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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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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

The Gang Mugshots1

Their bloody-faced neighbour was still tied up in the lounge, and the scenes of wanton violence were still flashing across the T.V screen. There were hundreds, no, thousands of zombies right outside in the city and he had no means of escaping them.

These thoughts were forming a vortex of fear and confusion in Vic’s head, and he was having trouble believing what was happening around him was real. The others had left him in a hurry and now he was alone, in close vicinity of what was probably an unconscious zombie.

No! Think! I have to store water. We are going to need water. They told me to do it… it is my responsibility”

He had never liked being bossed over by anyone, and the thought of being made to slave around on someone else’s direction was slightly infuriating. But at the back of his mind, Vic also realized that this job was necessary, and that the others were likely to resent him if he did not start pulling his weight. He had seen it happening a hundred times, in movies and in TV shows about zombies. There were always a few weak ones in a group. They would start being a burden on the rest of the group and would eventually be abandoned. The weak ones always get left behind; such was the way of natural selection. But he was determined not let that happen. He wanted to ensure that the others, his friends, realized that they needed him. After all, he needed them.

His work was not too difficult, though. The four of them being university students, the entire apartment was full of plastic containers. Their kitchen cabinets were full of empty food containers, soft drink bottles, and old beer bottles and he simply had to rinse them before filling them. He also managed to clean their bathroom tub, and turned on the tap to fill it with water. The thought of having to drink water from it sometime in the future was disgusting, but Kerb had been very insistent he do that as well.

Doing all the chores he had been set could not have taken him more than half an hour, but he already felt quite exhausted. It was, perhaps, the mental strain due to him picturing all the horrible things that could happen to him in this outbreak. He could not yet afford to sit still, though. “Just collecting water!? Being set this sort of task is an insult to my intelligence!” he thought, as he started wondering about what else he could do that to show them that he was just as able as them in these circumstances.

With this thought, he went back to the lounge, to see if there was anything there that needed to be done. Perhaps, something over there could bring his attention to something that had not been considered. He stared around for a minute, but nothing really came to mind. He considered turning on his laptop. The phones were still not working but, perhaps, the internet would still be working and that would allow him to talk to his parents. “They might be able to send me some help”. But his laptop was sitting on the sofa, and he did not want to go anywhere near their neighbour while there was no one else backing him. For all he knew, the zombie Mr. Dowson was just lying in wait for him to approach, to pounce upon him. He wished they had made sure he was dead, or at least left him in his own apartment. “Wait! Mr. Downson’s apartment!”

Vic had suddenly realized that since Mr. Downson was now a zombie, and his family was, well, dead, their apartment was all theirs for the taking. He could use their apartment to store water as well, and gather all the food they had back into their own room. This would not only double their emergency water supply, but also give them additional food, in case the zombie outbreak lasted for long. He could not see any disadvantages, and since this also meant not being in the same apartment as the zombie, Vic hurried over to open the door and go into Mr. Downson’s apartment.

It felt a little strange, being in someone else’s apartment without permission. Even worse was horrible, undeniable guilt that he was taking advantage of someone’s death. An entire family had been wiped out right in front of his eyes, and he was now using their apartment for water storage, not to mention stealing their food. Vic tried not to think about it, even though the thought kept coming back to him. “There will be thousands of families like this, and we will be amongst the casualties as well, if I do not do this” he tried to convince himself. Looking at things this way seemed to make it better, but he still felt a horrible pang in his heart as he passed the bloody body of the child they had left simply lying on the floor.

He proceeded to do exactly as he had in his own apartment, cleaning the bathtub and filling it with water. He went to the kitchen after that, and started searching the shelves and emptying the refrigerator of any food, filling any empty bottles or container he found with water. He found a lot of baby-food in the fridge, which was annoying, but soon he also found canned food, some coffee, and a few packets of cereal. Also useful were the cartons of milk, and the frozen meat in the refrigerator. All combined, it was all enough food to last them a week at least. He still needed to carry it all back to their own apartment though, and with that thought he started searching the apartment for a large bag. Before he could find one though, he heard a strange guttural hissing sound from the lounge, which froze him in his steps. He looked around for some kind of a weapon, but all he found was a TV remote, which he grabbed, moving slowly into the lounge to see what had made the sound.

