Read Year of the Zombie (Book 8): Scratch Online

Authors: David Moody

Tags: #Zombies

Year of the Zombie (Book 8): Scratch (4 page)

BOOK: Year of the Zombie (Book 8): Scratch
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‘Pretty grim, eh?’
Charlie said, sitting down next to Jody.

‘You can say that
again.’

An overlong pause.

‘Look, I just wanted to
say that—’

Jody silenced her with a
wave of her hand. ‘You don’t have to say anything.’

‘I know that, but I
want
to say something. It’s important to me. I know more about you and what happened
between you and Gary than I probably should, and I want you to know it’s
because he’s told me and not because I’ve asked.’

‘Then I hate to think
what you’ve been told.’

‘That doesn’t matter.
But I also know it must be really hard for you being here, and I don’t want to
do anything that makes you feel more uncomfortable than you already do.’

‘Thanks.’

‘I mean it.’

‘I know you do. I’ve got
nothing against you. Christ, I didn’t even know your name until this morning.’

‘Yeah. It must be
difficult for the kids, though. I remember when my mum and dad split up and
I—’

‘Spare me, love, please.
Not today.’

‘You’re right. Not
today.’

On the TV now was a clip
that had been running every fifteen minutes or so: a guide to spotting (and
avoiding) infection. Jody thought it was amusing (and slightly terrifying) how
even something as serious as this had been reduced to a viewer-friendly package
– a quick burst of flashy edits, funky graphics and attention-grabbing
soundbites.

Stay indoors. If you
must leave your home, cover up.

Don’t take any chances.
The infected may look like your friends and family and other loved ones, but
they’re not them.

The incubation period is
generally thought to be between one and three hours, but there have been
unconfirmed reports of people ‘turning’ up to ten hours after an attack.

If anyone you are with
has any unexplained scratches, cuts or other skin lesions, isolate them.

If a person you believe
may have been infected is still docile and able to talk, tape up their hands.

Both Jody and Charlie
laughed out loud at that one. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Charlie said. ‘You
think that’s going to help? Who writes this shit?’

‘You know what it’s
like... half the stuff we hear on the news is bullshit. They’re empty words
designed to stop people panicking, that’s all.’

‘Mind you, I think panic
is perfectly justified today.’

‘I think you’re
absolutely right.’

Gary entered the
kitchen, and the conversation abruptly ended. He fetched himself a coffee from
the pot. ‘Not talking about me, I hope.’

‘She wouldn’t want to
hear what I’ve got to say about you,’ Jody answered quickly, then regretted it.

Gary grinned broadly,
then disappeared again.

‘Sorry,’ Jody said.

‘Not a problem.’

‘Yes it is. It’s
my
problem. I’m the only one here who despises Gary.’

‘He can be a real pain
in the arse at times, I’ll admit.’

Jody bit her tongue and
resisted the temptation to say anything more.

An instantly familiar,
instantly recognisable high-pitched scream came from somewhere deep in the
depths of the house. Jody was on her feet instantly. ‘It’s Holly,’ she said,
and ran to find her youngest daughter.

She wasn’t with the
others. Jody found the unfamiliar house maze-like, and her panic increased with
each empty room she checked. Charlie found her in the upstairs study, standing
on a chair and bawling her eyes out. ‘Spider,’ she wailed, pointing down at the
ground. Jody stamped on it then lifted her daughter down, relieved.

Gary, Ben and Jenny
weren’t far behind. Holly pushed away from Jody and ran over to her dad who scooped
her up and swung her around. ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe here, little one. Daddy
won’t let anything hurt you.’

***

This was turning out to be a peculiarly
well-contained apocalypse. Because of the geography of the outbreak, its
progress had been slowed almost to a (dead) stop. The effort of the authorities
and military had been concentrated on preventing things getting any worse, and
the focus of their attention had therefore been those outlying areas on the
very edge of the infection. This left Jody, Gary, Charlie and millions of other
people effectively stranded. They were in the eye of the hurricane and though
it might have been safer elsewhere, getting anywhere else today was going to be
nigh on impossible.

The area around the
house was crawling with dead people. The first attack came several hours later.

Three infected,
attracted by a flickering TV screen burning bright on an otherwise dull and
overcast day, forced their way through a gap in the vegetation at the bottom of
Gary and Charlie’s long garden. They made their way towards the house in silent
unison, alone but together, driven by an unspoken collective intent. They
scuttled, walked and crawled, making no effort to disguise their ominous
approach, yet were completely unnoticed.

Gary was lying on the
living room floor with the kids, playing a board game. Charlie sat next to him
and watched, occasionally offering advice and keeping Gary in check. He was a
bad loser, even when the stakes were this low.

Jody was on the other
side of the room, staring into space and trying to work out how and when she
was going to get home. If she’d even have a home to get back to.

Ben was the first to
notice them. He initially thought it was his eyes playing tricks. He should
have been wearing his glasses, but he never did because of that time Stuart at
school took the piss out of him and threatened to stamp on them and break them
and Mum would have gone crazy if that had happened because they cost her half a
month’s money from Dad and... and wait... was that the wind blowing the trees?
Was there something in the garden he hadn’t noticed before? Had someone hung
some washing on the line?

They started to come
into focus.

Ben was too scared to
say anything in case the monsters outside heard him (even though he knew that was
stupid). The words were stuck in his throat and the longer they were there, the
harder they were to dislodge.

‘Mum...’ he eventually said.

He glanced over at her
but she wasn’t listening. She’d zoned-out. She was tracing patterns in the
wallpaper with her eyes, doing everything she could to forget she was trapped
in her ex-husband’s huge new house with his fucking drop-dead gorgeous new
girlfriend.

