The Plague Winter (Year of the Zombie Book 2)

By: Rich Hawkins

When Eddie opened the door and stepped back, a spindly shape with too many teeth emerged from the house and crawled out into the rain. It was a woman in the filthy remnants of a summer dress, her blackened mouth gasping and her face slack and drooping upon her skull.

He stepped back until he was beyond the reach of her claws and corruption. She wheezed past sore lips and halted on her hands and knees, trembling and raw upon the tarmac of the car park. She looked up at Eddie as he raised the pistol, and her eyes were bloodshot and wild in their bone sockets. Skin shockingly pale. She reached for him, her mouth pleading.

Crack of the gunshot and the pistol bucked in his hand. The bullet caught the woman just below her left eye and exited through the back of her head. She uttered a strained gurgle from her throat, and died crawling towards him, one hand scraping at the ground while the other pawed at the hole in her face.

Eddie stepped away.

The silence in the rain. Soft patter upon his shoulders and hood. He pulled the tied cloth down from his nose and mouth and took in a breath that felt like the best he’d ever tasted. His hands trembled. The weight of his old bones. He moved one arm in its socket and his old joints were like rusted hinges and knots. When he looked at the woman and her ruined form, anger swelled behind his eyes and teeth. The back of his mouth watered with nausea. The taking of a life never got easier. Never would. And it would never end. Pestilence was in the land, and the plague would abide. The country belonged to the infected and the scavengers.

Smell of gunpowder in the damp air. He touched his face and then checked his clothes for the woman’s blood, but he was clean. He slumped and watched the woman for a while as the rain fell and the wind pulled at him from the surrounding fields.



***



The gunshot would bring visitors and he had to finish before they arrived. He moved to the doorway and stepped inside the house with the pistol awkward in his hands. Air pulled through the cloth over his mouth. All he could hear was his heart as he stood in the kitchen and eyed the doorway to the hallway and the stairs beyond. Rainwater dripped from his coat. If there were any infected upstairs they’d have descended to meet him by now.

He pulled down his hood and ran one finger over a worktop and it came away black with dust. The linoleum sticky with old stains. In one corner of the floor there was a puddle of some kind of mucus that smelled like rotten eggs.

Everything covered in dust. Rain fell against the window above a sink filled with dirty plates and bowls growing colonies of mould. Dead insects upturned in the windowsills. A clock ticked soundlessly upon a wall speckled with black rot. Eddie noted the time because he didn’t want to be caught out in the fields in the dark, and the prospect of spending a night in the house appealed only to the vague suicidal tendencies he’d been feeling since winter had arrived.

He listened to the house and the creaks between the walls. In the cupboards he found two tins of tomato soup and one of oxtail, a Mars bar, a packet of dried pasta and a tin of baby carrots, all of which he placed in the rucksack over his shoulder.

Deeper into the house, where the rooms smelled of old murder and bone marrow. The solemn daylight revealed the old things of a lost world. Skeletal remains piled in one corner like an offering. Blood-encrusted rags and bandages. Bookcases of tattered books. In the rooms where the curtains were drawn, he used his torch to pick through the darkness to the sound of the incessant rain on the roof. In a desk drawer he found packs of batteries, some birthday candles and a box of matches. They all went into the bag.

Eddie made sure not to look at the photos on the walls and high shelves and behind the glass doors of cabinets. It didn’t matter who had lived here. To think too much about the dead was to let his guard down, which would likely end with a bite or a scratch from some ravenous thing. And that would be that.

He climbed the stairway into the darkness and when he reached the landing he opened the curtains and flinched from the grey daylight. He opened the door to the master bedroom and in the dark inside he saw the thing that squirmed in the bed. He raised the pistol and froze. The torchlight revealed what remained of a man. The bed clothes damp with blood and other fluids. A putrid stink.

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