He could no longer ignore the stitch in his sides. He was close to collapse with exhaustion but the imminent dawn forced him on.
Soldier Paul Hobe ran for his life even though a small voice in his mind told him it was futile but his instinct was drilled for survival. He ran across a field towards woods he could see at the far end. All his gear had been lost but he still carried his knife and riffle, strapped securely on his back. None of his weapons would help him when the mutants rose at dawn. He could see several of them curled up in tight balls on the ground. In the night they fell into a state close to a coma, the only thing that could wake them was the sunlight.
The sky had just coloured with purple when he reached the edge of the woods. Dodging the first trees he thought of climbing a tall tree and hiding. Even though his smell would attract them for miles, the mutants could not climb. His breath laboured as he was frantically looking for a tree fit for his purposes.
Without any warning he collided sharply with a large object, throwing him back. Paul hit the ground hard and realised not without irony that his death would come about because he had run into a tree. His world went black.
Paul woke, opening his eyes slowly. He was looking right into a face. The moment their eyes connected it screamed.
‘Dad! Dad! He is awake.’
The face moved away from his field of vision. Now he was looking up to a bare concrete ceiling. His memory returned and he was confused. He should have been dead. Paul tried moving and found he could get up without problem, sitting on the edge of a low cot. He took a quick survey of his surroundings. He was in a small room, walls solid concrete and a dim light illuminated shelves filled with random objects. Next to the cot stood a wooden chair on which his weapons laid. The door was ajar and just as he attempted to stand up and go towards it a large man stepped trough.
The man was huge and muscled with a think dark beard and short cropped hair. He was dressed in functional clothes and fixed Paul with a strong look.
‘Soldier Paul Hobe, welcome to bunker PM1. My name is Ron and you have met my daughter Emily already.’
Paul looked behind Ron and saw the little girl staring at him with fear in her eyes. She was not much older than nine with a slim face and body. Brown hair framed her face.
‘How do you know my name?’ he asked confused.
Ron raised his eyebrows and stepped closer.
‘Well your tattoo gave it away.’
Paul rubbed his left wrist where the tattoo identified him. Inwardly he relaxed a little and stood up to give Ron a firm handshake.
‘I am pleased to meet you Sir and I must extend my thanks as it appears you saved me.’
Ron chuckled and turned to Emily.
‘Sweetheart go and heat some water for me and Soldier Hobe. If you want to follow me we can sit down and you can tell me how come I found you right next to us.’
Paul followed Ron out of the room down an equally dimly lit corridor into an open space. It looked like a conference room with a large table in the middle and chairs all around it. On one of the chairs sat a young man with black hair who looked without interest at their entrance.
‘Have a seat please.’
Ron sat down at the head of the table and Paul decide to take the seat to his left.
‘Please just call me Paul. No reason to state my position.’
Ron nodded and the introduced the black haired man.
‘This is my nephew Tom. Since we have been cut off from the others he has been drawn within himself. So tell me Paul how come we found you minutes before dawn unconscious?’
Paul explained his run and his collision with the tree. Tom snorted and Ron shot him a warning look. Tom was young, maybe in his twenties, slim just like Emily and dressed in the same clothes as his uncle.
Before anybody could say anything else Emily put steaming cups in front of them. Paul took his cup, the heat warming his palms. Only now he realised how cold it was in the bunker. He took a sip. It was hot water, not coffee as he had expected.
Ron caught his look and said.
‘Sorry all supplies are on the other side. We don’t have anything here.’
‘What do you mean exactly by cut off from the others?’
‘This bunker originally was built to house the prime minister and others from the government but it has been abandoned for years. My family found it and we have lived here ever since.’ Ron sighed and pulled Emily onto his lap.
‘A day ago a part of the bunker collapsed and it cut us of from my wife, brother and his wife. In this part we don’t have any provisions but a generator which gives us the light.’
‘Is there a way to contact your family?’
Ron shook his head. ‘No radio in this area. The entrance to the other side. I have found blueprints and the entrance to the other side is a far way away on the ground. We wanted to leave tonight.’
Emily snuggled into his side. Tom looked up and asked in a quiet voice.
‘Can you protect us on our way? With those things?’
Paul unconsciously felt for his riffle strapped over his shoulder.
‘The weapons will not be any good. Traveling at night though will be safe enough. The mutants don’t walk in the dark.’
Tom lowered his eyes not looking reassured.
‘Any reason why the bunker could have collapsed? These things have been built to last.’
