Regan checked the other rooms in the house before calling out, confirming that the rest of the place was empty and safe. Rowan took a seat on a couch and looked around.
“How did it get in?” she asked.
“The zombie? I don’t know,” Regan paused. “I know I locked the door; I’m sure of it. And there doesn’t seem to be any damage to the door, so it wasn’t forced entry.”
“Were there any windows or anything open? Any other entrance?”
“I checked, and no,” Regan responded.
“Then is it really safe here?” Rowan asked, worried. Regan paused before answering.
“It should be…” he said, cautiously. “At the very least, we can secure a room or two. Keep everything we need close to us. Worst comes to worst, we make a quick escape.”
“That’s not always possible,” Rowan began. “Especially if there’s a lot of them. They swarm; form groups and overwhelm you. It’s not exactly safe to stay here,” she explained.
“Well, where would we go?” Regan asked.
“Away from the city. It started there, so it’ll be spreading from there. It won’t be long before the swarms are commonplace out here. I say we stock up on food and anything else we need, and take the back streets as far out of the city as we can go. Head out towards Helensville.”
“That’s pretty far. It’d be dark well before we’d get anywhere near close. And how’re we going to get food out there? It’s better to stay in the places we know, make the place secure, make short trips out for supplies. Far safer that way.”
“Not when there are crowds of zombies roaming the area! There are already a few, it’ll be a matter of days at most before they’re in the entire area!”
“We’ll lock up tight!”
“You haven’t seen them! They may be weak one by one, but those crowds can and will get through anything, trust me!”
“If we leave, we’ll starve. We’ll have no real shelter. It’s a good few hours between here and Helensville, and there’s pretty much nothing in between. Hell, there’s not exactly a lot out there, anyway. Unless you want to starve, we have to stay around here.”
“And unless you want to get attacked we have to leave!” Rowan exclaimed.
“Well, at the very least, we can’t do anything until tomorrow. You can’t leave for the country in the evening; you’re guaranteed dead like that,” Regan asserted. Rowan paused. “We’ll stay in the lounge and stockpile everything we need here. Take turns sleeping, if you makes you more comfortable.”
Rowan still looked doubtful, but reluctantly agreed.
“I still want to leave. This isn’t permanent. The longer we stay, the more dangerous it gets. You do realise that, right?” she said.
“To a point, yes. But if we can hold out long enough, maybe they’ll die off, or spread out.”
“There’s no way you can know that,” Rowan protested.
“But it could happen. And there’s no way you can know what it’s like out of the city.”
“No, but logically, it’s safer! We already know there are less here than there are in the city; they thin out the further away we go. It’s only logical to keep on going out. It makes sense.”
Regan was silent. He looked to be in deep thought. Either he was genuinely considering Rowan’s suggestions, or he was firm in his decision and just didn’t want to argue over it any more.
Silence filled the air, broken only by the odd bird, fleeting past, never staying.
“Wait,” said Regan. “You’re telling me… you were attacked by zombies?”
“Well, yeah,” Rowan replied. Regan was silent for a moment.
“Sorry, but- I just find it kind of hard to believe.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“No, no, it’s not that, really, it’s just hard to take in, I think,” Regan explained cautiously. “How did it happen?”
“We were- the house was swarmed, overrun. There must have been twenty of them. Erm. Yeah. I managed to get out, but I don’t know about the others. I know- I know some of them died,” she ended quietly. Regan thought in silence for a minute or two.
“That must’ve been horrible,” he finally said. Rowan nodded. “I’m staying just down the road; my house. There’s space there, if you want, and it’s got to be safer than here.”
“Where is it?” Rowan asked.
“A minute up the road opposite here,” Regan responded.
“Far enough back from the road, treeline between the house and the road. I’ve been there for nearly two weeks now without problems.”
“Yes and yes.”
“And you haven’t seen any zombies?”
“Not at all. I did nearly get mugged, but that was closer to here than it was to home.”
“Any weapons? Defences?”
“I dunno about defences, but I have my hatchet, various knives for cooking, a hammer, and it’s easy enough to make weapons out of anything. And there’s a hardware store a few minutes away.”
Rowan paused in thought briefly before responding.
