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Part 2

Chapter Three
Tuesday, 4.20pm. En route from the Knapp-Shappey Residence to Fitton Airfield:

‘Poor Mr Pettiforth.’

‘Arthur. He was trying to kill us.’

‘Yes, I know. But still. And after all – he wasn’t well.’

Snoopadoop barked happily in the back seat next to Arthur.

‘And poor Kevin,’ added Arthur.

In the front passenger seat, Herc shivered. He still hadn’t been persuaded to let go of the iron.

‘Just,’ snapped Carolyn, ‘try not to think about them. Yes, it’s a shame. But, things are different, now. We’ve all just got to look out for our loved ones as best as we can.’

There was a pause that went on just a little too long.

‘Can we have the stereo on?’ asked Arthur.

‘No.’

‘Oh.’ Another pause. ‘Well, can I sing, then?’

Carolyn sighed. ‘If you must. But do it quietly.’

Arthur gazed out of the car window and started to quietly sing. ‘Children behave, that’s what they say when we’re together…

Tuesday, 4.22pm. Fitton Tesco Megastore Car Park:

They loaded tins and bottles quickly and haphazardly into the back of the Cherokee from their trollies. Every few seconds, Douglas would crane his head around to see if anything else was after them. They’d done the rest of their ‘shop’ without further incident, but the Tesco was vast and full of hiding places – who could say how many more there could be skulking around there, about to pounce?

The last of the goods flung into the plane, Douglas patted his pocket for the umpteeth time, checking he still had the blessed tin opener that had very nearly cost them both their lives.

‘That’s the lot.’ He got in to the plane. ‘Ready to go, Martin?’

Martin looked at the stash on the plane, then back at the open fire door. He did a little double-take and then sagged, irritably.

‘What?’ Douglas asked. ‘What is it?’

‘Dog food!’

‘What?!?’

‘Carolyn went to get her dog. It’ll need food, too.’ Martin took a few steps back towards the open door.

‘Martin! The dog can just share our food. We have what we need. We have got to go!’

‘I can see some tins’ Martin argued. ‘It’s right there by the door. Start the engine up – I’ll grab an armful. Ten seconds, that’s all.’

He disappeared inside.

‘Roger, Captain,’ muttered Douglas, starting up the plane.

The propeller whirred into motion. Douglas glared at the door, then scanned the car park and road beyond. A flash of movement registered in the corner of his eye. He snapped his head around to look at the petrol forecourt to his right.

Shit.

There were five, sprinting right for them. They must have come out of the Halfords next door.

‘Martin,’ he bellowed. ‘Martin, come on! Now!’

The five were practically on them already. Douglas felt the now all too familiar hit of adrenaline tightening his stomach. The Cherokee took a little while to get going. If he didn’t start her taxiing right away, they’d be boarded.

‘MARTIN!!’

Martin came out of the shop at full pelt, dropping cans of dog food as he went. Say what you liked about Martin, but when the heat was on, he couldn’t half move. Douglas started driving the plane away from the sprinters.

‘Come on!’

…running just as fast as we can…

The five predators were now right on Martin’s heels, and, by the same measure, not far at all from the Cherokee’s tailfin. Douglas opened the plane’s door and reached back with his free hand. Martin, now ridiculously clinging to a single tin of dog food, reached out his free hand and put in an extra burst of effort. Their fingers brushed, then parted.

‘Come on, Martin!’ Douglas reached back as far as he could.

With one final cry of exertion, Martin managed to get a good hold of Douglas’ hand. He was a slender lad – couldn’t have been more than 8 stone. It wasn’t exactly effortless for Douglas to haul him up into a most undignified sprawl half over his lap with his legs still dangling out of the side, but they managed it without losing pace.

…holding on to one another’s hands…

‘Oh, God,’ Martin moaned into the seat next to Douglas’.

‘It’s all right. We have a plane. They don’t.’

‘They’re still coming, aren’t they?’

Douglas was hardly going to lie. They were still inches from the tailfin. ‘Yes.’

‘What if they don’t stop? What if they catch up with us? What if they follow us all the way back?’

‘Martin. Get your feet in.’

Martin obeyed, miserably, finally managing to scramble off Douglas’ lap and leave the doorway clear for Douglas to close.

