Tag Archives: Short Story

The Need To Know – A Short Story Set In A Post-apocalyptic World

31 Oct

It’s taken me almost ten years to reach this point, but soon I’ll have the answer to the question which has been eating away at me ever since the farm house was over-run. That was the last time I’d seen him, and I needed to know whether he, like me, was somehow still alive, even after all this time. I crave for certainty; I yearn for the knowledge of what happened to him; I need to know one way or the other. I know this is something few people ever get now the world has changed, but I know something they don’t. I know that if he’s still alive, he’ll be here on this beach today at sunset, just as he promised he would if we ever got split up. If I find him waiting for me there, we’ll finally be re-united, if only for a brief moment before it’s all over; and if I don’t, I’ll know for sure he’s dead. Then, at last, I can die knowing he too is gone. Well, I won’t actually die, but I’ll stop being me, and that will mean I’m as good as dead.

***

We met at university, where he was doing an engineering degree, and I was studying English literature. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. We were united by a common sense of humour, indie music, and a liking for original series Star Trek. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but it was close enough to make no difference, and for the next eight years we spent barely more than the occasional day apart. Even when the outbreak started, our first instinct wasn’t to flee, but rather to find each other.

I think this is what made it so difficult when we finally got separated. We were holed up in a remote farm house which overlooked Loch Ness, trying to work out what we should do next. We figured it was safe enough there for the time being, but we still had to be constantly on our guard because even there the occasional infected turned up. Then, one evening, we were over-run. It happened almost without warning, and there was no time for me to find John before I had to turn and flee into the night. All I could do was hope that he had made it out too, and that we’d find each other again.

Those first few days apart were gut-wrenchingly difficult, not knowing whether he was alive or dead, or perhaps worse, but there was little time to dwell on it. Instead, I spent my time running from the infected which seemed to dog my every step. The only thing which kept me going was the knowledge that I had a way to find out what had happened to him. Well, perhaps not exactly what had happened, but at least whether he was still alive or not. You see, we’d made plans for what we would do if we ever became separated. Rather than wandering around aimlessly searching for each other, we were both to head for a certain beach on the west coast. It was remote, but this meant there would be little chance of there being large numbers of infected there so it would be relatively safe. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get far enough ahead of the infected that were pursuing me to be able to start making my way west. Instead, I was forced further and further north, and with each passing day, I found myself wondering if John was already there, waiting for me, and the thought started to gnaw at me. I longed to go there, to find out once and for all, but the infected just wouldn’t let me.

Eventually, I found a place of safety where I could get time to think. It was right up at the northern tip of Scotland and was the last toe-hold of the remnants of the army units which had been sent in to try to contain the outbreak when it had first started. Even from the start, it had been obvious to these men and women that the disease wasn’t something they could hold back, but they fought it none-the-less. Now, as the infected started to mass around their defences, the last few hundred of them were preparing to evacuate in the hope of finding somewhere safer. They knew Britain was lost and they knew their only hope of survival was to get out. I, however, wanted to stay; I needed to stay; I needed to find out whether John was still alive and waiting for me on that remote beach, but again the infected gave me no choice and the only way I could keep myself alive was to leave with the soldiers in the last of the helicopters.

We made the short hop to Norway, but found things were little better there so we pressed on eastward into Russia. We went first to Murmansk, then Omsk, then just north into the Siberian wilderness until we ran out of fuel. Yet, still the infected found us, and we had to keep moving. All the time, I was wondering whether John was waiting for me or not. It wasn’t the fact that I might have lost him forever which was eating away at me, but rather the fact that I didn’t know for certain and yet there was a way for me to find out.

Eventually, I realised this uncertainty would drive me mad if I didn’t do something about it, and that was when I set off. I felt my body change almost immediately. Instead of running from the infected, I was running towards something; it gave me strength and my life purpose. I knew the chances of me making it all the way back were minimal, and that even if I did, I might not find him there, but I would know what that would mean, and I’d finally be able to move on.

That was when I realised our plan was both my saving grace and an albatross around my neck. You see, we’d arranged that if we didn’t make it there immediately after we’d become separated, then he’d be on that beach at sunset on the longest day of the year, every year, without fail, as long as he was still alive. This meant I was continually left wondering whether he might be there waiting for me on that day of each year which past. Yet, even though it tormented me almost constantly, it also gave me hope, and more importantly, it gave me something to live for. That kept me going, even on the darkest days, and there were so many of them in the world of the infected that I quickly lost count.

***

I can feel myself flagging as I drag my feet through the sand. It’s only a couple of hundred more yards, but it’s taking every ounce of what little strength I have left to keep going. Under the sleeve of my jacket, I can feel the bite I got this morning burning as if it’s on fire. It might just be my imagination, but I swear I can feel the virus rushing through my veins, infecting every part of my body, starting to take it over. Yet, my body’s fighting back, trying to halt the unstoppable tide or at least slow the inevitable down long enough for me to find out if he’s there or not, to get the closure I so desperately yearn for.

I curse myself again for being so stupid. After all these years and all the miles I’d travelled, I’d let my guard down. I hadn’t seen an infected in days and I figured that there probably wasn’t any around here, not somewhere so remote and not after all this time. There had been a small wooden shack just above the southern end of the beach which looked so decayed that the next gust of wind might send it crashing to the ground. Its door swung gently on hinges that were threatening to break free at any moment. Still, I wondered if it might give me some shelter while I waited for sunset. I should have been more cautious, but I was so tired and so near the end, and just I wasn’t thinking straight.

I’d barely touched the door before the infected shot out of the darkness within. It was so emaciated that I couldn’t tell if it had once been a man or a woman, and while the anger still burned in its eyes, its body was weak and wasted. That didn’t stop it from knocking me to the ground and biting the arm which I instinctively threw up to protect my face. If I’d still been wearing the old motorcycle jacket I’d picked up in somewhere during my travels, it wouldn’t have mattered because its teeth couldn’t have punctured the thick leather, but I’d taken it off a few hours before so I could feel the warmth of the mid-summer sun on my skin. I can’t believe I was so stupid.

I managed to struggle free and crush the side of its skull with the heavy club I used as a walking stick. Once it stopped moving, I stood there staring at it, trying to work out whether it could have once been John. Its features were sunken, and its skin sallow, making it hard to tell. Given the shape it was in I doubted it would have survived much longer even if I hadn’t killed it. I wondered how it had survived so long all the way out here with no one to feed on. Maybe the rumours were true and the infected would eat other animals if they really had to to stay alive, or maybe this one had only turned quite recently. That got me back to wondering whether it had once been John. Using the toe of my boot, I turned it onto its back and was relieved to see it lacked the distinctive Pictish Beast tattoo John had had done when he was drunk at music festival the summer before he started university. Yet, there was a hint of sadness too.

I understood why I felt relieved it wasn’t him, but the sadness was harder to explain. Maybe it was because part of me wanted it to be him so that I’d finally know what had happened to him; maybe it was because I knew I didn’t have much time left and I feared that I was never going to find out before I turned. I looked down at the bite on arm. It wasn’t deep, but it had broken the skin and there was a trickle of blood running towards my hand. Even though I knew it was pointless, I raced down to the sea and scrubbed the wound with the salty water. It stung like crazy, but it did little more than distract me from what would be happening inside me. I’d seen numerous people turn over the years and it was never the same twice. Some changed pretty much instantly, almost as if just the knowledge they’d been bitten was enough to make them start acting like the infected; others took hours, as if their bodies were somehow able to slow the infection down. Not knowing how long I would have, I pulled on my jacket and set off along the beach, yet almost immediately I could feel the virus starting to act.

