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

It has been five minutes since I finished writing the story, and published it. And I thought I was seeing things (I hope). Just beyond the reach of my vision, on the far side of the roof, I think I saw something move, twice. The laptop’s bright light has turned me mostly blind to whatever is behind it (it’s 4 am and it is dark!) but I thought something moved there. Like a black creature crawling on the roof. It’s quite scary.

PS. Power failure in the house. It is now pitch black. Sweet timing.

 

Simon had a giddy feeling in his stomach and a broad smile on his face as he stood there waiting on the welcome mat. The cardboard box in his arms was shaking slightly, but he held it as still as he could.

He heard footsteps, and then the door swung open.

“Simon! You got here quickly! What happened? You sounded excited…” said Anne, eyeing him curiously. She held open the covering her phone’s mouthpiece with one hand. As he walked into the entrance hall she mouthed “Dad”, motioning towards the phone.

Simon had to wait a long while till she was done talking to her father for her to finally notice the box.

“What’s that?”

“Well… you know how you said you loved dogs…” he said, placing the box down. She looked down at box, back at him and then back at the box. Her eyes widened with realization and she jumped down to her knees to open it. She let out an excited scream as she lifted the pug out. The warmest smile appeared on her face as she cuddled the pug and kissed it. And then, without warning, she putting the pug back down in the box, got up, and grabbed him by the scruff, giving him a kiss.

“This is the best gift ever! Thank you!”

Simon was just happy to see her happy again. Just a month ago she had been crying her eyes out, her head in his lap. The weeks that followed were not really an improvement, and it did not help that her dad had to go away on a trip to the South American rainforests.

He followed her into the lounge where he sat on a comfortable sofa, looking at Anne playing with her new pet. It was a warm, comfortable room, filled with comfortable sofas, cushions and… pictures of Anne with her pets.

Anne was what you could call an unlucky girl. She had a tragic life, and completely horrible luck when it came to pets. He had been with her for five months and though he had grown to love her, the incidents with her pets were something that always gnawed at him. During their five month relationship she had lost a cat, a parrot, several fishes and a whole family of hamsters. And that was not the end of it, as the pictures reminded him.

From what she told him, it had been like this ever since she turned 16. She had been walking their family dog close to the woods at the back of her house and he had run off into them. She had gone in after it and gotten lost. The whole town had been about searching for her late into the night. They were lucky that the full moon was out; they would never have found her in the dark. When they found her, though, she was sitting sobbing beside her dog’s body mutilated body. She had no memory of the entire episode.

Afterwards, she had gotten a new pet and something weird happened to it again. And this continued in a cycle. She would get a pet, and she would lose it. She would mourn it, her parents would rush to get her a new pet, and then the cycle would repeat itself. She had lost around 5 cats, all of them dead or missing, and one of them even just ‘drowned itself’ according to her. Apart from that she had also lost 2 dogs, with one being lost to a car accident and another to hunters accidentally shooting it. She had lost too many birds, hamsters and fishes to disappearances to remember. The tragedies had been compounded by the loss of her mother around a year ago. But still, she maintained a positive outlook on life.

He had still found all of it to be quite unsettling. She called it her ‘curse’ and even though they laughed about it now and again, the knowledge just sat at the back of his mind and refused to go away, like a persistent itch. And he knew that she worried about it too, from the look she had on her face after they were done laughing.

At first he suspected that maybe she was just careless with her pets. She definitely loved pets, that much was apparent. But maybe she just wasn’t responsible enough to care for one. But this proved to be untrue as well. She was very dutiful and caring. Her last parrot, Harold, and the cat, Harvey, had always been clean and well-groomed, until their respective disappearance and drowning at least. He knew if for a fact that she used spent quite a lot of time caring for them.

He sat lost in these thoughts when she interrupted him. She had placed the pug in his lap and it promptly put its feet on his shoulder and started licking his face. Laughing, he hugged the pug and looked at her. She looked pensive.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Nothing… just wondering what we should name him”

“Er… How about Harry?”

“Why Harry?” she asked.

“Well, I just thought… that it would go with Harvey and Harold”

She gave him a teary smile and then looked at the pug lovingly. “Harry. I like it. Thank you for bringing Harry to me, Simon.”

They went about talking about what sort of bed they should set up for Harry. Harry himself seemed quite excited for his new home and chased them around the house wagging his tail. By the time it was dark, Simon was exhausted.

“Well, it’s dark. I should be heading back now.” he said.

“You… don’t have to go” she said shyly.

Simon’s heart skipped a beat. Anne had never asked him to stay over. And he had never been alone with her for too long in any case, since her dad was always around chaperoning them. He had been away for a little over two weeks now, though. Maybe, it was the lack of contact with him, or maybe Anne just felt lonely, but this was the first time Anne had invited him to stay over. He was still wondering about what had come over her when she bent down, gave him another kiss and puts both her hands on his face.

