie had wriggled through the tiny space between the wall and the van and was reaching for him through the broken windows. It could not get in the van through the window though, and that gave Kerb some time to assess his situation.

It was certainly difficult to escape. The passenger side of the car was hugging the building to the left of their apartment, so it was difficult to open the door, let alone to get out. His best bet was either killing the zombie with some of the weapons he had in the back of the van or to break the already cracked windshield and escape through it. He decided to get the weapons, but to get to the back he had to crawl through the tiny space above the front seats. It’s my best bet, he told himself.

He got up, careful to stay out of the zombie’s reach. He did not have a lot of room. The zombie’s outstretched arm was mere inches from his face as he slid through. Its snarling and hissing as he went past nearly gave him a heart-attack. But he was through and his fingers quickly searched for something blunt and heavy. Behind him, the zombie grew louder as his search became more and more frantic. But then there was a crack and the zombie became silent.

“Is that you in the van, Kerb?”

Kerb turned around. The confused faces of Ryan and Irij were looking at him through the broken windows.

 

Survive Chapter 5: Joyride

Salman Shahid Khan

Copyright : : Salman Shahid Khan. All Rights Reserved

It was his first time in Karachi. The coastal city seemed to sprawl on forever, and for a little while he was concerned about getting lost there. But, fortunately he had a lot of friends accompanying him. One look at his them as they stood gathered there outside the bus station and he felt neither alone, nor afraid.

“Take one of these whistles with you!” said one of them, handing him a smooth silver whistle and moving on to the next person, handing him a whistle as well.

“What are these for?” he called to him.

“Well, since we’re dividing into small groups to explore, I thought it was a good idea for us to have a quick way to calling out to each other”

He looked back down at the whistle and then to everyone else slowly forming groups of different sizes. He was the only one travelling alone; Since he had a few relatives he wanted to meet, and a few traders he had to discuss terms with. ‘I had best get going’ he thought.

It was all a very boring affair. He wanted to finish his visits as quickly as possible so he could meet up with his friends and maybe go around the city seeing the sights. The British had left only a few years ago and the city had since become a model city for development and growth. It was called ‘the city of light’ and he wanted to see exactly why it was so.

It was already evening by the time he finished all his ‘work’. He was considering where to start looking for his friends when he was approached by a weak, aging woman.

“Could you help me carry these son, son?” she said, gesturing to a sack of rice. It looked heavy even by his standards and he was surprised the woman had actually managed to carry it at all.

“Sure gran. Where is your home, exactly?” he said, lifting the sack onto his back.

“Not far from here” she said, smiling sweetly.

There was something off about her smile but he kept following her anyway, dismissing it as his imagination.

It took him five minutes to toil to get to her house and he was grateful for it not being any farther. She offered him food as he sat on the threshold of her tiny house, trying to catch his breath. He tried to refuse, thinking he should probably be joining his friends soon, but she insisted.

“I really can’t let you go, son. You have helped this old woman. Besides, I have a real treat for you if you can do me just one more favour.” she said earnestly.

“What’s that?” he asked her, wondering if the favour was more donkey work.

“Well, you see… my son died last night”, she said, her face serious and strangely impassive. “…I am but an old woman and I do not have the strength to bathe him for the burial”

He felt shaken by the woman’s request, and a little embarrassed at wanting to get away from there. The helpless old woman was simply preparing for her son’s funeral.

“I’ll be honoured to help”, he said after a moment, resigning himself to do another good deed.

She thanked him profusely led him through a narrow corridor and into what appeared to be a rather austere lounge, seating him on a rug.

“I’ll get you some food first. You will need your strength” she said, bringing him a tray full of pilaf rice. “Let me know when you’re done” she said, and left him to go elsewhere.

He was grateful for the food. His stomach had been aching for a while now and some Pilaf was just the thing he needed. So, he dug in eagerly, searching the rice for some meat. He found a finger.

His body gave a shudder and he immediately spat out the rice he had been chewing. He held up the finger he had found to the light and realized beyond doubt that it really was a human finger. That woman was a cannibal. The horrifying realization hit him like a hammer and he dropped the finger out of shock.

