Infection

The day has come for the release of Infection! It’s another long one (at 21700 words) and it’s a zombie apocalypse story. Hope you like it!

It’s a little over two years since the world ended. Billions died in the wake of an infection that spread like wildfire. The only problem is that the dead didn’t stay dead. They rose again only to help spread the infection through their bite.

Governments quickly collapsed as people fled in panic, but it didn’t matter where they fled to, there was no escape. It took only five months for the infection to spread across the world. No one knows how it started and the few people that remain fight to survive, often as a part of small communities.

There had been many more survivors and communities shortly after the fall of humanity, but many have since been snuffed out by the infected who roam freely without threat. They are the dominant presence on Earth now and those that have survived thus far simply do what they can to survive against the odds of being vastly outnumbered by the infected that will bite and turn them like they themselves were turned, if given the chance.

The infected possess no memory or individual thought. They simply exist to spread the infection that they carry. It’s the same infection which was spread to them and resulted in their deaths.

Thankfully for those who have managed to survive the infected are slow, shambling entities that are easy to evade, as long as their numbers are small. In large groups, known a hordes, while still shambling their overwhelming numbers are capable of defeating even the most heavily armed, resourceful or agile of individuals.

But this is not a report on the infection. This is the story of one of the communities that has managed to weather the end of the world, the Old Manor Gardens. It resides alongside of a main road in a large suburban town. As its name suggest it used to be an old manor house estate and is comprised of the old manor house, which was left abandoned for years before it was finally sold and its land built upon to create a walled and gated community of flats.

The manor house itself was converted to serve as eight two bedroom flats while its drive and front gardens were built upon to create two in keeping horseshoe shaped blocks of accommodation that comprise of studio and one bedroom flats. The newer additions to the small estate stand at three stories high in some places and like the manor house itself are constructed out of brick. To the rear of the manor house are the gardens, after which the area is named. These were kept as they had been intended and helped to serve as communal gardens for the residents, while also maintaining a break between the manor and the housing estates that were built around its southern and eastern borders. They were developed decades before the manor went into renovation and repurposing. But for added security for those that would take up residence within its transformed surroundings a seven foot high brick wall topped with decorative black wrought iron was erected.

The walled group of flats however were abandoned in the panic that followed the unrelenting spread of the infection and are now instead occupied by a small group of around sixty people.

This community have made many changes to the original estate to ensure there protection. One of which is the conversion of the once green gardens into vegetable patches, which are sustained by water barrels that collects the frequent rainwater.

There is no electricity for the community either as the power stations have long since ground to a halt. They serve as little more than reminders now to any who may pass them by. But they are far from the Old Manor Gardens and its residence who instead use candle and torch lights once the sun has disappeared from the sky.

It means that the community have managed to carve themselves a reasonably comfortable life for themselves, and their families. At least that is, when held in comparison to the state that the rest of the world is in. But that is not to say that they live without fear. Each new day brings new challenges and they have to desperately fight to maintain self-sufficiency and avoid going on runs beyond the safety of their high solid walls. They lost so many souls doing that. But it had been necessary in the beginning. Whereas now that is no longer the case and Adam Petty, one of the survivors, believes this with every fibre of his being. He had been a builder before the end came, but right now he is sat upon the roof of a nearby building. It stands outside of the perimeter of the walled community, keeping watch over the nearby roads and estates with an old .22 rifle in his hands.

The people of the Old Manor Gardens rotate on watches. It allows them to keep a constant eye out for any advancing hordes of infected that may be coming and this roof is the perfect vantage point from which they can do it. Many would think that leaving the confines of the safe walled community would be madness but those that fulfil the watches never leave the confines of safety to reach this place. Instead they reach it via an extended set of metal stepladders. The ladders have been bolted in place and serve as the only link between the roof Adam is currently on and the balcony of one of the second floor flats.

Adam doesn’t like heights but he’s gotten used to being up here, that’s why he is able to scan the roads around him for sign of the infected. While he may not be able to see many of them he can certainly hear them. In fact, he can always hear them as the house beneath him is where the sounds are coming from. The infected inside cannot escape the confines of the house as they no longer have any prospect of how to open doors. But much like his acclimatisation of heights he’s gotten used to the ever present moans and growls that the infected below him make while they shuffle about. But while he’s used to the noises, that doesn’t mean that they still don’t make his skin crawl. They do and on top of that he knows for a fact that many of the other houses are just the same.

Life was so much easier in the years before, he thinks as he raises the rifle and peers down its scope. He’s been on watch for a couple hours but it gets boring quickly. Though, he has to admit that boring is good. Especially as boring is safe and safety means staying alive. He often thinks about how he and others in their little community used to go on raids in the early days when they had been desperate for food. That had been before they started and allowed the vegetable patches to mature, which had also been before they’d come across some chickens. To this day Adam still calls them the find of the century when he’d been told about them. He hadn’t been on that run but he wished he had been. They’d lost quite a few people in that period and he still regrets not fighting to go out on those raids and instead curtailing to the instructions that he needed to get proper rest.

