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  Table of contents Issue Seventeen BEDLAM DAYS

Serial Novel Part 5




he two of them assembled a rucksack of provisions consisting of a handwritten list of all the residents, powerpoints and a hastily drawn up notebook consisting of what they were going to say during the meeting. After that, they followed up with their own basics: a fresh flask of coffee and a donated pack of cigarettes from Glenda before they said goodbye. Nick had decided it was better for them to go round on foot and be a visible presence and just hope that no creatures had made it through the night. As they walked out onto the street, Mike was struck again by the empty it was. It’s already over; he thought and drew the ruck-sack closer on his shoulder.

Of the three main shops, the shutters were down on every one. On each, a kid had taken the time to daub the same message over the sheet metal. As they looked around, neither of them could see any other damage, barring a few overturned trash cans. They tried a few doors but got no response and decided to put a few posters up with the time of the meeting below. By the time they climbed into the cruiser to head over to Glenda’s, Mike was surprised to see it was only an hour until the meeting. As they pulled away, he looked back to the empty street and saw the graffiti message in clear, bold letters.

It's over!!!!!

“I haven’t found a whole lot more other than what we looked at this morning. I read a few case studies about electrocution but without the internet, the information’s pretty limited. You kind of forget how reliant you are on it for everyday stuff, don’t you?” Glenda looked up to see Mike looking away and Nick’s blank expression. “Or not.”

“I was always more of a paper and pen man, myself,” Nick said and smiled.

“My…my ex-wife was always more the one for the websites and the rest of it,” Mike said, immediately wishing he hadn’t opened his mouth.

“It can get in the way of relationships,” Glenda said, looking him over. It wasn’t a sympathetic glance but an understanding one. He wondered if she suffered the same sort of thing.

“On the plus side,” Mike stumbled on, “she met her husband on it,” and killed the conversation dead. He desperately tried to remember the real matter they should have been discussing.

“How much of a knock on effect do you think this will have everywhere, not having the internet running?” he asked and saw both of them react almost too quickly at the chance of changing topics.

“The average person,” Glenda said, smiling gently to both of them, “is now totally locked into the internet for their life. Even if you ignore the social stuff, think about it; on-line banking, bills, ID. So everyone, sorry most people, order and structure is in their laptop, it’s the running of their lives, almost. Now, if you literally pull the plug on that, the upheaval is going to be massive.” She raised her eyebrows and waited for a response.

“But we’re not talking about going back to the Dark Age’s mind-set, are we?” Mike said, frowning. Everything had happened so fast, he had not thought about the world at all, only his tiny fraction of it.

“Well, look at it this way; if you did it over a number of years, then no. If you slowly filtered everything out into an ordered pattern of alternatives, it would probably hold, after massive restructuring and social engineering. But to do it overnight, in a matter of hours…” She looked to them both and then tugged her head back towards the far room.

“Your friend Jules might have a point about chaos. And we’re talking about our lives, right? What about governments, flight scheduling, nuclear weapons? For all we know, a jolt like this could have shaken something loose already.” She caught herself and shook her head. “Christ, I’m starting to sound like him, aren’t I?”

“Maybe pen and paper looks a good bet, after all,” Nick said thoughtfully, and Mike couldn’t decide if he was joking or not.

“Education, communication, everything’s changed in the last day, the whole kit and caboodle.” She saw Mike looking at her and frowned.

“Sorry, I’ve just never heard anyone actually say ‘the whole kit and caboodle,’ before.” He looked sheepish as she glanced down to her watch.

“If that’s the strangest thing you hear today, we’ve got away lightly,” she said and tilted her wrist to show them the meeting was due to begin in an hour. “Can I catch a ride with you guys in fifteen minutes?”

“Sure,” Nick said, his eyes glazed slightly from all the information that had just been thrown into the air. “We should probably think about conserving petrol pretty soon anyway.”

“Can I ask you something, Mike?” Nick said as the two of them sat in the cruiser, waiting for Glenda to finish up her paperwork. Mike noticed he was looking straight-ahead.

“Yes, it was true,” he said and fought the urge to sigh. When he had told his old buddies in the city what had happened, most of them burst out laughing, slapping him on the back for the punch-line. Mike always counted those seconds that he sat stony faced, waiting for the penny to drop that he was serious.

“I don’t even know how that would work,” Nick went on, scratching his ear, the way he did when he was puzzling over something in the station house.

“Neither did I. Apparently that was part of the problem. At least she didn’t end up with Jules,” he added and was relieved to see his partner smiling.

“I’m gay,” Nick said after a few seconds. “McKenzie might dredge it up at the meeting. Some people know about it, most don’t. Is that going to be a problem?” He asked the question with steel and Mike got the idea he had posed the same question a few other people in his life before now.

“It wouldn’t have been a problem before all this happened. Now, I can’t think of anything I could be worried about less.” He looked over and nodded to Nick, who returned the gestured. And like that it was done.