Ron shrugged again.
‘Could I have a look at it?’
‘Sure no harm can come of it. Follow me.’
They walked back into the corridor passing doors and turning a corner before reaching the site. Huge blocks of concrete and earth blocked the way. At least the ceiling part was also completely blocked so no entry point for any mutants. Paul stepped closer examining the blocks.
‘It looks like it collapsed but I cannot understand why. Do you know of any other people in this area?’
‘No we are the only people here. Closest safe camp is ten miles away.’ Ron replied.
‘I was heading towards that camp when my convoy got destroyed.’
‘I was in a convoy of two vehicles heading towards the camp to reinforce the troops there. When out of nowhere the first car drove into a large hole right in the middle of the road and exploded. I was the only solder in the second car and managed to stop in time but it caught fire so I started to run, hoping I could get to it in time. I must have gone in the wrong direction to miss it. All kit was in the first vehicle.’
Ron leaned against the wall crossing his muscular arms.
‘Do you think it is a possibility for you to escort us to the other side of the bunker? The kids are scared so we could not leave sooner.’
‘Yes I can do that. However you should all come with me to the safe camp. Here by yourself the chance of survival is very small.’
‘No thank you. We value our freedom and we can forage for our food. The storages have enough food which we can supplement. We will be fine.
Paul knew exactly what Ron meant. Life at camp was oppressive at times. Especially for civilians. Life was strict and harsh, but necessary for the survival of the human race.
He followed back into the conference room, where Emily and Tom sat together talking quietly.
‘Paul will get us over to the other side. Tomorrow we will all be back together again.’
Emily smiled broadly and even Tom smiled and asked in a low voice.
‘Just doing my duty.’ Paul replied.
‘We should get some sleep. It is almost midday and we want to leave as soon as the sun goes down.’
Paul woke rubbing his face, feeling rested but hungry.
Minutes later all four people were standing at the bunker door ready to head out, holding flash lights. None of them had any equipment to carry so travel would be light. Paul pushed the heavy door open and looked out, using the flashlight to scan the darkness. He could see an alarming number of mutants on the ground right before the bunker and many more in the surrounding area.
Ron picked Emily up and carried her out, Tom directly behind them. Even though the mutants would not wake in the dark they took great care not to touch them. Paul took a closer look at one closest. The mutant still resembled a human, though without any distinctive features. The complete body was covered in green and brown soars. Hard crusted and blending in with the surroundings. All mutants looked exactly the same, any distinctive gender features eaten away by the fungus. The eyes of the mutant where open and unfocused, gleaming red. Paul shuddered, although the outbreak which had changed people into these creatures had occurred when he had been really young and he was used to seeing them, they could still scare him out of his skin.
Emily had buried her face in her father’s chest and Tom was walking behind him keeping his eyes straight ahead not looking at the mutants on the ground.
They walked fast, Paul ahead followed by the others.
Nobody had been prepared for what happened next.
Tom who had been walking at the back had stumbled, falling hard to the ground. All heads turned. The white beams of the lights pointed at him. When he tried to stand up something caught on his foot and without any warning, he was pulled up into the air. He screamed as he was thrown upside down. The others stared in shock as the force swung him around and directly in to a spike which was stuck half way up the nearest tree. Tom was impaled blood gushing from where the spike stood out his chest. He coughed a last time before his body went limp. Emily shrieked and Ron roared, running towards him.
Paul stood in disbelief watching the blood dripping down the tree stump. Who had put up this trap? It had been well concealed and the efficiency of killing was scaring. With quick steps he walked over to Ron clutching the sobbing Emily and tried pulling them away. The noise had not woken the mutants but they could not stay here and there was nothing more that could be done for Tom. As soon as the mutants rose they would feed on Tom’s body leaving nothing, not even bones.
Reluctantly, Ron turned around and followed Paul trying to calm Emily. His mouth pressed tight together, focusing on the task at hand.
They all walked slowly now, lost in their own thoughts. Every now and then Ron indicated the direction. At this rate they should reach the bunker in an hour, long time before dawn. It had not been as far away as expected.
Paul found himself deeply disturbed. He could not come to a logical conclusion as to who had put up that trap. Clearly it was done with intelligence.
Humanity had no need to put up traps for game anymore, as all animals had been killed years ago. The only instinct driving the mutants was the need for meat. At the beginning of the outbreak they had killed any animal they could for meat. This included all wild animals across the globe but also animals kept as pets. It had been a slaughter before that food source run out and mutants outnumbered humans and started turning on them.
