In the months following an apocalyptic event, we find Nate, struggling to survive in the new landscape, trying to provide for his mother and brother while avoiding the infected and lethal non-infected. In middle-England, they feel cut-off from the rest of the country; London in particular, and have been forced to ‘sit and wait’ for a solution to come by. But then tragedy strikes, leaving Nate alone and without purpose.
And then we meet Ruby; imprisoned by a monster taking advantage of the lawlessness. Will she escape? How will she live with the consequences of her actions?
We follow their journey – Nate’s and Ruby’s – discovering along the way the rules of this new world. Are they infected too? Why are the infected getting stronger? What purpose has life when everything they treasured has been lost?
The Risen extract
“Either these houses are full of the dead, or we’re heading towards them.” Nate stared at the blank and broken windows; at the car dealership with a broken fence where car thieves had looted the keys to brand new Audis and wheeled away over the ramparts. A solitary crow sat on the bar of a streetlamp, watching and waiting. “I used to avoid this smell at all costs… or try to.”
To their left, they passed an old theatre-cum-coffee shop, that even without the end-of-the-world had long been in need of a paint-job. Green moss and damp trailed down from leaking gutters. The sight of the theatre made Ruby think of Shakespeare, and then more; “We keep thinking of the things we’ve lost. But think of everything there has ever been; Chaucer, Plato, Socrates, Religions, the Greeks, Romans, Vikings, fuck – all that history – just to stop.”
“Maybe this is how the dinosaurs went. Maybe we’ll be fossilised and excavated in a million years by an evolved dog.”
At an intersection, dead traffic lights asserted the start of mayhem as the fog grew thicker; each could see the walls of poured concrete further down the road – the distance somehow shortened by focusing their eyes – though the details were sketchy. They passed through the traffic lights and Nate placed a hand on the hilt of a knife, causing Ruby to follow course. “I’m guessing it’s this way,” she said.
“Yeah, we basically stay on this road. There’s probably side-roads but this is the most direct I think.” He looked right towards the entrance to Gheluvelt Park and saw the climbing frame and swings of a children’s park, and beyond, grassy fields that stretched to a tree-line with – and he counted – four ambling bodies. “You see those?”
Ruby looked. “Yeah, but they aren’t attacking each other.”
“Maybe they’re not hungry.”
“Let’s not try them.”
Nate armed himself with two knifes. “Let’s be ready, and let’s walk quickly.” They picked up their pace and headed for the tall concrete walls that marked the beginnings of the shopping centre of the town, where houses gave way to shop-fronts and multi-storey car parks.
Armed now too, Ruby faced slightly left, while Nate faced slightly right. At the concrete walls, an iron railing fence separated two tall pillars – obviously a checkpoint and some kind of guard-tower (a tall wooden structure stood just the other side). If smells were sights, they would have been blinded by a shroud so thick they could taste it as they breathed.
Leaning against the iron railing, its cold surface barely registering in the tight grip of their hands, they stared down the long, straight road. Four- and five-storey Georgian and Victorian buildings, mostly converted into shops selling antiques, pastries, bread and milk, alcohol – all the usual things the workers of a busy city centre would need – stood like the sides of a coffin or mausoleum, the lid open to the sky. The ground was a carpet of flesh and bones; thirty – or even twenty – feet away, it became almost impossible to distinguish body from body, body part from body part. Death’s great road roller had been this way and slain everything in its path; yet there were shimmers of movement, hands that answered class-questions and arms that swam against a tide of innards as coils of intestines held them back. Faces without jaws; half-faces, eyeless faces, skinless faces; faces a mother would no longer be able to recognise, jagged or sharp were the protruding cheekbones and half-hanging bridges of noses. The mass was whole. It was squirming with life – the longer they looked, the sicker they felt. And yet it was impossible not to stare in awe; this beach of flesh that represented the humanity of now; nurses and doctors, labourers and homeless, the aged and the young; all just threads in this tapestry.
A hand grabbed at Ruby’s ankle and caused her to yelp. She stood on it and they both took a step back from the rail as tired, slug-like arms bled through them, reaching for anything but clasping nothing – the hands contracted every now and then. In the mosaic of bodies nearest the railings there were examples of faces, melted as they looked, like acid rain had poured into them – fibrous tendons held some jaws together, and some eye sockets retained an eyeball, while elsewhere they hung or were otherwise lost in the jumble.
Hopping over them like Death’s entourage, pecking and perhaps checking for life-signs, carrion crows and rooks and ravens –black-robed avian priests – filled their bellies with a mixture of human flesh, maggots and blue-bottle flies. Even in the freezing winter the beneficiaries of death thrived.
Nate and Ruby swallowed and swallowed until their mouths were dry and sore; each gulp trying to discharge this acidic taste that invaded through their nostrils, and while they each had full control of their gag-reflex, it took every neuron of brain power to keep their stomachs at bay.
It was Ruby who first turned away, grabbing Nate’s arm and pulling him back with her as she hurried back the way they had come. He let himself be dragged, his eyes open, staring at the mass of flesh as the bumps and fissures of the road passed beneath his feet.
She led them both to a bridal shop on the corner of the intersection and around to an alley at the side, putting the barrier out of sight. There, they slumped in a heap against the wall of the shop and took long, deep breaths. Like smoke in a fire-filled room, the stench was thick up high, and somehow thinner down low. They each grabbed a bottle of water and sipped at it, testing its coolness within their throats, testing their incumbent stomachs.