‘Like I say,’ said Douglas, turning on to the deserted deliveries bay and speeding up, ‘we have an aeroplane. They don’t. I’d like to see a zombie do this…’

He pulled up.

…tryin’ to get away into the night…

The Cherokee rose into the air, leaving the furious, screeching hoard on the ground, screaming wordlessly up at their escaped prey. Douglas deliberately flew the plane in the opposite direction to the airfield as they cleared the whole of the retail park. Martin stared down at the supermarket as it dwindled away – his face pale, his hands trembling around the tin of dog food. Douglas gave him a light, consoling pat on the knee.

…and then you put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say…

‘I think we’re alone, now.’

‘Hmm?’

‘I very much doubt they’ll be able to follow us, up here. I’ll turn back to the airfield in a mo – we can fly over the fields. Attract less attention.’

‘Do you want to…’ Douglas trailed off. ‘Do you want a drink, or something? You should be able to reach one of the water bottles from you seat.’

Martin said nothing. He just clutched the tin tighter to himself and shook his head.

Tuesday, 4.30pm. Fitton airfield.

Carolyn pulled in to the airfield just as the Cherokee was landing.

‘Good Lord,’ she exclaimed, marching up to the prop plane as the pilots stepped out, ‘was an hour alone with the apocalypse really so boring that you needed an attention-attracting little jaunt in a Mini with wings to kill some time?’

‘Quick run to the shops for fuel and supplies,’ explained Douglas. ‘Clearly as successful as your mission to pick up waifs and strays.’ He nodded at the rest of Carolyn’s party. ‘Hello, Hercules. You’re looking… awful.’

‘Armageddon’ll do that to you,’ replied Hercules, who seemed to be trying to outdo Martin in the pale-and-sweaty stakes. ‘I’d mention that none of you are looking particularly spruce right now, but… well. That would be rude.’

‘Carolyn.’ Douglas lowered his voice. ‘Are you quite sure he isn’t… you know. Infected. Look at him – he’s practically green.’

‘I can still hear you,’ replied Hercules, walking up to them, ‘and I am very sure. The infection’s passed through blood and spit – bites, mainly. I’ve seen it happen. And, I’ve been very careful.’ He nodded at Martin, still staring glassily into the middle distance. ‘What about him?’

Douglas felt his fists clench involuntarily. ‘What about him?’

‘Skip often just looks like that, Herc,’ Arthur added, helpfully.

‘Well, from the state of his shirt, I’d say he’d been involved in some sort of altercation…’

‘I got…’ announced Martin, suddenly. ‘I…’ he held the tin of dog food out to Arthur. ‘I got this. For your dog.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ grinned Arthur. He checked the label. ‘But Snoopadoop doesn’t really eat Cesar. We give her dried food – we’ve got three whole sacks of Iams in the car!’

‘…I…’ his arm still frozen, holding out the tin, Martin managed to look as if he’d just been slapped in the face despite not actually moving whatsoever. His jaw fell open, his eyes clouded and patches of angry red bloomed over his cheeks and nose.

‘…I…’

‘It’s all right, Martin.’

‘I… I’m sorry.’

‘It’s all right!’

‘I’m so sorry. I. I killed them. I. I’m so… I killed them! I…I…’

‘He saved my life,’ interjected Douglas. ‘We were attacked. Two of them. Martin dealt with them both. And,’ he added, pointedly, ‘we weren’t bitten.’

‘But I killed them. I…’

‘What alternative was there?’

Hercules crumpled slightly. ‘I’ve had to kill six, so far. It’s… it’s…’ He folded over, suddenly caught in a violent fit of nausea. He was only just able to turn away from the others before being very, very sick.

Carolyn gently plucked the dog food out of Martin’s hand and made a show of studying the ingredients. ‘We don’t give Snoopadoop this sort of thing very often,’ she told him. ‘This is the kind of dinner we’d only give her very occasionally, for a special treat. I’m sure what she’s been through today warrants such an indulgence. She’ll appreciate it.’

‘I…’ Martin still looked as if he was on the brink of complete emotional collapse.

‘Thank you,’ added Carolyn. ‘Arthur, get Herc a cup of water, would you? Then you can both help our valiant pilots. We’ve got a plane to fill, and fast.’

‘Right-o, Mum!’ Arthur disappeared into Gerti in search of a water bottle.

Douglas patted Martin on the shoulder. ‘Come on, Martin. No rest for the wicked.’

