“I saw what you did.”
Ryan’s eyes snapped open as he awoke; he shot up to a sitting position. Kas was glaring at him through bloodshot eyes and broke into a violent coughing fit. It was loud enough to cause Ryan to wince. The lurchers would definitely hear if they were nearby. “The fuck are you talking about?”
“Keith—I saw what you did to him.”
“I did what I had to do to draw the lurchers away from us. Had I not done it then we’d all have been getting eaten, not just him!”
“Bullshit, man! You don’t know that. We could’ve all made it here.” Kas started coughing again. It was clearly hurting his chest to do so.
“I disagree. It was necessary. Hold it against me if you will. I feel no regret.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to. Killing obviously doesn’t come difficult for you. Makes me wonder what kinda bloke you were before all this began”.
“Judge away, Kas. I couldn’t give a shit! I do what I’ve gotta do to survive. It may have escaped your attention, but that’s the world we live in now.”
“And it suits you down to the ground!”
“We’re out of water and there’s no food,” Ryan said, changing the subject. “One way or another, we need to get out of here. You’re in no fit state to be wandering around in the woods with countless lurchers looking for a snack. We could wait here in the vain hope Jay will eventually find us and die of malnutrition in the meantime. As you can see, we’re not exactly drowning in options.”
“Don’t you worry about me—not that you would!” Kas sniped, breaking into a coughing fit again immediately after.
“Shut up, you wet wipe! You think I’d have dragged your heavy arse to this hut if I didn’t give a shit about you?”
“I don’t know what to think. I’m not sure I trust you.”
“Trust means fuck all right now! We’re stuck in this shit together, Kas. If you wanna give me a lesson in morality then go for it by all means. Let’s just find a way out of here and back to the hotel first.”
Kas glowered at Ryan for what felt like an age. He eventually nodded his agreement. “I suppose you’re right. How’s the ammo situation looking?”
Ryan was concerned about Kas’ health. He couldn’t go more than a couple of minutes without breaking into a coughing fit and it had already piqued the interest of one or two nearby lurchers. Stealth would be of the essence once they were outside and Kas would likely prove detrimental to that. That was irrelevant, though, because Ryan knew going it alone would more than likely result in death. Kas injected himself with painkillers and took several puffs on a steroid inhaler. It was somewhat fortuitous that he happened across the latter as he’d had no idea he’d even packed it.
The double whammy worked and Kas soon began breathing a lot more easily while the coughing fits more or less stopped in entirety. The pair of them filled the clips of their sidearms and SA-80s while ensuring extra ammo was abundant in their pockets. Initially, only knives and melee weapons would be used as not to create noise and draw attention. Kas stumbled across a pitchfork as he looked around for something extra to accompany his knife and he held it aloft, admiring the old tool.
“A bit archaic, but it’ll definitely do the damage,” Ryan commented.
“Let’s hope so,” Kas responded quietly.
A plan was hastily put into action. They’d create a noise near the door of the shack to draw nearby lurchers to it and then start a fire. Once the fire was raging enough it would be time for them to make their escape out of the back. It would mean smashing a hole in the wooden wall and they hoped the undead would be distracted enough by the flames that they wouldn’t notice. From there, running as quickly as possible would be the only other thing to do.
The pair of them piled as much kindling at the door as they could. Kas questioned why they wouldn’t make the distraction at the other end of the room so they could then slip out of the door. Ryan reasoned that the greatest concentration of lurchers were already outside the door and that, although he couldn’t prove it, they knew the door was the only way inside, hence why they hadn’t strayed far from it. Kas may not have been convinced that the lurchers were smarter than they appeared; Ryan, having seen some of the things they had done, knew there was more going on behind the soulless eyes of the monsters.
With the kindling piled around the door, Ryan and Kas took a step back to admire their work.
“That’s that. I guess the only thing left is to get the plan into motion,” Ryan said uncertainly.
“Step back and I’ll get the barbecue lit.” Kas retrieved a petrol lighter from one of his pockets and held the naked flame underneath a brittle piece of wood near the bottom of the pile. It quickly lit up and began to spread to the surrounding objects. He made doubly sure the blaze would spread by lighting up another piece of wood and the fire was soon well underway. He stepped away and watched the orange flames with his hands on his hips.
Ryan smiled with tight lips as Kas looked back at him. “Let’s draw the bastards to the inferno and hope for the best.”
