Here's the challenge:
Tracey rolled a 7 and an 8, which meant zombies meet disaster porn. Don't worry; the latter refers to films where weather goes nuts, famous buildings are zapped by lasers or wiped out by falling asteroids, or mysterious diseases decimate humanity. Phew.
Anyway, here's the story. It's called Waiting For Janie.
Dawn came and banished sleep, the leak of sunlight through the gaps in the planks enough to melt his dreams.
He tried to hang onto them, but they were ever elusive, leaving him one last image – Janie’s smiling face, lips mouthing “I love you, Adam” – dissolving as stark reality intruded. He’d dreamed of an older time, a better time, of promises made. Promises denied when everything had turned to shit and he’d lost all he cared about.
His bedroom was exactly as it had been two years ago when he’d left for Leeds; the same posters, the dated duvet covers, the dark paint from a brief but fascinating near-Goth experience. Back then, he’d been bright with hope, anticipating the brilliant future a university education would bring. Now, mere days before his twenty-first birthday, the future was grim.
Pulling back the duvet, Adam felt morning’s chill biting into him, despite the two layers he wore. His feet, clad in thick walking socks, touched the bedroom floor. The carpet that had bounced with luxury as a teenager was now pressed flat from use, faded in places. His mum had promised to get a new one when he returned from university, but events beyond anyone’s control meant that wasn’t going to happen.
He went quickly to the clothes draped over the chair by his desk, quilted trousers and jacket that were as familiar to him as his skin, and equally necessary. Slipping them on in seconds, he topped the ensemble with a woolly hat, splitting the slivers of sunlight as he walked to the window, peered through a crack.
He was no DIY expert, but he’d done a decent job of nailing the planks to the outside of the frame. Sure, he was on the top level of a two-storey house, but there could never be too much care.
Outside was, as ever, deep with snow. It reminded him of childhood Christmases, the four conifers at the bottom of the garden shrouded in blinding white, the shed roof heavy with a thick dusting, lawn covered with a crisp, thick layer.
It could have been the past, if not for the headless corpse in the flower bed.
Three days ago now. That was the last time he’d known real hope. He’d heard the movement, thought it was Janie, but it turned out to be Billy. Adam had liked his neighbour, had been sympathetic when his wife had left him for another man, but that had vanished as soon as Billy had attempted to tear out Adam’s throat.
Adam had seen enough movies to know what to do. The kitchen knives his mum had ordered from the home shopping channel were of surprisingly high quality, and the cleaver had bitten into Billy’s neck as easily as if it was a rare sirloin. There was blood, and it took a couple of hacks, but Adam managed.
Billy still lay there, neck surrounded by a dark blossom of blood, the animal tracks heading to and from him as if he was a terminus. Noticeably, none of them had feasted from him.
Adam had kicked the head into the shrubbery, unable to take the stare of the bloodshot eyes. Unseen, yet he was sure those eyes were looking at him now, thanking him for his mercy.
He had to look at it that way. Anything else would make him a murderer.
Sitting on the chair where he’d revised for exams and plotted adventures, Adam put on his boots, picked up the crowbar and torch lying where books and CDs once lived, got to his feet and opened the bedroom door.
The stairs were immediately to his left, and he shone the torch down them before peering around the corner. Clear. Each third step had a trip wire, to which cans and cutlery had been attached. It made a noise that could wake the dead – pun intended – which, his mother would have joked, was a 50/50 chance of waking Adam.
He smiled at the recollection, then proceeded down.
The living room was darkness, punctuated only by his torch beam. He’d done a better job of the planks on ground level, simply because he hadn’t been up ladders, ensuring there were no cracks to look out of and, more importantly, nothing could peer in. He’d done well; since coming home, there’d only been Billy to deal with.
Adam dropped onto the sofa, his favourite spot, facing a blank TV screen dusty from months of disuse. For now, he was content to sit and stare at his dull reflection and ponder.
Returning home seemed to be the right thing to do after it happened.
There’d been no warning, other than a headline on the news that another asteroid would be passing by earth. He and Janie had laughed over the phone, sung Aerosmith, joked about Bruce Willis, but hadn’t given it another thought.
Then the meteor showers began, and the TV screen was filled with images of boulders hurtling from the sky, trailing flames in their wake. They hit less populated areas at first, third world countries that weren’t deemed newsworthy enough to care about.
When a rock the size of a football pitch ploughed through Big Ben, people sat up to take notice.
By then, it was too late. Panic ensued, and with it the usual rumours that the rich and influential were being kept safe underground until it passed. The rocks struck with frightening accuracy (some claimed the first wave of alien invasion), and any that hit a city or town resulted in mass destruction and chaos.
Adam had watched the Eiffel Tower topple, the stones of China’s Great Wall pulverised to dust, the dome of the Taj Mahal shattered like an eggshell, before the screens had gone blank, communications destroyed as satellites were knocked out of orbit by this new wave. The end was nigh.
