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Harry King is furious. Abandoned and left for dead by William's band of misfits, King is on the run and hungry for revenge. When he is taken in by another group, he must stifle his rage and keep a tight grip on his emotions because not everyone is pleased to see him. When tensions rise and personalities clash - a malevolent new threat hides in plain sight.

Horror / Thriller
P.B. Simister
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Authors note:

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IT WAS STILL FOLLOWING. The others had given up, but this one kept coming. Every time he stole a panicked glance, it was there, pursuing him with dogged determination.

Harry King was sure that it saw him ducking into the house.

It would soon be inside looking for him.

He had dropped his gun somewhere between getting ditched at the hospital, shooting at the minibus, and running for his life.

I can’t fight it with my bare hands.

It was difficult enough to pull down enough air to keep from passing out, squaring off against a monster that never got tired would be impossible

King pushed the front door closed and pressed his ear against it, straining to hear anything above his own gasps and the blood thundering around his eardrums. He looked down and noticed a spyhole. The fisheye lens afforded him an unobstructed view of the desolate street. His pursuer was nowhere to be seen.

He’d lost the damn thing and found safety.

“Come on,” he wasn’t convinced. “Where the hell are you?”

The blood-red fingers of daybreak unfurled across the sky while King stared through the spyhole like a lascivious customer at a peep show.

Nothing. It’s not there, Harry. You lost it.

Perhaps the worst was behind him. A minute of peace in this hell-on-earth-shit-nado would be nice.

He deserved it, didn’t he?

Harry rested his head on the door. The aches of exertion burrowed deep into his muscles, and he felt seconds away from passing out.

Running all night will do that.

He hawked all the phlegm from his throat and spat onto the floor, half growling, and half coughing. His lungs dropped one degree below the bursting point, and he allowed himself a relieved sigh.

One more check.

Harry King ducked back down to peer through the spyhole. Dark shadows scattered like rats from the light of the rising sun and the street looked almost normal. It might have been just another day in the neighbourhood without the blood and corpses.

No sign of the infected.

“Lost you, you little shit,” his knees threatened to buckle, and a smile cracked his grim countenance.

At last, he was safe.

What he needed now was to crawl into a bed and sleep for a week, possibly a month.

A high pitched, excited growl sounded off behind him.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention. His heart leapt into his throat and his stomach sank to the floor.

Fuck. Should have checked the back door.

He whirled around so quickly that he almost toppled over. Soured-milk-coloured eyes stared at him without emotion. The infected stood in the kitchen doorway. It had finally gained the advantage and cornered its prey.

Filth and blood-specked drool covered its face, disguising ashen grey skin and thin black veins. Once clean clothes were now covered in blood and grime.

“You’re a crafty little bastard,” King said. “I’ll give you that, Sunshine. I’ll give you that.”

The infected hissed through gore-stained teeth and crouched on its haunches, ready to pounce. King stepped forward and sighed, shaking his head to reanimate the last drop of energy that had died ten minutes ago.

“Come on then,” he said, arms up and fists clenched. “Come on!”

An ululation reverberated through the throat of the infected and the creature kicked itself from the floor, launching towards him, arms outstretched, fingers grabbing and teeth chomping.

King was no stranger to fighting, spending most of his spare time in the boxing ring at his local gym since he was a kid. A well-timed sidestep avoided the creature while he grabbed one of its outstretched arms, twisting his body and using the momentum to power the infected headfirst into the door with a satisfying crunch.

The infected scrambled to its feet with unnerving speed, lashing out with one hand and then the other, neither of them connecting with King, who was weaving across the floor with all the professionalism of a prize-fighter.

“You’ll have to do better than that.”

Spurred on by the challenge, the infected ignored the blood pouring from its fresh head wound and ran at him, body bent forward like a battering ram, arms outstretched. Although confident and capable, King was also exhausted, and this time he was too slow.

The infected wrapped its arms around his midriff and kept running, pushing King back until he stumbled on the first step of the stairs leading up to the second floor. They both landed in a crooked heap. King’s lower back slammed against a step, and he yowled in pain. The noise excited the infected, and long tendrils of fresh drool oozed down its chin.