“I love you.”

“I— I love you too, Anne” he said, surprised. This was the first time she had confessed her love to him. That night was the first time in his life anything so wonderful had happened to him.

Simon felt like he was floating. Everything looked more beautiful all of a sudden. The stars were gleaming like bright gems. The full moon was out, displaying it radiance. And Anne was constantly blushing.

They were up talking till about midnight. Anne was too exhausted from the day so she fell asleep quickly. Simon went downstairs, watching TV with Harry in his lap, and still happy in his core when the phone rang.

He hesitated. It was late at night and he was not sure what her dad or relatives would make of him being there that late. But on the other hand, Anne was completely exhausted and he did not want to wake her. He considered letting the phone ring, but in the end he hesitantly picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Yes. Is it the home of Miss Annabelle Long?” said a very official sounding voice.

“Yes, it is”

“Can I speak to Miss Annabelle, please?”

“No, she is uh… sleeping at the moment. I will be happy to take your message though.” He turned from the phone to quiet Harry, who had begun barking.

“Ok…” said the man “I am Alejandro Nunez from the embassy in Brazil. I …” he hesitated.

“Quiet, Harry! Pardon me…Yes? You were saying?” he urged him, concerned. His mind was racing. Anne’s dad was in Brazil.

“I am sorry to inform you that Mr. Andrew Long has passed away…”

Simon’s heart thumped in his chest. “What do you mean…”

“I am sorry, I realize this is a shock, but it was important that I informed you of the circum—“

“But he can’t …”

“The Civil police found Mr. Long’s body around two days ago. I am sorry it has taken this long to inform his family, but… unfortunately the body were quite hard to identify in its…condition.”

Simon mind was reeling from all the information. He did not know what to say.

“The body was found in a water body and forensics indicated that he had been deceased for around two weeks. I am sorry, the embassy—”

“This can’t be right.” Simon interjected. The man on the phone was clearly mistaken. “Anne was talking to him only this morning. I’m sorry but you must have–”

“I’m sorry but there is no mistake. I realize this is a shock but—“

Simon did not care for the rest of the story. He had let the phone drop on the floor. His heart was not thumping anymore, but had suddenly gone deathly quiet as a cold shiver ran through him. His legs began trembling uncontrollably under him; he had finally noticed what Harry had been barking at, and he dared not blink for fear of what it might do.

He was looking straight out through the kitchen window, into the backyard where a pale white face was staring right back at him.

The creature the face belonged to was like nothing he had ever seen. He was tall, if indeed it was a he, emaciated, and milky white. He was, in fact, so tall that he was bent down with both hands against the window to be able to look into the house. He face was gaunt and his skin stretched. There were two hollow black sockets each gaping wide where his eyes and ears were supposed to be. But the most menacing part of his appearance was his smile; he had a wide, wicked smile on his face that displayed his crooked, onyx-black teeth, and gave him the impression of a child looking into his favourite doll-house.

Simon was frozen on his feet and his legs refused to move. His voice was struck in his throat and though he wanted to shout, all the breath had left his lungs. He wished it was not real, that the thing staring at him would just go away, but he did not. Instead, he put one of his hands into the tiny opening in the window and, right in front of Simon’s horrified eyes, stretched itself like a snake, growing thin, and then returning to his original form inside the kitchen. Simon gasped and fell back on the sofa with a silent scream. The creature approached him, taking long strides, in the likeness of a child sneaking about a house. He never stopped smiling even for a moment.

He came close and stood tall above Simon looking down at him with his smile. Harry was whimpering, and had buried his face in the sofa. This had to be the end, Simon though. He wanted to close his eyes but found himself quiet unable to do so. What happened after made him wish a hundred times over that he could. The creature picked Harry up and held him in front of Simon’s face. And then, quietly and efficiently, and still smiling his manic grin, he pushed a hand into Harry’s mouth. Simon watched, eyes open wide with shock, as the creature slowly pushed itself into Harry. As he did so, Harry stretched, like a weird balloon being blown, first at the hind legs and then at the front ones. The creature did this till only his head remained out of Harry, with the poor pug’s face stretched over the creature’s neck. It looked like the creature was wearing a grotesque, hairy suit.

“D-D-D-Don’t”

Simon had finally found his voice. The creature, hearing him, bent down so his face was close to Simon’s. He moved his hollow ear socket close to Simon as if listening to what he had to say.

“D-Don’t kill me, please” Simon whispered, short of breath.

The creature turned his head and faced Simon again, still smiling broadly.

“One moon, one life. I will come for you on the next moon” he said, in a silky, clever voice that managed to surprise Simon even in his predicament.

