People used to make fun of it. How prepared we were. Or how prepared we thought we were. Very few made it beyond the first hour, less alive at the end of the day and almost none at the end of the week. Teenagers, it would seem, are not as expert as they hoped they were on the topic, mainly because a vast majority of us cannot wield a gun. We had whole discussions on what we would do, but no one managed to factor in that the lack of any fighting training would probably cause their death. I was lucky, to say the very least. I picked, very possibly, the best day to skip school. There were seven of us then. Three boys, four girls. Ross, Cody, Hugo, Naomi, Kaley, Lia and me. We’d been planning it for a few weeks. I started… It started with Cody, at lunch. He was talking about how he’d kill for a break.
‘Cody, you couldn’t kill someone.’ Lia teased.
‘I could. If you offered me a day off for it.’
‘Cody, I don’t think I’ve even seen you kill an ant, you wouldn’t kill a person.’ Ross pointed out.
‘So?’ Cody said. We all laughed and then Hugo spoke up.
‘We do deserve a break though. We could just-‘
‘Skip!’ Naomi interrupted.
‘So, wait, that’s, Hugo, Naomi and me in. Who else?’ Cody asked.
‘I would like to go, but Cody, it isn’t ‘Hugo, Naomi and me’, it’s ‘Hugo, Naomi and I’, just to let you know.’ Kaley pointed out. Cody stuck out his tongue. Ross drew his attention away from trying to figure out what kind of meat was in his sandwich.
‘If there’s a day of school to be missed, I fully intend to miss it.’
‘I’ll go.’ Lia said. Everyone looked at me.
‘Well, I’m sure someone’ll turn up at my doorstep as I leave to go to school, so it sounds like I’m skipping.’
That was how it started. Just the seven of us, skipping school. One of the teachers probably would’ve noticed, if, you know, they hadn’t died. I left the house that morning, a week and a half ago, like any other day. You don't tell your parents you're skipping. I walked out onto the street, to promptly be thrown to the ground by Ross. I remember looking up at him and scowling.
'Why are you laying around, lazy bones?' he had asked, smirking. I stood up and brushed myself off.
‘I just got attacked by an ape, that’s all.’ I smiled as the cogs in Ross’s head turned. Before he could say anything, I started to walk in the direction of the park, the place we had agreed to meet.
‘Hey!’ Ross yelled, running after me. We’d been neighbors for over a decade and he certainly knew me well enough to know I wasn’t going to wait for him. I turned down a small alley and listened to him splash up next to me. It had rained the previous night, and at the time we thought the rain was going to let up a little. It wasn’t. It started to rain when I was half way down the alley, and it started hard. I sprinted down the alley, took a left, and ran across the park under the gazebo, Ross speeding along behind me. I stopped when I was fully shielded from the rain, and leaned against the side of the structure to catch my breath. Ross tripped up the steps onto the gazebo and fell across the floor.
‘Real smooth.’ I said, chuckling. He turned his head to face me and scowled.
‘I didn’t trip. I was testing if gravity still worked. Incidentally, it does.’ He stood and tried to see through the rain.
‘Where are the others?’ he asked. I shrugged.
‘We all live different distances from here, and the others are closer to school than us. Meaning they would leave later so as not to arouse suspicion.’
‘I guess. Do you think they’ll be here soon?’
‘They should all be here by nine.’ I checked my phone. ‘That’s in twenty minutes.’
‘Oh, be patient for once. What do you think we’re gonna do today?’
‘Dunno. I think Hugo and Naomi are deciding.’ He said, climbing onto the railing so he could reach out and touch the rain. I groaned.
‘That means we’ll probably be seeing some sort of romance movie… I refuse to let today turn into a date for them.’
‘Hell, we’ll go somewhere and they can hide and make out in a corner. Maybe that abandoned theme park.’
‘Why would you want to go to that creepy place?’
‘Old. Rusted.’ He jumped down and loomed over me. ‘Dangerous.’ I pushed him away.
‘Shove off, you’re talking as though ghosts are real or something.’
‘Got a better idea of somewhere to go?’
‘Then we go exploring. Look, here’s Kaley.’ Ross said, pointing through the rain. A drenched Kaley ran under the shelter and swore loudly.
‘Damn this rain!’ she cursed. Ross sniggered.
‘I didn’t think you were one to swear.’ He said. Kaley gave him a look that could make paint peel. Ross apologized and backed up. Kaley smiled bitterly and looked at me.
‘If it rains like this all day, we might as well go to school.’ She grumbled.
‘Don’t say that!’ I replied, ‘Today can still be good!’
‘How?’ she asked. Ross proceeded to tell her the plans that had been made. Kaley looked doubtful.
‘Maybe if someone brings an umbrella…’ right as she said that, Cody came into the gazebo, through the rain under an umbrella.
‘Like this?’ he asked. He tossed two more umbrellas into the center of the dry, gazebo floor. I laugh. Natural Cody, always prepared. Ross told him the plans and he kept looking through the rain. Cody joined him.