It was on him, straddling his midriff and lunging down towards his neck. Filthy teeth clacking together, trying to tear at his throat. King thrust the heel of his hand up at the creature, connecting with the underside of its chin. The powerful blow snapped its head back and King used the half-second reprieve to pull his knees up and twist his hips. The infected fell sideways against the wall, growling its frustration. King flopped onto his belly, pulling himself up the stairs until he felt fingers tighten around his leg.

The infected wrapped both hands around his ankle and tried to pull him down. King rolled onto his back and lifted his free leg until the knee pressed into his chest. With nothing but desperation and adrenalin to fuel his effort, he kicked. Boot heel rocketed into cheekbone, the infected yelped, flying back and landing on the floor in a tangled mess.

Get up. King willed himself into action. Come on, finish it.

He reached for the thick wooden banister on the staircase wall, pulling himself to his feet and shuffling down the stairs, wincing and groaning at the many pains from the smallest movements.

The downed creature let out a deep, mewling growl, arms twitching and fingers curling to resemble the claws of an eagle. Raising its head, the infected stared at him, lips twisted in a cruel grin.

Harry King gritted his teeth and kicked.

And stomped.

And kicked.

Aggression and grief raged through him.

They had left him with no choice but to shoot and kill his infected wife and children, stealing any chance of a future cure returning them to him.

They had ruined everything.

Self-loathing forced itself into his every thought.

They had been within reach, and he’d fucked it up.

Everything that had happened to him in this rotten new world was now channelled into each thundering, rib-snapping, skull crunching kick until all that remained of the infected was a grotesque pile of gore and pulverised bones.

I’ll find the bastards. I’m coming for you, William Daniels.

He dropped to his knees as if praying over the mangled corpse.

After staring at the door for two lifetimes, King looked at the stairs behind him, hoping there was a nice bed up there for him to crawl into and dream of past days.

Better days.

Grumbling and muttering at the myriad of pains in his body, he climbed the stairs, using the banister to help his slow progress. At the top was a bedroom, its door wide open and inviting. He stumbled inside and cracked a half-smile when he saw the bed positioned beneath a window; it was only a single, but it looked clean and heaven-sent.

Waves of exhaustion battered and crashed against him, black spots dancing across his vision. Legs refused to comply with the demands of his brain, and he fell onto the thick-pile carpet with a muffled thump. There wasn’t enough strength for him to crawl the rest of the way and climb into the bed.

His reserves were empty.

King sank into the carpet and tumbled into the abyss of unconsciousness.

It was night when he awoke. Dark shadows played across the ceiling and King realised he was on the bed. He could make out a chest of drawers with dolls sitting in a neat row on the top, all staring at him through lifeless, glass eyes. Dolls had always creeped him out. He tried to wipe his face, but something was holding his arm.

“What the…” Torn sheets secured his hands and feet to the metal bed frame. Panic flushed through his veins, and he struggled to get loose, but the knots tightened each time he pulled against them.

He stopped fighting and let out a long, weary sigh.

Did they find me?

If William, Kate, and the rest of them had followed him, they’d done a decent job staying out of sight.

They had left him at the mercy of the hoodie-led infected horde and drove away singing ‘Kumbaya’ while giving each other high fives. He’d got a shot off, but the only damage it caused was to the back window of the minibus.

It can’t be them. So, who is it?

King heard a noise, and his gaze snapped toward the door.

The handle moved down, the latch clicked, and the door opened a crack.

A small boy poked his head through and stared at King with wide eyes.

The gloom masked the boy’s features, but at least he wasn’t growling and biting.

Small mercies.

“Hello,” King said.

The boy pushed the door open a little further and stepped inside. He looked to be five or six years old, with a scruffy mop of blond hair.

Be nice, Harry. Don’t get angry and scare the kid away.

“I’m Harry,” King told him. “What’s your name?”

The boy moved closer, wiping his nose on the sleeve of his blue Thomas the Tank Engine sweater.

