Ryan was ready to go. He’d done his best to draw the lurchers out of the lobby and from the surrounding streets to the entrance of the office building by throwing various objects from the roof and making as much noise as he could. It had worked; the hordes had grown in size. That would make his idea of sneaking out the back much simpler.
He made his way down the stairwell and to the door he’d been at earlier. He opened it and stepped outside into the sunshine. A couple of loitering lurchers approached immediately and Ryan used his 7-iron to despatch the first before plunging his knife through the eye socket of the next. He was already proficient in the art of slaying lurchers.
However, there was one thing he wasn’t used to and that was when another of the creatures ran directly at him and leapt. He almost didn’t see it and, more via luck than judgement, swung his club, catching the lurcher hard in the midriff. It fell several feet away; it was clear several ribs had been broken. That didn’t stop the lurcher from advancing again in a crawl.
Ryan took another vicious swing with the club and took half of the unfortunate creature’s head off. The face was still intact and he could see it was a gawker. He’d suspected something was different about them and now he knew what. That would certainly make things interesting from here on in.
Ryan knew exactly where he was going from this point. Home was less than a mile away. He was concerned about what might await him.
Walking home from town was nothing new; he’d done it countless times since moving there. The tack he was taking on this occasion was no different to normal either.
Despite that, this jaunt couldn’t have been more different. He was relieved that his plan of creating noise to draw the lurchers to the front entrance of the office block had been largely successful and he only came across infrequent pockets of undead as he left the town centre.
He was already aware of the danger that gawkers presented. They were quiet, quick, and agile, yet just as predictable as their lethargic lurcher counterparts and Ryan remained alert to their presence throughout the walk home. They always attacked in the same uniform style: a darting run preceding a pounce akin to a cheetah. He knew if he was blindsided by one he’d be done for. Fortunately, the pitter-patter of their feet on the ground always gave them away regardless of their lack of vocals.
Ryan seemed to have the situation under control, especially as the concentration of lurchers grew sparser the further away from town he went. Rare was it that lurchers were alone and he recalled the advice of Professor Thorgen Schaffer about them naturally grouping together. He wondered how they instinctively knew to form hordes. He also wondered why the gawkers were so different. It didn’t seem to make sense that New Black Plague should affect people in different ways. Did it have something to do with the way the virus was contracted? Did a lurcher become a gawker after a given length of time? Did it matter? They were all out to lunch on living flesh; how they went about it was trivial. All that mattered was survival.
As he walked, he wondered about what he’d find once he got home. Would everything be as he’d left it? Would looters have done the rounds? If they had then it stood to reason they’d have taken his SUV too; the key to his car was hung up by the front door. There was no way the car would still be there if anybody had broken in.
He barely broke his stride or thought processes as growling lurchers approached periodically and he used his trusty 7-iron to stove in their skulls. He knew by now not to let them in too close after that first skirmish outside the safe zone. If the group numbered more than two or three, he ran. Playing the hero had to take a backseat to survival.
A little over twenty minutes after leaving the town centre, Ryan turned the corner onto Minerva Close, the street on which he’d spent the last couple of years living. It was a peaceful street on an estate in the suburbs. The street itself was home mainly to retired couples and the odd family. He was a black sheep in that respect; an unmarried man with a decent job and no kids. He’d never fitted in. That couldn’t have mattered less to him.
It was quiet, literally no action whatsoever on the street. That was far from odd. There had been little action before the New Black Plague outbreak aside from the kids occasionally playing football or cricket. Why should it be any different now?
He twirled his golf club playfully whilst whistling as he neared his house. His white SUV came into view and the whistling immediately ground to a halt. He could see the windows had been smashed, though what angered him more was seeing the words ‘FLASH BASTARD’ scratched into the paintwork down the driver’s side. “Fucking bastards!” he exclaimed aloud through gritted teeth.
He checked through the smashed windows and the seats were covered in glass, a couple of bricks amongst the shards. There appeared to be no other damage aside from that. He did his best to shake the anger; it was only going to get worse when he checked the house.
Lo and behold, the front room window was smashed and the front door damaged where it had been forcibly kicked open. He wondered what gain anybody could have had from robbing his house but then figured whoever it was might have been looking for a place to sleep instead. With that in mind, he drew his 9mm pistol whilst gripping the golf club firmly in his other hand.
The door swung open with a slight push. It felt surreal that he was having to be careful in his own home. He aimed the pistol down the hallway towards the kitchen and then swung it right to look into the front room. The place had been looted and he couldn’t help mourning the loss of his videogame console and television.
A noise came from upstairs and Ryan instinctively darted inside the front room, crouching beside the frame of the doorway. He tried to control his breathing and made as little noise as possible, finger poised on the trigger. He waited for a minute then peeked around the corner and looked up the stairs.