***

The sun’s starting to go down, and I’m almost at the far end of the beach. I can barely keep moving, but I know I must go on. I must find out if he’s alive or not before I turn. I hear a shout and look up. For a moment, I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing, but then I realise it really is him. He’s thinner and weather-beaten, but it’s definitely him. I feel a smile spread across my face and I try to run to him, but I don’t have the energy left in my legs and I fall forward onto the sand. I lie there for a moment, scared to look up again in case it turns out that I’d only imagined seeing him there; then I feel a shadow fall across me, and I turn my head to see him standing over me, holding out his hand. My heart leaps. I take his outstretched hand and pull myself to my feet. For a moment, we just stare at each other, then he throws his arms around me and I do the same to him. We hug for what seems like forever. As we do, I feel his shoulders heaving up and down, and I realise he’s crying. This sets me off too and we just stand there holding each other, the tears streaming down our faces.

After a while, we stop hugging quite so tightly and slip down onto the sand. We still hold each other as I tell him all that has happened to me since the farm house was over-run all those years before. I tell him about how I knew that if he were alive, he’d be here waiting for me, and how this had kept me going all these years. He, in his turn, tells me about the island where he’s been living, about the cottage he’s built, about how he never gave up hope that one day we might find each other again. He sounds so happy and I want that happiness to last forever, but I know it can’t. I know I need to tell him about the bite, about the infection which I can feel taking over my body. I start crying again, this time not from joy but from sadness and pain. He stops speaking and he stares down at me with a confused look on his face, and I know I need to explain.

I wipe my face, ‘I can’t go with you …’ I can’t bring myself to say the next words I need to say and my voice simply fades out.

‘Don’t be stupid.’ He strokes my hair like he always used to. ‘Of course you can. You’ve made it all this way. Finally, we’re back together again. It’s completely safe, I promise you. I haven’t seen an infected on the island in the whole time I’ve been there. It’s got to be one of the safest places in the world …’

I caress the side of his face and I notice my hand is shaking. He must have noticed it too because he stops speaking again.

‘No. I can’t.’ My voice sounds odd, almost distant and he pulls away from me.

‘Why?’

‘Because of this.‘ I pull back the sleeve of my jacket, revealing the ragged red wound. The teeth marks clearly visible against my pale skin. I can seen from the look of horror on his face that he knows what it means. For a moment I think he might run away, but instead he holds me tight, ‘When did that happen?’

‘This morning. I was surprised by one of them. I got it, but not before it got me.’

He says nothing, but I can see the heartbreak in his eyes. I know it will only hurt him further, but I need to ask him something. ‘John, I want you to do something for me …’

Again, I can’t seem to get the words out, but he seems to know what it is even before I ask. He kisses me and whispers in my ear, ‘Yes. When it’s time, I’ll do it. I promise. But it’s not time yet, is it?’

‘No, but it will be soon. I can feel the virus burning through my body. I’ve been fighting it all day just so I could get here. Just so I’d know for sure if you were still alive or not before I went.’ I pause for a moment, leaning my head on his shoulder and staring out to where the last of the sun is just dipping below the horizon. I know I don’t have long left, maybe just seconds, yet for the first time in years I’m free of that gnawing thought which kept driving me onwards: I know what happened to the only man I ever truly loved. I’m just happy that he’s alive, and that he seems to have found a way of not just surviving, but living in the world of the infected. His island home sounds idyllic and I wish I could live there with him, but I can’t. A wave of sadness washes over me and I start to cry again. I fight back the tears, ‘I’m glad I finally found you again, that I’ll get to say goodbye to you this time, that I got to hold you one last time, that …’

I feel my head slip from his shoulder, and even though I know I’m falling, I can’t seem to do anything about it. I lie there, feeling the warm sand against my face, my eyes taking in the yellows and reds of the sunset. It starts to fade as the virus finally wins, yet the last thought which runs through my head is that I can die happy because I finally got to find out what happened to him. I just wish it didn’t have to end this way. I just wish it wasn’t John who was going to have to kill me before I turned into one of them.

***

Author’s Note: This is the second version of the story titled Rendezvous which I posted last week. Rendezvous tells the story of a couple who become separated during a zombie apocalypse. It focusses on John’s hope that he would find his girlfriend, Sam, again. In contrast, The Need To Know tells the same story from Sam’s point of view and focusses not on hope, but on another primeval human desire – the need for closure, to know what happened to those you love after the world falls apart. Between them, these two stories explore how events like natural disasters and war not only kill people, but tear them apart, and this can cause psychological scars which are as deep and painful as any physical ones.

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.

*****************************************************************************
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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Rendezvous – A Short Story Set In A Post-apocalyptic World

30 Oct

This is the tenth time I’ve sat on this beach and waited for her. The first time was only a month after we got split up, the last was exactly three hundred and sixty five days ago. The small wooden boat I used to get here is pulled up onto the sand, its motor tilted up and sticking out behind. While I haven’t seen any infected this time round, the boat’s presence is the only thing that makes me feel safe on the mainland. The beach here is almost a mile long and its about seventy feet between the water line and the dunes at the back; and if any infected appear I know I can get the boat back into the water and away from the shore before even the fastest of them can reach me. The chances of any of them turning up somewhere quite so remote is small, but it’s not zero, and I know from experience that I need to keep my wits about me whenever I’m here.

***

We’d been on opposite sides of the city when the outbreak started, but somehow we’d still managed to find each other and get out before the military started dropping their bombs in a vain attempt to stop the infection spreading to the rest of the country. Needless to say, it didn’t work; if anything it made things worse. We spent the first couple of weeks almost constantly running from one hiding place to another before we found ourselves at a remote farm house set into the hills above Loch Ness. We weren’t the only ones to find our way there and gradually we grew into a loose community, each taking turns to do whatever needed to be done, including standing guard and taking out any infected which turned up.

At first they only did so in their ones and twos, and we could handle them, but gradually their numbers increased until one night we were over-run. Sam wasn’t in the same room as me when it happened, and in the scramble to get out alive I couldn’t find her before I finally had to flee into the night, hoping against hope that I didn’t run into any of the infected. As the darkness enveloped me, I heard screams echoing through the building, knowing it meant not everyone had got as lucky as I had. By then, it was too late to do anything other than keep on running and I just had to hope she’d also gotten out alive.

In the first few days after I lost her, the only thing that kept me going was the fact we’d made plans in case just such a thing were ever to happen. It was the first night after we’d reached the farm house, and we were discussing whether we would be safe there or not. I figured that while it would do for the time being, it was too near heavily populated areas, like Inverness, to be safe in the long term. That led us to start working out escape routes and plan what we’d do if it happened. This was when we realised we needed a rendezvous point in case we ever got split up.

Wracking my brains for somewhere suitable, I eventually settled on a beach on the west coast I’d known in my childhood. It could be reached by both land and sea, and was large enough and open enough that anyone waiting there couldn’t get ambushed by the infected, or, indeed, other survivors. It was also remote enough that it was likely there’d be few infected there, making it relatively safe. I told her that if we ever got separated, I’d do my best to find her, but if I didn’t, we’d meet on that beach. If she didn’t make it there in the first few months, and I had to move on, I’d be there every year at sunset on the summer solstice, waiting for her and never giving up hope.

When the sun rose the morning after the farmhouse was over-run, I tried to circle back, but there were infected everywhere and there was no way I could get close enough to see if she might be trapped inside. For the next few days, I traipsed back and forth across the hills, trying to find anyone else who might have made it out, but I found no one. After a week, I figured that even if she had gotten out alive, she’d be long gone and would probably be heading for the rendezvous point so I headed that way myself. I finally arrived after a week of dodging groups of infected, half expecting her to be there waiting for me, but I was disappointed to find she wasn’t. I set up a small camp nestled into the dunes, and waited, but she never came.