“After this morning, this meeting could turn out to be an anti-climax,” Mike said quietly and watched as Nick burst into laughter. He followed, feeling the momentary tension slip away. It subsided and Glenda stepped out of the building, waving.

“I wish that were true, partner, but I don’t think it will be,” Nick said, turning the ignition key and smiling ruefully out into the fields.


The three of them set out chairs in the small shack that used to be the floor of a cheese factory until it had closed down the year before. As they put out the old plastic chairs from the canteen, Mike tried his mobile one last time and got nothing. For a moment he let himself think about the good times they had together; the day they camped and made love with the rain around them; the way she would straighten his tie and cross her eyes in exasperation. In amongst all the rest of it, they had been allowed to be happy for a short period of time, before life took over. Mike couldn’t believe that she was dead but knew, in his heart of hearts, he wouldn’t go looking for her after this, if there was anything after this. Mike couldn’t imagine her thinking of him at this time and that was okay. It wasn’t grief he was feeling, he realised, but sadness. Sadness from what had happened to them before that last day, the little tragedies that had killed them to each other before the catastrophic event. Numbness, at what he had become during their time together and afterwards. How many other people were dead and still breathing before daybreak? He snapped the last chair in its place and looked up. Everything was in place, for better or worse.

Nick took the front of the building with Glenda and Mike took the side. It was agreed that Nick should be the familiar face, leaving Mike to concentrate on any dangers that might occur around the building. Though an odd sensation of calm had settled around the town, it was hard to tell if it was shock, resignation, or even hope. Mike understood that people, on a basic level, were resilient but he couldn’t decide if the nature of what had happened, the brutality and the newness of it, had left the town, and the world, shell-shocked. After the various terror attacks, Mike had imagined the world, if nothing else, would have been prepared for anything. Something they could not even identify, something as visceral as a virus with no name that could literally tear people to pieces, was not something on the horizon. It was one step away from aliens, which he was pretty god damned sure, would be on someone’s agenda to bring up over the course of the next few hours.

People arrived a few minutes before schedule. The first group was the Carson’s; Ted, the father, holding his wife’s hand. Both of them looked hollowed eyed and finished somehow. They had come from the side-street and walked towards Mike.

“Are you going to tell us what’s been happening?” the man asked. He had an authority that came from loving his wife rather than any sort of social standing and Mike looked him square in the eye.

“We’re going to discuss what we know for sure and what anyone else would like to tell us,” Mike said. The man nodded and led his wife forward, looking neither assured nor frightened. The fact that Mike had his hand by his pistol didn’t even register with them; with a flicker of horror, Mike realised that was what they had been expecting.

The majority of people came through the front entrance and Mike heard the low rumblings of each party as they arrived. The church group bustled in, their voices already slightly too high and ready to state their cause at a moment’s notice. The local rag-tag bunch from the only bar in town hustled in, almost rowdily but quietened down. Not, Mike realised, so much out of respect for Nick’s authority, but the few well chosen words Glenda put to them. More came in, families, old people on their own, the shop owners. He wondered how many of them were carrying weapons. The three of them had discussed the situation but none of them could justify a reason why someone wouldn’t be packing given the current climate. Just when Mike thought it sounded about full, Sarah Paxton walked up the road, holding her daughter’s hand.

“Looks like a fair turnout,” she said and tried to smile. Mike tried to do the same and he was relieved to see her daughter was sleeping. “Everyone wants to have their say, I guess.”

“Or listen, hopefully,” Mike said and ushered her round the side of the building. Nick was at the front with Glenda, picking through the notes they had complied that morning.

“Has there been anymore news?” she asked quietly, as they reached the front door. Mike was taken aback by the volume of people who had turned up; it was almost full to the rafters.

“The doctor’s had a chance to look at a few things, but we’re still piecing things together as we go,” he said and guided her to a seat near the back. She looked up as she sat.

“Thanks for being honest,” she said and took a moment to look around at the rest of the crowd. Mike picked up on the feeling he saw in her eyes; that she was ready to explode. “Don’t repeat it to anyone else here, though.”

“Roger that,” he said, forgetting to be embarrassed in the face of her logical thinking and the blind panic his words would have brought out in anyone else in the building.

As he stepped back outside, Mike saw a long black car pull up and settle by the door. Until that moment he had not noticed just how many people had been prudent and walked to the building; their fear of attack was obviously weighed by their need for a future escape route. Mike stood back and was not surprised for one moment when Julian McKenzie stepped out of the car. What did surprise him was when his driver stepped around to the far door and seemed to wrestle with some contraption. McKenzie waited patiently, another thing that struck Mike as odd, and all his worst suspicions were confirmed as the sight of Jules, including wheelchair, came into view. He stopped by the side of the driver and flashed the now familiar smug grin of petty triumph towards Mike. The two of them sauntered by without a word.

