Tag Archives: Zombie

What Would You Do If … Dilemmas In A Zombie Apocalypse: No. 3 – The Brother Dilemma

15 Mar

Your only gun slips from your waistband as you scramble into the dingy after your brother and push away from the dock. You lie back thinking you’re finally safe; then you realise he’s been bitten. At first you try to stop the bleeding but slowly the severity of your situation dawns on you. You’re brother’s going to turn and if both of you are still in the small boat when that happens he’ll attack; with so little space and no weapons to hand, there will be little you can do to defend yourself. You wrack your brains but you can only come up with two options: you could swim back to shore where you’d have to constantly fight for your survival or you could throw your brother into the water before he turns – he’d drown but you’d be able to stay in the safety of the boat. What do you do?

As always, this dilemma is just here to make you think, so there’s no right or wrong answer. Vote in the poll to let others what you do if you were in this situation, and if you want to give a more detailed answer, leave a comment on this posting.

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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 the UK, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

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What Would You Do If … Dilemmas In A Zombie Apocalypse: No. 2 – The Best Friend Dilemma

8 Mar

You see your best friend running for safety but there’s half a dozen zombies chasing him; the nearest is only a few feet behind and you don’t think he’ll make in time. He calls out to you to do something but you’ve only got one last bullet left in your rifle. If you shoot the zombie closest to him he might just make it but if he doesn’t, he’ll die a long, terrifying and painful death, and all you’ll be able to do is watch it happen as he begs you to put him out of his misery. If you shoot him instead, his death will be quick and painless but you’ll be left always wondering if somehow he might have made it if only you’d done something different. What do you do?


As always, this dilemma is just here to make you think, so there’s no right or wrong answer. Vote in the poll to let others what you do if you were in this situation, and if you want to give a more detailed answer, leave a comment on this posting.


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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 the UK, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

The Wall – A Short Story Set In A Post-Apocalyptic World

6 Mar

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.

I stand staring north along the broad road as it disappears off into the distance. I’d always wanted to visit Scotland but now this is as close as I’d ever get; it’s as close as I’d ever want to get. Infected swarm around the base of the wall that has become our latest line of defence against them. I hope it will hold; we all do. It’s our last chance of keeping the disease contained. I hear the sound of an engine racing even above the groaning and shuffling of the infected that push against the wall in their hundreds, possibly even thousands. Those are just the ones I can see and I’ve no idea of how many others there might be out there, attacking the wall along its entire 73 mile length. I search for the vehicle but it takes me a while to find it; an RV, off in the distance, hurtling down the deserted northbound carriageway of the M74; the road that once connected Scotland and England and that the wall now cuts in two. I wonder how they’ve survived so long out there in what has become the badlands; where they think they’re going. Surely they must know that even if they make it past all the infected, we can’t let them through. Not wanting to watch what will happen to those inside, I turn away and light a cigarette. The smoking’s new. Before, I’d always been scared of getting cancer but now there are worse things to worry about, much worse, and anyway it gives me something to do with my hands while I’m on guard duty; just like drinking does when I’m off. I watch the end of the cigarette glow as smoke spirals up into the sky and I wonder at how much the world has changed in such a short space of time.

***

There’d been outbreaks all over the world but ours had started in Glasgow the week before. At first they’d tried to contain it there but the soldiers on the barricades couldn’t easily distinguish the infected from those that were just trying to flee and there weren’t enough of them to stop the mass of people who wanted to get out. They’d seen on the news the day before what’d happened in Miami when the infection, and the infected, over-ran the city and they weren’t about to wait round for the same thing happen to Glasgow. That just made the job of containment all the more difficult for those on the front lines; in fact it was impossible.

I think the Generals must have known this from the start because even before they’d ordered the first pull back they’d set us to work resurrecting the ancient wall. It had originally been built to guard the northern frontier of the mighty Roman Empire against wild Pictish warriors who tried again and again to expel it from their homeland. Now we’d rebuilt it to keep at bay a much more frightening enemy: a virus. It didn’t sound scary until you saw what it made people do to each other. It took over their brains and their bodies, extinguishing all traces of who they’d once been, turning them into something altogether different. Driven to pass it on, the infected would attack anyone without the virus but often they’d go too far: killing them, tearing them apart, even eating them. That was what happened if the infected found you one on one but if they got into a crowd it was different. All those people running around, panicked, screaming and shouting; it seemed to confuse them. They’d attack one person but only long enough to bring them down before running after another then another. In crowds, they wouldn’t kill; instead they’d just infect. This allowed the virus to spread and spread rapidly. That’s what had happened in Glasgow and what was now happening everywhere north of the wall.

When we were re-building the wall, it seemed like almost every soldier and reservist in the country was there, well all those not directly fighting the infected on the front line. Whether they knew it or not, their job wasn’t really containment, as it was being reported on the news, but rather to slow the spread of the virus and buy us enough time to get what we hoped would be our new frontier finished. Yes, the Generals were condemning anyone north of the wall to death, or worse, but what choice did they have? They were sacrificing five million but they were doing it to save 60. It was a tough decision but it was the right one; it was the only logical one.

It was amazing to watch the wall go up. Twenty-five feet high and ten feet wide, it had a scaffolding skeleton lined with almost anything we could get our hands on: plywood, tarpaulins, sand bags, bales of hay, anything that would hold back the rocks, the rubble, the earth and the sand we filled it with. Like the Romans before us, we used the natural features of the land to help make the defences as impregnable as possible. In some cases, we even used the remains of the Roman wall itself to help speed up the construction but unlike the Romans, we didn’t need to worry about gateways or forts: once it was completed, no one was going to be allowed through from the north, no matter what.

We completed it in two days but with nearly thirty thousand of us working on it, it wasn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds. That was when they started what they were calling a phased withdrawal. Well that’s what they were calling it to us; to the media and the public they were still talking about containment. They airlifted the troops out, starting with the ones closest to the action, but left the civilians behind. Three days later even that stopped: it was getting too risky. By then the gradual trickle of people fleeing southwards from the infected had grown into a raging torrent but we had to hold firm. We couldn’t tell who might be infected, but as yet unturned, and who was infection-free, and there was no way we could risk the virus getting through the wall. As far as I knew, there was no plan B so if that happened, the whole country was finished – that was how important the wall was.

If the ever-building crowds came too close to the wall, we’d fire warning shots to keep them away. It was heart-breaking to see them: men, women, whole families all trying to get away from the infection but there was nothing any of us could do. As we watched helplessly, they set up makeshift camps all along the northern edge of the wall; some with tents, others making use of cars, caravans and whatever else they could find. At night all I could see were thousands upon thousands of fires, burning in the darkness, stretching as far as the eye could see both along the wall and off into the north.

Then the infected started to appear. I don’t know where they came from, may be they’d followed those trying to flee south or maybe it was people who’d been bitten and had got this far before finally losing their battle against the virus. At first we tried to take them out, shooting at anyone who had clearly turned before they could attack too many others. When it was an adult it wasn’t too hard but when it was a teenager or, even worse, a child it was gut-wrenchingly difficult; yet it had to be done. Even then it didn’t really make a difference because soon there were just too many of them. Pandemonium broke out amongst the refugees. It was horrific watching all those people as the infection and the infected surged through the crowds below the wall but I couldn’t take my eyes off it. No one knew what to do; where to go. Some tried to climb the wall or tear it down and we were ordered to shoot them. Others called up to where we stood, asking for our help or holding up their children pleading for us to save them. Even if we’d been allowed, they were too far below to reach without risking our own lives and none of us were willing to do that. Then there were the ones that ran. They didn’t know where they were heading, they just took off and when one person started, others around them would follow, turning a frightened mob into a stampede that swept across all in its path. Anyone who fell or got in its way was trampled under foot.

That night almost no fires burned in the darkness and by dawn there were none. As the sun rose it revealed what was left of the refugee camps. Gone were the clusters of tents and people; in the night they’d been replaced by a roaring, swirling sea of infected. They lined the wall, forty or fifty deep all trying to get to the uninfected they could sense on the other side. They attacked the makeshift structure, beating and tearing at it until their hands bled.

