Writers Challenge: Zombie Apocalypse Team #2(Ben)
The sergeant and I heft the last of the rotting cadavers onto the pyre before heading back into the cave to join the others. The stiff Cheshire breeze is in our favour tonight and carries the smoke of burning corpses across the potted landscape of Alderley Edge instead of deeper into our sandstone sanctuary. The man beside me grunts and wipes his hands clean on his denim dungarees. I check my own hands and count my blessings that he insisted I took the feet. Further inside, our companions are huddled around an electric lamp, blankets pulled tight against the deep chill of these ancient copper mines.
“How’s the boy, doc?” the sergeant asks.
“Just shock.” replies a sinewy older gent, sharp aquiline features and square salt-and-peppered jaw cutting a stark shadow against the cave wall, “A touch of hypothermia, perhaps. Nothing interesting but I’ll keep an eye on him.”
I sit in the space between the sergeant and the young shock victim and reach for a half-eaten can of cold beans. The sergeant nods and runs a hand through his hair, a swathe of black fuzz cutting a wide line across the top of his brown scalp. In the lamplight I can see paler rings on his wrists and around his neck, all that remains of the ostentatious jewellery that now sit carefully wrapped and insulated in one of the canvas rucksacks piled just outside our circle.
“For the benefit of our new member, I think we should introduce ourselves.” says the large black man, “My name is Sergeant Bosco Baracus. Former United States Special Forces.”
“And I’m Greg,” says the doctor, “former Boy Scout of America.” He grins at the look Baracus gives him before continuing, “I’m a doctor.”
“Does that mean you know what’s going on?”
I’m not the only one who stops eating and stares at the speaker. The woman.
“Is there a cure?” She places the ugly serrated knife she’s been sharpening all evening down on an oil cloth. I sit there with a forkful of cold beans poised halfway between can and mouth. It’s the first words she’s said since we met her, facing a horde of walkers here high above the Cheshire Plains. Greg manages to hide his shock by carefully wiping some dried brains from his walking stick.
“We don’t even know if there’s a virus.” he says, “This outbreak could be the result of anything, chemical, biological…”
“…magical…” The boy, Harry, says, his voice thick with shock. He wipes cold sweat from his forehead and I almost choke on my beans as the woman jumps to her feet, knife recovered and pointed at the boy’s face.
“He’s bit!” she snarls, “He’s turning!”
We look as one at Harry, Baracus unbuttoning the clip on his pistol holster, Greg tightening his grip on the cane.
“No, wait!” the boy says, throwing up his hands in front of him, that strange stick of his grasped between the finger and thumb of his right hand. “It’s an old scar, it’s…it’s nothing.”
“He’s right,” says Greg, pulling the lantern closer, “he’s probably had this for years.”
The woman sits, pacified for the moment, her eyes fixed on the pale young man.
“So what’s your story?” asks Greg, “You seem pretty well prepared for an apocalypse.” The woman smiles at that, a thin humourless thing that makes me shudder.
“I guess you could say I’ve spent my entire adult life preparing for one.” she says, staring at her own reflection in the polished knife. “Let’s just say when the storm arrived it wasn’t quite what I expected. And now with John gone I don’t know what…” she stops short, a chink in her otherwise perfect armour betrayed by a glisten in her eye. I change the subject to the Plan.
“If you’re looking to get out of the country, there’s an airfield nearby.” says the woman, recovering with remarkable rapidity. ” I could fly us out to one the little islands off the coast? They might not be infected or whatever.”
“I ain’t getting on no airplane…” mutters Boscoe next to me, digging a fork into his own tin.
“I know a place.” says Harry, looking better for getting some food in him, “It’s up north but I’m not sure how we’d get there without getting the train from London. It’s sure to be protected against this sort of thing?
“Military base?” asks the sergeant.
“Sort of…” replies the boy, unconsciously fingering the letters “D” and “A” sewn into his blanket.
“No chance,” says the woman, ” London’s dead. More walkers there now than the rest of your country put together.
We sit in silence as we contemplate this news. Presently Baracus starts humming under his breath, sounds like a military tune. I catch some words here and there, “Over hill over dale, we will hit the dusty trail…” The woman, who introduces herself as “Reese” joins in, her high sharp voice clashing with the sergeant’s baritone. Harry lies down in front of his rucksack, his stick clenched tightly to his breast, listening to their voices echo from the cave walls. Greg stands, making sure his young patient has enough water, before limping up the rough path to the cave entrance to take first watch.
I close my eyes and try not to imagine who among us will be the next to die.