By autumn, I realised I couldn’t remain there forever, fighting off the infected which turned up every now and then, and I’d have to move on. That’s when I came up with my plan: out in the bay was an island which I knew was uninhabited and so would be free of infected. I also knew it could easily fulfil all the needs of one man as it had once been home to a small, but thriving community. The people had been cleared off during the Second World War so it could be used for testing biological weapons, giving it the local nickname of Anthrax Island, but now, some sixty years later, the island was almost completely uncontaminated and as long as I didn’t stray into the wrong areas it would be much safer there than being on the mainland where the infected now roamed. Setting up a base there would also allow me to stay close to the rendezvous point in case she ever turned up.

I scavenged around and eventually found a small wooden boat with an outboard engine anchored off a cluster of low stone houses. The community seemed deserted, and there was no one to object when I swam out to it and started the motor. I brought it back to shore and rummaged through the houses, finding a pistol and some bullets, as well as food and various tools which might come in handy. I loaded them into the boat and took off towards the island. I took a couple of days to carefully check it out, and once I’d decided it really was infected-free and would make a good home, I headed back to the beach. I set up a sign telling her where I’d gone and also telling her if she started a signal fire on the beach, I’d be able to see the smoke and would come and get her, but no matter how often I checked, I never saw anything to suggest she had arrived and was waiting for me.

The next year, on the longest day, I returned to the beach for the first time and waited, my heart filled with hope and trepidation. To keep myself occupied, I repainted the sign, but I should’ve known better. On hearing a noise, I looked up and saw an infected running towards me at full speed. I only just had enough time to pull out my pistol and shoot it before it reach me. Even then, it took three shots to bring it down and it was only a foot away from me when it finally stopped moving. Glancing round, I saw more infected off in the distance, racing towards me, and I figured they’d been attracted by the sound of the shots. I quickly scrambled into the boat and pushed it away from the shore before they got close enough to cause me problems. I waited until long after the sun went down before finally heading back to the safety of the island, weighed down by the sense of loneliness and loss – I felt as if I’d lost her all over again.

And so it was as each year passed. I’d return to the beach to wait for her on the longest day of the year, with hope in my heart that this would be the year she’d finally turn up, and each time I’d return alone, the scar left by her loss opened up once again and feeling as painful and raw as the night we’d first become separated.

***

Off in the distance, a movement catches my eye. I can’t work out what it is at first, even with the binoculars, but something’s coming this way through the gathering darkness. After a few minutes, I work out it’s definitely a figure, but I can’t yet tell whether it’s her or not. I can, however, tell by the way they’re walking that they’re not infected. The infected either race towards you or just shuffle around slowly. They certainly don’t trudge, and this figure is definitely trudging. A sense of joy starts to grow in my heart, but I do my best not to let it get too out of hand in case it’s not her. I think about running towards her, but I don’t want to get too far from the boat, just in case we need to make a sharp exit. I catch myself, already thinking of us as we again when I didn’t yet know if it was her or not. A minute after that and the figure’s close enough for me to see that it’s definitely a woman. She’s the right height; a bit thinner than she was when I last saw her, but then again so am I. I wave and shout. She looks up, as if seeing me for the first time, and I recognise her face. It’s aged a lifetime, but it’s definitely her. I can see she recognises me too, and a smile spreads across her face. She tries to run towards me but she stumbles and falls onto the sand. I go to her and help her up. We hug each other like we’re never going to let each other go. Suddenly, I realise I’m crying as the waves of loneliness which I’ve kept bottled up for so long finally crash over me, but now I’ll be alone no more.

We sit on the sand, holding each other, while she tells me what happened to her. She’d gotten out of the farm house, but the infected had forced her to keep on the move for the next few days. Eventually, she ended up at the northeast tip of Scotland where the last remnants of the troops which had tried to contain the outbreak had been making a final stand, but they were preparing to evacuate. She hadn’t intended to go with them but the infected finally over-ran the compound and she’d been forced into the last of the helicopters. Before she knew it, she was in Norway, and, shortly after, Murmansk, Omsk and finally somewhere so deep into the Siberian wilderness she didn’t even know its name. Even then there were infected there, and they’d had to be on the move almost constantly. All the time, the knowledge that I might be on a distant beach waiting for her had gnawed away at her, eating at her very soul, and finally she decided she needed to know one way or the other. Travelling through a land now ruled by infected was never quick, and without the help of modern transport options, it had taken her eight years just to get back to Britain, and a further two to travel north to the beach, driven on by the need to know whether I was somehow still alive.

I, in my turn, tell her about the island and how it’s safe there. I tell her about the cottage I’ve built out of the ruins of old buildings, about how we’d never have to set foot on the mainland again. I tell her that I’d never lost hope that we’d find each other again, and that each year I’d been here, just in case that was she year she finally turned up. I know I’m babbling, but I can’t help it; it’s been so long since I had someone else to speak to. I look down at her and realise she’s crying, but it’s not tears of joy; instead, they’re of pain and sadness.

She wipes her face, ‘I can’t go with you …’ Her voice fades out.

‘Don’t be stupid,’ I stroke her hair like I always used to, ‘Of course you can. You’ve made it all this way. Finally, we’re back together again. It’s completely safe, I promise you. I haven’t seen an infected on the island in the whole time I’ve been there. It’s got to be one of the safest places in the world …’ She caresses the side of my face and I notice her hand is shaking, and it stops me in my tracks.

‘No. I can’t.’ There’s a steely certainty in her voice and I pull away from her.

‘Why?’

‘Because of this.‘ She pulls back the sleeve of her jacket, revealing a ragged red wound. The teeth marks clearly visible against her pale skin. I recognise it immediately and it’s as if my whole world has suddenly exploded. I hold her tight, ‘When did that happen?’

‘This morning. I was surprised by one of them. I got it, but not before it got me.’

I can’t believe it: after all this time I’d finally found her, only to lose her once more. I’m crying again, but this time with sorrow and not joy.

She looks up at me. ‘John, I want you to do something for me…’

I know what it is even before she asks. It was the only thing I could do for her now. I kiss her and whisper in her ear, ‘Yes. When it’s time, I’ll do it. I promise. But it’s not time yet, is it?’

‘No, but it will be soon. I can feel the virus burning through my body. I’ve been fighting it all day just so I could get here. Just so I’d know for sure if you were still alive or not before I went.’ She pauses for a moment, leaning her head on my shoulder and staring out to where the last of the sun is just dipping below the horizon. ‘I’m glad I finally found you again, that I’ll get to say goodbye to you this time, that I got to hold you one last time, that …’

I feel her head slip off my shoulder and she slumps onto the sand. The time has come for me to do what I promised only seconds before. I pull out my pistol and check the bullets. There’re two rounds left and I know what I need to do. She twitches as I put the pistol to her head and turn away, the tears streaming down my face; I realise that it’s the hope of finding her again, of being reunited with her, of holding her once more that’s been keeping me going all these years, but now it’s been taken away from me in the cruellest possible way. I realise I have nothing left to live for and that I no longer want to be part of a world where such things can happen. She stirs again, this time more vigorously, and I know she’s coming back as one of them. I pull the trigger, knowing once I’ve fulfilled my final promise to her, I’ll only have one bullet left, but that’s all I’ll need.

***

Author’s Note: This is one of a series of short stories I’ve written which are set in the same world as For Those In Peril On The Sea. Even amongst my usually rather dark writing in this world, this is probably one of the bleakest short stories I’ve written, but I think it explores an interesting point about life in a post-apocalyptic world: if there is no hope, would people be able to carry on? At some point, I’ll write another version of this story which tells it from Sam’s point of view, rather than John’s, which will focus not on hope, but on another primeval human desire – the need for closure, to know what happened to those you love after the world falls apart.