The door was still closed, and there was no one in the lounge. After quickly scanning the lounge Vic had started to turn around to check the kitchen, when he realized something was missing. The body of the baby! He whirled around back to face just in time to notice a small, blood splattered head starting to appear from the side of the sofa. Its eyes looked strangely hollow, and its mouth was mostly toothless. But the sheer malice on the baby’s face as it bared his jaws at him, a horrible blood-like liquid oozing out of its eyes, sent a cold shiver down his spine. Vic was frozen with terror for a few seconds, as the baby crawled to within a few feet of his legs, and then, just as Vic was starting to be aware of the danger he was in, it pounced.

Vic jumped out of way just in time, and the ‘zom-baby’ slid across the floor, missing him by inches. It turned quickly, like an animal on the hunt, and chased Vic as he darted into the kitchen, looking for an escape. There was nowhere to escape to, and now he was trapped with the zom-baby between him and his way out. But just as it pounced at his legs again, Vic’s instincts kicked in, and he jumped right onto the kitchen shelf. The baby turned its head towards him and let out a horrifying guttural screech, and jumped. Fortunately for Vic, though, he could not quite reach the shelf. It tried again, and again, and again, making Vic whimper with fright as he thought the baby would be onto him anytime now, but it never managed to get onto the shelf.

He needed a weapon, and he needed it immediately. He realized he must kill the zombie. That was the only way to escape and the only way to survive this situation. The thought of pelting off into the lounge and escaping the apartment came across his mind, but having seen the baby pouncing across the floor he was not so sure of his own speed anymore; a moment’s delay and the baby would sink the few teeth it had into him, and that would be it for him. No, he needed to kill the zombie right there. It was only a baby after all. A zombie, true enough, and a vicious one at that, but he was sure he could at least manage this. He looked around for knives, and noticed a few cutting knives hanging by the shelf on the other side of the kitchen. Also hanging amongst the knives was what he really wanted: A cleaver. Perfect, he thought. He still needed to get across to the other side to get it, though, and the distance between the two shelves seemed like a canyon to him with a zombie prowling in it.

He looked on his own side of the shelf, cramped as he was between the roof, the shelf, and the little jumping zombie right at his feet, but found nothing. He looked again, just to be able to resign himself to the inevitability of having to go across the shelves. Looking at the gap, he was he could get to the opposite shelf, but that did nothing to ease his nerves.

“All I needed to do is hang onto the top cupboards and stretch my feet over to that shelf”, he told himself. He said it out aloud, and then pictured it in his head, and once he was completely sure he could do it, he slid his foot over to the other shelf. It was all quite easy in the end.

What was not so easy was maintaining his balance right after; that and gripping his feet on the shelf, given that he hadn’t known how slippery it was.

His foot slid right across the shelf till it hit the wall and he felt his balance shift backwards onto his heels. In a heart stopping moment he lunged, trying to grab hold of something behind him. His hands found the top of the fridge, and he pulled hard at it trying to balance himself, but it was little use. He was tall, and heavy, and the refrigerator was lighter now that he had removed most of the food from it. He felt it getting imbalanced, just as he could feel the zombie baby jumping up and trying to bite him somewhere under his outstretched legs. It tipped over, and then came crashing down with Vic. There was a moment of pure terror. Then darkness came.

 

*

The world was spinning. His head hurt terribly. It felt like he had run headlong into a wall.