He can still recall each and every one of the people they’ve lost. And every single one of them had been a good and decent person that had made a real difference to this place. He doubts anyone would disagree with him either.

Still, it’s been over a year since they’ve seen anyone else out here. It doesn’t surprise Adam but he’d be lying if he didn’t admit that it does dishearten him. He had hoped that somehow humanity would be able to bounce back and reclaim what it had lost, but he knows that such a thing is never going to happen. If governments couldn’t stop the infection how can the remnants of humanity ever reclaim the world? He doesn’t have an answer to the question which he has pitched to himself and knows that he shouldn’t think about such things, as he stares down the telescopic sight of the rifle. He doesn’t know what magnification the zoom on it is, but he believes it’s enough.

We only have three of these rifles, he thinks to himself as he scans the horizon. He doesn’t expect to find anything but he scans around all the same. I have to do something to break up the monotony, he says to himself as he exhales deeply.

He can hear the sound of children laughing and that makes him smile. He doesn’t take his eye from the sight however. He has to keep focused on his watch, but he thinks about how most of their community are adults. Only eleven out of the nearly sixty that live behind these walls are children. That isn’t many. That isn’t much of a future, he thinks as he sweeps the rifle right while still staring down the sight.

Nothing but decaying houses and fractured asphalt roads. What sort of life will the children have? He asks himself but he gets no answer to his own question as he spots a group of infected shambling down the street. Seven of the infected in total are shambling about in a manner that could be describe as together. But as there are only seven it means that they aren’t a horde, at least not yet anyway. He’s thankful for that. Hordes are always terrifying. It doesn’t matter whether you’re behind brick walls and wrought iron gates that are clad with thick timber and then barricaded in place by a couple vehicles that had been left behind by the former residence or not. They have no use for the vehicle seeing as petrol is no longer being pulled out of the ground by oil rigs. Plus engines make a lot of noise and draw the attention of the infected, which is the worst thing you can do. That, he knows, is certain death.

But Adam doesn’t dwell on such things. Instead, he wonders what state the rigs are in now. He can’t remember the last time he saw the sea or even the last time he saw the gates to their community open. It’s been a long time, he concludes as he lowers the rifle in his hands and scans the area around him with his eyes and not the scope. He can cover more ground this way, but doesn’t get as closer view. He knows the view isn’t really closer and that it’s the magnification of the scope, but it’s the only way he can think to explain it.

Before long he wonders if they will find anyone else out here, which leads to him wondering just how many other communities and enclaves like their own exist in the world. But he doesn’t know and knows that he will likely never be able to answer such a thing. Nevertheless he hopes it’s a lot, but he doubts that it is.

“You look busy.” A soft female voice he knows very well says. The owner of the voice is right next to Adam. He hadn’t realised he’s been so lost in his thoughts that any could creep up on him. In all fairness he doubts any creeping was involved as he turns to their little communities’ sole medical professional, Doctor Melissa Singh.

They are lucky to have Melissa and Adam knows it as he looks at the five foot six inch tall woman with shoulder length black hair and brown eyes stood before him. He knows she’s in her early thirties and returns the smile that she is already beaming at him while dressed in simply blue jeans and a white t-shirt.

“You know how it goes when you’re on watch.” Adam replies making sure to overemphasise his words for comic affect.

“Most rest, outside of sleep, you’ll get in this place.” Melissa retorts with a chuckle.

“True. Are you next watch?” Adam asks surprised. Melissa, as the community’s doctor, is rarely involved in watch duties. She’s too important, even if most of the time she is needed solely to prescribe aspirin or bandage a scuffed knee or minor cut. That doesn’t mean that Adam isn’t thankful that such things are all they have to worry about these days, as he is.

Back when they still went out on raids it had been very different as Adam can remember being handed long lists crammed full with important medicines that they needed to keep an eye out for, or in some instances basic yet essential equipment.

It makes him wonder what they’re stockpiles are like now. He knows what they found back in the early months has no hopes of lasting them forever. No matter how much he wishes it to. That’s why occasionally he wonders whether he should ask, but he always concludes that he’d rather not know. Ignorance is bliss he tells himself. And it’s true; ignorance can very much be bliss. It takes a lot of the stress out of life, which in a world that has gone as horribly wrong as this one has, can be quite the relief.

“No. Carl’s next, but I felt like I needed a change of scene.” Melissa answers as she gazes out at the world beyond the walls. It’s nearly two years since she has left the confines of the Old Manor Gardens. She misses the world beyond these walls, but she understands why she was never sent out on resource gathering. Doctor’s are hard to come by and she’s the only one these near sixty people have got. Losing her could result in many more lives being lost further down the line. Those had been Carl’s words, but that doesn’t make her feel any less trapped, even if he is right. Though, that is not to say that he was the only person who said them. Adam and several others had too.

