Survive Chapter 5: Joyride

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

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