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Part 1
Chapter Two
Tuesday, 3.10pm. Fitton Airfield:

‘So.’ Martin flitted his gaze from the departing car, to the plane, to the fuel truck still jamming shut the door, and finally to Douglas. ‘Um. How exactly are we going to fill the plane with our fuel truck acting as a door stopper?’

Douglas surveyed the situation. ‘We might be able to get Gerti close enough to the parked truck…’

Martin sucked through his teeth. ‘Bit of a close one. And that’s if I’m able to start it up again – I think we might have run it completely dry.’

‘Hmm.’ Douglas continued to scan the airfield. ‘There’s always that old Piper Cherokee in the far hangar.’

‘Five of us and a dog aren’t going to get very far in that, Douglas.’

‘I didn’t mean for our daring escape, Martin. I meant, we can get that to the fuel truck with far more ease than we would Gerti. We fill the Cherokee, taxi it over to our plane, siphon the fuel across. Shouldn’t take too many runs.’

‘Oh! Good idea.’

Douglas rubbed his face. He was getting so tired now that he really wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea or not. But, Martin was expecting something Douglassy from him. He cocked an eyebrow. ‘Of course it’s a good idea. It’s one of mine.’

Tuesday, 3.30pm. Knapp-Shappey Residence:

‘Right.’ Carolyn parked up on her gravel driveway, taking a good look around before switching off the car’s engine. ‘We go in, pick up Snoopadoop and a few supplies, and then straight back out again. No dilly-dallying, no wasting time getting souvenirs or luxuries, absolutely no saying goodbye to every room of the house – we’re not having a repeat performance of last year’s camping holiday.’

‘But Mum, it’ll take Skipper and Douglas ages to fuel the plane, yet. We’ve got time…’

‘No, Arthur.’ Carolyn undid her seatbelt. ‘I want to get back to the airfield as quickly as we can – we’ve got a clear view in every direction there, and slightly more safety in numbers.’

‘Mum?’ Arthur followed her out of the car towards the front door, suddenly serious. ‘Are you scared?’

‘Of course I’m scared! You saw Carl. And the upturned cars on the way here… only a complete numbskull wouldn’t be scared… in which case I take it, you’re not?’

‘Oh, of course I’m scared, Mum. But you’re scared, too? That’s… Well. That’s scary.’

‘Just stay with me, all right?’ She turned her key in the lock, and opened the door to the large, dark house.

Arthur tried a switch before she could stop him. To her relief, nothing happened.

‘No electric here, Mum!’

‘Keep your voice down,’ she hissed. ‘And, no. The airfield will be running off the emergency generator. Must have lit poor old Carl up like a beacon last night. We don’t want to draw any such attention to ourselves. Come on.’

They crept through the house, softly calling out for the dog. Carolyn stopped suddenly as she heard movement coming from above them.

‘She’s upstairs,’ murmured Carolyn. ‘At least, I hope that’s her.’

It was as Carolyn put her foot on the bottom step of her staircase that she heard a pan being knocked over in the kitchen. She froze, staring at her son, who looked back at her with widened eyes.

‘Mum,’ he whispered. ‘Snoopadoop can’t be in two places at the same time, can she?’

Carolyn shook her head.

‘So…’ Arthur struggled. ‘So, which one’s her, and what… what do we do? Mum?’

There was another clatter from the kitchen, followed closely by the sound of something heavy being moved upstairs. Slowly, quietly, Carolyn took her foot off the step. There was an umbrella by the front door. That would do as a weapon in a pinch.

She turned back towards the front door. She only made three steps away from the staircase before the kitchen door swung open – an elderly man, his face barely recognisable through smeared, dried blood and the twist of a snarl, clinging to the doorway. She darted back as he rushed at her - getting between her and the umbrella, as well as the way out. There was no way to go now but up the stairs. She grabbed Arthur’s arm.

‘Come on, Arthur.’

‘But Mum, that’s Mr Pettiforth from Number 32!’

‘Yes, I know!’ She dragged him up the stairs.

‘Well, what do you suppose he wants?’

‘I think he wants to kill us, Arthur.’

‘Really? That’s not like him.’

They reached the upstairs landing, Mr Pettiforth in hot pursuit. The spare bedroom window was big enough to clamber out of, she reasoned, and there was the conservatory roof beneath it that they could climb down, provided they could get past whatever it was that was up there, if it didn’t turn out to just be the dog after all (well of course it wasn’t just the dog, you silly old bat, it had been shoving what had sounded like a wardrobe. Snoopadoop couldn’t shove something as flimsy as picnic chair, even if she were in a world championship doggy shoving-things contest). She feinted left, towards the spare room, tugging Arthur’s arm a little too hard, causing him to fumble his footing. Mr Pettiforth was closing in on them. There was a further flurry of movement from the master bedroom – another figure, running towards them. Carolyn barely had time to register what was going on. Mr Pettiforth made a furious leap… the swing of an arm… a sickening, wet “crack”. The next thing she knew, Mr Pettiforth was tumbling backwards down the stairs, as lifeless and ragged as a sack of potatoes.

