Archive | July, 2014

What Are The Chances Of There Being A Zombie Apocalypse In Your Lifetime?

31 Jul

We all know that there are zombie apocalypse preppers out there, and many think that they’re simply wasting their time because a zombie apocalypse could never happen. However, what if they are right and it is the rest of us that are wrong? Isn’t it better to be prepared and have nothing happen, than not be prepared and get caught out?

Well, that all depends on the risk of it happening. As with anything in life, we need to know how likely (or unlikely) something is to happen before we can decide whether we should take precautions and how much time and money we should put into them. Yet, how is this risk calculated? How on earth would you calculate the risk of being killed in a zombie apocalypse?

Let’s take a look at how risk is calculated by looking at mortality risk. This is effectively the chance of something killing a person multiplied by the number of times it can potentially happen over a given length of time. This is worked out by taking the number of people that die from a specific cause, dividing it by the total number of people exposed to give the chance of each individual dying because of it. This figure is then divided by a measure of time to get the death rate. This death rate can then be expressed in a number of ways, but the most common is the micromort. What is a micromort? It’s a one in a million chance of dying from a specific cause (which is about the same chance of throwing 20 coins into the air and them all landing heads up). So that’s the theory, but how does it work in practice?

Well, if we wanted to work out the risk of being murdered in the UK (where I live), we can work this out as follows: There were 640 murders in the UK in 2011. This is out of a population around 61.37 million. So we divide 640 by 61.37 million and find that each individual has a 0.00104% chance of being murdered each year. To work out this value in micromorts, we then multiply it by a million and find that the risk dying from an external cause in the UK each year is 10.4 micromorts.

But is 10.4 micromorts a lot or a little? To find that out, we need to compare that to other causes of death. The chances of dying because you spend one night in hospital in England is 75 micromorts. So, each year, you’re 7.5 times more likely to die from having to spend a night in hospital in England than of being murdered. Similarly, you’ve got about the same chance of dying each time you’re were given a general anesthetic as being murdered (10 vs 10.4 micromorts) and you’re eight times more likely to die each time you give birth in Britain than being murdered in any one year (and you’re 17 times more likely to die while giving birth in the US than of being murdered in any one year in the UK). Of course, that’s just the UK. In The US, the risk of being murdered is almost five times higher than in the UK at 48 micromorts, while in Canada it’s 16 micromorts.

So, that’s how risk calculations and micromorts work, but how do we apply this to work out the chances of a zombie apocalypse happening and, indeed, the chances of you dying in a zombie apocalypse? First, we need to set the parameters for our zombie apocalypse. When we do this, we need to be realistic about this and follow the rules of how the world actually works. This means it can’t be dead people coming back to life, that’s just biologically impossible. However, we can have diseases which take over people’s brains and make them act like flesh-eating zombies from the movies that will attack any other human they get hold of. There’s a surprisingly large number of real diseases that can do that, but I’m going to focus on one real ‘zombie’ disease and that’s rabies.

Rabies really does take over people’s brains and make them act violently to others, and it’s transmitted by bites, but there’s two things which stop it creating a zombie apocalypse. The first is that it’s 100% fatal so anyone infected with it dies (at least if they’re not treated before they start showing symptoms). The second is that it’s not easily transmitted from one person to another. In fact, there are no known cases of human-to-human transmission. This isn’t because the disease isn’t infectious, but rather because human teeth are actually remarkably poor at being able to bite through human skin. Also, for obvious reasons, we tend to keep well clear of people who are staggering around, foaming at the mouth and trying to bite us. Together, these make it hard for humans to transmit the disease to each other.

But what if this were to change? Diseases mutate all the time and it is not inconceivable that the rabies virus could mutate in such a way that would make it less fatal, and easier to transmit. Indeed, there is already evidence that some strains of rabies are already evolving towards being able to spread much faster and more efficiently between animals without the need for bites.

So what’s the risk of this happening? If we assume that the natural mutation rate of the rabies virus is 0.00001, that is for every 10,000 times it copies itself, there’s one mutation which changes something about how it operates. Some of these mutations may be good for the virus and some may be bad, but we’re looking for very specific mutations that would change the virus in a very specific way. Thus, out of all the mutations, maybe only one in a billion might have the effect we’re interested in. Taken together, that means that there’d be a 1 in a ten trillion chance of just the right mutation happening. You’d think that would make it so unlikely that we’d never need to worry about it, but you’d be wrong. Why? Because of the law of very large numbers.

The law of very large numbers means that even very unlikely outcomes can happen if we do something often enough. You see, there isn’t just one rabies viral particle in anyone who’s infected, but millions of them, all reproducing, all the time and so all at risk of mutating in just the right way. If we take the figure of 1 million as a highly conservative estimate of the number of viral particles in any one person with rabies, and say that each one reproduces once every 10 days (again highly conservative), then within any infected individual there’s a 0.0001% chance of the required mutations occurring. Still a very small chance, but much more likely than 1 in a 10 trillion, and that’s just in each 10 day reproductive cycle in each person.

A typical person may survive for 12 weeks after infection, so there would be around eight such reproductive cycles in each person. This brings the risk of the required mutation happening in any one infected person up to 0.0008%, and around 50,000 people are infected each year, which means that when all the viruses across all the people are considered, there’s a 42% chance of the mutations happening in any one year. Just because we’re dealing with very large numbers, we’ve suddenly gone from a risk that’s infinitesimally small to one that’s almost the same as guessing whether a coin will land heads up or tails.

Rather shockingly, that means there should be a rabies-related zombie apocalypse once every 2.4 years. If we assume that 80% of the world’s population of seven billion would be killed or infected if a zombie apocalypse were to happen, then this would equate to 2.3 billion micromorts each and every year. Now, compared to out 10.4 micromorts for being murdered in the UK, that’s pretty damn high. It means that in any one year, you’d be almost 50 million times more likely to be killed in a zombie apocalypse than of being murdered, which is pretty wild and suggests that most people are worrying about all the wrong things when it comes to what’s likely to kill them.

Now, at this point, you might be thinking to yourself that you don’t remember any zombie apocalypses happening recently, and even though you’ve been pretty busy for the last 2.4 years, you’re pretty sure you’d remember 80% of the world’s population getting wiped out. So, if these are the odds, why hasn’t it happened?

Well, this is most likely to do with two things. The mutations which might make rabies more transmissible between humans might also make the virus itself less fit, and that means any viruses which carry the mutations are pushed out by those which don’t so they cannot get enough of a toehold to become the dominant type of virus in any one individual. This in itself would be enough to stop any copies of the virus which carry the required mutations from breaking free and rampaging across the planet. In other words, the virus itself might be keeping dangerous mutations in check simply because they have to compete with other versions without the same mutations for the limited resource which is the human body.

Secondly, it might be that the rabies virus simply cannot generate the mutations needed to turn it into a supervirus capable of taking over the planet. A mutation can only change what a viral gene already does. It cannot suddenly create a brand new gene that does something completely different (like genetic engineering can do). It’s just like a car, you can fiddle with the engine to make it go faster, but you can’t, just by tweaking it here and there, suddenly turn it into an aeroplane. There just aren’t the existing building block there to do that. So it might be with the rabies virus, that no amount of tweaking could ever turn it into a civilisation-destroying, zombie-apocalypse-creating megavirus that would wipe humanity from the face of the planet, but we don’t know for sure. Maybe it’s not a one in 10 trillion chance mutation, but one in a ten thousand trillion. Very unlikely, but still possible given enough time (in this case about 238,000 years – short by our lifespans, but not long in terms of how long humans have been roaming the planet, picking up rabies from other species – and that still gives it a value of 2384 micromorts per year, still high in comparison to the risk of being murdered).

So what can we learn from all this? Well, firstly, if you do anything often enough, even the most unlikely events can happen, and what has a very low probability of happening to each individual, might be quite likely to happen when there are 7 billion people on the planet – after all, someone has to guess the right numbers and win the lottery, it’s just very unlikely to be you.

Secondly, just because you can calculate the likelihood of something happening, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will. In particular, if you don’t take everything into account properly, your calculations can go very wrong (in case of the above, assuming that the types of mutations required to turn rabies into a zombie-apocalypse creating megavirus are actually possible).

Finally, as long as you’re not talking about risen-from-the-dead type zombies, a zombie apocalypse is possible. There are diseases out there which can take over the brain and turn humans into zombie-like killers and it’s biologically feasible that they could mutate to create a highly infectious zombie-like disease. Given the numbers, even if such a mutation was very, very unlikely, there’s still a possibility that it will happen eventually. This leads on to a very interesting question: What’s stopping this happening?

In other words, if the law of very large numbers makes it highly likely that diseases will spontaneously generate the mutations needed to spark a global epidemic, why are they so rare? If we can work that out, then we could hopefully move towards stopping those that do occur. Here, I’m not talking about a zombie apocalypse, but real world problems, like HIV, flu, ebola, SARS and MERS, and others which we’ve still yet to discover, and which have the power to destroy large proportions of humanity if and when they go pandemic. What makes these diseases suddenly appear as if out of nowhere and start running riot through human communities and populations, while others, like rabies, simply remain bubbling away slowly in the background? This isn’t just idle speculation, but something which is fundamental to our understanding of diseases, and indeed our future on this planet.

Who would have thought that’s where we’d have ended up when we started trying to work out if zombie apocalypse preppers were wasting their time or not?


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

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‘The Outbreak’ – The First Official Review Is Out And It’s Five Stars Out Of Five!

29 Jul

The Outbreak Cover DesignJust over a week after The Outbreak was published, the first major review is out … And it’s five stars out of five!

It’s a Foreword Clarion Review and you can read it on their website by clicking here, or you can download it as a PDF by clicking here.

To give you a taster of what the reviewer said, here’s some excerpts:

Now, here’s a zombie apocalypse that really knocks ‘em dead.

With zombie apocalypses occurring across all media at an alarming rate these days, it is difficult to find a new spin on the catastrophe. But Scottish marine biologist Colin M. Drysdale’s second book about the walking dead, The Outbreak…, adds a refreshing new twist to the genre: a small group of Glaswegian survivors finds safety at sea. Tackling themes such as uncertainty, not judging people by appearances, and the importance of living for the moment, Drysdale’s seafaring tale makes a splash in the postapocalyptic genre. …

…The thriller moves at a fast pace, with each chapter ending in a cliff-hanger designed to ratchet up suspense while keeping the audience turning the pages. Another brilliant coup occurs as it becomes impossible to predict who will die and how death will occur. As with the Game of Thrones series, The Outbreak also possesses no qualms about killing off characters one has become invested in. The alacrity with which some die only reinforces the horror of it all. …

Needless to say, I’m chuffed not only to have got a much coveted five star rating for the second time from Foreword Review, but also to get such a great review.



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

How To Write The First Draft Of A Zombie Apocalypse Novel

28 Jul

So, you’ve come up with a killer idea for a zombie apocalypse novel, you’ve got great characters in mind that you know people will love, and you even the ideal anti-hero to come good in the end and save the day. Then you sit down at your computer and all that happens is you end up staring at the cursor blinking away on the blank screen for several hours wondering where on earth you should start.

