Living in the big city had seemed like a dream come true when I’d moved into my little house with my fiancé just after we’d gotten engaged. We were moments away from the centre and there were lots of shops around so we never had to go far when we need a pint of milk or some basic necessities. Surprisingly our neighbours had been really nice and welcoming. I’d always though when you lived in a big city like Belfast; your neighbours were either weirdo’s with no social skills, or students having raging parties every other night. Our little street was different. Our neighbours had been kind, and the little old lady who lived in the house opposite us had even baked us a cake as a welcome gift. We had lived in a dream world but that was then, the zombie apocalypse was now.
“Any word from Mrs. McMaster?” Dean asked as I peered through the blinds of our bedroom window towards the house opposite.
“Not yet, but her last message said she would check back in at 1800 hours. We have half an hour to go yet before we check in,” I muttered as I still continued to peek. Our cul-de-sac street was emptier today than it had been. The zombies appeared to be moving away, which was a relief. The outbreak had happened three weeks ago. From the little news we had gathered since the television signal died, and the radio signals wavered in and out, the main hospitals in Belfast had been the epicentres of the outbreak. Belfast had been hit hard by the undead, and thousands of people had been killed and joined their ranks.
“I’m going to try and take a nap for a little bit then okay?” Dean said as he flumped onto the bed. I didn’t answer.
“Okay Kate?” he reiterated. I snapped out of the daze I had gotten myself into and managed to smile weakly at him.
“Alright honey, try and get some sleep. You need to keep your strength. I’ll wake you when Mrs. McMaster has checked in.”
Dean nodded gratefully and turned onto his side. Within minutes he was snoring softly. My heart squeezed tightly. I’d known since the first moment I had met Dean that I loved him. It was only now, during the end times that I fully appreciated just how much he loved me in return. Most nights he took the first watch and monitored the zombies that were outside. He checked our barricades regularly and he’d even managed to sneak into another house to steal food. I had protested when he’d suggested the ludicrous venture, and my heart had been in my mouth for the entire twenty minutes he was out of the house, but somehow he managed it.
Most of our neighbours had been killed in the few days following the outbreak. They had tried to flee their homes but they had been mowed down by the zombies. The slaughter and mayhem was something that would remain with me for the rest of my days. I dreamed about the poor children, led to their dooms by their hysterical parents, every time I closed my eyes. Sometimes I even saw them when I was awake, shadows of the violence passing over my vision causing me to lose my breath and go weak all over. It only took a couple of moments for the feeling to pass, but I don’t know how much more I could take of it before I lost my mind. That’s where I thanked my lucky stars for Dean. He was my rock and he was trying to keep both of us alive and sane.
I checked the window again. Mrs. McMaster’s window was still empty. I wondered at how we were all still alive. How we’d actually survived for so long? I placed a lot of my own survival on the sheer volume of zombie films that Dean and I had watched over our combined lifetimes. We seemed to know all of the dos and don’ts of a zombie apocalypse and when it came to putting these fictional survival tips into action, they actually seemed to work. Mrs. McMaster’s survival was a miracle. She was eighty years old and from the conversations we’d had with her since we’d moved to the street, she’d been on her own for at least twenty years. She had relations that would visit every so often but normally we’d just spot her pottering around in her garden or sitting at the window in her living room with a glass of whiskey and a book.
Since the outbreak and our conscious decision to remain in our house for as long as possible, we had discovered a little more about our elderly neighbour. It was on the fourth day, when I’d been peeking out of our bedroom window that I’d spotted the huge note. Mrs. McMaster had plastered a huge note on her own bedroom window that read:
“Survivors, report in. Post note on your bedroom window 1800hrs.”
Dean and I could hardly believe it. We’d scrambled for the leftover rolls of wallpaper left from our redecorating and checked in with her. We’d written:
“2 survivors, all healthy. Status?”
Mrs. McMaster had written back a minute after six o’clock and somehow we felt a little relief that we were not alone in our little cul-de-sac.
From there we’d learnt that Mrs. McMaster had been in the army for several years and had even made quite a name for herself. She posted up her own survival tips, which had proved vital for our own survival and we filled her in on zombie culture and what we thought we knew. For a few days we were aware that there were other people in the cul-de-sac that were alive, but that didn’t last for long. Either the people hadn’t trusted an eighty year old army veteran and done something stupid, or they had simply given up hope and let the inevitable happen. We were now the last two houses standing.
“Dean wake up, I see movement,” I said loudly as I watched the blinds of Mrs. McMaster’s bedroom ruffle. Dean snorted awake and was by my side in seconds. He peeked through the blinds and stared over at the other house.