***

As I finish my cigarette, I hear the RV screech to a halt. I turn to find it’s now close enough to the wall that the occupants must be able to make out the swarm of infected that line it as far as the eye can see. I watch as it sits there, it’s engine idling and I wonder what the driver’s thinking. The engine roars again and the RV leaps forward. When it reaches the first of the infected it doesn’t slow; it just plows through them. It doesn’t even slow as it approaches the wall itself; instead it slams into it. I feel a tremor pass under my feet. For a moment I wonder if the wall will hold but then I realise that one RV would have little impact on the tons of earth and rock on which I stand. I peer over the edge and see the infected crowding around the vehicle, trying their best to get in. Then the skylight on its roof opens and a pair of hands appear. A moment later, they’re followed by a head and then the rest of a young boy. Soon another person appears, then another and another. The last must have been the driver because he’s bleeding from a gash across his face that looks like it’s been caused by his head hitting the steering wheel. They glance around frantically, seeing that the RV is surrounded by infected on three sides whilst the front end is crumpled against the wall. They’re only a few feet below me but before they can do anything the RV shudders, causing one of the kids to lose his footing. As he scrambles back to his feet, the vehicle starts to sway violently as the infected attack it, trying to get to the people huddled on its roof.

Shielding his eyes with his hand, the man looks up and sees me watching from the top of the wall. He’s got a scrawny beard and lank, unwashed hair. There’s dirt ingrained into the lines on his face and his clothes are stained and grubby. At first, I’m disgusted, then it occurs to me that I probably look pretty much the same to him. He calls out, ‘Hey, can you help us up?’ His accent’s Scottish but I can’t narrow it down any further than that.

‘No.’ It sounds harsh but we have our orders.

‘But you’ve got to.’ The man urges me.

‘The sergeant made it very clear, we can’t help any one from north of the wall.’

‘Are you just going to stand there and watch them kill us?’ The woman shouts incredulously. Her dark hair’s tied back in a ponytail, revealing a pale, pinched face and sunken brown eyes. The two boys hiding between the adults are caked in dirt and are so skinny it looks like a light breeze would blow them away. I’m guessing survival rather than food has been the number one priority for this family since the outbreak started.

I turn and walk a few feet away from the edge of the wall to give me time to think.

‘Hey come back. You can’t just leave us here. Come back!’ There’s fear in the woman’s voice and kids start crying.

I blot this out as I try to work out what to do. It would be directly disobeying orders if I helped them but unlike all the others I could reach these survivors without risking my own neck. Surely I couldn’t let them get torn apart right there in front of me?

Suddenly there’s a scream. I run forward and look down. The weight of the infected pushing on the RV is now so great that it’s rocking wildly from side to side. In the commotion, the smaller of the two boys has been thrown from his feet and is now dangling over the edge of the roof. One of the taller infected has hold of his legs and is pulling the boy towards his gaping mouth. The only thing stopping the boy being dragged into the horde is the fact his mother and father have a hold of his arms and are pulling in the other direction. The boy’s screaming both in pain and in fear. Without thinking I shoulder my rifle and shoot the infected through the head. Instantly the boy is released, sending his parents tumbling onto the RV’s roof as they finally get him clear.

Lying on his back, the man looks up at me hopefully, ‘Does that mean you’re going to help us?’

‘I haven’t decided yet.’ I pause for a moment so I can think. ‘How do I know you’re not infected?’

‘We’re not. We’re all okay.’

‘That’s what everyone says, even those who’ve been bitten.’

‘But we are. How can we prove it to you?

‘You can’t.’

‘So you’re just going to leave us here?’

‘There’s nothing else I can do.’

‘There must be something you can do!’ The woman sounds desperate.

The RV tips sharply to it’s left, sending them all sprawling across its roof. This time only the man and the younger of the two children manage to hold on. First the older boy and then the woman slips over the edge and disappears into the arms of the infected waiting below. Blood and guts fly in all directions as the infected tear the screaming mother and child to pieces. The man gets up but the RV is shuddering so wildly he’s having trouble staying on his feet.

‘Please. You’ve got to help us. Or if not me, at least help him.’ he points to where the boy’s clinging to the roof. ‘He’s not injured, I promise you, he’s clean. You can check for yourself once you get him up there. Look.’ He pulls the boy to his feet and jerks up his jacket and shirt before spinning him round and round. I can see there are no bites on his slight torso.

I avoid the man’s eyes, ‘I can’t. How would I explain where he came from?’

‘I don’t know but surely you must be able to think of something?’ He shouts desperately.

The RV tips again and I can see from his face that the man knows it’s only a matter of time. He grabs the boy and holds him up. His eyes meet mine, ‘Please. Save him.’

Against my better judgement I sling my rifle across my back as I throw myself down and lean the edge of the wall. I stretch my hands down towards the boy but he’s too frightened to reach up and grab them. The RV lurches and the man only just manages to stay upright.

‘Come on, boy, take my hands,’ I shout as I slide as far forward as I dare. ‘Please,’ I say more softly and then smile.

This seems to do the trick and he unfolds his arms. I feel his tiny hands close on mine just as the man finally loses his footing and falls, yelling, from the RV. The boy squirms, trying to see what’s happened to his father.

Below him, I can see the man being ripped apart by the infected. ‘Don’t look down, boy, just look at me. You’re almost safe. I’ll have you up here in a jiffy and then you’ll be safe.’

Behind me I hear the distinctive click of a bullet being chambered in an assault rifle. ‘You’ll do no such thing, soldier!’

I know the voice and I know I’m screwed. ‘But Sergeant, I can’t just let him go.’

‘Well, you can’t bring him up here either. It’s too risky. What if he’s infected?’

I glance down at the boy. The left sleeve of his jacket has slipped and I can see blood on his forearm. I can’t tell if it’s from a bite but it’s definitely blood. Yet this is a living, breathing little boy, I can’t just drop him into the mass of infected that are seething around the base of the wall, the nearest reaching their arms up towards him. I can see tears welling up in his frightened eyes as he silently pleads with me to pull him to safety. I don’t know what to do next: no matter what, I know it’ll be the wrong decision for someone. All I can do is lie there, unable to decide one way or the other, the terrified boy dangling from my arms, the Sergeant standing behind me with his gun and the infected swarming below.

***

Author’s Note: This is story connected to another one I’ve written called Last Flight Out, which is can be found here . In that story, the concept of re-building Hadrian’s Wall (which is the name of the Roman wall that used to separate modern day Scotland and England more than 1,700 years ago) is introduced for the first time. Both these stories are based on extra ideas I had while working on the first draft of the sequel to For Those In Peril On The Sea. They didn’t really fit into the main story, which is about a group of people escaping from Glasgow during the very early stages of an outbreak of this virus, but I found them intriguing enough that I wanted to do something with them rather than just abandoning them altogether.

If you want to see where Hadrian’s Wall is and also see the exact location where this story is set, you can download a map layer that will allow you to plot these on Google Earth from here. In order to view this map layer, you have to have either Google Earth or a Google Earth Mobile app installed on your computer or ebook device. These are free and you can find the one that’s best for you by entering the phrase ‘Google Earth’ into an internet search engine.

What Would You Do If … Dilemmas In A Zombie Apocalypse: No. 1 – The Running Girl Dilemma

1 Mar

If (or should that be when?) the zombie apocalypse comes, it will change not just the world but the way we view it and how we respond to those around us. We will find ourselves facing situations we never thought we’d have to face and doing things – good and bad, brave and cowardly – we never thought we were capable of.

The more we think about this now, the better prepared we’ll be when it happens. So to help you get ready I’m going to post a series of zombie apocalypse dilemmas under the category ‘What Would You Do If….’. I’ll aim to post one each Friday around 3pm here in Scotland until I run out of ideas because, let’s face it, by the end of the week you’d much rather be thinking about zombies than working or studying or whatever else it is you’re meant to be doing instead.

Each dilemma will outline a situation and then ask you how you’d respond if you found yourself in it. In all of them, there will be different choices, each of which have different repercussions for those involved. They’re just here to make you think, so there’s no right or wrong answers, but please post a comment to let me know what you would do and why. If you don’t have time to leave a comment, you can still take part by voting on the poll below the dilemma (if you’re leaving a comment, please vote in the poll as well just so that your views are counted in the results of that too).