And then, he realized that he had probably been lured there to be eaten.

He looked around him, searching for a way to escape. The woman was waiting outside, he knew, and he did not want to risk running through her. She could be carrying any number of weapons and he needed to be very, very careful about how he dealt with the situation from then on. One wrong move, and he could be the next guy to be made into pilaf rice.

So, the first thing he decided to do was to take all the rice he had scattered over the rug in shock, and sweep it all under the rug along with the finger. He threw some more rice under the rug to make it appear as if he’d eaten his fill and then called out to the woman, and told her that he was ready to bathe her son’s dead body.

She led him out back to a courtyard, where a dead body was indeed placed, covered by a large white sheet on a wooden bed. He wondered if that was really her son. Did she intend to eat her own son as well? Perhaps, the body was simply another one of her victims, and he was actually helping her clean him up for her next meal. The thought was chilling.

He was treading in dangerous territory he knew, so his senses became extremely alert to every single move the woman made. She was carrying an oil lantern and went over to stand by the body’s head holding up the lantern for light. He brought some water in a large steel bucket, and began to bathe the body, keeping an eye on the woman as best as he could.

The first thing he noticed was that the body was not very cold to the touch. Fresh kill, perhaps, he thought. Though a cold shiver ran through his spine, he concentrated on not letting any emotion show on his face. He required every single bit of concentration he could muster to stay in control of the situation, pouring water over the body slowly, and trying to adjust his eyes to the dark.

He quickly became aware of an advantage he had. With the woman standing at the head of the body, she cast a very sharp shadow across the walls and he could see if she moved slightly even with his back turned to her. He thought about it a bit and decided that if the woman really wanted to kill him then he might as well try to lure her into an attack.

So, he deliberately started working on the body with his back turned to her, keeping both eyes on her shadow as he worked. At any moment, he would see hand move, and would immediately counter-attack.

He saw what happened next quite clearly as shadows started to shift. The woman’s left arm slowly drew out something from within the folds of her clothes and raised it high to attack. At the same time something else happened just as slowly though. Something he had not been expecting. It felt like terror creeping up his limbs as he saw the body’s right arm move as well, drawing out something long and blunt from under the shroud.

He jumped away from them reflexively. Fortunately for him the old woman chose to strike at the same moment; her iron rod missed him by mere inches as she brought it down. Her son, who had sat up to reach him, was not so lucky. Her full-blooded swing hit him to the side of his skull and he was knocked out immediately from the hit.

He could not let her recover, either. He jumped right at her and delivered a kick straight into her chest. She was lifted clean off her feet and flew back into the wall. That was it. He did not check to see if either of them was still conscious. He ran out of the house as quickly as he could, covered in cold sweat and short of breath as he was. And as soon he reached the street, he found the whistle his friend had given him and started blowing as hard as he could.

It did not take very long for him to gather a crowd. Some of his friends arrived as well, and he quickly told them what had happened. The police arrived soon after, and began searching the house for the the woman and her son.

The search resulted in a few shocking discoveries as bones of over 50 people were found from the basement of the house. The woman, and her son were arrested. Apparently they had been luring people to the house and eating them for quite a while. Also, according to them, they were not the only ones. Not by a long shot.

 

This true story comes from my maternal grandfather, and has been told from his point-of-view. I have tried to keep all the details intact.

Salman Shahid Khan

 

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If anyone has any stories they would like in my collection, or are feeling grateful for reading a story and want to tell me one in return please feel free to contact me and get in touch! Thank you for reading/submitting, and take care!

Salman.


There is a very popular hill-station in Pakistan called ‘Murree’, located to the north of the capital, Islamabad. It remains the most popular getaway for people during the hot summer months and even when my father was in his late teens (some 30-35 years ago) his entire family used to spend their summers there, usually renting a large guest-house to accommodate everyone. All of memories of green, pleasant-weathered Murree are wonderful to hear about. All, except one.

