A Series of Inevitable Events.
As another exhilarating episode of Fushigi Yugi drew to a close, Emily, Sami and Yasha wiped away their tears of laughter and turned to more serious matters.
“When are we going to that new comedy club, guys?” said Emily.
“Tonight?” Yasha suggested.
“Yasha, you promised you’d go out with your boyfriend tonight.”
“I know, but-”
“What about Saturday?”
Sami shook her head. “Not Saturday. We’ll get crushed by all the Christmas shoppers.”
“What, at night?”
“Especially at night.”
Emily gave a shudder of the intensity she usually reserved for KFC meals or liver and onions.
“Ugh, all those shoppers. What’s wrong with the world? Why are we so consumerist?”
“No idea,” said Yasha. “Hey, let’s go and buy more animé!”
Several hours and too much money later, the girls staggered back up to Em’s room, laden with huge bags of DVDs, books and unfortunately dairy-based food.
“What shall we watch first?” asked Sami.
While Sami and Yasha tried to decide which animé they couldn’t bear waiting a few hours longer to watch – never an easy task for any fan – Emily was turning on the TV and flicking through the channels.
There is a kind of heroine who would see the words ‘BREAKING NEWS’ flashing across the bottom of the screen on every channel, and think nothing of it, and continue to think nothing of it till the undead are close enough to nibble her on the ear. Fortunately, Emily was not one of these heroines.
She therefore knew that reports on a mysterious virus sweeping the city should never be ignored.
“Guys, listen to this!”
that people avoid crowded areas such as
“Oh, crap,” said Sami. “Em, you’d better go just in case. You already have a cold.”
“So far the virus doesn’t seem to be fatal,” continued the news anchor. “Although several victims have slipped into death-like comas, complete with rigor mortis, they invariably revive and carry on as normal…”
“No! No, you stupid man!” Emily kicked off her shoe and threw it at the TV.
“What?” asked Yasha.
Sami raised her eyebrows. “Is this the zombie thing, Em?”
“Of course it’s the zombie thing!”
“OK, sure. Sit down and have some ice-cream.”
“I can’t have ice-cream! And even if I could, we have to barricade the door first!”
“Well, how about we leave that till we see how things work out?”
Emily jabbed a finger at the TV. On the screen, behind the news anchor, a young man was stumbling around in the road.
“You don’t believe me? That’s one of them!”
Sami sighed. “Em, I think he’s just dru-”
A big red bus sped around the corner and hit the man, crushing him under its wheels. Yasha screamed, the news anchor said something that guaranteed the end of his career, and Emily gave a hollow laugh.
“You just watch…”
Slowly, the young man got up and began to stagger onwards, although his arms were now hanging off and one of his legs was the wrong shape.
Emily looked at the others.
“Let’s barricade the door,” said Sami.
“Yes, let’s – hang
on!” Em exclaimed. “We can’t!”
“Yes we bloody can!”
“No! Those things
are right in the centre of
“The Royal Family?”
Tim sat in his room, eating a slice of toast and contemplating his latest War Studies essay:
‘If women ruled the world, there would be no more wars: discuss this theory.’
He stared out of the window. Something appeared to be on fire, and lots of people were screaming in an irritating manner. God, the pre-Christmas rush was murder…
There was a slow, hollow knock on his door.
Sighing, Tim got up and went to answer it. The door creaked back like a coffin opening.
Standing in the hallway was a very angry and out-of-breath Emily. She was wearing her big kicking boots and brandishing a baseball bat with a look of menace in her eye.
“What did I do?” he said finally.
“What?” Emily looked from him, to the bat, and rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t be daft, I’m not going to hit you.”
“Is Stu in town?”
“The dead are rising, doofus. I’ve come to get you somewhere safe.”
“I’m perfectly safe here,” Tim pointed out, adding to himself ‘Or at least I was…’
“Oh no you’re not!” Emily stuck the baseball bat through her belt and pulled a small green book out of her bag. “According to my Zombie Survival Handbook, staying in an infected area is…” She flipped through the pages. “ ‘Bloody stupid’.”
“So let’s get some weapons and go back to mine. It’s out of the crisis area and Yasha and Sami are making sundaes.”
Tim still looked witheringly unconvinced.
“We’ll make you some toast,” Emily added.
“Or you can stay here and be it.”
“Well, stop wasting time!” Emily marched towards the door. “Let’s kick some dead ass!”