Mike settled back to his position by the front door, turning round long enough to see Nick register his surprise at the appearance at Jules, and Glenda suddenly storming off the stage and down to where McKenzie and crew sat. She gesticulated with Jules but seemed to have no effect. To her credit, she realised her arguing with a perceived cripple may not be a good first impression and edged back to the front where she whispered something into Nick’s ear. Mike broke away for a second to look round the gathering and noticed straight away how some seemed to have gravitated to where McKenzie was sitting, while other seemed to edge away, repelled, keeping their distance. It’s broken apart before it’s even begun, he thought anxiously and turned back to the open road, keeping one ear open as Nick cleared his throat.


“I’m here to tell you what we know so far,” Nick said, and Mike was relieved to hear that his voice carried without too much trouble. “I want to tell you the events as we can best follow them and then outline some precautionary measures. After that, anyone who wants to raise a point on the floor will be most welcome.”

Mike stood, listening to Nick speak and was impressed by the slow, drawling power of his voice. It silenced the restless crowd for one thing, which was no mean feat, and as he hit his stride, Mike was as taken by what the man was saying, as if he too were hearing it for the first time. There were gasps as the names of the dead were read out, and a collective turn of heads as the crowds looked for, and failed to find, the extended families in question. One or two explained they were staying at home and that they would pass on any information and also condolences when the meeting was over. This led to a spontaneous round of applause which warmed Mike’s heart as much as it surprised him. He looked round briefly and felt his chest freeze when he realised it was McKenzie and Jules who had instigated it. The two of them were now receiving hearty back-slaps and warm glances from others. Nick and Glenda looked disheartened but hid it well, he hoped. The applause subsided, but as many eyes were now on McKenzie as the chief, and Mike realised they had played their first card and come out on top.

The crowd was doing okay until the suggestion of the internet virus came to light. Glenda took the floor and began by asking for a show of hands for who had the internet at home. There were only one or two they had not factored in for and Mike breathed a little easier. After that, Glenda went on to explain the basic principles behind the facts, which was greeted by open murmurings. She concluded by warning against any further internet use and then Nick joined her as they read out the brief guidelines they had drafted.

“The floor is open,” Nick said and took a step back, bracing himself for what came next. The shop owner, Tom McCloud, put his hand up.

“What about the TV reception?” He asked. The entire floor went quiet and then someone, somewhere, tried to cover up a snort of laughter. It didn’t work out. Within moments there were great gales of laughter, even as the hapless shop-keeper looked round, bemused and raised his palms upwards, as if asking the heavens for help.

“What? I had my series recorded and wanted to watch them while my shop was closed up,” he said, looking genuinely surprised, not quite believing everyone else did not have the same concerns.

“We don’t know about power yet, Tom. Is everyone’s sets out of commission, too?” Nick added and whether intentionally or not, got another big laugh. People threw their hands up, someone commented on a show that brought fresh chuckles. For a moment, Mike thought, it felt like real life again.

The next few questions were more considered but still on a practical, almost mundane, level. Mike surveyed the group and monitored which were getting restless and who were getting flat out angry. Sure enough, his own marker, the church group, seemed to make a joint declaration and their leader, the sharp looking woman called Dater- who had shouted from the dark hours before- stood up, as if propelled by their collective impatience.

“People aren’t asking why, are they?” she said as a kind of opening gambit. “This moment has struck out and purged people from the earth and we have to ask ourselves, why? Why is this disease spreading? Why is this plague taking hold of our young? Why has the world suddenly rose up and destroyed the most pernicious, venal tool of the last one hundred years? Why? Why? Why?”

Mike watched as she spoke and saw the blood rise up into her skin. She had begun the speech as a pallid, petit old woman, and had turned into a seething red, rage of righteous anger within minutes. A chill ran over Mike and he thought how similar she must have looked to the victims as the virus charged through them, turning them into the ink-eyed creatures. He was worried about the effect she was having on the people around her; some were practically swaying in agreement but Mike had factored in for that. What concerned him were other, seemingly level headed folk, who appeared to be nodding in agreement with her. What freaked out Mike most of all though, was how much she seemed to believe in it herself.

“This is God’s wrath. You mark me on this. He has seen all that is corrupt, puerile, lazy and filthy in this world and has acted in this moment to smite it down with all His generous might. He has allowed others a reprieve and I hope those among you who were given this gift will see right to repent before the next wave strikes you down. Television,” she spat, looking directly over to Tom McCloud, “Mobile phones, all the technology that has…”

That is enough!” thundered a voice and Mike, spun round to see it was Nick speaking. It was the first time he’d heard his partner’s voice in anger.

“That is exactly the kind of scare-mongering we are seeking to avoid here, Mrs. Dater. You are welcome to you beliefs, but to spread rumours and cast aspersions on other people in this town is not acceptable. Who else wants to speak?”

The point had been made and it was as appreciated as it was damaging; the church group almost huddled together like some wounded animal, and continued to whisper even as other people spoke. Other folks sympathised with the woman who, upon being silenced, immediately reverted to the role of wronged, delicate parishioner. Many people stamped their feet, which Mike took as a sign of agreement with Nick, but in the back of his head, he wished they had picked some other form of expressing their gratitude. The low thrum sounded wrong and almost kept a bullying tone that generated more sympathy for the clearly deluded woman. He looked over and saw McKenzie smiling, while Jules scanned the room, as if already earmarking new followers in his latest pursuit.