Regan nodded and stood.
“I’ll just fill my bag with supplies, and then we’ll leave,” he said, walking through the aisles, starting to make a pile next to the door. Bread, milk, eggs, jam, bottled water, the essentials first, and then a few pieces of comfort; chocolate, juice, and a few packs of cigarettes.
“Cigarettes? Really?” Rowan asked.
“They calm me down,” Regan responded, “though they’re mainly for bartering. If it really is a zombie apocalypse, they’ll be valuable before long, and they don’t take up much space.” He finished packing and opened the door. “Ready?” he strode out the door and looked around. Rowan followed.
The walk to Regan’s took just over a minute. They encountered no one; the streets were just as quiet as they had been for the past two weeks. It was weird, Regan thought; it was hard to imagine them swarmed with zombies, but at the same time, it was extremely easy.
The two chatted idly on the way. It was surreal; the sun was shining, and they got along well, but there was an underlying layer of tension, of fear, the knowledge that it could all go wrong in any second; it already had, in fact – this was the aftermath of shit going spectacularly wrong.
Regan went to unlock the front door, only to find it open. He paused.
“What’s wrong?” Rowan asked.
“The door’s open.”
Regan walked in, slowly and quietly, hatchet in hand. Rowan followed cautiously.
It was in the kitchen, to the left at the end of the entranceway. Just one – one that they could see, at least. Regan stopped in his tracks, staring. It was male, and looked alive, in some aspects. His face was intact – like most of his body – but his eyes were dead, almost unfocussed. He was fully clothed, though his shirt was blood-soaked and torn on the side, revealing a gaping wound in his stomach. He turned toward the two, and Rowan took action, grabbing the hatchet out of Regan’s hands and cleaving it into the zombie’s head with a sickling thud. He fell to the floor as his legs collapsed under him.
“Holy shit!” Regan finally exclaimed.
“You have to act quickly,” Rowan insisted. “These things aren’t always slow. A lot of them move as quickly as we do. There’s no time for hesitation.” Regan nodded grimly.
“I understand.” Rowan handed him back the hatchet and he wiped it with a tea towel.
“So,” said Rowan. “Nice place.”
Regan turned and began to walk home. He intended to get home and stay home for a while. A long while. Muggers walking about in broad daylight probably meant that it wasn’t safe to be outside. New Lynn wasn’t exactly the safest suburb, but it was normally perfectly fine during the day.
“Society must have degraded a lot. The influenza thing must be serious,” he thought to himself. He passed the Shell petrol station a minute away from home, and paused. He’d need supplies eventually. The doors and windows were intact, but there were no signs of life, inside or out. He decided to come back later, when he really needed to, possibly armed.
Home was just as he left it; secure, safe, empty. He had given up on the idea of his family coming home. If they were alive and safe, they were the kind of people who would have the sense to stay safe, rather than trying to make a trip across town in these conditions. He tried not to think about the alternative.
He hadn’t heard from Ash since he left for Balmoral. Regan assumed the phone networks were overloaded, and had kept his phone off for the most part.
It was just over a week before he left the house again. Electricity was still running, though the television and radio still weren’t broadcasting. News sites were still reporting an influenza outbreak causing mass hysteria in Auckland, New Zealand, though there was plenty of speculation that it was a cover-up. For what, no one seemed to agree on. It ranged from natural disaster (governments covering up their terrible disaster plans, apparently) to a deranged dictator (“John Key gone power mad?” said some of the headlines) to the usual doomsday theorists (“New Zealand Government covering up the Rapture?”). It seemed the rest of the world was operating as normal, though there was literally no news whatsoever coming from the South Island, apart from the automated reports of earthquakes.
Regan strapped a hatchet to his belt and a bag to his back. In the bag was one bottle of water, a torch, and a jumper, just in case he couldn’t return home right away. He was just going down the road, but better safe than sorry.
The street was just as quiet as last time, though there was a weird, sickly smell in the air now.
Regan turned right and headed down to the Shell station. Once again, it was the same as last time; quiet, still. As he crossed the empty road and drew closer, he could see that the main doors were still intact. He walked up to them, expecting them to open, but they didn’t, even though the lights were on inside. Puzzled, he walked around the building, finding a side door. It was locked, and wouldn’t budge, even when he barged into it.
