William Daniels is successful author of children’s books, a loving husband and a caring father. His normal, happy life is turned upside down when an infection turns normal people into bloodthirsty animals who want only one thing, human flesh. William learns a lot about himself and his fellow man in this bleak and deadly new world. This is his diary. This is The Final Diary.
“We need to tell you a few things, first.” I said, looking around at everyone.
Mason helped me explain everything that had happened to us.
Jim sighed, whistled and growled while we told them all about the Chief Inspector and her small entourage. We recounted the events leading up to losing the bag of guns, ammo and other equipment. Hands clapped together or reached up into the air and sounds of exasperation and disappointment filled the shop. They asked simple questions, the main one being “Why? Why didn’t you grab the guns?”
I had an answer that was just as simple. “Maniac. Big rifle.”
When we told them what had happened in the park, the absence of sound was deafening. They stared at us with disbelief, mouths open like old people in a nursing home.
“It was talking to them?” Jim’s gruff, booming voice was the first to break through the quiet.
“Yes.” I nodded my head and thrust my hands into the pockets of my jeans. “Like he was their leader.”
“It’s true.” Mason scratched his head as though he couldn’t believe it either. “We all saw it.” Was he trying to convince himself or Jim?
“I just thought that you should all know what’s out there.” I glanced down at Kate, hoping that the care she was giving Dexy would keep him alive long enough to get to a hospital. “Before someone volunteers to come and get this van with me and Travis.”
“With you?” Gemma tugged at my arm and glared at me angrily. “Why do you have to go?”
“I’ll go.” As if there was ever any doubt that Jim would volunteer. “You stay here.” He pointed a thick finger at me. “Get some rest. You’re a fucking mess.”
“No.” I stamped my foot like a petulant teenager who just found out he was grounded for a month. “You can come if you want, but I <em>am</em> going.”
“Dad, why you?” Gemma tugged at my arm more insistently this time. “You’ve been through enough.”
Images of summers gone by flitted through my mind’s eye like a moth bouncing itself against a hot light bulb. When she was a little girl, Gemma always pulled at my arm while the merry tune of the ice-cream van blared through the streets. “Ninety-nine cone, Daddy.” Her face was full of delight, hypnotised by the pied piper of frozen desserts. “Pulleeeeeeeeze.” She added with a big smile that showed off the gaps left by her two missing teeth. Holly claimed that Gemma had me right where she wanted me. She was probably right, Gemma always did get an ice-cream.
This wasn’t about ice-cream, this was about my friend.
“I have to.” I put my hands on her shoulders and looked into her face. “Dexy would do it for me.”
She didn’t like it, but I could tell that she understood. She closed her eyes for a moment and nodded her head.
“Be careful, Dad.” After a quick hug she stepped away from me and I swear she had admiration in her eyes. That or dirt. “You too.” She turned away from me and gave Travis a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“Have it your way, Billy boy.” Jim said. “We all ready?”
“Here, take this.” Kate raised her arm, holding the gun in her hand.
Jim moved quickly, lithely stepping closer and taking the pistol from her hand. “I’ll hold onto that.”
“Jim.” I said.
Jim eyed me questioningly, his eyebrows raised. “What?” He shrugged his shoulders.
“My name is William.”
“Not this again.” He shook his head and stared up at the ceiling. “Fine. <em>William</em>.”
“William.” Dodge got to his feet. “Thanks.”
“We’ll be back soon.” I said, more to Dodge than everyone else. Seeing his brother like that was clearly tearing him apart.
Jim unlocked the door and pulled the shutter up. “Let’s go, then.” He threw the keys to Mason, who caught them expertly. “Lock up behind us.”
We half walked, half jogged down the streets. The dawn Sun crept over the buildings, camouflaged against a blood-red sky. Long shadows were cast ahead of us and warming rays of sunlight burrowed into my back, soothing my aches and pains. For a little while, at least.
“When we get Dexy fixed up, we should try to get that bag of guns back.” Jim said.
“Yeah.” I knew we would have to go back for them eventually. The sooner we had those weapons, the better. “I think we need to leave the city too. Find somewhere nice and quiet, away from that infected army. Somewhere out in the country.”
“I’m with you there, Bill…” He stopped himself from saying it. “William. I’m with you there.”
I smiled. Finally, he used my name without all the bullshit. I was relieved that he wanted to leave London too, the last thing I needed was to have to butt heads with Jim, he might be a bastard but I feel safer when he’s <em>my</em> bastard.