“What are we going to do about the bridge?” a woman, Mike remembered was called Tina something, asked, once things had calmed down. She was a photographer and only stayed in the town for half the year when not on assignments. “Are we going to close it or keep it open? I have to get into the city to check on friends.”

Mike winced. Even though she had not meant to make things worse, the question could not have been more problematic if she’d tried. Immediately, voices piped up, one was shouting over the other, even as the next hollered and clamoured to be heard above the din. He stepped forward, seeing some people shaping up to go toe to toe and nose to nose, when again Nick’s voice rang out and calmed the situation down. The people returned to their seats and simmered, but the damage was already done. Finally someone, Mike could not see who, asked the question and blew the whole thing apart.

“So what’s it to be, Chief? Are we going to barricade the bridge or not?”

Rather than wait for Nick’s answer, which of course had to urge for time and caution, the crowd burst into life, clearly divided into factions. Mike looked around the now powder-keg of a room. The camps fell brutally in two: those who wanted to close out any city people from coming in and those who wanted to get out and escape to what was left of the city. But Mike knew it was not as simple as that. Were the locals protecting their own or keeping intruders out? Did this whole contagion start in the city or were those claiming to help absent friends fleeing because they knew the seed had been set right here, in their own back yard, that they knew something the born and bred folks did not? Mike looked around and saw lines in the sand had already been drawn. Amongst the melee, Nick raised his voice and then his hands and, with the help of Glenda’s well placed stare, the hall fell back into a half settled state.

“We’ll reconvene tomorrow and each day hence to keep you updated. If no one else has anything say, we’ll finish for today.” Nick looked up and Mike recognised it as a smart move, to finish before everyone started ripping up with chairs. If the noise had been just a little louder, it might have worked, but for once, Mike thought, Nick’s authority worked against him. It was subdued enough for Julian McKenzie to simply raise his hand and say his name, bringing almost every set of eyes over to him as he did.


“I would like to speak, but before I do, I would like to thank everyone here today for airing their views and allowing each and every one of you the right to express their rights and ask their questions.” He edged forward just enough to be on the outer edges of the centre, positioned perfectly for everyone to see a glimpse of him, but not all.

“I think, even though we tried as hard as we could, we’ve raised as many questions as answered today. I think we need to know more and I think we need to act as if our time is limited. Now, I know a sickness is amongst us and I know the world has changed in a way we are still struggling to understand. But this world, as it is, will not wait for us, and we have to make decisions that are going to be immediate and are final. You question the city and the malevolence that comes from it, the same as I do. You question those who have been picked and those who are to be ravaged next, the same as I do. We have to be immediate and we have to be conclusive.”

Mike felt his chest tighten, even as he followed each word. To his own disgust, he realised he was as rapt as everyone else, listening to the man. He looked up and saw Nick shake his head, as if he had already come to a decision in his mind. Glenda stood next to him, unable to look away but slowly linking her arm around Nick’s, as if she too had already seen the outcome of what was unfurling around them.

“I lodge for a town council to be established immediately, with me as chair, and a mandate for answers to be established immediately. I will acknowledge all on my board and will not isolate any who seek to stay and fight for the town itself. I don’t doubt hard questions will be made and I accept harsh choices will have to be taken and accepted.”

The cool skill he manipulated the crowd left Mike’s jaw hanging open. In one swooping gesture he had managed to gain the support of the dyed-in-the-wool locals with his praising of the bravery of the community and already castigated and frozen out Tina, casting her as the outsider and marking her as a threat without saying a single word against her directly.

“But this is the world as we live in it today. I also have a second in the man to my right, a technological expert who is best suited, at this time, to investigate the situation and offer solutions to the problem, the epidemic crisis, we now have at hand. The town we know is dead and we must install a martial climate in order to see the remnants survive and the future flourish. It means we must be swift and I would thank you to think on what I’ve said in time for tomorrow’s meeting. Thank you.”

Mike waited for the reaction. Everything had shifted and it had now fallen on McKenzie to be the one to bring proceedings to a close and thus be seen as the one in control, in power. A smattering of applause trickled around the room and even as McKenzie mimicked modesty, that applause began to swell, filling the rafters. Many people didn’t agree and left swiftly, the church group, clearly siding with McKenzie, eyeballing every one of them. McKenzie had somehow managed to commandeer the will of the people who were now in his sway. It was as if, already, their plans were hatching in the glances they exchanged around the room and the small gestures they made in and around the energetic clapping. McKenzie left, his driver wheeling Jules behind him. Mike shook his head. Even that movement, he was sure, had been calculated to reassure the masses that the crackpot was under his control. Mike was surprised he hadn’t thrown a leash around Jules’ neck and teased him out.

The last of the people trooped out; seemingly full of strength now at the reassurances they had been offered. Mike acknowledged each of them until the room thinned out. Glenda and Nick spoke in the corner, while Tina and Tom McCloud spoke to each other. He glanced around and saw Sarah sitting still, her daughter miraculously still asleep.