All of a sudden, a face popped around the corner. Rowan’s face. Regan stopped and took a step back in surprise. She opened the door.
“What’re you doing here?” she asked.
“I…” Regan fumbled in confusion. “I came for supplies. What the hell are you doing here?”
“I’m staying here. For now, at least,” she answered.
“I thought you were with family. What happened?”
Rowan fell silent.
“They… we got attacked.”
“Attacked? By who?” Regan was confused.
“What do you think?” she responded. Regan just looked at her blankly. “Wait, you don’t know?”
By morning Regan’s family still hadn’t come home. He spent a while thinking. He could go out and try to find them, or he could stay in, safe. He had no car, couldn’t reach them on the phone, thus assuming the worst, and he had more than enough food to last. Leaving meant putting himself at risk of infection; the horror stories he’d heard about swine flu were pretty bad, and he had no idea where his family were, let alone whether or not he could help them. Staying in was the best bet.
He spent the next few days the way he usually did; a lot of sleep, food, and reading. He worried about his family every now and then, but tried to keep his mind off of it.
It took three days before he started going stir-crazy. He needed to get out. He put on a jacket and shoes and headed out the door. It was quiet; the main road nearby seemed to be empty. He turned right out of his driveway, away from the centre of the suburb; he wanted to avoid people as much as possible. He headed down toward the local park; Ken Maunder park. It was close, spacious, and relatively quiet; and thus, safe.
The park sure seemed empty as he arrived. No signs of life on the field from the entrance, at least.
Regan began walking his usual route. Through the parking lot, mostly empty, cars seemingly abandoned, and along the front of the clubhouses, also deserted. There were signs of looting; broken windows, and the bar was missing the usual bottles of spirits. The air was eerily still, no sign of the usual birdlife. He breathed deeply, relishing the fresh air, all the better after spending days indoors. The sun shone brightly on his pale skin. He paused by the edge of the treeline, enjoying it all, and lit a cigarette.
“Oi! You alright?” a voice yelled from the trees.
“What?” Regan turned. “Uh, yeah, I guess, why?” A man in a hooded jumper stepped out from behind a tree. He stood rather tall, hood drawn over his face.
“Good, now empty your pockets,” he growled.
“What?” Regan was confused.
“You heard me. Phone, wallet, money, anything, just empty your pockets.”
“Fuck off!” Regan answered. The man took a step closer, taking a hand out of his pocket, revealing a short steak knife.
“What you say?” he asked, angrily. Regan paused and took another long drag before replying.
“I said: ‘fuck off’,” he asserted, smoke flowing out of his mouth. He began to cough uncontrollably, gasping for air.
“Shit man, what the fuck?” the mugger exclaimed. “You infected?”
Regan kept coughing.
“Fuck!” the man yelled, turning to run. Regan was bent, hands on knees, so didn’t see where he went. He stood up straight, looked at the cigarette, and swore.
“Fucking Pall Malls.”
It was mid-afternoon by the time the three got to New Lynn. The walk there was uneventful; the inner-city suburbs were a mix of panicked people and people calmly watching it all go on, but the further away they got from the city, the quieter and more normal everything seemed.
New Lynn itself was essentially the same as usual. The roads were slightly busier, and the supermarkets looked full, but aside from that, everything was okay.
“Right, I’m off home. See you later,” Regan said to Ash.
“Sure. Can you make your way back from here?” Ash turned to Rowan.
“Yeah, I think so,” she said.
So the three parted ways, walking off in three different directions. Regan got home to find it empty, a note left on the bench saying: “Spending the day in town. Be back for dinner.”
Rowan returned to her family’s house. They were all there, safe and fine.
Ash’s mother was out of town for the weekend. He knew this. His sister was with her father, probably in Balmoral, a suburb closer to town.
“Shit,” he muttered, and began to pack a bag.
Buses were still scheduled out of New Lynn. At least, the electronic signs said they were still scheduled. He waited for half an hour without seeing any before he gave up and started walking.