“Just around here, lads.” Travis was more out of breath than me and Jim, he wasn’t looking too good either. Tiny bursts of colour swam in the beads of sweat that had gathered on his brow. Dark shadows circled his eyes, but that could be said of any of us, we were all exhausted and sleep-deprived. His fingers were twitching to a silent beat, drumming across his thighs as he stood there, avoiding eye contact.
“Behind these houses.” He wiped the back of his hand across his nose and sniffed loudly.
“You alright, Travis?” I asked, concerned but also watching him cautiously. Questions blasted through my head like a volley of rifles. Had he caught the virus? Was he about to attack us, try to rip our throats out with his teeth?
“What? Oh yeah, yeah, I’m fine, Mister D.” He rubbed the tip of his nose with the heel of his hand, a long strand of snot stuck to his hand and stretched out from his nostrils. “Just feeling a bit shit, you know?” The snot glistened in the morning sun before popping out of his nostril and snapping to his hand like elasticized goo. He wiped it on his sweater and studied his feet.
Jim eyed him suspiciously for long moments. “The van, then.” He said impatiently.
Travis led us around the back of a street and down a row of garages. The garages formed a row down our left side and on the right was a long red-brick wall. The garage doors had all been sprayed with graffiti slogans such as ‘Fuk da Feds’ and ‘Mickey sucks cock’. The ominous warning ‘They’re watching.’ filled the wall to our right.
“Number eight.” Travis rushed ahead of us and started to shout out the garage numbers as he passed them. “Six… Seven… Here we go.” He looked back at Jim and grinned. “Number eight.”
Jim returned the grin with an impatient growl and Travis quickly turned his attention back to the garage. He leaned down and pulled at the handle. The garage door rolled noisily up into its holding area and revealed its innards like a gutted fish.
“Fucking hell.” Jim looked into the garage, then looked at me and back into the garage.
Inside was a white van, the tall kind with a high back that a man could stand in. The van was plain white, there were no business signs on the side, no phone numbers, not even registration plates. This was no decorators van, and the rest of the garage was proof of that. A dozen or so safes had been stacked against the back wall in a big pyramid shape. The doors of the safes were piled on the floor in front of the pyramid.
To the right of the safes was a long wooden workbench with a chest of drawers nestled underneath each end. Screwdrivers, wrenches, drills and other, larger power tools were scattered across the surface of the workbench.
“I thought your mate was a decorator.” Jim pulled the back doors of the van open. It was empty, nothing to even remotely suggest a decorator worked from it. “Looks more like he’s a fucking safe-cracker.”
“I didn’t want to say anything in front of those Feds, Mason and that bird.” Travis said. “I ain’t a grass, mate.”
Jim looked at me and flashed a toothy grin. “He ain’t a grass, mate.” He mouthed the words silently. I laughed quietly, covered my face with the palm of my hand and shook my head.
Travis started rifling through the drawers on the left side of the workbench. As he got to the bottom drawer he was snorting and muttering to himself. “Where the fuck is it. Where. It should be here. Shit.” He seemed unhappy with the contents on that side of the bench and moved across to search the drawers at the other end.
Two drawers down, he hurriedly pulled out a small bag and clutched it to his chest. It was a gents travel bag, the kind that my Aunt Elsie always bought me for Christmas. They were usually full of razors, shaving cream and a small face towel that never got used. I hardly ever travelled but she would buy me one every damn year. Holly and I never worked out if Elsie did it on purpose to annoy me or was simply forgetful.
“What’s in there?” Jim pointed an accusatory finger towards the bag.
Travis stuffed the bag down the front of his jeans. “Nothing.” He wiped his nose with his sleeve and sniffed loudly.
“It’s not fucking nothing.” Jim’s voice grew louder with each word. “It’s fucking something.”
“Just tell us.” I tried to be the voice of reason. “What is it?”
“No. It’s nothing. Just leave it.” Travis walked to the side of the van and pulled open the driver’s side door. He leaned in and dug around under the seat. “Here’s the keys.” He held up a bunch of keys that were attached to a metal disc with a bright yellow smiley face printed on it. Travis threw the smiley face keys to Jim who made no effort to catch them. We all watched as the keys arced through the air before landing on the floor by his left boot.
“The fucking bag.” Jim aimed the pistol at Travis. “<em>Now</em>, you pikey fuck.”
“What?” Travis shuffled his feet and glanced around nervously. “No, come on. Leave me alone, it’s nothing mate.”
“William.” Jim looked over at me. “Take the bag from him, will you?”
