When the lift doors opened I took a step back. Berny looked back at me.
"Just wait here," she told me, gesturing at her ankle. "No way am I walking up four flights of stairs with this."
She stepped into the box and the doors closed behind her. I heard the lift system whir into life as it carried her upwards.
I turned and started up the stairs, not so fast that I couldn't keep it up, but fast enough. Berny may have said wait, but I wasn't sure I trusted her to be on her own. Not with zombies everywhere. Plus, she was kind of nice to be with.
I reached the fourth floor just as I heard the doors to the lift close. Looking along the hallway, I could see that the door five from the opposite end along was open. It had to be Berny's.
My gaze was caught by a girl wandering along from the other end of the corridor. She looked about ten, eleven. Where were her parents?
Probably zombies already, I though bitterly. Her neck looked strangely thin and lopsided.
She stopped at Berny's open door, then tipped her head back and sniffed at the air.
It was as she turned and went into the apartment I saw that the back of her head was missing, her strawberry patterned summer-dress stained dark with blood and brain fluid.
"Dad, where's my flare gun?" I heard Berny shout.
Oh god. Her dad was in there too.
I started running. By the time I reached the door the girl had disappeared. I never was much of a sprinter. I leaned against the doorframe to catch my breath.
I darted in. A man who I presumed was Berny's father was stood in the middle of the main room, blood gushing from a huge wound at the back of his head.
I grabbed Berny's shoulders and started dragging her back.
"No! I need to help him!"
"Berny, let's leave. Now!" I half shouted, my voice solid.
"No! My Dad is bleeding to death!" she screamed, struggling to get away.
"Berny! He got attacked by a zombie. He'll do the same to you. We. Need. To. Leave." I told her firmly, although to be honest I wanted to run away screaming and vomit somewhere.
Then the girl in the summer-dress wandered forward. Berny lifted her hands, and I saw something like a gun. There was a burst of light and suddenly the little girl was on fire. She stumbled sideways into Berny's father, whose clothes immediately burst into flame.
I took the opportunity to grab Berny's arm and pull her from the apartment and down the corridor. She started crying, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes and sliding down her face. "Oh my god. I killed someone. I killed my-"
I dragged her down all four flights of stairs. We were nearly at the end of the road before she tried to escape. I let go, and headed to my house, looking back to check Berny was okay.
I yelled my brother's name the moment I was through the front door.
"Ren, what in hell's name are you-"
I think the blood on my face where Berny had tried to push me away stopped him talking.
"Is it true?" he asked from the top of the stairs.
"If you're referring to the imminent zombie apocalypse, yes."
"I was actually wanting to know about you breaking Mr. Fingley's nose, but the zombie thing too."
"Jon, not now. Bedroom. Now!"
He disappeared and I thundered up the stairs after him.
Even I admitted that Jon's weaponry collection was impressive. Strange, yes, but impressive. He had just about every blade weapon you could name, plus about five billion more. The walls of his room were covered in display racks and cases.
"Which d'you want, Ren?" he asked, taking down two foot and a half long straight swords, both of them only sharp on one side of the blade. He shoved them into their sheaths and strapped them across his back.
"Katana," I replied, wondering when and where the hell he'd acquired a mace.
"You know that's one of the worst weapons for fighting zombies?"
"Oh? And since when were you an expert?"
"A katana needs space to wield. It'd be crap if you were in, I don't know, a corner, or a lift."
"Well," I said, finding a belt and attaching several sheathes to it, containing throwing knives. These would usually be retrievable, but I could see anything leaving my person quickly becoming a disposable weapon. "Let's try and not get in any corners, shall we? Besides, can you see me in any state to fight if there's not enough room to swing a sword?"
"Admittedly no. Do you want that on your back?" he asked, waving at the sheathed katana.
"Um. Yes. How." I said.
He gave me a hand with it, and we decided that we probably should leave the rest. Well, I did.
"What if the zombies get hold of this? They could-"
"Jonothan, they're zombies. You think they can learn to use weapons?"
He didn't look convinced, but left it.
"Berny?" I said as we left the house and I spotted my new friend, glad she hadn't been zombie-fied whilst I was inside. "The street is deserted..."
She looked at me. "What are we going to do now?" She rubbed her eyes, smearing blood on her face. More tears ran down her cheeks, leaving little snail trails through the red.
I shrugged. I didn't know what to do either.
Jon followed me out, carrying a rucksack that sounded like it was full of all the canned, tinned and dehydrated food we had (which wasn't that much.)
"Ren," he said, "Who's this?"
"Oh. This is Bernadette. Berny, this is my older brother."
"I suppose you're called Custard?" she said, smiling weakly. Her tears were slowly drying up.
Jonothan stared at her for a second, all white-blonde brown eyed confusion.
"Rhubarb and Custard." I laughed. "Rhubarb's not my real name, but I'll only tolerate him not calling me it because he's related to me. So if you hear him asking for Ren, he's talking about me."
"What's your real name?"
"Now that, my dear Bernadette, I shall tell you on the day we die."
I linked my arm through hers and we started walking down the road, as if all was right with the world.
"Ren, Ren's friend, shouldn't we be going in the other direction? Towards Flowerhouse?"
And indeed we should.