When an unknown disease swept its way through the entire nation, it obliterated half of the worlds population. The dead walked the streets and the survivors were forced to live in secret, constantly on the run from those that want to destroy them.
** This is a rewrite of Nano Zombies (3rd time lucky) which follows Joe and Luca **
They had been holed up in that godforsaken room for two months straight. They marked the days by the light that came in from the window and with a single mark on the wall. Sixty lines, a symbol of the madness around them. They figured it was better to stay where they were location-wise but stay in another room; one with more fortification. The heavy, solid doors of the kitchen and the vast array of knives proved to be beneficial in times like these. Mr and Mrs Hartness had become ferociously protective over their only son, rightfully so, as Joe Hartness spent most of his time huddled behind his parents, watching his dad despatch of the walking corpses that had come to rule their sorry lives. His father had taken a stance; decided that he needed to protect his family and so had changed his outlook on life. His father, who had never fought anything in his life, now became a machine.
Mrs Hartness’ kills did not amount to much but were slightly more than Joe’s. He refused to kill anything. He had the knife in his shaking hand, but he could not bring his muscles to move, to wield that weapon like he knew how to use it and drive it into the skull of something that had once been human.
On the sixty first day of their hell, they heard a sudden crash coming from down the corridor. They were used to noises, they came in thick and fast, but this particular noise was followed by a curse word which made them all look at each other, almost expectantly.
‘What was that?’ Mrs Hartness whispered. Joe hid further into his mother’s arms.
‘Maybe one of them got inside? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.’
The noise had dwindled now, only slightly. Something was being put into place, a door perhaps, the same one that had been knocked down? It was definitely something human at any rate.
‘Can they get in here?’ Joe questioned. His mother’s grip around him tightened. They hadn’t managed to get into the hotel kitchen yet, but there was a first time for everything. You couldn’t get too comfortable in times like these.
‘No sweetie,’ his mother’s voice soothed. ‘We’re okay in here.’
‘Maybe I should go and have a look,’ Mr Hartness stood up. Joe imagined his facial expression matched his mother’s: they never liked leaving the room. ‘You two wait here.’
‘Absolutely not! You are not going out there by yourself,’ she almost shouted. Joe tugged on her jacket to lower her tone. ‘They’re human, what if they attack?’
‘What else are we going to do? Wait here like sitting ducks until they come to us? What do you think the first place they’ll check is?’
‘Don’t go dad,’ Joe pleaded.
‘It’ll be okay son; I won’t let them see me. I just need to see how many we’re dealing with.’ He armed himself with a knife; certainly not for the first time and it sure as hell wouldn’t be the last.
Little to the Hartness’ knowledge, the stranger had heard movement from the kitchen and was currently prepping, reloading his gun and waiting patiently for whoever was in there to find him. He had the upper hand; he always had. He had taken on a crouching stance, not far from the kitchen door.
Mr Hartness began by slowly removing their temporary barricade at the door, stopping to pause, willing himself more courage. It never got any easier going out there. He gripped the handle with a sweaty clasp and swung the door open slowly.
The stranger was patient and brought the gun upwards, waiting for Mr Hartness to round the corner and find him.
Joe’s father turned to look back at his family who were hovering nearby, dubious looks etched onto their faces. He gave them a small, positive smile and left the confines of their sanctuary. He checked left, right, left again and rounded the corner. He turned back at the last minute to find himself staring down the barrel of a gun. He froze in place, his heart swallowing his fear and pumping it around his entire body; his grip on the knife tightened considerably.
The man, who was tall and skinny with black hair that hung round his shoulders, spoke with a gruff voice: ‘You been bit?’
Mr Hartness had to swallow the dryness in his throat and forced himself to speak. ‘B-Bit? No I haven’t.’ His breath was coming in short, sharp shakes. He needed to stand firm. He had his family to look after; it wouldn’t do any of them good if he got himself shot. ‘Please, I’m not dangerous.’
The stranger narrowed his dark eyes and pulled an empty water bottle out of his satchel. ‘This needs filling.’ He flicked something on his weapon.
Mr Hartness wanted to move, he really did, but he physically couldn’t. He was staring in the face of death, only this time it seemed much more real. His legs wouldn’t co-operate.
The man pushed the empty water bottle into Mr Hartness’ chest until he brought quaking hands up to take it. ‘Would a “please” help?’
It suddenly dawned on him what was about to happen: Mr Hartness was going to lead the stranger back to the kitchen, back to his family, and the stranger would kill them all. He couldn’t let that happen, he wouldn’t. He tried to garner how useful a knife might be against a man with a gun. Maybe if he grabbed the guy’s arm, the one holding the weapon, and twisted it? He could thrust the knife up into the man’s throat. Then it would be over. But could he do it? Could he really kill a human being? Could he watch the life drain from his eyes, knowing that he brought that on?
The answer was no. He couldn’t. He was too weak. He could stall though.
He turned round slowly, hoping that his wife and son had heard the commotion and were smart enough to hide. Once they were close enough to the entrance, he turned back to face the stranger.
He spoke a fraction louder, not enough to gain suspicion: ‘You’re not going to kill me, are you?’
‘Not if you’re smart and do what I tell you.’
The next few moments seemed to pass by in the slowest measure of time that he had ever faced. Every second counted and he hoped that his family were smart. He took the vital steps needed until they were both in the kitchen. The relief that hit him when he couldn’t locate his family was nearly enough to knock him back, but he had to remain inconspicuous. Mr Hartness walked over to his own backpack, blocking the stranger’s view of the others and pulled out two water bottles. He put them on the counter and pushed them away.
The stranger kept his gun trained on him this entire time, his eyes calculating his every move. He took the bottles, putting one in his rucksack and opening the other one, taking a small sip, and packing it away with the other. He muttered something caustically that might have resembled thanks, before backing out. Mr Hartness didn’t allow himself to relax until the stranger was completely out of sight.
He walked with shaking legs over to the door, looked both ways down the corridors and shut it. He turned round and collapsed against the ground.
Mrs Hartness and Joe slowly reappeared. His wife ran straight over to him and hugged him tightly.
‘Are you alright?? What happened?’
‘I ran into a slight mishap with a gentleman, a gun and some water. We’re okay though. Just so long as he doesn’t come back.’
Joe ran over to his father and collapsed into his arms.
Silence fell around them as they all tried to process what had just happened.