The incident, or rather a series of incidents, occurred in the summers soon after he had his intermediate exams (comparable to ‘A’ levels, or High school). Afterwards, he went to Murree for the break, waiting for his results to come out. Most of his family was already there, except my granddad who had to stay back in Lahore a little while longer, due to work. Also, that particular summer they could not rent their usual guest-house and had to rent a different place that was quite like a mansion or rather a haveli.

I should probably say something about the haveli first. My dad took me there a few years ago, and only after seeing it did I realize how apt its name ‘Peeli Haveli’ (translates to Yellow Mansion) was. Its bright yellow colour was a sharp contrast to most of the dull and grey dwellings around Murree, and makes the place instantly recognizable, even though it lies mostly in ruins now. It is located right on the edge of a cliff-face with a sheer drop of a few hundred feet, and the way it has collapsed makes it look like it is slowly slipping over the edge. There is also a graveyard around 200 feet from the haveli, and my dad developed a most unfortunate habit of spending a lot of time there at night, smoking and listening to a transistor radio sitting on one of the graves. With hindsight, it is possible he ‘disturbed’ something there, but it is difficult to say for sure, since nothing ever happened in the graveyard itself.

As previously mentioned, he had been waiting for his results to come out and when they did, he had obtained a high enough grade to win a scholarship and a prize. It was a very proud moment for him so he decided to treat his family to something with the prize money. My dad’s younger siblings begged to be taken to a movie at the cinema, and he obliged. But, since he did not much like going to the movies himself, he decided to simply pay for everyone else, and stay at home reading books.

It was the middle of the afternoon and he was alone at home, lying in his room reading a popular magazine series called ‘Three women, three stories’ when he felt as if the room had gotten considerably darker quite quickly. It was the sort of dark that comes when someone casts a shade on you, so he looked up from the magazine to the door leading to the veranda to see if someone had decided to come back early from the movie. It was not someone from his family. It was probably not even something human.

‘She’ was tall, and had long hair that reached down to the floor all around her. Her face was human, except that she had really long fangs. Her wide, bloodshot eyes were staring at him with unbridled malice in them. As she began to move towards him he was frozen in place by terror of her gaze, and could do nothing but scream. He fainted soon after, overcome by fear.

His family came back home to find all the lights in the house turned off. They searched the house for him, wondering where he was and found lying mostly unconscious and feverish. They called a doctor who tried and failed to improve his condition but from his occasional hysterical mutterings they surmised that he was terrified of something.

Soon enough, a cleric was called in and no sooner had he started reciting something from the holy books my father started to calm down, and his temperature dropped down to normal levels soon afterwards.

It did not take him long after that to regain consciousness and everyone was quite interested in finding out exactly what had happened to him. His description of what he saw did not convince everyone, and some even suggested that perhaps one of the village women had simply been trespassing and the shock of the seeing her there had warped his memory. Nevertheless, from that very night things started to happen in the haveli which could not be put down to coincidence, shock or confusion for long.

At first, after most of them were in bed to sleep at night, the doors started to open and then close all on their own. This happened slowly at first, and was dismissed as wind, since strong winds are common in Murree, being at an altitude of around 3000 meters. But then a few people saw a door handle being twisted and the door opened violently. My uncles checked the house over and over again for possible intruders but they only managed to confirm that they were alone. And the doors continued to open and close throughout the night.

After evening the next day, they were sitting together, discussing all that had happened the night before when they heard a distinctly strong *click*. A light went out. Another *click*. The light came back on. The clicking sound had come from the copper plated light switches used in the house, and that kind of light switches take a considerable amount of force to be turned on or off. And yet, right in front of them the switch turned off again, and then turned back on. Soon, it was happening all over the house, and most of my dad’s family simply sat huddled in one room, afraid of the things that were happening around them.

The next day they decided to contact my granddad about the situation who responded with a firm ‘Don’t be stupid. You are all imagining things’. My grandfather was a very strong-willed and rational man. But he still decided to join them in Murree soon after.

He arrived a few days later and gave each of them a sound scolding about being superstitious and not acting rationally. They tried to convince him of all they had seen but he quite simply refused to believe there was anything supernatural going on in the house.