As any would-be writer quickly finds out, there’s a big difference between having the idea for a book and actually writing one. Often the biggest stumbling block isn’t getting it finished, but rather it’s getting it started in the first place. Why is this? I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you’ve got what you think is this perfect idea in your head and the moment you start writing it down, it soon becomes apparent that it’s not so perfect after all. The characters as a bit flat, the story arc doesn’t quite work and that amazing opening scene you envisioned in your head turns out to be a dismal failure.

At this stage, it’s easy to become disenchanted with the whole writing process and simply give up after drafting out the few chapters, but you shouldn’t. Not all writers like to admit it, but that everyone’s first drafts are like this. Sure, the first draft of your very first book’s probably going to be a lot worse than the one for your tenth, but there will still be plenty of room for improvement.

So how do you go about writing the first draft of your zombie novel without falling out of love with it, and indeed falling out of love with writing in general?

Firstly, you have to accept that your first draft is always going to be a bit crap, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It would be much weirder if you got your novel spot on in the first draft.

Secondly, you have to understand the purpose of your first draft. It’s not to have a finished novel by the time you’ve completed it, but rather it’s to erect the scaffolding around which your finished novel will be built during the editing stages.

Finally, you have to remember that editing is for afterwards and it’s not something you should be doing while writing your first draft. There’s always the temptation to go back and try to polish what you’ve just written, but if you go down that route, there’s a good chance you’ll never get beyond the end of the first chapter because there will always be something you can improve in it. Instead, what you need to be concentrating on is getting the broad-brush strokes of the whole story in place, all of it and not just opening scenes. Then you can come back and polish it until it sparkles and glistens.

While editing can be done in little blocks here and there, writing a first draft generally requires solid blocks of time which you can set aside just to write. You might think that you can just do half an hour every night, but for the first draft this is unlikely to work because you’ll have to get yourself back into the post-apocalyptic world you’re creating at the start of each session and then work your way back into your story. By the time you’ve done this, the chances are much of your precious half hour will have gone leaving little time left for the actual writing. Instead, I’d recommend setting aside blocks of at least a couple of hours at a time for writing your first draft, and ideally a day, a weekend, or even a whole week or month so you can do nothing but immerse yourself in your world and get the basic structure down on paper. Of course, few writers can actually afford to do this, because most have other jobs to support themselves, but putting aside a whole day once a week to write will almost certainly be more productive than spending the same amount of time on it spread across each evening of the week.

This leads onto the next issue. How do you actually write it? With zombie apocalypse novels, the main aspect of it is the apocalyptic events and the set pieces with the zombies. As a result, I’d always recommend using the first draft to sketch out the basics of the world which you’re creating, how the zombies will act and feel, where the different set pieces will fit in and how they’ll be linked together to create the overall story arc. This means leaving much of the character development and social interactions until later drafts. This is because you need to know that the world you’re creating will work before you start populating it with people. This means that often by the end of the first draft, you might find that you don’t particularly connect with your characters, and that you don’t really care if they live or die. This is okay at this stage, and indeed, it’s only to be expected for a zombie novel. There will be plenty of time to come back and add all the little conversations and back stories which make both you, and your readers, fall in love with the characters, later drafts.

I also tend to avoid working too much on the dialogue during the first draft and sometimes these sections will be little more than rough directions covering what will be discussed. Again, once you have the basic structure of your novel down on paper, you can go back and work out who says what to whom and when.

In general, I also try to avoid being too self-critical when I’m writing a first draft. The aim is just to get it finished, ideally as quickly as possible. There will always be bits which you don’t like when you come back to it, and again, that’s okay at this stage. Once the first draft is completed, you can set about changing what doesn’t work, and improving what does.

There is also the issue of whether you should show your first draft to someone else to get their input. I probably wouldn’t recommend this. Yes, tell people what you’re writing, discuss your ideas with them, even run individual scenes by them, but keep your actual first draft to yourself. After all, showing someone a first draft would be like showing someone a roughly hewn block of marble that’s only a fraction of the way towards becoming a finished statue. You, as the artist, might be able to see, using your mind’s eye, what it will look like in the end, but it’s likely they won’t. Instead, wait until you’ve completed a second or third draft before you start sharing it round. This way, you’re likely to get a much better response because you’ll have had the opportunity to clean up the messier bits and it’s more likely the reader will to be able to catch a glimpse of the finished work that lies beneath the rough and ready exterior of an early draft, and so give you some proper, and useful, feedback

Most of these points can be summarised as follows: The secret to writing the first draft of a zombie apocalypse novel isn’t to write well. Rather, it is to write anything so that you have something which you can later edit. It’s much easier to polish words once they’ve been written, and much harder to create something out of nothing in the first place (especially something good). This means that the sooner you get the first draft finished and out of the way, the sooner you can move on to the much more enjoyable task of turning your book into something that’s good.

You might think that having written a first book, that writing the first draft of the next one would be much easier. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Instead, you find you have to go from a well-polished piece back to the mess of poorly written dialogue and rough outlines of scenes, and start the whole process all over again. At that stage, it can often be difficult to see that one day, it too will become a final version which you can be proud of, and it takes a certain amount of will power to keep plugging away at it regardless until it’s finished and the polishing can begin again.

As an illustration of how rough and ready a first draft can be, below is the first draft (or to be honest, the earliest draft I could find and this means it might not be the very first version, but it’ll be close) of one of the scenes close to the start of my book For Those In Peril On The Sea, followed by the final version. As a spoiler alert, in this scene, the main group of characters encounter the zombie-like infected for the very first time, so if you haven’t read the book and are planning on doing so, you might want to stop here.

If you compare these, you’ll see the first draft version is really just a skeleton on which the final version was built. The dialogue is limited and generally unattributed. There’s little description of what the characters are doing as they are speaking, and there’s very little tension in what should be full of it. In the final version, these elements have all been fleshed out considerably to create a much more tense atmosphere. You might also notice that what was originally one scene has now been broken down into three linked scenes, each concentrating on a different individual element (the attack/escape, moving on and discussing what to do next). Finally, two of the characters have also undergone a name change (John to Jon and Jane to CJ) because the original names didn’t really work.

So here’s the original version of the scene from the first draft, spelling mistakes, poor grammar, wrongly used words and all (word count: 804 words):

We reached about three- quarters of the way back down the narrow concrete path, when a figure appeared at the end of the path high up on the hill. We could only make out the sillohette, but we could see that a large machette dangled from one hand. As one, we turned and ran for the boat, the figure running after us, screaming undecipherably at the top of its voice. By the time we lept into the dingy and cast off, the figure had reached where we had been standing when we’d first seen it. And still it ran towards us. John pulled on the engine cord, but the engine refused to start. We were only a few feet from the rock and well within range of anyone with a machette on the shore. As John pulled frantically at the cord, I grabbed the oars and started rowing as though my life depended on it. By the time the figure reach the shore, we were twenty yards from shore and well beyond its reach.

John finally got the engine started and we looked back as we motored back to the waiting boat. We could see it was a tall, black man, his white t-shirt was soaked in blood and he waved the machette at us and screamed. We couldn’t make out what he was screaming. Eventually, he stopped screaming and waving the machette, and sank to his knees. Despite the distance between us, we could now here him sobbing, and shouting at us to come back, and not leave him to die. John put the engine into neutral and we looked at each other. The man no longer looked insane and dangerous but broken and desperate for our help.

“Should we go back?”

“I don’t know. There’s still something very wrong back there. I don’t think we should risk it. What if its a trap? I mean, where did all that blood come from?”

We turned and looked back at the figure. He was just staring at us, pleading with eyes for us to come back. Suddenly, he lept to his feet and turned to stare back up the path. We followed his gaze to where a shape was sillohetted on the crest of the hill, or was it two. We couldn’t see whether it was human because almost as soon as we had seen the shape, it was gone. The next thing we saw was the man on the shore raise the machette and scream, while the bushes nearest to him started to shake violently. In a flash, two shapes flew out of the bushes and were on top of him. Despite his desperate flailing with the machette, his attackers kept up their onslaught and soon the man when down. We could hear the creatures tearing at him, we could hear his screams of pain and their guttoral growls and moans as they tore him limb from limb.

“Shit. What the fuck are those things?”

“I don’t know, let’s just get the hell out of here. NOW!”

We slammed the engine into gear and headed for the boat at full speed without looking back. We tied off the dingy and climbed onto the boat. Bill was standing there with the binoculars looking back towards the shore.

“I thought you were going to go back there for a minute. Just as well you didn’t.”

“Could you see what those animals were that attacked that man?”

Bill looked at me and said nothing, but handed me the binoculars. I swung them up and looked towards the shores. I could see two huddled masses crouched over what was left of the man. Suddenly, one stood up and I could see what it was. It was a young boy, no more than about thirteen years old. I could see the blood dripping down his face as his eyes stared straight down the binoculars at me. But his eyes did not see me, he just stared off into the distance with eyes so wild, so animalistic, and yet so human. He knelt back down and started tearing at the carcass in front of him again. I set the binoculars down and looked at Bill, while the others looked at me.

“What are they?” Jane asked.

I looked at Bill and he shook his head every so slightly.

“I think they were wild dogs. Just as well we got back to the boat when we did. A pack of them must have attacked the lighthouse keepers. We’d best report it when we get to Freeport.”

“No,” said Bill slowly, “I think we should head straight for Miami, get this trip over as soon as possible.” I didn’t disagree. We pulled the dingy onto the boat, lashed it down and headed out of the bay and up northwest Providence Channel.

And here’s the final version from the finished book (word count: 1,928 words):

We were about three-quarters of the way down the narrow path when a silhouette appeared on the skyline behind the lighthouse, a large machete clutched in its right hand. Instantly, we were both running, moving as fast as we could over the cracked and uneven surface. Glancing back, I saw the figure pursuing us, screaming indecipherably at the top of its voice.

We reached the stone steps and scrambled down to the dinghy. I fumbled with the rope that held it to the rock, trying desperately to undo it.

‘Come on, Rob.’ There was a sense of urgency in Jon’s voice I’d never heard before, not even at the height of the storm.

‘I can’t. The knot’s pulled too tight.’

‘Here, try this,’ Jon held out his Leatherman, the small knife already open. I grabbed it and started sawing frantically at the rope.

‘Come on! Whoever that is will be here any second.’ Jon’s eyes were darting nervously between where I was struggling with the rope and the top of the steps.

‘I’m going as fast as I can. Just get the engine started so we’re ready to go as soon as I’m done.’ I was about half-way through the rope already and I redoubled my efforts. I heard Jon yank on the starter chord. The engine shuddered, but that was all. He adjusted the throttle and tried again. Again it turned over, but it still didn’t catch.

‘Careful, you’ll flood it.’

‘I know what I’m doing, Rob.’ Jon never liked it when I gave him advice, but there was a hint of panic in his voice.

I felt the rope separate and I pushed us away from the rocks. Jon was pulling repeatedly on the chord but the engine still refused to start. My eyes flicked upwards. While I couldn’t see the path, I knew the figure could appear at any moment and we were still within range of a machete. As Jon continued to fiddle with the engine, I grabbed an oar and started paddling, making short, sharp strokes on alternating sides of the bow.