“Well, it’s started, I guess,” she said and rose up out of the chair. He realised that by waiting until now she, like McCloud and Tina, had made their choice.

“I’m not sure I believe what I just saw,” he said, looking around as if the words of the man’s speech were still echoing close by.

“You didn’t grow up here, Sheriff.” She said and shifted her daughter in her arms. “I was wondering if you could patrol around my place when you drive around tonight? McKenzie was looking over in a way that was almost presidential. ” She rolled her eyes to make light of it, but he could detect real concern there.

“Of course I will. The radio’s on all night, too if you want to call direct.” He nodded and the thought of McKenzie’s leering made his cheeks flush.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “I would offer to help, but I think this one needs to get home before she wakes up.”

“Of course,” Mike said and watched her go. He was relieved to see she had driven and would be able to get home safely.

As the car reared up, he thought about Sarah and how her prettiness must have left her pigeon-holed in the past. From the times he had spoken to her, she was clearly an intelligent, independent woman, even though the mugs at the café would only ever see her as one thing. But that was in the old world. It was now that worried him. He thought about what she had said, about McKenzie and about how each day, twisted men talked about new worlds and fresh starts. He thought about how someone like Sarah would fit into that new world view and what choices she would be given inside it. He felt his hand settle over his pistol and got the idea she was more in danger from something other than the virus.

“I feel like we just got ambushed,” Glenda said as she stepped down to start putting away the chairs. Mike walked back and glanced over to Tom McCloud and Tina, worried about revealing too much, but Glenda shook him away.

“Tina’s been my best friend for the last ten years and Tom here is the rock every man, woman and child here leans against, right Tom?” She looked over and got a wink from the old man for her troubles. It was a world away from McKenzie’s ‘presidential’ staring though. It was the expression of a person with warmth in his heart.

“At least you didn’t just get a target painted on your back,” Tina said, hoisting another chair to one side. In the brief time they had been here, there was a surprising amount of mess on the floor. Mike began moving the chairs to one side and Nick began to sweep.

“Has to be spick and span for the meeting tomorrow. I don’t want Mrs. Dater accusing us of sloth on top of everything else,” he said, beginning a long, steady brushstroke.

“Well, if we were ever in any doubt about what was going to happen, that just about nailed it for us,” Glenda muttered. Her eyes were blazing and Mike was sure if there had been an outbreak of fighting, she would have landed the most blows.

“It’s as we expected,” Nick said, clearly trying to placate her. “We have to stick with the facts and hope everyone else has the good sense to ignore what’s going on around them.” He pooled a collection of junk into the centre which Tom scooped up deftly and emptied into a bin bag.

“That’s just not going to happen, Nick and you know it,” Glenda said, looking around to each of them. “This isn’t a time for ‘slow and steady wins the race,’ Nicky. All that stuff about selecting and isolating and acting? McKenzie’s already got a plan installed in his head and he’s going to manipulate all the people he can to set it in motion. We can’t afford to wait for people to be courageous. If he has a plan, we need one too.”

“I agree, Glenda but we have to give the town a chance,” he answered, still sweeping. “We have to give everyone options and then if it’s tilting the wrong way we’ll act on our own accord.”

“We should think about that plan sooner rather than later, though, Chief,” Mike said suddenly. Nick and Glenda both stopped and looked his way. “I was watching them as he was talking and…I think we lost a lot just on the strength of today, boss. By tomorrow, if nothing else is righted, I can’t see we’ve got anything to swing it back in our favour, whereas he’s got everything.”

“Everything?” Nick asked, stopping his sweeping and leaning down on the broom.

“You’re worried about telling the truth, Nick. He’s just interested in telling people what they want to hear.” Mike watched as Nick opened his mouth to speak and then came up short, knowing he was boxed in. This gave Mike no pleasure, but it needed to be done. He saw Glenda’s face, the sorrow on it, but a kind of relief too, that the older man, the good man, had finally been shown the hard facts of the situation.

“It reminds me of that fella back in Germany,” Tom McCloud said, out of nowhere. “He went on telling people what they wanted to hear and got so fat on what he was feeding them, no one took the time out to realise he was crazy. That was the show I wanted to watch; history shows and the like.”

All of them stopped and thought for a moment about what the old man had said. Mike was about to agree when Tom cleared his throat again. Nick looked briefly over to Mike and then back to Tom. Everyone waited for what he had to say next. Mike noticed Tina’s face paled a little as he opened his mouth.

“You should know Mrs. Bellamy, the old dear who is looking after the bereaved folk, is hiding one of them.” He swallowed hard and his eyes fogged. Mike took a moment to digest what had just been said and felt a shiver race through his body as he understood.

“One of the creatures?” Mike heard how small his voice sounded. I sound like a kid, he realised, and suddenly felt embarrassed.