So with that brief introduction out of the way, here’s the first one:

What Would You Do If … Dilemmas In A Zombie Apocalypse: No. 1.
The Running Girl Dilemma

You’re just about to enter your safe house after a successful foraging trip when you see a teenage girl being pursued by a horde of zombies. She spots you and starts running towards you, the zombies only a few steps behind. If you shut the door now you’ll have time to lock and bar it before the zombies get there; you’ll then be safe but the girl will die. If you wait until the girl’s inside too, it might be too late. What do you do?

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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 the UK, and available as an ebook and in print in the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.


Could Genetic Engineering Create A Zombie Apocalypse?

5 Feb

Modern technology has reached a stage where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be created by almost anyone working in a biotech lab using fairly basic genetic engineering. Much of this involves either changing the way genes within an individual organism work or transferring genes from one organism into another. The organisms used in such work range from things as large as the cow to ones as small as viruses. A lot of genetic engineering is aimed at either modifying the organisms that cause infectious diseases or changing the way animals respond to them. As with any technological developments, there is always the possibility of unexpected consequences. With this in mind, I thought I’d ask myself a question: Could genetic engineering spark a zombie apocalypse?

Firstly, we have to consider the type of zombie that might be involved in any zombie apocalypse. There are two basic zombie ‘species: The traditional, risen-from-the-dead zombie and living humans infected with a disease that causes them to act like we’d expect a zombie to act (this type of zombie will be familiar to anyone who has seen the film 28 Days Later). There is no known disease caused by another organism that can cause the first type of zombie, and that alone makes it’s extremely unlikely (but not necessarily impossible) that a geneticist could engineer an organism do it. This is because bio-technicians, for the most part, only tinker with what is already available, such as turning off a gene here, modifying a gene there or moving a gene from one species to another, rather than creating anything truly new from scratch; so no existing template in nature means there’s very little they could do to create one.

The second type of zombie, a living human infected with a disease that makes them act like a zombie, is, rather frighteningly, much more feasible. There are many existing diseases and organisms that are known to get into the human brain and start influencing our behaviours. I’ve mentioned a few of them in a previous post that can be found here but top amongst these are diseases such as rabies and toxoplasmosis. There are also diseases and organisms out there that, while they don’t affect humans, can take control of other organisms in a variety of interesting, if gruesome, ways. This means that there’s loads of potential examples that a genetic engineer could use as the basis for creating something that would turn people into zombie-like infected.

So if it’s feasible, how could it actually happen? There’s two possible scenarios. The first is the intentional creation of a malicious disease agent. This would be where someone specifically sets out to create a pathogen that would turn living people into something that resembled flesh-eating zombies. You might think that bio-terrorists or so-called rogue states would be the biggest worry here, but lets face it the only people who really have the knowledge and tools to create such a thing are those in well-developed country with decades of experience in biowarfare. This means much more likely culprits are ones like the US, the UK, Russia and China. While these countries are bound by various international conventions, this doesn’t mean they, or someone working for them, isn’t dabbling around with such things. However, while they may be interested in creating an organism capable of turning humans into living zombies, it’s unlikely that they would intentionally make an infectious one (or at least one they didn’t have a vaccine for and you can’t make a vaccine without first making the disease). This is because there would be too great a risk of it causing ‘blow back’ as they’d have no control of it once it was released (this would be something any military end-user would consider to be very important). This means that while this may be the source of a few zombies here and there, it’s unlikely to be the source of a true zombie apocalypse caused by a genetically-engineered disease run amok.

The amount of resources required to successfully genetically engineer anything also means that it’s unlikely that a zombie apocalypse could be sparked by a single individual working alone and especially in a basement home lab. The equipment needed would cost too much and the chances are you’d need a large team of people working over a long period of time to get any where. While not impossible, this means we probably don’t need to worry about the disenfranchised mad scientist with a grudge against humanity toiling away in his shed.

The last scenario is, to me, the really scary one; it’s the accidental creation and release of an organism that would cause a highly infectious zombie-inducing disease. While genetic engineers might not like to admit it, they don’t know as much about how genes actually work as they think they do. This is why the use of gene therapy in medicine has never really lived up to its much-hyped potential and it also means there’s a lot of potential for them to make changes to an organism’s DNA that has unforeseen and unexpected consequences.

Take, for example, rabies. While the rabies virus has the power to turn people into zombie-like infected, it’s highly lethal and kills anyone infected with it. It also spreads very slowly. This means that while it can kill you, it doesn’t really have to power to create a zombie apocalypse. But rabies is exactly the type of disease that some well-meaning genetic engineer might start messing around with, perhaps to try to create a better vaccine or something like that (and remember rabies still kills around 50,000 people per year so there may well be people out there interested in doing this). If this had the unintended consequence of making it less lethal, you could end up with people stuck for the rest of their lives in the extremely aggressive and violent pre-terminal phase that would leave them pretty much indistinguishable from a zombie. If it also made the virus faster-acting, so that it took people over in hours rather than weeks (possibly by travelling in the blood stream rather than creeping along the nervous system), then we could have the making of a true zombie apocalypse. This is the apocalyptic scenario I used in For Those In Peril On The Sea, and you can find a detailed consideration of it here.

You could easily imagine similar scenarios involving the prions that cause mad cow disease, or something like toxoplasmosis or even syphilis (which as a very similar pre-terminal phase as rabies – not surprising since the viruses that cause these two very different diseases are closely related). It would only take small changes to make these types of diseases apocalypse-inducingly dangerous.

There’s also another option for the accidental creation of an agent capable of creating a zombie apocalypse. This is the use of short strands of RNA to stop genes working within an animal’s body (this technology’s called short interfering RNA or siRNA for short). It would be easy enough for someone to create a strand of RNA that was meant to do one thing in humans but ended up turning off some sort of control centre within the brain, or indeed ramping up centres associated with rage or other similar emotions. While such an agent might not be infectious as such, it might be possible for it to be passed from person to person through exchanges in body fluids. This is probably not that far from the scenario behind the rage ‘virus’ that featured in the movie 28 Days Later (and after all, what’s a virus but a short strand of RNA?).

Finally, we should consider how any agent, once created, makes it out into the world because without the release there can be no apocalypse. While it’s possible that it could be let out on purpose, for example as part of a field trial of a vaccine, it’s much more likely that any release would be accidental. People working in labs are never quite as careful as we’d hope they’d be (especially when working with really dangerous organisms) and the systems meant to keep us safe from what they’re cooking up aren’t infallible. This makes accidental releases of bio-engineered organisms feasible. However, in labs associated with commercial biotech firms, there’s probably a lot more checks and balances than in university labs, and they’re much less likely to be staffed by over-worked or hung-over grad students who aren’t concentrating quite as hard on containment as they should. There’s also many more university labs around and they tend to do much more blue sky and truly novel work, so I would give them the highest risk of accidentally sparking a zombie apocalypse.

So, while it’s unlikely that bio-technology could accidentally cause dead to rise and take over the world, it’s much more feasible that it could cause a disease outbreak that would turn humans into zombie-like infected. Of the possible scenarios considered for this, ones associated with the accidental creation and release of some genetically engineered organism are more likely that those associated with the intentional creation of a zombie virus by some state-sponsored weapons program. Unfortunately, this also makes it much more likely, especially when you consider how many people all around the world are now working in this field, how little they understand of the potential unintended consequences of what they’re doing and how little real regulation there is on this ever-expanding area of technology.

The over-all chances of this happening might be extremely low but the costs to humanity would be beyond measure so even a small chance is probably unacceptable.


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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 the UK, and available as an ebook and in print the US from the 21st March 2013. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

The Girl At Little Harbour – A Short Story Set In a Post-apocalyptic World

27 Jan

You can download a PDF version of this story for reading on your computer or an ebook reader by clicking here.