Then in a flash of memory he remembered that was quite close what had actually happened. He scrambled up onto his feet and felt his way back onto the shelf. The world was still spinning and it was quite hard to make sense of anything with the pain, but he did remember the zombie baby, and remembered that the shelf was safe. He looked around, waiting for his eyes to clear and the throbbing pain to lessen so he could spot what the zombie was doing. But it was rather quiet, and that was quite confusing, and unnerving at the same time. A minute passed, then two, but the silence remained. The pain persisted, but he could see clearly now, and he realized the zombie was nowhere in sight. This situation was somehow even more unsettling than what it had been earlier: He could at least see the zombie. But now it was probably lying in wait somewhere outside.

Vic was in no hurry. He had tried to kill the zombie, and hurt himself. By some miracle he had not been bitten, but he was not willing to easily risk his skin again, so he waited. It had been a full five minutes waiting when Vic noticed something quite peculiar. There was a pool of blood seeping from underneath the fridge on the floor.

Frightened for a moment, Vic ran his hand across his head, and checked his body, but the blood was not his. And then it came to him, in another flash of relief. It was a happy feeling, that quickly permeated him, and eased his nerves.

“By some stroke of fortune, my foe has been crushed by my downfall!” he thought to himself chuckling, “nasty little fucker!” Then he spat, and gathered himself to leave.

His pain evaporated quite quickly afterwards. The lack of mortal danger was put him at considerable ease, and the rest of his tasks started looking much less daunting now that he had known true peril. Now quite determined not to let his trip have been a waste, Vic started gathering whatever supplies he could manage, and stuffed them into the biggest bag he could find. He did not have a bad time of it, since in his mind he went through exactly what he was going to tell the rest of his friends. He had faced a zombie and lived to tell the tale, and this warranted an ‘In your face, Irij!’ at the very least.

By the end of his foraging, the bag was heavy even by his standards. But someone had to carry to carry it back, so it was with all his remaining energy that Vic started dragging the bag out of their neighbour’s apartment, and on towards their own. Then, maybe, once he was safe, he would rest. Finally, he would have some peace.

He waited a moment, catching his breath in front of their door. His key was somewhere in the folds of his pocket and it was always quite annoying having to find it over and over again. He was still digging into his pockets when a frighteningly familiar guttural growl echoed in the stairs. He swung, and looked down at the lower landing, and saw the presumed dead Mrs. Dowson rushing upstairs. The feral look on her face made him panic quicker than he ever thought was possible as he realized that their door was still locked. No escape.

Every living thing either fights or flees in face of danger. And given no chance to flee, even a kitten fights like a wounded tiger. It was in that moment that Vic found this to be quite true: Even before he realized what he was doing, he had lifted the bag he had only been dragging till now, and hurled it straight at the zombie. There was a cacophonous clatter of tin and steel as Mrs. Dowson rolled down the stairs with the bag on top of her. She came to a rather abrupt stop against the wall, with a sickening crunch and did not stir. The bag split open as it fell down the last few stairs and its contents smashed into Mrs. Dowson. She would have been crushed from the heavy cans falling on her, if the fall had not already cracked her skull open.

It was over in a flash before he could even consider screaming, or even running. He stood motionless for a few moments, still staring at the mess of the bag, the body, and the blood. For a moment, he considered getting whatever of the bag’s contents had not been ruined from the fall, but the moment passed rather quickly. Before anything else could happen, he found his key, gave a cry of relief, and slipped quickly into the safety of home.

‘Survive’ Chapter 3

Salman Shahid Khan

 

Copyright : : Salman Shahid Khan. All Rights Reserved

The Gang Mugshots1

Irij had never thought about what kind of reaction he would have to the dead body of a child being cradled and eaten by his father. If he had, he might have thought he would be afraid, perhaps shrinking against the wall like Victor behind him. Perhaps, he would have been furious at the murderer, rushing in to deliver a drop kick to their neighbour’s face, like Kerb had just done in front of him. Or just maybe, he would have frozen, like Ryan had done, right next to him. But instead, he was calm. He could not never have imagined being as calm as he was right then. He walked in slowly, deliberately, checking around the doors, stopping only to put on his glasses again. Kerb was laying furious kicks into their neighbour as he lay unmoving on the ground, looking down at him. He was breathing heavily and looked like he felt more punishment was in order for Mr. Dawson, but his first kick had knocked him out. Irij bent down at the child, checking the pulse for any signs of life.