We were twenty yards out when the engine finally spluttered into life and a look of relief spread across Jon’s face. Back on the shore, I could see the figure standing on the rocks just above the steps. He was a tall, black man, his white t-shirt soaked in blood. As we motored towards to the waiting boat, he waved the machete and screamed something I couldn’t quite make out. Without warning, he stopped and sank to his knees, his shoulders heaving as he sobbed. Jon shifted the engine into neutral; the man no longer seemed insane and dangerous, just broken and desperate.

‘Should we go back?’ Jon asked hesitantly.

‘I don’t know. I don’t think we should risk it. What if it’s a trap? I mean, he’s covered in blood.’ While he no longer looked threatening, the man still frightened me.

All of a sudden, with a speed that was unsettling, the man leapt to his feet and sprang round to face the path. A new shape was outlined on the crest of the hill. I couldn’t tell if it was human or animal, or even if there was more than one, and almost as soon as I’d seen it, it was gone. The man looked desperately left and right, as if trying to decide which way he should run but, before he made his choice, two shapes shot out of the bushes. He flailed the machete wildly as they flew towards him but it made little difference. When they reached him, they attacked and, within seconds, the man was on the ground. Even from that distance, we could hear his screams of pain and the guttural growls of the creatures. He struggled frantically, trying to throw them off, but despite his size they were too much for him. His movements slowed and eventually ceased as the life drained out of him, but the creatures kept up their assault, tearing at his body, ripping him limb from limb.

‘What the fuck are those things?’ There was a look of abject horror on Jon’s face.

‘I don’t know. Let’s just get the hell out of here. Now!’

Jon slammed the engine into gear and we skimmed over the water at full speed, trying to resist the urge to look back. We tied off the dinghy and scrambled onto the catamaran. Bill was standing in the cockpit staring towards the shore with the binoculars,

‘For a minute there I thought you were going to go back. Just as well you didn’t.’

‘Could you see what those animals were; the ones that attacked him?’ I wanted to know. I wanted to understand how close we’d come to being attacked ourselves.

Bill looked at me and said nothing as he handed me the binoculars. I aimed them towards the shore and could see two huddled shapes crouching over what was left of the man. As I watched, one of them stood up and I could see what it was. It was a young boy, no more than thirteen. Blood dripped from his face as he stared straight at me. His eyes bored into mine, unblinking, so wild, so animalistic, and yet so human. He knelt back down and started tearing at the carcass again. I watched as he clawed at the man’s stomach, opening up his abdomen and pulling out his intestines. He plunged his head into the man’s body, reappearing a second later with a large piece of liver in his mouth. I lowered the binoculars and stared at Bill, not believing what I’d just seen. As I did so, CJ came out onto the deck.

‘What’s going on?’

‘Don’t know,’ Jon shot back at her as his eyes shifted from Bill to me and back again. ‘Can I get the binoculars?’

I passed them to him and watched as he raised them to his eyes.

‘They’re eating him.’ Jon was appalled.

‘What d’you mean they’re eating him? Who’s eating who? Give me the binoculars,’ CJ held out her hand but Jon didn’t give them to her.

‘Trust me. You don’t want to see.’

CJ scowled at him but there was something in Jon’s voice that suggested he was right and she didn’t push it.

As we pulled the dinghy out of the water and hauled up the anchor, Jon told Bill and CJ what we’d found up at the lighthouse. He sounded almost excited but it was probably just the after-effects of the adrenaline from his body’s fight or flight reaction. I was certainly feeling a little shaky for the same reason.
Jon was just finishing. ‘Jesus, there was blood everywhere … I mean, a lot of it.’

I felt the need to say something. CJ had a terrified look on her face and Jon needed calming down.

‘There wasn’t that much really. I mean maybe it was all from one person …’ Even as I said it, I knew in my heart it wasn’t true.

Once we were underway and had put some distance between ourselves and the lighthouse, we gathered in the cockpit. We were all badly shaken by what we’d witnessed and for a while none of us spoke, each lost in our own thoughts. It was CJ who eventually broke the silence.

‘What now?’

‘Very good question.’ Bill sat there thinking for a few seconds before continuing. ‘No matter what happened back there, there’s nothing we can do about it. In fact, I think you guys were very lucky to get back to the dinghy when you did, otherwise … ’ I didn’t want to think what the otherwise might have been.

After a moment Bill carried on. ‘We’ll need to report it, the only question is where. As far as I can see, we’ve got four choices.’ He counted each of them off on his fingers as he spoke, ‘There’s a small village marked on the chart just up the coast, but there’s no guarantee it’ll have a police station. Even if it does, it’s going to be a small one and I’m not too sure they’d be able to deal with this sort of thing on their own.’

Given what we’d just seen, I was amazed at how calm Bill was, at how clearly he was thinking. My own mind had frozen, able to do little more than replay the same shocking sights over and over again, yet Bill was able to think logically about what we needed to do next, just as he’d done in the storm. These were the times I was so glad it was Bill who was in charge and not me.

‘Two, we can sail south and report it in Nassau. Or three, we can continue west and report it in Freeport on Grand Bahama. They’re both pretty big cities, at least as far as the Bahamas are concerned, and both will have sizeable police forces. But it’ll take time for them to get themselves together and get over to Hole-in-the-Wall.

‘Four, we can carry on to Miami, and report it from there. The important thing to remember is that, no matter where we report it, it’s going to raise a lot of questions.’

Bill was silent for a second or two. ’Frankly, I’m not too sure people will believe us. We could get tied up in the investigation for days, even weeks. There’s nothing we can do for that poor sod back there, so if the rest of you agree, I’d rather report it in Miami than in the Bahamas. That way we won’t be stuck in a foreign country while this thing is looked into.’

‘It mightn’t be a foreign country to you …’ I was concerned Bill had forgotten we weren’t all Americans.

‘Good point. But I think you and CJ would still be better off in the US than in the Bahamas. Whatever went on back there, it’s going to cause a big stir when it comes out. At least in the US you’ll have less of a chance of getting dragged into it. We all will. What do you think?’

Bill looked around at the rest of us.

Jon nodded his agreement, as did I, but with more hesitation. My mind was finally starting to work again and while I could see Bill’s point, I still didn’t like the fact I might get stuck in an unfamiliar country, far from my boat, while any investigation took place.

‘CJ?’

‘Erm …’

‘Oh come on, Cammy, make a decision for once; not that it really matters what you think.’ Jon sounded irritated.

‘Shut up, Jon, that’s not helpful.’ I couldn’t stop myself snapping at him. It annoyed me that, despite what we’d just witnessed, Jon still couldn’t resist needling CJ. It incensed me just as much that CJ made it so easy for him. Glancing over at her, I saw the resentment and anger that had been building up within her towards Jon throughout the voyage start to bubble to the surface.

Bill must have seen this too because he sat down and put a reassuring arm around her.

‘CJ, it’s important that we all agree on what we’re going to do.’ Bill’s voice was calm and comforting, ‘What do you think? Are you happy with us carrying on to Miami?’

‘I guess Miami would be okay.’

Jon opened his mouth to speak, but Bill held up his hand and Jon thought better of it.

Bill looked round at each of us again, ‘Right, Miami it is then.’



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Why Do Zombies Stop Grass Growing, And Other Odd Questions Raised By Zombie Movies

24 Jul

The zombie apocalypse: It’s the end of the world, right? The end of civilisation, the end of easy to cook ready meals which you can just zap in the microwave, of dry cleaners and hairdressers, and hot water on tap. Yet, in almost every zombie movie you’ll ever see, people wear the same clothes throughout, and while they might get a little grubby from time to time, it hardly qualifies as getting dirty (I can end up dirtier than some of them just by looking at my back garden!). How do they keep them so clean?

And is there something about the sudden appearance of zombies amongst us that makes clothes last forever, too? Because the don’t get worn through, or ripped or torn. The clothes the zombies wear often end up in tatters, but not those worn by the humans. Look at Rick in The Walking Dead: he seems to have been wearing the same shirt all day, every day for I don’t know how long and it’s still looking pretty good. I wish I could buy my shirts from where ever he go his, it would save me a fortune. What on earth is it made of?

Then there’s the perfectly consistent hair styles. They may get slightly disheveled from time to time, but they don’t change. Where do these people find the time to get their hair cut so often that it never seems to alter even slightly no matter how may zombies are besieging them? It’s the same with beards. Men may get a little designer stubble, but that’s about it. After that their hair just seems to stop growing. Is this another effect of the zombie apocalypse, just like it makes clothes last forever, does it also makes hair stop growing?

And what about skin care? These people are out in the elements all the time, yet their skin’s barely blemished – or even tanned. If that were me, I’d be as red as a lobster by the evening of day one and peeling so badly by the end of the week that I could quite reasonably be mistaken for one of the undead. Where do they get the time to slap on the factor 50 sunblock and keep up with their daily moisturising regime while all the time running for their lives?

Then there’s the fact that people neither gain or lose weight. You’d have thought with all that running around struggling to find even the most miniscule scrap of food, and the stress of having to fight of the flesh-munchers night and day, that the weight would be dropping off, yet they remain as they were just at the start, no matter how long the apocalypse goes on for. What’s their secret?

If that’s not bad enough, as one of my fellow blogger recently pointed out, no matter how bad the zombie infestation is getting, someone is still out there manically mowing every lawn in town because any grass you see is always perfectly manicured. Who on earth’s doing that? Or, just like hair, does the mere presence of zombies mean that grass stops growing?

And how come everyone always has a can opener? Every food tin you see has been carefully and neatly opened, usually with the lid flipped back. Not one has been mutilated by someone trying to open it by bashing it with a rock until it splits in two. I’ve been on camping trips where the tin opener got lost and had to resort to this. It’s not easy, and it’s not neat, but it gets you the food inside (eventually!) and when you’re hungry, you don’t have a choice. Yet, in the zombie movies, it seems that the first thing everyone did when the dead started coming back to life was rifle through the nearest cutlery draw and grab their can opener, just in case they ever needed it. Who would do that?

Why are zombie movies like this? It’s simple. Yes, this isn’t how things would actually happen, but they’re not meant to be. We, as viewers, expect the characters to remain looking basically the same throughout the whole story. We need lawns to be kept short so we can recognise the urban landscapes as being just like the one we live in. We don’t want to watch the scene where a character spends half an hour using a hammer to open a can of spam because he’s lost the only tin opener the group had with them. After all, zombie movies aren’t meant to be real. Instead, they’re meant to be allegories for the world we actually live in, and everything that’s wrong with it. In that respect, we can forgive the film-makers for ignoring these elements of our daily realities and focussing on the dramatic instead.

However, it would be nice if they did pay a little more heed to how things would change over time. The well-trimmed lawns are a good example. It would be nice to see them getting progressively out of hand as the story unfolds. It’s the same with the clothes. It would be an interesting change if we saw them start to become ragged and fall apart (just like the zombies clothes do!) and it would add an extra element to the story when someone gets excited about finding a replacement jumper that’s a perfect fit just as their own is on its last legs (or should that be arms?). Come the zombie apocalypse, I suspect finding new, clean clothes would be a joyous event, and that after a while, they’d be worth more than their weight in stale bread crumbs.