“Mummy said not to talk to you,” he said in a whisper.

“Did she?” King whispered back, hoping that the air of secrecy would get information.


“Your Mummy sounds very sensible.”

“She said you might be a monster.”

“Do I look like a monster?”

“No.” The boy shook his head and smiled. “Not really.”

“Can you guess what I am?”

Other than tied down like the victim of a serial killer.

“Are you a train driver as well?” The boy tugged at his sweater, pointing at the smiling Thomas the Tank Engine.

“Close. I’m a Police officer.”

“That’s not close.” The boy giggled before putting his hand to the side of his mouth as though about to reveal a big secret. “Mummy says the Police are useless bastards.” He quickly slapped both hands across his mouth and looked back at the door.

King heard soft footsteps and saw the flicker of a light slice through the shadows beyond the doorway.

“Ryan? Are you up here, sweetheart?”

“Is that your Mummy?” King didn’t know who this woman was or what she was capable of.

She had no love for the Police, he knew that.

And I’m helpless.

Ryan looked as concerned as King.

She stood in the doorway holding a wine glass with a tea-light candle burning inside, flame popping and sizzling against melting wax.

“Ryan James Morgan!” She rushed inside and grabbed the top of Ryan’s arm, pulling him back towards the entrance. “I told you not to come up here, didn’t I?”

“He’s not a monster, Mummy. He said so.”

“Did he now?” Ryan’s mother released his arm and crouched down in front of him. “It’s very important that you listen to Mummy, Ryan. Do you understand?”

“Uh-huh.” Ryan nodded, wide eyes brimming with tears. “I’m sorry.”

“Alright then.” She said, hugging him and kissing his forehead. “Go back downstairs to Daddy, now. Okay?”

“Okay.” Ryan turned to wave at King before disappearing.

“Nice boy.” King said. “I’m not infected.”

“I see that.” Ryan’s mother placed the candle glass on the chest of drawers, the flame illuminating the neat row of dolls into full creepiness.

King tore his gaze away from the dolls and watched as his captor took a hair scrunchy from around her wrist and tied back her dark, shoulder-length hair. He looked her up and down, taking in the curve of hips against tight jeans. Her plaid shirt was almost as tight as the jeans and unbuttoned just enough to show a tease of cleavage.

“When you’re done checking me out, not interested, by the way. Who are you?”

“I wasn’t checking…” King cleared his throat. “I’m Harry King. I’m sorry for staring, but you look just like Michelle, my wife.”

“I’m not your wife, I’m Maxine. Everyone calls me Max,” she said. “Where is Michelle, Harry King?”

“Dead,” he punctuated the word with a long sigh. “A group of lowlifes killed her after the infection hit. Then they butchered my kids. My son wasn’t much older than Ryan. I’ve been trying to track the bastards down.”

“I hope you find them.” Max reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a kitchen knife, candlelight flickering across the serrated edge of the blade.

“Easy Max,” King squirmed against the restraints. “What are you going to do with that?”

“Calm down, Scarface,” she said. “I’m thinking about cutting you free.”

“I’d like that,” King said with a relieved breath.

“But… before I do, I need you to answer some questions.” She narrowed her eyes. “And don’t lie to me, Harry King.”

King was suddenly aware of how dry his mouth was.

“Okay,” he said. “I can do that.”

“Good,” Max said. “Why did you come here?”

“A lot of infected were chasing me,” King told her. “I lost most of them, but one didn’t want to give up. I came in here to hide.” He paused for a moment. “It found me.”

“The mess downstairs was one of those?”

“Yes. I’m sorry for barging into your house. I was exhausted.”

“This isn’t my house,” Max said with a half-smile.

“Why are you here, then?”

“Where did you come from?” Max asked, marking the question territory as her own.

“Royal County Hospital. It got overrun, but I escaped.”

“You ran all that way?” Max looked almost impressed.

“Like I said, I was exhausted.”

“Did anyone else get out of the hospital?” Max touched the point of the knife with her index finger, gaze never leaving King.