“Well it’s a scene. Don’t know if it’s much of a change though Mel.” Adam adds.

“Best I’m gonna get.” Melissa remarks honestly as her shoulders drop.

“You OK?” Adam asks. He can see the woman, who is a good ten years younger than himself, is down. He isn’t surprised. It’s a lot to ask of anyone to look after the entire community but not be able to leave it, even if no one else does now either. And truth be told she isn’t missing much, a voice in Adam’s head says. That’s true, but still he understands how it must be difficult for her. Will the same happen to all of us? He asks himself as he looks at her and forces a weak smile, which she answers with her own equally weak smile.

“Just wondering if this is all we’re going to get. And if it is how long we can last.” Melissa says.

“I don’t know Mel. But maybe you should get some rest, or take a walk.” Adam says trying to be honest but at the same time not wanting to give her false hope. It isn’t worth it. Not in the world they all live in now. But at least we’re alive, he thinks to himself. That has to count for something.

“Yeah, you’re right. I…” Melissa begins but never finishes.

“Hey! Help!” A distant voice shouts.

Adam’s eyes go wide as he raises the rifle and peers down the scope again. He searches around for a bit before ultimately landing on the sight of three men running down the middle of the street. Behind them are a group of maybe thirty infected and Adam doesn’t know which he finds more shocking, that they’ve found other people still alive or that they’re being chased by a small horde. Well the truth is the other people have found us. He could have sworn up until this moment that it would have been the other way round. Maybe life still has some good surprises up its sleeve, he decides.

“Mel, go tell Carl, Penny and the others that there are some men running this way, and that they’re being chased by infected.” Adam orders without moving a muscle.

“Got it.” Melissa says as she turns to traverse back across the ladder suspended in mid-air while Adam continues to stare down the sight of his rifle. The rifle isn’t really his. It belongs to the community.

He debates whether to lose off several shots of his five round magazine, but he knows they have to think about the ammunition situation. What did Carl say? Forty nine rounds between three rifles. Damn, that really isn’t much. Plus the sound might bring more of them to the area. Our walls might be high and solid but there’s no sense in testing how good the gates really are today, he concludes as he lowers the rifle. Seconds later he slings it over his shoulder and then carefully scales his way across the gap between his vantage point and the safety of the balcony.

Adam might have acclimatised to the roof but he still hates the forty foot gap that he has to cross. Mainly that’s because there is a near thirty foot drop to the ground below. One false move and I’m dead, he thinks as he quickly reaches the safety of the balcony, where he briefly exhales a sigh of relief before rushing through the deserted open plan studio flat into the hallway beyond before starting his descent down the two flights of the stairs.

The flat that he has just left, whose balcony is connected to the adjacent roof, is the only one of those that is not used for accommodation, bar those on the ground floor which are all used as storage, workshops and other such uses. Other than the original manor house, that is. Most of that is used for the storage of food supplies and ammunition a well as classroom space for the children and Melissa’s medical centre.

“What’s this about people Ad?” Carl asks as Adam reaches him, Penny who serves as a teacher for the children of the community, Melissa and Vince.

Carl has hold of his rifle. This one really is his and not the community’s. Carl had made sure to make the distinction early on. Adam had learned why the distinction existed and when he had he understood why there was one. You see the rifle in Carl’s hands was his fathers and he’d given it to his son years when he’d died. That had been years before the outbreak of the infection, but Adam doesn’t know exactly how long. Following his father’s death Carl had kept it close ever since. He had admitted however that he never imagined in his wildest nightmares that would ever have to load let alone fire the weapon. But then, many things they all thought they would never have to do had needed to be done when the world came to an end.

“Three guys. Maybe thirty infected chasing them.” Adam informs the five foot seven inch tall man who is in his mid-fifties with thinning white hair and grey eyes.

“Ah shit!” Carl spits. This is not what we need right now, Carl thinks as he weighs up their options. He isn’t in charge. No one person is. This is a community. They make decisions together, or a subset of them does depending on the situation. They can’t exactly gather all the residence together and have a vote on the options. If they did they would have get anything done and they’d probably all be dead by now.

“Leave ‘em. They aren’t our problem. We don’t know ‘em. We don’t owe ‘em a thing.” Vince says casually and with a shrug of his shoulders. He really does mean what he says.

Adam, Melissa and Penny all turn and look at the six foot tall twenty six year old man with short blonde hair and green eyes. They can’t believe what Vince is saying, but maybe they shouldn’t be surprised. He’s always been outspoken and blunt. But leaving people to die! Adam can’t imagine doing such a thing. It’s callous and inhuman, he thinks.

“That isn’t our way.” Carl reminds as he gives Vince a sideways look.