With another sigh, Tim ate the last of his now cold toast. His eye fell on his essay title.
He picked up a pen.
Load of bollocks, he wrote, and followed Emily.
The roads were deserted. One of the buildings was smouldering quietly to itself, and all the windows were broken, but there was no-one, dead or alive, to be seen.
This didn’t include our respectively intrepid and sceptical heroes, who were walking quickly and quietly along the empty streets. Emily, still clutching her baseball bat, was glancing suspiciously from side to side. Tim had found an axe somewhere, and was glancing suspiciously at Emily.
“Surprisingly enough,” he said “I don’t see any zombies.”
“That’s a good thing.”
“Just out of curiosity, did you see any on your way here?”
“Yes, but they didn’t see me.”
“So they could, in theory, have just been ordinary people?”
Emily waved her arms around. “Do ordinary people break windows? Do ordinary people burn down buildings?”
“Shut up!” Emily snapped. “Don’t you see how eerily quiet it is? Doesn’t that suggest anything to you?”
“Several things. Terrorist action, a sale at Hamleys…”
“OK, when we get back to mine, you’re watching Shaun of the Dead, and then you’ll understa…”
Emily’s voice trailed off as they turned the corner.
“What now?” asked Tim.
“I was sort of
trying to avoid
Tim looked. As far as the eye could see, there was a huge crush of people. They lurched in and out of the shops and seethed across the pavements. Annoying, yes. Zombies? He doubted it.
That was, until he began to look more closely at some of the people. Not being a prejudiced person, Tim wouldn’t usually have minded seeing grey people shuffling by, and felt sorry for people with missing limbs insofar as he felt sorry for anyone at all. But when you combined the two, along with a low, hollow moaning and the smell of rotting flesh, he had to concede that maybe Emily could just possibly be right.
“Well, this sucks,” he said.
“Damn straight,” Emily twirled her baseball bat as she tried to think. “Where’s another Tube station? One we can get to through the back roads?”
Tim’s thoughts were interrupted by a sudden loud beeping noise.
“Shit!” Emily dropped the bat and scrabbled for her phone. “I bet it’s Sami, I bet they think I’m dead…”
But it wasn’t Sami. Emily read the text, and her heart sank. She groaned.
“What?” asked Tim, nervously eyeing three zombies who had stopped and seemed to be wondering, in their own special, Neanderthal-like way, what the noise had been.
Emily showed him the message.
Hey Em! Got a day off work so I thought I’d come to
“Ally’s coming to
“Oh, wonderful. Tell her to go home.”
Go home, fool, Emily texted.
The three zombies seemed to decide that there was something strange going on. They began to shuffle forwards.
Emily’s phone beeped again, attracting the attention of two more zombies.
“For the love of God, put it on silent!” Tim snapped.
“ ‘Can’t, I’m already here. Why is
“Just an idea, but shall we run?”
“We can’t run! Ally’s out there somewhere!”
“She’ll be fine as long as she can move above a jog.”
Emily considered the words ‘Ally’ and ‘jog’ together.
“So are we,” Tim muttered, as the zombies closed in.
The first zombie, a young woman dressed in rags that would once have been the height of chavvish fashion, groped forwards. Emily took a step back, swung the baseball bat, and hit her hard across the face.
“That’s an incredibly stupid comment to make,” said Tim, who was backing away from two zombie men.
“Stop talking and start hacking!” Emily shouted as she beat the woman several times over the head for good measure.
“Mneh…” Tim swung the axe and hit the first zombie in the arm. This, obviously, did absolutely nothing.
“You have to destroy the brain, stupid!”
“Getting to it…”
Emily stepped over the zombie’s remains and attacked a small child-zombie who was toddling towards her and hissing. One blow of the baseball bat left it whimpering on the ground; two, and it twitched and stopped moving.
“Haha! And there you lie!” Emily chuckled.
“Mm, how brave of you to deal with the little zombies…”
“Less talk, more chopping!”
Tim looked up from the headless corpses of his two zombies, and raised his eyebrows. “Likewise.”
“Waah!” Emily shrieked, as something grabbed at her hair. She spun around to see another zombie girl, who was holding her scrunchie and pushing a wad of money towards her.
As her hair tumbled down, Emily narrowed her eyes and raised the bat high about her head.
“DON’T – MESS – WITH – MY – DAMN – HAIR!” she shouted, punctuating each word with a thwack. In the background, Tim looked understandably afraid.
