Zom-B Chapter One



Zombies, my arse! I've got a real problem on my hands. Dad's been drinking and I can tell by his beady eyes that he's close to tipping over the edge.

We've been watching the news, a report about the alleged zombie attack in Ireland. Dad takes a swig of beer, then snorts and switches channels.

"I was watching that," Mum complains.

"You're not anymore," Dad grunts.

"But it's important," Mum presses. "They might attack here. We need to know what to do, Todd."

"B knows what to do, don't you?" Dad says, winking at me, and it's a relief to see he's still at the stage where he can crack a joke.

"Of course," I grin. "Put my head between my legs and kiss my arse good-bye!"

We crack up laughing. Mum tuts and makes a face. She doesn't like it when we swear. She thinks foul language is a sign of ill breeding. I don't know how she ended up with Dad - he could swear for a living.

"Don't be silly, Daisy," Dad says. "It's all a con. Zombies? The dead returning to life to feast on the living? Give me a break."

"But it's on the news," Mum says. "They showed pictures."

"They can do anything with computers these days," Dad says. "I bet B could knock up something just as realistic on our laptop. Am I right, B?"

"Dead on," I nod. "With a few apps, I could out-zombie George Romero."

"Who's that?" Mum frowns.

"The president of South Africa," Dad says seriously and we both howl at her bewildered expression.

"It's all very well for the pair of you to laugh like hyenas," Mum snaps, face reddening. "But what happens if zombies attack us here? You won't be laughing if they kill me and B."

"I'll happily chuck you to them if you keep on moaning," Dad says, and there's an edge to his voice now, one I'm all too familiar with.

Dad stares at Mum, his eyes hard. I tense, waiting for him to roar, or maybe just throw a punch at her without warning. If he does, I'll hurl myself at him, the way I have countless times in the past. I love him, but I love Mum too, and I can never stand by and let him lay into her. The trouble is, there's not much I can do to stop him. We could both be in for some serious battering tonight.

But instead, after a dangerous pause, Dad smirks and switches back to the news. That's Dad all over - unpredictable as the weather.

I scratch the back of my head - I had it shaved tight over the weekend and it's always itchy for a few days when I do that - and watch the footage from Ireland. It's a helicopter shot. They're flying over Pallaskenry, the small village where zombies apparently ran wild on Sunday.

The village is in ruins. Buildings are being burned to the ground by soldiers with cool-looking flamethrowers. Corpses all over the place. At least they look like corpses. Dad reckons they're dummies. "That's a waste of good ketchup," he said when Mum challenged him about the blood.

"I mean," Dad says as we watch, "if it had happened in London, fair enough, I might believe it. But bloody Ireland? It's one of their Paddy jokes. There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a zombie..."

"But they've shown dead people," Mum persists. "They've interviewed some of the survivors who got out."

"Never heard of actors?" Dad says witheringly, then turns to me. "You don't buy any of this, do you?"

"Not a word." I point at the TV. They're showing a clip that's already passed into legend on YouTube. One of the zombies is biting into a woman's head. He's a guy in pajamas. His eyes are crazy and he's covered in blood, but apart from that you wouldn't look at him twice in a crowd. The woman screams as he chews off a chunk of her skull and digs his fingers into her brain. As he pulls out a handful and stuffs it into his mouth, the camera pans away and, if you listen closely, you can hear the cameraman vomiting.

The clip had gone viral on the Web by Monday morning, but they first showed it on TV that evening. There was an uproar the next day, papers saying it shouldn't have been aired, people getting their knickers in a right old twist. It gave me a fright when I first saw it. Dad too, even if he won't admit it. Now it's just a bit of fun. Like when you see a horror film more than once - scary the first time, but the more you watch it, the lamer it gets.

"He should have dipped that bit of brain in curry sauce," I joke.

"B!" Mum gasps. "Don't joke about it!"

"Why not?" I retort. "None of it's real. I reckon it's a trailer for a new movie. You wait, another few days and they'll admit it was a publicity stunt. Anyone who fell for it will look a right idiot, won't they?"

