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 backed away slowly and quietly made our way around the park. Trudging through the mud and grass, rather than risk our footsteps be heard on the gravel pathways. Eventually, we came to an exit, which we all hurried through, happy to leave the crowd of infected behind and relieved that they hadn’t discovered us.
None of us spoke as we walked through the dark streets, the silence, broken only by the occasional grunt from Dexy. I’m no doctor but even I could see that he was in a bad way, even though he would never admit it. Mason’s face was sternly set, eyes staring forward but looking at nothing. He glanced over his shoulder every thirty seconds or so, muttered something under his breath and then continued with the serious business of walking. Kate walked with her head down, watching each step as though it would be her last. Dexy leaned on me for support.
During the quiet, my thoughts were jumping around like a flea circus. Why were the infected listening to that Hoodie? What makes him so special? Was this virus worldwide? Was it just in the UK? Was it just in London? Why aren’t there any rescue helicopters or military presence? Has Dexy lost too much blood? Why was Kate wearing a Police uniform? Could we really trust her and Mason?
I just wanted to scream, to drown out the cacophony in my mind with a primeval war cry. Thankfully, Mason broke the silence and dragged me away from my thoughts.
“How far to your group?” He asked, absently checking his wristwatch.
“It’s a shop not far from where I live.” Dexy sounded weak, his eyelids were half closed. “Singh’s.”
“Is that the one near Hawthorne Park?” Mason waved his arm around like a man giving directions to a lost motorist.
“Yes.” I said. “That’s it.”
“How are the Singhs?” Mason stopped walking and looked up into the night sky.
Dexy looked at Mason and then at the ground. “Dead.”
We had all stopped walking now and stood in the middle of the road.
“And you’re all staying in their shop?” Mason narrowed his eyes.
“They were alive when we first got there.” I knew which way Mason’s thoughts headed and wanted to dispel any suspicions quickly. “Then they turned into…”
“Monsters.” Kate whispered the word.
“Yes.” I looked across at Kate, then back to Mason. “It was them or us.” I shrugged my shoulders.
“Let’s check some of these cars.” Kate eyed the cars parked on the roadside. “Maybe someone left their key.”
“Good idea.” I headed toward the car nearest to me, thankful for the change of subject.
“No.” Mason moved forward quickly and placed his hand on my shoulder. “It’s not.”
“Why not, Phil?” Kate asked.
“We can’t risk setting any alarms off.” Mason told us. “It’d be like showing a porno to sex addicts. Too tempting.”
“Obviously.” Kate put a hand across her eyes and shook her head in embarrassment. “Glad you’re here to be smart for the rest of us.”
Mason smiled at her. “I didn’t make Detective Inspector on looks alone.”
Kate laughed, it was a soft, warm laugh that filled the air with hope.
We resigned ourselves to the lack of transport and walked.
Bodies of men, women and children were strewn like litter across cars, in gardens and by the roadside. We saw a small pile of bodies at the end of one street, as though someone had taken it upon themselves to tidy up, to take a big sweeping brush and whisk the death out of sight.
“Not in my bloomin’ street.” I imagined the self-appointed caretaker saying while tutting and sighing at the bodies. “They might live like this down on Ash grove but we’re civilised up here on Orchard road!”
Some of the dead that we stepped over or skirted around were almost unrecognisable as once being living, breathing people. People who worried about being late for work, or having not finished their homework for school or whether the neighbour’s husband was really having an affair. All that was gone. Memories, feelings and families all ripped from existence by this evil virus.
The roads and walls were stained with blood and flesh , looking like the work of a deranged graffiti artist. Some of the streets we walked down were totally burned out, the houses now empty shells covered in soot and filth. The orange glow of burning embers inside the buildings looked strangely beautiful in the night. Thick plumes of black smoke danced through the air and swirled around us in small eddies, the pungent smell mixing with the stench of rotting death clawed its way into our lungs and squeezed, forcing us to cough and heave.
Cars bent around lamp posts or had concertinad into garden walls, the lucky inhabitants slumped lifelessly in their seats or lay on the car bonnet wrapped in a blanket of windscreen glass. The unlucky ones lay a few feet away from their vehicles, at the end of a thick blood trail, limbs torn from their bodies by the blood crazed savages. The sick. The victims of this illness.
Nothing had been left alive. The infected had swarmed through every street like a plague of locusts, devouring and destroying everything in their path.
Carnage. It was absolute carnage.
These streets that were once full of life, full of the living, were now home to decay and ashes.