Emily turned and stared
“Oh, easily done, just another few thousand zombies to fight our way through…”
“Don’t be such a pessimist.”
“It’s my natural state of being.”
But before our heroes could stride into the almost certain doom that awaited them on the crowded street (something Terry Pratchett would have had serious words with them about), Emily’s phone beeped again.
‘Actually, I don’t think I’m in
Ally sipped her tall skinny decaf mochalattechino with gingerbread sprinkles and decided that there was definitely something very strange going on. There had to be, for a Starbucks to be completely deserted.
Her phone rumbled against the tabletop, and she picked up the text. It was from Emily, and full of expletives. She deleted it and helped herself to a flapjack from behind the counter, while the TV in the corner jabbered on.
“So what is the government’s reaction to the zombie situation?” the host asked the two ‘experts’ someone had hurriedly scraped together. “Will we be seeing some positive action against the building crisis?”
“Well, Ken, it depends on your point of view,” said the first expert. “First of all, can we really call the situation a crisis?”
Ken stared at him. “The undead are roaming the streets, looting shops and eating people. How is this not a crisis?”
“See, that just proves the prejudice of the media today,” said the second expert angrily. “Zombies are people too! How do we know that eating the living isn’t an important cultural tradition for the z – um…respiratorially impaired?”
The shout of rage, and the sound as the glass shattered, stopped Ally hearing the experts’ final verdict on the rights and wrongs of eating people alive. She turned around, and waved vaguely at Em, who was standing in the broken doorway of the shop, wearing a thunderous expression.
“Hi Em! How’s everything?”
“ZOMBIES are taking
“Oh, there’s something about that on the news…” Ally turned back to the TV.
“Well,” said Tim, stepping over the broken glass “she’s obviously fine. Let’s go.”
“Now we’re here, we might as well rescue her.”
“From what? Overpriced coffee?”
“It’s free when you steal it,” Ally pointed out. “And shh, I’m watching this…”
Emily studied the screen. One of the experts was beating the host over the head with his chair for being so ignorant and bigoted, while his co-expert was cheering him on. “What is it, Jerry Springer?”
“The news. They’re talking about zombies.”
“Are they calling in the army?”
“What are they doing?”
Ally explained the debate so far on zombie rights. Emily and Tim listened in amazement.
“Here,” said Tim, handing Ally the axe.
“Don’t you need this?”
“Not any more. I don’t want to live in a world where the term ‘expert’ is applied to people that stupid.”
“We’re stupid staying here,” Emily pointed out. “Let’s get back to mine, put heavy things against the doors and windows, and watch Excel Saga till the government sees sense.”
Tim and Ally stared at her.
“OK, fine, till someone with sense forms an underground resistance, or the general public takes the law into their own hands.”
“No chance,” Tim muttered. “They’re all too worried that they won’t finish their Christmas shopping before the world ends.”
“It’s quiet,” Ally said. “Too-”
“Make my day,” said Tim, waving the axe, which he had taken back after Ally managed to cut herself with it. “Finish that sentence.”
Emily, meanwhile, was wondering whether a thought that had been nagging at the back of her mind for the past half-hour was ever going to stop faffing about and make itself known. There was something about the zombies, something that didn’t seem quite right. Something that she definitely hadn’t seen in any of the films she’d studied.
“Living impaired at three o’ clock!” Ally shouted, jerking Emily out of her musings. They were passing a small supermarket, out of which a family of zombies were struggling, weighed down with plastic bags. Some of them seemed to contain turkeys, stuffing and mince pies – others were bleeding quite nastily.
“They’re ZOMBIES, Ally, ZOMBIES. You don’t have to be PC about zombies.”
The father zombie lurched up. Emily side-stepped and cracked him over the head with the bat, knocking him to the ground. As she began to stamp on his face, the mother zombie moaned furiously and waddled towards her, but Tim stopped her in her tracks with a mildly impressive throw of the axe – mild because, from his expression, he obviously hadn’t meant to let go of the handle.
“Next time you throw that thing near me,” Emily said, after a long pause “aim.”
They turned to the zombie children, but fortunately they saw the absence of their parents as a golden opportunity to start Christmas early. Sitting down in the middle of the road, they opened the bags and began to fight over raw turkey and entrails.
“God, it’s like being back at playgroup…” said Emily.
Ally was pouting. “Why don’t I get a weapon?”