“Dead” was all he said as he closed the child’s eyes and then moved to Mr. Dawson’s body. His whole face was covered with blood and he did not feel like touching anything that might be contaminated. Then there was the risk that just like any standard zombie movie, Mr. Dawson would come to and make him his next victim, so Irij asked Kerb to hold stop kicking Mr. Dawson and to hold him down instead. Kerb complied by putting his foot across his neck.

“He’s still alive. It does not seem like the blood is his, though” he said, almost as if announcing his plans for lunch, “We need to tie him up.”

“That is a zombie!” said Kerb, still breathlessly furious. “We should pop him as soon as we can!”

“We don’t know if he is a zombie. This could be a standard murder for all we know. Ryan, can you please call the police?”

Ryan finally snapped out of his state, reacting to his name. He fumbled taking his phone out of his pocket, his hands shaking visibly as he struggled for a while blankly staring at it, and then finally coming around to dial the number.

“It’s busy.” He said, looking at Irij. His face clearly suggested he was panicking.

“He just killed a child for God’s sake!” started Kerb.

“Jack. Listen. Calm down” said Irij. It was always interesting how Kerb often reacted differently to his first name. “If we kill him, and he’s not a zombie, then that is murder. I don’t want to see you, or myself, in prison. We need to tie him up till we know more.”

Kerb looked like he wanted to respond but he didn’t. Instead he sat down beside Irij and helped him turn over the limp body of Mr. Dawson. Irij found an extension cord in the living room and they used it to tightly bind Mr. Dawson to his armchair. Vic was still attached firmly to the wall, so Irij moved to help him but right then they heard another scream from somewhere below them. Hurriedly, he opened their flat door as Kerb and Ryan dragged their neighbour in still tied to the armchair. Vic seemed to have heard the scream as well and hurried inside, sitting down on the sofas farthest from where they placed Mr. Downson, his eyes wide and unblinking. Irij felt like he should help Vic, but offering comfort and consolation to someone was not really his forte. Vic was well over 6 feet tall as well, and had a heavy build and the sight of patting him was quite comical in his head.

“We need a plan” said Ryan, finally breaking his silence. His panicked expression was gone and was now replaced with resolve. “We need a plan, in case this is a zombie outbreak. We need something!”

Kerb had been standing next to the window looking down all this while. He had been peering intently down at the street and did not seem to like what he was seeing. After a while, he moved to turn on the T.V.

“Quickest way to find out what is going on” he said, giving their prisoner an empty look. It became apparent very quickly that turning on the TV was something they should have done a lot sooner. Every single news channel was showing different scenes of carnage, senseless violence, bloodshed and occasionally what looked like cannibalism. At the bottom of the screen of nearly all the channels was the one word that looked like it had been burnt in. The one word that was perhaps the most appropriate, terrifying explanation for all of it: Zombies. Kerb put on the national news network channel and raised the volume to hear the report.

“…We strongly advise citizens to secure their homes, and stay indoors till the authorities have resolved the situation. We advise all viewers to keep calm.” said the reporter looking more than a little worried. Just then there was what sounded like another crash out on the street. Everyone except Vic, whose eyes were still glued to the television, walked over to where Kerb had been standing and looked down into the street.

It was chaos. There were no zombies in sight– yet. But the felt the panic they saw through the window right up in their bones, within the safe confines of their apartment. There was an overturned van in the street outside and people seemed to not even be taking notice as they ran around without any regard to whatever injured passengers may be within it. They all looked like they were carrying bags that were too heavy for them, and Ryan suddenly realized something.

“Food! They’re carrying food. We need more supplies as well… We don’t know how long this is going to last and we don’t have nearly enough to last even a week… I got some things, but that was before I realized what was happening… I bet we need a lot more than what we have! Let’s go get some before this gets any worse!” he said, already moving away from the window as if to go outside.