That evening, they sat together having dinner in the dining hall. It was a large room with a long window right on the cliff-edge and though it was dark outside, the light right outside on the ceiling enabled them to see around a hundred feet in each direction, albeit faintly. My dad, granddad and my eldest uncle were sitting at the dining table facing the window when all three of them saw someone walking across the window. Amazed and shocked, the three of them ran to the window, and opened it to see who it was. Granddad used to keep a powerful torch at hand and tried to use it to find who it had been, but they knew they would not find anyone. Not unless there was someone who could walk on thin air.

That was it for my granddad as well. The very next day they were packed and out of the haveli for good. The haveli itself gained a very nasty reputation for being haunted in the years that followed. It currently lies in a state of disuse and disrepair.

 

Narrated to Salman Shahid Khan on multiple occasions.

 

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As I walked into the kitchen at 3 am, and searched the walls for the light switch, I knocked something onto the floor. It made a deafening sound as it hit the floor but the strong plastic sound made me acutely aware that the sound was that of a solid plastic cup, and that it would bounce several times before coming to rest. It would probably wake the entire house before coming to rest.

So I acted completely on instinct, and dived towards the faint outline of the cup as it bounced away from me. Two seconds and several bruises later, I was triumphantly lying on the floor, the cup clutched in my right hand like a golden snitch. A few more seconds later, it was as if my ‘panic in the dark’ had never happened, except that the horrible throbbing pain in my elbow firmly reminded me that it did.

You may find yourself asking me ‘Was the pain worth it?’.

Well. Fellas. You don’t know my mother.

“Today while visiting relatives I noticed that their center table’s tablecloth was not completely aligned diagonally with the table’s legs. I proceeded to spend the next half an hour fighting the compulsion to move forward and fix it so it was aligned… till I noticed that the table itself was not perfectly aligned with the rug.”

 

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The Gang Mugshots1

You could cut the tension in the air with a butter knife.

Ryan was craning his neck right and left, expecting to see a dead-looking man charging at him at moment now. But all he saw was people hurrying off quietly and they too were looking over their shoulders nervously over and over again. Many heads turned to what looked like smoke on the horizon. ‘That’s where we’re headed’ he thought, and glanced at Irij to see if he was troubled as well. His face though, was impassive and calm. He either has nerves of steel, or has one hell of a poker face.

They found most roads clear, surprisingly. There were a few cars that were obviously left there in a hurry, but otherwise there were no signs of accidents or carnage Ryan had been expecting to see. Not yet.

There were no fires either, and Ryan felt as if filmmakers the world over had missed a trick when depicting a zombie outbreak. But, they could almost constantly hear a siren.  It reminded Ryan of a horror movie he once watched but he had no time to think of which one. He was in a horror story himself. The near-constant sirens had created a still silence in the air about them. Irij had not said a word to him since leaving the apartment, Ryan noticed, but this was just like the Irij, he knew, so he wasn’t concerned.

His brain was reeling from all that happened that morning. Since they had been jogging the entire time, he felt like he was being rushed into things without really being able to process all he had seen, or really come to terms with the full extent of this situation. There were zombies about. His life and everyone else’s was in danger. He had seen a man covered in blood holding the body of his—

“It doesn’t really look like what I thought it would look like…” said Irij, halting Ryan’s train of thought.

“Er… Yeah. But I bet there’s something going on in the city centre” he replied.

“A fire it seems, from all the smoke…” he pointed “And a large one at that…”

“Well, we’re headed right towards it. We’ll see just how big it is soon enough, won’t we?” Ryan said wryly.

Irij chuckled lightly. It was remarkable how breathy his chuckle sounded. He understood why as soon as Irij pulled out a small blue inhaler out of his pocket and put his hand up asking Ryan to slow down. Asthma, Ryan remembered. This was the reason Irij sucked at running so much, and declined all his invitations to go to early morning jogs with him. He always forgot about it, somehow, being much more impressed by the incredible bursts of speed and energy Irij displayed in some of the sports they played together. They were always quite evenly matched in all their squash bouts.