“You get a weapon when you find one.”
“I found plenty. You took them away.”
“When you find one that you won’t kill yourself with.”
“How am I meant to defend myself without a weapon? What if I get eaten?”
“We hold a minute’s silence, then carry on,” said Tim. Ally stuck out her tongue at him.
“Again with the playgroup comment,” said Emily. “Let’s go! What are we waiting for, Christmas?”
A change came over her face. Her voice trailed off. The nagging thought had just come out of the back of her mind, taken a bow and introduced itself as an epiphany.
“Em doesn’t look very well,” Ally whispered to Tim.
“I’m fine! I’ve just realised what’s going on!”
“I would clap,” said Tim “had the rest of us not realised it a few hours ago.”
“Shut up, Tim!” Emily flapped her arms at him. “The TV said the zombies are looting, right? Why do zombies need to loot? They’re dead, they don’t need anything!”
“And one of them
took my scrunchie and tried to give me money!” She
pointed at the shop. “I bet if we went in there, we’d find a big pile of money
on the counter!”
“Ooh, really?” Ally began to eye the shop with interest.
“Don’t even think about it. Can’t you see?” Emily continued. “The zombies are SHOPPING!”
“You mean,” said Tim “the virus is some kind of marketing ploy concocted by big corporations who didn’t know what they were unleashing?”
“Hadn’t thought that far, but yeah!”
“We have to tell someone!” said Ally.
“Like who? Those idiots on the news? The police?” Tim said, indicating the street. The police were very conspicuous by their absence.
“How about the big corporations?”
Emily looked around at the looted shops.
“They won’t do anything,” she said.
“Because it’s working. They’re getting the money, and the people who can actually choose what they want – the living – are being eaten.”
Tim and Ally took this in.
“We’re screwed, aren’t we?” said Tim.
“Let’s get home,” said Emily. “We’ll see who’s screwed or not.”
“So, who’s screwed, Em?” asked Ally, as they stood, or rather crouched, outside Emily’s building.
They were hiding behind an abandoned car on the other side of the road. Between them and the door was about twenty zombie. These weren’t the usual lumbering, moaning zombies, however. These zombies were dressed in tracksuits, and were busy doing stretches and limbering up. They looked almost alive, apart from the disturbing way they kept picking splinters of bone out of their teeth.
“Twenty?” said Tim.
“Twenty’s not as bad as
“How?” Ally asked.
“Send you out as bait, then kill them while they’re feasting on your corpse.”
“Over my dead…oh.”
“It’s not as simple as that, Tim,” said Emily.
“So letting them
eat me is simple?!”
“Shh,” Emily stared at the zombies, and her heart, which was already somewhere in the region of her knees, sunk even lower. “They’re the athletics team. We’re going to have to be very, very fast.”
Ally thought about this.
“Tim’s right. I’ll be more use as bait.”
“Don’t be such a martyr. All we need is a plan…”
“I am not doing this,” Tim was still saying a couple of minutes later.
“Yes, you are.”
“Serves you right for wanting to use me as bait,” said Ally.
“My opinion was valid, and my plan was sound, unlike this one.”
“This is a sound plan,” Emily said cheerfully, and finished scrawling the last ‘e’ on the front of his T-shirt. She stood up, grabbed Tim’s shoulders, spun him around and shoved him out into the road. “You’re on!”
Tim lost his balance, fell over, and got to his feet to see all twenty zombies staring at him.
“I’ll bloody kill her,” he muttered.
“I think it’s working,” Emily said to Ally, from the relative near-safety of behind the car.
A couple of the
zombies had started towards Tim out of instinct, but paused as what Emily had
written caught their attention. As she’d expected, the magic word ‘
“Bleh?” said one zombie to another, enthusiastically.
“What d’you think they’re saying?” Ally whispered.
“Uh... ‘I wonder if they have that T-shirt in lurid green’?”
“How the hell should I know?”
Nervously, Tim started walking along the road. The zombies followed him.
“If my calculations are correct,” said Emily “they’ll think he’s leading them to a shop, so they won’t eat him.”
“And if they’re wrong?” Ally asked, then answered her own question with a malicious grin. “We hold a minute’s silence and move on.”
“Come on,” said Emily, standing up as the last overmuscled zombie jogged slowly after Tim. “Phase two.”