“Maybe it should be. Why should we risk our necks for people we don’t even know?” Vince queries without any sign of hesitation.

“If we’d done that you wouldn’t be here Vince.” Carl remarks as he looks over his thin framed glasses at the younger man who simply smiles awkwardly in response.

Carl is right. Vince had been in a similar position to these three men, except there had been no infected chasing him. Adam still hadn’t got the full story as to how he’d survived on his own, but Carl had. He just wouldn’t give details and Adam understands that. But if the reasoning had been good enough for Carl then that meant that it was good enough for Adam. And seeing as that was nearly a year ago it didn’t matter now. In the beginning it had. Adam had been suspicious of Vince then, but now he was just another member of the community. Even if sometimes he can be too blunt for his own good.

“We need to save them. We can’t leave them to die.” Penny, who used to be a teacher, says from behind her blue eyes and long wavy blonde hair.

Adam isn’t used to seeing her with her hair down. Usually she wears it in a ponytail, but seeing as it’s a Saturday she isn’t teaching today so it makes sense that it wouldn’t be tied back. However, just because it’s a Saturday that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t been working, as he notes that she has dirt under her fingernails. That means the five foot four inch tall woman who is in her mid-twenties has been helping with the vegetable patch again. Does she ever take a break? He doesn’t know but he does understand why she might not want to. After all she did witness, first hand, the love of her life turn into one of the infected. Nicola had been for name.

Penny had been very honest about her past when she’d joined their little group. This was back before they’d become a community and settled here. In fact, this had been back when the world was still in the process of completely falling apart. Most governments had crumbled, along with emergency services and armed forces, but people hadn’t yet tried to mass exodus and even when they did it didn’t work. People thought they could escape the infected, but they simply sought those still alive out like some kind of ravenous dog desperate for its next meal. One that it has caught the scent of and refuses the stop pursuing until it has its prize firmly between its teeth.

Adam can’t remember how or precisely when they’d all met, but Penny’s story had crushed him. She’s such a sweet young woman and to suffer something so awful makes him wonder how she’d managed to carry on. She’s a fighter, like he is, he’d concluded when he’d heard the story. He didn’t share his own. He couldn’t. In fact, he didn’t even make mention that he had a story to tell. Its better that way, he’d decided.

“Penny’s right. We can’t just stand here and let them die.” Melissa adds siding with Penny.

“What do you think Adam?” Melissa then says as he turns to Adam to get his opinion, like she often does. She does it because she knows that no matter his personal opinion he always speaks from the view of what is right and sensible.

“Enough people have died in this world. We should help them.” Adam confirms with a nod as he shifts his gaze from Melissa and back to Carl who he had been looking at before Melissa had asked him his opinion.

“And how we going to do that?” Vince questions succinctly.

“The gates?” Penny offers as a suggestion.

“We don’t have the time. It’ll take too long.” Adam advises trying not to sound ungrateful for her suggestion. He isn’t, but it just isn’t practical in the time they’ll have, which isn’t much and what’s left of it is running out.

“Plus it’s too risky.” Vince adds without a care as to whether he is being too blunt again.

“Are you actually going to contribute anything helpful here Vince?” Melissa says glaring at the taller younger man who holds his hands up as an apology.

“We could drop one of the ladders over the wall.” Adam offers as a solution following a short pause for thought.

“Do it.” Carl orders with a nod moments before Adam rushes off to get a set of ladders. He knows exactly where a set are as he passed them as he crossed the plus shaped courtyard to meet the others.

“Carl, come on this is a bad idea.” Vince says trying to reason with the oldest amongst them. He’s the patriarchal figure of the community who most of the others in the community listen to even if he isn’t actually in charge.

“Vince, we’re not leaving them to die. I know why you’re reticent, but we have never turned our backs on anyone. And we’re not starting now.” Carl fires back without revealing details as to why the younger taller Vince is visibly panicked by the notion of helping these men in desperate need.

I can’t watch another community die, Vince thinks as he feels panic set in. He should have done something then, but he hadn’t. He’d been sure then that everything would work out fine, but it hadn’t. They’d opened themselves up, but not to the infected. They’d opened themselves up to marauders, who had killed anyone who hadn’t surrendered, taken all their supplies and then dropped them off the back of trucks to face certain doom. Except somehow Vince had managed to survive, even with the odds stacked up against him. But he still doesn’t know how and he certainly doesn’t care if the others think he’s cruel or cold. They haven’t had to live through what he has. They’ve been lucky. But luck runs out, Vince knows. It had for his first community and it would for this one too, if they aren’t careful.

“I won’t help you do this. I can’t Carl. I…” Vince begins before trailing off as he backs away.

“It’s ok Vince.” Carl says as he nods. He understands and will allow the man a free pass this time as he continues to back away, hands raised just as Adam returns with the ladder.