These are all little things, but when you spot them, it jars and takes you out of the story. It breaks the fourth wall in a way that can be very distracting. On the other hand, maybe it’s just me.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

‘The Outbreak’ – New Post-apocalyptic Survival Thriller From Colin M. Drysdale Out Today

21 Jul

The Outbreak Cover DesignThe Outbreak is the follow-up to the award-winning For Those In Peril On The Sea by Colin M. Drysdale, and is the second book in the For Those In Peril series of novels set in the same post-apocalyptic world. It is now available as a paperback and as a Kindle eBook. A PDF preview of the first three chapters is available here.

Starting in Glasgow, The Outbreak weaves its tale of post-apocalyptic survival into the varied landscapes and cultures of western Scotland, ranging from bustling city streets to remote island communities. It evocatively uses real locations, on both land and at sea, to create atmospheric depictions of the trials faced by those trying to survive as their world falls apart around them.

While The Outbreak follows a new set of characters as they struggle to survive in a world which is rapidly falling to the Haitian Rabies Virus, the characters from the first two books in this series will finally be brought together in the third on in the series when their story lines finally collide (due for publication in the summer of 2015).

While not a true sequel to the first book, The Outbreak is set in the same world and expands the new and unusual take on the traditional take on the post-apocalyptic genre first introduced in by Colin M. Drysdale in his debut novel For Those In Peril On The Sea.

From The Back Of The Book:

He was only in the city to meet an old friend, but within hours of his return, Ben’s running for his life …

As the world watches in horror, Miami falls to the infected, and with it America. Britain seals its borders, hoping to prevent the newly mutated Haitian Rabies Virus reaching its shores, but it’s too late; somewhere in Glasgow is the man who started it all and coursing through his veins is the virus he accidentally created. When he finally turns, the city doesn’t stand a chance.

Minutes later, a small group of survivors find themselves trapped between the ever-increasing hordes of infected and the soldiers seeking to contain them. The roads are barricaded, the skies patrolled, and the only way out is the river which leads from the heart of the city to the safety of the sea.

Join Ben, Tom, Daz, Claire and Sophie as they flee from the infected, first by land, then by sea. Where will they go? How will they survive? Only time will tell.

‘The Outbreak’ by Colin M. Drysdale: Free Preview – Chapter Two

20 Jul

The Outbreak Cover DesignWe made our way over to the stairs and crept slowly down to the entrance. I peered through the window in the door; there were bodies on the flag stones just outside, lying like rag dolls, limbs at odd angles, covered in blood. Many had chunks of flesh missing from their arms and faces, and one had a leg missing. My eyes searched around, stopping when I saw it lying several feet away. Despite the carnage, there was no movement.

As quietly as possible, I unlocked the door and inched it open. I adjusted my grip on the machete I was holding and nervously stuck my head outside. Everything was still. I crept forward to the edge of the stone steps where I could finally see not just down Buchanan Street, but also up the street to the right; it, too, was littered with bodies. Off in the distance, I could make out some movement, but nothing closer. I beckoned the others to follow and together we picked our way along Buchanan Street, alert to any signs of life.

As we passed the dead lying in the street, I couldn’t help but stare. Some bore deep wounds and had clearly been killed by those with the virus; others had bruises and broken limbs, and looked more like they’d been trampled to death in the stampede. We reached the steps at the entrance to a shopping mall and I glanced through the glass doors: bodies were piled at the base of the escalators, some having fallen from a great height. Above them, I could see others hanging over handrails, held there by the mass of people that had pushed up from behind in a desperate bid to escape. In amongst the bodies, there were movements from those trapped in the crush, or who’d been so badly injured they couldn’t get up again. Then I saw him: a man dressed in loose-fitting chinos and an open-necked Oxford shirt, both of which were soaked in blood, chewing on the face of a teenage girl. From the way she was lying, I could tell both her legs were broken, but the fall hadn’t killed her; she was trying to fend him off, but she was no match for him and he buried his teeth into her flesh again and again. Knowing there was nothing I could do to help and unable to watch any longer, I turned away, feeling the bile rise in my throat as I did so.

Then I felt the ground tremble beneath my feet. It was something I’d felt hundreds of times before and I knew exactly what it was. I looked at Tom. ‘You feel that?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You think the underground’s still going?’

‘Must be.’

The tremors stopped as the subway train pulled into the station which lay directly below us. Then I heard a sound, so faint at first I wasn’t sure it was real, but as it grew louder and louder, I became certain it was. It seemed to be coming from the glass-covered entrance to the station thirty yards further down the street, and sounded like distant thunder.

Iliana gripped Tom’s arm. ‘What’s that?’

Not having an answer, Tom and I shrugged. Suddenly, I realised I could hear screaming and shouting mixed with the noise itself. Then the first person burst onto the street, running as fast as he could. He glanced back and stumbled over a body lying in front of him. He scrambled to his feet, without even bothering to look at what he’d tripped over, and started running again. Another person appeared, but this one looked different: he was dishevelled, with blood dripping from a wound on his left cheek. He chased after the first man and was quickly followed by another and then another. Soon, people were streaming from the entrance, and it was clear they were infected. As one, we turned and raced up the street and back to the stone steps. At the top, I stopped and looked back: the man was still running, but the infected were closing in behind him.

‘Oi, up here,’ I waved as I shouted. He saw me and changed direction. Iliana was already inside and Tom was holding the door open as he yelled at me. ‘Ben, you’ve got to get back in here now.’

‘We can’t leave him out here; they’ll kill him!’ Turning back to the man, I saw he was at the bottom of the steps, with the first of the infected only a few yards behind. I sprinted over to Tom, and got there in time to see the man reach the top just as the heads of the pursuing infected came into view. He made it to the door with only moments to spare and we slammed it shut, but before we could get the lock turned, the infected hit the door like a freight train. The force threw us backwards and clawing fingers appeared around the edges. Tom and I pushed as hard as we could against the door, but it wouldn’t move: the fingers of the infected were stopping it from closing.

Shaking with fear, I turned to Tom, ‘What the hell d’we do now?’

He looked at me, terrified. ‘Use the machetes?’

I felt the weight of the long metal weapon in my hand, and I gripped it tightly, wondering how things could have changed so fast. I swung the blade and sliced off half a dozen fingers; blood spurted across the walls and the floor. I swung it again and again until the door was clear and we could finally get it closed and locked.

Tom and I sank to the floor, both of us breathing heavily. Iliana had her phone out again and was desperately tapping away, while the man was sitting on the bottom of the stairs with his eyes fixed firmly on the door behind me. I felt it move, but the lock seemed to be holding. I surveyed the severed fingers that lay strewn across the floor. Suddenly, I felt sick.

‘How’d you end up with that lot chasing you?’ Tom’s voice trembled with fear. I looked at the man properly for the first time: his face was ashen and he couldn’t have been more than eighteen at the most. He turned to Tom. ‘What?’

Rather than push him to relive what he’d just been through, I held out my hand. ‘I’m Ben. This is Tom, and that’s Iliana.’

The teenager stared blankly at me for a second before taking it. ‘I’m Daz. Well, Darren really, but everyone calls me Daz.’ He paused for a moment. ‘You guys got any idea what’s happenin’ out there?’

‘Did you see what went down in Miami last night?’ Tom got to his feet and glanced through the window in the door. The infected could sense we were inside and were still clawing at it, blood from the stumps of their fingers smearing the glass: even their injuries didn’t slow them down.

Daz’s eyes drifted towards the floor. ‘Yeah.’

Tom avoided making eye contact, too. ‘We think the virus which caused that is here.’

‘Fuck!’ A puzzled expression appeared on Daz’s face. ‘I thought they’d closed the borders or somethin’, so that couldn’t happen.’

‘I guess they were too late.’ I thought about this. It was odd. Of all the places for the virus to suddenly appear, the centre of Glasgow seemed one of the most unlikely. I could see it happening at Heathrow, or Gatwick, or even somewhere like Manchester Airport: they all had plenty of connections to the US, but as far as I knew Glasgow only had two direct flights: one to Newark, and the other to Miami. That’s when it struck me: the morning flight from Miami would have arrived just before the borders had been closed; someone on that flight must have been infected and they must have made it as far as the city centre before they turned.

‘So how’d you end up being chased by our friends out there?’ Tom nodded his head towards the door as he looked at Daz.

‘I stayed over at a pal’s last night in the West End an’ was just headin’ into town for a bit before goin’ home. I got on at Hillhead an’ sat down in the first carriage. I was just textin’ this girl I met the other night, tryin’ to get her to go out for a few drinks later when we pulled into the next station. There was this young boy lying on the platform with people crowdin’ round him. Before I could see what was goin’ on, the train had moved past. Looking through the doors which connect all the carriages, I could see a fight breakin’ out at the far end. I thought it was just a bunch of Neds messing’ around, an’ I went back to my phone. At the next station, I looked up again and saw the fightin’ had spread to the next carriage. I could see people strugglin’ with each other an’ that.’

Daz took a deep breath and looked quickly at each of us in turn, as if he was checking we were ready to hear what he had to say next.

‘We moved off again, but I kept watchin’. Just as we arrived in Cowcaddens, a man burst into my carriage and tried to force the door shut behind him. He was covered in blood an’ was shoutin’ somethin’ I couldn’t quite make out. Everyone turned an’ stared at him, an’ the train lurched forward; he lost his footin’ an’ fell onto the floor. The door burst open again an’ these people just started pourin’ through. Except they weren’t actin’ like people, they were actin’ like animals, attackin’ anyone they could get their hands on. They were covered in blood an’ one of them was rippin’ into some poor woman’s face.’

He shook his head, as if trying to rid himself of this image. It was a few seconds before he carried on. ‘As everyone started to crowd towards my end of the carriage to get away from these people, I was squashed up against the door. Just before the first of them got to me, I felt the train slow an’ I realised we’d pulled into Buchanan Street. The doors opened an’ I was pushed onto the platform by the people behind me. The same thing was happenin’ at the other doors an’ soon there were all these people on the platform. I scrambled to my feet an’ started runnin’ up the steps. I heard this sound behind me, an’ I looked back an’ saw all these people chasing me, their faces screwed up with anger an’ blood on them, on their hands an’ all over their clothes.’

There was a loud bang as one of the infected threw itself at the door with enough force to cause it to shudder alarmingly. Daz jumped as a look of panic flashed across his face, but when he realised we were still safe, he steadied himself, closing his eyes for a moment before speaking again. ‘When I got to the top of the stairs, I ran into the first turnstile, but it didn’t move so I jumped over it. Then I heard a crash and l glanced over my shoulder. It seemed that the turnstiles weren’t working for them either an’ instead of leapin’ over them, they were just pilin’ up against them; the ones in front being crushed by those comin’ up after. I slowed down, thinkin’ I might’ve gotten lucky, but one of them made it through by climbin’ over the bodies of the others ahead of it. Then another made it, an’ another.

‘I sped up again an’ headed for the escalators, takin’ them two at a time. I could hear the people comin’ up behind me, an’ the noises they were makin’ were echoing off the walls around me. It was pure terrifyin’.’ His voice faded out and he took a deep breath before carrying on.