‘Look, there’s Lia.’ He said. Lia ran up the steps, holding her jacket over her head. We told her everything and then Naomi and Hugo waltzed up, sharing an umbrella. I remember them being really angry when we’d made plans without them, but they dealt with it. Not that it matters now.
We all walked to the theme park, which took about an hour, and the rain let up a little on the way. Hugo and Naomi vanished shortly after, and little did we know, that those casual goodbyes we had made, teasing things, would b the last things we ever said to the pair. The five of us walked off to look at the ruins of the theme park. Ross was messing around, as usual and we encouraged him, as always. And we all stopped dead when we heard a scream.
‘What was that?’ Kaley asked. I looked back the way we came.
‘It sounded like… Naomi.’ I shivered. We heard a moan to follow it, and Ross practically fell over laughing.
‘God, you’d think it was zombies or something!’ he cried. ‘They probably got attacked by an old robot or something.’ He then performed a sort of half shamble- half rigid walk, imitating a zombie robot, or something. I remember, at the time there was one of those old picture stands, you know, you stick your head in the whole and it gets attached to a cartoon body. Anyway, one of those stands just behind him, off to the side a little. A gurgle and a groan shuddered from behind the structure, but Ross had been to engrossed in his shuffle to notice. But he did notice when the bullet whizzed behind his head. The bullet hit something behind the stand and there was a soft thump. We ignored that, at the time, and looked in the direction the bullet had come from, to see a lanky figure with long, messy brown hair and a sad attempt at a beard on his chin.
‘Tim!?’ Ross shouted, ‘Why did you shoot at me?’
‘I wasn’t shooting at you.’ He was already walking away again.
‘Yes you were! You practically missed by a hairs breadth!’ Ross said, stumbling after him.
‘If I was shooting at you, you’d be dead.’ Tim said. It started to sprinkle just as we ran after them. Tim rounded a corner and cut through an old ring toss game.
‘Wait, what about Hugo and Naomi?’ Lia blurted, stopping for a second. Tim, a few metres ahead of us still didn’t stop.
‘Your friends are dead.’ He said. We all halted.
‘What?’ Cody asked. Tim was gone. We all sprinted to catch up with him and we found him leaning against a doorframe.
‘In.’ He said. He ushered us in to the room and shut the door behind him, and then barricaded it. Ross backed up against the far wall in mock horror.
‘Rape! Raaaape!’ he shouted. Kaley hit him upside the head.
‘Behave.’ She said. Ross scowled at her and folded his arms.
‘Tim, what are you doing here?’ Cody asked.
Tim was two years ahead of us at school. He’d left the previous year. I’m surprised he knew our names, to be honest. The room that we were standing in was bizarre, notes and nuts and bolts and tools were all over the place. There was a corridor that we would soon learn lead to a whole bunch of new rooms. A kitchen, a bathroom other standard facilities. It was like he’d been waiting for us. And at the end of that corridor, was Tim’s own little armory. Anyway, Tim finished his story and Lia nodded, then frowned.
‘Um, that’s all nice and happy, but what do you mean by Hugo and Naomi are dead?’ Lia asked.
‘I mean that they’re dead. What’s not to get?’ Tim replied. We shared a look.
‘But… They can’t be dead.’ Kaley said, taking a tentative step towards Tim.
‘Yes they can. They are, too. Well, sort of. They’re dead and moving.’
‘What?’ Cody spluttered.
‘Animated dead.’ Tim said.
‘What?’ Cody repeated. Tim sighed angrily.
‘Christ, aren’t you teenagers? Don’t you know a zombie apocalypse when you see it?’
‘Zombies? There aren’t any zombies. Not that I could see.’ Ross muttered. Tim arched an eyebrow.
‘Well, you weren’t looking. You almost got nailed by one. I saved your ass earlier.’
‘You almost killed me earlier.’
‘Even if it were feasible for me to miss my target, you would’ve preferred I got you than the zombie.’
‘I think you’re mis-‘ Ross started.
‘Stop talking about zombies so blatantly, Tim. If this is happening, and the world has ended as we know it, there’s no point in starting fights. You shot somewhere near Ross, and he’s spooked. Acknowledge the fact that you shot very near to the spot he was standing in, and he has the right to be angry.’ I said. At this point I had sat on a desk on one side of the room, and I was gripping the edges. Lia and Cody half jumped, as if they’d forgotten I was in the room. Ross folded his arms defiantly and nodded in agreement. Tim shrugged.
‘Alright. Fair enough. Sorry, Ross.’ He said. ‘I need to go check something. Stay here. Actually, you can explore a little, but if you touch that door,’ he pointed at the door we came in by, ‘You’re zombie meat.’ He left the room through the corridor, and we all shared another look.
‘Well. He’s nuts.’ Cody said.
The thing that happened next very possibly qualifies as the scariest moment of my entire life. You’d think, considering how safe I was, I’d find the several moments in the following days where I almost died scarier, but no. It was then. This was the moment when it all started for real. Lia had left the room to find a bathroom and the four of us, company I would grow very used to, were doing our own little things. Ross was looking out through the small, barred window in the entrance door, Cody was sorting through his rucksack and Kaley had approached me.