“Where’s Vince going?” Adam queries as he rejoins Carl, Melissa and Penny.

The two women say nothing. They don’t know what to say. What they can say. They have never seen Vince look scared. But neither have a clue as to what he’s so scared of, so simply turn to Carl awaiting his reply.

“Not important right now. Let’s just save these people.” Carl says unwilling to go into details here and now.

“South wall would be the best place to do this. It’ll take the infected longer to get round there. Might give them enough of a head start.” Adam advises. He is sure Vince’s retreat must relate to the man’s past, but he never would have imagined that it would have this much of an effect of him. He’s never seen the younger man look so pale or terrified before. But right now they have a job to do and Vince isn’t part of it.

“Do it. Take whoever you need.” Carl orders with a single nod.

“I’ll go.” Melissa offers.

“No. Mel, you’ll need to check these guys over once their inside.” Adam refuses.

He’s trying to protect her. He knows she wants to help, but this is dangerous and he isn’t willing to risk their only trained medical professional when he doesn’t have to. He’ll find someone else.

“Ad’s right Mel.” Carl chimes in.

“Penny, get everyone inside. They’ll be safer there. We need as few people as possible at risk.” Carl then orders as he looks to the young blonde teacher on his right.

“Sure.” Penny says with a nod moments before she rushes off to tell everyone to stay in their homes. Most of them are probably already there seeing as it’s early afternoon on a Saturday, but she’ll still check everywhere just to be extra sure.

“I’m going to need a hand to get things ready.” Melissa then declares finally accepting that Adam and Carl are right. She doesn’t like it, but she knows her importance. She just wishes that sometimes she wasn’t so vital, as then the others wouldn’t treat her as though she might break at any time. However, she does fully understands why they act the way they do. Without her any wounds, actual serious ones, would never get properly treated. Plus the community wouldn’t have the medicine that they have managed stockpiled right now.

The stockpile won’t last forever, she knows that. But it could last another fourteen months, as long as nothing drastically changes. She hopes it doesn’t, for everyone’s sake.

“I’ll lend my services as best I can Mel.” Carl assures moments before they exchange offers of good luck with Adam and then part. But before they do Carl hands Adam his rifle. Adam blinks in surprise.

“You’ll need it.”

“Thanks Carl.” Adam replies with a smile before he heads for the south wall, which stands past what used to be the gardens at the back of the estate. Along the way Adam grabs Sally and Charles. He hands Sally his rifle, that isn’t his and briefly fills them in on what’s happening. Charles elects himself to be the one to inform the desperate men where they need to head to along the estate wall so they can escape the infected chasing them.

Adam meanwhile scales the ladder before dropping onto the narrow cracked asphalt path that lies between the brick wall and the housing estate. He doesn’t remember the last time he went near the housing estate, but knows that it must have been a long time.

These had been some of the very first houses that there little community had raided once they’d settled in and gotten a lay of the land. Many of them had even passed this estate often on their way to and from work, but none of them had ever lived here. That had surprised Adam, but he doesn’t quite know why it had he realises as Sally hops from the high brick wall to a patch of less cracked and uneven asphalt next to him.

Adam is aware that she knows how to use a gun. She used to go clay pigeon shooting before the end of the world had come and according to the accounts of her husband, Charles, she had been very competent at it.

Adam wonders how long it’ll be before they get sight of the trio of fleeing men. He hopes not long. Just being out here on this narrow path between their perimeter wall and the wall of the house to his left is dangerous enough. His skin is starting to crawl as the hair on his back come to stand on end. This is not a good place to be, a voice in his head says seconds before he pushes such thoughts aside. Not helpful, he says to himself as Sally drops one of her knees into the dirt. It’s softer than the cracked asphalt which she is aware would dig into the thin material of her jeans. But she doesn’t peer down the sight of the rifle, not like Adam had been when he’d had it in his hands during his watch. She doesn’t need to and if she tried and anything rushed her it would take her too long to adjust her aim. That would likely get her killed and she has no plans to die anytime soon. Especially not after she and her husband have managed to survive the apocalypse. She knows life will become difficult for them as they grow older. She’s fifty nine now and he’s sixty three. She doesn’t have a clue how long they can expect to last without all the medical achievements that had been helping to prolong people’s lives well into their nineties. Though, she does plan to find out and maybe even test the limits of what should be possible to achieve. Nothing like subverting expectation, she thinks as she keeps a vigilant watch.

Where are they? Adam wonders. He hopes Charles managed to alert them in time. We can’t stay here much longer. It’s too dangerous. We’re too vulnerable. Easy pickings, but as such thoughts go through Adam’s head the trio of men come into view. Two of the trio are younger and a couple metres ahead of the third older man. However, from the expressions on their faces Adam can tell that all three of them are exhausted as they approach, slowing as they do.