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.



*****************************************************************************
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 Day A Zombie Came Into The Playground – A Dark Tale For Young Readers

29 Oct

‘Mrs MacKay, there’s a zombie in the playground!’

The teacher sitting at the front of the classroom didn’t even look up, let alone turn so she could see out of the windows behind her desk; she just kept scribbling away with her red pen.

Donald tried again, ‘Mrs MacKay …’

She cleared her throat. ‘I heard you the first time, Donald.’ She spoke with a dismissive and condescending tone. ‘You’re already being kept in for telling tall tales; don’t make it any worse for yourself!’

Beyond the teacher, Donald could see into the sunny school yard where a rotting figure was shambling around, chasing the children who, only moments earlier, had been enjoying the lunch break he’d lost as a punishment. He didn’t know where the zombie had come from, but he knew this was no figment of his imagination, it was definitely there now. ‘But Mrs MacKay, there really is a zombie in the playground. It’s chasing people; it’s trying to catch them and eat their brains.’

Still the teacher didn’t look up from her marking. ‘On Monday, you said you saw a werewolf, and that wasn’t true, was it?’ Her hair was tied up in a tight bun which wobbled ever so slightly as she spoke.

Remembering his mistake, Donald felt his cheeks turn a deep crimson. ‘But Miss, I wasn’t lying; when I shouted out, I really did think it was a werewolf.’

The teacher drew a large red cross at the bottom of the page she’d been reading and turned it over. ‘And what did it turn out to be?’

Donald shifted uncomfortably in his seat and mumbled, ‘It was just Mr Smith, the sports teacher.’

She turned another page. ‘And why did you think he was a werewolf?’

Donald let out a resigned sigh, ‘he’d grown a beard over the summer holidays.’ As he spoke, he watched what was happening in the playground. He knew he wasn’t wrong this time: this really was a zombie. As it continued to stagger around, Donald could see it was too slow to catch any of the kids. In fact, it was moving so slowly that the only way it was going to catch anyone was if they didn’t see it coming until it was too late.

The teacher closed the jotter she’d been marking and leant backwards. ‘And on Tuesday, you saw a pterodactyl swooping down into the playground, trying to snatch one of the kindergarteners from the sand pit.’

Donald kept his eyes fixed on the zombie. ‘I was sure it was a pterodactyl, I thought they were in danger; I had to say something.’

‘And what was it really?’

Donald started to answer, but the teacher interrupted him, ‘Look at me when you’re talking to me.’

Donald shifted his gaze towards the teacher’s narrow, pointy face which always looked like she’d just sucked on a lemon. ‘A black plastic bag the wind had blown into the air.’ As soon as he’d answered, his eyes shot back towards zombie as it stumbled around the now empty school yard, all the children having fled to safety.

‘And remind me what you thought you saw on Wednesday?’ There was a scraping noise as the teacher pushed her chair away from the desk and stood up. She paced back and forth, never taking her eyes off Donald as she waited for him to answer. The sudden movement caught the zombie’s attention and he started to lumber towards the windows, his arms reaching out in front of him.

Donald could barely tear his eyes away from the approaching monster. ‘I saw a mummy.’

‘No, you saw Miss Walker, the maths teacher; she’d had a car accident and had a bandage round her head. I’m telling you, Donald, you’ve got to stop letting your imagination run away with itself. It’ll only get you into trouble.’

Mrs Mackay rested her bony bottom on the window sill, keeping her back to the yard. Behind her, the zombie moved ever nearer. Donald could now make out its dull lifeless eyes, its sallow, sunken cheeks, the way its skin was peeling away from its left forearms. ‘But Mrs MacKay, I’m not making it up and I’m not mistaken this time; there really is a zombie in the playground!’

She folded her arms, a stern look on her face. ‘Just like you were sure there were aliens trying to land on the playing fields yesterday?’

The zombie was getting closer and closer with each faltering step, and Donald was becoming more and more agitated at his teacher’s refusal to believe him. ‘That’s different, I just got confused. I really thought it was aliens.’

‘Yes, I’m sure you did, yet it was only a helicopter flying over the school to take some pictures for the local newspaper. And what about the vampire you saw this morning? The one you were shouting about and disrupting everyone else in the class in the middle of a very important test; remember? The reason you’re in this room right now rather than getting to play outside with your friends. What did that turn out to be?’

‘The headmaster.’ Donald knew he’d been wrong, but he tried to defend his actions. ‘But the way his gown was blowing in the wind, he looked like a vampire.’

The zombie was now only a few feet from Mrs Mackay, its rotting fingers almost touching the thin pane of glass that was all that separated the classroom from the school yard. Its head loomed over the teacher’s shoulder, its jaws open, revealing blackened and blood-stained teeth.

‘And now, you’re saying there’s a zombie in the playground?’ The teacher leaned back against the window, shaking her head and tutting loudly. ‘Tell me, why should I believe you, this time?’

‘Because you have to, Miss, it’ll get you if you don’t. I know I was wrong about the werewolf, and the pterodactyl, and the mummy, and about the aliens landing on the playing fields, and the vampire, but I’m right about the zombie. Just turn round and you’ll see for yourself!’

Mrs MacKay narrowed her beady little eyes and stared at Donald over the top of her half-moon glasses. ‘Have you ever heard of the story about the boy who cried wolf?’

‘Yes, Miss, but that’s different. I wasn’t doing it for fun, I really did think the monsters were there.’ Donald sprang to his feet, unable to see why his teacher couldn’t understand the difference. ‘I really did think we were in danger. All I was trying to do was to warn everyone, to keep them safe.’

‘You know, I almost believe you, but when are you going to grow up and realise that monsters don’t exist? The dinosaurs died out millions of years ago, didn’t they? So there can’t be pterodactyls flying around now, can there?’ She’d uncrossed her arms and was now leaning forward, waggling a finger tipped with a claw-like nail at Donald. ‘You need not get it into your head, there’s no such thing as werewolves, or vampires, or aliens.’ Misses MacKay drew her skinny frame up to its full five foot eleven inches, trying to appear as intimidating as possible. ‘And there’s certainly no such thing as zombies!’

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the zombie smashed through the glass and dragged her, kicking and screaming, from the classroom. Donald had done all he could to warn her, and he couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t his fault that she was now zombie food. All she needed to do was give him the benefit of the doubt this time rather than assuming he must be lying because he’d got things wrong before. Teachers were always doing that, judging children from their past mistakes, not realising that they could change. After this morning, Donald had sworn to himself that he wouldn’t shout out again, not unless he was sure he was right. It just so happened that a real monster had turned up a few hours later and she had assumed that, yet again, he was seeing things that weren’t really there. Well, she was the one who’d ended up dead because of it and Donald felt she only had herself to blame.

At that moment, the classroom door flew open. There stood the headmaster, his black gown billowing out behind him, again bearing a striking resemblance to the vampire in the film Donald had watched the night before when he should have been tucked up in bed.

‘What’s all this racket?’ The headmaster spotted the broken glass littering the floor and turned towards where Donald was still standing in the middle of the room. ‘Did you break that window, boy?’

‘It wasn’t me, Sir, I didn’t do it.’ Donald saw the headmaster roll his eyes in response as he strode over to shattered window. Glass crunched under his size twelve shoes as he turned to face Donald, and his voice boomed out accusingly. ‘But there’s no one else here, boy, it must have been you!’