It was a minute before Irij was walking again. He let him walk ahead, letting him choose the pace. Irij soldiered on in front of him, keeping pace till they started steadily going uphill.

Irij put his hand up again three minutes into their uphill jog. Ryan thought it was because he needed to use his inhaler again but instead he was completely still like an animal suddenly aware of a predator, surveying something far up ahead. Ryan tried to focus, but before he realized what he was seeing Irij had ducked down behind a car and he ducked down right beside him.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“Stay still. There’s a pickup” said Irij, whispering back.

“So?”

“So, I don’t know why it’s travelling so quickly… Best to stay out of the way”

Ryan stayed quiet and held his breath waiting for the pickup to go past them. Society and its laws tend to crumble away during times of calamity and disaster. Such times bring the worst out of some people. He had been fortunate enough never to experience anything of the sort during his life, but he was not naïve. It was always best to be cautious.

The pickup came up to them blaring music. And then WHAM!

Both of them shook and ducked down even further a few bits of glass came flying over them and the car they were ducking behind shook. There were a few cheers as the pickup tires screeched and accelerated away from them. Ryan looked up just in time to see it turning around a corner, nearly throwing off one of the group of teens standing at its back. They were holding cricket bats and iron pipes and one of them had smashed whatever they were holding into the windshield of the car as they went past them.

Once they had made sure they were safe they started back on their way to Giantmart. It was the only place guaranteed to have everything on their list and they now felt the need to get back with their supplies as quickly as they could. Irij started jogging again and didn’t stop to breathe even when he could hear him wheezing.

They arrived at the parking area in front of the gigantic shopping area a few minutes later and met a scene that finally drove in the reality upon them: That chaos had order over a barrel.

There were a quite few people running away hurriedly from stores either side of them. A few cars were on fire, with no fire fighters in sight. In the distance, they finally saw smoke billowing out of the roof of the largest mall in the city. The sirens appeared to be coming from a few fire engines parked close to it but they were all unmanned. A van was parked in front of the mall doors, with a man putting televisions and electronics in it. Another man ran past them cradling hundreds of smartphones in his arms.

Thankfully, Giantmart was relatively safer. There were fewer people about, as most looters were concentrating on the more expensive items in the mall instead. The few of those coming out of Giantmart were mostly carrying food. A police car was parked right in front of the main doors of the store, but the two officers seemed to be stocking up on supplies themselves and one of them gave them a sheepish smile as they went past him.

The glass doors opened up automatically to greet them into the store like an enormous beast opening its mouth to welcome them into its belly.

“Do you remember what we need to get?” asked Irij.

“A bloody lot of it, yeah. It’s still probably better if you go through the list once again, though. And I think we’re gonna need these” said Ryan, scanning the area and grabbing a couple of shopping carts.

Irij gave the entrance a quick look as well for signs of danger and then somewhat satisfied, took a small notepad out of his pocket.

“Mostly you just need to remember that we are not taking any food that would go bad outside a refrigerator. No fresh fruits, no vegetables. No meat or frozen foods, or anything that needs to be cooked, really. Go for canned food, cooked and canned meat. Don’t get canned soup, ‘cause that stuff is low calorie and we’d go through two carts full of them before—”

They were interrupted by a crash as a whole stack of cereal boxes came crashing down onto a woman and her shopping cart, nearly burying them both. Ryan rushed over immediately to help, and Irij followed, somewhat hesitantly.

She was young and Ryan thought she was rather cute as she eventually emerged from under the boxes, looking sheepish and somewhat frightened.

“Are you all right?” he asked, pulling her out of the boxes.

“Yes, thank you so much! I am so embarrassed…” she said, pushing her brown wavy hair out of her reddening face.

“No. It’s fine… really. Everyone’s confused right now with the reports. But I guess, sometimes you just need to take your time…” said Ryan, flashing a smile as the woman’s face blushed furiously. There was a small awkward silence and both of them looked like they wanted to say something but Irij had had enough of this romance. They had no time for that nonsense.