“Up the ladder. Quick!” Adam orders.

The three men say nothing as they silently comply. The tallest goes first, seeing as he reached the ladder before the other two. He races up it before dropping harmlessly to the dirt on the other side. He exhales feeling a wave of relief wash over him as he leans back against the brick wall with his eyes closed as the other young guy lands at his side.

“We’re going to be ok Nate.” The older shorter of the two says as he rests his hand on the taller man’s shoulder. Nate simply nods once in response.

“Thank you.” The older man, who is the last of the trio to climb the ladder, says to Adam as he slumbers up the rungs one by one. He’s exhausted and his face is red, but that isn’t the most pressing concern as the first of the infected come into view.

“Sally we’re next.” Adam orders seconds after hearing the unmistakable sound of someone landing on the other side of the wall.

“Adam.” Sally offers unsure about leaving the armed man.

“Go. I’ll be fine.” He assures her as he quickly glances over his shoulder and nods.

Sally hurries up the ladder, rifle still in hand, but she doesn’t hang around and quickly leaps off the top of the wall and back to solid and much safer ground.

Adam can hear the groans and growls of the infected who are shambling towards him as he slings the rifle, Carl’s rifle, over his shoulder. That’s a lot more than thirty, he notes to himself as he climbs the ladder, which he then quickly hauls up into the air. It’s the exact reverse of what Sally did before she dropped to his side. But he, unlike her, nearly loses balance because of the wooden ladder in his hands. He quickly regains it however, and then drops the ladder on the inside of the perimeter wall and just in time as the infected crowd around that section, reaching with their skeletal arms. They’re desperate like junkies looking for a fix; only their fix will kill whoever they sink their teeth into.

Adam contemplates whether or not to fire a shot but decides before long that it’s better to not and instead drops off the brick wall and back to solid ground. His knees and legs absorb the impact but he finds jarring and painful. But it’s fleeting pain and will pass before too long.

“Thank you again.” The oldest member of the trio of men says with a grateful smile as he nods furiously to convey just how much he appreciates these people’s help.

“Don’t mention it. I’m Adam by the way and this is Sally.” Adam says as he offers his hand to shake.

“Lawrence, Lawrence Parr.” The older man, who Adam guesses must be in his early fifties by the looks of him, replies taking Adam’s hand before giving it several firm shakes.

“And these are my boys, Shawn and Nate.” Lawrence then says introducing the two younger men as he shakes Sally’s hand.

Adam shakes Shawn’s hand first, followed by Nate’s. Both have good firm handshakes.

“Nice place you got here.” Shawn says with wide eyes. Adam can tell that the man, who is clearly in his thirties, is impressed and also older than his brother Nate.

“We do ok.” Adam admits as Sally hands him back the rifle. He knows without her even saying so that she’s had enough excitement for one day and is going in search of her husband. She always worries about him. Adam understands why. After all, he is the oldest member of their community and has problems with asthma. Adams hopes Charles hasn’t overexerted himself. He’ll check on them later to make sure they’re doing alright. It’s the least he can do. First though, he has to get these three men to Melissa. They need a check-up, even if they look perfectly fine to his pair of eyes.

“You’ll have to answer some questions. But first we need to get you checked out by our resident doctor.” Adam informs. It isn’t that he doesn’t trust the trio. Though, he has to admit that he doesn’t. It’s nothing personal. It’s simply because he doesn’t know them, and until he does and they’ve made it perfectly clear that they pose no threat, that won’t change. That doesn’t mean however that he will be anything other than polite and honest with them. He has to admit it does make his ordering easier given the fact that he is armed. Two rifles however is a little overkill, he feels.

“Sure. Sure. Whatever you say. You saved our lives so we’re not going to argue a single ounce.” Lawrence confirms while still out of breath.

Adam nods his approval of the older man’s confirmation before stepping aside. The infected continue to pound against the brick wall, but he knows they’ll never get through. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. However, it’s never happened quite like this, he has to admit.

“After you.” Adam offers with a hand gesture as he stands there with a rifle over each shoulder and a smile on his face.

“What about those things?” Nate asks nervously. His eyes darting back and forth as he speaks. Adam can tell he isn’t taking note of his surroundings and the fact they are now safe behind a solid wall. That’s because he’s scared. Adam can understand that. He’d been the same when they’d first setup here. But the fear is irrational. The infected aren’t superhuman strong or anything like that. They can’t break down a simple solid wooden door, so they have no hope against a brick wall. Plus he knows they’ll give up soon. It’ll be once the smell of living flesh has drifted off on the breeze. They’ll follow it. They always do. Though, that will only happen once they move away from the wall.

He’ll also have to make sure to tell Penny that everyone needs to give the gardens a wide berth for a couple hours, just to make extra sure.

“They can’t get in.” Adam reassures with a warm smile.