The Girl At Little Harbour

Will’s dead. I know he is. Although I’m doing my best not to look, I know if turn my head I’ll be able to see his body lying where it fell after I’d finished smashing the oar against his skull. I’d killed him but he’d killed me too; or at least as good as. Maybe even worse. Of all of them that had to be out there, why did it have to be him? I know it wasn’t his fault, that it wasn’t really him, just his body, driven by the virus that’s changed the world so dramatically in the last few months. I don’t know how many months exactly; it seems like forever yet the summer’s still not over so it can’t be more than four or five. I can’t clearly remember the world as it was before. The memories are still there but it’s as if I see them through a haze or smoke or something. It’s only the ones from after it happened that are clear now. At first we called it the disease; the outbreak; the end of the world and many other things but at some point we started calling it ‘it’ and that’s the name which stuck.

I think of Carol-Lynn; my little girl, my beautiful baby. We called her Carol after Will’s mother and Lynn after mine. It seemed logical at the time but we might have come up with something different if we’d realised how much confusion it would cause. No one ever seemed to get it right, not at first any way, and Carol-Lynn was very sensitive to the many mistakes. Every time someone got it wrong, she’d pout and give them a look that could curdle milk. Staring straight at them she’d say in a stern voice, ‘My name’s Carol-Lynn, not Carolyn or Carol-Anne or Caroline but Carol,’ she’d leave the slightest pause for emphasis, ‘Lynn!’ She’d been doing it pretty much since her first day at elementary school. I don’t know where she got that look from but Will always said it was the same look I gave him when he did something stupid. I smile when I remember this; And then cry again. How could it all end this way? Our perfect little family ripped apart, destroyed: Will dead, because I’d had to kill him, me infected, and Carol-Lynn, what would happen to her?

There are other survivors around here. I know there are; that’s why we’d come this far north, trying desperately to find others like ourselves, but will they find her before it’s too late? How can they? They’re not looking for her; Why would they? They don’t even know she exists. As long as she does as I’ve told her, she’ll be safe and she has plenty of food so maybe there’s a chance. The other survivors aren’t too far away, just a few more miles and maybe one day they will come this way and find her.

I’ll be long gone by then. Not dead but turned into one of them; an infected, just like Will had been, but I have no one to put me out of my misery. I’m destined to roam, no longer really human, for god knows how long, attacking any survivors who come near. I don’t know when but sooner or later I’ll turn and I can’t be anywhere near Carol-Lynn, safely tucked away as she is, when that happens. I can’t go to her and hug her one last time; I can’t tell her I love her; that I’m sorry to be leaving her like this. I can’t even say goodbye. When I don’t come back as promised, she’ll know something has happened to me. She won’t know what but she’ll know that I’ve left her all alone in this terrifying and dangerous world that none of us could have ever have foreseen.


***

We were in Trinidad when it happened. It started slowly, with rumours of strange things happening in Haiti; then some of the other islands to the north. A while after that someone with the infection turned up in Miami. That was when I started taking it seriously but I figured the government, the CDC or someone, would work out a way to deal with it. I still didn’t realise how bad it was, what this new virus did to people and what it made them do to others. Then, out of nowhere, Miami was over-run. All I could do was stare at the television in the marina office along with everyone else as we watched it happen. We had family and friends there and I tried calling but the phone lines were jammed; all I could do was hope they’d made it out. At first the authorities spoke with confidence about dealing with it but within a day the confidence disappeared and was replaced by confusion and fear. They didn’t say it but it was written across their faces. Then the virus jumped: To Britain, to Canada, to Rio. Within a few days it seemed like it was everywhere.

The moment we heard the rumours of an outbreak on the island, we left. Along with five other yachts, all with families like ours on them, we set out not really knowing where we were going; just that we needed to get away. Gradually we meandered north, moving from island to island, looking for somewhere that was still safe. As we did, we watched the news reports with disbelief as the world fell apart. Then, right in the middle of a broadcast, the news channel stopped. We tried to find another one but all we got was automated messages telling of technical problems and falsely promising the shows would be right back. We tried the FM radio but there was nothing on that either. Suddenly it seemed like we were all alone in the world. Our little flotilla had reached the Turks and Caicos islands by then and there seemed little point in carrying on. Instead we found an uninhabited island and set ourselves up there. To call it an island was perhaps a bit of wishful thinking as it was really just a very large sandbank that rose about ten feet above the water covered with scrubby bushes but there was no risk of running into anyone with the infection so we were safe. Or at least we thought we were.


***

I’m not too sure how long we’d been there, just our five families, surviving, living off what we could catch from the sea but it seemed like forever, when they made contact over the VHF radio. We used the radios to talk to each other, to chat back and forth, and it was during one conversation that they broke in. They told us they were from the US Navy and that they’d been ordered to find as many survivors as they could and take them to a safe zone that had been set up in Puerto Rico. When they asked where we were, we gave them our position and they told us they’d be there the following morning. That night we celebrated. I felt as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I slept soundly for the first time since it happened. Will didn’t. He alone didn’t trust the men who’d made contact with us. I never found out what it was but there was something in the way they spoke that just didn’t sit right with him.

I woke at daybreak to the sound of Will shouting angrily in the cockpit followed by a blast of his shotgun. I leapt out of the bunk we shared and sprinted to the companion way; Will was standing on deck, gun pointed at someone I couldn’t see.

‘Get the fuck away from us!’ Will yelled.

There was a shouted reply in what sounded like Spanish or Patois.

‘Mom, what’s going on?’ Carol-Lynn had come up behind me and was now clinging to my side.

I smoothed her hair with my hand as I kept my eyes locked on Will. ‘I don’t know, honey.’

‘Who’s Dad shouting at?’

Before I could reply Will fired his shotgun again. I’d always been against him having it on the boat; I thought it was too dangerous, especially with a child on board, but now I was glad we had it.

‘Next time I’ll aim at your engine. You understand?’

Will’s voice had a hard edge to it and they must have believed him because I heard an outboard clunk into gear and race off.

He glanced down at me. ‘Liz, we need to get out of here now. Get the engine started and as soon as I get the anchor out the sand, get us going.’

I looked at him questioningly, ‘What’s happening?’

‘I’ll fill you in later. There’s not time now. They might decide to come back. They’ve gone over to the other boats but they might still come back.’ The hardness had gone from Will’s voice and now he just sounded scared.

‘Dad?’

‘You stay down there Carrie. It’s not safe up here.’ That’s always what he called her, Carrie rather than Carol-Lynn. He was the only one who was allowed to call her anything other than her full name.

‘But Dad, what’s going on?’

Will didn’t answer. Instead he disappeared towards the front of the boat. I leapt into the cockpit and started the engine. We hadn’t used it in weeks and it took several attempts before it spluttered into life. The shotgun lay on one side of the cockpit along with a pair of binoculars. While Will wrestled with the anchor line, I pick these up and scanned around the anchorage that had been our home for what seemed like a life time. There were three open boats, each about 20 feet long fitted with large outboard engines, and twelve or thirteen men in all: some armed with machetes, others with clubs. One had what looked like an assault rifle and two brandished pistols of some description. They’d boarded three of the other yachts already and were circling the last one. Jools was standing on deck with his flare gun, doing his best to keep it pointed at which ever boat was nearest. Jenny was beside him and I figured their kids were probably somewhere down below. They’d over-wintered at same marina as us in Trinidad and we’d got to know them well. I saw smoke rise from the barrel of the assault rifle just as the sound of the shot reached me and Jools crumpled to the deck clutching his arm.

‘Liz, we need to get going now!’ Will was striding towards the cockpit. I’d been so transfixed by what was going on with the other boats that I’d forgotten what I was meant to be doing.

‘Oh … yeah.’ I lowered the binoculars and pushed the throttle forward, turning the wheel until we were heading out of the bay. We could only do about four knots at the most and they’d easily be able to catch us if they wanted to but it was our only hope of getting away. In the mean time, Will readied the sails.

The last I saw of the others was about fifteen minutes later. We were just about to round the top of the island where we’d pass from the attackers’ sight. By then they’d moved everyone onto the largest yacht and lined them up along one side; hands tied behind their backs, facing out to sea. While most of the strangers ransacked the other yachts, a group of three kept an eye on their prisoners. The one with the assault rifle leaned against the mast as he smoked a cigarette and chatted with the man sitting on the top of the cabin. The third was walking back and forth behind our friends and their families shouting and gesticulating with his pistol; I could see terrified looks on their faces.