“I don’t know,” he said with a shrug. “I’m not with anyone, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“And you lost the rest of the things chasing you?”

“If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said. “Just let me go and I’ll leave you in peace.”

Max knelt beside the bed and started cutting his restraints.

“Actually, we’re hoping that you’ll stay with us.”

Once he was free, King stretched the aches from his muscles and smiled at Max. The resemblance still shocked him. Her eyes, lips, the way she carried herself. It was like staring at his wife ten years ago.

“You need to work on your recruitment process,” he said. “How many of you are there?”

“Less than we started with,” she slipped the knife into her back pocket and grabbed the candle glass. “Let’s go down and you can meet them.”

A white sheet covered the infected that he had beaten to death, slick blood spots seeping through the material.

“He must have really pissed you off,” Max said, glancing across her shoulder.

It did,” King said.

Not too long ago, he had considered the infected as sick but still human, needing to be secured and cared for until someone found a cure. Losing everything hardened him against any hope.

There wasn’t a cure.

This didn’t have a happy ever after. It was all too fast and brutal. The entire world had to be up shit creek without a paddle.

Survivors were the minority, the infected were deranged animals and the only humane thing to do was put them down.

Max gave the handle of the front door a quick rattle before continuing down the hallway. There were two closed doors on the right side of the hall and an open one leading to the kitchen. Framed photographs of an elderly couple and their family lined up proudly along the wall.

“Wonder where they are,” King tapped a photo of the couple walking along a quiet beach with a smiling little girl between them.

“Not here.”

King grimaced at the stench of rotten food coming from the open doorway; he peered into the darkness of the kitchen to see the spoiled contents of a refrigerator spilled across the tiled floor.

“Did you lock the back door?” King pointed toward the kitchen.

“We did. Everyone’s in here.” Max stopped at the second door and pushed it open. She moved aside and smiled. “After you, Harry King.”

King had been a police officer for a long time and automatically scanned the room for threats. The official name was ‘risk assessment’, but he called it common sense. His first safety measure was to check that Max wasn’t about to stab him in the back. The knife remained safely tucked away and although he felt a pang of guilt for doubting her, his speech to new constables at the station rang through his mind.

Just because someone seems trustworthy doesn’t mean they are. Whether they’re eight or eighty-eight, known criminals, average joes, or even your Aunt Mabel- you always watch their hands, eyes, and feet. Nobody here wants to get stabbed in the face by Aunt Mabel.”

Tea-light candles illuminated the room, the orange glow across the pale wallpaper comforting him, reminding him of the times he surprised Michelle with a romantic dinner after the kids had gone to bed.

A fancy antique desk and matching chair stood against the far wall. Thick, floor-length dark curtains covered the only window in the room and a long, luxurious sofa, along with an oversized armchair sat on the centrepiece, a genuine Turkish rug.

“See?” Ryan jumped off the armchair and pointed at King. “Not a monster!”

There were four other people in the room and none of them gave King cause for concern.

A swarthy, thickset man with a head of jet-black hair that would make a wig-maker drool sat on the far end of the sofa. He looked up, offering King the briefest of smiles. Next to him was a very prim and proper woman with greying hair. The dress-suit she wore may have been grubby, but she wore it like royalty. King guessed her age was sixty-something. Her features were hard and emotionless, and he wasn’t sure whether she was smiling or constipated.

He gave a curt nod of his head.

A skinny man with blond, floppy hair, tight jeans, bright orange trainers and a tee-shirt that looked two sizes too small paced between the curtains and the desk while running his hand through his hair multiple times. He stopped to look at King, sighed and resumed pacing.

A teenage boy sat cross-legged on the floor and pulled cans of food from a huge hiking backpack, stacking them into a pyramid formation. He peered up at King through dark-circled eyes that matched his gaunt features. Acne rippled across his forehead and his long hair was as black and greasy as the clothes that he wore.

A group of survivalists that could deal with a crisis, that’s what he wanted. Instead, he got people that looked like they wouldn’t even complain about being served with the wrong coffee. He knew the type, upper working class, passive-aggressive curtain-twitchers that did an awful lot of moaning and zero fixing.

