The banging from up the stairs made Ryan cringe. He stopped looking through the cupboards and made his way out of the kitchen to the bottom of the stairs. “Harry! Stop making so much fucking noise!” he rasped through gritted teeth.
“Sorry, Ry,” Harry responded quietly from one of the bedrooms.
Ryan shook his head. For almost two weeks he’d been as good as babysitting Harry and attempting to turn him into something of an adept survivor. It had gone okay in that the man was still alive, but it was clear he’d never had to fight a day in his life. While the twenty-four-year-old was handsome enough, he was slight in build and had no real physical strength. His keenness to learn only served to irritate Ryan all the more as he came across as plain sycophantic. In most cases, Ryan chose to perform supply runs alone. Unfortunately, on occasions when they were running particularly low, Harry or Georgina had to accompany him. This was one of those occasions.
He returned to the cupboards in the kitchen where he continued to look for food and useful supplies, filling his rucksack as he went along. Ryan was happy with the haul. It would be enough to feed the three of them for another few days at least in this one house alone.
He headed out of the kitchen and to the bottom of the stairs again. “Are you done up there yet?”
“Yeah, I think I’ve got all I can,” Harry called back down.
“How much space you got in your pack?”
“I can squeeze in some more.”
“Good. Get your arse back down here and load up on a bit more food. There are packs of bottled water too. You can help me carry those.”
Harry came downstairs and did as he was told. It was mutually accepted that Ryan was the one in charge. He had a better handle on the situation and was physically more competent than the others, though Georgina could handle herself ably.
The larder was stocked with several packs of bottled water—as good as a safe filled with gold bullion during an apocalypse. Both men picked up two packs each and carried them out of the front door. The late afternoon sun hit them; summer was in full swing. They loaded the bottles of water into the boot of Ryan’s vandalised SUV and then went back inside to get more. Ryan passively wondered why the house would be so well stocked with bottled water, not that he was complaining.
They soon depleted the larder of all the water and Ryan climbed into the driver’s seat, Harry sitting next to him in the front.
“Are we done?” Harry asked.
“Does it look like we’re done? We’ve got a tonne of space to fill. We’re gonna head to a few shops and see what we can forage from those.”
“Why do that when there’s still like another five hundred houses around here we can loot?”
“Because, Harry, when the fuel runs out in this thing, we’re gonna need to make sure future supply runs are kept within walking distance. What sense would it make to use the car and all the petrol just to get supplies from houses within a mile radius? I thought you’d have worked that out by now.”
“Makes sense now you’ve said it.”
Ryan drove the car slowly through the estate. They drew the attention of a few lurchers along the way and a gawker gave them chase, soon giving up when it realised it didn’t have the pace to keep up.
A small retail park appeared up ahead. There were groups of lurchers ambling around; Ryan was more interested in seeing where the gawkers might be hiding. Just because he couldn’t see any didn’t mean they weren’t around.
He stopped the car outside a store. “Let’s clear the area of these dead-heads. You got your cricket bat?”
“Yeah,” Harry replied, steeling himself for what lay ahead.
“Don’t panic. I’ve explained this a hundred times. Aim for the head. They’re slow, so you can always outpace them. Just don’t let too many get too close.”
“Talking about it and practicing in the back garden is one thing. Out here in the real world—”
“Listen, you pussy,” Ryan interrupted sternly, “do you want to see Georgina starve?”
Harry shook his head and started to breathe slowly and deeply to calm himself.
“You’ve killed lurchers before. There’s just more of them this time. It doesn’t matter if there’s one or a hundred and one; stick with what I’ve taught you. Use your knife in close quarters. Either stab them in the temple or through the eye. You got it?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
Ryan gave a curt nod, opened the door, and stepped outside.
Harry watched as Ryan went immediately on the attack, felling three lurchers in seconds with his signature 7-iron. This instilled him with confidence and he exited the car too. His cricket bat connected with the skull of a lurcher and another one shortly after. The more he took care of, the more empowered he became and it wasn’t long until the mini-hoard was despatched.
Ryan looked over at Harry with a thumb held up. “Good job! Let’s get in here and load up before more of them show up.”
The doors of the store had already been smashed by looters so gaining access wasn’t a problem. Although it was dark, Ryan didn’t use a torch as not to draw unwanted attention. Despite most of the good stuff having already been looted, they managed to find a few bits and pieces that would sustain them for a while. They loaded up the car as much as they could and closed the doors.