The night of horror however was not over.
They reached the bunker entrance only to find the heavy door wide open. Ron almost flung Emily on the ground, who stood frozen, starring behind her father. Ron rushed inside. Paul took a moment to tell Emily to stay put and followed Ron inside. After walking down a short dark corridor only lit by the flashlight he entered a destroyed room. Dried blood stained the floor, walls and ceiling. Rubble covered the ground, it was a sight of disaster. Ron knelt in the middle sobbing. This was the first time Paul had seen any emotion from the man. His wife dead and the other family members who had been trapped here when the mutants came to feed. His military training kicked in and he walked outside again picking up the shivering Emily.
‘Close your eyes.’ He murmured walking her straight past Ron down another corridor and into the first empty room he could find. He set her down and left her a flashlight. She retreated behind a shelf with supplies and wept quietly. Even though her young age she knew exactly what must have happened.
Quickly he swiped the rooms, although he could be sure no mutants would hide in the dark. It was not in their nature to keep under cover away from the air.
This side of the bunker was much larger and when he finally arrived at the collapsed corridor he discovered a hole leading to the ground. This is where mutants must have entered to feed on the humans inside.
Paul had to secure the bunker quickly before dawn. He worked as fast as he could. Rearranging the fallen concrete blocks to block the hole. He had barely covered to gap and rushed to the entrance, where Ron still knelt on the ground, and bared the door before the sun rose.
Paul felt exhausted both physically and mentally, but adrenaline pumped through him. The lights were out in the bunker and he did not dare to find the generator to bring it to life. Paul went over to Ron slowly picking the huge man up and leading him to the room he had put Emily in. Ron went without resistance and cradled Emily in his arms. The only two survivors left of the family living in bunker PM1.
Paul looked for supplies and found a can of baked beans which he ate cold in the corridor. While eating he thought about the situation. It did not make sense.
There were only so few humans left on the planet that the survivors took care of each other. The mutants were without intelligence, only driven by hunger. Many of them in the recent years had died as a result of not being able to get to the food they needed. He had even witnessed mutants turning on each other as a result. Most of the information known about the mutants came from observation. The fungus had spread like wildfire after an asteroid had landed in India.
Scientists had discovered the alien fungus on the surface of the rock and soon it started to mutate humans. The mutation process took just a few hours to turn a normal human being into a mutant. The process was sickening to watch as the person convulsed in pain, oozing a mixture of blood and puss out of every opening. Genitalia and breasts fall of in a dried clump of skin and all openings sealed with the typical green and brown scabbing. Leaving only the terrifying red eyes that never close and a mouth revealing remnants of teeth. The fungus spread incredibly fast through the air and by contact. It was enough to touch a mutant to become infected. At the beginning police and military had killed the mutants using guns, but the impact created clouds of spores, spreading the fungus. The same had been true for any other weapons. The only effective way of killing the mutants and stopping the spores was to burn them. The military had a successful strategy of trapping mutants and burning them during the day.
Suddenly a thought came to his mind and it made him shiver. Could the fungus develop intelligence in the mutants? Was the lack of meat forcing it to evolve to get to the last remaining food sources? Paul thought about the convoy, the collapsed bunker and the trap poor Tom had died in.
The realisation made him almost wet himself. Intelligent mutants driven by a highly infectious fungus would bring the end of human race. Paul broke out in cold sweat dropping the empty can. He thought of all the weapons left behind by civilians and in military bases. Enough to create an unimaginably dangerous army of mutants. Able to break all barriers set up to create safe camps and feed themselves.
He had to get to the next safe camp fast, inform his superiors and try to stop the mutants. If this was at all possible. Paul felt empty thinking of the eminent end. He briefly thought of taking his gun and die his way, not being locked in a camp just to be brutally ripped to pieces. He finally drifted off from exhaustion.
Paul woke in the dark. He fumbled for the flashlight, the light illuminating the wall opposite. He rose and walked to the entrance, opening a small slit to peak outside. The sun was up but close to the horizon, he had slept for the majority of the day. A small army of mutants was standing in front of the bunker. As soon as they caught sight, they stormed at the door. He slammed shut the slit just before the mutants smashed into the door. He could hear them pounding against the door. Paul leaned his weight against it until finally, an eternity later, it stopped.
He went to wake Ron and Emily who were still in the same spot he had left them.
‘Ron wake up. We have to move to the safe camp. There is nothing left for you here, you have to come with me.’