I wanted to cry, raise my fists furiously and scream at the heavens or kick the shit out of the nearest wall. The thing is, I was starting to get used to it. Seeing a dead body with its face in the gutter was as common as seeing bottles of milk sat on a doorstep in the early morning. My brain was conditioning itself to stop me from being paralysed beneath the weighty emotions of horror, guilt, outrage and disgust that I, as a twenty-first century civilised man, should have felt. I had taken on a more primal state of being and the only thing that really mattered was staying alive.
We turned a corner and my eyes widened, a smile stretched across my face and I almost did a joyful jig. “My car.”
“What?” Mason looked left and right before settling his gaze upon the Ford Explorer. “Oh.”
It was empty and all the doors had been left open. I ran to the driver’s side and saw a body by the back door. Its legs stretched out and its head was smashed into bloody pulp. Hair and teeth stuck to the door like a ghoulish homage to modern art.
“Looks like Jim was busy.” I whispered the words under my breath.
Mason, Kate and Dexy were now standing beside me.
“So,” Mason said. “You got the key?”
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuckety-fuck.
Sorry. It had to be said.
I slammed my palm down on the roof and kicked the dead infected for good measure. “Your Chief Inspector.” I watched as the dead body slowly slid down and came to rest in an awkward angle beside the wheel. “She has it.”
“Car.” Dexy said the word so quietly that none of us really registered it. “Car.” He said it louder this time, more insistently. He raised his arm and pointed up the road.
We saw the headlights of a car swathing through the dark, heading straight for us.
Mason peered grimly into the distance. “Hide.”
Kate didn’t wait for an explanation. She grabbed Dexy and dragged him into the nearest garden, both of them hiding behind the tall wooden fence. Mason hid in the next garden down, squatting in the hedges. I stayed where I was, almost hypnotised by the lights moving ever closer to me like angels descending from heaven.
“William!” Mason half whispered, half shouted. “Get over here!”
I remembered that I’d left my diary in the Ford. With Dexy’s gun still clutched tightly in my hand, I climbed into the back seat of the car.
“What are you doing?” Kate asked, her voice sounding like the hiss of an angry goose.
I pushed my arm through the dog guard and fumbled around, trying to feel the spine of you, my diary, my journal, the only thing that is keeping me sane. I looked back and saw the headlights getting closer and closer, their light now spilling into the car and across me. I pushed my arm further down until finally my fingers brushed against your cold leather. One last push and I was able to pull you out of your hiding place and back into my possession.
I scurried backwards out of the Ford and crouched against the open door. It was too late to run into a garden, the car was almost upon us. I flopped down onto my belly and crawled under the Ford. The car that we were all hiding from stopped right beside me.
It was a Police car.
“I could have sworn I saw someone.” Harry King had driven. He opened his door and stepped onto the road, his heavy boots creaking against the tarmac.
I aimed the gun at his feet and tried to project my thoughts into his mind.
<em>You don’t want to look under the car. You don’t need to look under the car.</em>
The Chief Inspector got out of the passenger side of the car and walked around to King. “This is where we picked them up.” She stepped closer to the Ford, her well polished shoe within grabbing distance of my hand. “They’re probably holed up somewhere in the area.”
“Like rats.” King spat the words down at the road. “Nasty little rats.”
I held my breath, worried that it might betray me to them.
“Any joy?” The voice came from inside the police car. It was P.C. Berry.
“Is he going to hide in the car every time we stop?” A quiet rage lurked beneath each word that King uttered.
“He’s been through a lot, Harry.” The Chief Inspector spoke calmly, trying to soothe her colleague. “He’s scared, we all are.”
“I’m not scared, Ma’am.” He moved back to the Police car. “They should be scared, not us.” He climbed into the driver’s seat. “I’m going to kill every single little rat bastard one of them.” He slammed the door shut.
“Damn it, Harry.” The Chief Inspector whispered to herself as she turned and headed back to the Police car. “I didn’t want a war.”
They pulled away slowly and drove down the road. I gasped for air and rolled out from under the Ford. As I sat up, the Police car turned a corner and was out of sight. Mason, Kate and Dexy left their hiding places and crouched down next to me.
“You should have shot him, Bruv.” Dexy was getting paler, the makeshift bandage wet with blood. I was starting to wonder if he would last much longer.
He was right, I had missed a great opportunity to solve our Police problem. “I’m sorry, I…” I hung my head in shame.
Mason reached over and gently tugged the gun from my fingers. “It’s okay, William.” He tucked the gun into the back of his belt. “Just ignore Rambo over here.” He waved absently toward Dexy and grinned.