Behind the headmaster, Donald saw the zombie rise up, his teacher’s blood dripping from its face. He smiled at the headmaster, knowing what was going to happen next if the headmaster didn’t believe what he was about to say and thinking that it would serve him right.

‘No, Sir, it was the zombie in the playground …’

***

This is my first attempt at writing something in the zombie genre specifically aimed at children (late primary school age perhaps? or maybe early secondary school? I’m not really too sure). It’s a long time since I was a child, so I’m not too sure how well it would actually go down with younger readers these days, but it’s certainly the type of story I would have liked to read as a kid.

If you happen to be able to get your hands on a young reader or two who might be interested in this dark little tale, I’d be keen to get some feedback on what they think of it (after all, children are the best judges of what writing for children should be like). If you want a copy you can easily print out (or indeed put on an eReader), you can download a PDF of the story from here. I’m aware that this story probably has a particularly British slant (do school kids in other countries write in jotters?), but hopefully most of it is fairly cross-cultural.

In case there is anyone out there wondering about the title, it seems that one of the strongest memories almost every British kid has of being in primary school is the day a dog wandered into the playground, and the fuss it caused (this might just be a British thing, but then again, maybe it’s not). My own memories of an event like this was, indeed, the starting point for this story, and what might happen if it had been a zombie rather than just a stray dog.



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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 Creature – A Short Horror Story About A Sailor Lost At Sea

27 Oct

The rubber floor of the life raft ripples beneath me. It wasn’t the usual ripple I’d got used to over the last few weeks, caused by the waves, the one that undulates gently up and down as the raft is lifted, in turn, by each wave before being dropped again. This ripple is different: it’s faster, more purposeful, as if something big has just swum beneath the raft. Almost as soon as I feel it, it’s gone and the life raft goes back to conforming to the slow, laborious roll of the ocean waves. Maybe it was just my imagination; maybe I’m starting to hallucinate: after all, I haven’t eaten in more than a week, and the single sip of water I now ration myself to each day is barely enough to keep me alive, let alone sane. Then I feel the ripple again. This time it’s slower, more deliberate and I feel whatever it is pass under my legs as I sit with my back against the inflated rubber ring which forms the side of the life raft. I try to estimate its size by the time it takes to pass under me, but all I can tell is that it’s big: eight feet, ten, maybe fifteen or even twenty, who knows, but something that big and this far from land could only be one of two things: a shark or a whale. I feel around and open the side of the orange tent which forms a roof over the life raft, protecting me from the intense tropical sun during the day, and the rain storms at night, but it’s too dark to see anything. There must be clouds overhead, because I can’t see the stars. In fact, and I know this because I try it, I can’t even see my hand in front of my face. I listen, hoping to hear the tell-tale whoosh and whup of a whale breathing out and then back in again, but the only sound is that of the waves lapping gently against the side of the life raft. I zip the flap closed again, trying to shut out whatever it is that’s outside, and stare down at the floor. It’s as dark in here as it is outside so I know I can’t see anything, but I stare nonetheless, my eyes searching the darkness in the vain hope of seeing something that will tell me what’s underneath me.

I feel the ripple once more, and then I feel the floor of the life raft lift as if something is pushing it up from below. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be losing interest and if anything it’s growing bolder. A few seconds later, something bumps against the side of the life raft, hard enough to make it shudder and throw me sideways onto the floor. I can feel the panic start to rise inside me, but I don’t break out into a cold sweat. At first, I wonder why; then I realise I’m too dehydrated. My body is shutting down all non-essential reactions to save what little water it has left, and that includes sweating, no matter how scared I am.

For a moment there’s silence, then I hear something slap against the rubber. It’s forceful and sends a shiver across the life raft, almost as if the raft itself is shaking with fear. I try to swallow, but I can’t, again because of the dehydration and my body’s response to it. I feel the floor of the life raft lift a second time as whatever it is pushes up from below once more. If it’s doing that with its head, then the creature which is stalking me in the darkness is truly massive, because I can tell by the movement that its several feet across. I clutch to the side of the raft, not knowing if I should try to move out of the way, or remain as still as possible. Eventually, the floor flattens out again and the creature moves away. Only then do I realise I’ve been holding my breath and I let it out with an audible sigh. A second later, the creature hits the life raft again: this time it’s not a gentle, exploratory push, it’s a full on attack, as if the creature is trying to break through the rubber floor. Somehow it must be able to sense my presence within the life raft and it’s determined to get me, but the rubber holds, thwarting its intent.

The seconds slowly tick by, and nothing more happens. They turn into minutes and still the creature hasn’t returned. Maybe it’s given up, maybe it’s realised it’s too difficult to get me and has gone off to seek easier prey. Maybe … My thoughts are interrupted by something ramming the side of the life raft, pushing it through the water as if it were attached to a powerful engine. I cling on for dear life, worried I might be tipped into the water, but thankfully this doesn’t happen. Instead, after what seems like an age, the life raft starts to slow, and then stop. My heart is pounding, but above the noise this is making in my ears, I can hear something else. It takes me a moment to realise that it’s the sound of air leaking from the life raft. Desperately, I feel around in the dark, trying to find the hole, but I can’t. All around me, I can feel the life raft getting softer and softer as it slowly deflates and sinks lower and lower into the water. Again, the creature pushes up from below, causing the rubber floor to bend and deform beneath me. It seems to be searching for me, trying to work out exactly where I am, and how it can get to me.

I cannot see it, but I sense intelligence in its actions. Not human intelligence, but something colder, more analytical and more predatory. This is a creature that’s used to getting its own way. I feel the first wave slop over the side of the life raft; it won’t be long before it sinks and I end up in the water. I unzip the flap in the roof again so that I won’t be trapped inside as the raft continues to collapse around me, but I’m unwilling to abandon it quite yet. It might not offer me much protection, but it’s better than nothing and outside in the inky blackness, it will be just me and the creature. Humans are used to being top dog, but out here, to it, I’m nothing more than prey. It bumps against the side of the life raft again, impatient to get at the tasty morsel it knows is inside. I try to think of something I can do, but my brain has frozen. I know I’m going to die, and my brain can’t cope with it. The creature rams the raft again, and I hear more air hissing out into the night. There’s now so little of it left in the raft that it’s not much more than a flaccid mass of rubber that’s barely keeping itself above the waves. I can hear the creature circling me, splashing the water with its tail as it turns. While I can’t see anything in the dark, it seems to have no trouble knowing exactly where I am. It’s toying with me, and we both know it. All I can do is hope that when the end comes it’s quick, but somehow I know that this isn’t the end the creature has planned for me. Somehow, I know it wants to make me suffer. The very thought of what’s going to happen makes me want to be sick, but I have nothing to bring up, so all I can do is dry heave. The longer the end is drawn out, the more I lose control of my body, the fear of what’s to come is tearing me apart, ripping at my very soul.

I hear myself yelling at the creature, alternating between begging with it to leave me alone and urging it to hurry up and get it over with. Unsurprisingly, the creature doesn’t respond, it just continues to circle. It’s in total control, and I know it’s the one who will decide when I die. All I can do is wait, cowering in the darkness, trembling with fear, until it decides that I am finished. I try to block out what’s going to happen to me, but I can’t. I can hear screaming, and even though I know it must be me, it seems like it’s coming from somewhere other than my own body. I feel the life raft finally start to sink beneath me and I claw my way out just as it disappears into the depths. Instinctively, I find myself treading water, but I don’t know why. The creature brushes against me, and I can feel the roughness of its skin tear at my flesh as it passes, but still I cannot see it. Death is coming for me and yet I’m blind to it. Somehow this makes it worse. If I could see it, I could prepare, but I can’t. I don’t know why, but suddenly a calmness settles over me and I lie back, floating on the surface, arms held out, almost as if I’m offering myself to the creature, giving myself to it as if I’m some sort of sacrifice to a god I don’t believe in. At least this way, death will be on my terms and not its, and I will meet my fate face on, with open arms. I know I won’t survive for long, but at least my death will be my own.