“Headed to Balmoral to check on Izzy,” he flicked a text through to Regan.
“Dude, wtf?” came the reply.
“It’ll be sweet. Should be fine. Far enough from town for there to be no flu or whatever.”
“K, keep safe.”
The walk would take about an hour and a half, through suburbs that should be as quiet as New Lynn itself. Ash wasn’t worried at all. There was no reason to be.
Everything was fine and normal right up to Sandringham Road. Then, things got quiet. There was hushed movement behind curtained windows. Few cars were on the road, headed toward the motorway. Ash kept on walking. He was less than half an hour away now.
He had texted his step-father before he left, but got no reply. Either the carrier’s servers were overloaded, or he hadn’t got the message, or he was busy; driving out of town or something. If either of them had been hurt, they would have let Ash know, he was sure of it.
He picked up his pace, anyway. Better safe than sorry.
He was walking down a quiet side-street when he saw a person; the first he’d seen for a good half hour. They were shuffling slowly along in the same direction as he was. Ash approached cautiously, keeping the influenza theory in mind. He called out when he was a few metres away.
The man turned. They had a blank stare on their face, and a huge gash on their right shoulder.
“Whoa, man, are you okay?” Ash asked, stepping forward as the man began to fall. Ash took his weight and tried to push him back onto his feet, getting the man’s arm over his shoulders. “There’s a fire station not far from here; they should be able to help. Doubt anyone in these houses is gonna come out with all the flu warnings.”
Ash began to drag the both of them along the street. The man slowly began to move his feet, as if he were trying to walk, but with all his weight on Ash it wasn’t working too well. Ash stopped walking.
“Do you wanna walk? Do you think you can?”
The man didn’t respond. Ash got out from under his arm and stood him up. He stayed standing.
“Can you walk?” Ash stepped back.
Suddenly, the man’s eyes focussed on Ash. He took a step forward.
“Good, good. Do you want help?”
The man lurched forward again, right up close to Ash now. Ash stepped back. The man took another step, gripping Ash’s shoulders. Ash struggled, wriggling, trying to escape his grip, but couldn’t. The man leaned in, mouth gaping.
“What the fuck?!” Ash exclaimed, still struggling to no avail. The man’s teeth latched onto Ash’s upper arm, and he yelled in pain, fist jerking out into the man’s gut in a kneejerk response. The man relinquished his grip momentarily, and Ash took the advantage and squirmed away from him, sprinting down the street.
He was blocks away before he turned around to check whether or not the man was following him. The streets were clear.
“Shit,” Ash hissed to himself, pulling up his sleeve to check the bite. Blood was dripping down his forearms. The wound itself was messy; the teeth had gone rather deep, right into the muscle, and the skin between them was red and puffy, flaking away from the flesh at the edges. “What the fuck? Fucking druggie bastard.”
He was only minutes away from his step-father’s house now, so he tried to push on, walking slowly, wincing in pain with every step. He made it only a few more metres before he began to feel light-headed, pausing.
“Shit,” he moaned in pain, leaning against a fence. “Just a few minutes…”
Ash slid to the ground to wait, to get his breath back, to push through the pain, perhaps stop some of the bleeding, just for a few minutes, only a few minutes.
His vision started to go a few seconds later. Within a minute, he was out cold. Another minute later, he was dead.
A loud, booming siren rang through the air.
“What the fuck is that?” Ash yelled over the noise.
“Ferry?” Regan suggested. The other people on the street looked just as confused. Cops were rushing down Queen Street towards the source of the sound. “Hey, what’s going on?” Regan asked one.
“No idea! Everything’s fine!” the officer yelled over his shoulder, not breaking his stride.
“How can he say that when he doesn’t even know what’s going on? What an ass,” said Ash.
“You want to go see what it is?” Regan asked.
“Sure, why not?”
Plenty of others had the same idea. Crowds of confused people were moving towards the waterfront; quickly at first, but slowing down as more and more people joined. Eventually, Regan and Ash could faintly make out someone yelling over a loudspeaker, straining to be heard over the crowd.
“Can you hear what they’re saying?” Ash asked.
“Not really; something about an evacuation,” Regan replied.
