The truck came to a halt and the six men inside climbed out, including the driver. They each checked their weapons—standard army issue SA80 assault rifles—then started off down a path that led into the nearby woodland. Jay led the way with Kas and Ryan just behind him. Ryan felt naked without his 7-iron to hand, the golf club tucked in his belt. He made sure never to keep it far away.
They were searching for something specific, something they’d pinned down to this particular area. The sun struggled to breach the branches and leaves above. A couple of weeks of rainstorms had given way to sunshine again. Thankfully, it wasn’t half as intense as it had been before.
The six men stayed quiet and kept their eyes peeled, using only occasional hand signals to communicate. Ryan was a fish out of water, the only one without military experience, but Jay had never made him feel out of his depth. The two had grown close over the weeks. He was also on great terms with Kas while the rest of the small squadron had made him feel welcome too. He’d quickly gotten the hang of using larger guns than the pistol he’d toted for weeks and was proving fearless in combat—perhaps too fearless for Jay’s liking sometimes.
Jay held up a hand for everyone to stop. He looked at Kas and gestured for him to watch the trees ahead. Kas nodded and signalled for everyone else to hold position. Ryan was keen to find out what Jay had seen.
Three weeks ago
“Will you stop being so childish and listen to me, Harry?” Georgina asked with exasperation.
“No, George! I’m not going to be caught in between you and that bastard! I know exactly where this is heading.”
“Did somebody say my name?” Ryan cheerfully queried, appearing at the door with a large grin.
“Oh, piss off, Ryan!” Georgina blared.
“You say the sweetest things! I just wanted to make sure this turd was being true to his word and getting out of my airspace.”
“Why don’t you leave instead?”
“Because I’m useful and he isn’t!”
“He’s right,” Harry conceded with a look of seething hatred at Ryan. “As much as I hate to admit it, he’s resourceful in a way I could never be. I’m better off out of here.”
“You can learn the skills needed to be resourceful.”
“I’m not staying here while the issues between you two are bubbling, just waiting for the day you go back to him.”
“Then I’ll come with you.”
Harry eyed Georgina sternly. “Get this into your head: I don’t want you to come with me. I want you to leave me alone. I want you both to leave me alone. I’m done!”
Georgina dropped to her knees and hyperventilated as Harry continued to pack his bag. It didn’t take long as he didn’t have much to pack.
Ryan looked at the ceiling in despair at how pathetic a scene it was; Georgina was genuinely heartbroken that this pathetic cretin was leaving.
Harry finished packing and then walked towards the door. Georgina got to her feet and tried to hold him back, repeating the word “no” frenetically. Harry shrugged her off and continued towards the door while she fell to the ground in floods of tears.
Ryan followed Harry down the corridor and out of the exit from the building. “Oi!” he called, standing at the door.
“What?!” Harry asked with venom, turning to face him.
“If I ever see you again, I’ll kill you. Mark my words.”
“This place is gonna crumble with you inside it before you get the chance to see me again.”
Ryan scoffed. He wanted nothing more than to break every bone in Harry’s body, especially as the slight man stood there looking as though he had the power to take on the world. Instead, he dismissively waved him off and went back inside.
As he wandered past the room, Ryan stopped and looked at the still crying form of Georgina on the floor. He cleared his throat. “Uhm… you’ll be fine, y’know? Maybe it’s better this way.”
“Go away! Just go away! I don’t even want to look at you,” Georgina mumbled between sobs.
Ryan hesitated and continued looking down at her. He found it impossible to feel bad, genuinely believing things would be better without Harry’s drag effect. At that moment in time, he wasn’t sure whether this turn of events would eventually see her fall back into his bed or push her away completely. If she succumbed to the virus anytime soon it would be out of his hands. He shrugged his shoulders and walked away, leaving her to her grief.
Just the next day, Ryan and Georgina were given new permanent lodgings. They were each warned that if they weren’t prepared to share then they may end up sharing with a total stranger instead in the future. Georgina was happy with that. In her words, she’d have sooner shared with a lurcher than Ryan. From there, tests were taken to discover the extent of her infection, if she had it at all.
Ryan was put into a week’s worth of intense combat training. If there was something he enjoyed as much as sex it was physical training. He’d always been a religious gym goer and partook in various other sports to keep his body in tip-top condition. When he wasn’t training, he’d head out into the woods to find lurchers to hunt. He passed the training with ease and Jay called him up to join his team.
On the day he passed the training, Ryan saw Georgina for the first time since it had begun. He expected a dirty look and to be ignored. Surprisingly, she approached him. Though she still seemed angry, her veneer didn’t suggest she was spoiling for a fight.
“How are you?” she asked without genuine interest.
“I’m good. Passed training today, so I’ll be joining Jay’s team.”
“Good for you.”
“How about you? What have the tests shown up?”
She looked around shiftily. “That’s what I came to tell you, only we can’t talk here.”
“My place is just down here,” Ryan suggested, motioning with his hand.
The two walked away together towards his residence without another word. Ryan could see she looked tired. Bags were forming under her eyes and her skin looked a couple of shades paler. She looked to have lost weight too. Her appearance concerned him.