‘Mom, what’s going to happen to them?’ I hadn’t heard Carol-Lynn come into the cockpit and she was now standing beside me, her hand shading her eyes as she stared back towards the other boats. Her voice was quiet and flat.

I pulled her close. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Can’t we help them?’ She was staring straight up at me.

I turned away, avoiding the blue eyes that were searching my face for answers. ‘No.’

‘Why not?’

Will looked across at her from where he was standing at the wheel, ‘Because there’s too many of them. They’d catch us too.’

‘But what do they want?’

‘Food; Supplies; Boats …’ Will caught himself just in time and glanced at me uneasily. He didn’t finish his sentence but I knew what he’d almost said: Women.

Back on the largest yacht, I could make out Jools standing at one end of the line of people, Jenny beside him. They’re kids, Michael and Jane, were there too. Jane was the same age as Carol-Lynn and they’d spent a lot of time together since it happened. Michael was a couple of years younger. The man with the pistol was now behind Jools, still shouting and gesticulating. I saw Jools try to twist round to face him. He wasn’t the type of person to just stand there and take it. The man pushed him back and then raised the pistol. I didn’t hear anything but as if in slow motion I saw Jools’ head explode and he toppled forward into the sea. Jenny tried to stop him but with her hands tied there was nothing she could do. The man pressed his pistol against her head and, even though she was hunched over, she froze. The man shouted at her and she slowly straightened up. All the time the man kept his gun pressed against her. I could see him yelling at her; first in one ear then the other. The one with the assault rifle was laughing.

After what seemed like an age the man lowered the pistol and I could see Jenny relax a little. He took a step to his left and in a flash shot her two kids; not in the head but in the back. Michael fell into the water where I could see him struggling to stay afloat but Jane collapsed onto the deck. Jenny tried to get to her but the man sitting on the cabin jump to his feet and held her back. The one with the pistol stood over Jane and fired again and again; not into her head but into her belly. I could see her writhing in agony while the man turned to Jenny and laughed. It was then that we passed round the headland and out of sight. That will always be my strongest, most lingering memory of the other families, the people we’d spent so much time with since it happened.


***

From then on, while we kept the VHF radio on, we swore we’d never use it. We kept mostly out at sea, well away from any land. It wasn’t as easy but Will figured it was safer: there was less chance of us running into anyone else. We knew we needed others if we were going to survive but we no longer knew if we could trust them. It was late one night when I was on watch that I heard something coming over the airwaves. It wasn’t clear but it was definitely a voice.

‘Help … Please help … Someone please help … Help me.’ It was a little girl, the fear clear in her voice. For a moment there was silence.

‘I could go back in the head. I was in the toilet reading …’ The signal faded out for a moment before coming back. ‘… blood everywhere.’ Again the voice was followed by silence; She was be talking to someone I couldn’t hear.

Suddenly a new voice broke in. This time a boy, a teenager by the sound of it. ‘Katie, it’s okay. Just do what Jack says. Get back in the head now.’

‘Jeff, you’re alive? Is everyone …’ The signal disappeared and they were gone. I listened on for the rest of my watch but that was all I heard.

Over breakfast Will and I discussed it, trying to work out what it meant but before we could come to any conclusion the radio burst into life again.

‘… Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea.’ The voice was soft with a slight southern American accent.

It was an odd thing to suddenly hear. We both waited but there was nothing more.

I glanced at Will, ‘What d’you think that’s all about?’

Will shrugged, ‘Maybe it’s Sunday and they’re doing a service.’

I’d lost track of the days a long time before and for all I knew it could be a Sunday. ‘Where d’you think they are?’
Will scratched his head. ‘Don’t know, maybe somewhere north of here. If they was further south we’d probably have heard them before now.’

‘D’you think we should try to find them?’

‘Don’t know.’ Will seemed to be saying that a lot these days. Over the years I’d become used to him always having an answer, even if it was guess and this change this was beginning to disturb me: it was almost as if he’d given up trying to make sense the world.

‘What about if we head north, see if we can pick up anything more?’

Will shrugged. ‘I suppose.’


***

As we made our way north, the fragments of conversation coming over the radio gradually increased in frequency. We started to recognise voices and hear names: Jack, Rob, CJ, Jon, David. We got a sense of who they were and what they were doing: Fishing, scavenging and, most importantly, surviving. It became addictive and for a while none of us spent more than a few minutes of our waking hours out of earshot of the radio in case we missed something. Carol-Lynn was fascinated and would make up stories based around what we heard, filling out the characters, giving them actions. CJ became a beautiful princess, trapped in a tower by Jack, her father. Rob, Jon and David were suitors she’d call down to from a window high above the ground, sending them out on quests as trials to see who would win her hand in marriage. Both Will and I laughed but for all we knew she could have been right.


***

After a week we heard a place name for the first time: Hope Town. Will scuttled below and returned with a chart. We spread it out and pored over it. Carol-Lynn was the one who found it, perched on a small island around a 100 miles to our northwest.

‘What d’you think?’ Will glanced at me nervously.

‘It sounds like they’re doing quite well; better than us at any rate. I mean you heard them talking about gardens and growing things the other day, didn’t you?’

‘Can we trust them though?’

‘I don’t know.’ I was starting to use that phrase a lot too. ‘It sounds like there’s quite a lot of them though, like a proper community not just a few people on boats. We could see if we could raise them on the radio. Find out more.’

‘Yeah.’ Will paused for a moment. ‘But look what happened last time we made contact with anyone on the VHF.’

‘This is different. We won’t tell them where we are. There’s no way they can work it out.’

‘Still …’ Will’s eyes flicked to Carol-Lynn. Like me, he was remembering the last we’d seen of her friend Jane: writhing in agony as a man tortured her in front of her mother; her father and her brother dead in the water.

‘Yeah, maybe that’s not a good idea.’ I thought for a few seconds. ‘How about if we head up there and see we what we find? We can keep a low profile and if it looks dangerous, we can just creep away again.’

‘Hummm …’

I was starting to get exasperated. ‘Will, we need to do something. We can’t just float around out here for ever. Can we?’

‘I suppose not.’

‘So we head up there?’

‘Yeah, I guess.’


***

The first land we spotted was the southern tip of a large island called Great Abaco. We’d decided to work our way up along the coast towards Hope Town to see what we could see. So far it was nothing but then again the charts didn’t show many settlements along the islands eastern coast at this end. As we moved north, I noticed the sea was beginning to change. The swell was gradually building into large, well- spaced rollers that would slowly lift the yacht up ten, fifteen feet and then drop it gently down again: somewhere over the horizon a storm was brewing.

Later that afternoon, the VHF crackled into life yet again. It was doing this so often now we were starting to lose interest. Carol-Lynn had got bored with her stories and just made smart remarks about what the people were saying. She reckoned Jon fancied CJ but didn’t want anyone else to know: who knew if she was right? Yet, there was one word in the latest fragment that instantly grabbed our attention. We recognised the voice from the accent even before he mentioned his name.

‘Hey, this is Jack. We think there’s a hurricane coming in. If you’re not already in Hope Town, you need to come back here now …’

Hurricane. That was the word which stood out; which frightened us. I didn’t know how they knew one was coming but it fitted with the building swell.

‘Will, if there’s a hurricane coming, we need to find some shelter.’

Will emerged from the companion way, waving a rolled up chart. ‘Way ahead of you.’

He laid it out in the cockpit and started glancing around. He pointed to an almost completely enclosed bay that housed a small settlement called Little Harbour. ‘This looks good and I think we can make it there before the storm gets here.’ He glanced up at the sun. ‘But I don’t think we’ll be there before it gets dark.’ He inspected the chart more closely. ‘We’ll get as close as we can and then we’ll just have to hope the storm doesn’t get here before daybreak.’

By two in the morning it was clear we wouldn’t make it in before the storm got to us and we had to decide what we’d do instead. The yacht was already starting to buck and sway in the ever-increasing seas. Working hard in the darkness, we stripped off the sails and the boom so we’d have as little windage as possible. Will took an old storm jib and fashioned it into a sea anchor. As the winds built, he dropped it over the side and tied it off to the cleat on the foredeck. Almost immediately the boat turned into the waves and started to settle. As I went down to get some rest, Will remained in the cockpit bundled up in his oil skins and sou’wester against the rain that was starting to move horizontally. At my insistence, he’d put on his life jacket and his safety harness. He sat there, staring out into the approaching storm, wondering, like I was, what was coming our way.

