‘Wow, I really like what you’ve done with the place,’ Annie remarked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
‘Could you be any more of a snob? The guy’s rescuing us, maybe you should be a bit more gracious,’ Holly snapped.
They were stood at the entrance of a huge underground hideout with at least ten different strangers blinking up at them. Sharp wiring snaked round the walls, closing them in, with a simple locked gate on the far side as well as the one they were stood in front of which Ty was now bolting up.
Blankets and books lay strewn across the concrete floor, empty food cans piling up in the far corner right beside a pipe dripping with water protruding from the wall.
'This is impressive.' Cal noted.
'Yeah well,' Ty grunted, shoving the bolt in its place with effort. 'You gotta make the best of your resources haven't you?'
'Is someone gonna introduce us?' one of the strangers finally spoke, eyes fixed on Ty. He was a good deal older than the rest of them, probably in his late twenties early thirties with healthy black hair and vibrant green eyes. Cal wondered vaguely why this man didn't step up to the challenge of leader and why he'd quite willingly let a guy half his age do it.
'Urm, right guys.' Ty turned the face the expectant group. 'This is Cal, Holly, Annie and Adam. They'll be joining us from now on.'
'What?' the man spoke, and now his voice was angry, his eyes accusing. 'Don't you think we have enough people as it is without adding kids to the list?'
Holly flinched ever so slightly and Cal felt his temper rise protectively.
'We're not kids,' Cal spoke calmly. 'I'm sorry that you've taken an instant dislike to us but in times like these I'd say we all need to stick together don't you?'
A few heads nodded in agreement.
'He has a point Matt,' a younger girl, possibly Cal's age spoke.
'A bigger group just makes for an easier target for the zombies!' Matt protested.
'What so you'd rather be on your own? Easy to pick off and defenceless?' the girl asked.
Matt frowned. It was obvious he knew he wasn't going to win this one and he turned round and headed for one of the pile of blankets on the other side of the room.
Ty ignored him completely.
'Right everyone try and make them feel welcome. They've been through a lot.'
Ty headed off to the water tap and after a seconds hesitation, Holly followed him. Some people began to show Annie and Adam around and the others broke off into small groups, leaving Cal and the blonde girl stood facing one another.
'I'm Danielle,' she smiled.
'Hello,' he smiled back.
'You'll have to ignore Matt. He's just tired and cranky. We all are,' she sighed.
'I can imagine,' Cal agreed. 'So what's your story?'
Danielle sat down on a step and Cal did the same.
'Well,' she heaved another sigh. 'Pretty much the same as anyone else's here. I suppose you'd say I was pretty lucky in the fact that I had no close relatives or friends to worry about when the virus struck. I was on my own, in my flat. Just another Monday night when I heard a scream outside. I lived in the type of neighbourhood where this kind of thing wasn't unheard off, it was pretty rough. But this scream was...different. It sounded inhumane and tortured. I remember peering through my curtains into the darkness where I was met with a pair of bright red eyes staring straight back at me. I still have nightmares about those eyes, they won't go away.
Anyway, long story cut short, I escaped the flat, went on the run and met Ty who took me in. He explained everything, about the virus, about the consequences and how my life wouldn't be the same again. I was terrified, but Ty was so sure of himself and confident that I found myself trusting him. I've lived here ever since.'
Cal was speechless for a good few minutes. It was strange, hearing other people's perspectives on the event that had destroyed their lives, like watching it happen through another pair of eyes.
'I'm sorry,' he murmured.
'Don't be,' she told him. 'Like I said, I didn't have any close friends or relatives so I didn't really lose anyone. What's your story?'
This was the part Cal was waiting for. He hadn't told his story to anyone else before, but he felt obligated to do so to this kind stranger, after all, she had just told him hers.
'It was just another day. I was in my room doing homework, Holly was downstairs watching telly when I heard a frantic knocking at the door. I didn't take much notice until I heard a loud crash and a heart wrenching scream. I raced downstairs and found Holly curled up in the corner, staring at something with wide, frightened eyes. I followed her gaze and found this...thing stood in the centre of the room. It was like a rotting corpse had come to life with bits of flesh hanging off in shreds, bloodthirsty eyes fixed on my sister. It hadn't noticed me yet and it began making it's way to Holly. Instinctively, I grabbed the closest object to me which just happened to be a baseball bat, one our parents had been intent on keeping, a limited edition apparently.
I had never killed anything before, but I knew I didn't have a choice here so I ran towards it, bringing the bat crashing around it's head and it fell to the floor.
I remember looking at the body thinking What the hell have I just done? Everything seemed to go in slow motion then and I became aware of every single detail of that time. The clocks slow tick-tick seemed to resonate in the silence, Holly's whimpering and sobbing coming from somewhere in the room but all I could focus on was the mangled body laying motionless in front of me.'
Cal paused. It was hard for him to speak of this.
'But,' he continued. 'That was nothing compared to what we discovered next. I figured it was best for us to get out of there, to find our parents or to get help maybe. We had to pass through the kitchen to get through the door and nothing prepared us for what we found next.
Two more of the things - zombies - but that's not what shocked us the most. It was the fact that they were looking at us in such a familiar way. Aside from the raging hunger, they looked almost as if they recognised us. I could only tell who they were from the clothes they were wearing, all their other features were indistinguishable.'
'Your parents.' Danielle spoke softly beside him.
Cal nodded, a lump forming in his throat, his vision becoming blurred from the tears that threatened to fall. He couldn't go on any more. He simply couldn't. Danielle seemed to understand and she squeezed his hand sympathetically.
Everything was silent after that.