“This way then?” Shawn asks as he points toward the manor house. Adam is sure the younger of the two sons doesn’t know that they really are headed to the manor house. More likely he’s pointing at it because it is straight ahead and a little, maybe by a metre, closer to them than the twin horseshoe shaped additions that side to either side of it.

“Please.” Adam says politely and with a nod in the moments before Shawn goes striding off, followed by Nate. Lawrence follows next, but he moves slower. Adam can tell the older man wants to talk as he follows close behind.

“What is this place?” Lawrence asks astounded at the sight of the plentiful crops that they walk between; while the sounds of chickens clucking softly chime out from somewhere off to his right. He turns his head and sees the coups lined up. They’re much closer than he would have guessed them to be. He can’t remember the last time he heard chickens, let alone saw them and it amazes him.

“Old Manor Gardens.” Adam speaks the name that this place had before the world ended. He doesn’t know if it’ll mean anything to the older man. He doubts it. By the sounds of his accent he isn’t local and that makes Adam wonder how he and his boys have ended up here. For work is the most likely answer, he knows that, but he isn’t sure if that is true of these men.

“You live here before?” Lawrence asks as he looks over his shoulder. Adam notes that the man has cold blue eyes to go with his bald head.

“No. We settled here.” Adam answers honestly. He sees no reason not to be honest.

“Looks matured. How long?” Lawrence queries as he takes note of the food they are growing here.

“About two years.”

“Wow! You’ve been here since near the beginning then. You’ve lasted a long time. Runs can’t be easy after so long. You must have to go a good distance now to scavenge anything worth its carrying weight.” Lawrence says as they leave the gardens and walk along the path that lies between the manor house and the horseshoe shaped block to the manors left. There is an identical path to the right of the manor house as well.

“We’re self-sustaining. We rarely leave the security of these walls now.”

“Amazing. Truly amazing.” Lawrence remarks as they catch back up with Shawn and Nate, who are standing patiently waiting for them.

“This way.” Adam says as he motions for the men to enter the manor house.

Adam steps through the already open front door of the building and into the entrance hall first. He doubts the men will run. And even if they did they have nowhere to run to. Plus whether they realise it or not they are outnumbered and at this moment also outgunned.

The entrance hall isn’t particularly impressive as it is far narrower than it would have been when it was a single house. Adam had never seen its interior then but he can imagine that it would have been more open than it is now, but he could be wrong. He only thinks that because the wooden staircase to the first floor is right opposite the door and confined by walls that sit only three inches on either side.

The balustrades and handrail of the staircase are dark stained wood; he doesn’t know what kind and doesn’t care. Such things don’t matter anymore. In fact, they never really mattered to him in the first place. He’d been a brick layer before all this happened, so he never got to see how the things he built the walls for ended up. Sometimes he’d regretted not going back to see them, most of the time he’d been too busy to even think about it.

“Up the stairs, first door on the left.” Adam utters without thinking. He knows the layout of the house, as well as the rest of the estate, like the back of his hand.

Lawrence, Shawn and Nate head up the stairs with Adam following. He hopes Carl is still with Melissa, so he can hand him his rifle back. He soon gets his answer as he and the trio enter Melissa’s medical unit.

Carl welcomes the three men and shakes their hands before Melissa appears and urges them to all follow her into her examination room beyond. They comply, though from the looks on their faces it’s clear that they are unsure as to what they are going to be faced with, even as she pushes closed the door.

“Here’s your rifle Carl.” Adam says handing the weapon back to Carl.

“Thanks Ad. All go well?” Carl says thankful to have the rifle back in his possession as he takes it from Adam’s hand and then slings it over his own shoulder. Even though the separation was brief and he knew the weapon was in good hands he has missed having it near him, as it’s the furthest it’s been from him in years.

Carl used to work from home as a film, theatre and music critic for an arts review website before the infection broke out and the only thing he’d taken with him when he’d fled was the rifle. It was the only possession he really cared enough about to take with him. Plus it doubled as a means of protection in what was, at the time, becoming an increasingly lawless world. Well, laws are all gone now, he says to himself, as are the people that used to enforce them. He has to admit that such things still worry him. People don’t always know right from wrong, and even when they do they aren’t always willing to pick the option they should.

“Yeah. All good.” Adam assures him with a smile.

“They say much?” Carl queries.

“Just their names. Lawrence is the older one and the other two are his boys Shawn and Nate.” Adam informs.

“They don’t look related.” Carl exclaims in surprise as he never would have guessed they were part of the same family. However, it does explain why they are travelling together.

Carl had to admit that upon first setting sight on them, which lasted mere seconds before they’d shuffled into the examination room with Melissa, he had been worried they might be marauders.

He’d have to look for Vince soon and see if he’s alright. As well as offer reassurances that what happened to his old community won’t happen here and that they’re safe. He hopes the younger headstrong man will listen because they really are safe here. He doubts many other communities have perimeter walls like they do, Vince’s hadn’t, and that will help to give them a greater level of protection against any and all possible threats.