“Wait! We need a plan”, said Irij. Rushing out into the street where they could possibly encounter zombies was something worth a lot of consideration for him. “What do we need? We need to know what we absolutely need to do, and divide tasks, so we can do it efficiently.”

Kerb had an answer ready. “Water. Food. Weapons. Medical supplies. We should not need anything else if we only want to hide here the entire time.”

He was right, as usual. Kerb had probably run through this situation a hundred times in his head. He was a weapons enthusiast, and the idea of a zombie apocalypse probably did not even frighten him. In fact, if Irij knew him well enough, it excited him. This thought was slightly unnerving but he still had to appreciate the fact that Kerb had not just gone running outside brandishing a baseball bad.

It was Ryan though, who spoke. “Yes, you’re right Kerb, but what foods do we need? How much water do we need? What kind of medical supplies? And what do you mean weapons? How on earth are we going to get our hands on weapons in the middle of Britain?”

“Tell you what. You guys handle the food, the water, and the medicines. I’m sure Irij can figure out the medicines we need. I will take care of the weapons. You guys just leave that to me, and take care of the rest.” He said, with an unmistakable smile. It was this smile though, more than anything else, that worried Irij.

“Can we be sure that you would not do something completely ridiculous like going zombie-hunting alone, if we leave this to you?” he asked Kerb. His smile disappeared after hearing this question. “There will be people relying on you to come back here, Jack. Like you said, we need those weapons.”

This seemed to have the desired effect on Kerb, as he nodded and seemed resigned to not doing anything rash. “Okay, weapons are done. I think we could probably find the medicines and the food at the Giantmart. Ryan and I should probably do that. What do you think?”

Ryan looked over to where Vic was sitting, still in shock of what he was seeing. “He could probably carry a lot more than you”, he said “But I think in a pinch, he would be a liability for both of us. So yeah, I think we should go together”. Ryan looked quite worried as he said that. Irij would have given him a moment, but he realized that time was of the essence, and so moving quickly he went over to Vic and poked him on the shoulder. Vic nearly jumped out of the sofa as turned towards Irij, snapping out of his state. “Are you okay Vic?” asked Irij.

Vic merely nodded. This was not very encouraging for Irij but he had to get him to function. “Vic, are you listening? We need water. Lots of it! Can you make sure you fill every pail, bowl, pitcher, bottle, tub… whatever that can hold water, with water? Do you understand me?”

Vic was nodding his head furiously but his eyes had a glazed look in them. “I’m guessing we will have running water for a while but we need to prepare ourselves. Do you understand me, Vic?”

“Yes, I understand you, but where are you guys going?” he answered. This was not encouraging at all for Irij, who was getting slightly frustrated now. Victor seemed to have completely missed the exchange between the rest of them. But, still, he could not afford to lose it.

“We are going out to get supplies. We will be back soon. Block the door while we are out. You should be fine.” He said, in as calm a voice as he could manage. Vic was still quite bewildered though, and looked around to where their neighbour, Mr. Dowson was tied up. “You’re leaving me alone with him?”

“Yes. He’s tied up, and knocked out. I’m sure you can manage him. Or would you rather go outside with Ryan to get the supplies we need?”  Irij spoke as clearly and calmly as he could, making sure Vic absorbed all the possibilities that going outside in a zombie outbreak implied. It seemed to work, because Vic nodded his head again and said “Okay. I can start storing the water. Just… make sure he’s tied up strong enough before you guys leave”.