It was 1800hrs on the dot. The clock ticked and the ruffling continued. Soon it was a couple of minutes past the hour and Mrs. McMaster was never late. My palms started to sweat and I worried my lip until it hurt. At five past the hour a shaky note was held up to the window. The scrawled writing read:
“Fallen, broken hip.”
“Shit!” Dean swore loudly. I gasped and then grabbed our scrap wallpaper. Pen in hand I suddenly had no idea what to write.
“Dean, what do we do? She’s broken her hip. She’s not going to survive. If we even tried to make an escape plan she couldn’t come,” I said tonelessly, all my hope leaking out into the thick shag carpet below me.
Dean was silent, his brow furrowed in deep thought. The silence rang in my ears as I stared at my fiancé. I could hear the faint tick of the clock in the kitchen and it made me uncomfortably aware of the passing of time and how little of it we potentially had left.
“Dean,” I stressed after the tension started to gnaw in the pit of my stomach. He blinked hard and then grabbed the pen from my hand.
“What are you doing?” I hissed as he tore off a huge bit of wallpaper from the roll. He shook his head at me and said nothing. Something in the back of my mind told me that he was going to do something stupid. I watched as he started to write.
“Oh no! You can’t. I won’t let you!” I exclaimed as he finished scrawling the note. Dean said nothing as he practically slammed the note onto the window. The note read:
“Hold tight, on my way. D.”
“She needs our help. If I can get over to her and help her into a chair, she could tell me how best to care for her. We need to do something for her, she’s been a real help to us, we owe her that much.” I gaped, horrified, at my fiancé and knew that deep down, he was right. This woman, out of the goodness of her heart, had tried her best to help the remaining people in the street during this horrendous time. Now we were the only two left and she needed help.
“How are you going to get over there?” I asked as hot, sour bile climbed its way up my throat. I was determined not to throw up, but I was afraid it was a battle I might just loose.
“I’m going to grab as many weapons as I can, then cut across the street through the front doors,” Dean said as he stormed from the bedroom. I was hot on his heels and quickly disagreeing with him.
“That is suicide and you know it,” I said as we descended the stairs. A light bulb practically flashed on above my head as we walked towards the kitchen.
“Cut across the back gardens, just like you did when you went next door to get the food. At the end of the street is the wall. Walk across that and drop into the other gardens and enter the house from the back door,” I explained while we gathered together knives and other kitchen utensils that could be used to kill the walking dead.
Dean was silent for several minutes as he contemplated my plan. He snatched up his baseball bat, recently modified to include nails sticking out of the top like gruesome, sharp, metal teeth, and attached it to his belt.
“That’s going to take a while,” Dean muttered finally, more to himself than to me. His eyes were quickly darting this way and that and I could tell he was plotting out his moves in his mind.
“It’s the long way, but it’s the only way,” I said soberly.
Only ten minutes after Dean had decided that he was going over to help Mrs. McMaster, I found myself scrawling a note on the wallpaper scraps and posting it up onto the bedroom window. The note read:
“D is on his way. K.”
I ran back down stairs to where Dean was standing at the back door. In the fading light of the day he looked like some fierce warrior all clad and ready to go to war, with the weirdest weapons imaginable.
“Note posted,” I confirmed as I reached him. Before he could say anything I had a hand on his face and was staring deep into his hazelnut eyes.
“You make sure you come back to me,” I choked out as tears sprung to my eyes. They were searing and made my eyes feel like they were on fire, but I stared at him nonetheless.
“You help that poor woman, but you come back to me.”
Dean stroked my face and then leaned down and kissed me. It was soft and full of feeling. My tears spilled over and wet both of our cheeks. I continued to kiss him, afraid with every fibre of my being that this would be the last time I would get to do it. Before the kiss got too deep that it would swallow us whole, Dean broke away and made to leave the house. Just as he was about the close the door behind him, he turned and stared at me.
“Keep an eye on the bedroom window. I will let you know how she is. I love you Kate,” and with that he closed the door and the power left my legs as I slumped down onto the floor, tears flowing freely from my stinging eyes.
Dean had left at a quarter past the hour of check in time. My eyes were trained on the bedroom window opposite. I quickly glanced down at my watch. He’d been out of contact now for over half an hour and I couldn’t take it anymore. I was sweating so much I was staring to dehydrate and I’d torn a whole in the jumper I was wearing from twisting it in my hands so much. I mashed my face onto the glass and tried to strain to see down to the end of the cul-de-sac. Even if I caught a glimpse of him I would instantly feel slightly better.
“Come on Dean,” I whispered, fogging up the glass with my breath. I looked down towards the zombies in the street. There were fewer of them now as they continued to shuffle away. The walking, rotting corpse of the child that had lived two doors up caught my attention and a sob escaped my throat. She was missing an arm and her jaw was broken and seemed to be hanging on by a thread. It swung with a sickening grace as she moved towards the end of the street.