“The ink-eyed folk, that’s right, whatever you want to call them. She keeps it up in the attic and thinks no one knows, but I saw it in the window right around dawn today. Strange sight, seeing it, all black against the white house, the dawn sky. Looked like a smudge against the earth to me, once I started thinking about it.” He blinked and Mike understood why the old man was welling up; it was out of shame. Shame for telling tales and shame for whatever the creature was before all this happened.

“Tom…” Tina began to say but the old man waved her away.

“Tina’s the only other person I told about it. We made a pact but I think now’s the time to break it. The old dear’s keeping it alive and doing her best to hide it, but she’s not doing enough.” He folded his arms across his chest, declaring himself finished.

“If they’re still alive almost twenty-four hours after infection…” Glenda said, and then her voice trailed off.

“Or incubation,” Tom piped up, looking surprised at having come out of his silence so quickly after confessing the secret. “The way you tell it, it sounds to me like something gets inside these poor children and lies down inside them until it gets restless and looks to break out.” He stared hard at Glenda but she didn’t look away. Mike could see in her eyes that she was spinning with calculations and desperate to consult her notebook.

“I hadn’t thought of that angle,” she said at last. He looked over to Nick, who still seemed to be catching up with events. Mike was worried; he was always the one who seemed to be out in front and waiting for others to catch up, rather than the other way round.

“Why did you tell us, Tom?” Nick asked at last. All eyes moved over to the old man, who suddenly looked very, very tired.

“Because of what I heard in this place today. I get the feeling if you don’t go out to her place and others get wind of it, something like a witch hunt might start up. I don’t wish that on anyone, but especially not on that family.” He wasn’t looking at anyone other than Nick. Mike waited for someone to ask the question and realised he was probably the only one who didn’t know.

“How old is she?” he asked, again catching the childlike trembling that had started to creep into his voice in the last few minutes. He wondered why it had started now, even though a part of him already knew the answer: because this whole thing was just the start and not the end of something bigger, something worse.

“Six years old,” Nick said and Mike suddenly understood his partner hadn’t been slow to catch up at all, but had been ahead of the game the whole time.


Glenda stood with the two of them as Tom and Tina finished tidying the room. It had immediately been agreed that they would go out to the property, but they were caught in an argument about how to do it, now that all eyes were on them. Mike felt a sudden moment of clarity when Glenda pointed out that the meeting had marked them out as being on one side of the situation. Cards had been played and the tactics had begun as soon as people had stepped out of the door. Mike had the feeling they were no longer the ones in control, but pieces in a bigger game.

“You have to stay here and work, otherwise the dynamic shifts too broadly, Glenda,” Nick said. His face was pale and the age of the little girl seemed to still be echoing off the rafters and in the air somehow. “If people stop seeing the law and start seeing us as some sort of vigilante group, it just gives McKenzie more rope to hang us with.”

“But I need to see her,” Glenda protested and made no attempt to hide the desperation in her voice.

“We’ll bring her back,” Mike interjected.

“If you can,” she snapped, but at the same time seemed to relent a little.

“We won’t do anything but try to make sure things are secure,” Nick said. He frowned, hearing the weakness in his own words, the uncertainty. “We’re not going to execute a six year old girl,” he added suddenly, and the harsh truth of the statement made them stop in their tracks.

“Even if you think that’s the best thing for her?” Glenda asked and her voice was so gentle, it was almost beautiful.

“We’ll quarantine her on medical grounds if the issue is raised. You need to examine,” Nick went on. There was new steel to his voice that said the subject was no longer open to debate.

“You have to keep her alive,” Glenda said, a certain amount of relief spreading across her face, now that the decision had been agreed upon. “We need to know how she stayed alive for so long.”

“We’ll do everything we can,” Mike said, and the three of them stepped away, the issue resolved.

“Jesus wept,” Mike said as they sat in the cruiser and thought about heading out. He was mindful of how it was a little girl they were discussing but he felt the need to air his thoughts, otherwise he had the distinct idea he would lose it at any second.

“It’s a distinct possibility,” Nick replied but neither of them smiled. “We don’t know anything yet,” Nick said and turned the ignition. It started on the second attempt.” He looked out to the road and drove slowly down the hill.

“We don’t know anything, period,” Mike said glumly and checked the petrol gauge.

“We’ll need to think about fuel before too long as well, you know.”

“I think we should siphon off from both our cars into this one and go from there. Petrol station over the hill could have been ransacked already.” As they reached the edge of town, they both noted that the streets were empty again.

“Folks have gone back to their homes. Do you they’re hiding or barricading themselves in?” Nick asked. Mike looked around, realising the old man was trying to calm him down.

“Could be they’re all writing their speeches for tomorrow’s meeting,” he said and saw Nick’s face break into a smile. The tension of the last few minutes had dissipated, for a while at least.

“Lord help us. You want to get up there on stage tomorrow? I felt like a prize horse’s ass up there today.” They swung the cruiser onto the long road that led to the Bellamy’s. Mike looked round and felt genuinely surprised. He narrowed his eyes, trying to decide if Nick was playing tricks, and realised he wasn’t.