***

This isn’t quite my usual type of short story, particularly as it lacks even the slightest hint of the undead, but it’s an idea that has been floating around in my head for sometime and I finally had time to get it down on paper. I don’t know quite where it came from, but I liked the idea of a lone sailor being stalked by something unseen that’s lurking in the darkness beneath him. It provides an interesting perspective from which to explore the concept of our own mortality. Unseen, it haunts us, just as the creature in the story haunts the lost sailor, lurking in the darkness that is our future. Yet, we shouldn’t necessarily fear it, for a life lived in fear is no life at all. Instead, we should embrace it and use the knowledge that we will, one day, die to ensure that we make the most of whatever time we have left available to us: enjoy life, do good, be nice to others, make sure you leave the world a better place than when you arrived in it, and don’t let the fear of what fate might have in store for you get it the way of living your life the way you wish to live it right now. Happy Friday!



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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 Creatures In The Fog – A Short Horror Story

26 Oct

The greyness swirls around me, so thick, it feels like I could reach out and grab it. It had been bright sunlight when we’d entered the forest, or maybe that should be when we were forced to flee into it, but within minutes the fog started to descend. At first, it was just the slightest tendrils of mist, snaking between the trees as we ran for our lives, but as time passed, the tendrils started to merge, forming ghostly islands that brought the visibility down to a few hundred feet. That was okay, it was still far enough to see the creatures that were pursuing us, allowing us to stay ahead of them, to stay beyond their reach, but then the misty islands began to drift together and coalesce into a fog that grew denser and denser until I could barely see my hand in front of my face.

In fog like this, running’s no longer an option: the forest floor’s littered with fallen branches, rotting trunks and gnarled roots, just waiting to trip the unsighted, twisting ankles and snapping legs; yet stopping’s out of the question, too. We can hear the creatures pounding feet as they close in on us, but we can’t make out each other, let alone tell whether the shifting shapes we can see moving amongst the fog are friend or foe. All we can do is blunder forward, hoping we’re heading away from our pursuers, and not towards them, as we grope our way, lost and disoriented, through the oppressive grey blanket which encircles and ensnares us. Voices echo through the woodland, muted by the fog, making it impossible to tell how near, or how far away, they are. You can tell the people speaking are scared, though; even the fog can’t swallow the fear with which their words are spat. Then comes the first scream: it sounds close and I can see shadows moving just beyond my limited field of view. Suddenly, it stops: the scream, I mean; it doesn’t fade out, it just ends, and that’s when I know the creatures are among us.

I search around for something I can use to defend myself, cursing the fact that the creatures had surprised as we slept. There’d been no time to prepare, not even time to grab the axe I kept under my pillow for just such an eventuality. They’d swarmed out of nowhere and over our camp in seconds, leaving us no choice, but to run or die. Now, it seemed this apparent choice had been an illusion: the real choice had been die there and then, or run and die later, enveloped by a fog so thick it seems almost unnatural; and for all I know, it is. I’d been a man of science once, but since the creatures had first appeared in my life, in all our lives, I’d been questioning everything I’d ever believed to be true.

There’s another scream, and the sound of someone struggling, fighting for their life. Unexpectedly, the fog lifts, and for a moment I can see them: a man I don’t recognise wrestling with one of the creatures, doing his best to hold it off, then another pounces on him and together they drag him to the ground. Just as the blood starts spurting from the man’s neck, the fog descends again and swallows the creatures that are now feasting on his still-writhing body.

I bend down, feeling around on the ground for something, anything I can use to defend myself. At first, I find nothing, them my hand fastens onto a stout branch, no doubt brought down in a winter storm. I don’t know how strong it is or how long it has been lying there, but it has to be better than nothing. As I straighten up, a shadowy figure races towards me through the gloom and I ready myself to swing. I strain my eyes, trying to work out if it’s one of my companions, or one of the creatures, but there’s no way I can tell: all I know is that it’s coming straight at me, fast. I watch it close: twenty feet, ten feet, eight, five, but still I can’t see what it is. In desperation, I swing, catching the figure across the side of the head. It yells as it goes down, and that’s when I know the figure is human: the creatures never make a noise, no matter what they’re doing.

I crouch down to help the man up, but as soon as I am close enough to see his face, I know there’s no point: the side of his head is shattered beyond recognition, and I can see grey, greasy flecks of brain mixing with the blood that’s seeping down his face. I’m revulsed and I feel my stomach heave, but I can see more figures moving through the fog all around me, so there’s no time to reflect on it, and I force the burgeoning feeling of self-loathing, sparked by what I’ve just done, to the back of my mind. I peer through the greyness, praying for another break in the fog, but it remains as thick as ever and still I can’t make out what the figures are. I raise my makeshift weapon again, but now I’m hesitant. I don’t want to make another mistake, to accidentally kill another person when there are so few of us left. My mind races: is it better to strike out before I’m sure, and risk killing someone else? Or, the next time one comes close, should I wait until I’m certain, and risk being attacked before I can react? Neither option’s palatable, but they’re the only two which are available to me.

Another figure starts to close, but what should I do? As I adjust my grip on the branch I’m holding, I feel it slip in my sweat-soaked palms. I call out, but there’s no reply. Does that mean it’s a creature? Or is it just someone running so hard that they’ve no spare breath to reply? The silence tells me nothing. I need to make a decision, but my brain just keeps going round in circles: to risk killing, or to risk being killed? Which should I chose? The fog swirls and flows around me, around the trees, around the approaching figure, but still I can’t make out what it is: human or creature? Creature or human? It’s now only twenty feet away, what should I do? Ten feet, I shout again – Still nothing. I need to make a decision one way or the other, and I need to do it now, but I don’t want to make another mistake. Eight feet. Do something. Anything. My mind’s yelling at me, but I’m paralysed with indecision. Five feet. It’s now or never. Three feet. Aaagghhhh!

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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.

Santa Claus Versus The Zombies – A Dark Christmas Tale For Readers Of All Ages

24 Dec

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. The same could not be said, however, for the graveyard next door. Every year, Tommy stayed up for as long as he could, excitedly peeking out of his bedroom window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus as he travelled the world delivering presents, and every year, Tommy fell asleep before Santa arrived. Tommy would wake next morning, his head freezing cold where it had drooped against the window pane as he dozed, to find a bulging stocking hanging from the end of his bed, but not a hide nor hair of Santa Claus himself.

This year, Tommy was determined to stay awake long enough for Santa to arrive. He was a year older now, and he was sure that this year he’d finally be able to do it. Yet, despite his best efforts, as the clock struck midnight, Tommy could feel himself starting to nod off. Trying to hold the inevitable sleep back for as long as possible, Tommy stretched and yawned. Then a movement outside caught his eye, and instantly he was wide awake. At first, Tommy wasn’t quite sure what the movement was, but one thing was for sure: it wasn’t Santa Claus. The ground outside was covered in snow, turning the usually scary looking cemetery behind Tommy’s house into a winter wonderland: frost coated the trees, and the grass, and the grave stones, making them glimmer in the moonlight, yet underneath the snow, something was stirring.