A ruffle of curtains grabbed my attention and my heart jumped into my mouth as my gaze snapped back towards the bedroom window opposite. A short note appeared in my window:
“No D, heard scream.”
All of the air in my lungs left my body in one huge burst. It felt like someone had just taken the ground from under me as I collapsed back onto the floor. My mind was completely blank, unable to think past the fact that Dean hadn’t reached Mrs. McMaster yet. I reached up and grabbed on to the windowsill. I hoisted myself up and looked out to the bedroom window again. The note had gone and there was some more ruffling of the curtains. I swallowed the hard lump in my throat as I watched, my saliva feeling like a warm, sticky glue in my mouth. A note appeared and I could barely make it out:
“Oh God,” I whispered, my hands tugging at my lank, greasy blonde hair. Not only had the woman broken her hip, she was now having a heart attack. Dean was missing, and she was dying. If she died she would reanimate as a Zombie and if Dean did make it to the house he would be in danger.
Before I could even comprehend what I was doing, I was running downstairs and into the kitchen. I grabbed anything and everything I could find that would make a good weapon, went out into the garden to grab the axe that Dean had used to cut down the overgrown evergreen tree earlier in the year, and walked straight out the front door.
It was hard to see in the dim light of twilight but I knew the Zombies knew I was there. It would have been hard to miss the live, walking piece of meat that was me, striding with intense purpose across the street. Their guttural moans and groans sent chills down my spine, and I could hear their running feet on the parched tarmac of the road. I kept my focus trained on Mrs. McMaster’s house until the very last moment when the un-dead corpse of a neighbour that had lived three doors up from us, was nearly upon me.
With strength I never even though I had, I lifted the axe and swung it at the head of the corpse. The axe sunk deep into the side of its head, and it choked out a brutal groan and buckled on the ground. I pulled the axe free and continued on. The short distance to the other house felt like a marathon. I was almost there when the little corpse of the girl with the swinging jaw jumped into view. In my belt I had a frying pan and I grabbed it and swung at the girl. The remnants of her jaw flew off and landed with a blood curdling crack on the ground. The axe soon found its way into the top of her head and she was no more.
The zombies that were left in the street were all running towards me as I leaped over the wall of Mrs. McMaster’s front garden. I knew the front door would be locked, and I didn’t want to break any windows and leave the house exposed so I ran down the narrow alley way that led to her back garden. Half way down I screamed as a hidden zombie lurched towards me. Frying pan still in hand, I swung it in an upwards arc towards the zombies face. The metal collided with its chin and knocked it back a little, just enough for me to drop the pan and use two hands to bring the axe down on its head. I quickly had the axe out of its head and threw it over the metal gate that separated the front garden from the back.
I jumped as high as I could and grabbed the rung of metal just before the top of the gate. The zombies were at the entrance of the alley way now and bearing down on me with alarming pace. I pulled myself up, stuck my feet into the openings of the locked gate and started to climb over. As my left leg made to swing over the gate, a gory hand grabbed my foot. A squeal emitted from my chest that made the zombies all the more aggressive. I kicked and I thrashed until my shoe finally slipped off and I fell backwards off the gate and onto the concrete below. I landed on my back and my head cracked off the ground. Instantly the ground below my head became hot and wet with my blood. My vision blurred as I tried to regain my breath.
Slowly, I tried to lift myself up. The world seemed to ebb and flow around me. The motion made me want to vomit but I managed to control myself as I got up, picked up the bloodied axe and made for the back door.
I placed a hand on the handle of the back door and tested it. Naturally it was locked so I used the butt of the axe to break the glass of the door. I reached in and unlocked the door.
“Mrs. McMaster!” I called out. “It’s Kate.”
The layout of the old woman’s house was the exact same as mine so I knew precisely where to go to get to the bedroom. I leaped up the stairs with more energy than my battered body should have had and staggered towards the bedroom. I pushed the door open with a slightly shaky hand and found the elderly woman slumped down next to her bedroom window, an A3 art pad and permanent black marker lying by her side.
“Goodness...dear...you’re...bleeding,” Mrs. McMaster choked out as she clutched her chest. I shook my head but abruptly stopped as it made the room spin.
“It’s nothing, how can I help.”
The woman surveyed me for a moment or two. She took in the blood that was dripping down from my head onto my clothes, my foot that was missing a shoe, and finally the axe in my hand. She looked tired and pale. I briefly wondered how long she’d been in this position.
“There’s only...one thing...to be done,” she managed to say after a moment of silence. I looked back at her and clearly the blank look on my face told her that I didn’t quite understand what she was saying.