“Trust me, partner, if you weren’t up there today, there would have been blood on the walls, believe you me. You keep the reins, Chief, and I’ll keep the door.” He looked over and saw the smile hover for a second before it slipped away as they arrived at the house.

“I was godfather at her christening,” he said, looking straight ahead. Before Mike had a chance to say anything, Nick had cut the engine and had forced himself out of the door.


“Penny,” Nick said gently and looked the old woman straight in the eye.

“Nicky,” she said, and there was a warmth in her voice that wasn’t matched in her features. She looked over briefly to Mike, nodded and went back to Nick.

“We were told about-” Nick went on and was cut off by the old woman as she raised her hand.

“You’re too late,” she said, and all the hard focus in her broke with those words. Her arms clenched and she tried to speak. Nothing but anguished, choked, sobs came out. Her arms tightened and her hands balled up into fists, as if she was at war with herself. All she could do was stand far enough back to let them step inside.

“In the attic?” Nick said as gently as he could. She nodded. Without another word, the two took the stairs, faintly aware of people in another room, not speaking but with enough tension and grief in them to fill the spaces in between.

“Do you want me to go in first?” Mike said as they reached the door. Even though there was no apparent threat, both of them had drawn their weapons. Nick shook his head and twisted the attic door open.

What they saw on the bare floor was a tiny, tragic smudge on the floorboards. She looked for all the world like a forgotten dark doll that had fallen out of a crate come moving day. Mike was aware of Nick trying to move forward but being unable to make himself. Instead, Mike stepped over, leaving the prone man at the door, as if he were keeping watch.

Mike looked her over briefly and then removed his thick coat and wrapped it around the body, mindful to keep the small, fragile, corrupted face under the collar. He walked back to the door and looked up to the stricken face of his partner. Unable to guide him with his body, Mike looked him straight in the eye.

“We have to go now, Nick,” was all he said, and waited until his partner dumbly followed the order. At the foot of the stairs the woman looked back up to them. She had stopped twitching and was now frozen in place. Mike didn’t move for a moment, aware that she was waiting to say something.

“Sleeping pills. I poured them down her while…she was asleep. It was me that did it and no one else.” Mike nodded, knowing it was a lie, that whatever her state, the child would have been thrashing about and would have been pinned down.

“We knew people had seen her, Nicky,” she went on. “If the folks with McKenzie had found out…they would have burned her, Nicky, that or something else terrible. She’d already suffered enough with whatever it was, to suffer any more.”

“We’ll see to it, Mrs. Bellamy,” Mike said and edged back just enough to nudge Nick out in front. The one thing he didn’t want to do was walk down to face her, carrying her granddaughter close enough to touch. Sure enough Nick made it to the last step and enveloped the woman in a hug. Mike slipped by and out to the car.

“This is how it starts,” Nick said after a few minutes. Mike was driving and Nick’s hands had only just stopped shaking. At first Mike had put it down to shock and fear but now wondered if what was left was rage, pure and simple.

“He did enough to make Penny do that just by what he was implying, Mike. At just the idea of what was to come. What’s it going to like tomorrow, in a week’s time?” He looked over and his eyes were burning, as close to wild as Mike had ever seen them.

“We’ll have to start tonight about what we want to do in the meeting tomorrow,” Mike said, trying to steer things back to words and away from actions. He was the calming influence now, the roles reversed from a half hour before.

“We’ll need more than that, too,” Nick said, looking around the empty streets and over to the make-shift hospital where Jules had been until today. “We’ll need a plan B for when it all goes wrong.”


After they’d returned to the hall and told the other three the news, everyone went their separate ways. Glenda went back to the surgery to conduct the autopsy, while Tom and Tina went back to their houses, ‘if they’re still standing’, Tina said, without a smile. Mike and Nick staggered back to the station house and agreed to take shifts guarding the building while the other went home and slept. Mike took the first shift, wanting Nick to sleep off the fatigue and mental stress of the last few hours. He agreed, reluctantly, and shuffled off, leaving Mike to his own devices for exactly three hours. He set the radio by the front desk and heated the last few dregs of the coffee flask.

The piece of paper sat blank before him, as it had for the thirty minutes prior. At first he had resolved to make himself a will and then realised he had so little to leave behind it was barely worth the paper it was almost written on. His sole possession of any worth, his comic collection, was boxed in a storage unit in the city and either secured or up in flames by now. Says something, when real life is more far out than the comic books, he thought as stubbed the lead onto the paper and snapped it.

Next, he thought about writing a letter to his ex-wife, trying to explain how he felt and to hold his hands up to any part of blame for what went wrong. He began but again trailed off, only feeling simultaneously bitter and pathetic at his own thoughts and worse yet, the truth of things. Inevitably, he screwed up the paper into a ball and pitched it into the bin, reasoning that the postal system was, it was fair to say, probably never coming back into circulation, and dismissed all thoughts about it moving forward.