Harry gave Ryan a satisfied smile. “A nice haul I reckon. That should see us right for—”
Harry was cut off midsentence by a gawker that leapt from out of nowhere and barrelled him to the ground.
Ryan was unable to assist as lurchers appeared unannounced around him too. There was no time to wonder where they’d come from as he swung his 7-iron wildly—a little too wildly! After he’d slain a couple, the club flew out of his hands and careened through the face of a third lurcher. He still had three to deal with though and made a quick grab for his bowie knife, managing to take care of two of them and then coming face to face with the third.
Something was different about this one. Its eyes bulged and flesh worn tongue lolled. It wasn’t making a grab for Ryan like a lurcher always did. It seemed to eye him in the same way a braindead person might. Ryan was too enraptured by the lurcher to notice Harry was still struggling to fight off the gawker.
Then the strange lurcher started convulsing. Ryan didn’t know what was about to happen, but he knew it wouldn’t be something good. He instinctively dropped to the ground and rolled away, covering his head, as the lurcher violently projectile vomited. The liquid sprayed some ten feet before the creature dropped dead on the floor. It landed in such a way that Ryan could see its face—what was left of it! The eyes had popped out of its skull leaving dark holes in their place, while the white and gleaming teeth and muscle that had surrounded the mouth appeared to have eroded as evidenced by a fizzing sound from whatever the lurcher had thrown up. Ryan was horrified by the sight of yet another variant of lurcher. The virus was mutating; it was only too obvious.
“Ryan! Help me!”
Harry’s shriek distracted Ryan’s thoughts and he got to his feet. Harry desperately attempted to fight the snarling, snapping gawker off. He’d since dropped his cricket bat and the knife had fallen out of his reach.
Ryan watched on, his face deadpan. Inside, he felt a sense of enjoyment. He imagined the conversation he’d have with Georgina when he got back to the house. He imagined her need for comfort. He imagined that comfort being the very thing to reignite the spark. This really was the perfect way for things to go: how he’d valiantly albeit unsuccessfully attempted to rescue her boyfriend. How tragic!
He pulled the 9mm pistol from his pocket and fired a single bullet that lodged itself in the skull of the gawker. It went immediately limp and collapsed on top of Harry, who pushed the creature away with disgust. Ryan chuckled through his nose. He had no idea what had compelled him to save Harry’s life. He sauntered over to the grounded man and helped him back to his feet.
“Thank you, Ryan. I owe you my life.”
“Damned right you do, kid!”
A noise attracted their attention. The sound of the gun discharging had attracted the attention of other lurchers in earshot and they were piling towards the scene in numbers.
“Get in the car; it’s time to go!”
Harry needed no second bidding. They got into the SUV and sped off just as the lurchers descended and crowded out the retail park.
Back at the house that evening, Ryan sat in the back-garden sipping on a bottle of water and enjoying what remained of the day’s sun. He thought about the earlier events and why he’d decided in that moment to save Harry’s life. There was no answer to the question that made sense.
He also thought about the vomiting, eye-popping lurcher that he’d decided to name a spewer; the horrific sight of the empty eye sockets and mouth effectively having corroded because of the acidic vomit. It had to be a mutation. It was the only way to explain how there were three different variants of lurcher. It made sense in a way. If the virus was an artificial splice of various things then it stood to reason that not every strain would be the same and they’d mutate in different ways as they passed from host to host.
He was distracted by the sound of the French doors opening and looked around to see Georgina, who smiled at him. She took a seat next to him and he couldn’t resist ogling her backside as she bent to sit.
“Harry told me about today,” she said.
“I’d be surprised if he didn’t. The guy loves the sound of his own voice,” Ryan taunted flatly.
“He told me about what you did,” she carried on, ignoring the barbed comment.
“It was nothing.”
“Harry doesn’t think so. You saved his life. You’re his hero.”
“Nothing anybody else wouldn’t have done in the same circumstances.”
“Well, it wasn’t anybody else. It was you, Ryan. He’s grateful to you. I’m grateful to you.”
“Please, let’s not make a big deal of it.” He stood to walk out into the garden.
“We don’t have to. I just wanted to thank you. Maybe this situation is bringing the best out of you.”
Ryan felt uncomfortable. He knew that saving Harry’s life had been an impulsive reaction and that he hadn’t really wanted to do it at all, but it twigged in his mind that the event could work in his favour. It would go a long way to building her trust in him again. If he was prepared to save her boyfriend then he was surely a reformed character—a reformed character that was another step closer getting his way with her again.