‘Anyway, I think you pretty much know the rest from there.’ Daz was staring down at his shoes. He slammed his fist into his thigh. ‘Fuck! I can’t believe this is happenin’ here.’ He looked up. ‘What the hell’re we goin’ to do?’

I could hear the infected still hammering at the door behind me. ‘Well, we can’t go back out there.’

Tom stared at me. ‘Are you saying we’re trapped in here?’

Iliana looked up from her phone. ‘We could try the other door. It leads onto the street by the bus station. We might be able to get out that way.’

‘Sounds like a plan to me,’ Tom grabbed his machete. Which way?’

‘Up here!’ Iliana shoved her phone into her pocket and raced up the stairs. We followed as she led us through a maze of empty corridors. I wondered where everyone was, but then I realised it was still too early for the concert hall to be open, or even for many of the people who worked there to have arrived. Eventually, we reached a solid-looking door and Iliana stopped. She put her hand on the handle, then hesitated before withdrawing it again. ‘What happens if they’re out here, too?’

Up to this point, none of us had considered this possibility. I pressed my ear to the door, but heard nothing. I eased it open as quietly as I could and peered through the gap. The street looked deserted and there were no bodies in sight. It looked like the horde of infected hadn’t passed this way. I glanced back at the others. ‘I think we’re in luck.’

‘What’re we going to do once we get out there?’ Iliana sounded scared.

‘We need to get out of the city as soon as we can. We need to find a car or something … anything,’ I hesitated for a moment, ‘Ehm, any of you happen to know …?’

‘Know what?’ Daz looked at me enquiringly.

‘How to steal a car?’ I glanced round nervously as the others shook their heads.

‘What are the chances?’ Tom snorted. ‘Four Glaswegians and none of us knows how to nick a car!’

I stifled a snigger, knowing Tom was just trying to lighten the mood. ‘Not really the right time, Tom.’

I opened the door a second time, and risked poking my head out. I could see a portly middle-aged man in a business suit prowling round a car, slamming at the windows as he tried to get in. As quietly as possible, I pulled my head back in and turned to the others. ‘D’you want the good news or the bad news?’

Tom put his ear to the door, trying to work out what was going on outside. ‘What’s the good news?’

‘I think I’ve found us some transport.’

Tom pulled away from the door. ‘And the bad news?’
‘There’s an infected man between us and it.’

Daz glanced at me. ‘What d’you mean?’

‘There’s a woman out there sitting in a Range Rover, so she must have the keys. The trouble is there’s one of them trying to get to her. We’ll have to deal with him before we can get to the car.’

‘How’re we going to do that?’ Tom asked worriedly.

I looked down at the machete I was still clutching in my right hand; it was already covered in blood from where I’d severed the fingers of the infected as they’d tried to get inside. The very thought of what I was about to suggest made me feel like I was going to throw up. I swallowed hard. ‘I guess we could use these.’

‘And do what exactly?’ Tom was staring at me.

‘Take it out, you mean?’ Daz was staring at me, too.

Iliana gulped, disbelievingly. ‘You’re going to kill someone?’

‘Yes.’ I closed my eyes, wondering if I could bring myself to do it. ‘I don’t think we have any other choice.’

Tom shuffled his feet nervously. ‘Have you ever done anything like that before?’

‘No.’ I stared at the ground. ‘Have you?’

Tom shook his head.

As we looked at each other shiftily, I heard the sound of breaking glass outside followed by a roar. I opened the door and stuck my head outside; the fat man had broken through the front passenger window of the Range Rover and was trying desperately to reach the woman in the driver’s seat. He was, however, sufficiently rotund that he couldn’t fit through the window and she remained beyond his grasping hands. As I watched, she swivelled round in her seat and started kicking him as hard as she could. Soon there was nothing left of his face but a mass of blood and broken bones. Finally, he stopped moving and lay still, half in and half out of the car.

I turned back to the others. ‘Looks like we won’t have to deal with him after all.’

They looked at me questioningly, but before they could ask, I turned and ran out of the door; seconds later, I heard them follow. I was halfway to the Range Rover when I noticed a distant sound; I glanced round to see a crowd running towards us. By the way they were moving, I had no doubt they were infected. When we reached the Range Rover, Tom and I tried to pull the lifeless body from the window, but the man’s bulk meant he was tightly wedged. Up the road, the infected were rapidly closing on us. I called out to the others, ‘Daz, Iliana give us a hand!’

While Iliana grabbed one of the man’s legs, Daz remained staring at the approaching crowd. ‘What?’

‘Daz, we need to get this body shifted.’

Daz turned and gripped the man’s jacket. With all four of us pulling and the woman pushing from inside the car, we finally got him free. The infected were now only fifty yards away.

The woman pointed out of the broken window. ‘The keys! I need the keys. I dropped them in all the confusion.’

I scooped them up and tossed them to her. She caught the keys with her outstretched hand and hastily shoved one of them into the ignition. She turned it, but the engine didn’t catch. She looked up. ‘Are you getting in or what? We need to be ready to go the moment I get the engine going. It’s always a bit temperamental, especially when it’s cold.’

We didn’t need to be asked a second time. Tom pulled open the front passenger door and jumped in while Daz, Iliana and I piled into the back. It was only once we were inside that I realised the woman wasn’t alone: a young boy was clinging to her side and she had one arm wrapped protectively around him; huddled in the back behind the driver’s seat was a teenage girl, tears streaming down her face as she shook with fear. The woman turned the key again: still it didn’t catch. ‘Damn thing never starts when you really need it to.’

I stared wide-eyed through the windscreen: the nearest of the infected would be on us in seconds. The woman glanced up, but she didn’t panic; pumping the accelerator, she twisted the key for a third time and the engine spluttered into life. ‘Finally! Now let’s get the hell out of here.’

She slammed the Range Rover into gear and floored it. Without even blinking, the woman drove straight into the mass of infected charging towards us. Even with the SUV bearing down on them, they kept coming; not even trying to get out of the way. Blood sprayed across the windscreen as we hit the first one, and I felt the car judder as we drove over its body. There were so many of them ahead of us, I worried they might be able to bring us to a halt. If that happened, we’d be dead in seconds. Looking round, I saw we were just coming up to a crossroads. I leaned forward and pointed. ‘Turn right here.’

As the car skidded round the corner, narrowly missing another one coming in the opposite direction, Iliana was thrown against me, pushing me hard into the door. I reached around, searching for a seat belt, but with four of us crammed into the back seat, I couldn’t find one.

‘Where’re we heading?’ The woman yelled over her shoulder.

‘If we can get onto Great Western Road, we should have a pretty clear run out of the city. Turn left there,’ I pointed again, ‘and then keep left at the next junction.’

The woman braked hard and shifted the SUV down a gear as we overtook an empty bus on the inside, before throwing us round the next corner. She shifted back into a higher gear and accelerated again. As we left the city centre behind and crossed the bridge over the motorway, I glanced down, wondering if I’d made the right decision; the road below was packed with stationary cars, and infected were streaming between them. Some people got out and tried to run, but were dragged to the ground before they got more than a few feet; others stayed inside and locked the doors, but the infected simply smashed through the windows to get to them.

We reached the east end of Great Western Road and I saw the route ahead was blocked with traffic. ‘Shit! How’re we going to get passed that?’

I felt a jolt as we mounted the kerb and I was thrown upwards, my head slamming into the roof. There was just enough room for us to squeeze between the shop fronts and sandstone tenements on one side, and cars parked along the side of the road on the other. As we sped along the pavement, forcing panicked pedestrians to dive out of the way, I looked into the cars that were jamming the road; the people inside seemed to have no idea of what was happening in other parts of the city. We passed a junction where one car had rear-ended another; the passengers standing round as the drivers exchanged their insurance details. Given the circumstances, this seemed rather pointless, but they had yet to find out why.

Ahead of the accident, the road was clear and the woman steered back onto the tarmac and slowed down. She turned to Tom, ‘I’m Claire, by the way; this is Jake.’ She smoothed the hair of the small boy clinging to her side. ‘And that’s Sophie.’ She nodded to the teenage girl in the back seat: she was no longer crying; instead she just looked terrified, not only by what was going on outside, but by having these strange people, who’d appeared out of nowhere, waving machetes and wearing bloodstained clothes, in the car with her.

Tom leaned across from the front passenger seat and shook Claire’s hand. ‘I’m Tom.’ He twisted in his seat. ‘That’s Ben, Iliana and Daz.’

I waved when I heard my name. Tom carried on. ‘How did you end up with the big guy attacking you?’

‘We were just picking up some tickets for a concert we’re going to next weekend, and it took longer than expected, and then Jake needed to go to the toilet. When we finally came out, it seemed like everyone, all the people and the traffic, had just vanished. We were about halfway back to the car when the “big guy”,’ she looked at Tom, ‘as you so eloquently called him, appeared. I could see almost immediately that there was something wrong with him; I think it was his eyes. Anyway, he started running towards us and I knew we had to get to the car as quickly as possible. I fished out my keys and pressed the button to unlock the doors, but Jake slipped and I dropped the keys as I picked him up, so we got into the car in time, and got the doors locked, but I couldn’t drive away. God knows what would have happened if you lot hadn’t come along when you did.’

I caught Claire’s eye in the mirror. ‘From what I saw, you were doing pretty well on your own.’
 
We drove by grand sandstone buildings and the glass palace of the Botanic Gardens and then, as we passed over the brow of a small rise, for the first time I could see the hills that lay beyond the city. They looked so close and my spirits soared: surely we were going to make it out. We dropped into a dip and then up over another rise.

‘Shit!’ Claire jammed on the brakes and we skidded to a halt. The road ahead was filled with queuing traffic. ‘What’s this all about?’

I leaned forward, trying to get a better look. ‘Must be the lights at the next junction.’

After a minute of just sitting there with nothing happening, Tom noticed something odd. ‘How come there’s nothing coming the other way?’

Now he mentioned it, I realised I hadn’t seen a single car pass in the opposite direction for a while.
‘This can’t be good.’ I opened the rear passenger door and stood on the SUV’s sill. I was high enough up that I could see down to where several police cars, their blue lights flashing, were parked across the road, just on the far side of the junction. Beyond that, the road was clear as far as I could see.

I called down into the Range Rover. ‘It’s the police. It looks like they’re setting up a roadblock.’

I heard another door open and saw Claire appear on the other side. She stared down the road.

I watched her reactions: she didn’t seem surprised; instead, it was more as if she was trying to work out what to do next. I nodded towards the police cars. ‘What d’you think that’s all about?’

Claire glanced back at me. ‘I guess they’re trying to contain the outbreak before it spreads too far.’

‘But why are they setting it up around here? We haven’t seen any infected for a good couple of miles.’

Claire stared off down the road again. ‘I’m guessing they’re doing it here exactly because the infected haven’t reached this point yet. Anyway, whatever the reason, I don’t want to be stuck on this side of it.’

Ahead, at the crossroads, a police van pulled up and two uniformed men got out. I saw them pointing to the road which led off to the right and I realised it must still be open, at least for the moment.