Four days earlier
The pitter-patter of the rain was frustratingly loud. It was all that could be heard aside from the occasional call of a bird or two. Ryan passively wondered what take the flying animals had on the apocalypse. The world around them had massively changed; it surely couldn’t have gone unnoticed.
Nobody spoke—par for the course where Keith was concerned—as they trudged their way across the sodden ground and between the trees. Occasionally, one of them would raise their weapon when they thought they saw or heard something. It always turned out to be nothing.
The fact it always turned out to be nothing only served to pique Ryan’s suspicions further. The creatures had been filtering out of the woods in steady number; where on earth were they now? He had images in his mind of lurchers watching them and waiting to pick their moment. And yet, after a search of a couple of hours and heading deeper and deeper into the trees, they hadn’t seen a single sight of the undead.
A break was suggested by Kas and they unanimously decided against, all wishing to get the tedious search over with. Keith quietly called into question why they hadn’t seen a single lurcher. Ryan thought better of voicing his suspicions, expecting only to be ridiculed for being too fantastical.
The search continued and the rain persisted just as vehemently. Each of the men was soaked; their clothes stuck to them and made movement that bit more difficult. Ryan had dispensed of his SA-80, strapping it across his back, and had taken to carrying his 7 iron instead, occasionally taking a whack at things he saw on the ground as he went along. His antics slightly annoyed the other two, though neither of them said anything.
After they’d been on the lookout for well over three hours a form appeared up ahead. It was a lurcher looking up into a tree, assumedly having been intrigued by the sound of a bird or a squirrel. Ryan stepped ahead of the other two and made them stop.
“What’s up with you? Let’s split its head open!” Kas said.
“Didn’t you learn your lesson that day your mate got spewed on? Let me work out what it is before we go charging in like bulls on ketamine!”
Kas didn’t respond and stayed back; yielding to Ryan’s greater knowledge of the lurchers. While he might have been the leader of the three-man subgroup, Ryan was the one with the most experience where the undead were concerned.
Ryan studied the decaying form for almost a minute. Its flesh was a thing of the past and all that remained was the layers of muscle atop the bones. Its clothing, though still intact, was in complete tatters after several months of wandering around and looking for things to feast on. He wondered how it was physically possible for the thing even still to move in light of its deterioration.
Shunning his musings, Ryan came to the conclusion that the creature was a regular lurcher and they could proceed as normal. “I think we should be okay. Let’s send the poor fucker to hell!”
Keith, bored by the hours of walking, barged through the other two and made his way stealthily towards the lurcher, withdrawing his knife as he went. The lurcher noticed him approaching and suddenly became animated with a series of excitable sounds.
The atypical reaction of the lurcher immediately rang alarm bells for Ryan. Usually, a lurcher would simply totter towards its potential victim in search of a meal, its noises restricted to feverish grunts and growls. The sound of this lurcher was different and it remained rooted to the spot. Ryan stopped Kas from advancing with Keith.
“The fuck are you doing, man?”
“It’s a trap!”
“What do you—”
Before Kas could finish his sentence, countless lurchers appeared from the trees around them. The gawkers were naturally quickest to the scene. Keith used his knife to kill the original lurcher and a couple more advancing ones. Kas followed suit while Ryan used his 7 iron to do the job.
The numbers quickly overwhelmed them and Kas was soon brought down. Ryan called out to him, worried that he might be dead. He moved towards where Jay’s deputy was and saw he was still just about fighting them off.
He had to create a distraction somehow and went with the first thing that came to mind. He pulled his pistol and fired three shots into the air, immediately whipping the lurchers into a frenzy.
He then took his 7 iron and hit Keith as hard as he could on the back of his left leg. Keith growled loudly and dropped to his knee. Just seconds later, he was inundated by lurchers and they tore him to pieces. His cries of pain only attracted more of them.
Ryan used the distraction to help Kas and the pair made their way towards a nearby cabin. They had no idea why a cabin would be there in the woods but were grateful it was.
Just as they reached the door, a gawker flew from out of nowhere and bowled Kas over, sending him flying headfirst against the door of the cabin. He was knocked clean out with a nasty looking gash on his temple.
Ryan dealt with the lurcher and then dragged Kas’ limp form inside the cabin, closing the door before the lurchers had a chance to catch up with them. They were safe for now—even if it had taken Keith involuntarily sacrificing his life!
TO BE CONTINUED