‘Yes.’ Martin managed to pull himself together a little. ‘Yes. Right. Yes. Of course.’

Douglas kept one eye one Carolyn, murmuring to the still-retching Hercules, while he started transferring fuel from the Cherokee to Gerti. Martin began the slog of carrying armfuls of bottles and tins to the plane’s hold.

Both Martin and Hercules looked every bit as crap as Douglas felt. Douglas still wasn’t convinced about what was wrong with Hercules, but whatever it was, it was making the man extremely ill. Martin was barely holding it together, now. Douglas knew it wouldn’t take much more to make the Captain well and truly snap – most likely in spectacular fashion.

‘Stupid of me,’ announced Martin suddenly, picking up another load of heavy supplies. ‘Going back for dog food. I… I just… a good pilot is able to recognise his mistakes, and learn from them. So, just so you know. I understand it was a terrible idea. Could have got us both killed.’

‘It wasn’t your best idea, I’ll admit,’ conceded Douglas. ‘But then, neither was my plan to split up in search of a tin opener. It’s the exhaustion – it’s getting to us all. And the stress, and this whole… unspeakable nightmare.’

‘I keep waiting to wake up,’

‘I know the feeling.’

‘I feel like I’m not even here any more – that I must have just fallen asleep on the way back from Qaanaaq and any minute you’re going to wake me up with some sarcastic comment and I’ll realise all of this has just been a horrible dream.’ Martin smiled, faintly. ‘It’d be like when you’re a kid and you fall asleep in the car when your dad’s driving – you ever do that?’

‘Mm. The hum of the engine, the gentle movement… Cars are just big metal wombs when you’re a kid, aren’t they?’

‘And you just feel so safe,’ continued Martin. ‘I miss feeling safe. I miss sleep. Right now, it’s hard to imagine I’ll ever sleep again.’

‘Ten more minutes, and we’ll be in the air,’ Douglas reassured him. ‘We’ll be away from all of this. And we will find somewhere. I promise. Even if it’s Qaanaaq again – even if it’s some deserted island in the middle of the Atlantic, and there’ll be coconut telephones and monkey butlers, and there will be sleep. And we’ll feel safe again.’

‘A deserted island,’ echoed Martin, ‘with nobody else but three other men, Carolyn and a dog.’

‘And Zoë,’ added Douglas, ‘who you are not to marry or in any way interfere with.’

‘Douglas! She’s 10!’

‘Even after she’s turned 18. I’m serious. I’ll go all Lord of the Flies on you – you see if I don’t.’ Douglas paused. ‘There’ll be Zoë’s mother of course – you can marry her, if you like, although I wouldn’t recommend it. It’ll end up costing you a fortune in palm leaves or whatever it is we’ll end up using as currency.’

-x-

‘Herc.’

‘Mmf.’ Herc accepted Carolyn’s hand in helping him stand up straight again.

‘You are sure it’s bites that pass it on, aren’t you?’

‘Yes!’

‘And you haven’t been bitten.’

‘No, of course not. If I had been, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t put your life at risk. I…’ Herc faltered. ‘Besides, if it was that, you’d know about it by now. I’ve been feeling off colour for hours – it really doesn’t take that long for the virus to take over. I think it’s just the come-down. And the bloody tiredness.’

‘Hmm,’ replied Carolyn. ‘How long’s it been since you’ve eaten or drank anything?’

‘Not that long ago,’ Herc replied. ‘I raided your fridge at 11ish, after getting rid of the 2nd of your neighbours.’

‘Killing really brings out your appetite, doesn’t it?’

‘Don’t, Carolyn. I hadn’t had anything since Sunday night. There was some mushroom risotto in a Tupperware box – I was hungry. Sorry if that upsets you.’

‘Oh!’ Arthur ambled up with a mineral water for Herc. ‘You had my Mushroom Delight?’

Herc took a swig of water. ‘You cooked that?’

‘Yep,’ replied Arthur, proudly. ‘Well – not so much “cooked” as “invented”.’

‘And lo,’ added Carolyn, ‘the mystery of your iffy tummy is solved. If in doubt, blame Arthur’s cooking. Well done, Arthur. You manage to poison people even when you’re not in the country.’

‘Thanks, Mum,’ replied Arthur. ‘Er. I mean. Sorry about that, Herc.’