After a while, Nate registered the quiet tears that were running down Ruby’s cheeks and held her close.
They sat and rested for another half-an-hour, until the sun was beginning its downward spiral, or the Earth was spinning Britain into another darkness, finishing their water in silence. Then Nate rose and said “Come on,” offering his hand to Ruby, who accepted. Together, they left the shelter of the alleyway and crossed the road towards the park, Nate leading the way.
In the park, they went immediately to the verge of old oak and chestnut trees. The thick brown trunks were barren of growth, but it was the best they had on offer, and a backdrop of tall hedgerows helped disguise them. The grass was thinner here, and mud squelched around their boots as they continued forward, all eyes on the wandering bodies. It was inevitable that they would be spotted – the park was far too compact for any other outcome, and when indeed they were, the spotter screeched and charged at them. Distant ones turned their heads and screeched too, and before they knew it, there were six of the risen monstrosities bearing down on them.
They dropped their bags and stood, each hand armed. The first of the things screamed coarsely from a thick, bulging neck; the closer it got, the more Nate and Ruby noticed its foreboding shoulders, packed with muscle as though a quarterback wearing shoulder pads. Its nose was flat or gone. It leapt forward onto all fours and then used its powerful front arms to launch itself at them – Nate the nearest target – and its force knocked him to the ground. It hissed like a savage dog in his face, despite the two knives in its chest. Blood foamed at its mouth. Keeping it at arms’ length, Nate roll-kicked it back over him, and it landed with a skid against the trunk of an oak. Ruby, poised, thrust a reverse-gripped knife into its brain until she felt the pointed end strike the tree. She pulled it out and turned as the second of them leaped at them, this time knocking her to the ground. It swung a long, thickly muscled arm at her, and long black claws ripped at her jumper but went no deeper. Back on his feet, Nate jumped onto its back and was immediately shrugged off as though he was no heavier than a fly pestering someone’s face. On the ground, he kicked out at its knee joint – from behind – and caused it to momentarily lose balance. While it was on one knee, Nate doubled up and gave it a pair of new ears and it fell immediately to the ground. And then he was face first in the mud with another one on top of him, its teeth chewing at his neck – Nate could smell rot on its breath, could feel a tongue lapping at his seeping blood – until it was a dead weight on him. Ruby kicked it off him and shouted “Get up!” just as three more came charging towards them, their fingers spread, claws slicing the air.
“Get ready to duck if they jump!” shouted Nate, standing up and wiping mud from his eyes.
The first did jump, and Ruby dropped to the ground so that it flew straight over her, landing in the mud and sliding out of control towards Nate. It was dispatched with comparative ease. Nate pulled the solid table leg from the back of his pack and waited by Ruby’s side for the next pair, who lunged simultaneously. The head of one exploded with the impact of the table leg, while Ruby countered the other until she could bring her knife round and plunge it into its eye.
Breathless, they scanned the edges of the field for signs of further madness, but saw only a few birds returning to bare branches. Hot air billowed from their panting throats.
“Fuuuuck you,” screamed Ruby, aiming her insult at the nearest of them, kicking it in the midriff.
“What the hell?” asked Nate, hands on knees. “Talk about fucking mutants; hard to believe these were once human.”
“Well they’re dead now, sure as shit! Can you believe that shit?”
“We kicked the shit out of them,” laughed Nate, rising and slowing his panting. He barely even felt the open wound on his neck.
“Yeah, guess we’ll need to get some more practice.”
“I’m sure the chances will come,” said Ruby, grabbing a bottle. She tipped a little water onto Nate’s neck and dabbed it with the hem of her sleeve. “Don’t look too bad.”
“You need a new jumper.”
“Bastard thing nearly ripped me in half,” she sighed. “Seriously, what was that? Not them: us.”
“I don’t know. Ever since…” he looked into her eyes. “What’s happening to us?”
She wrapped her arms around him and said “I’m scared, Nate,” letting the tears come again, quiet and slow.
“We just need to get somewhere safe, away from all this madness.” Grabbing her head and looking into her eyes, he kissed her. “Whatever it is, good or bad, we’re together.”
She nodded, regaining her composure. “Okay, since you lead us down this path, I hope it was for a reason.”
“It goes to the river’s edge; we just gotta follow it to the bridge.”
“Okay then.” They picked up their bags and continued on. Nate looked back at the piled bodies, shaking his head. The blood on his hands – he rubbed them together – it wouldn’t come off.
About the author
The name’s Adam J Smith and I live in the UK, publishing art books and writing in my free time (when the family allows!) I’m an avid reader and my favourite storytellers include Jeffrey Eugenides, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, plus many others – an eclectic mix! I love old sci-fi and pulp novels, but equally horror and literary novels that are particularly well written – I enjoy being able to dissect a writer’s narrative approach.
These loves apply to my own work: available now is The Risen, a horror/fantasy story, with elements of adventure, where the world has only just fallen apart and the survivors are trying to adjust to the new order, while going through some very real physical and mental changes themselves. In other work I explore the Montana frontier, following a group of families as they strive to eke an existence, but also create a whole new future in Neon Driver, a story set in 3100 following a man’s descent into madness.
Pick up one of my short stories for free, or try the first few pages of The Risen – and let me know what you think!
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