This put things in place the way Irij wanted them to be, and so, going by their plan, Kerb soon left to find his weapons. Irij and Ryan both were soon ready to follow after Kerb, after they had made a list of what they needed to get. Even as they got out of the apartment though, Irij felt quite uneasy. Part of him was unsure about Kerb going away alone, searching for weapons. He was fiercely loyal, and like a brother to him, but he had a darker, crazier side as well, which could make him a wildcard. And then there was Vic. He had always been a pampered prince, and a bit of a coward, Irij had thought. But he wondered if he would be able to overcome this predicament and come to terms with the biting reality that had been imposed upon him. Ryan, fortunately, was proving to be quite reliable. But it was not really what he was truly worried about. He had been icy cold when faced with his neighbour, the zombie, and the scene was still fresh in his mind. “Is this how I really am? Is this my true nature?”

Soon these thoughts were replaced by something else entirely though, as he started noticing the fires lit in the distance. “Zombies! Right here! This is real! This is happening!” It was all he thought about, walking beside Ryan, and was still coming to terms with these thoughts when they started jogging, on their way to Giantmart.

‘Survive’ Chapter 2

Salman Shahid Khan

 

Copyright : : Salman Shahid Khan. All Rights Reserved

The Gang Mugshots1

“It’s killing me! It is killing me! Kerb! Save me already!” Irij shouted, as loud as his voice would allow him to.

“Hold a while. Let me heal myself”, replied Kerb barely able to hide his amusement. This was followed by a bout of sniggers from Ryan and Vic.

After a few more seconds of being gnawed at by a particularly vicious zombie, both Kerb and Vic came over to where Irij lay on the ground, with their guns blazing. After a few more seconds he was back on his feet watching several zombie faces explode in the face of his M16 Assault Rifle. After a further five minutes of screaming, shouting and shooting their computer monitors finally faded to black and started displaying their game statistics. Kerb had beaten them all, but apart from a slight annoyance at not being rescued sooner Irij felt satisfied with his haul.

It was nearly midnight and it had been pouring outside for hours, forming a steady source of white noise as the played together. Their sessions usually went as late into the night as their university schedules would allow them and that particular session was soon declared concluded by Ryan.

“Yep! That’s the last game for me. Have an early one tomorrow. I need to get up for that”, he said, shutting off his laptop.

“Sucks to be you. My lectures don’t start till late in the afternoon”, declared Kerb, with a smug expression.

“Well, sucks to be you since mine don’t last more than an hour” replied Ryan almost mechanically. Vic nodded his head smiling, expectant of a comeback from Kerb which never came. Instead Kerb just sat silent, staring quite blackly at the quite unremarkable stretch of wall over his monitor screen. After about a minute, during which the rest of them slowly ambled around the room packing their laptops, Kerb finally came around.

“You know, I wonder if it would actually happen…” he began.

“You wonder what could happen?” Irij asked him. He had a very peculiar expression on his face which he usually only had while talking about guns, weapons, and eating large quantities of food in an inhumanely small amount of time.

“A zombie apocalypse of course”, he said with a smile that made it sound as if he were discussing his vacation plans. “I mean, sure I know the scientific probability of it happening is slim, but I just wonder sometimes.”

“Wait. What do you mean it’s a slim probability? I thought it was an improbability. The dead don’t just get up and walk you know” said Ryan, turning from wrapping a power cable.

“No, no. He’s right. It can actually happen.” Irij said, smiling. They did not call him the wiki with legs without reason, and the idea of the human race dying and the world being destroyed somehow always seemed to interest him, irrespective of whether it happened with a boom, a rumble or a sizzle. “It’s just a matter of probability actually, like he said”.

“It’s not really possible. How can it be possible?” asked Vic, with a quizzical and slightly confused expression.

“Well, there are many possible scenarios. It also depends on what you could call a zombie. Zombies don’t necessary have to be ‘undead’ or do they? Magic is not the only thing that can create zombies, there are plenty of perfectly scientific ways in which it can happen” he replied, shifting his glasses.

“I suppose you’re talking about zombies being a result of something like a virus. Perfectly scientific indeed” said Vic, making sure that Irij was able to fully absorb every bit of sarcasm in his voice.

“You’ve seen too many movies. I am pretty sure that is the only place where we will ever see zombies.” said Ryan, who was now starting to shift towards the door.