They reached his place and entered. Ryan offered her a seat and a cup of tea. She was shocked he’d offered as he never did so while they were together. She took him up on it and he prepared them each a cup. He sat across from her and leaned forwards, gazing expectantly at her.
Georgina sipped her tea and looked at him. “If I’d have known you were so good at making brews I’d have had you do them all the time when we were together,” she said with a mirthless smile.
“Don’t deflect, George. What’s wrong?”
“Okay.” she paused, taking several deep breaths. “Please don’t breathe a word of this to anyone.”
“You have my word.”
“They’ve done test after test and discovered I’m not positive for New Black Plague.”
“That’s fantastic news!”
“Mm-hmm. They have discovered an anomaly though.”
“What kind of anomaly?”
“They were reluctant to tell me initially, but I managed to drag it out of the doctor when I threatened to kick him in his balls.”
Ryan could picture the scene and chuckled. He was worried about what the anomaly might be. Was she HIV positive? Did she have cancer? “What did he say?”
“While he couldn’t say with a hundred percent conviction, he believes I might be immune to New Black Plague.”
Ryan was very intrigued. “Immune? How?”
“They say the initial screening was correct, that I was infected; however, I have a particular strain of antibodies that beat the infection into a neutral state. That means that NBP is still inside me albeit dormant and unable to multiply. It also means I can’t get infected again.”
“Kinda like the cowpox thing where Jenner injected just enough so that the body could fight it and become immune?”
“What?! How the hell would you know about that? You don’t show an interest in anything,” Georgina said with sudden animation.
“Shows what you really know,” Ryan joked with a wink.
“Anyway, it isn’t exactly like that, though the principle is kinda the same.”
“So, what does that mean?”
“They want to do more tests to see if they can somehow create a vaccine if I really am immune.”
“Use you as a guinea pig in essence?”
“If they can discover a way to save everyone then it’s surely worth it.”
“Will you still be saying that if they strap you to a bed and suck out all of your blood for the sake of the greater good?”
“Don’t be so melodramatic! It wouldn’t reach that point.”
“Let’s hope not. I don’t want anything bad to come of you, as much as you may hate me!”
“I don’t hate you,” she muttered, looking anywhere bar his face. “I don’t think it’s physically possible for me to hate you, even if you probably deserve it. We were engaged. You were the love of my life.”
“Until I screwed everything up.”
“Let’s not get into that now.”
Ryan could tell there was more she wanted to say. “If you have something to tell me then do so,” he urged.
Georgina sighed. “I need you to promise you won’t hit the roof.”
“I can’t promise anything without knowing what it is.”
“True. Okay, after Harry left, I found a letter he’d written to me. It’s been playing on my mind and I’m not sure how seriously to take it.”
“What did it say?”
“He was never planning on staying. He’s going to head to the nearest safe zone and tell them all about this place. He plans to sabotage everything going on here.”
Ryan grinned ironically and shook his head. “That motherfucker! I wondered what he meant as he was leaving. The guy won’t make it that far. If he isn’t dead already then he will be soon.”
“What if he manages to fluke it?”
“What do you care if he does? You love him, so you’d surely want him to be safe.”
“I did until I read that letter. Turns out he really was a snivelling, sly piece of shit!”
“I coulda told you that within two minutes of my first conversation with him!”
“I don’t think he was always like that. This situation messed him up. The guy’s scared.”
“He’ll have something to be scared about when I catch up with him.”
“Just let him be. It isn’t worth getting yourself killed trying to kill him.”
“I can’t let him get to a safe zone, George. I’ll have to talk to Jay and see what he says. We can’t compromise New Haven.”
“I suppose you’ll have to do whatever you have to do. Thank you for the brew. I’d better be going now. I’m tired and need a nap.”
“No worries. Let me walk you to the door.” Ryan stood and walked through to the front door before opening it.
Georgina passed through and turned to face him. They embraced for a few seconds when Ryan leaned in to kiss her, but she pulled away. “No, Ryan.”
“I’m sorry. I just…” Ryan trailed off.
Georgina smiled. “Let’s work on being friends before we start thinking about complicating matters.”
“Sure. No problem!”
“I’ll see you soon.”
Ryan nodded in response. He watched on as Georgina turned and walked away towards her house, waiting until she was out of earshot. “You’ll be in my bed soon enough. You can’t resist me for long!” With that, he closed the door and went back inside.
“Somebody’s been here recently,” Jay called. “They’ve obviously tried to make a fire and haven’t been able.”
“Definitely him!” Ryan called back.
“Let’s fan out and search the area. Keep your eyes out for gawkers; they’re buggers for hiding out in the woods.”
Ryan smiled briefly. Jay had previously used the term leapers and had since been swung around to using gawkers instead.
The men moved out in separate directions and searched the area for tell-tale signs of human activity. It was agreed they wouldn’t move out of eyeshot of one another. An hour of searching proved fruitless and they all gathered together again.
Just as they’d all got back and agreed to abandon the search, Harry appeared out of nowhere on the path ahead. He looked at the group with terror written on his face and then darted off into the trees. Jay was about to go after him when Ryan held him back.
