ZA

“There’s no right and wrong any more. Just living and dying.”
What do you do when your worst nightmares become reality? Dreams shattered in a heartbeat. Lifelong plans torn from your grasp. Is surviving the most you can wish for?
Get supplies. Stay hidden. If they come, run. Fast.
Zane Carlisle is thrust into a world of terror and extinction, but all he can think about is protecting the girl he loves and those she cares for. Without her, the world would be a grey, empty space where only the dead walk the streets.
But what if it’s not possible? What if you can’t escape? Do you keep fighting?
Or do you give in…?
* ©Molly Looby ©Molten Publishing *
OUT NOW! http://bit.ly/ZApaperback

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2. ONE

I was so ready. My heart was pulsing through my body, fierce and alive. I could feel it in my ears, behind my eyes. Every muscle was coiled to spring. Ready.

“Go!”

I leapt into action, launching down the track. The wind fired in my ears. Ignoring the rush of joy, I pumped my arms and drove my legs faster. My name was catching on the wind as all mouths opened to cheer me on. I was aware of the eyes on me, ogling my performance. It had to be faster than last time. Had to be.

Crossing the finish line had a chorus of whoops drifting in and out of my awareness. I jogged to a stop, at last feeling my legs and my stomach and my lungs. High fives surrounded me, and I received them without a word, staring at Mr Henderson.

He smirked at me. “It’s fast but you’re not qualifying for the Olympics yet, Zane.”

I rubbed the back of my neck as I made my way over to him. “Did I beat my personal best at least?”

“Not quite. 10.37.”

I dropped my hand, chewing on my lip to hide disappointment. “Monday,” I said. “Monday I’ll set a new best.”

Mr Henderson didn’t say anything more as I took off in the direction of the field, catching up with the long distance runners. I always pushed myself to run the same distance as them, regardless of how many sprints I’d done. Anything to make my legs stronger, to shave milliseconds off my time.

When everything was packed away, we trudged to the showers. I shut my eyes before enduring the water, scalding hot from whoever had been in last and then freezing cold with no warning as the temperature balanced out. With my skin tingling from the icy water, I showered as fast as I could, not stopping to ponder my efforts. I could save that for the bus ride home.

In my favourite jogging bottoms and hoodie, I waved a quick goodbye before power-walking to the bus stop, my legs screaming, and my heavy rucksack bouncing along. As usual, I arrived before the bus and waited with a woman chatting on her phone as though she wanted the world to know her business. Almost every week I panicked and rushed to the bus stop, heart galloping in my chest. Not because I had a fear of being late, but because I knew if I took the earlier bus I’d be with her sooner.

By the time the bus arrived, my hair had blown dry in the wind and was sticking up at all angles. Attempting to flatten it as I stepped onto the sweaty bus, I muttered to myself about Mum’s car and its lack of being in the college car park. It’d been the most exciting thing in the world when I’d passed my driving test, and Mum had insured me on her car. Now it seemed like a waste of time the amount I used the thing. It was never in the place I needed it to be.

As I untangled my headphones, the man sitting in front of me turned the page of his newspaper to reveal another headline. My eyes darted over the words almost without my permission. What was it about reading over a stranger’s shoulder that was so appealing?

MENINGITIS VACCINE FAILURE

The man decided this page was entertaining enough and read on, allowing me to skim the subheading. Clinical trial shows all patients declining as a result of the new vaccine.

I pulled my hood up and leant my head against the window, shutting my eyes. Only thirty minutes to go.

The George and Dragon was a happy sight, and a smile crept onto my cheeks as I hopped off the bus and pushed my hood off. I made my way down George Street where all the lawns were tidy and all the flowers in line. There was even someone sweeping leaves off their front path. Gnomes and ornaments eyed me as I passed.

Ashford House was the red brick beauty at the top of the street. Two proud trees sat on either side of their front path, and unlike the rest of their neighbours, the Ashfords hadn’t felt the need to erase any evidence of leaves from their lawn.