“It only takes one bad virus mutation. Think about it. There have been many diseases which could result in zombies being created. If a virus had effects like rabies, which causes extreme aggression and madness I think we could safely say we might have a zombie outbreak on our hands.”

Ryan stopped at the door, turning and smiling and said, “Not everyone goes around biting others’ heads off when they are angry.”

“What about a state of excited delirium, though? With most of the brain reasoning functions dead and lots of adrenaline pumped into the bloodstream? That would qualify, I think.” said Kerb, looking at Ryan.

“Well, I’m going to let you go ahead and invent your brain-destruction virus. Meanwhile, I am going to sleep” said Ryan, shifting out of the door. Vic looked at Kerb, shrugged his shoulders, and followed Ryan out.

As soon as Irij was sure the others were out of earshot he quipped “Disagreeing with him is all you need to turn him into a rage monster.” Kerb, meanwhile, was unsmiling and looking at Irij rather apprehensively.  “When was the last time you slept? You look like a zombie yourself. Keep this up and I’ll have to start keeping a katana by my bed”.

Irij opened his mouth as if to say something about the dagger he knew Kerb kept under his bed, but then stopped, shook his head and made his way back to his room. As he opened his door, he took a moment to look at his room carefully. Everything was as immaculately arranged as always. His bookshelf with alphabetically sorted movies, comics, and games; It looked like it should have been a part of a library. On top of it rested the most interesting part of the room; His kendo armour. He had been a Kendo practitioner since he was 12 and after 7 years of hard training he felt uncomfortable without it. He stepped into the muffled silence of his room, arranged his laptop cables as they were, and then moved to take some sleeping pills. His mind had been too restless for him to sleep peacefully for months, and the dark circles under his eyes were somehow still getting darker. His glasses did not help his appearance, but he had always felt compelled to wear them, even if it made little sense; His eyesight was immaculate.

As he finally turned the light off and tied his gracefully long hair into place, he sat for a little while staring at the pulsing light of the alarm system he had designed, smiling in the darkness. He had connected it to their home alarm system, as well as their oven. Ryan was often quite careless, and after a year full of fire alarms at night, especially after some of his late-teens escapades, Irij had decided to have an advance safety mechanism. In the pulsing light, he thought for a moment about Kerb’s zombie fantasies, and then lay down in his bed, waiting for the pills to take effect.

*

The alarm bell sounded like it was coming from a distant dream but grew cacophonously loud in a hurry. Somehow he still felt tired, even after sleeping for—Had he even slept? It all seemed to be a short while since he lay in his bed to sleep. But the alarm was ringing so it must already have been noon, and that meant that he had to go to his lectures. He ambled out of his bed half-feeling his way to grab his jeans, eyes still straining to adjust to the sunlight filtering through his blinds. The house was deathly quiet, which meant that the rest of its inhabitants were either asleep or away on lectures themselves. He will have to wake Kerb again, like most of the days. They had met on the first day of them starting university and had been friends since then, taking their courses together and working together as lab partners. After jumping into his jeans Irij walked out to Kerb’s door to find he was still sleeping. Taking his mobile phone out, he typed in a sequence into it and a second later he could hear the loud sound of Kerb’s own safety alarm going off.

“A good morning, Jack!” he said aloud, to the door. He heard Kerb curse and move across his room. Kerb came out of his room fairly quickly after that , so only five minutes later he was on his way to their lectures, still chuckling at Kerb’s annoyance.

It was only by the time they reached the heart of their university campus that they realized something was out of place. No one seemed to be there. It was the middle of spring, and rain or not, with the pink petals falling off the flowers the centre of the university campus was always a favourite for students and staff alike. But right now, it was deserted. “Why is there no one here? Is this a holiday I am unaware of?” said Irij, looking back at Kerb.