I was curious to see what he was hiding too, so had no problem with invading his personal space. I motioned for him to raise his hands which he did reluctantly, his eyes closed tight and his face scrunched up like a man who had just agreed to be punched in the face by a heavyweight boxer. I reached in and pulled the leather bag from his jeans. Walking over to the workbench, I found an empty space and dropped the bag down. Jim picked up the bunch of keys and walked over to me, standing behind me expectantly.
“Open it, then.” He said.
“It’s not mine.” Travis said in a high-pitched voice full of nerves and guilt.
I unzipped the small bag and tipped it upside down, shaking the contents out. Two thin syringes, a blackened spoon, a bright yellow plastic lighter, some buds of cotton wool and a small baggy of brown powder fell from the bag onto the workbench.
“Fucking Junkie.” Disgust etched itself into Jim’s features.
I looked at Travis with the wrath of the gods in my eyes and a volcano burning in my belly. “Does Gemma take this shit?” I held the baggy of brown powder up to Travis’s face.
“No.” He said, recoiling from the baggy and holding his hands up in a prayerful position beneath his chin. “No, I swear. She doesn’t even know.”
“Fuck it. You’re not coming back with us.” Jim prodded Travis roughly in the shoulder. “Let’s go, William.”
“We can’t just leave him.” I said.
“No, please, please, Jim. I’ll give it up, I swear down, mate.” Travis dropped to his knees, staring up and hoping to receive Jim’s mercy. Bubbles of snot exploded from his nose and trailed across his lips.
“He’s a junkie.” Jim pointed at the pleading, mucus covered Travis with the gun while fixing his gaze on me. “Can’t be trusted. End of discussion.” He placed the sole of his boot on Travis’s chest and pushed. Travis fell back and his head clattered against the wooden bench. “You really want him around your little girl?”
A big part of me agreed with Jim. I didn’t want a junkie anywhere near Gemma. He wasn’t becoming infected, he was in the early stages of withdrawal.
“All he cares about is a fucking fix.” He kicked Travis in the ribs. I winced as the young man screamed and writhed around in pain. “What have you been using till now?”
Travis just spluttered and sniffed.
“What have you been using?” Jim kicked him again.
“Pills.” Travis said, curling himself up into a ball. “I had some pills. I grabbed them from my kitchen.”
I remembered seeing him stuff two boxes into his pocket, but hadn’t thought anything of it. In fact I just assumed it was aspirin or something equally innocent.
“Pathetic junkie.” Jim hawked noisily and spat on Travis. The glob of phlegm spattering across the snivelling addict’s red beanie.
I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t spotted it sooner. I’m usually observant, aware. I understand that people have layers, nobody is exactly as they portray themselves but this one threw me for a six. A drug addict.
“We can’t just leave him.” I said. “He’ll only turn up back at the shop.” I was furious. I had almost started to like him and now this. “What if we throw it away? He’ll have to get clean then.”
Jim breathed in deeply and exhaled a long sigh. “What if he doesn’t? What if we go to this hospital and he starts looking for drugs? What if he opens the wrong door and we all get killed?”
It was a compelling argument.
Travis struggled to his knees and stared up at me through bloodshot eyes. His face was stained red with tear tracks. He pulled his beanie off and clutched it tightly in his hands. “I won’t.” He said. “Please, I’ll do anything, I’ll give it up, please.” His long fingers reached out and tugged at my jeans. “I can’t make it on my own. I’ll die.”
I knew that was the truth. Leaving him to survive alone would be the same as killing him ourselves. Was I really considering this? What gave me the right to become judge, jury and executioner?
“Not our problem.” Jim’s gruff voice interrupted my thoughts. “Let’s just put him out of his misery.” He aimed the gun at Travis’s head.
“No!” I shouted. Travis scrambled up, using the bench as a support. He then rushed behind me and ducked his head down to the level of my shoulder blades.
Jim closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, his jaw muscles bouncing and popping along to the beat of his anger. “Fucks sake, William.” He opened his eyes glared at me. “This little pikey sticks his diseased little todger in your under-age daughter and sticks himself with drugs and God only knows what other nasty shit he gets up to.” He waved the pistol in a silent gesture that I took to mean ‘step aside’.
I couldn’t let him do it. I wanted to, I really did. I agreed with him one hundred percent. “Why not, then?” He asked as if he had read my thoughts.
“I can’t do it to her. To Gemma. She lost her Mother and her best friend. If she loses him too then she might never come back from that.”
“She’s young and strong, William.” Jim told me. “You see Daddy’s little girl where I see a survivor.”
“We can’t kill him just because he’s an addict.”