For a moment, all she could hear was a ringing in her ears. Then she became aware of laboured breathing – her own, as well as that of two others. A dog barked, bringing her back out of her daze. She focussed, and scowled.

‘What the Hell are you doing here?’

Hercules Shipwright, paler and more dishevelled than she’d ever seen before, stood at the top of her stairs in jeans and a grubby shirt with the sleeves rolled up – a bloodied clothes iron in one hand and her cheerfully barking dog under the other arm. She supposed that to other, soppier women, he’d look quite the knight in shining armour. To her he looked like a complete nincompoop.

‘Hallo, girl!’ Arthur took the dog off Hercules’ hands. ‘Hallo, Herc!’

‘Hello Arthur – Carolyn. Thought I’d drop by.’

‘We’ve been in Greenland,’ Carolyn replied, gazing down at the stricken Mr Pettiforth in case he might move again.

‘Yes. I did notice you’d sauntered off and abandoned your silly little dog.’

‘We didn’t abandon her!’ Arthur protested from beneath a barrage of doggy kisses. ‘We always ask Kevin from Number 60 to give her her food and walkies every morning when we’re away.’

‘Mm,’ replied Herc. ‘And, all fairness to him, he did drop by at about 9am. He’s the one who broke your kitchen window…’

Arthur tutted. ‘Honestly! We gave him a key!’

‘Yes, well, he wasn’t exactly in his right mind. Three more of your neighbours have got in since then. Nosey bunch, aren’t they?’ He patted Carolyn on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry. He won’t get up again. The others didn’t.’

Carolyn looked at him, incredulously. ‘Are you seriously telling me you’ve just ironed four of my neighbours to death?’

‘I’ll get you a new iron.’

‘A bit bloodthirsty for a vegetarian.’

‘Oh, Hercules,’ sighed Herc, ‘how can I ever repay you for saving the lives of my son, my ridiculous dog and myself? Think nothing of it, Carolyn. All in a day’s work, etcetera.’

Carolyn rolled her eyes. ‘I don’t have time for this. To heel!’ She turned and headed towards the Master Bedroom.

‘I think Snoopadoop would rather I carried her,’ said Arthur, following along with Herc.

‘I wasn’t talking to the dog,’ Carolyn paused. ‘How did this happen, Herc?’

‘You really missed it all?’

‘Mm. We were out there for four days. Just flew back to this mess, barely an hour ago.’

‘I don’t know whether to feel sorry for you or insanely jealous of your 48 hours of blissful ignorance…’ he picked up a bottle of Carolyn’s gin and held it out to her.

She shook her head. ‘I need to stay alert, Hercules. As should you.’

‘It’s to sterilise your hands. Taps aren’t working.’

‘Oh.’ She cleaned her hands briskly with a palm full of gin, and signalled for Arthur to do the same.

‘It was the speed of it,’ Hercules told them. ‘There were some funny reports coming in from Cambridgeshire and Essex on Sunday evening… and then it just spread, through the night. When I woke up on Monday morning, London was gone, the whole South East… We were in Birmingham, and it was already starting to spread there, too. Frankly, it was a miracle I got away. Jesus, Carolyn. If you think it’s bad here, you should see what it’s like in the big cities. I saw people… you know. Getting sick. Linda.’ He gnawed at his lip or a moment. ‘She was bitten, and… and it was so fast. Her temperature soared. I tried to help her, but she just got sicker and sicker, and the Linda I knew simply melted away. There was nothing left but this… animal. Only took half an hour.’ He sat down on the edge of the bed. ‘I left her. Trapped her in a car and ran for it. I should have put her out of her misery, but… I couldn’t.’

‘Well,’ Arthur consoled him, ‘you didn’t have your iron then, did you?’

Carolyn started rooting through the back of the tights drawer of her dressing table.

‘This isn’t exactly my weapon of choice, you know,’ began Herc, trailing off as he saw what Carolyn had found behind an elderly pair of nude 40 deniers. ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a gun, Hercules. I’d say I was surprised you didn’t recognise one, but then you are a tofu-munching Guardian reader who uses small electrical appliances to defend himself.’

‘You’ve got a gun?!?’

‘Wow,’ Arthur enthused. ‘I didn’t know we were allowed to keep a gun here!’

‘We’re not. Don’t worry, it’s a family heirloom. It was your Granny’s. She wasn’t supposed to have it, either.’