He turned back around to face Georgina; her big, beautiful eyes focussed on him. “Perhaps you’re right. There’s no way I wouldn’t have done all I could to save him today. Like I said last week, we’re stronger together, and Harry’s getting better every outing.”
Georgina smiled. She stood and approached Ryan, putting her arms around his neck and embracing him tightly.
He placed his arms around her waist and had to fight the urge to grab her shapely bottom. He savoured the feel of her breasts pushed up against him, caring little that he felt like a horny teenager. She kissed him on his cheek, pulled away, and their eyes met. It was a long stare and Ryan could feel the intensity between them.
Their attention was broken by the sound of a smash inside the house.
Ryan looked up. “What the…?” He picked up the 7-iron that lay next to his chair and looked through the kitchen window into the house. His heart jumped into his mouth. “I can’t believe this shit!”
“What’s happening, Ryan?”
“It’s the damned military!”
“Best guess, they’re pissed about me taking my leave from the safe zone. They’ve found out where I live and come for me.”
“What are we going to do?”
“We’ll have to get out of here. It’s either that or we get hustled into the back of a truck and escorted away. When they find out you’re infected they’ll probably just kill you.”
“We need to get Harry.”
“There’s no time. They’re swarming the place! We have to go. Harry can plead ignorance and they’ll let him into the safe zone. Don’t worry about it. I’ll look after you.”
“No chance! Go if you want to; I’m not leaving Harry.”
“Even if they’ll shoot you as soon as they find out you’re infected?”
“I’d sooner take that chance and die the way I should than turn into a lurcher.” She didn’t give him a chance to reply as she barged past him into the house.
Ryan screwed up his face and snarled with frustration. He didn’t know what to do. He looked through the kitchen window and could see Georgina with her hands up as officers moved to apprehend her. Was he really going to lose her again? Did he have a choice? The military would surely throw him in solitary confinement—this time for a long stretch. When he got out, Georgina would likely be dead if they didn’t kill her as soon as they discovered she was infected.
He made his choice and ran for the fence at the end of the garden. He was just about to scale it when a voice caused him to halt.
“Stay where you are. Don’t move another muscle. I mean it; I’ll shoot you where you stand.”
Ryan let out an aggravated sigh and smiled ironically as he turned to face the officer, who had an MG aimed at him.
“Drop that weapon and put your hands up.”
“I ain’t dropping this golf club.”
“I said drop it now!”
“And I said no!”
“Don’t make me kill you! I swear to god, I’ll do it.”
Ryan grinned brashly. “You’d better pull the trigger then, you squaddie prick!” He knew the officer wouldn’t shoot whether he dropped the 7-iron or not. No matter what he did, he was certain things couldn’t get any worse and toyed with the idea of cracking the man’s skull open.
The chance would never arise. Ryan didn’t see nor hear the man that crept over the fence behind him and bludgeoned him over the head to knock him out cold.
When Ryan awoke he was tied up in the back of a vehicle. How long he’d been there was anybody’s guess. Harry and Georgina sat on a bench that ran along the edge of the cabin, both with their hands and feet bound too. The vehicle was in motion; Ryan could garner that from the vibrations and engine noise.
He looked at Georgina. “What happened?”
“They rounded us up and then stripped the house of anything worth taking. All food and water, chairs, the beds… whatever else they could lay their hands on. They were looking for you.”
“I figured that much. They’ve done some kind of database check to find out where I live. Surprised it took them so long.”
“What are they gonna do with us?” Harry asked, the fear in his voice abundant.
“Probably nothing with you. You’re clean. I’ll likely get incarcerated. Georgina… I’m not sure. Ah, fuck! My head hurts.”
Georgina sighed aloud. She looked at Harry, shaking her head to signal for him not to respond further, and then looked back at Ryan. “We’ll all be fine. You can explain why you escaped. You’re nothing if not good at using that silver tongue of yours,” she joked.
“Something you’re definitely aware of,” Ryan quipped suggestively.
Harry eyed them both quizzically and Ryan immediately realised he’d dropped the ball. Georgina looked as though she wanted the floor to open and swallow her. They’d done so well at hiding their past relationship up to this point.
Just as Harry went to say something, they were distracted by the vehicle screeching to a sudden halt and noises from outside.
TO BE CONTINUED
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