For a long, terrible moment, Mike realised he was glad his parents were not alive to see what had happened. For a second he imagined the two of them, caught up in all the chaos, and the helplessness they would have felt as the world ended all around. They were good people and would have felt the fear and panic as it engulfed them, the way honest people did when coming into contact with something truly terrible. It was evil, wasn’t it? Why did people want to inflict the level of suffering on teenagers, on small children, on people whose lives had barely started? Who had done far less than the adults of the world, who had carried out most, if not all, of the true atrocities in the world? Survivor’s guilt, he thought. Guilt at still being alive and having done so little, he thought, and peered back to the scrunched up ball in the wastepaper basket. He thought of Sarah Paxton, of her sleeping daughter and the honesty that seemed to come from her like a wave of energy. I’ll protect them; he thought and made it into a solemn promise. I’ll save them, if nothing else in this life, he concluded, just as the station, and everything around it snapped into a total blackout.

Mike stood at the door with a torch and saw each house flickering into life with each lit candle. Some stayed in darkness and he wondered if they were asleep or had simply run out of supplies. He tried to make a rough note of which houses were pitch black and made a note to discuss it with Nick when he came in. It was still eerily quiet as Mike slipped on his jacket and walked out onto the steps. He glanced around and then stepped back inside. In a moment, he became aware of the creeping sensation that was gathering around his skin: the coat had been wrapped around a dead child’s body. He screamed for a second and then dragged it off, the arms flapping and catching around his wrists. For a second, he stared at the black mass on the floor and a fresh flash of the girl’s body leaped into his mind. He flinched and scooped it up, flinging it towards the hook, before he staggered off to retrieve his own coat from the locker out the back. It wasn’t half as warm or anywhere near practical, but now that the kernel of the idea about the other coat was in his mind, he knew he could never wear it again. By the time he stepped back out, Nick’s car had pulled up on the kerb.

“We should siphon off my petrol into the cruiser now,” he said, already clutching the can. Mike wondered if he’d had any sleep at all. Mike raised his palms up and shrugged. He saw Nick pause for the slightest of moments, registering the change in Mike’s dress, but said nothing.

“Let’s do it,” Mike said, and was surprised at how glad he was to have someone to talk to, or even just be around. It beats being alone when it’s the end of the world, he thought and wondered how many desperate teenage boys had been using that line in the last twenty four hours. Those boys who haven’t been infected, another wicked part of his mind chipped in.

“Everything okay back at your place?” Mike asked as they poured the petrol into the tank. He saw Nick’s face flicker for a second and tensed.

“A little graffiti on the door, windows put in. I think our friend Jules has been talking out of turn.” He smiled but there was a real pain under the surface that almost broke Mike’s heart. Nick seemed to detect it and raised his hand. “I’ve got some gear in the trunk and boxed up food. I figure I’ll move in here, where I can have an excuse to be armed.” Despite himself, Mike laughed.

“Give it a few days and people won’t even be coming up with an excuse,” Mike said, and realised he had just vocalised what he, and by the looks of his expression, his partner had been thinking about since the advent of the virus.

“I figure the blackout’s the straw that broke the camel's back for most people. If it doesn’t start fraying tonight, it’ll be on fire at the meeting tomorrow.” The petrol gulped once and he screwed on the cap.

“You have any ideas about why the blackout’s happening now?” Mike asked, trying to think of his own.

“Not as many as our boy, Jules, no doubt. I was thinking a strain on the grid, government restrictions, a meltdown of some sort. Possibly some sort of countrywide curfew would be my bet.” Mike watched as Nick brought a suitcase out of the back seat and raised his eyebrow to indicate the boot.

“So Jules will go for what? Big business stealing the power, governments readying for nuclear war, more terrorism…” Mike took the steps quickly, suddenly conscious of not having access to his pistol by holding the box.

“I’d throw in a few ethnic minorities and you’re just about there. I figure if he throws the net wide enough, he can tap into every paranoia going in people’s minds.” They set the gear down and walked back out. “I’m going to keep the car where it is. I think you should bring yours over tonight and park alongside mine.”

“Are you thinking about a barricade?” Mike said, failing to keep the incredulity out of his voice.

“There’s something to be said for paranoia,” Nick replied and looked back out to the darkness of the town.




Chris Castle is an English teacher in Greece. He has been published over 300 times and has been featured in various end of year and best of anthologies. He is currently writing a novel. His influences include Stephen King and Ray Carver. He can be reached for feedback at chriscastle76@hotmail.com. Chris has become a regular contributor to our journal: His stories, Grid, Slumber, Last House on Vector Street, Stealing Three, Zombie Cake, Button and Pa, The Garden, Butterfly Eater, Finger, and The Last House all consecutively appear in the January, April, June, August, October, and December 2013 issues of HelloHorror and its February, April, August, and October 2014 issues. Chris Castle's novel, Bedlam Days, is serialized in HelloHorror. Part 1 appears in the Winter 2015 issue, Part 2 appears in the Winter 2015 issue, Part 3 appears in the Summer 2015 issue and Part 4 appears in the Halloween 2015 issue.

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