We stared at each other for an uncomfortable amount of time. Travis peeked over my right shoulder and then quickly ducked back down whispering “please, please, please.” into my sweater.
Jim raised his eyebrows and broke eye contact with me to look up at the garage ceiling. “Fine.” He stuffed the gun into the side pocket of his black overcoat. “But we tell everyone back at the shop exactly what he is.” He shook his fist at me and grimaced. “Everyone.”
“Okay.” I hoped that everyone back at the shop would be level-headed about it. “Thank-you.”
“This isn’t the end of it, William.” He walked up to me and grabbed my hand. “That fucker <em>will</em> get his court-martial.” He slammed the van keys into my palm and growled with frustration. The term ‘court martial’ had caught me by surprise. Jim must be seeing us as a military unit under his command. It definitely felt like we were in a war, under attack. So who was more qualified to lead us than an ex-special forces hard-as-nails bastard like Jim?
I told Travis to get in the back of the van, which he did with a tear soaked flood of grateful murmurings.
Most of the main roads had been jammed up with deserted or burned out cars so we had to take detours down side streets. “Can we at least wait until Dexy is back on his feet?” I swerved to avoid hitting a dead body in the road. “Before we tell everyone about him?” I looked in the rear view mirror and saw Travis sat in the back with his legs pulled up to his chest and his chin rested on his knees.
“We can wait.” Jim stared straight ahead, eyes narrowed and nostrils flaring. “But I’ll be watching him like a hawk. One wrong move and…”
“…and I’ll do it myself.” I said.
Jim looked over at me and smiled wryly. “Do what?”
“I’ll kill him.” I meant it. As shocked as I was by my own words, I meant it. I’ve seen enough of this shitty new world to know that when you spit in the face of a second chance, there wouldn’t be a third.
“As you say, William.” Jim relaxed in his seat. “As you say.”
“Anyone got a smoke?” Travis asked. His voice sounded like a wet fart squeezing through a trouser press.
Jim and I both looked behind and shouted “No!” in unison. When we both faced front again, Jim rubbed a hand across his bald head and snickered. The snicker grew in volume until it was a fully fledged laugh. I joined in with the mirth while the van pushed through streets of blood, death and the stench of rot.
We hadn’t seen any of the infected, no sign of The Chief Inspector either. I still couldn’t shake a feeling of unease, the same feeling of being watched from the shadows that I used to get as a kid when the lights were turned off. I kept looking in the rear view mirror waiting for something nightmarish to appear, snatching at us with tentacles and teeth in an ‘AHA!’ moment of dreadful revelation.
It never came. That or it just hadn’t decided to show itself yet.
I backed the van up to the shop and Jim glared at Travis. “Get the fucking doors, then.” Travis slowly got to his feet and pushed open the double doors. He then returned to hugging his legs and rocking. Mason lifted the shutters, gave a thumbs-up and vanished back inside. Dodge, Barney and Gemma rushed out and jumped into the back of the van. “Hi.” Gemma said cheerfully. Travis didn’t respond but just rocked back and forth, his arms tightening around his legs.
“Hey.” I looked back and smiled at her. She offered a half-smile back. Better than no smile at all.
“Hi sweetheart.” Jim said.
Mason and Kate appeared at the doorway, they were carrying Dexy. Kate held Dexy’s legs while Mason gripped him under the arms. Dodge helped to pull Dexy into the van while Kate and Mason pushed.
Once the patient was safely on board, Kate climbed into the van while Mason closed and locked the shutters.
“Ready when you are.” Mason said, slamming the back doors of the van behind him and sitting down on the cold metal floor. “What’s his problem?” He pointed at Travis.
“No problem.” I said. “He’s just tired. Right Travis?” I eyed him through the rear view mirror.
Travis shrugged and said something, but it was so muffled by his legs and sleeves that it didn’t sound like real words.
“Did you have any trouble?” Kate wanted to know.
Jim looked back at her and smiled. “Only that your pretty face wasn’t with us.”
“Smooth.” She buried her face in her hands and shook her head with disapproval.
“Always.” Jim said, unfazed.
Dodge clucked his tongue and said, “That’s well moist, that is.”
Gemma laughed and Travis kept rocking like a demented Weeble.
“They’re always moist for me, Dodgey-boy.” Jim tapped the tip of his nose and then faced front with a smug smile painted across his face.
I wasn’t too sure what Dodge meant by ‘moist’ but I was absolutely certain that it wasn’t what Jim thought.
“I need directions.” I actually knew my way to the hospital. I just wanted to dispel the awkwardness that everyone –everyone except Jim- felt.