‘It’s all right, Arthur.’

‘Oh! Mum?’

‘What is it now, Arthur?’

Arthur pointed over at the far fence. ‘I think those people want to get in, Mum.’

-x-

‘Douglas! Douglas!’

Douglas looked up from the fuel line as Carolyn ran towards him.

‘We’ve got to go. Right now.’

‘I haven’t finished the fuelling yet…’ Douglas’ gaze followed Carolyn’s. His eyes widened. ‘Christ.’

There were a dozen of them or so, scrambling at the fence at the far end of the airfield. Whether it was the light in the Control tower, or the Cherokee’s landing, or Carolyn’s car driving in, they had officially now drawn too much attention to their presence.

‘Two more minutes,’ he assured her. ‘Get everything loaded and everyone in. There’s still the fence to hold them b…’

It was, of course, at that moment that the wire fence collapsed under the exertions of the screeching mob.

‘Just get in the plane!’ Carolyn cried – Arthur and Hercules both running past her to throw supplies and a bewildered looking Cockerpoo from her car onto the jet.

‘We need fuel to fly!’

‘We also need a runway to fly, and in thirty seconds or so, said runway will be swarming with a hoard with bad case of the brain-munchies! Go!’

‘We need enough fuel for Cumbria…’

‘How long do you need, Douglas?’ Hercules called.

‘Just another 90 seconds.’

‘Right you are.’ And with that, Hercules turned, bloodied Russell Hobbs in hand, and started striding out towards the running crowd.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Carolyn grabbed his arm.

‘You and Douglas have children who need you. Arthur and Martin have their whole lives ahead of them. I don’t. I can buy you the time you need. But I need you to let go of me.’

‘Herc, I…’ Carolyn’s expression hardened. ‘At least, take the gun.’

Herc pulled his arm free of her grip. ‘You’ll need that.’

‘I’m starting to believe you actually like using the iron,’ she called.

‘My God,’ said Douglas, watching Hercules head out, ‘he’s actually going to do it.’

‘Oh,’ groaned Carolyn, ‘why must my life be blighted by all these stupid bloody men?’ She fished in her handbag and took out a handgun. ‘Arthur,’ she called, ‘make sure Snoopadoop’s lead is securely tied to something on the plane, would you?’

‘OK, Mum,’ came Arthur’s voice from inside the plane.

‘Don’t let him follow me,’ Carolyn told Douglas. ‘Look after them. Good luck.’

‘You’re not going after him…?’

‘What would you do?’ Carolyn called, hurrying after Hercules.

‘Carolyn…?’

‘Where are Hercules and Carolyn going?’ Martin asked, emerging from Gerti’s hold. ‘What’s happ… oh, God.’

‘Get on the plane, Martin.’

‘What are they doing?’

‘Get on the plane.’

‘Mum?’ Now Arthur was peering out of Gerti. ‘Are we… MUM!’

‘Martin. Arthur. Get back on the plane. CEO’s orders. Now!’

Arthur didn’t get back on the plane. He grabbed hold of the fire extinguisher and ran down the steps, onto the airfield, calling after his Mum.

Douglas blinked, and for a moment, there was no noise. No screaming, no calling after Carolyn. There was no airfield. There was only his daughter’s face, the first time he’d seen her, all wrinkled and pink.

‘I’m sorry, Zoë,’ he told her.

He dropped the fuel pipe. He grabbed a hold of the gardening fork he’d had to hand ever since getting off the Cherokee. He started running towards the others.

‘Douglas?’ asked Martin, still standing, frozen, next to Gerti.

‘This is it, Martin,’ he called over his shoulder.

‘No… no… No, I…’

The screams drowned out anything else Martin had to say. Hercules intercepted the mob a second later, taking down one of them straight away with a swing of the iron. There was the crack of a gunshot from Carolyn, and a second one fell. Arthur ran full pelt, setting off the fire extinguisher in their faces, which wasn’t going to have quite the fatal effect it had had on Mr Lehman, but at least blinded and disorientated them for a while.

As Douglas ran, he heard another sound from behind him – the Piper Cherokee’s engine starting up.

Oh, Martin.

Obviously, it was Martin’s choice – fight or flight – it was a decision they all had to come to of their own free will. He’d already fought snarling attackers off once that day, and saved Douglas’ life. If Martin just couldn’t take it again, then that was that. The little prop plane still had enough fuel in it to get away. Good luck to him.