“Well, do take care. And try not to crash into any more piles!” he said, with a smile much wider than his natural smile, gently pulling Ryan away from the woman.

“Wait!” she said, as Ryan managed to free himself from Irij. “I was wondering, if you could help me with my supplies. I have a cart right here, but I’m afraid of wandering around on my own in this… this…” she trailed off into silence, looking expectantly at Ryan.

“Sure, no problem. We’ll help as much as we can.” said Ryan, not noticing Irij’s annoyance.

“Thank you, so very much. I have a list, but mostly I just need to find lots of food for my 2 year old son.”

“Oh. Well, no problem. We can help you find most of these things.” said Ryan though with much less excitement than before.

Having made a mental note of the items on the woman’s list they went off into the children’s section with the woman and quickly helped heap things into the woman’s cart. She thanked them profusely after they were done, and left after giving both of them a hug.

Ryan felt a sharp pain as Irij elbowed him in the stomach.

“Can we get on with it, or are we spending the rest of the day helping old ladies cross the street?” he said.

“What. She wasn’t old. Must’ve been what… 22? And anyway, you have to admit it makes you feel good when you help others every once in a while.”

“I bet it would’ve felt better if ‘A’, she wasn’t a mom, and ‘B’, she wasn’t probably married”

“Was she married?” said Ryan, turning his head towards the entrance as if expecting to see her there. “Did you see a ring?”

Irij completely ignored his question and waved a list in Ryan’s face.

“Remember this? We’re here because there are zombies about. We’re preparing for a major catastrophe. Get you head back in the game!”

“Alright, fine! What’s first?” said Ryan.

“First, we go two floors up to the sports section.”

Ryan was confused for a while as they took the escalators up to the top floor but understood what Irij meant as soon as they got to the nearly deserted sports corner. They were getting themselves some weapons.

“Baseball bats?” he asked Irij.

“Sure. Get a metal bat if you can find it. I’ll be surprised if you can find one, though. We’re not in America, remember.”  He replied.

As it happened, he was right. They could not find a baseball bat anywhere and gave up on finding one after only five minutes of searching, given that they were pressed for time.

“What are we getting now? I think I will take this instead.” asked Ryan, pulling a particularly meaty cricket bat out of a rack.

“They could work temporarily yeah. I think I’m getting a hockey stick” said Irij, his eyes still searching.

“You do know a hockey stick will probably break long before it breaks a zombie’s face?” said Ryan, still examining the cricket bat he’d chosen.

“You watch far too much ice hockey, Ryan. I’m talking about a field hockey stick.” Irij said, finally finding one and pulling it out. It was quite meaty on the end as well and made a handsome whoosh sound as Irij swung it downwards to test it.

“I like it.” He said, nodding slowly and taking out two more sticks out of the rack. “Let’s go get our stuff.”

 

*

 

They were soon on the ground floor again. Ryan noticed that it was visibly more chaotic that it had been only ten minutes ago. Someone was screaming outside. Two men were shouting at each other on the far end of the counters and most people were running instead of walking.

They had already decided to be organized about their shopping on their way back downstairs. Their plan was to only have one person shopping at a time and to have the other one guarding. And so, Irij was walking up front, holding his hockey stick as Ryan filled their carts. Irij kept shouting things off the list to Ryan and soon their carts began to fill up with canned food, packs of nuts, fruit and nut bars, biscuits and a heap of chocolates. It was when Irij shouted  ‘Granola bars’ though that he seemed to have crossed a line with Ryan.

“Hey, I’m not taking any granola bars” said Ryan taking the list from Irij.

“You may not like them but—“

“But, we have so many other things we can get!” said Ryan, sweeping his hand towards the rest of the aisle.

“These bars are lightweight and full of energy”, argued Irij in his usual cool and composed voice.

“But—“

“Come on. If Frodo can live off lembas for months, you can eat some granola bars”, said Irij, smiling.