‘Liz, we’re in big trouble!’

Carol-Lynn and I had been jolted from the bunk where we were sleeping off the sea sickness which had troubled us throughout the worst of the storm. Only in the evening when it started to ease did the queasiness begin to ebb away. We were both drained, physically and mentally, and had fallen asleep almost instantly. I glanced around trying to get my bearings and to work out how I’d ended up on the floor.

‘Mom, I’m all wet.’ Carol-Lynn had got up and was standing beside me, soaked to the skin.

Looking down at the floor I saw it was awash with in water. I jumped to my feet. ‘Will, what’s going on?’

‘We’ve hit something. Or rather something’s hit us.’

‘What?’ I was still trying to get my bearings.

‘I don’t know. Something big in the water. It’s put a hole in the side. We’re going down.’

‘Shit! What’re we going to do?’

‘I don’t know, get the dingy over the side I guess. We’ll have a better chance in it than in the life raft.’

‘How long have we got?’

‘Ten, maybe fifteen minutes at the most.’

We got the dingy inflated and over the side in record time. I scrambled in but just as Will was passing Carol-Lynn to me, the boat lurched onto its side and started to sink in earnest. A second later it was gone and Will was in the water. He grabbed onto the dingy and pulled himself over the side. He sat there, wringing wet and breathing heavily. After a second he spoke. ‘Fuck, that was close!’

‘Dad, you’re not meant to use words like that!’

I smiled. ‘Darling, I think on occasions like this it’s allowed.’

She looked confused as Will started the engine and turned us northwards. While the storm had eased, the waves were still high and towered above us whenever we sank into the troughs between them. It was slow going but at least we were heading in the right direction. Then the engine spluttered and died, leaving us at the mercy of the sea.

‘Will?’

He’d knelt down and unscrewed the cap of the fuel tank before peering in. He replaced the lid and stood up. ‘Out of fuel.’ He glanced around. ‘We can’t stay out here, not with the sea like this.’

‘What can we do instead?’

‘Paddle ashore?’

‘But what about them?’ We’d been at sea for so long Will seemed to have forgotten about the danger which now lurked on land. ‘What if there’s infected there?’

‘There’s not many settlements around here so maybe there won’t be a lot around. If we find any when we get there, we can always head back out to sea.’

I pushed the wet hair out of my eyes, ‘I suppose so.’

We untied the oars from where they were stored on the left side of the dingy, and taking one each, we started to make our way towards the nearby shore.


***

It took longer than I expected and it was daylight before we finally climbed out onto the sand. It was the first time I’d set foot on land in months and it felt strange, almost alien. I glanced around nervously but there were no signs of life. To the south, sand stretched as far as I could see while a rocky outcrop blocked our view to the north.

‘Liz, help me get the dingy up the beach. I want to make sure it stays here in case we need it.’

‘You have a plan then?’

‘Yeah. See how far north we can get along the beach and then see if we can reach any of the people in Hope Town on this.’ He pulled a small hand-held radio sealed inside a clear plastic bag out from his pocket and waved it from side to side.

‘What will we do if we run into any of them?’ Carol-Lynn always called the infected them, saying it in a slightly disgusted way. She couldn’t bring herself to call them anything else. We’d see what they could do when they attacked, not first hand but on the television when the news was still broadcasting. It had been horrifying to watch and Carol-Lynn still had nightmares about it.

Will reached into the dingy and pulled out a long thin package covered in plastic. ‘Use this.’

He unwrapped it, revealing the shotgun. I was amazed he’d had the presence of mind to pack it as the boat was sinking. This was the Will I knew: the decisive decision-maker, the one I’d fallen in love with all those years ago. It was good to see him back. He’d been gone so long I’d wondered if I’d lost him forever. I hugged him; I couldn’t help myself.

He looked at me, startled. ‘What’s this in aid of?’

‘Just because.’ I smiled, slightly embarrassed, and stepped away. ‘Right, let’s get going.’

He turned to Carol-Lynn. ‘I almost forgot I’ve got something for you.’ She looked at him quizzically as he unzipped the front of his oil skin jacket and pulled something out. ‘I figured he got left behind in the rush. He’s a bit wet but I’m sure he’ll recover.’

‘Teddy!’ She threw her arms around him. ‘Thanks Dad.’


***

We walked round it, examining it from all sides.

‘Look. Up there. Blue and white paint. I think this is what we hit.’

The shipping container was nestled into the sand, twenty feet long, eight feet wide and a similar height. Carol-Lynn was inspecting it curiously, ‘What d’you think’s inside?’

‘I don’t know but it’d make a nice safe place to hole up.’ Will banged the side and it echoed loudly. ‘I don’t think any infected could get into that!’

We set to work clearing the sand away from the door. Once this was done, Will pulled up the lever and swung the door open. Inside was a jumble of cardboard boxes.

Carol-Lynn craned her neck. ‘I wonder what’s in them?’

‘Only one way to find out.’ Will reached for the nearest one and tore it open. Cans spilled out and rolled across the floor.
Carol-Lynn’s eyes lit up with delight. ‘Food!’

I picked up a can that had ended up against my foot and held it out to her. ‘I’ve never ever seen you get so excited over peas before.’

‘Peas?’ Carol-Lynn looked deflated. ‘I thought it going to be something nice.’


***

It took us an hour to move enough boxes to allow us to enter the container. We stacked them along the back and sides until about half the floor area was cleared and we could move in.

I looked at Will. ‘What now?’

‘You guys stay here. I’m going to talk a look around and see if I can get an idea of what we’re up against. Once I get back we can work out what our options are.’

‘Okay, but be careful.’

‘When have I ever not been careful?’ Will had a twinkle in his eyes as he flicked them towards Carol-Lynn. It was a bit of an in-joke. We’d always talked about having kids at some point but none-the-less getting pregnant with Carol-Lynn hadn’t been planned. It wasn’t that either of us regretted it just that it had been a bit of a surprise when it happened.

Will hugged me and then Carol-Lynn. He took a few steps, then turned, ‘Here, I should leave this with you.’ He tossed me the plastic bag with the radio in it. ‘Just in case.’

I stared at him, ‘Just in case of what?’

He said nothing. Instead he tucked the shotgun into the crook of his arm and strode off up the beach. I watched, not realising it was the last time I’d ever see him. Well, the real him anyway …


***

‘When’s Dad coming back?’

It had been dark for an hour and there was still no sign of Will. Just before sunset, I’d heard the sound of two shotgun blasts somewhere beyond the sand dunes at the back of the beach and I’d expected him to come running over the top at any moment but he hadn’t.

‘He’s probably been caught out by night fall. He’ll be holed up somewhere safe and sound. I’m sure he’ll be back in the morning.’

‘You promise?’ Carol-Lynn glanced at me but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Of the two possible answers, one would be a lie while the other would upset her greatly. Instead I pulled her close and hugged her tightly.


***

By lunchtime it was clear that Will was gone and I had to try and work out what to do next. I turned on the radio and I could hear the people in Hope Town as they talked back and forth. I tried breaking in but it they were unable to hear me. If only I could reach them and let them know where we were, they might be able to come and get us. I tried to think of the reasons why I couldn’t. I came to the conclusion it was one of two things: either the radio wasn’t powerful enough or there was something between us and them that was blocking the signal. There wasn’t anything I could do to boost the power but I could try and find a place where the signal would get through. I thought about how best to do this. The logical choice would be to go north but that was where Will had gone and he’d obviously run into trouble. Then something occurred to me: what about the dingy? With just me and Carol-Lynn it would be difficult to paddle it any sort of distance but we could tow it along behind us as we walked along the shore. This would give us a means of escape if we ran into trouble. I didn’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before. If it had, Will might still have been with us.

I sat down beside Carol-Lynn on the boxes I’d arranged into a bed for her the night before. I held her hand. ‘I think I’ve worked out a way for us to get out of here …’

‘But we can’t leave.’ She had a shocked expression on her face. ‘We need to be here when Dad gets back.’