Kerb looked confused himself. He took out his phone to check the date, and then shook his head. They tried to go into the four-story building that was their electronics lab, only to find it locked. “There is an email”, said Kerb, checking his phone. “It says there has been a virus outbreak and we are advised to stay home”.

Irij laughed hearing that. “Well, as long as it’s not a zombie virus, we now have more time for our Hover project!”

Kerb did not look too happy hearing that.  “Probably bird flu or cat flu or something of the like. Let’s go home” added Irij, slowly.

By the time they were halfway home, the hover project had been driven out of Irij’s mind. To make up for manual activation of Kerb’s alarm he proposed a little more of game time. He tried calling Ryan and Vic to get them on board as well, but did not manage to get through to them. They were nearly home by the time the Police Sirens became too loud to ignore.

The streets had been more crowded than usual on their way back to their flat. Since their flat was fairly close to the city centre, it was often crowded but there was an unusual rush and panic to the way everyone seemed to be buzzing around. There were a lot of worried faces and the tension was starting to grow on the two of them. “Don’t these people realize there have been as many fatalities from ordinary flu, than there have been for bird or swine flu? Some people just need an excuse to panic”, said Kerb. But even he looked a little worried.

“Oy! Is that you, Kerb? Irij?!”

They turned and saw Ryan and Vic, both running towards them. They were carrying huge bags. “What’s wrong? What’s happening?” asked Irij when they were close enough. It was only after he noticed their expressions that he realized that they were clearly distressed. “Is everything fine?”

“I don’t know, but there has been an outbreak. We don’t quite know – but unless I am mistaken…” Vic looked like he was in a hurry.  “Let’s just get to home. Quick”.

Both Ryan and Vic started running, and much as they were puzzled, both Irij and Kerb knew that they had to follow. It was hard, both Vic and Ryan being taller than they were but they got to their flat within five minutes, going past a lot of people who looked as worried as Ryan. At one point Irij thought he heard someone screaming, but he never stopped to look. He was too curious about what had the other two so worried. By the time they got to their building, they were all breathless after their near-sprint. Vic looked like he would faint, but Ryan did not seem weary at all – He was not on the university football team for sitting around. So it seemed overly dramatic to Irij when he sat down on the stairs to their complex holding his head.

“I saw… a man… beating another man… to the ground.” He said slowly, as if measuring every word carefully to check if it made sense.

“Two men fight and you start acting like a sissy. I always thought Vic would be the one–” broke out Kerb, but stopping quickly looking at the look Irij gave him.

“The man… was chewing… on the other man’s face. He was eating it, Jack” continued Ryan, still breathing heavily.

Kerb had started laughing, now though. “Not too far from April, now I guess. What? You think it was a zombie?” he said, almost breathless. Ryan didn’t take his head out of his hands though, so seeing the situation he turned to Vic “Come on. Where is your usual sceptical self? Who are you, really? Talk some sense into this guy. I think I will throw up if I see him crying”

“Have you not heard the sirens? There are reports of zombie-like creatures all over the city. You have to-”

Ryan never got to finish the sentence. They heard a chilling scream from the floor above them. They all gave each other a serious look and then jogged upstairs cautiously. Halfway up, they saw their neighbour’s wife. She slowly staggered past them, crying silently, oozing flood from her neck. She went past them almost as if she hadn’t noticed them standing there staring at her and then out onto the street, where she collapsed. Ryan moved to help her, but before he could take two steps they heard an animalistic growl they would never be able to forget, for as long as they lived. They turned, going slowly and cautiously up the stairs. As they arrived at the landing, they found their neighbour’s flat door flung wide open, and him sitting on the floor of their lounge. His blonde head was covered in blood, and there was more of it dripping from his face. It looked like he was chewing something. He shifted slowly, turning to look at them with hollow eyes. It was then, that they noticed the tiny body in his arms, no bigger than a toddler.

The blood spattered, half-eaten body, of his year-old son.

Chapter 1,

‘Survive’

Salman Shahid Khan

 

Copyright : : Salman Shahid Khan. All Rights Reserved