The pub was quiet. It always was. Not many people stayed out past sunset these days. I did. I enjoyed the peaceful emptiness of it. I could finally hear myself think and enjoy my beer while I was at it. Drinking at home wasn’t an experience I often enjoyed, apart from when I had that rebellious teenager phase that everyone has where we used to steal whatever we could from our parents and hide in our mate’s room.
Though the pubs weren’t doing so well, the alcohol industry was better than ever – so many people had taken to drinking to deal with the loss of people they cared about.
I looked around through an alcoholic fog at the few people left here, all of us sat in relative silence. My thoughts turned to Mike. He would be waiting up for me, like usual. He didn’t drink, something to do with his family – it wasn’t a topic he stayed on for very long, and I didn’t mind. I wouldn’t push it. I just wanted to make him happy.
With a long sigh, I downed the last of my pint and set the glass quietly back on the stained wood table I was sat at, sliding it back into the ring of condensation it had already left there. Dimly, I wondered how many more times this table would be marked by people drinking away their thoughts.
I didn’t really think I was that drunk, but I stumbled my way out of the pub, pausing to make sure I was actually upright before crossing the threshold out into the street. It was quiet.
The stars seemed to light up and point me home. I followed their lights, my mind stupidly elsewhere. Thoughts of being cocooned in my soft duvet and held in Mike’s arms and having my head resting against his chest where I could hear his slow, steady heartbeat singing me a lullaby.
Where my mind should have been was directly ahead of me; I should’ve taken notice of the one or two infected wandering around, of the bodies collapsed on the pavement not so far ahead of me, of the woman standing over them. It wasn’t safe anymore, it hadn’t been for a long time, but the booze was making my head swim and I didn’t seem to care about any of it.
The woman ahead of me didn’t seem to care either. I stumbled in their direction, still following the stars home, only stopping because the bodies she was now crouching over were in my way. I looked down at the one closest to me and it was only then that it even registered that they were probably dead. I took one staggering step back, vaguely remembering the stories of the dead rising again.
It looked a lot like the woman was searching the pockets of the bodies, but her back was to me and I couldn’t really see properly. Apparently hearing me, she turned, standing up as she did so, making it into one fluid movement. I took another step back as her speed made my head spin a little bit and the street started to wobble under her feet – and mine.
I was kinda caught off guard. I just wanted to get home, but suddenly there was this strange woman and what looked like two bodies right next to her.
“Hey, you should prob’ly get away from them. They might be infected,” I just about managed to get the words out of my mouth, which was feeling more and more like I had a sponge for a tongue, too thick and too dry to be of any use. She looked around at them for a moment before looking back up at me, her whole face in the shadows.
“I think they’ve been dead for a while,” she replied. Her voice was almost icy. I shivered.
“So? Haven’t you seen those ones that were dead and then… and then…” I trailed off, trying to remember exactly what it was I’d seen happening for myself – no one needed a news reporter to tell us anything about this infection anymore. “Don’t they come back to life?”
I thought I saw her lips twist up into a smile. “I can take care of myself.”
“No harm in being careful, right?” I think I slurred my words there – then again, I could’ve been slurring my words all the way through the conversation and I wouldn’t have really noticed. “Where’re you stayin’? I’ll walk you home,” I offered, doing my best to be polite.
“Erm,” she scratched her head, looking like she was trying to think. “Just around town, wherever’s safe,” she shrugged after a moment, dropping her hand back down by her side.
“Well, we have a sofa you could crash on? It’s safe.”
She raised an eyebrow, “you want to invite a complete stranger into your house? It seems as though you should follow your own advice about being careful.”
I just about managed a shrug, “you’re not infected. You don’t look like you are, anyway. Are you?”
She shoved her hands into her jean pockets and wandered over to me, leaving the shadows she had been hiding in. Her dark eyes seemed to pierce me and suddenly I felt a lot less comfortable around her, even in my inebriated state.
“How much have you had to drink?” she asked after a moment of eyeing me like I was some kind of cattle at a market.
“Nowhere near enough,” I muttered, suddenly feeling like I should’ve stayed at the pub. It was safe there. Another half hour and I could’ve avoided this meeting altogether. Her nose crinkled a little.
“I better make sure you get home safely, then,” she said.
I half chuckled, not sure if I was nervous or if some kind of base fight or flight instinct was starting to kick in, “I’m fine, you’re the one with nowhere to stay.” I looked up over her shoulder, wondering if that instinct was kicking in because of her or something else. When I saw the infected heading our way, I decided it was the fact that five or six of them were heading towards us with as much purpose as it’s possible to have when you’re dead.
The woman seemed to give a sigh, “come on, this way,” she said, grabbing my arm and pulling me down an alley, “up here,” she reached up and pulled down a fire escape ladder.
I mumbled something about my place being the other way, or being fine or something. I just wanted to go home. I should’ve kept walking, and ignored her. Gods damn me and my stupidity.
My feet were following the only real chance of safety, though, and she was right, going up a fire escape probably was the best chance I had, certainly in the state I was in. We got to the third floor before she paused and I bumped into her back, my face thudding against her leather jacket. I grabbed the railing and looked up, following her gaze.
There was a figure one or two floors above us at the top of the building. The figure was stood there, staring at us.
“Who’s that…?” I was panicking; this walk home from the pub had been way too creepy and I just wanted to be in bed with my boyfriend, not halfway up the side of a building, trapped between infected people and a weird person on the roof, with a woman that made me feel so uneasy. I took a step back away from them and lost my footing, falling straight down the ladder hole onto the landing below.