It amazed him they’d survived this long.

Blind luck.

Max closed the door and groaned. “Why didn’t anyone get the lock ready?”

The teenage boy shrugged his shoulders and gave Max a ‘don’t ask me’ look.

“How many times have we done this?” Max asked. “You all know what needs doing.”

Nobody answered.

Fine.” Max walked across the room and rifled through the backpack. “Must be my turn again.”

She pulled out a small claw hammer, ‘U’ shaped nails, and a combination padlock. After hammering a nail into the doorjamb, and another next to the door handle, she looped the padlock through the ‘U’ nails and locked it.

“We lock ourselves in overnight,” Max told King. “Different place every day, same routine. It keeps us alive.” She walked back and dropped the hammer into the backpack. “Combination is nine, nine, nine.”

King nodded his approval.

Blind luck and Max.

“Smart.” King looked around the room and scratched his head. “Does everyone piss and shit in the corner or out of the window?”

The woman on the sofa gasped at the question and the teenage boy chuckled.

“We’ve got a bucket.” Max pointed to a black plastic bucket nestled beside the antique desk. “Toilet roll in here,” she nudged the backpack with her foot.

“We didn’t always use a bucket,” the grey-suited woman said. “There was a time when she let us use the toilet like civilised people.”

“For God’s sake, Joyce,” Max said. “Remember what happened to Sarah?”

Joyce grumbled under her breath and sat back, arms folded and a haughty expression on her face.

“Everyone,” Max waved a hand in King’s direction. “This is Harry King.”

King wasn’t sure that these people would be a good fit for him. He wasn’t sure that any people were a good fit for him.

We’re all locked up for the night, so you might as well get to know them. Get to know -her-.

If it wasn’t for Max, he would already have left; but he was so captivated by her resemblance to Michelle that he would have agreed to almost anything.

“I’ve already met young Ryan over there,” King said, smiling at the boy.

“You’ve what?” The pacer stopped pacing. “Max, I told you not to let him up there.”

“It’s okay, Daddy,” Ryan said. “He’s not a monster.”

“You’re his parent too, Vince,” Max said in a hushed yet stern tone. “It’s not all on me.”

“I understand your concerns,” King raised his hands in a surrender gesture. “But I was never a danger to any of you.”

Vince stared at King for a moment before shaking his head and smiling.

“Of course not,” he said, offering his hand. “I’m Vince. Sorry for tying you up, but there was a lot of blood, and we didn’t know if you were going to wake up infected.”

“I’d have done the same thing.” King shook Vince’s hand with a firm grip. “Good to meet you.”

“Do you run?” Vince pulled his hand from King’s grip.

“Only when I have to,” King said.

“I love it. I do marathons all the time.”

“Good for you.”

“This isn’t the best time to talk about our hobbies, Vince,” Max said.

“Any time is time for him to talk about running,” the teenager looked up and grinned.

“This is Joyce,” Vince ignored the comment and waved towards the prim and proper lady, who almost smiled.

“Hello Joyce,” King sent that almost smile right back to her.

“And Malik,” Vince moved past Joyce and closed in on Mister great-hair. “He had a big family; this has been super tough on him.”

“Tough on us all,” King stood over Malik and rested a hand on his shoulder.

Malik looked up and nodded in agreement.

“He’s from Pakistan.” Joyce said.

“I’m from Clapham, you silly old witch,” Malik said.

“He’s a train driver!” Ryan blurted the words out, barely able to hold his excitement.

“Very nice.” King smiled at Ryan.

They’ve kept a small child alive, Harry. It’s more than you could do.

“And this is Seth,” Vince’s tone changed when he introduced the teenager.

King could tell they were not friends.

“Hello,” King gave a calm smile.

Seth looked up and grunted before returning to his tin stacking.

“So, tell us about yourself.” Vince walked around the back of the sofa and leaned against the wall.

“I’m still alive,” King said. “And plan on staying that way.”

That’s all they need to know, Harry.

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