‘I’ve been holding out against the apocalypse in here armed with nothing but a Russell Hobbs while all the time there was a gun in your knicker drawer?!?’

‘Tights drawer,’ Carolyn corrected. ‘Now, come on. We’ll fill up the car with all the tinned food we can find, and then we can get out of here.’

‘Get out of here?’ Hercules coughed out a bitter little laugh. ‘Carolyn – wherever are we going to go?’

‘To the end of the world,’ Carolyn told him. ‘Via Cumbria.’

Tuesday, 3.35pm. Fitton Airflield:

‘Oh, dear.’

‘”Oh, dear”?’

‘Oh, dear.’

‘Oh. Dear.’

Tuesday, 3.40pm. Fitton Airfield:

‘So there’s definitely not enough fuel.’

‘Not in the fuel truck, no. And, before you say anything, Martin – yes, I did realise that there’s enough to get us to Barrow in Furness, or there’s enough to get us out of the country. But I really am rather planning…’

‘…on doing both. It’s OK. I get it.’

‘Do you?’ snapped Douglas. ‘Do you have any idea how it feels to know that your only child’s stuck somewhere with all this going on around her, and you’ve got the means to take her away from all that, but not enough bloody fuel?’

Martin took in a sharp breath to respond, but then just looked away – his mouth still half open, his reply unspoken.

Douglas softened a little. ‘Look. I’m…’

‘It’s all right,’ replied Martin. ‘It’s just… you seem to think, just because I don’t have anyone – anyone to rescue, I mean – that I don’t understand. But I do. I do understand.’ He blinked a couple of times, then added in the same tone, ‘what about rabbit food?’

‘Hmm?’

‘There’s a petrol forecourt at the big Tesco just down the road. It’s rabbit food, not Cheetah food, but…’

Douglas stared at Martin. ‘You know – one more of the Cherokee’s tankfulls should just about be enough. And it’s not as if there’s any traffic.’

‘Are you saying… we do another Douz? Properly? With a plane on the road and everything?’

‘Well, if we’re going to do another Douz, we might as well do Douz dutifully. A sort of Douz Deux.’

A small, playful smile curled the corner of Martin’s lip. It was the first one Douglas had seen since they’d landed – Hell, it was the first one he’d seen since their round of Movie Haikus halfway across the North Atlantic.

‘Douz II,’ said Martin. ‘This time, there’s Zombies.’

Tuesday, 3.55pm, Approach to Chippenham Road Tesco Megastore, Fitton:

It was only about half a mile to Tesco, but it was a far trickier drive than it had been to Kebili, even in a much smaller plane. There was, indeed, no traffic about, but the road was occasionally blighted by abandoned cars and broken glass. Not far out of Fitton airfield, they’d had to manoeuvre around a bus that had careened halfway across the road and wedged its front end in a hedge. The whole journey was eerie and foreboding. Douglas had known it would be bad outside the airfield, but nothing had quite been able to prepare him for the very suburban, British devastation in front of him.

Somehow, in spite of this, he and Martin managed to remain in comparatively good spirits. They were doing another Douz. He’d enjoyed Douz. So had Martin. The time they’d worked together – been utterly ridiculous – taken on stupid odds and actually won… they’d even flirted over it, for pity’s sake. They fell back into their ‘old married couple’ patter as they took the Cherokee down the debris strewn Chippenham Road.

‘Mind that bus, Dear.’

‘Yes, Darling, I can see the bus. Do watch out for Zombies.’

‘Yes, Dear, if I see one, I’ll give you a shout.’

Only as Tesco came into view did Douglas feel the grimness tightening his chest again. There were still a few cars neatly parked in bays. They hadn’t even bothered to shut up properly – none of the shutters were down, and a fire door to one side had been left wide open. An alarm was still ringing, unheeded, from somewhere inside the supermarket. It must have happened so unbelievably fast.

They passed a pushchair on its side, and Douglas took in a deep, heaving breath.

‘We should probably get supplies,’ muttered Martin, ‘while we’ve got the chance.’

‘Agreed,’ said Douglas. ‘Fuel first, though. I don’t like the look of that shop. We might need to make a hasty exit.

They filled up in almost total silence, with Douglas scanning in every direction for somebody – or something - approaching. Martin only spoke once, quietly, to mention feeling guilty about taking things for free.

‘It’s the Tesco at the End of the World,’ murmured Douglas. ‘I don’t think it really matters any more, does it?’

Tuesday, 4.10pm. Tesco Megastore, Fitton:

The Cherokee filled and driven up to the open fire door, the pilots got out carefully and cautiously entered the supermarket. The place was as much of a mess as the road had been – goods knocked off shelves, trolleys left tangled in sad little groups of two or three in the aisles. It was impossible for Douglas to tell whether this had been down to panic buying or looting, or… or, something else. For the first time ever, he found himself nervewracked by supermarket aisles. Too many sudden corners. Too many places for the malignant to hide. He and Martin took a trolley each.