As I raised my hand to press the bell, the door flung open, and Callie launched herself into my arms. I toppled back a step before squeezing her tight, inhaling her sweet perfume. Something uncoiled inside me, and I relaxed into her embrace, feeling as though I could breathe again.

“I missed you,” she whispered into my ear.

“I missed you too.”

She pulled back to kiss me, and I lost myself in a moment of perfection, heart swelling at her touch. Her lips drew into a smile, and I couldn’t help but laugh, breaking the kiss and meeting her sea-green eyes. They roamed over my face, taking in every line and surface. She didn’t unravel her arms from around my neck as we parted, only held us there in the moment, noses almost touching. My face grew hot, and I set her down, skin and heart and soul on fire.

“Good day?” She took my hand and led me inside, where I wiped my feet and took off my newish Nike trainers.

“Of course.” I followed her into the dining room. A selection of papers and books were laid out on the table along with her laptop. “How was yours?”

“Busy.” She exhaled as she sat down, pushing her light-golden hair behind her ears. “Still is.”

There was a thundering on the stairs, and Jay appeared in the doorway wearing a strange combination of clothes. His grey combat trousers were ripped and bloodstained, as was his T-shirt and the baggy shirt he wore over the top. The whole thing was topped off with an oversized blazer and two bandanas, one round his neck and the other round his head.

“I’ll have face paint on, obviously,” was how he chose to announce himself. “What do you think?”

Callie chewed on the top of her pen. “It’s interesting.”

Jay looked down at himself. “It’s awesome. Zane?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “Awesome.”

Jay rolled his eyes. “Like either of your costumes are any better. Imagine it with more blood. On my face and stuff.”

“I’m not sure I get it.” Callie went back to her screen.

“I’m a survivor, duh.”

I furrowed my eyebrows. “I thought we were supposed to be going as zombies?”

“I am a zombie. I’m a survivor that’s clearly been infected.”

“Right. I didn’t realise we had to put that much thought into it.”

“Why? What does your costume look like?”

“It’s just some ripped old clothes.”

“So inventive.” He put his hands in his pockets. “You reminded Gemma, right?” He was looking at Callie. “She has a costume?”

“Yes, yes. She’s coming.”

Jay shot me a look before opening his mouth again. “Show me what you’ve got then, Zane.”

I followed him upstairs with my rucksack and plonked it down on the bed in the spare room, rooting through it for my costume. Jay sat on the bed and picked up my watch, which I’d forgotten on Sunday.

“Do you live here now?” He held it up.

“Don’t say that.” I took it off him and fastened it to my wrist. “Your mum might hear.”

“I’ve heard her refer to this as ‘Zane’s room’ more than once. Chill out.”

“Even so.” I threw him my old combat trousers and plain T-shirt.

He raised his eyebrows as he held them up. “Really?”

“What?”

“There’s not even any blood on here.”

“Not everyone’s thought about the apocalypse as much as you have.”

“ZA, Zane. Zed-ay.”

“Huh?”

“Zombie Armageddon.”

“Right, sorry.” I took the shirt back. “What’s wrong with apocalypse?”

“Doesn’t have such a ring to it.”

“Because I’m sure that’s what we’d all be saying.”

“We will if it catches on.” He jumped up. “Come on, I’ll get you some blood for those clothes.”

His bedroom was covered in discarded garments that obviously weren’t awesome enough for him. The TV had a loading screen of some description displaying on it, and he swore when he caught sight of it. I watched him root through piles of who knew what, pushing his golden skater-boy hair back with the bandana.

“I had it. It was in my hand.”

I crossed my arms and leant against his doorframe. “How much use would you be in the apocalypse? You can’t even find something you used five minutes ago.”

“Don’t underestimate me. I’m ZA ready.”

I pressed my lips together to stop from laughing. “What?”

“Isn’t it self-explanatory?” He stood up, tube of fake blood in his hand. “ZA ready. Ready for the Zombie Armageddon.”

I just looked at him.

“Useless.” He shook his head. “Utterly useless.”

“Well I don’t know about that. I think I’d be all right.”

“Yeah,” he scoffed. “Like you’re ZA ready.”

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