“No, Jay. He’s mine!”
Jay nodded his approval and Ryan set off in the direction of his quarry. Eventually, he caught up and brought his SA80 to bear, squeezing off a few rounds. Harry stumbled to the ground with a yelp and Ryan slowly approached, a look of smug satisfaction on his face.
Harry lay face up on the ground, clutching at his left thigh. He shot Ryan a look of fear intermingled with hatred. “It just had to be you, didn’t it?”
“What can I say, Harry? It must’ve been fate.”
“Well get it over with, you bastard!” Harry instructed before another cry of pain.
“You were going to a safe zone to tell the military about New Haven. You’d have endangered the lives of all those people just to see me taken out?”
“Like you care about the people of New Haven. I was going to inform the military because I think what’s going on in New Haven is crap; just another form of corruption. I don’t believe a word Mel says. We both know the truth though; this is about your hatred for me.”
“You got me there, kid. I’ve wanted to kill you from day one. I just needed the opportunity to do so without it looking bad on me. I happen to agree with you about Mel; he’s a lying sack of turd!”
“You two should get along then.”
“Oh, look! The dead guy made a joke. Almost as good a joke as a bitch like you thinking he could ever satisfy Georgina for long. She wants a real man, Harry, and a real man is what she’s gonna get.”
“It’s funny,” Harry began with a pained smile, “when you say she wants a real man… which one of your mates might that be?” He began to laugh but wasn’t laughing long.
Ryan withdrew his 7-iron and swung it ferociously. The club made a sickening impact and the blood trickled down the side of Harry’s head while his face took on a braindead expression.
Ryan wasn’t done there. He swung the club several more times and never missed his target. Harry was dead on the third swing. Ryan still wasn’t done and continued until half of Harry’s head was pulp. For good measure, he began stomping down on his face, rendering him unrecognisable. In the end, Jay had to come over and restrain Ryan. His breathing was heavy and eyes burned with dander.
“That’s enough, Ry. That’s enough,” Jay shouted authoritatively. “You’ve made your point. We need to get outta here ‘cause your gun discharging will have attracted lurchers. Let’s go!”
Ryan held up his hands and nodded. “I’m okay! I’m okay!”
Jay patted him on his shoulder and then turned to head back to where the rest of the team waited.
Ryan looked back down at the lifeless form of Harry and snickered. “I knew you’d be the first person I’d kill. Shame I can only kill you the once!”
“Ryan, let’s go!” Jay called from through the trees.
The sound of growling lurchers could be heard and Ryan got on his toes. When he got back to the rest of the team, they were already fighting off a group of the monsters that had descended from out of nowhere. He ran into the melee, twirling his 7-iron, and got stuck in. More lurchers were joining the fray and that suspicion of them picking their moment to strike came to Ryan’s mind again.
Despite the number of lurchers being almost three times greater, the highly trained men fought off the advances with relative ease.
Then Ryan noticed the all too familiar sight of a lurcher standing and convulsing with bulging eyes. “Don’t go near that lurcher!” he yelled. “Get out of the way!”
All heeded Ryan’s warning in timely enough fashion apart from one. The spewer performed its acidic projectile vomiting routine and the man who couldn’t get out of the way quickly enough was caught in the spray. His clothing provided no protection as it burned straight through and began to work on his skin. A bloodcurdling cry rent the air as the most excruciating pain the man had ever experienced set in.
Jay looked towards Ryan. “What the fuck was that?!”
“I call them spewers. That’s only the second one I’ve ever seen.”
Jay and Kas went to their fallen comrade and could see that the acidic vomit was already eating its way through the flesh on his right shoulder, exposing the collarbone. Jay attempted to calm him and quieten him down to no avail. His cries got louder the longer it went on.
Ryan approached Jay with a sombre expression. “We’re gonna have to put him down. His cries will be attracting lurchers in number.”
“No chance!” Jay bellowed. “I haven’t lost a single man yet. I’m not letting today be the day that run comes to an end.”
“I think Ryan’s right, boss,” Kas said over the cries of pain, kneeling next to Jay.
Jay looked down at the man. The corrosion of his flesh was only worsening; he wouldn’t make it back to New Haven. Jay pulled his pistol and aimed it at his comrade’s head. His hand shook and his breathing was laboured as he hesitated.
Just as he was about to pull the trigger, a shot rang out and the crying stopped. Jay looked down at the man, who had a neat bullet hole in his forehead. He then cast his eyes upwards to see Ryan standing there with his pistol to hand.
Ryan smiled at Jay sans humour. “You shouldn’t have to go through killing your own men, even out of kindness. You don’t need that on your conscience.”
“Thank you, Ry,” Jay mumbled.
Ryan helped Jay and Kas to their feet, turning his head on hearing the sound of approaching lurchers. “Time to go!”
They all quickly made their way back through the woods as lurchers turned up to feast on the corpses of Harry and Jay’s fallen charge.
Ryan chuckled to himself as he jogged. He’d gone the whole time without killing one person. In the space of a few minutes, he’d killed two!
TO BE CONTINUED