“But–but why?” he said, gasping for breath.

“She loves you, does she not. By that right, your soul is mine”

Simon was confused… what did he mean? All he knew was that he did not want to die.

“But I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna… please!! I don’t wanna die!!” he was pleading now, crying.

“Oh child, but we all die, one day. We all die, or become as I am. But, I can offer you a lease. The same lease I offered her parents.”

Simon was silent now. He had suddenly remembered Anne’s dad, who was now dead.

“D-Did you…?”

“Yes, of course. She loved them more than anyone else, didn’t she now… Yess… she did”. The creature’s grin widened and then he smacked his lips. “Fools. You could never have run too far. I have them now. Will you run, child?”

“N-N-No… please, I don’t want die”

“Then open your pretty little ears, and listen. I will grant you a lease, but you must understand… One moon, one life… yesss.”.The creature looked to the roof as if relishing the thought. “To leave one she loves alone, I must have another. Far more than these lives, I love her tears”

The creature stood back up after saying that. He sniffed, smelling something in the air, and then turned to leave.

Simon understood. He finally understood it all. But the view of Harry being… stretched… was still fresh in his memory. And so was the teary face of the girl he loved. He could not do that. He would not.

“I can’t do it… I will not make her suffer…I WILL NOT DO IT!” he said.

The creature turned back to face him with the speed of a lunging viper. He lowered his face, no longer smiling but contorted with rage, and brought it within an inch of Simon’s.

“Then the suffering of a painful death is yours.” he whispered and grabbed Simon by the shoulders.

Simon froze, again. He suddenly realized he had pushed his luck too far… too far. He sat there frozen in fear as the creature opened his mouth wider and wider, and wider. There was nothing but a void inside him. The void was the last thing he saw as the world, and his memories, faded from consciousness.

The very last thing he heard, perhaps just his imagination, was:

“I will take from her everything that she loves”

 

Original story by

Salman Shahid Khan

 

Copyright : : Salman Shahid Khan. All Rights Reserved

This story comes from my dad and he was around 18 at the time of this particular incident. It was summer time so he went visiting relatives in a city called Sialkot. His maternal family was based there, living in a few houses in a small cluster. A few of his cousins and one of his uncles, Uncle Arshad, who was also quite young (being around 25 at the time), also joined him there. During their stay they heard a few stories of a house their family owned.

It was located two houses down the street and was unoccupied house at the time. Its only utility was that the courtyard (which was open to the sky) was used as a gym of sorts by the local bodybuilders during daytime. One of the stories they were told was that of a local bodybuilder named Manna. Manna was alone lifting weights there one day, and one time after getting up to stretch after lifting something particularly heavy he was patted on the back and told ‘Well done’. Only, he knew there was no one else in the room. He had stopped being there alone after that.

My dad and his uncle were quite excited after hearing all that and being ‘Young and foolish’ they decided to spend a night there. They were warned against it, a few of the elders including their maternal grandfather calling them fools for meddling in ‘things you do not understand’ but their minds were set. In the end, they decided that they would enter the house after dark, a little before midnight, and sleep there leaving just after daybreak. Since the house was not in use they decided to sleep on the roof on charpai’s (which is a traditional woven bed in the Indian subcontinent). They also instructed their watchman to lock the main door after they had entered to ensure no one else could enter after them and to come open the door immediately after daybreak. Apparently the watchman laughed after hearing this and told them he would keep the key ready because they would be calling him long before that.

The next night before they were supposed to go to the house one of their elders told them to try something. He told them to set up a carom board in the courtyard and just leave it there, untouched, and check it sometime after. They set it up in the house as instructed, and carried their charpai’s to the roof after that. It was difficult doing all of it in the dark, since they house did not have an electric supply. Their only source of light was an oil lantern, and the light it cast was dim and yellow, but they were still happy for the lack of ghost sightings.

They spent the first hour playing cards and nothing seemed to happen. Much more relaxed about the house, they began to wonder what everyone was on about. And then, during one of the rounds, they heard the unmistakeable sound of the hand-pump in the courtyard being worked, and the sound of water flowing. They were four floors up, on the roof, but that sound still sent a shiver through them. They tried to ignore it the best they could, but the hand-pump continued pumping water on its own. Much quieter now, they tried to keep playing cards but around 1 am they just gave up and decided to sleep instead.

My dad slept on one of the charpai’s on the edge, and slept like a rock till he was woken up by someone shaking him. He got up to the frightened face of one of his cousins. He pointed to Uncle Arshad who had been sleeping in his boxers on the far edge. It was then that he noticed that he seemed to be writhing in pain, clutching his throat. They tried to shake him awake, but it took a whole minute filled with the fear of what was happening to wake him up. Uncle Arshad woke up breathing heavily and still clutching his throat. He looked at them and said, “We need to leave this place, now!”