Ryan laughed heartily and for a moment the two of them forgot how tense they had been all day. They were brought quickly back to reality though, as they heard a horrible crunch followed by a man screaming. They stared at each other with wide-eyed terror as images of a bone being crushed formed in their head. Not really wanting to see who –or what- had caused that scream they moved as stealthily as they could away from the direction the scream came from. But, given that they were pushing carts, they were nowhere near as quiet as they had hoped to be. Ryan’s heart was thudding louder and louder as he gripped his bat with one hand, checking every corner twice. He noticed a few other people were crouched next to shelves as well. The scream had been quite loud.

“There’s no point being quiet with this many people here”, said Irij, nodding towards the other people. “We need to get out of here quickly before things turn ugly. Uhhh… uglier. Let’s move off to the pharmacy section and finish things quickly.”

Things were no quieter in the pharmacy section though. As they approached the shelves full of medicines they saw that a scuffle had broken out between two people. They were at each other’s throat and rolling around the floor. Ryan wondered if he should stop them, but hesitated to interfere. Irij observed the two wrestling around on the floor for a few moments before calmly moving over to have a look at the medicines stocked on the shelves.

“MOVE!!” he heard and turned just in time to see Ryan jumping at him and pushing him into the shelves. Irij hit his head against something hard and felt sharp searing pain at the back of his head, losing his vision for a few seconds. He recovered just in time to see Ryan struggling against one of the men who had been fighting on the floor. The other man lay writhing on the floor, clutching his throat yet completely unable to stop the fountain of blood rushing out from where it had been ripped.

“HELP!” shouted Ryan, as he got pushed against a wall. They had failed to notice that one of the struggling men had been a zombie. It had launched himself teeth-first at Ryan, face soaked with blood but Ryan had managed to stuff his face in its face just in time. He heard a very satisfying crunch as several of the zombie’s teeth broke biting at the bat. Unable to giain any ground, the zombie opened his mouth and moved back, preparing to attack again. The attack never came, though, as Irij’s hockey stick made solid contact with the zombie’s temple. It made a soft thunk against the zombie’s head as it collapsed onto the floor like a lifeless marionette.

“Is it…dead?” said Ryan, kicking the zombie’s head to see if it moved. It didn’t. Irij didn’t respond either. He had already gone back to looking at medicines.

“I think most of the antibiotics and inhalers are behind the counter” he said, after a bit of searching. Ryan nodded and Irij quickly jumped over the counter to look at the medicines stocked there. He could not have been searching ten seconds when he called to Ryan.

“There is a dead woman here” he said, calmly.

“What?” Ryan thought he must have misheard him.

“Oh. There’s also a zombie” replied Irij from behind a shelf. His voice was still disconcertingly calm and for three full seconds Ryan simply stood there wondering if he had been joking. A hiss from behind the tall shelf Irij was behind answered his question quickly enough but even before he could move to helpj, the shelf came tumbling down, with the zombie on it. This was a particularly large zombie, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket. Even if it did not have wild darting eyes, its shaven head and tattoos would made him look particularly terrifying.

He leapt towards Irij but he managed to get out of his way easily. Not only that, he tripped the zombie as he flew past him and it smashed right through the wooden wall at the back of the section.

Ryan was already halfway over the shelf but Irij stopped him.

“Stay there. Get your bat ready” he said, not keeping his eye off the hole the zombie had made. Ryan was hoping the crash would have killed the zombie, but already there were sounds of shifting and scurrying behind the wall.

The wait was mere seconds, but it felt like hours. They knew the zombie would attack, but it was making them wait, hiding in the shadows behind the hole. As the focused, they could make out his outline in the dark. He had settled himself right in front of them and from the visible reflection off his eyes he was staring at them intently, and unblinkingly.

The attack came without any sort of warning and Ryan was caught off guard by the mere speed of it.

Irij had been preparing, though. His hours of kendo had not gone to waste. With all the efficiency of an arist, he tripped the zombie, yet again, onto the wooden shelf. With speed no lesser than that of the zombie himself, he hopped onto the zombie’s back, pinning him face-down against the shelf. This was the moment, Ryan knew. He swung the bat with all his strength and smashed it into the side of the zombie’s face.