‘Tinned food,’ he whispered, ‘bottled water, warm clothes. We can grab a couple of bars of soap and tubes of toothpaste if we’re feeling fancy. But first – Gardening.’

‘Gardening?’

‘Weapons, Martin. We’re going to need weapons.’

And, suddenly, Martin looked smaller and paler than he had done in a very long time. ‘Oh.’

-x-

With hindsight, Martin wasn’t quite sure why he took the spade. He should have got a pitchfork like Douglas – it was sharper – but the spade had a good swing to it, he supposed. He balanced it on the top of his trolley and followed Douglas down the aisles, throwing a few fleeces, some antibacterial hand gel and wet wipes into his ‘shop’. Others had obviously thought of stocking up on tins of food before them – if he’d have had time to spare, he might have complained about the lack of choice they’d been left with. But he didn’t, and since beggars most certainly couldn’t be choosers, he just started filling up his trolley with anything he could get his hands on. From the way things were going, whatever pinto beans were, it seemed that he was destined to eat rather a lot of them in the near future. There was still an incessant fire alarm. He wasn’t sure whether he was grateful for it for masking the sounds of them filling up the trollies, or concerned at what other noises it might have been drowning out. Either way, it was giving him a splitting headache.

‘We should get painkillers,’ he muttered to Douglas.

‘Hmm,’ replied Douglas, before suddenly stopping, blinking and rubbing his forehead. ‘You know what else we’re going to need, Martin? The perfect accessory to all this fine, tinned food?’

‘What?’

‘A tin opener.’

‘Oh. God. Of course.’ Martin grabbed his trolley. ‘Should we both go…?’

‘We’ve already covered those aisles – nobody there.’ Douglas hurried down the aisle, gardening fork in hand. ‘No need to waste time. I’ll go.’ He pointed at some other tins, further down the aisle. ‘There’s meat, over here. Spoil us with some Spam. I’ll be back in a jiffy.’

Martin wheeled his trolley over to the tinned meat and filled it further, trying to listen out for Douglas’ footsteps, but hearing nothing except that bloody fire alarm. Silently, he counted up to thirty seconds. Forty. Fifty. Both kitchenware and medicines had only been a few aisles down – what was taking him so long?

A minute.

He swallowed, his hand wavering over a can of sild.

Seventy seconds.

Bloody Hell.

Quietly, he picked up his spade and snuck down to the central aisle. For a moment, everything seemed still – the only sounds the nagging fire alarm and his own harsh breaths.

And then.

Then there was a clatter and a skitter and a growl, close by – much too close by. He heard a familiar voice, made unfamiliar in panic.

‘Douglas!’ Martin broke into a run and turned the corner into the kitchenware aisle. Douglas was backed up against the shelving unit, his gardening fork barely keeping back a woman who must have been rather primly pretty before whatever it was that had turned her into a snarling, snapping feral creature had taken hold.

He ran towards Douglas, but was thrown from his feet as a second figure threw its full body weight against him. He screamed – a full-on scream that he would have found rather embarrassing, had he not more immediate, deadly matters on hand. He got up to he knees as quickly as he could, clutched his spade and swung it hard at the smartly dressed man who had attacked as he sprang at him, teeth bared. The blow threw the be-suited man to the floor, but didn’t stop him. He curled a fist around Martin’s spade.

‘No…’

The man yanked hard, sending the spade sailing over the shelves to the aisle beyond.

‘No!’ Martin used a shelf to pull himself to his feet as the bloodied man in the suit tried to right himself. Martin’s hands found something sturdy and heavy on the shelf. He recognised the orange of a Le Creuset casserole dish. Before he had chance to think about what he was doing, he hefted the cast iron pot into both hands, and slammed it down onto the man’s head before he could get up again. There was a crunching and an oozing, but before Martin could let what had just happened sink in he heard Douglas cry out again.

‘Martin!’

Martin didn’t even feel as if he was really living this, any more. It was more like watching somebody else do it, from very far away. He was running towards the woman scrabbling at Douglas. There was, somehow, a heavy frying pan in his hands. He swung, and the woman screeched. He swung again, and again and again until he was pounding the figure as it lay quite still on the floor, and the only screaming was coming from him.

‘Martin!’ Douglas was shaking him by the shoulders. ‘It’s OK. She’s dead. They’re both dead.’

Martin nodded, letting the frying pan fall from his hands with a heavy clang; his breaths coming out in shallow gulps.

‘We still need to get water.’

Part 3

November 2013

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