“It is 3 am already” one of the other cousins said, “We only need to wait an hour or so more and then—“

“I want to leave this place NOW, and I will jump from the roof to do that if I have to!”

They were even more frightened after that. They decided to leave but remembered that the house entrance was still locked. So, they started shouting to get the watchman’s attention. Soon enough though, they got the attention of my dad’s grandfather instead who had been sleeping on the roof of his house anticipating something of the sort. After a few choice curses he sent for the watchman and told them that he would be waiting for them downstairs.

They still had to climb down the stairs though. Four flights of stairs, in pitch black darkness, with nothing but the dim light of the lantern to guide them. They climbed down slowly and with much arguing about who would climb down first, and who would be at the rear.  They kept their eyes nearly shut and tried not to look around them, since they kept imagining things in the dark, looking back at them, or perhaps one of them being dragged off. And Uncle Arshad was still clutching his throat; the image of him writhing still fresh in all of their heads. When they finally got to the courtyard they went past the carom board, and all of them noticed that all the pieces were now in the pockets.

When they finally got to the door the watchman was waiting for them, with a large smile on his face. “So are all you young ones done here? Has your warm blood run cold yet?” he said, laughing at them.

After they were out of the house, they asked Uncle Arshad what had happened, but he refused to tell them anything till he was out of the darkness. So they took him to a street lamp and they sat under it till he calmed down and stopped shivering with fear. And then he told them his story:

“As I fell asleep I dreamt that I was in the house. I walked down to the courtyard and in my dream I started urinating there. Just then, an old man with a long beard and terrifying eyes came and grabbed me by the throat. He shouted ‘How dare you defile this sacred place?!’ and lifted my up in the air with one hand. I was helpless, kicking and gasping for air when all of you woke me”

After he told them the story he finally took his hands off his throat. Even in the lamplight they could clearly see the bloody blue mark of a hand right across his neck.

True story.

Narrated to,

Salman Shahid Khan

Writer’s note: This particular story comes from my father and has always been one that took my imagination to places I did not want to visit. I could have taken my father for his word but for the sake of keeping this account ‘factual’ I tried to confirm its details from two different people. During my attempt to validate it I found that not only is this incident and the haunting of the building in question real, but there are people living in that house today who deal with this sort of phenomenon on a regular basis.

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Dear Readers,

Hello again. Firstly, I wish to apologize for the delay. Managing to visit the house hit a snag as the owner of the house was not completely willing to let us visit the empty house. This did not surprise me much as I thought a house under construction was hardly a safe place to be. But as we tried to talk our way into convincing him to let us see for ourselves we realized that his reason for not allowing us in kept changing. At first it was “There might be open connections about, and I cannot allow young lives to be endangered like this”. After a little while it changed to “The construction workers might have left some dangerous materials about”. It took a little bit of talking to get him to finally admit that he was genuinely worried for our safety, but in a supernatural and spiritual sense, rather than a physical one. At that point we were more interested than ever to be allowed to enter and he was refusing us entry outright. It was after a lot more convincing that we managed to get his permission to view the house from within the boundary, on the condition that we do not physically enter any of the rooms, and that the watchman supervises our tour.

I went with a lot of other excited volunteers. But for all the excitement, I was rather disappointed… for the most part. I did not see any shadows. I did not see even one ghost, let alone an entire family of them. No shadows flitting across our view, no moving chairs.

I said ‘for the most part’, though, because I did see, or rather heard a few things which the rest of my fellow ghost-hunters failed to see and hear. They were too busy being excited and calling out the ghosts, while I was silently and meticulously capturing all angles in the house. I was left alone in each part of the house, as they moved forward to the next part, leaving me to see, feel and hear the house in clarity.

The first I felt was a gentle push to the side. I looked right and left expecting to find my brother -in-law, Ruffi, there but saw no one. I was alarmed, but looked down to notice that I had managed to avoid stepping on an upturned nail. I moved on, slowly now, still taking pictures. I will attribute this push to tense muscles and nothing else though.

The next, and more solid piece of evidence came from what I heard. Taps would open as I went past each of the toilets in the house, and close as I moved further away. I am frankly surprised no one else noticed, but perhaps there was enough wind to cover the sound. Perhaps, I was just hearing things.

And finally, it was the terrified face of the watchman as my tour-fellows called out the ghosts. He was convinced, completely convinced, that the Ghosts would hear us and come out. He kept telling me not to lag behind. Once he came to me and asked to ‘Please tell these children not to call them out to see you. What if they follow you home?…’

His face convinced me more than anything else.

And then, perhaps most importantly, I have this picture to show you.

I see you

You can come to your own conclusions.

Please comment and let me know what you think!

9th of March, 2014

Salman Shahid Khan