‘Mum...’ Ben said again.

He could see them much
more clearly now. They didn’t make sense. There was skin where there should
have been clothes and bends in their bodies where there should have been none.
One had a broken neck and its head was all over to one side but it kept walking
like it didn’t matter.

Another one looked too
tall to be real. Its arms and legs seemed to go on forever.

The last one – the
smallest one – was the one that scared him most of all. It was its face...
he already knew that when he tried to get to sleep tonight, the grotesque face
he currently couldn’t take his eyes off would be staring back at him from the
darkness. Huge, hollowed eyes, black as night. A naked torso covered in deep,
dark scratches. A twisted mouth which had become a slanted, humourless grin.

‘Mum...’ Ben said once
more. Louder this time.

Jody didn’t hear her
son, but Gary did. He turned around and saw that the nearest of the infected
was almost up against the glass. ‘Fuck!’ he shouted, scrambling to his feet and
kicking bits of board game everywhere. Jenny tried to catch the tokens, dice
and cards but her little hands hadn’t got anywhere near any of them before the
first of the three creatures walked straight into the patio window, making her
jump with fright and scaring her half to death. She screamed, and when she
screamed, Holly screamed too.

The girls cowered behind
their dad as he retreated deeper into the room.

On her feet now, filled
with a now-familiar sense of overwhelming dread, Jody too backed away. The six
of them stood up against the wall together, hiding in plain sight and pinned
into position with fear. ‘What the hell do we do?’ Charlie asked, her voice a
panicked whisper.

‘Just wait,’ Gary
suggested. ‘They’ll disappear soon enough.’

‘You think?’ Jody said.
‘Are these the first ones you’ve seen? Because I’ve got news for you, they’re
not going anywhere.’

‘Fucking great.’

‘Mind your language,
Gary. The kids don’t need to hear it.’

‘Don’t tell me what to
do. We’re not married anymore, remember.’

‘Thank Christ.’

‘This isn’t really the
best time for a domestic,’ Charlie warned them both.

‘You’re right. Sorry,’
Jody mumbled.

Two of the three things
outside were watching the people inside. It was clear from the way they moved
their heads – inhuman and animal-like, but definitely interested –
that infecting the uninfected was all that mattered. The third of their number
was trapped a short distance away from the house, its clothing snagged on a
low-hanging fruit tree branch. The smallest creature – the hideous,
nightmarish one which Ben still couldn’t take his eyes off – was trying
pointlessly to claw its way through the glass. Its fingers squeaked against the
window ceaselessly. When it realised it couldn’t get through, it began to
hammer with heavy fists. And when it became clear its fists weren’t going to
make any difference, it tried another tactic. The damn thing craned its head
back on its shoulders, impossibly far, then butted the window. The noise was
nauseating. Jody wasn’t sure whether it was the glass or the infected thing’s
skull which would give way first. The door rattled and shook with every vicious
impact, and every time it drew its head back, the creature appeared even more
deformed than before. Its forehead was becoming flattened: brain and bone being
mushed together.

‘Are they going to be
able to get in?’ Gary asked.

‘They won’t, will they?’
said Ben, panicking.

‘Depends how long that
one’s head lasts,’ Jody answered from a position of zero authority.

‘We have to do
something,’ Charlie said.

‘Like what?’ Gary asked.

‘Like get rid of them.’

‘She’s right,’ Jody
said. ‘It’s our only choice. We can’t risk the kids’ safety.’

‘Jesus, what about our
safety?’ Gary said.

Jody lowered her voice
to a whisper. ‘That goes without saying. They’re screwed if we are.’

She wasn’t waiting
around. She left the room. Charlie and Gary exchanged glances then followed her
out. They found her turfing through the coats hanging up in the hall. She found
a long leather ladies coat and put it on and zipped it up. It looked expensive.
It was really nice. She hoped Charlie had bought it herself because Gary had
never bought her anything like this in the eleven years they were together.

‘What the hell are you
doing?’ Gary demanded, though the answer was obvious.

‘You going to help me or
just stand there looking useless?’

Gary glared at her. ‘Do
you really think this is a good idea?’

‘No, but I think it’s
the only idea I’ve got.’

‘We need to think very
carefully about this. If we go out there we could end up—’

His words were truncated
by more noise from the room they’d just left. The kids screamed. Was the door
becoming loose? Was the glass weakening? Was it about to shatter? He checked on
the children and saw that the infected thing’s head had popped like a balloon,
but it was still attacking like it hadn’t even noticed. It continued to smack
its bloody neck-stump against the glass again and again and again.

Out in the hall, Charlie
grabbed another coat from the rack, keen to help. ‘What are you planning?’

‘Don’t know,’ Jody
admitted. ‘If I think about it too hard I don’t reckon I’ll be able to go out
there.’ She rummaged through a drawer and found a pair of gloves and a hat,
then found a scarf and wrapped it around the lower part of her face. ‘Make sure
they can’t get to your skin,’ she explained, voice muffled.

Gary returned. Shamed
into action, he put on his own coat and gloves. ‘You stay here and look after
the kids, Charlie. I’ll go.’

He marched to the back
door, muttering under his breath. Jody wormed her way in front of him,
preventing him from getting out until she’d given him his orders. ‘It’s like
they said on TV, okay? They don’t want to kill you, they want to infect you.
Make sure you stay covered.’

She went out and he
followed.

Outside it was cold and
windy. The sounds of distant fighting were carried on the breeze. The smell of
burning. Far off sirens and screams.

Gary tried and failed
miserably to play down his nervousness. There was nowhere to hide out here.
Real and present danger. ‘Can’t believe this is happening,’ he said.

BOOK: Year of the Zombie (Book 8): Scratch
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