Walking calmly forwards with twenty of the slavering undead at his heels was quite possibly the most nerve-wracking thing Tim had ever done. He gritted his teeth, and wished someone else was with him. Stu, Mindy…anyone he could use as a handy decoy.
Then another sound faded in over the assorted ‘Blehs?’ – the sound of a car engine, going at full speed and coming closer. Tim began to walk faster.
He broke into a run as the car careered around the corner and screeched to a halt. Ally opened the door, while Emily revved the engine and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. The zombies – momentarily taken by surprise – had gathered themselves. They started to run.
“Hurry, Tim!” she shouted. Despite Tim’s headstart, the zombies were gaining.
“They’re going to eat you, you know!” Ally added reassuringly.
The nearest zombie stretched forwards and grabbed the collar of Tim’s coat. Tim struggled out of the garment, collapsed into the car and slammed the door behind him.
“You took your time out there,” said Emily.
Tim glared at her.
“I – am – NOT – a – runner,” he growled.
“Well, the main thing is we’re all alive.”
Tim looked as if he’d like to do something about that state of affairs, but, fortunately for him, the arrival of the zombies stopped him vocalising these thoughts.
“Haha, they can’t get us, we’re in a car!” said Ally.
“Actually, according to the handbook, us sitting here in a car will only slow them down.”
“Because we’re not just going to sit here in the car,” said Emily, and released the handbrake.
The car shot forwards with a roar, crushing two zombies beneath its wheels. Then it stalled.
“This isn’t MY car, OK? It’s not easy driving a strange car!”
Muttering, Emily put the car in neutral, re-
started it, and then accelerated gently forwards. The zombies began to jog alongside them.
“Just an observation?” said Tim. “They’re keeping up.”
“Do you know how difficult it is to be heroic with you two around?”
Judging that the car wasn’t likely to stall, Emily floored the accelerator, and they began to pull away from the crowd of zombies.
For about three seconds. Then a pale, undead face slowly began to appear in the side window.
“Um,” said Ally “did it occur to anyone that they can run as fast as they want because they don’t feel pain?”
“What do you think I watched Dawn of the Dead for? My health?” Emily snapped, and slammed on the brakes.
There was a screech. The zombies ran on ahead, slowing down as they realised the car was somewhere behind them, but it was already too late. Emily had hit the accelerator again, and ploughed through the group like a bowling ball through a set of pins. Zombies went flying, many of them in pieces.
“YOU LIKE THAT, YOU DEAD BASTARDS?!” Emily shouted, went into reverse, and backed over the remaining zombies.
“Crude,” said Tim “but horribly effective.”
They sat in reflective silence for a few moments. “What now?” Ally asked finally.
“Go inside, eat, watch animé.”
“Hang on,” Tim said. “Much as I hate to be responsible for such a predictable comment – do you hear that?”
The girls listened. There was the sound of a police siren. It was getting gradually closer.
“Yay!” Ally shrieked as the police car rounded the corner.
“Ally, wait-” Emily began, but Ally had already unlocked the door and leapt out into the street. She began to jump up and down, waving her arms.
“We’re over here!”
“Ally, for Christ’s sake-”
There was a shout – “There’s one of them!” – and then the sound of gunfire.
Christmas Day had
dawned, crisp, clear and annoyingly snowless. Across
“I wish they’d aimed a little further to your right,” Tim said to Ally, whose left arm was in a sling for the second time in her life.
“Well, how was I to know?”
“When they said ‘We’re looking for three murderers’, that’s how you were to know!”
Emily sighed quietly to herself. The police had been looking for them. The government had agreed with the arguments put forwards by the ‘experts’ – rumour had it they’d also accepted a large hand-out from an unnamed corporation – and granted the zombies ‘post-human’ status, with all the rights they’d had while they were living. As long as they refrained from biting, they were entitled to full police protection.
Their lawyer had tried to get the charge brought down to manslaughter, but admitted that it was unlikely. Technically, the zombies had been going about their own business – killing them was as legally dodgy as hitting a burglar who was just going about his own business whilst robbing someone’s home. Emily had fired her.
She’d never wanted to be a hero. She’d just wanted to survive. Although she had, she was seething quietly with rage. Suddenly, she realised that she didn’t just want to be a survivor either.
Emily stared out of the barred window, ignoring Tim and Ally’s bickering.
“One day, I’ll get out of here,” she murmured. “And they’ll rue the day they were resurrected…”
And she kicked off her shoe, and began to slap it idly against the palm of her hand.