Suddenly, a long thin object thrust itself upwards through the snow. At first, Tommy watched the object curiously as it moved back and forth, then, to his horror, he realised it was a bony, wrinkled hand. The hand reach skywards, opening and closing as it grasped at the cold night air. A moment later, it was joined by another, and together the two hands pulled, first a skull-like head, then a decaying body from the ground. Tommy stared, both terrified and mesmerised by what was happening just beyond the end of his garden. As Tommy looked on, the bloated, rotting body finally pulled itself free of the frozen ground and staggered to its feet. It shuffled through the snow, dragging one foot behind it. Tommy watched it for a minute: it didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular, just wandering aimlessly between the grave stones, touching each one as it passed. Then Tommy noticed the snow lying on another grave began to tremble, and a head started to emerge. Then another. And another. So shocked was he, that it took Tommy a few seconds to notice the pattern: every time the first zombie (and what else could it possibly be, but a zombie?) touched a head stone, the body buried in that grave clawed its way from the ground and started to follow it.

After ten minutes, Tommy found he was no longer frightened. Instead, he could feel laughter building inside him. When it had just been one stumbling re-animated corpse, it had been scary, but now there were so many of them, all playing follow-the-leader as they trailed after the first zombie, shuffling and staggering, bumping into each other, slipping on the ice and the snow, and falling over when they bounced off each other. It was hilarious and Tommy couldn’t help but think that if this was all that zombies were capable of, they weren’t really anything to be afraid of after all.

Then, off in the distance, high in the night’s sky, Tommy saw something else. At first, it seemed like it was just another twinkling star, but slowly it grew bigger and bigger, and Tommy knew that stars didn’t do that. Tommy wasn’t the only one to have notice the rapidly approaching object: the zombies were looking up, too, letting out mournful moans as they reached towards it.

As Tommy watched, the object came closer and closer until it was near enough for him to see what it was, and his heart leapt: it was a sleigh being pulled by eight powerful reindeer. With the night being clear, there was no need for Rudolph to be leading the way, and Tommy tried to remember the names of the other reindeer: there was Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner, and … what was the last one again? Tommy always had trouble remembering that last name. His brow furrowed for a moment and then it came to him: Blitzen! Yes, that was it. By then, the sleigh was close enough that Tommy could make out the plump man with the long, white beard and red suit who was holding the reins and shouting orders to the reindeer. Slowly the sleigh turned and started to descend, and Tommy realised to his delight that it was coming into land on the soft, fresh snow that covered his back yard.

A second later, and Tommy’s delight turned to terror: the zombies had seen Santa Claus too, and they were now racing towards the wall that divided Tommy’s yard from the cemetery. Hang on, thought Tommy, racing? That couldn’t be right. He closed his eyes tight shut and shook his head before opening them again: sure enough the zombies which had, until then, been bumbling around aimlessly, were now moving fast and efficiently across the frozen ground. What on Earth, Tommy wondered, was going on?

As Santa’s sleigh touched down, the first of the zombies made it over the wall and rushed across the snow towards where the sleigh had come to a stop. By this time, Santa’s head was buried in his big black sack, searching for something, and that was when Tommy went cold: Santa hadn’t seen the zombies. More and more of them were pouring over the wall with every passing second, and still Santa Claus was rummaging through his sack, unaware of the danger that was descending upon him.

Tommy knew he had to do something. He couldn’t, after all, be the kid who’d let Santa get eaten by zombies, he’d never live it down, but what could he do? The house was locked and he couldn’t reach the key to open the back door. Even if he could, what hope did Tommy have against all those zombies? Then it struck him: all he needed to do was warn Santa that the zombies were coming. Santa, after all, had flying reindeer, he could easily escape from the yard before the zombies got to him. Tommy banged on the window, but Santa didn’t look up. He banged again, still nothing. Finally, in desperation, Tommy pulled the window open and yelled at the top of his voice. ‘Santa, there’s zombies coming! They’re right behind you!’

Santa suddenly shot upright, and looked round. He saw Tommy and waved, a jolly smile on his rosy-cheeked face, still unaware of the rapidly approaching danger. Tommy shouted again and gesticulated wildly at the zombies, which, by then, were only a few feet from the back of Santa’s sleigh. Santa frowned for a second and then slowly turned. When he saw the zombies, he froze, but only for a moment, then he sprung into action, grabbing the reins and yelling to his reindeer, urging them on, but nothing happened. That was when Tommy realised his warning had been too late, the zombies had already got a hold of the sleigh and no matter how hard the reindeer strained, they couldn’t manage to pull the heavily laden sleigh and all the zombies that were now clinging onto it.

Tommy watched in horror as Santa looked round desperately for something he could use to defend himself, but he found nothing. This was unsurprising; after all, the worst thing Santa Claus usually had to deal with was when the elves drank too much eggnog as they were loading the sleigh and started fighting with each other, and drunken elves weren’t exactly difficult to deal with. As Santa started frantically digging through his sack of presents, searching for anything he could use to fight off the zombies, Tommy could see the fear in his eyes. Santa glanced up and seeing the zombies just a few feet from him, he gave up searching for a weapon and, deciding to hide rather than fight, he dived out of sight. The zombies weren’t fooled and they started clambering on to the sleigh as they hunted for their intended prey. Tommy was aghast: surely there was no way Santa could possibly survive? This, Tommy thought, wasn’t how Christmas was meant to end, for without Santa Claus to hand out presents to the children who’d spent all year being nice rather than naughty, what was the point of Christmas?

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Tommy saw a red blur streaking across the heavens and towards the ground. A moment later, it landed with a heavy thud behind the zombies and Tommy instantly realised who it was: it was Rudolf. The lone reindeer pawed the ground and snorted loudly, causing some of the zombies to turn and run towards him. Despite the undead that were rapidly closing on him, Rudolph bravely held his ground. Then, when the zombies were only a few feet away, Rudolf lowered his head and charged, running the closest zombie through with the tips of his razor-sharp antlers. Once he was sure it was dead, Rudolf threw the once-more deceased zombie to the ground, but he didn’t stop there. Rudolf charged again and again, throwing zombies this way and that, breaking arms and cracking skulls.

After what seemed like an age, but couldn’t have been more than a minute, the zombies realised they were beaten. Those that could still run, tried to retreat towards the safety of the graveyard, but Rudolph wasn’t about to let them get away so easily. He chased after them, slashing at them with his antlers and trampling the last of them under foot. Soon, nothing was moving that shouldn’t really be moving in the first place, and the lone reindeer, with his bright red nose glowing in the darkness, trotted across to the sleigh and let out a gentle whinny.

Tommy held his breath, wondering if somehow Santa could have survived, then he emerged, crawling out from under the seat where he’d been curled up in a desperate attempt to remain beyond the grasping hands of the attacking zombies. Santa straightened up, adjusting his clothes and brushing stray flecks of glitter from his beard. He patted Rudolph’s nose, before leaning forward and removing a withered arm that had become wedged in Rudolf’s antlers. Santa smiled, knowing his old friend had just saved his life, and tossed the arm into the snow. He looked up at Tommy, and tipped his fur-lined hat in thanks towards the young boy, before pulling on the reins and taking off once more, Rudolph following closely after.

Tommy watched until Santa, his sleigh and all the reindeer, including Rudolf, had disappeared into the night’s sky before turning his attention to the devastation which had been left in his back yard: there were bodies, or what was left of them, everywhere. That, Tommy thought to himself, would take a lot of explaining when his parents woke up and saw the mess, and he really wasn’t sure they’d believe him if he told them what had just happened. Maybe he’d be better off not telling them anything about what he’d seen, and instead left them to try to work out what happened when they got up the following the morning. Satisfied that this was the right thing to do, Tommy decided he’d better go to bed before anyone discovered he was still up and started asking awkward questions.