I turned away so she wouldn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes. ‘Dad’s gone. He’s not coming back.’

‘He can’t be.’ Carol-Lynn was starting to cry now. ‘He just can’t be.’

‘He is. And that means it’s not safe to stay here. We need to get out, to get away before anything happens to us.’

‘But …’

‘I know.’ I held her tear-stained face in my hands. ‘I know but it’s what we have to do. It’s what Dad would have wanted us to do.’ I kissed her on the forehead. ‘The only thing is I’m going to have to leave you here for a little while. I need to go back to the dingy and bring it up here. Then we have to leave.’

‘Can’t I come with you?’ She clung to me. ‘I don’t want to be alone.’

‘No. You need to stay here in the container where it’s safe. If you come with me, I mightn’t be able to protect you. I’d need to be able to run fast to get away, or jump in the water and swim. I can’t do that if I’m worrying about you.’

‘Don’t leave me here on my own.’ Her voice was quite but plaintive. ‘Please.’

‘I have to,’ I kissed her on the forehead again, ‘It won’t be for long, an hour at the most, but I have to. It’s our best chance. I’ll come back; I promise I will.’


***

I looked at the dingy. The tide was further out than when I was last here and I knew it’d be a struggle to get it back into the water. As I stood there, trying to work out how I could do it, something hit me hard from behind throwing me forward onto the dingy. I twisted round to see Will standing over me, his eyes burning with anger. I’d never seen someone who was infected so close before and the look of pure rage on his face chilled me to the bone. I could see a fresh wound on his forearm that still oozed blood; this must have been how he’d got the virus. For a moment he just stood there, staring: it was almost as if there was a hint of recognition. Then I realised he wasn’t recognising me as me, instead he was seeing me as prey. I glanced down and saw one of the paddles to my right. As he lunged at me, I grabbed it and swung it at his head. Yet this was Will, the love of my life, and I only did it half-heartedly. He barely noticed and was on me in an instant. I felt an intense pain surge through my body as he sank his teeth deep into my left shoulder.

I still had the paddle in my hand and I raised it above my head. With all the force I could muster, I brought the blunt end down on the back of Will’s head. I did it again and again until I felt it shatter. Even then I carried on until I couldn’t tell if he was moving because he was still alive or because I was still hitting him. Finally, exhausted, I dropped the paddle and rolled him onto the sand. I sat there, staring at him disbelievingly. We had survived unscathed for so long and now we were both finished. I could already feel the infection burning through my veins and I knew it was just a matter of time before it would over-power me. I wondered what I should do. I couldn’t go back to the container, it would be too dangerous, but I didn’t want to stay here with Will’s body. Then it came to me. It was the last thing I could do for him, the man who’d been my best friend for most of my adult life, and it would take my mind off what was happening to me.

It took me an hour using the paddle to dig a hole in the sand that was big enough to bury Will in and it was another 30 minutes before he was covered up. By then I was sweating heavily, partly from the strenuous work but mostly because of the infection working it’s way through my body. I stood there, looking down. Unless someone told you, you’d never have guessed there was someone buried there beside the dingy. I said a small prayer for him before walking up to the top of the beach and sitting down. I surveyed my surroundings. It was the first time I’d really seen the place where we’d come ashore. With white sands, palm trees and blue seas, it was truly stunning. I couldn’t imagine anywhere more beautiful to have buried the only man I’d ever really loved.


***

I can feel the end coming and my mind turns back to Carol-Lynn. I can’t believe I’m leaving her alone on the beach. Her only hope now is that someone will find her. I know she’s got plenty of food and I know there are other survivors around here so I figure she’s got a good chance just as long as she stays in the container. I turn on the radio just for some company before I go. There’s a familiar voice, I think he’s called Rob. ‘Yeah Jack, I checked it out in the cruising guide. It looks small but there might be something there. Andrew says it’s a pretty easy trip.’

‘I know the place.’ It was the soft southern accent again. ‘Just stick to checking out Little Harbour. Don’t go any further south.’

My heart leaps into my mouth. It sounds like they’re planning to come here; and soon. I grab the radio, press the transmit button and shout as loud as I can but I get no response. They just carry on with their conversation. I try again and again until I’m hoarse, doing do my best to let them know about Carol-Lynn but still nothing. I look north towards the rocky outcrop that separates this part of the beach from the part with the container on it. I think about climbing to the top of it to see it would make any difference but if I do that, there’s a risk I’ll end up on the other side. I don’t want that to happen. As long as I’m on this side and Carol-Lynn’s on the other, I figure she’s safer.

Rob’s voice crackles out of the radio again, ‘We’ll leave in the morning at first light and should be there by noon. That way, we can be back well before night fall.’

The words fill me with hope. They’ll find Carol-Lynn tomorrow, I know they will. She won’t be alone for long. Just one night. If only I could tell her, but I can feel the virus taking over my body. I feel myself starting to fade; to disappear. Surely they’ll see the container and investigate. How could they miss it? When they investigate, they’ll find her. All she has to do is stay in the container and wait for them to get there. I’ve listened to them speaking to each other for days now. They sound like good people; I know they’ll look after her. As the disease finally over comes me, I smile to myself: I know that within a few hours my precious baby will be safe.


***

A Note From The Author: One of the most memorable scenes from For Those In Peril On The Sea is the one set in a container on the beach at Little Harbour. It’s the one everyone talks about. My editor told me it haunted her for days after she read it for the first time. In the book, it’s a bit of a mystery as to where the girl they find living in the container came from. I’d thought about writing her back story into the book itself but it didn’t really fit in, so I’ve written it here as a stand-alone piece. If you’re familiar with the book you’ll see where this dove-tails into the main story. If not, you can read For Those In Peril On The Sea to find out what happened to Carol-Lynn.

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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 the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

Last Flight Out – A Short Story Set In A Post-apocalyptic World

21 Jan

You can download a PDF version of this story for reading on your computer or an ebook reader by clicking here.

Last Flight Out

I tapped the fuel gauge for the third time in five minutes. It made no difference, all it did was bounce on empty; I was running on fumes. One way or another I was going to end up back on the ground and it would be soon. I circled round, desperately looking for somewhere I could set the plane down. At least it meant that if I crashed, or more likely when, I wouldn’t have to worry about there being a fire. Then again, given how the world now was, fire was the least of my worries.

When I’d taken off a few hours before, I’d done it in a rush and checking to see how much fuel was on board had hardly been my top priority; instead, it was getting out alive. I’d watched the horde of infected sweep up the road from the town, drawn by the hum of the generators and decided it was finally time to bug out. It wasn’t like there was any one left to evacuate, well not anyone who really mattered. The last of them had come through the day before and all the chatter over the radio suggested there’d be no more airlifts. Not now; Not ever. Both the refugees and the infected had been working their way northwards from Glasgow and the central belt for the last few days, ever since the outbreak started, and now it seemed they were here.

I could hardly be accused of dereliction of duty for leaving when I did. I’d done my job; I’d kept the airport open, allowing as many of the soldiers and marines as possible to get out as they pulled back time and time again. The word on the ground was that Scotland was finished and all efforts were being concentrated on defending the hastily-erected blockade at Hadrian’s Wall. That was their grand plan for protecting the rest of the country. Despite the fact that there were still several million people there, all desperate for salvation, the north was being abandoned and the ancient Roman fortification revived more than 1500 years after it last served any useful purpose. If the strategy was to have any chance of halting the advance of the infection, and the infected, they’d need everyone they could get and it had been my job to see that as many of those who’d been responsible for the failed containment in the north made it there in one piece. It was Dunkirk in reverse, with everyone trying to get south rather than north. But this evacuation wasn’t by boats, it was by air, and the enemy was so much worse.

When the last transporter left the day before, I was promised they’d come back for me but when I’d put the call in, all I was told was to hold my position, just in case. Just in case of what, I didn’t know, but that was when I realised I was being sacrified for the greater good along with everyone else north of the border. Right there and then I started looking round for other options. It was only a small airport so I had a choice of just three planes. The fact that I could only find the keys to one of them meant the decision was made for me. It was a little four-seater Cessna, the kind where the wings were fixed above the windows.