‘We’ve got to go!’ I shouted to Claire. ‘Pull onto the other side of the road and turn right at the junction.’
We both dropped back into the SUV and slammed our doors. As Claire pulled out and accelerated down the opposite carriage way, I noticed Jake was now sitting on Tom’s knee. Tom had slipped his seat belt on and was holding Jake tightly to stop him being thrown around. We were at the crossroads in seconds and with the policemen waving at us to stop, Claire turned right and then stood on the brakes again: two police cars were already blocking the road ahead.

‘There!’ Iliana pointed over Claire’s shoulder to where a narrow lane led past a row of blonde sandstone town houses. Claire revved the engine and pulled the car to the left, throwing Iliana against me once again. We sped down the street, running parallel to the main road, separated from it by a grassy bank and a low stone wall. Soon, the lane ran out, but a wide pedestrian path led back down to the road. The Range Rover juddered as we leapt onto the kerb for the second time. After a few seconds, Claire jerked the wheel to the left and pulled us onto the road again, well beyond the roadblock.

‘Woohoo! That was way cool; like a video game or somethin’.’ Daz squirmed round so he could see out of the rear window. ‘No one’s chasin’ us. I think we got away with it.’

As we raced along the deserted road, I noticed the trees which now separated the two carriageways were just coming into blossom. I’d always loved driving along this road in spring when the cherry trees were in full bloom: on a sunny day, it could beat almost anywhere in the world, but today, all I could think about was getting out of town as quickly as possible. We passed under a railway bridge and immediately ran into another queue of traffic. Claire didn’t brake. Instead, she bounced over the kerb and we sped down the pavement once more. Suddenly, the unmistakeable silhouette of a tank emerged over the top of the cars ahead of us. As we got nearer, I could see machine guns mounted on armoured jeeps and heavily armoured soldiers manning a barricade spread across the road ahead.

‘No wonder they didn’t bother following us; it looks like they’re pretty serious about containing this thing.’ Claire adjusted her grip on the steering wheel. ‘Hold on.’

I grabbed onto the handle above the window and felt Iliana brace herself against me. Ahead of us, a metal barrier blocked our way; on the other side of it, a slip road curved off to the left, away from soldiers. If we could somehow get to that, we could at least keep moving. Suddenly, there was the sound of gunfire and the windscreen exploded. Ducking down, I looked through the shattered glass; at the right-hand end of the main barricade, three men in army uniforms, machine guns raised, were firing at us.

Despite the gunfire, Claire kept the accelerator pressed to the floor as I felt more bullets slam into the car.

‘Why the hell’re they shootin’ at us?’ Daz was crouched as low in the seat as he could get. Before I could answer, Iliana’s face exploded and Tom screamed. ‘Fuck, I’m hit!’

The teenage girl crammed in beside Daz screamed too.

‘Sophie, are you alright?’ For the first time Claire sounded panicked.

‘She’s fine.’ Daz called out. ‘She’s just scared.’ There was a moment’s pause as he swallowed. ‘I think Iliana’s dead, though.’

Claire looked across at Tom. ‘What about Jake?’

‘He’s fine,’ Tom winced with pain. ‘It’s just me that got hit.’

Claire turned her attention back to the road ahead just as the Range Rover crashed through the barrier. The car skidded and Claire had to fight hard to keep it under control. I felt the SUV slide across the tarmac and we side-swiped the barriers on the far side, causing Iliana’s body to rattle back and forth between Daz and me, sending blood flying in all directions. Claire wrestled with the steering wheel, managing to keep us moving in the right direction. She glanced at Tom’s shoulder. ‘Don’t worry, it looks like it’s only a flesh wound, but we’ll need to get some pressure on that pretty quickly so you don’t lose too much blood.’ She turned to me. ‘Are we out of their range yet?’

I nervously inched my head upwards until I could see out of the back window: the soldiers were no longer in sight. I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Yeah.’

‘And they’re not following us?’

‘No.’ I wondered why this was. Maybe we were still inside the cordon they’d set up to stop people leaving the city. If that was the case, we’d need to find another way out.

‘Good.’ Claire stood on the brakes. Tom yelped as he was thrown against his seat belt and Iliana’s lifeless body slammed into the back of his seat. The car screeched to a halt and Claire jumped out. She pulled open the back door. ‘Sophie, you need to take Jake.’

The teenage girl got out and took the small boy from Tom, kissing his head and stroking his hair before climbing back into the car. I glanced at him. He seemed listless, almost as if he was unaware of all that was going on around him.

‘You,’ Claire pointed at me, ‘get that body out of there and then help me get him,’ she pointed at Tom, ‘into the back seat.’

I opened the passenger door, stepped out and reached back to the car. I grabbed Iliana and pulled, but she didn’t move. I changed my hold to get a better grip and tried again. This time I managed to drag her lifeless body out of the car and there was a sickening thump as it hit the ground. I glanced down and saw that Iliana’s blood, mixed with flecks of her brains, was now smeared across my jacket; I had to work hard to stop myself throwing up. Trying not to look at Iliana again, I helped Tom out of the front seat, while Claire disappeared round the back of the Range Rover. She reappeared a second later carrying a rectangular black bag.
‘Get him in here.’ She pointed to the back seat, and then she looked up at me. ‘D’you know how to drive?’

‘No, not really; not cars at any rate.’

Claire turned to Daz, ‘What about you?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Good. Get up front and let’s get going again.’

Daz slid behind the wheel as I clambered in the passenger side. I heard Daz fiddle with the seat, moving it back and forth until he was comfortable. All the time I was watching Claire: she’d torn Tom’s shirt open and was pressing a thick white pad she’d taken from her bag against a ragged wound in his right shoulder.

‘Why aren’t we moving?’ Claire glared at Daz as she worked on Tom.

‘Where’re we headin’?’ Daz looked from Claire to me and back again.

I thought for a second. ‘Try the tunnel. We might still be able to get out that way.’

The Range Rover leapt forward as Daz floored the accelerator. I turned my attention back to Tom and Claire. She seemed to know what I was thinking. ‘Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.’ She smiled at me. ‘I’m a doctor.’

‘Fuck! More polis.’ Daz was pointing ahead, where three police cars were parked — lights flashing but empty — across the road leading to the tunnel that I hoped would take us under the River Clyde and out to Glasgow’s Southside. At first, it seemed like our path was blocked, but then I saw they’d been positioned too far forward and there was a way for us to get past. ‘Daz, take that slip road to the left and then turn sharp right. We can get round them.’

‘Gotcha!’ Daz barely slowed as he followed my instructions and soon we were on the road that led down to the tunnel. With no other cars around, Daz was able to push the Range Rover to the max and we were doing about eighty when we shot into the darkness. As a kid I remembered playing a game where you had to try to hold your breath from one end of the tunnel to the other. Going at the legal maximum of thirty, I’d never managed it, but at the speed we were going now, it would have been easy.

Ahead, the tunnel descended and then turned slightly to the left. The sound of the engine roared against the concrete walls and was thrown back through the broken windscreen. Suddenly, I saw something ahead: blue lights from some unknown source flashing in the gloom. A second later, first one police motorcycle, then two more, shot round the bend and passed us in the opposite direction. I turned and watched them disappear up towards the entrance, wondering what they were doing coming through the wrong side.

‘What the hell’s that all about?’ Daz slammed on the brakes and we skidded to a halt: a sea of shadows danced on the tunnel wall, thrown there by some unseen light. Then they came into view: a mass of people charging towards us, their yells and screams echoing all around. There was no mistaking it: these were infected.
‘We need to get out of here!’ I shouted.

Daz looked across at me, scared and starting to panic, as he struggled to find reverse. ‘I’m trying!’

By the time he finally found it, the first of the infected were only a few feet from the car. He stood on the accelerator and the engine screamed as we shot backwards, doing a speed that the reverse gear was never designed to do. At first, it seemed like the infected were able to keep up, but slowly the gap between them and us widened. By the time we reached the entrance of the tunnel, we were well clear of them, but I could still hear the noise they made as they chased after us.

‘Where now?’ There was an urgency in Daz’s voice as the car continued to shoot backwards.

‘What about your boat? You said it’s at the exhibition centre, that’s not far from here, is it?’ Tom was leaning forward, his shoulder tightly bandaged.

‘Okay, that sounds like a plan.’ I glanced round. ‘Daz, aim for that slip road there.’

Daz stomped on the brakes and then put the Range Rover into first gear. He pulled sharply on the steering wheel as he accelerated, spinning it round. We bumped across the central divide and shot up a slip road which curved back on itself as it rose above the entrance to the tunnel; below, I saw the infected emerge and scatter. Soon, we were speeding along a broad dual carriageway, heading back towards the city centre. Our side of the road was empty, but the other was jammed with cars held up by yet another police roadblock. Some of the drivers had got out of their cars and were arguing with the policemen. They were so intent on shouting at each other that they didn’t notice the first of the infected sprinting towards them. In seconds, they’d been pulled to the ground, and as more infected streamed between the idling vehicles I turned back to face the front, knowing what was about happen and not wanting to see it.

Daz was squirming round, trying to figure out what was going on behind us. ‘How far’re we goin’?’

I leaned forward to get a better idea of where we were ‘There’s a pedestrian bridge over the road. We can use that to get across to where the boat is.’

Daz squinted through the windscreen. ‘Where?’

‘There! Right there!’ I pointed ahead to where a narrow metal bridge spanned both carriageways of the road we were on. The other side was still filled with cars, while ours remained clear.

Daz hit the brakes, bringing the Range Rover screeching to a halt. I looked back at Tom. ‘Are you okay to run?’

Tom stretched his shoulder tentatively. ‘Yeah, I should be.’

I turned my attention to Claire. ‘You good to go?’

She nodded. ‘Where’re we heading?’

‘Just over the bridge, and then it’s about fifty yards to the boat. You can’t miss it; it’s the only one there.’

‘Let’s go!’ Claire grabbed her black bag and leapt out of the car, quickly followed by the rest of us. Daz helped Sophie over the metal railings which ran along the side of the road, while Claire lifted Jake across. As we started to run up the sloping ramp of the bridge, I heard a shout and turned to see Claire begging Jake to run, trying to make him understand the urgency of the situation, but he just stood there, staring vacantly at her. I stopped and waited for her as she grabbed Jake’s hand, trying to pull him forward, but still he refused to move. I heard a crash in the distance and then a scream, and I looked round to find people running between the cars on the other side of the road. They didn’t appear to be infected, but they were running from something, and I had little doubt as to what it was. ‘Claire, infected! You’ll have to carry him.’

Claire scooped Jake up and within seconds she was level with me; together we ran after the others. At the top of the ramp, the bridge turned sharply to the right, taking us out over the dual carriageway. To the left, was a railway line and a stationary train. Within its carriages, I could see people wrestling with each other: blood splashing onto the windows as people fought for their lives.

Turning away, I saw infected on the road below us, chasing people down and attacking those they caught; screams and snarls mixing with the sounds of idling engines. By the time we were halfway across the bridge, I could see Claire was struggling to keep up. I held out my arms. ‘Here, I’ll take him.’

As she passed Jake to me, I could feel his body was limp and his skin was warm and clammy. As we ran on, his head bounced against my shoulder as he drifted in and out of consciousness.