Kate put her hand on my shoulder, her fingers stroking at the fabric of my sweater and then a quick pat before letting go. I felt like a puppy dog that everyone pitied. My face was still hurting, spears of pain lancing into my head when I spoke, moved or breathed.
“What’s this then?” Mason tapped a finger against you, my diary.
I pulled you closer like an over protective parent shielding a new-born baby from the wind. “It’s a diary. I’m keeping a record of everything that’s been happening.”
“Now that is a good idea.” I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or sincere. I opted for sincere.
“Thanks.” I said. “It keeps me sane.”
“Maybe we should all do that. Could be useful.” Mason rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger.
“Useful how?” Kate asked.
“Same as taking notes in our line of work.” He patted his pocket, perhaps signifying that he kept a notebook in there. “Separates the bullshit from the facts. It could help us work out what’s going on here.”
“What’s going on here…” Dexy’s voice was raspy, almost breathless. His skin looked like it had been thrown into a bucket of ash, his eyes were rolling up into his head. “Is we’re fucked.” He wobbled from side to side and then moved from crouching on his haunches to sitting on his backside. “We’re in Hell, Bruv. For real.” With that, he lost consciousness and slumped forward, his head almost touching the pavement between his legs.
“Dexy!” Kate lifted his head and slapped his cheek, not a full on slap, but hard enough to shock someone from a deep slumber.
It didn’t work.
“We’re close to the shop.” Mason said while getting to his feet. “We need to carry him.”
“Are there medical supplies in that shop?” Kate looked to me for an answer.
“I don’t know. It’s a shop, so there should be something.”
“He’s going to need a bit more than antiseptic wipes and a Peppa Pig plaster.” She said.
Did she expect me to pull an ambulance out of my arse and whizz us all off to hospital?
“Here, you take that side, William.” Mason leaned down and pulled Dexy to his feet. I wrapped Dexy’s good arm across my shoulder and we dragged him down the street.
Kate took the gun from Mason’s belt and walked a few steps ahead of us.
“Slowly and quietly.” She told us.
We reached the shop without incident. No infected, no murderous Police. My stomach churned with excitement when I saw the welcoming glow of the Singh’s shop.
“There it is.” I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. I felt so relieved. I had finally made it back to my daughter.
We shuffled up to the door, exhausted from carrying Dexy. I rattled the shutter covering the door. “Gemma.”
No reply. I rattled it a little louder the second time. “Jim.” I looked nervously up and down the road. “It’s me, William.”
Still no reply. I could see shadows moving around inside.
“Oi!” Kate kicked the shutter, the metal clanged and echoed all around us. “We’ve got your friends here.” She kicked the shutter again. “Open the pissing door!”
“That should do it.” Mason shook his head and then cleared his throat. Now he was looking up and down the road too.
“Fuck off, lady.” A gruff voice came from behind the door. “Nothing here for you.”
“Jim, it’s me, William.” My voice cracked with excitement and exhaustion. “Dexy’s hurt.”
“It’s Dad!” I heard Gemma shout.
“Let them in, Jim.” Dodge said.
After a loud sigh, we watched Jim’s silhouette grow through the smoked glass as he moved closer. The click of a lock and the door opened a crack. Jim poked his head around and eyed us suspiciously.
“Someone made a mess of you, Billy boy.” He shifted his attention from my wounds to Mason and then Kate. “Who are they?”
“Phil Mason and Kate Palmer.” I told him. “They helped us.”
“Your friend here is hurt.” Mason said.
“Jim!” Gemma shouted in the background. “Open it!”
Jim pulled the door fully open and unlocked the main shutter. Mason and I both cringed as the metal squealed on its way up. The light inside the shop spilled out into the street, bathing us all in its glow. We were a sorry sight, covered in blood, my face must have resembled that of Frankenstein’s monster and Dexy looked like a corpse.
“Fucking hell.” Travis stepped out from the toiletries aisle. His jaw almost hit the floor as he stared at us with disbelief and horror.
Jim stepped to one side, flourishing his arm and bowing slightly as an invitation for us to enter. We trudged through the doorway, dragging Dexy with us. Once we were all in, Jim quickly pulled down the shutter, locked it and then closed the door.
“What are you, love?” Jim nodded his head towards Kate and grinned. “The stripper?”
Kate didn’t even skip a beat. She jammed the barrel of the gun up against the soft flesh of Jim’s throat. “I am so pissed off right now and I’ve got a gun.” She glared at Jim for long moments, an atmosphere thicker than treacle glooped its way around them. “You want to reword that?”