He saw it all happen as clearly as if time had slowed down for him. The zombie’s head tilting sideways as his skull fractured and the neck broke. The bat left a huge dent in the zombie’s face and left him motionless.

What he had not expected was what the sight would do to him. As the reality dawned on him, his head spun and his vision swirled. He had to hold himself upright against a shelf to avoid collapsing under the weight of his actions. He had just killed. For the first time in his life, he had killed. The image of the fractured skull would not leave his mind. As his head spun faster and faster he began pouring the contents of his stomach all over the floor.

Irij was just about done picking up medicines and a ton of his inhalers. After sliding back over the counter he came over to Ryan and put up a hand on his shoulder.

“You had to do it. It’s kill or be killed right now. It has become that sort of a world for now”, he said.

Ryan merely nodded. He agreed with Irij and also realized that the quicker they were finished there the quicker he would be able to get away from all this. So he got up, and started pushing the carts making the way back out of the store, stopping only to wipe his face against a towel. They were both silent and tense, making sure to watch their corners. The tills were all empty as they reached them, not that they had been expecting to see anyone there in any case.

“First time stealing as well, then?” winked Irij, trying to cheer Ryan. He did not reply, still afraid that he would puke if he opened his mouth. But, in his head, he agreed. It had been a day of many firsts.

He followed a few feet behind Irij as they came out back under the sky. The air was heavy with smoke and fumes.  The fire engines were gone, and so were the deafening sirens. The Mall in the distance was still burning, thought so they assumed the fire engines must have simply given up and left. There were other horrific explanations forming in Ryan’s head as well, but he quickly pushed them out. No. They merely left he told himself firmly. On his side Irij reached for his inhaler again.

There were tens of zombies in plain sight now. One was attacking a man, who was doing quite well fending it off with a stick that looked like it was once a mop. Ryan looked to his right just in time to see a tall black man smash a zombie’s face with a sledgehammer. He seemed to be running from zombie to zombie, shouting as he went. Other people were not doing so well. A man got attacked and buried under a few zombies right in front of their eyes.

They could not linger, so they picked the safest path they could to avoid engaging anyone, or anything. They were not too lucky though; soon they caught the attention of a couple of zombies. Irij pushed his cart ahead and planted his hockey stick right in the face of the first male zombie that approached him. Ryan turned to help him but Irij shouted at him telling him to keep pushing the carts just as the second zombie, a female one, attacked him.

Ryan saw her face just long enough for recognition to hit him in the gut with the force of a sledgehammer.

“NO! IRIJ, NO!!!” he shouted, but Irij had already swung his hockey. It did not make full contact, though, but the contact was still good enough to send her reeling. She groaned and hissed and tried to get back up to attack. But the hit seemed to have addled something in her head and she kept stumbling in her attempts to get back up on her feet.

“Let’s go Irij!” shouted Ryan, half-commanding, half-pleading. Irij looked from the woman to Ryan.

“Every zombie we don’t kill is a zombie that can come back to bite us” he said.

“Well, we would deal with her when that happens…” Ryan pleaded “Please!”

Irij gave the woman another look and shook his head. “Let’s hurry” he said and jogged back to him.

Ryan was relieved, but their little exchange had not gone unnoticed,. They had attracted the attention of a couple of other zombies as well, who were now prowling towards them.

They did not wait to fight this time, though. They pushed the carts into running speed and never looked back. It was much easier than their jog to the Giantmart had been. They would be steadily going downhill the entire way back, and Irij was already riding the back of his trolley, shouting at him to do the same.

Ryan’s head was still on the zombified woman, though. Her wavy brown hair had looked pretty even after she became a zombie. But her ghastly face was not easy to forget. She had a two year old who would be waiting for her to return, he remembered. Irij had nearly killed her, but she probably never would return to her child, anyway.

Sadness gripped Ryan’s mind, so he never really thought about it as he jumped onto the back of his cart as well. He gave himself to gravity to carry him home, and tried hard not to think of a hungry two year old waiting for his mother to come back to him.

 

‘Survive’ Chapter 4

Salman Shahid Khan

 

Copyright : : Salman Shahid Khan. All Rights Reserved