Claire and I caught up with the others at the far end of the bridge where another ramp led back to the ground. Some of the infected on the nearby road must have heard Claire yelling at Sophie, urging her on, because their heads snapped round, and within seconds, they were sprinting after us. As we raced across the car park to where the boat was tied up, I glanced round; we were well ahead of the infected, but they were closing fast, their screaming and howling audible even above the sound of the blood pounding in my ears. I tried to judge the speed they were moving at, and the distance we still had to cover, but the fear of what would happen if they caught us clouded my mind. All I could do was hope and pray we’d get there with enough time to not only get on board, but also get far enough away from the shore to be safe. 

Chapter Three

‘Tom, get that rope; Daz, help Claire!’ When I felt we were close enough, I’d passed Jake back to Claire and raced ahead, reaching the boat seconds before the others. Once there, I ran along the dock and untied the front rope from its cleat on the pontoon. Following my orders, Tom did the same with the one at the back, while Daz leapt on board before turning to take Jake from Claire. Sophie was still a few steps behind and Claire waited to help her on board before climbing on herself.

As soon as the ropes were free, I looked back: the infected were only twenty yards away. As I pushed the front of the boat away from the dock, I shouted to Tom. ‘Get on!’

He didn’t need to be asked twice, and the moment he landed on the deck, I jumped on myself. I ran down the side of the boat and leapt into the cockpit. When I reached the wheel, I pressed the starter button, and breathed a sigh of relief when the engine immediately burst into life. I glanced over my shoulder: the first of the infected had reached the pontoon and were pounding along it. I slammed the throttle forward, causing the engine to scream in protest, and turned the wheel, taking the boat away from the dock. One of the infected, a man, perhaps in his late twenties, ran alongside and threw himself towards us, but we were just out of his reach. I watched as he fell into the water and sank from sight. Back on the dock, the rest paced back and forth, roaring with frustration at our escape.

As I manoeuvred the boat towards the middle of the river, I heard the sound of another, more powerful engine approaching at speed. Looking upstream, I saw a …

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If you wish to download a PDF of all three parts to this free preview, you can download it from here. If you missed it, part one (the prologue) or part two (chapter one) these are available here and here.

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***The Outbreak by Colin M. Dryudale will go on sale on the 21st of July 2014 in both paperback and Kindle eBook formats. To purchase, click here

‘The Outbreak’ by Colin M. Drysdale: Free Preview – Chapter One

19 Jul

The Outbreak Cover DesignI stared down the length of Buchanan Street. It was amazing to think how much it had changed since I was a kid. Back then it had been little more than a cut-through from one shopping street to another, but now it was awash with posh boutiques and fashion-hungry shoppers. Even the steps I was sitting on were new, built on what had literally been a bomb site in my youth. Now, in its place, stood a concert hall where the more cultured could come to listen to operas and orchestras, but for most, it was a place to rest from the hustle and bustle of the street, eat lunch, meet friends or just watch the crowds going by. I glanced at my watch; it had just gone quarter past twelve, but the street was already packed and, as usual, Tom was late.

I’d met Tom not far from this very spot, just after I’d graduated from university. He was working as a street entertainer and helped me turn juggling from a hobby into a lucrative money-spinner. For the rest of that summer we worked a patch halfway down the pedestrianised street, performing our show four or five times a day, and earning enough money to ensure that I didn’t have to think about getting a real job right away. Soon, I’d wasted a couple of years. Well, not really wasted, as I’d had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do forever and I thought I should at least try to make use of my marine biology degree.

Tom wasn’t pleased, but he understood, and whenever I was in town I’d make sure I made time to catch up with him. He was still working our favourite spot, and every now and then he’d persuade me to join him in a rerun of the old show. Whenever I did, I was reminded both of how much I enjoyed it, and why I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life: it was just too nerve-wracking, especially the finale which involved flaming torches, blindfolds and some unsuspecting volunteer we’d dragged from the audience.

As an alternative to juggling, I’d taken a job as the resident expert for a whale-watching company in the Azores. I’d intended it to be a stepping stone to a research career, but as my first summer there wore on, I realised I’d found my niche in the world and that I wanted to stay. I’d worked my way up until I had the knowledge and the connections I needed to start my own company. Ten years later, I was living the dream: I spent my summers on the west coast of Scotland, taking tourists out on my forty-five foot sailboat to see minke whales and other local wildlife, while I wintered in the Canaries doing a similar thing, but with different whale species.

Like the birds, each spring and autumn, I’d migrate between my summering and wintering grounds. And each time I passed, I’d stop off in Glasgow to meet up with Tom. A couple of days of drinking too much and talking over old times twice a year were enough to keep our friendship going.
 
The day before, I’d sailed up the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland, past the lighthouse on Ailsa Craig, keeping clear of a red, white and black ferry as it made its way from Ardrossan on the mainland to Arran, the southern-most of the inhabited islands in the Firth, and on past the cooling towers of the Hunterston power station. As I turned eastward into the river itself, the land closed around me. The residential town of Helensburgh was to the north, while the more industrial Greenock lay to the south. Ahead, the span of the Erskine Bridge stretched from one side to the other, a hundred feet above the water. Few people ever approached Glasgow this way these days, but for me, passing under the bridge always meant I was home, even though it would be several more hours before I’d reach the city itself.

As I sailed on, I was eager to see what had changed in the six months since I’d last visited. Glasgow had been making a concerted effort to redevelop a river front that had once been dominated by shipyards, and there was always something new. This time, it was the sleek metal lines of a new museum squatting beside the water. I saw that the tall ship I usually tied up next to had been moved down to a new berth beside it, meaning that I’d have the floating pontoons just west of the city’s exhibition centre all to myself.

By sunset, I’d settled in and phoned Tom to tell him I was back in town before arranging a time and place to meet the next day. After that, I turned on the TV: things had been getting pretty weird in the last couple of weeks, and I wanted to see what the latest news was. What I found out wasn’t good. It seemed they’d finally confirmed this new virus everyone had been talking about was, in some way, linked to the violence that had been bubbling up here and there in various US cities, and to the unrest that had been erupting across the Caribbean. Nobody seemed to know how it had got into the US, but rumours suggested a contaminated drug shipment out of Haiti. Yet, that didn’t quite seem to fit with the way it was spreading, especially in the islands. I was just about to switch it off when they cut to some breaking news, and I watched in horror as Miami descended into chaos, live on air and right in front of my eyes.
 
Sometime in the night I must have fallen asleep, because I woke in the morning to find I was still sitting in the saloon. The television was still on and the news was even grimmer than before: Miami, it seemed, had been overrun. It was still unclear what had happened, but all indicators pointed to it having something to do with the disease; the one they were calling the ‘Haitian Rabies Virus’. It seemed that it was now jumping from person to person, being passed on when infected people attacked others. The Governor of Florida was trying his best to reassure everyone that they’d get things back under control, but his eyes and the slight quiver in his voice told a different story. They were sending in the National Guard and trying to enforce some sort of quarantine, but it was too little too late.

At nine, the Prime Minister came on. He looked like he hadn’t slept and his usual air of self-confidence was noticeably absent. He stumbled over his words, but his concern and his intentions were clear: Britain was sealing its borders to stop anyone who might be carrying the disease from getting in. I knew other countries would follow Britain’s lead, but I wondered if it would work: if people were pushed hard enough, they’d always find a way in. I hoped the Americans would somehow get it under control before it spread much further, but it seemed unlikely. It was dark in Miami by then, and all that could be seen on the live news feeds were flames leaping high into the air.

Just after eleven, I remembered I’d agreed to meet Tom at twelve and tore myself away from the news to walk the mile or so along the riverside to the city centre. As always, I was struck by how much Glasgow had changed over the years. When I was young, the riverside had been little more than a wasteland of abandoned shipyards, but gradually it had been transformed. Now, both sides of the river were cluttered with oddly shaped buildings, clad in metal and glass, which housed cinemas, media companies and conference facilities. These seemed to sprout and multiply with every passing year, and I could see the steel skeleton of the latest addition rising up into the sky.

Further on, I passed under the bridge which carried the railway lines to all points south and turned north, crossing Argyle Street and walking up Buchanan Street itself. I looked at my watch: I’d arranged to meet Tom at the steps of the concert hall in fifteen minutes’ time. Usually, a walk up Buchanan Street would have been a leisurely stroll, while I gazed at the sandstone architecture and watched the people moving around me, but this time it was different; I couldn’t get the thoughts about what had happened in Miami out of my head and I was so distracted that I almost walked into a pair of mounted policemen as they plodded in the opposite direction.

When I reached the top of the road, I climbed the steps and sat down to wait, my eyes drifting lazily across the people on the street below. Mostly, they were shoppers, but here and there were gaggles of foreign exchange students talking excitedly in languages I couldn’t understand. Further down the street, I could hear someone playing a guitar, while closer to me a man in a dark suit prattled on about God through a tinny PA system. Around me, on the steps themselves, some were eating an early lunch, or maybe it was a late breakfast. Others, like me, were waiting for someone and would glance at their watches every now and then. A few feet away, some teenagers were hanging around the base of a tall statue, the boys trying to climb on to it, the girls laughing and taking photos of each other on their phones. I wondered how many of them had seen what I’d seen on the news. They all seemed so calm while I was churning up inside, worrying about what would happen next. Maybe they’d been reassured by the Prime Minister’s announcement at breakfast time, but for me, all it had done was reinforce just how worried those in the know must be.

I saw Tom in the distance. He’d just emerged from the underground station further down the street, a battered suitcase in one hand and a hand-rolled cigarette in the other. I knew the case would contain his equipment: juggling clubs, flaming torches, three large machetes and a bottle of paraffin. As he passed a living statue dressed as a vaguely familiar character from Scotland’s past, he dropped some loose change into his hat. It was a ritual I knew well: Tom always thought it was good luck to start the day by giving another busker some money, and that he’d get more in return for doing so. He’d do the same on the way home as a thank you to the universe for another successful day.

Once he was closer, I could see that, as ever, little had changed. Unlike me, he still sported his long hair, currently tied back in a ponytail, but then again, despite being a few years older than me, he could still get away with it. The beard was new, but it was little more than stubble, so it was hard to work out if it was a fashion statement or just laziness. He wore the same black leather biker jacket he always did and dark jeans. Again, he managed to carry off this youthful, rebellious look, while others, including myself, had been forced to smarten up as we grew older.

Tom waved distractedly as he clambered up the steps and sat down beside me. ‘Sorry I’m late. I got caught up in the news. You see what’s been going on in Miami? It’s fucking mental!’

‘Yeah,’ I stifled a yawn. ‘I was up most of the night. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.’

Tom took a draw on his cigarette and turned to me. ‘You know about this kind of thing. Can you explain all this virus stuff to me?’

I shook my head, ‘I’m a marine biologist, Tom, not an epidemiologist.’

‘But you know more about this sort of thing than I do.’ He took one last drag on his cigarette and dropped the end onto the step below before grinding it out with the toe of his boot. He slowly blew out the last of the smoke, waiting for my answer.

I thought for a moment or two before I replied. ‘I really don’t know much about this kind of thing, but it seems to be something different from anything that has ever happened before.’