I’d just starting to inspect the plane when I became aware of a noise in the distance. At first it sounded like insects scurrying over fallen leaves, but as it grew louder it resolved itself into the sound of a multitude of feet pounding on tarmac. It took me a few minutes to get the plane going; by then the infected were at the gates. There were thousands of them all pushing and tearing at the chain link fence surrounding the airport. It was the first time I’d seen them in person rather than just on the news but I’d heard the soldiers, the ones who had been on the front lines, talking about their wild eyes that seemed to burn with hatred and anger; about how they could be on you in seconds, tearing into you, ripping you apart, spilling your guts across the ground while you screamed in agony. They wouldn’t stop until you were dead. This is what the virus did to you, the one that started in Haiti and that was now spreading around the world. It was worst when it was someone you knew, so the soldiers said. I heard them talk about it; about how they’d made pacts to finish each other off if they became infected and couldn’t do it for themselves. They’d rather die than become one of them. Yet, some of them had. I could see them in amongst those that were now surrounding me, easily visible in khaki uniforms that were stained with blood. The fence swayed and shuddered; it wouldn’t hold, not for long at any rate. I revved the engine as the first section fell and they started to surge through. As I raced along the runway, the infected pursued me, the nearest almost reaching me just as I lifted off. I was safe and now all I had to do was make it far enough south to cross the barricade. Then and only then would I be beyond their reach.

***

As I circled, I tried to work out exactly where I was. Off in the distance, I could just make out the newly resurrected fortifications of Hadrian’s Wall. I wondered if I could make it but it seemed too far. Instead, I turned my attention to the road directly below me, the one I’d been following for the last 30 minutes. It was the M74, the main artery that, until a day or so ago, connected Scotland and England. The one carriageway was jammed with the cars of people who’d tried to flee south to escape the outbreak but the north-bound one looked pretty clear. It was wide enough that I’d be able to set the plane down but then what would I do? In amongst the cars I could see figures moving back and forth. From this height, they could have been mistaken for normal people but while I couldn’t quite work out what it was, there was something about the way they moved that told me they were infected. I’d just decided to try for the wall after all when the engine spluttered for the first time. A minute later it spluttered again and I was certain I wasn’t going to make it. I was going down on the wrong side of the wall whether I liked it or not.

With a final cough the engine died and I was left gliding towards the ground. The silence was disconcerting as I looked around, trying to pick out a landing zone. I settled for a point on the road about a quarter of a mile ahead and tried to prepare myself for the impact. That was when I noticed them; a group of about twenty tracking my movements as my altitude dropped. I watched as more and more of them emerged from amongst the jammed cars on the other side of the road. I hoped I could out-pace them and land with enough grace that I could make it out of the plane. If that happened, I was probably fit enough to make it to the wall before they got to me. I believed it. I had to, it was my only chance.

Sooner than I expected, I felt the ground effect lift the plane ever so slightly. It told me I would be on the ground in seconds. I squirmed in my seat, trying to judge how far behind me the infected were. I figured it was about 300 yards. The wall was about a mile ahead; so close and yet so far away. I wondered how I was going to make it. I was fit, but I had little idea whether I really could out-run them over any sort of distance. Yet I had no choice. I pulled back on the stick and felt the rear wheels touch followed by the front one. The plane bounced once and then again. As it settled down I saw a pothole ahead of me. I twisted the stick to the left, but with no power I had little hope of avoiding it. I missed the hole with the front wheel but the one on the left hand side at the back struck it, sending the plane spinning towards the central reservation, and the steel crash barriers that lined it. I slammed on the brakes but it was too little too late. There was a sickening crunch as the front wheel buckled, sending the nose crashing into the ground. My head smashed into the dashboard and I blacked out for a second. When I came to, I could feel blood dripping down the side of my face. It took me a moment to work out where I was. Then I remembered the infected. I glanced out of the left-hand window and saw them appearing over the brow of a small hill to my north. I tried to open the right-hand door, but it was jammed. I put my shoulder to it and found it wouldn’t budge. I tried the other one. It swung open easily but that was when I realised I couldn’t move: my legs were trapped.

I turned back to the infected. They were closer now and I could hear them. The noise was something between a roar and a growl that sank deep into my soul. I looked at my legs. While the right one wasn’t badly trapped, there was no way I was getting the left one free; a large piece of metal had pierced my thigh and blood poured from the wound. Even if I could pull it out, I’d bleed to death before I got more than anywhere near the wall, and I’d never be able to move faster than the infected.

I pulled the door shut again and flipped the latch. I closed my eyes and listened. Over the sound of my heart pounding in my ears I could head the infected as the raced towards me. With panic bubbling up in my stomach, I tried to work out how many there were. I couldn’t get an exact number, just the impression that there were a lot. I opened my eyes and stared down at my legs again; then an idea came to me. It was a trick an old medic had once told me about. I looked around for something I could use. The only suitable thing was the seatbelt. I felt around for my penknife and then used it to cut the seatbelt into a long, thick strap. I wrapped it round my leg, higher up than the metal and tied it as tight as I could get it. Next, I took a screwdriver from amongst the tools that had spilled into the floor of the plane in the crash and pushed it between the strap and my leg before twisting it to tighten the makeshift tourniquet as far as it would go. I gripped the metal and took a deep breath. The pain as I pulled it free was so blinding I almost passed out but some how I kept it together. I looked at the gaping hole it had left behind as it slowly filled with blood. No gushing. No spurting. Just seeping. That was about as good as I could hope for. It looked like the tourniquet was doing its job, at least for the moment.

There was a sudden bang on the side of the Cessna, somewhere back near the tail. I glanced up. The first of the infected had reached me and there was no longer any chance of escape. I felt the plane start to rock as others arrived. Then the first one drew level with the window. He stared at me for a moment. He was tall and thin, and dressed in a light grey suit that was now little more than rags. He’d lost a shoe somewhere and his face and hair were caked with dirt. He looked human but there was no hint of humanity behind his eyes; instead they burned with rage. He screamed and threw himself at the glass, pummelling it until his knuckles were bleeding. More and more appeared with every passing second until I was surrounded. Some climbed onto the nose and started banging on the windscreen. It had already cracked in the crash and they would be through it in no time.

I felt for the holster that was strapped to my side. Finding it, I pulled out the pistol a departing soldiers had given me as a thank you for my help. It felt heavy in my hand. I lined it up with the first of them; a young woman, maybe in her early 20s. She showed no fear, or hint of recognition that a gun pointed at her head, she just kept pounding on the windscreen. I’d never fired a gun before but at this range I could barely miss. I paused for a moment, trying not to think about what I was about to do, and then slowly tightened my finger on the trigger. The noise inside the confines of the cockpit was deafening and the gun almost jerked from my hand. As if in slow motion, the girl’s head exploded as she fell backwards off the plane and crumpled to the ground. I felt sickened by what I’d done but knew I had no choice. None of the others seemed to care or even notice. Gripping the gun more firmly, I lined up the next shot and fired again, and then again. For a moment the windscreen was clear, and it fleetingly crossed my mind to try to scramble out, but before I could move another clambered up, followed by a second and a third. My ears were ringing from the shots but I could still hear the infected as they hammered on the fuselage all around me, making it jump and shudder.

I heard glass breaking and turned to see the window on the left had given out. The man in the tattered suit was desperately trying to clamber in, his grasping arms reaching towards me. I fired twice, missing him both times. The third time I finally hit him and he slumped where he lay half in and half out of the window. I left his body hanging there in the hope it might stop others following him in. The windscreen shattered and two infected tumbling into the cockpit. I stared at them, frozen with fear as they scrambled to get to me. Then a realisation washed over me: there was only one option left. As I pressed the barrel against my head, I felt their hands tearing at my torso and their teeth biting into my flesh; I was surprised about how little it hurt. My hand shook and I hesitated, but I knew it was the only way out. I took deep breath, knowing it would be over the instant I did it, and pulled the trigger.

***

This short story is set in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea by Colin M. Drysdale. If you liked it, you may like to read the book too.

There is a sequel to this story called The Wall, which tells the story of a soldier who’s standing guard on the re-constructed Hadrian’s Wall. You can find it 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 the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.