Jim held his hands up and backed away from Kate. “I didn’t mean any harm, by it.” He said. “Just having a laugh.”
Mason and I laid Dexy carefully on the floor. Dodge ran up and knelt beside his unconscious brother. “What happened?” He looked up at us, eyes swimming with tears. Barney, the spaniel that Jim and I had picked up a week ago, sat beside Dodge and nudged his arm.
“He’s going to be fine.” I hoped that I was telling him the truth.
“Kate.” Mason said. “Come and help this little boy’s brother.”
Kate gave Jim one final glare full of daggers before rushing over and kneeling beside Dodge.
“Find me anything that looks medical.” She began unwrapping the makeshift bandage from Dexy’s arm. “Bandages, creams, scissors, anything.”
“Wait.” Jim stroked his moustache. “You and him.” He pointed at Kate first and then at Mason. “You were with the Police that stopped us.”
“And now we’re not.” Mason stood up and moved quickly across to Jim. “Is that going to be a problem?”
The two of them stood there, almost face to face. Mason was a little shorter than Jim and although he wasn’t as thick-set, he looked a lot faster and leaner. I wouldn’t want to bet against either of them in a fight.
“Or can we save your friend’s life first?” He pointed down at Dexy but his gaze remained locked with Jim’s.
“I swear to God, I will shoot both of you right now.” Kate aimed the gun at Mason and Jim. “Enough of this shit. We’re here to help, so you can accept that or get out of our way.”
Mason smiled at Jim and backed away, still watching for any sudden moves. Jim did the same, except he had an “I was just fucking with you.” look written across his face.
“Medical supplies!” Kate shouted it so loudly that we all snapped out of our thoughts and rushed around the shop, checking every shelf for anything that looked useful. Within minutes Kate was surrounded with vodka, bandages and sterile pads, hair brushes, needle and thread kits, scissors, bottles of bleach, cough medicine, around a dozen boxes of paracetamol and perhaps most confusing of all, a loaf of bread and a box of corn flakes.
Kate set to work, cleaning the wound with vodka and sterile pads.
I looked across at Gemma. Travis stood beside her, his arm draped across her shoulder. I walked over to them, my heart thumping against my ribs so loudly that the sound filled my head. I needed her to forgive me, even though I didn’t deserve it. I wanted her to understand why I did that to her Mother, to my beautiful Holly, my grotesque Holly monster.
“I’m sorry.” The words sounded empty, hollow. I hated myself for using them. I wrote for a living and this was all I could come up with?
She looked down at her feet.
“He’s your Dad, Gem.” Travis whispered in her ear. “You only get one.”
She looked up at me, tears streaming from her eyes. I moved closer, my heart breaking with each sob, each tear that fell. Travis stepped away from her and I reached out my arms. Her body heaved with sobs. I pulled her towards me and held her in my arms.
“You fucking killed her, Dad.” Her words muffled against my chest.
“She was gone.” I shook my head and my own tears began to fall. “It wasn’t Mum.”
“I know.” She wrapped her arms around me and her sobbing slowed. “It’s just not fair.”
“No.” I said. “It’s not.”
“I hate to break up this touching reunion.” Kate’s tone made it clear that she was lying. “We need to get to a hospital. He needs stitches and if I do them with this,” She waved the needle and thread kit around before throwing it back on the floor. “Then he’ll probably catch something nasty. We could also find a lot of useful supplies in a hospital.”
“Closest one is at least five miles away.” Jim said. “Do you have a car?”
“We crashed it.” Mason covered his face with his hands and shook his head.
“Maybe we can catch a fucking bus.” Jim pointed to the clock above the shop door. “Should be one here any minute now.”
“That’s not helping!” Mason took his hands from his face and stepped closer to Jim.
“I know where there’s a van.” Travis said. “It’s my mates, he’s a decorator. Never locks it and hides the keys under the seat.”
“Sounds perfect.” Mason turned his attention from Jim to Travis. “Where is it?”
“He keeps it in a garage down the back of Market street.”
“That’s a five-minute walk from here.” Mason said. “Should be easy enough.”
We all looked as though we hadn’t slept in days. Our shoulders were slumped, our eyes bloodshot and tired. My face was full of lumps and bruises. Dexy was out of action. Jim and Mason were acting like school bullies trying to decide who gets which side of the playground. Three vengeful Police officers were driving around searching for us, and an infected Hoodie was raising himself an army of sick savages.
Should be easy enough.