“My dear...you...need to...put me...out of my...misery,” she said finally, her voice breathy and weak. The words sunk into me like a boulder sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
“Kill you?” I said confusedly. I was here to help her, not to kill her.
“Yes dear...I wish...it didn’t...have...to be...you.”
The moans and groans of the zombies outside were the only noises that could be heard in the bedroom. My stomach finally lost all control and I at last vomited onto the dull pink carpet. Mrs. McMaster gave me a grave smile. She took a deep breath and then spoke.
“I would have asked...Dean...the same thing. After all you’ve...told me...these past few weeks...I know that if I die...I will come...back...and my dear...I don’t want that.”
“But all I have is an axe,” was the only thing that I could manage to say. Mrs. McMaster coughed out a dry laugh.
“That will do,” she said once she’d caught her breath.
“I...” I started, “I need to find Dean. Where did you hear the scream?”
“Next door...the house on...the left.” I ran from the room. I couldn’t do this without Dean. I needed to find him first, and I think Mrs. McMaster knew that because she didn’t shout for me to stop and come back.
I flew through the back door and stopped immediately. Something was telling me to take things slowly. I approached the fence that separated this house from its neighbouring house and peeked through the gaps. Initially I couldn’t see anything, but after a moment of observing I spotted some movement. A small whimper escaped my lips as I watched the two zombies. One was a woman wearing a sports bra and leggings. Her rotted flesh was so putrid there were flies swarming around her. The second zombie was Dean, freshly turned, baseball bat lying idle only a few feet away. My heart shattered in my chest and I snapped my head away from the fence so as not to see the horrible sight of my one and only love shuffling about in his new zombie form. This was my fault.
I made my way back upstairs to the bedroom, tears pouring down my face. Mrs. McMaster was still there, by the window, and she knew instantly why I was so distraught.
“I’m sorry...dear,” she said quietly as I slumped down beside her.
“I have no one now,” I mumbled between the tears.
“Stay here...and figure out...your plan...of attack,” Mrs. McMaster said as firmly as she could. I glanced at her and wiped my face on the sleeve of my jumper.
“There has to be...safe zones...in place. Best bet...head for...Black Mountain.”
I didn’t reply but mulled over the options in my head. I could stay in this house and wait for the inevitable. I could head for Black Mountain in hope of a safe zone. There was one other option though that I didn’t think Mrs. McMaster would have thought of. I kept it to myself however in case she would protest against it.
“I don’t...have much time...dear,” the elderly woman gasped as she clutched her chest even tighter in her withered, aged hand.
“I’m frightened,” I told her honestly. Her free hand found mine and she gave it a gentle squeeze.
“As are...we all...my dear.”
I cried for a little moment longer and then I tried hard to compose myself. This had to be done. The woman was clearly in pain and if she died she would come back. Images of Dean shuffling about next door distorted my vision as I picked up the axe. My whole body hurt and I was physically and mentally drained. The axe was heavy in my hands as I lifted it up and stood over the elderly woman.
“I’m so sorry Mrs. McMaster,” I whispered.
“Annie...dear...my name is Annie.”
I could hardly recognise the woman in the bathroom mirror as I stared at my own reflection. My hair was horribly matted with blood and the dark circles under my eyes were so dark they looked like bruises. My skin was blotchy and red from crying, and there were remnants of vomit on my lips. The sound of the axe cracking into Mrs. McMaster’s, Annie’s, head was still ringing in my ears.
Everything was gone. The people I loved were dead and I was all alone. I had options, but they weren’t the options I wanted to take. I couldn’t imagine a world without Dean in it. I gently twisted the engagement ring around my finger. Usually this gave me comfort but now all it brought was pain.
I opened the mirrored door of the bathroom cabinet and looked inside. As I’d predicted it was full of pills. Pills for all the ailments Annie had had in her lifetime. I couldn’t see anything that related to the heart, so her heart attack must have been brought on by the sheer pain of her broken hip.
I picked up a bottle of painkillers, or what I assumed was painkillers and read the label. It instructed for the user not to take any more than six in one day. This would do.
Annie had filled up her bath with water just in case the water mains were shut off. She’d instructed Dean and me to do the same, and we had. Annie had been right. I picked up a glass filled with toothbrushes and dumped them out onto the floor. I dipped the glass into the bath and filled up the cup.
I shook the bottle, for what reason I don’t know, and listened to the sound of the pills clattering against each other in the bottle. I popped the top and poured the pills into my mouth. They were small enough that I could take about four at a time. Once the bottle was empty, I set it back into the bathroom cabinet, drained the last of the water and went back into the bedroom and climbed into the bed.
I had covered Annie in a sheet, which was now being stained red by her blood. An odd calm had crept over me, seeing this didn’t really affect me any. Maybe it was because I knew my end was coming too.