The disease had first appeared in Haiti, where a vaccine trial had been taking place. It had all seemed manageable at first, meaning that it had earned little more than a footnote on the evening news. When it first leapt to Miami and on to other US inner cities, the reporters started investigating and asking awkward questions. Contaminated drugs were blamed at first, but then it started spreading from person to person as they attacked each other. Still, it had all seemed like something that could be dealt with, and as I’d watched the news broadcasts while I sailed north from the Canaries, it looked like there was little to worry about, particularly not where I was heading. All the experts reckoned the outbreak would burn itself out eventually.

Then Miami happened, and it was while watching all that go down that it had started to dawn on me that this wasn’t something that would simply go away if we waited long enough … this was something which was here to stay.

‘Ben, are you listening to me?’

‘Huh?’

I turned round to see Tom had taken out his tobacco tin and was rolling another cigarette. He looked up at me. ‘I asked what you thought about what happened in Miami last night.’

‘I think it’s a mess, and I’m not too sure if there’s anything they can do about it, not now; there are just too many people who are infected or who’ve been exposed. The system’s not set up to deal with something this big. I’m just glad that it’s over there and we’re not.’

Tom placed the cigarette he’d just made between his lips as he prepared to light it. ‘So you think the PM was right to close the borders?’

‘Damn straight! I think it’s probably the first time in his life he’s actually done the right thing at the right time. It’s the only way we can stop it coming over here, at least for now.’

Tom took a long draw on his new cigarette and blew a steady stream of smoke into the air. ‘Maybe if they can keep it out long enough, someone will be able to come up with a cure.’

‘I doubt it.’ I leant back on the steps, watching the people around me. ‘They’ve been trying to cure rabies for 150 years, and they’ve got absolutely nowhere. Once you start showing symptoms, that’s pretty much it.’

‘Shit!’ Tom paused for a second and we both stared off down the street. ‘Did you see the footage where the man got ripped apart by those children?’

I had; I think everyone had by then. A reporter had been standing in the street doing a piece to camera somewhere in Miami when some kids appeared out of nowhere and set upon him. The oldest was maybe about ten, the youngest was dressed in Spiderman pyjamas and couldn’t have been older than four or five at the most. The cameraman dropped his camera and ran, but it had carried on broadcasting live to the world. The reporter tried to fight them off, but there were too many of them. Eventually, he stopped moving, but the children kept on attacking him. The network finally pulled the plug when they’d started eating him, but not before everyone watching saw the oldest child tear open the man’s abdomen and pull out his intestines.

I looked beyond the end of the street, across the Clyde and out to where a group of wind turbines turned slowly on the distant hills. There seemed to be no way the virus could be stopped now; it had grown too big and spread too far. I wondered how the world would cope, and how long it would be before it found its way through the closed borders and into Britain.

I took a deep breath. ‘Look, Tom, I think this is it: the big one. Sooner or later it’s going to turn up here and we need a plan for what to do then.’

‘What d’you mean?’ There was a confused tone to his voice.

I turned to him. ‘We need a strategy, just in case. We need to think of a place to go where we’d be safe. Somewhere like …’

I never finished the sentence. Something had caught my eye: a riderless police horse galloping at full speed up Buchanan Street, scattering people left and right as it went. Once it was nearer, I could see it was foaming at the mouth and dripping with sweat from the exertion. It turned left and headed up the next street. From behind, I could see what looked like blood smeared down its right side. The horse made it across the first road, but at the second a speeding taxi smashed into it, bringing the animal crashing down onto the vehicle. Tom leapt to his feet. ‘What the hell was that all about?’

‘No idea.’ I jumped up, too, ‘I wonder what spooked it.’

‘And where’s the policeman who should have been keeping control of it?’

While everyone else around us was still staring at the accident, and the people rushing to help, I turned to look back down Buchanan Street. All seemed normal and you’d never have guessed that a runaway horse had just galloped along its length. Then, at the far end, something changed. At first, I couldn’t really see what, but something was different.

‘Hey, Tom, look down there.’ I craned my neck, trying to get a better view. ‘D’you see anything odd?’

Tom did the same. ‘What d’you mean?

‘Down at the far end, by Argyle Street.’ I pointed to the spot I was talking about. ‘Something doesn’t seem right.’

At the bottom of the street, everyone was pushing and shoving against each other, as if they were trying to get away from something.

‘Ben,’ Tom dropped his half-smoked cigarette onto the ground, ‘I don’t like the look of this.’

Suddenly, a wave of people started surging towards us. Soon, it seemed like the entire lower half of the street was moving as one. Then I noticed something odd. While everyone in the approaching crowd was running, some, it seemed, were chasing and grabbing at the others.

I thought flashed into my head. ‘Tom, we’ve got to get off the street right now.’

‘What? Why?’

‘I think the virus is here.’

‘How?’

‘I don’t know, but look at the crowd. See that person there?’ I pointed to the man I meant. ‘And that one there? Look how they’re acting! I think they’re infected.’

‘Shit!’ Tom eyes darted across the crowd. ‘Are you sure?

Before I could say anything, the man seized an elderly woman and pulled her to the ground. As the pair struggled, they disappeared from sight amongst the crowd, but soon the attacker was back on his feet and had chased down someone else.

‘Frickin’ hell!’ Tom ran his hands through his hair. ‘Ben, what’re we going to do?’
I glanced round. At the top of the steps was a series of doors; I knew we had to get off the street and we had to do it now.

‘Let’s get inside.’ I ran up the steps. Behind me, Tom grabbed his case and followed. The first door I tried wouldn’t move, nor would the second. I kept going, eventually finding one on the far right which opened. Once inside, I locked the door behind us and looked round to find a flight of stairs leading upwards. We raced up them, all the time glancing back over our shoulders. At the top, we emerged into a restaurant filled with empty tables set for lunch.

A blonde waitress in her mid-twenties appeared through what I presumed was the door to the kitchen and hurried towards us, shouting. ‘Hey, we’re not open yet. You need to leave.’

I pushed past her and ran up to the windows which stretched from floor to ceiling. From there, I had a clear view down the length of Buchanan Street.

‘I said: we’re not open yet.’ The waitress strode towards us. ‘Are you deaf or something?’ Finally, she reached a point where she could see the street below. ‘Hey, what’s going on out there?’

The stampeding crowd had now reached the entrance to the underground station. I searched for the people who were chasing the others, but I couldn’t find them. I wondered where the infected had gone; maybe I’d got it wrong. Then I realised it wasn’t that they’d disappeared, it was that almost all of them were now infected.

I tried to say something, but I couldn’t find the words. Instead, I just stared, paralysed by fear and disbelief at what I was witnessing.

As the crowd reached the statue in front of the steps, the people lingering there, watching the aftermath of the crash further up the next street, finally realised what was happening around them and they scattered. Some ran up to the locked doors, while others sprinted along the street to the right. As I watched, the first of the infected reached the steps and raced up them, while the rest followed those who’d fled up the next street. One man climbed up onto the statue’s plinth and started to pull a woman up after him, but before she was beyond its reach, an infected grabbed her legs. There was a tug of war between the two, with the woman screaming in the middle. Then another infected grabbed hold, then another. The man refused to let go of the woman even though I could now see her guts spilling out onto the street. He tried to keep his footing, but there wasn’t enough space and he slipped, falling into the mass of infected people which were now feeding on the woman’s remains. They set upon him, clawing and tearing at him until he’d been pulled apart and scattered across the street.

There was a noise behind us and I turned to find the waitress talking rapidly into a mobile phone. I didn’t recognise the language, but from the way she spoke, I could tell she was as confused and horrified by what was happening outside as I was.

I returned my attention to the window: the crowd was starting to thin as the main mass passed us and headed away up the next street, those who had the disease pursuing those who didn’t. Here and there, small knots of infected squabbled over bodies, pulling at them with their hands and teeth, feasting on those they’d killed. After a while, even those stragglers had dispersed in search of others to attack, leaving the street devoid of life. Nothing moved, and if it wasn’t for the bodies scattered along its length, it would have been impossible to believe what had just happened. Yet it had, and I was struggling to take it all in. I just didn’t understand it: where had the disease come from? How had it made the leap across the ocean? Was it just Glasgow or was it in other places in Britain, too?

It took a few more minutes of standing there, transfixed by the devastation, before I managed to get my brain back into gear. ‘Tom, we’ve got to get out of here. We’ve got to get out of the city while we still can. You think we could make it to my boat?’

Tom was still gazing down at the street. ‘Where are you tied up?

‘Down by the conference centre.’

‘I don’t know.’ Tom looked at me briefly before returning his attention to what was happening outside. ‘It’s a long way to go.’

We both stared out of the window, but nothing moved.

Tom was the first to act. He stepped forward and leant against the glass, looking from side to side. ‘Where’ve they all gone?’

I moved forward to stand beside him. ‘I guess they must have chased the crowd as they ran away.’

Tom was now eyeing up the far end of Buchanan Street. ‘If we can make it to the river front, I think we should have a pretty clear run from there down to where your boat is. There won’t have been many people down there at this time of day.’

Suddenly something struck me. ‘Have you got anything we could use as weapons?’

‘What?’ Tom looked confused. ‘Why?’

‘Because if we run into any of them, we’ll need to be able to defend ourselves.’

‘You mean like …?’ Tom’s voice faltered; he cleared his throat. ‘You mean like kill them?’

I shifted uneasily; I didn’t like the idea of it any more than he did, but if we did meet any infected, we’d have little choice: it would be them or us. ‘If we have to.’

‘Jesus!’ Tom was as white as a sheet. For a moment he stood still, then he knelt down and opened his case, ‘I’ve got these.’ He pulled out the large, curved machetes he used as part of his act. They weren’t sharp, but they were still formidable weapons.

I picked one up, and ran a finger along its length. ‘They’ll do.’

By then, the waitress had turned off her phone and spoke to us for the first time since the crowd had rampaged up the street, her voice trembling. ‘What’re you going to do?’ There was a trace of an Eastern European accent in her voice.

‘You saw what happened in Miami last night?’ I glanced across at her and she nodded. ‘Well, the same thing’s happening here. We need to get out of the city as quickly as possible. I’ve got a yacht down on the river. If we can get to it, we can get out of here. D’you want to come with us?’

She glanced at her phone and then out the window before coming to a decision. ‘Yes.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Iliana.’

I held out my hand. ‘I’m Ben and he’s Tom.’

She looked at Tom as if seeing him properly for the first time. ‘Hey, I know you; I’ve seen you before. You’re the juggler, aren’t you?’

Tom gave a slight bow, used to people recognising him like this, ‘That’s me.’

I turned and stared out of the window again: still nothing moved.

‘Right,’ I took a deep breath and felt my body start to shake as I thought about what we were about to do. I looked at Tom and saw he was shaking too. I did my best to calm myself. ‘Let’s do this.’ 

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Part three of this free preview will be posted tomorrow (20th July 2014). If you wish to download a PDF of all three parts to this free preview, you can download it from here. If you missed it, part one (the prologue) is available here.

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***The Outbreak by Colin M. Drysdale will go on sale on the 21st of July 2014 in both paperback and Kindle eBook formats. To purchase, click here***