“Oh, shit, maybe it’s the volcanoes!” Ash yelped.
“Dude, seriously? Okay, if the volcanoes were about to go off, we’d have felt it.”
“Not necessarily! “ Ash protested.
“They’d need a quake to set them off, wouldn’t they?” Regan asked.
“Not if it’s just pressure building up inside the cones themselves. Then the quakes would be an aftereffect,” Ash explained.
“It’s not the volcanoes,” someone standing close by told them. “They’re saying something about a contagion? Some infection or something. Probably the flu again.”
“Why would they call an evacuation for the flu?” Ash questioned.
“Well, look how worked up everyone got about swine flu. And bird flu before that. Influenza seems to be getting worse and worse each year. Maybe this is a new strain,” Regan suggested.
“Ah, maybe. You wanna get out of here, then?” Ash asked.
“Yeah, might as well,” Regan replied.
The two pushed their way out of the crowd and headed towards the train station. They were stopped in their tracks by another crowd, larger than the one at the waterfront, all trying to get inside at once.
“Dude, there’s no way we’re getting in there, let alone getting a train home,” said Ash.
“Bus?” Regan suggested.
“Roads will be packed. Shit. What now?”
“We walk, I guess. It shouldn’t really take that long.”
“What about your leg?” Ash asked.
“We don’t really have any other choice, really.”
“Fair enough. Let’s get, then.”
They started to push their way up Queen Street, working against the flow of the crowd. There were a few others who seemed to be thinking along the same lines; choosing to walk to wherever they wanted to get to, rather than get stuck on public transport.
“Whoa, what the fuck?!” Regan yelled, pointing. There was a guy sitting on the ground, easily recognisable as one of the homeless that regularly lined Queen Street. He was bleeding profusely from a wound on his lower arm.
“What the shit happened to him?” Ash wondered aloud.
“Dunno, but we should get out of here before shit turns nasty.”
“Agreed,” Ash said heartily.
The further they got up Queen Street, the easier it was to walk. The crowds thinned, though they could hear yelling and screaming coming from behind them.
“Guess people are getting crushed or something,” Ash suggested. “Thank fuck we got out of there.”
“Yeah,” agreed Regan.
There seemed to be more injured people on the streets; and not just homeless now. People slumped against walls and storefronts, bleeding from various gashes.
“How the hell did they get those?” Regan asked, nearly yelling, both of them walking as fast as they could.
“I don’t know! They don’t look like cuts from glass or anything, that’s for sure,” said Ash, confused. “Should we stop and help or something?”
“Dude, no! If we’re being told to get the hell out of here, we should. Let the cops deal with it,” Regan insisted, keeping his pace up.
“Ah, fair enough, I guess,” Ash followed along, unsure.
As they passed Aotea Square, they saw a group of people crowded together, yelling.
“Hey, maybe they know what’s going on here! We should go see what they’re yelling about,” Ash suggested.
“No, man! We need to get back to New Lynn. Get out of town. Do what they’re suggesting. They’re our best source of information. Besides, Aotea’s been full of the leftovers of Occupy Auckland, the nuttier, conspiracy-theorist ones. They’re not going to be any help in this. They’re probably babbling on about how this is all a plot to steal our money or something. Let’s just keep going,” Regan explained.
“Okay, good point. Let’s hurry,” Ash was worried about the apparent growing amount of injured people around the place.
“You guys are headed to New Lynn?” A voice came from behind them.
“Yeah, why?” Ash asked, turning. It was a girl, about the same as he and Regan were.
“I’m from out of town. Staying with family in New Lynn. Figured busses and trains wouldn’t work, but I don’t know the city enough to get back there on my own. Can I tag along?” she asked.
Ash looked to Regan.
“Eh, of course, as long as we keep moving,” he said.
“Thanks!” the girl exclaimed. “I’m Rowan, by the way.”
“Regan. I would say nice to meet you, but look at this shit.”
The three looked back down Queen Street towards the harbour. People’s screams still drifted up, and the crowd was visible from where they were. It was a mess. There seemed to be an unreasonable amount of injured people; some sitting or lying, others walking about.
“Wow, guys,” said Rowan. “Your cops up here really suck.”