‘So. You think this could actually be zombies?’ she asked.
‘Nope.’ I said frankly. She had opened her mouth to start a new sentence when Ross chimed into our conversation.
‘Look at this.’ He said. I remember that really distinctly the way he said it. There was no emotion in his voice, no excitement. It was like he’d died a little saying it. Kaley walked over and gasped.
‘Guys…’ she said. Cody waved his hand, signaling that he’d be there in a sec. I lazily walked to door and forced my way past Ross and Kaley to see.
How I wish that I’d never seen what happened next.
How I wish I’d just died with the others.
There was a figure, standing down the end of the hallway. They were slouched, favouring their right side. They shambled into the light and I saw their back. They looked normal, save the clumsy walk and the poor posture. But then they looked back at me. It was a girl- I’m sure- and she would’ve been pretty. She would’ve been beautiful. If she had a jaw.
Or if her body had turned with her head.
I remember her turning properly and stumbling towards the door. I remember screaming and tripping backwards. And, above all else, I can remember the way her hand reached through the bars, searching for me.
Tim rushed into the room to the sound my screams, ready to fight. He relaxed his position when he saw the scene and pulled me to my feet.
‘I don’t have enough patience to be this nice every time you see a zombie.’
‘It surprised me.’ I muttered. He didn’t respond or react and left the room again. I glared at the back of his head as he left the room. Cody was looking at the hand, which was waving madly. I do think it was fair for me to have been spooked, the damn thing tried to eat my face. I scowled at the door, and then looked up at my friends, who were staring at me.
‘Take a picture, it’ll last longer.’ I grunted. Lia stumbled back into the room.
‘Guys, you gotta see-‘ she paused, ‘Why are you on the floor?’
‘It’s comfy.’ I muttered.
‘Really? I mean, it’s concrete and-‘
‘Sarcasm, Lia. I fell.’ I growled, standing up. Lia frowned at me.
‘So, what were you going to show us?’ Cody asked. Lia looked confused for a moment, her train of thought obviously changing tracks, and shook her head.
‘Can’t remember. Ross, are you okay?’ she asked, her voice sounding concerned. I glanced at Ross, who was several shades paler than he normally was.
‘Katie.’ He said, jumping into action. ‘I have to see if she’s okay.’
‘I have to see if she’s okay, Kaley.’ he was about to go find Tim when Tim, timing perfect, walked in.
‘Ross, you seem to misunderstand.’ He points at the hand that was still groping through the door, ‘That is what we call a zombie. There’s that one, trying to eat us, and there are thousands of others shambling around the city. Leaving this room would be like signing your suicide note.’
‘Is dead. Swallow it and get on with life.’ Tim left again. I glanced at Ross again, wincing. Katie was Ross’s little sister, and he loved her more than anything else on the planet. Lia squeaked suddenly, making everyone look at her.
‘Oh yeah! Follow me!’ she said, leading the way out of the room. We were guided into a small hallway, and for the first time we saw a small kitchen, and a bathroom. And, at the end of the hallway, there was an alarmingly well equipped armory. Cody mumbled something and entered the bathroom. That earned a chuckle from the rest of us. Tim was in the kitchen, packing some sandwiches into a backpack. He had several stuffed backpacks next to that.
‘As soon as I’ve finished packing these bags, we’re taking off.’ Tim said, holding his hand out, ‘Phones, iTouches, and any other devices you wish to keep.’ Kaley arched an eyebrow.
‘You’re shitting me, right? Thirty seconds ago you said it was suicide to leave.’
‘And thirty seconds ago it was. Things happen in that amount of time. For example, I have determined what strand of the virus has been released. My least favourite one, in all honesty.’ Tim said, still holding his hand out. Ross’s eyebrows flew up.
‘Strand, virus, what the hell are you talking about?’
‘After I left school I signed up to be a scientist in an underground company that dealt with Bio-weaponry. I was directly involved in the creation of the Letum-Putro virus, and I have detailed knowledge upon each of it’s strands. For example, if the first strand had detonated, our lives would be a whole lot easier. Though, in the end, this strand- the fifth strand- is better than, say, the third one, which would make the zombie’s flesh basically turn into Kevlar.’ Tim rambled. At that point, Cody had returned from his trip to the toilet and was the only one of us who had understood any of what Tim had just said. Kaley and I shared a look.
‘What?’ I said, simply. Tim sighed.
‘The virus was contained in a special unit, and it was breached. Call me a coward, but I decided to high-tail it outta there. I was headed for my safe house, here, and I stumbled across you on the way. Sorry, I decided to save your asses and now,‘ he waved his hand, ‘You’re going to give me your phones or whatever and we’re going to go to the back-up compound.’ I pulled out my phone and handed it to him. After a small hesitation, the others did the same. He handed us each a backpack and walked into the armory.
‘Have any of you used firearms before?’ he called.
‘Yup.’ I said back. The others looked at me. ‘Oh, get over it. Dad took me to a shooting range a couple times.’
‘You should’ve taken me!’ Kaley grinned. Tim emerged again and handed me a gun.
‘That, is an AK47. Be careful with it.’ He said. I nodded.
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