Ron starred had him and then pushed him violently away. Paul landed on his behind, seeing the fury in the man’s eyes. He glanced at Emily. The girl was clutching at her father. Eyes swollen from all the crying and pure fear visible.
‘We are not going anywhere. This is our home!’ he hissed.
Paul pulled himself up. He knew immediately he would not be able to convince Ron to come along. He needed back up.
He nodded to Ron and Emily briefly and left them. He would come back for them and bring them to safety and human contact. The worst thing for them would be to become isolated.
Although he was not too sure if safety could still be guaranteed with intelligent mutants.
Paul did not look back once, as he walked out of the bunker, pulling the heavy door closed behind him. The flashlight showed him all the mutants curled up on the forest ground. Red eyes staring, sending shivers down his spine. He walked fast. The night was clear and he could orientate himself by the stars. Soon he had cleared the forest and hit a road. Great beams of light over the next hill indicated the direction of the safe camp. He judged it would take him the full night to reach it at a quick pace.
Paul was faced with the exact same situation as before. The night was lifting, colouring the sky. He could see the huge walls of the camp looming ahead. Flood lights were illuminating a horrifying scene. The ground was littered with mutants.
So tightly packed he had to run in zig-zag to avoid them. He had no time to halt but he estimated them to be close to a thousand. As he drew close to the metal gate in the wall a guard on top of the wall called out and the door was open just enough for him to squeeze through. Paul breathed heavily out of exhaustion and relief. Soldiers rushed towards him and he lifted his wrist for identification. He was escorted to one of the barracks where a mandatory health check was carried out. After which a bowl of porridge was set in front of him and he was left to himself. All his demands to be taken to command were ignored. He felt tired, frustrated and scared. So very scared.
Almost two full days passed before he was called to command. He had spent his days being incorporated into the military presence in the camp. His duties were mainly linked to supervising the population of the camp. In total the camp held close to fifteen thousand people.
If the mutants were developing intelligence then the slaughter would be immense. He spoke with many of the soldiers he worked with. Telling him of his experiences and fears. The word spread like wildfire, first amongst the soldiers and then in the population. He also often found his thoughts drifting to Ron and Emily, wondering of their fate.
Paul guessed it was the atmosphere of fear he had caused which finally lead to his summon.
He walked over to the command tent where they told him to find the colonel on the south wall. He made his way there, preparing in his head what he was going to say. Soldiers led him up the narrow steps. As he walked on top of the wall and looked over the edge, his breath caught in his throat. It was day time, around four in the afternoon. The ground was a sea of green and brown mutants convulsing together.
‘Attention soldier.’ said a sharp voice.
Paul snapped to attention and looked directly at the colonel. An old man with grey hair but clean shaven face.
‘Soldier I have heard of the fairy tales to tell to the other soldiers and the population. We cannot have you stir this much unrest.’
‘Sir! It was not my intention. But the threat is there we should send scouts to the abandoned military base and find out of mutants have taken to arm themselves. As well as that there is a father and his daughter in… .’
‘Enough!’ bellowed the colonel. ‘I understand you had a very terrifying experience out there and we are happy to find you alive but this behaviour can no longer continue. I order you to report to the medical tent where you will be put under observation. The doctors can assess your sanity there.’
Paul clenched his hands into tight fists. How the danger could be so clearly overlooked. Thinking he had nothing more to lose he blurted.
‘All those mutants gathering down there. How do you explain that? Sir!’
The colonel looked down and spat over the wall. His spit hit one mutant directly below him and sent it into a wild frenzy. The mutants looked up to them and started forming small tight groups. Paul frowned watching them. He could not see clearly but it looked like metal objects started to appear in their hands.
‘Those creatures are below animals, dumb stupid… .’
The colonel never got to finish his sentence.
A grappling hook had appeared through his chest, tightly hooking into his flesh. Before any of the soldiers on the wall could react the rope on the hook tightened and pulled the gasping colonel over the edge. All eyes followed his fall into the sea of mutants. He was torn up the instant his body hit ground. No sounds could be heard other than the noise of tearing flesh and breaking bones. Blood spattering everywhere and mutants pushing in tightly to get a piece of the feast.
They averted their eyes. Paul had broken out into cold sweat again and this time his bladder emptied. His fear had become reality. Mutants had armed themselves and used the weapons with frightening intelligence. All soldiers stood starring to the ground in shock and complete disbelief.
Paul turned around and slid his back down against the wall. This was the beginning of the end.