Still. The thought that, after everything they’d all been through, this was how it was going to end…

No. No time to be wistful or sad now. He swung and thrust with the garden fork as he reached the throng. There was so much confusion and noise, so many wild hands and faces that he didn’t even see what he had hit. He tugged back the fork and jabbed out again. Another gunshot rang out above the screeches, and… and, it sounded like the Cherokee’s engine was getting nearer.

Arthur’s fire extinguisher had run out of foam, so he started using it as a club. Douglas just about saw Arthur mis-aim a swing at a man who was jumping at Hercules. Arthur hit the attacker but managed to deal Herc a terrible crack to the temple as well.

‘Oh! Sorry, Herc!’

Douglas had no doubt that Arthur was truly sorry, but that wasn’t going to help the situation whatsoever. Herc slumped, unconscious. It was now the three of them against… how many, now? Six? Seven? Eight?

Carolyn shot again – Douglas had no idea how much ammunition she had, but doubted that it was enough.

‘Douglas! Mum!’ Arthur shouted, swinging the fire extinguisher again. ‘Look! It’s Skipper! He’s got a plane!’

Oh, great. Not only was he facing Death By Zombie, but now he had to deal with Arthur’s childlike sadness at the Skipper flying off and leaving them as well.

‘Yes, Arthur. I’m afraid…’

‘No, seriously – move. He’s got a plane!’

Douglas looked behind him. The Piper Cherokee was taxiing straight towards the crowd, Martin’s grimly resolute face visible behind the whirring propeller. There should really have been ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ playing, if God had had any sense of proper musical setting.

All they could really do was to duck and cover, as Martin ploughed into the furious attackers. Douglas risked a glance upwards, and saw them actually lunging towards the prop plane as if it were some animal they could tear apart, instead of fleeing it. He covered his head with his hands, face down on the field, as warm, wet bits of zombie went flying, splattering down on the grass obscenely.

After a few seconds, the screeches dwindled down to nothing. There was only the sound of the Cherokee’s engine, and the thrum of the propeller. Then that too sputtered into silence. Douglas lifted himself up off the ground and looked across at the plane, stopped less than a foot away from him. The door opened and Martin clambered out, white faced and glassy eyed.

‘Runway’s clear,’ he told them in a dreamlike voice.

‘Martin,’ breathed Carolyn, shaking something unspeakable off her jacket. ‘You… I mean.’ She got to her feet. ‘We’d better get going before more of them arrive.’

Arthur shook the still-unconscious Hercules. ‘Is Herc going to be all right?’

Douglas felt his pulse. ‘I think you just knocked him out cold, Arthur. He’ll live.’

‘Which is more than can be said for any of us if we don’t get our skates on,’ added Carolyn. ‘Let’s go.’

-x-

Snoopadoop, still tethered securely to one of the passenger seats, barked happily as her owners boarded the plane, an unconscious and bloodied Herc propped over both their shoulders.

‘Snoopadoop, good girl,’ cooed Carolyn, plopping Herc down into a seat. ‘See? Somebody here did as they were told, at least.’

‘It starts,’ Douglas grumbled.

‘One thing, I asked you to do, Douglas Richardson. One single thing. “Don’t let Arthur go after me.” And what happened, the second my back was turned?’

‘My eternal apologies, Carolyn, but can we please leave the dressing-down for later? We still have a daring escape to make.’

Martin was the last on board. ‘Fuel tank full, doors shut, wings still on, no zombies hanging on to the tail,’ he said, disappearing into the flight deck.

‘Sounds like an all-clear from the Captain to me,’ added Douglas, joining him. ‘Seats up, belts on, ciggies out and so on.’

‘Look, Mum,’ said Arthur cheerily, as the jet sped up along the runway, ‘Carl’s managed to get out!’ He waved at the distant figure, crawling through a gap in the Control Tower’s doorway that he’d managed to force ajar, hands clawing out towards them. ‘Bye, Carl! Sorry about this whole zombie thing! Byeee!!’

The plane accelerated more, until the nose lifted and they began to soar up into the air. They climbed and climbed, away from the devastation, violence and infection below. And the sky was as blue and calm as it ever was. They were away.

Part 4
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