Chapter 5 – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Home
The trip home was surreal. The mid-afternoon streets were deserted albeit for an excess of mime artists of all shapes, sizes and ages. I never knew mime was such a popular pastime, James thought to himself. When he was frightened these strange thoughts would flit across his brain, perhaps it was his mind’s way of calming his nerves.
He noticed a couple of people he judged to be normal rushing around in their own little world of terror, but it seemed that other than that the world was divided between mime artists and the two lone travellers. At first he jogged slowly, wanting to get there as quickly as possible – he hadn’t been able to get in touch with Claire since the Skype call and it was turning his stomach inside out as he envisaged zombie attacks and home invasions by looters. He had to get there, and soon.
“Wait! Wait!” cried the puffed voice of George wheezing from somewhere further behind James.
James stopped, sighed and turned around.
“I can’t keep up.”
“It’s not much further,” James retorted irritably, irritated at the sea anchor called George. As usual he felt guilty at his rebuke of the man, he was what he was. Bet you wished you hadn’t eaten all the pies, James thought. George’s face had gone purple and sweaty, his eyes big and staring somewhat fixedly, and at first he thought the man was having some sort of seizure.
“Are you okay?” he asked, more conciliatory this time, deciding to keep his inner monologue to himself, at least for now.
Bending double, hands on his hips, George gasped for a few precious seconds longer before nodding his head, clearly saving his breath. No words were necessary.
“We can walk for a bit, but please don’t dawdle; I have to get home as quickly as possible.”
Together they made their way down the street, dodging the human statues, ever aware of the real danger of coming into contact with them. At first it took all James’ courage to walk close to them, but his confidence grew as he became more familiar with their lack of movement. Nevertheless it was all too easy to imagine them suddenly reaching out to him and grabbing hold. Too many horror movies under his belt he knew, and yet it took all his strength to walk past them without flinching.
There were many occasions when they needed to backtrack to try another road when the way ahead became blocked. This was happening more and more now, it was as if everyone had left their houses and were milling around in the road creating lethal obstructions. House fires were roaring away merrily on practically every street he encountered; all those cups of tea and unattended cooking stoves were creating almost as big a problem as the mimes. The air became increasingly foetid and as downdrafts drove plumes of smoke across the streets it became as much a challenge to breathe as it did to get past the human statues.
James was getting more nervous by the minute; in his imagination he’d thought it was a matter of simply running home, something he did frequently and only took about fourteen minutes door to door. Not this afternoon, though. They’d already been out on the streets for over half an hour and he estimated they were no more than half way home. It felt akin to one of those dreams where you felt like you were wading through treacle, making more progress backwards than towards the destination. Apart from George, in the last fifteen minutes he’d only seen one person he’d considered normal and she had been scared witless, driving like a bat out of hell in her Chelsea Tractor up the street, ploughing into and over people in her single-minded journey.
“Bitch!” George wheezed, watching her smacking into unaware two-footed objects as she drove by. Blood spewed across the bonnet of the car but she kept on, undeterred.
“Fuck,” James agreed, appalled at the sight of so much blood and guts. In spite of the wetness and metallic stench of the shredded remains, he was surprised at how little emotion he felt by what he was witnessing, assuming his brain was struggling to process the horror of it all.
George vomited, breaking the spell of the situation.
“Come on George,” James said, putting his arm around the man’s shoulder for comfort. They carried on, more alert for whack-job drivers than people on foot. James had considered checking to see if any of the victims of the woman’s journey could be helped, but then considered the risk of infection too great. If touch could infect you, then contact with blood was likely to be at least as dangerous; anyway his duty was to Claire, so no risks was his default position and would stay that way for the foreseeable future.
Another thought invaded James mind. What if it could be airborne under these circumstances? He could smell the wet viscera on the smoky air and decided to move away from the scene quickly - just in case. Steering a wide path away from the blood evidence of the woman’s selfish progress, they rounded the corner onto an adjoining road.
George was getting slower, partly from his physical condition but mostly, as far as James could tell, from his ever-increasing fear. When the inert human obstructions became dense on the road, James, possessed by his desire to get home quickly, was inclined not to turn around and find another way but to take ever-increasing risks; the closer to his goal, the more eager his acceptance of risk. He’d heard of it before - Get-home-itis, something many people, from pilots to soldiers tended not to walk away from unless luck was by their side. With George in tow, however, this risk-taking became impossible; apart from the fact that he needed bigger gaps to pass through; the reality was that his breathing was becoming dangerously ragged with his constant exertion. As a result they had to give up more often than not, resting frequently and backtracking to find clearer paths. Maybe Claire would thank the Fat Controller for helping get her baby daddy home safely.
After what seemed like hours, but was probably less than a single turn of a clock dial, they arrived on James’ own street, the house now within sight and tantalisingly within easy reach. There was a fire raging on the opposite side at the far end of the road. Closer to, a car was on its side, also ablaze. The damage around it suggested it had hit a number of other vehicles at high speed before rolling and catching alight.
Smiling, he noticed Claire’s car was there, parked in safety just a few yards down from their house. James heaved a sigh of relief. He noticed that there was only one human statue, a middle aged woman, on his street. She was not a threat, but did raise the question of where the others were likely to be. Most of the people that lived on this street were commuters so perhaps they were somewhere across London. That had to be it.
George chose to walk on the grass, giving the woman as wide a berth as possible. Suddenly he slipped over, uttering a cry of surprise.
“Argh,” he grunted as he sat up on the grass. His face had a look of disgust as he wiped something off his hands. “Bollocks!”
“At least you had a soft landing,” James observed, stifling an amused laugh.
“Ow!” George cried, flinching. He sounded more than a little confused.
“Something bit me,” he replied, rubbing his left hand. He looked like a petulant child sitting like that on the grass with his faced creased in frustrated anger; suddenly James felt exasperated; the man was becoming a real pain in the arse.
“Really?” James asked, not really caring at this point. Why couldn’t this guy have walked another fifty yards before falling over, then they’d be in front of James’ two-up-two-down. Peering at George’s hand he noticed something black and legless making its brisk, slithering way up his arm, all the while George slapping at it in an effort to dislodge whatever it was. Unperturbed, it disappeared under the sleeve, leaving a silvery slime trail in its wake.
George panicked at this point, swiping frantically at it and was rewarded with renewed pain as it seemed to bite him again. “Aw, fuck!” he cried in a combination of fear and hurt. “It’s under my shirt!”
James pulled himself together and tore at George’s shirt, trying to get it over the man’s head. It split down the man’s back and James recoiled at what it revealed.
George’s back was slick with yellow-black slugs that seemed to shimmer in the afternoon sunshine. Blood was visible oozing between the slimy creatures attracting something small, dark and fast that darted out from the cover of the slug colony, take a quick sip and then retreating once more. James dry-heaved at the sight while George looked down in horror and saw that his chest and stomach were now also covered in the same slime-covered creatures. His screams were short-lived as a dozen of the strange, darting creatures took advantage of his open mouth and threw themselves down the poor man’s throat. With a final spasm George appeared to die and yet his body continued to move, the skin writhing from the mass of life that seemed all of a sudden to inhabit the corpse.
James fell backwards in shock, landing hard on the road and gasped in pain. Fear galvanised James’ mind and he rolled sideways and quickly onto his feet. He ran like he’d never run before, leaving George to his fate.
Copyright © 2018 David Kingsley Roberts