“Appearances can be deceiving I guess.” Adam says with a shrug of his shoulders as he wonders how the check-up for the three men is going. He knows it won’t take Melissa long, but he’d still like to get answers sooner rather than later as Penny walks in to what Melissa refers to as the waiting area.

“Everyone’s in their homes like you wanted Carl.” Penny informs them with a flutter of her eyelids. She never thought that it would take as long as it did and sees now that the excitement is apparently already over.

“Thanks Penny.”

“Are they with Mel?” Penny then asks curious. She can tell nothing horrific has happened as both men are calm and relaxed, well for them anyway.

“Yeah. By the way the infected are along the south wall. Might be best if everyone gives the gardens a wide berth for the next couple hours, or at least until they’ve shuffled along.” Adam says making sure Penny is aware of the situation. She isn’t in charge of the gardens, but she often spends her off time there. He guesses that it must help her to relax.

“Sure Adam.” Penny replies with a nod and a smile as Melissa’s examination room door opens and she appears at the doorway.

“All done.” Melissa advises before stepping back to allow Carl and Adam entry.

“I need to check on Vince.” Carl advises as he looks to Adam who simply nods his confirmation and then leaves Carl and Penny to join Melissa and the three men in her examination room.

Once inside, Adam finds the trio of men are sat on an old battered brown leather three-seater sofa relaxing now that Melissa has concluded her assessments. She’s found them to all be in good health, which had come of more of a relief to her than she anticipated. You’re thinking about the supply levels again, a voice in her head accuses. The voice, her subconscious, is right as the last thing anybody in the community will want is to let any unnecessary viruses in that would drain them of the precious resources they have. Though, she has to admit that Lawrence and Shawn ask a lot of questions, unlike Nate who by comparison says very little, she has noted.

However, Melissa had managed to glean some information from them, such as the fact that Lawrence isn’t Nate’s biological father. He actually adopted the boy as a toddler with his second wife. Unfortunately, she died some five years ago in a car crash. By comparison Shawn is Lawrence’s only biological son and came from his first marriage to a woman called Lisa. Lisa raised him which is why he and Lawrence have different surnames. Shawn’s is Miller and unusually Lawrence and his second wife Carol elected to retain Nate’s birth surname of Bridges. Lawrence even admitted that he doesn’t know what happened to his first wife. She might still be alive, but seeing as so many lost their lives, he doubts it.

“What happens now?” Nate asks.

“Nate, we owe these good people some answers before we can expect them to make any decision.” Lawrence reasons before turning his focus from his youngest son who is in his early twenties, has a shaved head and green eyes.

“Sorry.” Nate says as his head drops apologetically.

“Where did you come from?” Adam asks getting straight to the point.  The trio knew this was coming. He’d told them as much, but he didn’t expect that he would be the one asking the questions. He thought that would be Carl, not that it matters as long as they get answers.

“We were part of a community but its…” Shawn says shaking his head. He drifts off never finishing his explanation. Adam notes that the blonde haired hazel eyed man in his thirties looks crushed. Adam understands why as he nods subconsciously in sympathy.

“It’s been a hard time for me and my boys.” Lawrence adds.

“I’m sure. So you were looking for supplies?” Adam then asks with a sympathetic tone.

“We were.”Lawrence confirms.

“You won’t find any round here. We raided them a long time ago.” Melissa admits honestly.

“So we’ve found.” Shawn retorts.

“From your accents I’d say you’re not locals.” Adam states.

“No. We’ve travelled a long way but we’ve found no other communities. Yours is the first we’ve come across.” Lawrence admits.

“How have you survived?” Melissa asks curious.

“Raiding houses.” Shawn answers.

“Are the three of you all that’s left of your community?” Adam queries.

“We are. The others…” Lawrence begins before trailing off.

“We need shelter.” Nate exclaims before catching sight of Shawn and Lawrence’s stares, at which point he shrinks and becomes silent again.

“We can offer you shelter. We don’t have much, but you’ll be safe here.” Adam offers with a smile. Melissa nods. She is in agreement with Adam’s offer and from where she is stood at the back of her examination room, Adam can see her nods of approval. However, Adam notes that the room seems smaller now than it had the last time he’d been in it. Maybe that’s because of the additional bodies of Lawrence, Shawn and Nate. Or maybe it’s because he hasn’t been in here for a long time and because there is a lot more equipment in here now. He can’t be sure of which it is but soon concludes that it doesn’t matter.

“We are grateful for all you have done for us and will gladly accept.” Lawrence confirms humbly.

“Then it’s settled. I’ll get someone to show you to your new homes so you can get some rest. I know the others will be eager to meet and introduce themselves to you.” Adam concludes with a warmth to his words.

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