That was only the start. The battered planet reacted to this assault as only it could. It wasn’t quite a new Ice Age, but it felt pretty close, and for the last year and more, Adam had dressed for cold weather every day and night. His housemate, high on weed, had joked that God was watching celestial disaster movies as inspiration to teach us a lesson for fucking everything up.
He’d also said things come in threes and, if Adam doubted the heavenly conspiracy theory, of this he was sure. The rocks had brought a disease from outer space, one that turned humans into ravenous beasts with a craving for the flesh and blood of others, creatures that could only be destroyed by severing their spinal columns. God, it seemed, had quite the movie collection.
The disease spread like wildfire, and everything man had created was gone in less than a month. As infrastructures crumpled, technology had ceased to work; it became everyone for themselves, which was why Adam had stayed on his own in the time it had taken him to get home. He’d seen people on the way, but had avoided them, hiding in bushes or abandoned buildings until they passed. Besides, there was only one person he wanted to be with; he and Janie had, over a cracking phone line, promised to meet here.
He’d done everything he could to survive, but now he was desperate. There was no alternative.
Today, he had to go shopping.
The trick, he knew, was to blend in by scent. It had worked on the road, improving with experience until he’d been able to pass through groups of them without attracting attention. For someone who hadn’t washed for weeks, it shouldn’t be too much trouble. His only acknowledgement to hygiene had been to chew gum to clean his teeth. With no-one else around, how he smelled didn’t seem to matter anymore.
Crowbar at the ready, he opened the back door. It moved on silent hinges, letting in a blast of cold air that whistled around him and up the stairs, rattling the cans and slamming the bedroom door.
Heart pounding, he waited to see if the noise had disturbed anything, but only the plants moved, disturbed by the wind.
He approached Billy carefully, ignoring the growing reek as he drew closer. Repulsive, but exactly what he needed; Billy had seen food as a remedy for his broken heart, so his stinking clothes were large enough to get over Adam’s protective gear.
All he had to do was remove them from Billy’s rotting corpse.
It turned out easier than he’d anticipated. Adam had expected the stiffness of rigor mortis, but Billy’s limbs were as pliable as putty, squelching as they were manipulated. The toes came with Billy’s shoes, but other than that it was a relatively simple task.
Now Adam looked to the shed, hoping nothing was in there but the tools he needed for the mission.
The four shops formed a U-shape, premises that had once been a newsagent, a takeaway, a betting shop and a convenience store. A precinct spread out before them, complete with a playground and picnic area that, back in Adam’s schooldays, was a haunt for thugs and bullies.
Nothing much had changed. Adam counted thirty of them milling around, all without apparent purpose. He’d heard that the places frequented in life were where the victims normally returned, and he recognised a familiar face or two amongst them.
Tightening the straps of his rucksack, lowering goggles and pulling a scarf over the lower half of his face to conceal his minty-fresh breath, Adam shambled towards them, crowbar in hand, dad’s tool-belt around his waist.
Adam’s feet crunched snow as he worked his way through swings and roundabouts, rides hidden beneath this latest permafrost like dinosaurs, relics of a world gone by. He wondered, as he sometimes did, if he was the only survivor. If he wasn’t, if the owners ever came back, did this make him a thief?
He walked between a gang of five, all but one turning towards him. Apart from pale skin, crimson eyes and the blood crusted around their mouths, they looked normal. The quartet sniffed at him for a moment, but
Adam didn’t falter; even though his heart was bouncing off his ribs, he ignored them, staring at his destination.
He’d expected the roller shutter to be down, had brought dad’s tools especially to get it open, but someone had beaten him to it. The glass it revealed was broken at its centre, cracks coming from it like a spider’s web. Dark streaks ran down from the source of the impact, pooling at the sill.
Someone had been here, and not too long ago.
Adam stopped at the door. He’d have to risk contact, share whatever food was within. His stomach rumbled, and the beasts around him made a groan in horrid accompaniment.
He reached for the handle.
Before he could touch it, the door swung inwards and there was someone blocking his way. Bundled in clothing, face hidden behind goggles and mask, but the blonde hair was wonderfully familiar. The sword was an entirely new accessory.
“Janie?” he said, voice muffled under his scarf and hoarse from disuse.
The beast in front of her gave the same guttural sound as its friends, alerting them to her presence.
Janie cut off the sound along with the creature’s head. The body teetered for a while, as if it couldn’t believe what was happening, before dropping to its knees and falling backwards.
Janie slipped past it and ran, as fast as her legs could carry her. Yet, none of the creatures gave chase, strangely more interested in the one she’d killed.
She smiled. Someone was looking down on her after all. It had taken her so long, but Adam’s home wasn’t far now. She’d made a promise, and would keep it.
The smile became a grin. Janie knew he was close by.
She couldn’t wait to see him.