"But the police and soldiers..." On the TV, a tank fires at a church, blasting holes out of the walls, exposing zombies who were sheltering inside - these guys are like vampires, they don't come out much in the day.

"They're part of the campaign," I insist. "They've been paid to go along with the act."

Mum frowns. "Surely they'd get in trouble if they lied to the public like that."

"Trouble's like a bad stink," Dad says. "Throw enough money at it and nobody cares. Any lawyers who go after these guys will be given a big fat check and that'll be the end of that."

"I dunno," Mum says, shaking her head. "They're talking about a curfew here."

"Course they are," Dad sneers, knocking back another slug of beer. "The government would love that. Get everyone off the streets, terrify us into holing up like rats. It'd leave them free to do whatever they wanted at night. They'd ship in more immigrants while we weren't watching. That might be what the whole thing's about, a plot to make us look away while they sneak in a load of scabs who'll work for peanuts and steal our jobs."

Mum looks dubious. "You can't be serious, Todd."

"I'd bet my crown jewels on it," he says firmly.

She stares at him, maybe wondering how she ended up marrying such a paranoid nutter. Or maybe she's trying to convince herself that he's right, to avoid any arguments and associated beatings.

The worst thing about this zombie scare is talk of a curfew. I'd go mad if I had to stay home every night, locked in with Mum and Dad. I mean, most nights I stay in anyway, watching TV, surfing the Web, playing computer games, listening to music. But I know that I can go out, any time I please. Take that choice away and I'd be no better off than a prisoner.

I shiver at the thought of being caged up and get to my feet. "I've had enough of zombies. They're boring me. I'm heading out."

"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Mum says. "What if there's an attack?"

"Don't be daft," I laugh.

"But if they struck there, they could strike here. We're not that far from Ireland." She looks like she's about to cry. "They come out at night, the reporters all say so. If they attack London and catch you on the street..."

"Dad?" I look to him for support.

"I dunno..." he mutters, and for the first time I see that he's not so sure that this is the work of sneaky liberals.

"Don't tell me you're gonna start too," I groan.

Dad chews the inside of his cheek, the way he does when he's thinking hard.

"Put your foot down, Todd," Mum says. "It's dangerous out there. You can't - "

"I can do whatever the bloody hell I want!" Dad shouts. "Don't tell me what I can and can't do."

"I'm not," Mum squeaks. "I was only - "

"Shut it," Dad says quietly and Mum zips up immediately. She knows that tone. We both do. I gulp as Dad sits forward, putting down the can of beer. He cracks his fingers, eyeballing Mum. She's trembling. She's not the sharpest tool in the box. She missed the earlier warning signs, his expression, the clip to his words. But now she's up to speed. Dad's in a foul mood. There could be some thuggery in the cards tonight.

I start to edge towards Mum, to do my best to protect her. I hate it when Dad hits me. But I hate it even more when he hits her. Mum's soft. I'm more like Dad, a tough little nut. I'll distract him if I can, draw his attention away from Mum. If I'm lucky he'll only slap me. If not, and he starts punching and kicking, I'll curl up into a ball and take it. Won't be the first time. Won't be the last. Better he does it to me than Mum.

"B!" Dad barks, making me jump.

"Yeah?" I croak, trying not to shake.

He glares at me - then snorts, picks up the can of beer and settles back again. "Go do whatever the hell you feel like."

"Sure thing, boss," I smile and tip him a stupid salute.

Dad smirks. "You're an idiot," he says.

"I know where I get it from," I chuck back at him, feeling safe enough to wind him up a bit. I can do that to Dad when he's in the right mood. He's a great laugh when he wants to be.

"Oi!" he roars and throws a cushion at me.

I laugh and duck out, knowing Mum will be fine now, delighted at this unexpected swing, feeling on top of the world. There's nothing sweeter than a narrow escape. I don't know why Dad laid off at the last moment, and I don't try to figure it out. I gave up trying to read his mind years ago.

The last thing I see is Mum getting up to retrieve the cushion. Dad doesn't like it if she leaves stuff lying around. Doesn't matter if he left it there. Cleaning up is her job.

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