At least he could see nothing from his vantage point. He’d heard nothing else since either. Stealthily stepping around the doorway, he crept up the stairs. He couldn’t prevent a slight creak on a couple of steps and he cringed at the noise; it didn’t seem to invoke a reaction from who or whatever was upstairs.
Ryan stepped onto the landing and was in conflict with himself as to which room to look in first. He quickly opted for the guest bedroom and slipped through the door to find it was empty. That left the master bedroom. As he stepped inside, he had to stop himself from yelling out in shock.
There was a man asleep in his bed, who hadn’t been woken by Ryan’s entrance. Ryan levelled his pistol at the man’s head.
“Wake up, motherfucker!”
The man’s eyes snapped open and he looked immediately at Ryan with a gulp. He sat up and his hands shot above his head, his eyes shifting nervously towards the door.
“Waiting for somebody?” Ryan asked.
“M… m… my girlfriend. Sh… she’s out foraging.”
“You send your bitch out hunting for you? Nice to see your priorities are in order. Next question: why the fuck are you in my bed?”
“You… I… what? This is your bed?”
“Have you not seen the pictures around the house?”
“I haven’t really paid attention. We just needed somewhere to hide out,” the man said with an uncertain smile. “Your front door was open and we didn’t think you’d be back. I mean, most people who aren’t in safe zones have become… those things.”
“So, why aren’t you in a safe zone?”
“My girlfriend… she tested positive. I couldn’t leave her.”
Ryan grinned sadistically. Ah, I get it. Because she’s already as good as dead you figured you could rest easy and send her out to do the dirty work? I like your thinking!”
“It ain’t like that!”
“Fuck this!” Ryan came at the man and hit him hard on the side of his head with the butt of his pistol, knocking him out cold. It was such a hard strike that it drew blood.
He shoved the man out of the bed and his naked form landed on the floor with a thud. Ryan was incensed that he was naked and had to summon all of his willpower not to shoot the unconscious form then and there. He thought better of the idea, reasoning that the one clip of ammo he had would be better served elsewhere.
Ryan grabbed a couple of neckties out of one of his drawers and then dragged the man into the guest room. He bound the man’s hands behind his back followed by his ankles then left the room, closed the door, and went downstairs into the lounge. He sat in his usual seat, grimacing at the fact his TV was no longer there. In spite of that, he couldn’t deny it felt good to be home.
The fridge, freezer, and cupboards had been cleaned out of any decent food. Any that remained in the latter two had long since gone bad with no electricity to sustain either of the units. Whatever remained in the cupboards wasn’t going to be enough to feed him for long. The taps ran water that looked spoiled and he wasn’t about to chance drinking it. In essence, all he had were the four walls and a few sticks of furniture.
Ryan was awaiting the return of whoever it was that was out foraging and had drawn the curtains so he could covertly look out onto the street. The occasional lurcher walked by and he made a mental note to dispense of them to make the immediate area safer.
Eventually, a person came into view. They were clearly female from the way they walked. Wisps of blonde hair poked out of the bottom of a baseball cap that obscured her face: his baseball cap! Ryan scowled and picked up his 7-iron as he walked out into the hallway to confront her.
Her form appeared in the door window and his grip on the golf club tightened. The door handle was pulled down and the door swung open. She stopped dead and looked up at Ryan. Recognition immediately flickered in the eyes of them both, but only for a brief moment as all hell broke loose.
She fell forwards and sprawled onto the ground to reveal a snarling gawker standing where she’d been.
Ryan acted quickly and instinctively. He swung his golf club upwards at the creature, missed, and instead smashed the light and lampshade above their heads. Glass showered down on them all as the gawker made a move for Ryan.
He was quick to get his head back in the game and grabbed the advancing gawker by the shirt it still wore. It snapped its jaws at him, desperate to sink its teeth into living flesh. The unblinking and bright eyes bore into Ryan’s as he attempted in that split-second to search for any sign of life; all he could see was bloodlust.
Ryan flung the gawker through the door and back outside. He followed it out in the hopes of finishing the job only for it to get back to its feet with the agility Ryan already knew too well. He was still one step ahead though and swung his 7-iron again.
There was no mistake this time. He struck the gawker hard on the side of its head. Blood and mucus sprayed out across the lawn and the bonnet of his SUV as the violent creature dropped to the ground, still and lifeless.
Ryan took that moment to draw breath and felt a sharp pain on his forehead. He lifted his hand to the source of the pain and realised that a shard of glass had embedded itself in his head. He pulled it out with a growl and inspected the blood-coated sharp tip before throwing it away.
Turning his head, he looked back through the doorway into his house. The cap had flown off the woman’s head to reveal her beautiful features, not that it mattered; he already knew who she was.
He stepped back inside the house and looked down at her. She looked back with an expression that suggested she was none too pleased to see him yet grudgingly accepted the hand he held out to help her up to her feet. They stood before one another for several moments as if to ensure they weren’t imagining it.
Ryan eventually broke into a warm and genuine smile. “Hello, Georgina.”
TO BE CONTINUED