Chapter 17 - Alcohol, The Best Medicine
“Shit!” James exclaimed. “I’ve just realised something, something pretty weird.”
“Just how do you define the word ‘weird’ today?” Claire asked, her tone irritable. It was clear to James that she was still pretty brittle; not surprising really considering she had not long ago seen her father as a host for those things.
“Remember what Shirley said? James began, not rising to her tone. “That her partner, Bev, went off in one of the guest’s cars.”
“Okay,” Claire responded slowly, trying to figure out the point of this discussion.
“Shirley said Bev was infected, and yet not only did she get into a car but the occupants let her.”
“Were they infected, then?” Amelie interrupted, having picked up fag ends.
“No, I don’t think so. We haven’t seen any dexterous skills or hand-eye coordination in the infected, just zombie-like walking.”
“What then?” Claire asked, frustrated at the so-far non-committal conversation.
Andrea took up the tale.
“The people in the car didn’t realise just what they had allowed into their vehicle - at least at first; they weren’t infected,” Andrea interjected. “That’s because they still had alcohol in their bloodstream, from their partying.”
“Yes!” James exclaimed, pleased that someone else saw it. “They probably drank excessively during the reception so they were safe initially, but as the alcohol wore off they would have become vulnerable. If they witnessed the argument between her and you, Shirley, then they probably didn’t speak to Bev much, probably thought her silence was sadness, so giving her some space. Out of embarrassment they might not have looked at her much either. I imagine they are infected by now, unless they dropped their lethal passenger off somewhere after only a short ride.”
Andrea nodded in agreement.
“Alcohol stops this thing?” Claire asked.
“From my very personal experience and what I’ve seen so far, alcohol seems to stop it from spreading in the body.” Andrea shuddered at her experience. “It tries but seems to die upon entering the bloodstream.”
“Bloody hell, you’re saying you were infected?” James asked.
Andrea shrugged, not wanting to discuss the details of her horror.
“Well, I know a few people who would probably prefer to go into the apocalypse pissed,” James said, “if only they’d known,” he added under his breath. He thought about them for a moment, in particular Robbie, and smiled a little. Poor bastard, he thought, he never had a chance, he’d have loved this as a lifestyle option.
“So, while we don’t have to worry about this thing as long as we don’t sober up,” Shirley began, chuckling drunkenly. “I think we do need to find a good liver specialist.”
“I think we can worry about that if we survive the next few weeks,” Andrea said, ignoring Shirley’s dismissive joke.
“What about me?” Claire asked. “I can’t drink, I’m pregnant.”
“We’ll just have to protect you, babe. I will, that I promise,” James insisted, doing his best to reassure her.
Looking around at those at the table he noticed they had all finished their drinks and were eyeing the half empty bottle appreciatively. After all the claims of how bad alcohol was for you, James couldn’t help but be amused at the irony that it might also be their saving grace. Lovingly, he put his arm around Claire’s shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. He could tell she was wondering if a glass or two would hurt the baby.
“That’s all well and good,” Billy said, having another gulp of his drink. “But what actual threats are we looking at?”
“Infected people, while they don’t seem aggressive,” Andrea explained, “are to be avoided, especially skin to skin contact with them because the parasite they carry is highly infectious. One touch on your skin is probably enough to infect you. As long as we keep our alcohol levels up while staying in control of our functions, we should be okay.”
“I think they communicate with each other,” James added.
Andrea looked at him, quizzically.
“On our way here, it seemed as if they could tell our direction and seemed several times to be trying to block our travel. We had to make a couple of diversions to throw them off.”
“Where did you drive from?”
“We live in South East London. We aimed to cross over the M25 at Otford. By the time we got to Orpington we’d had to divert a couple of times to fool them as to our direction of travel.”
“Are you sure that’s what happened?” Andrea asked.
“Seriously?” James retorted. It was his turn to be irritated. “I can’t scientifically prove it for you, but it’s what we both saw.”
“It’s true,” Claire chimed in. “We even had to drive on the pavement at one point because they were blocking the road.”
“Bugger. This changes things quite a bit,” Andrea acceded.
While the group considered their options, Billy had eventually become bored and wandered over to the window, peering out.
“Um. People,” he began, his tone urgent. “I think you need to see this.”
The conversation ceased and the group rushed to his side.
“I think they may have found us,” Billy announced, stating the blindingly obvious.
All the way down the road, in both directions, hundreds of people were gathering, moving toward each window along the front of the pub. Claire squealed in fright; she’d been through this once before.
James rushed to the rear of the pub and saw that this area, too, was heaving with bodies. The vacant faces were peering in, their eyes brightening with excitement when they saw him.
“Aw, shit,” was all he could come up with.
The pub, because of its age and probable Grade two listing, didn’t have double glazing. Their lives were completely dependent upon ancient, thin and brittle glass squares holding out against the pressure of what could eventually be thousands of people’s weight as they crushed their way to each window. The walls may not tolerate the weight either, their wattle and daub more suited to defending against rain and wind.
“Upstairs!” Shirley’s voice sounded behind him. Racing back to make sure Claire was with them, he followed behind as they climbed the stairs to the next floor. If they were very lucky, the people outside, these cuckoos as Andrea had described them, might just forget the presence of uninfected.
Shirley led them into a large, open hall that had been set up with some forty tables and chairs; presumably this was where wedding receptions took place. The tables were empty and the room echoed slightly with their footsteps.
Shirley closed the huge oak door and bolted it.
“Good old oak,” she assured them, slapping their surface. “Very little can get through this.” James wasn’t in the mood for optimism.
“Stay low!” he hissed, urging everyone, most of who had gone to the four windows to peer outside, to stay low. If those bloody things could forget, then he wanted to give them their best chance to do so.
Claire sat under one of the windows and James went to her, sitting by her side. Her mum came over, real fear on her face.
“Did anyone think to bring any alcohol with them?” she asked.
Each looked at the others - in their panic they had left their best defence behind. What was in their body would have to suffice.
James was contemplating going downstairs to retrieve some lifesaving spirits when he heard the gentle patter of rain against the leaded windows. He froze, realising this was not a good thing. Slugs liked the rain - they travelled their longest distances when it rained.
Perversely, his brain bombarded him with facts about slugs, such as there were approximately twenty thousand of the slimy buggers in any one English garden, although who the hell had counted them he didn’t know. They were ubiquitous, there wasn’t a field or garden or shrub that didn’t have their fair share. It occurred to him that perhaps there was no evading them at all, that perhaps walking outside and ending it now would be a mercy. Drink was making him maudlin.
No-one spoke, they barely breathed as they listened intently, trying hard to hear what was happening outside. James eyes met Claire’s as they began to hear that familiar sound they’d heard on the bridge over the M25. Her face creased in panic, tears streaming.
“My baby,” she whispered. James knew what she meant and tears well up in his eyes.