That was when Tommy realised that in his rush to get away after Rudolf had saved him, Santa had forgotten to leave him his presents. At first Tommy was upset, but after giving it some thought, he realised that one small boy missing out on his presents this one year was a small price to pay for saving Santa’s life from the zombies. Tommy sighed, and turned away from the window; that was when he saw the over-stuffed stocking hanging at the foot of his bed. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief: how on Earth had Santa managed that? Then it dawned on Tommy and he smiled happily to himself: while Santa might be just as scared of zombies as the rest of us, he’s still magic.

Happy Christmas!

***

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.

This is the third year that I’ve done a special Christmas-themed zombie short story for the readers of my blog. If you haven’t read the previous ones, you can find the Christmas 2013 story, titled The Office Christmas Party – The Tale Of A Christmas Night Out That Goes Horribly Wrong, here, and the the Christmas 2012 story, titled Waiting Up For Santa Claus – A Cautionary Tale, here.
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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.

Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale

22 Dec

This is a very short story I put together for my blog readers to mark the holiday season (after all, nothing says Christmas like zombies – or is that just me?). Be warned, it’s not your usual happy festive tale. Then again, since it features the undead, this is probably not surprising! As you might have guessed, and despite its title, this is not a story for a younger audience. It’s just a quick piece I wrote to explore an idea that popped into my head a few days ago, but hopefully you’ll still enjoy it. If you’d rather read this story offline, you can download a PDF from here. Merry Christmas!

Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale

‘Look!’ The girl pointed excitedly, ‘It’s him, it has to be.’

The boy glanced at the clock on the wall, slightly confused, ‘But it’s not midnight yet.’

‘So?’

‘So it’s not Christmas Day, is it?’

‘But it looks just like him. And besides,’ the girl said knowingly, ‘It’s already Christmas somewhere. Maybe he’s just early.’

The two children were peeking through their curtains, trying not to be seen. Despite their mother’s frequent warnings that he wouldn’t come unless they were asleep, they’d been determined to catch a glimpse Santa Claus. They tried every year but they never quite managed it. This year it seemed they might have finally succeeded. At five minutes to twelve, they’d heard a noise and had scampered from their beds to investigate.

Outside, their front yard was covered with snow, the snowman they’d built earlier in the day still staring off into the distance. Beside him was a new figure, his red coat stretched across his portly belly. They couldn’t see his face, but curly white hair hung down below a hat edged with fur. Beside the man lay a large sack from which spilled brightly wrapped packages. He stood slouching, one arm around the neck of the snowman. The man wasn’t really moving, just swaying slightly from side to side.

The boy looked up at his sister. ‘What should we do?’

The older child scratched her head as she surveyed the room they’d shared for as long as either of them could remember. A Christmas tree stood decorated in one corner while home-made streamers were strung across the ceiling. Finally, her eyes landed on the stockings that hung expectantly from the ends of their beds and an idea popped into her head. She grinned at her brother, ‘Let’s go out and see if he’ll give us our presents now, before we go to sleep.’

‘Yeah, that would be really cool.’

‘We’ll need to be quiet though. We don’t want Mom waking up.’

The younger kid rubbed his backside, remembering how it had felt when he’d been spanked for getting into a fight at school. If she’d been mad because of that, she’d be madder if she caught them out of bed on Christmas Eve. She’d already shouted at them earlier in the evening when they were still bouncing round their room long after they should have been tucked up in bed. Twice. But this was an opportunity not to be missed. After all, how many other kids would be able to say they’d got their presents from Santa Claus himself rather than just waking up on Christmas morning and finding he’d visited them in the night?

They grabbed their stockings and crept to the door. The elder child inched it open, making sure it didn’t squeak. Once there was enough room, they slipped through and snuck down the stairs, remembering to jump over the loose one at the bottom, the one that always creaked loudly when anyone stood on it. At the front door, the girl turned to her younger brother, ‘You sure about this?’

He nodded enthusiastically.

She reached up and took the key from its hook before sliding it into the keyhole. It first turned smoothly and silently, then there was resistance followed by a quiet click that told her the door was now unlocked. The girl pressed down the handle and pulled it open, letting in a blast of frigid air. The two children shivered in their thin night-clothes. Outside the street was silent, the snow muffling the usual noises of the night. The man had moved away from the snowman and now stood on the far side of their front yard with his back to them. The snow round his feet was messed up as if he’d been shuffling through it rather than walking across it. His sack still lay open on the ground by the snowman, seemingly forgotten.

Leaving the door open, the girl stepped forward, feeling the snow crunch under her weight, the cold shooting up through the soles of her feet. For a moment she thought about going back for her shoes but that would take time and he might be gone before she got back. She’d just need to be quick. Running forward, she called out quietly, ‘Santa, don’t go, we’re here. Can we have our presents now?’

Just as the girl reached the snowman, the figure in the red suit turned and she saw his face for the first time. She skidded to a halt, causing her brother to crash into her from behind, and stared at the face beneath the fur-trimmed hat. The man’s pale, sallow skin was splattered with red and his white beard was stained by a thick dark fluid that dripped slowly onto the snow. His deeply sunken eyes were a dull black with no spark of life in them.

‘That’s not Santa Claus. Is it?’ There was a frightened tone in the young boy’s voice. He clung to his sister’s arm. He didn’t know why but the man scared him. Maybe it was something to do with the eyes and the way they seemed to stare right through him.

‘No.’ The girl was frightened too. She tried to think of what to do next, but it seemed her brain had stopped working. She wanted to run, but couldn’t; she was rooted to the spot.

Then the man started towards them, slowly at first but becoming faster with each faltering step. Suddenly, the girl was no longer frozen with fear. She turned and fled, pulling her younger brother with her, but it was difficult to run across the snow in bare feet. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that the man in the Santa outfit was gaining on them. As he moved, he let out a moan that sank deep into her soul.

The kids were almost back at the house when the girl’s foot slipped on a patch of ice. She tumbled to the ground, pulling her little brother with her and landing heavily on her back. She pushed the boy onwards, towards the safety of the front door. As he disappeared inside, the girl rolled onto her front. The snow crumbled beneath her as she desperately struggled to get back onto her feet.

The girl yelled when she felt the man’s hand close around her leg and start dragging her backwards through the snow. But it didn’t feel like a real hand. While it gripped her so tightly it hurt, there was no warmth in it. Instead, it felt as cold as ice. She turned and saw the man’s face again, this time much closer. His red hat had fallen from his head, but he didn’t seem to have noticed or even to care. While his eyes looked lifeless, maybe even soulless, his jaw moved back and forth, causing his teeth to gnash against each other.

The girl kicked out, trying to break his grip, but even though she hit him as hard as she could he didn’t seem to notice. She heard someone screaming. It seemed distant at first, but quickly grew closer and closer. For a moment, the girl wondered who it was, then it dawned on her that it was coming from her own mouth. She struggled frantically but it was no use, she couldn’t get away. As the figure in the red suit loomed over her, blocking out the stars, the girl felt his fetid breath on the side of her face and realised she was going to die.

The man sank his teeth deep into her neck, ripping at her flesh. Although the girl could see her own blood spraying across the snow-covered yard, turning it a deep crimson red, she felt no pain. As the life drained from her body, the girl wished she’d listened to her mother. She wished she’d gone to sleep instead of trying to stay awake until Santa arrived.

***

For those who have read this far, here’s a quick reminder that between the 26th and 31st of December, I’ll be posting extracts from the first three chapters of my new book, For Those In Peril On The Sea (available in the UK from the 3rd of January 2013 – I’m afraid it won’t be available outside the UK until March) on this blog. It’s a tale about post-apocalyptic survival in a world where the land is no longer safe, so if you liked the above story, you might like it as well.