Series: Hell on Earth, Book 3
Purchase it now:
Click to Read an Excerpt...Collapse the Excerpt
“Max, come back here! It’s not safe.”
“There’s food, mummy.”
Marcy crouched beside the flat-tyred Volkswagen and waved at her son. At four years old, Max hadn’t yet developed an adequate danger-radar, which meant he ran off wildly at every opportunity, and trying to control him during the apocalypse was no easier than it had been before. The key difference was the severe shortage of alcohol to help recover mummy’s senses once evening came.
Christ, I’d kill for a G & T.
Marcy’s bond with her enthusiastic son had only galvanised since a demon invasion had driven them from their home. There were no more rushed shopping trips or stress-filled play dates with bitchy mum-friends. Now, she and Max gave each other their absolute attention and had become inseparable—an apocalyptic team, scrounging through bins and hiding out in burnt buildings. It was a simpler life, having only to worry about food and shelter, instead of mortgage payments and cheating husbands, yet being terrified constantly did eventually take its toll. Marcy’s hands shook endlessly, and she started most mornings by anxiously vomiting. Damn her husband for not being here with them.
“Max, be careful,” she snapped. “We don’t know if we’re alone out here.”
Max peered at her from behind the wheelie bin he leant against and frowned in the way only inquisitive four-year-olds can. “I don’t like the monsters.”
Marcy looked left and right, and then scurried from her hiding spot. She crossed the road and made it over to the bins. “We haven’t seen any today, but we still have to be careful.”
“Okay, mummy.” He gave her a hug, and she winced as she felt his ribs poking her. “Look though.”
She eased her son away. “What have you got there?”
Max yanked a crumpled pizza box from the bin and held it out like a prize. He lifted the lid with an excited smile, but his expression turned to a frown when all that greeted him was an unravelled condom—Max had taken to calling them ‘wet worms’. Now he groaned.
“I want pizza.”
“I know, honey, but I think all the pizza is gone. I still have a couple of chocolate bars in the backpack. You want one?”
He shook his head and pouted. “I want pizza.”
“One day, there’ll be pizza again, sweetheart, I promise.”
“With dad? Dad likes pizza.”
“We’ll find dad one day, Max. He’s safe with your uncle Rick.” It wasn’t easy lying to her son. Food was becoming an issue. The supermarkets were full of stray dogs and other scavengers. Anything not in a can was either spoiled or devoured. Searching through bins was becoming a waste of time. They survived the last couple of weeks by rummaging through cupboards in empty houses. Sometimes they found bodies. Max knew to close his eyes and call to her whenever that happened.
Six weeks now since the gates had opened.
Six weeks since those first horrifying reports on the news.
Six weeks since Max had last seen his father.
Marcy’s sweet little boy didn’t deserve this. No child did.
But at least hers was still alive. I’m the luckiest mother in the world. Maybe the only mother…
“Come on, Max. It’s getting dark. We should find somewhere to sleep tonight.”
“Can we find somewhere with a boy’s bedroom? I want toys.”
She smiled, buoyed that colourful trinkets could still distract her child. Max’s innocence protected him in ways she envied—he looked neither forward nor back, only at the reality of the moment. For Marcy, their inescapable fate created an endless maelstrom in her tummy. Humanity’s future had become ticking seconds on a rusty clock. She couldn’t protect Max forever. Not in this world.
Marcy pulled Max closer to keep him quiet, and then tilted her head, sure she had heard something.
No, not heard—she had felt something. Vibrations beneath the worn soles of her shoes.
There it was again. Something distant. Something big. Big enough that the ground shook.
“Oh no…” Marcy felt the ligature around her guts tighten. “Max, we need to get inside.”
Max had learned his mother’s body language well enough that he didn’t argue. Sticking close together, the two of them took off across the road heading for a row of shops further along the pavement. Marcy had made a mental note of a ransacked charity shop with a broken door they had passed by earlier. That was where she headed now.
Max’s short legs had to hop to keep up with his mother’s frantic strides. “The monsters are coming, aren’t they?”
“Yes, sweetheart. We need to get indoors.”
The charity shop lay just ahead—a dead cat fouling the gutter marked its location. Funny, the methods she used to navigate this new, horrifying world. No more sat navs. No more directions. Just dead cats and burnt out cars.
Marcy yanked Max into the broken doorway. The shop’s interior smelt damp—rank and rotten. A pile of moulding paperbacks littered the entryway rug. Muddy footprints marked their pages. The broken door was irreparable, but the plate glass window still stood intact. Looters had put through the windows of most shops, but charity shops were not prize pickings.
Max released his mother’s hand and went running deeper into the shop, picking through the detritus of abandoned knickknacks. The first thing he grabbed was a grungy bunny rabbit. He clutched it by his side. “I like it here.”
She shushed him. “Just keep moving towards the back.”
The demons acted more as roaming gangs than fastidious searchers, and if you kept off the streets, they usually passed right by. The early days of the apocalypse had seen mass slaughters, but human beings were now so rare that the demons seemed uninterested in picking off stragglers. Marcy assumed they were focused on something greater—perhaps murdering a last bastion of humanity somewhere. Maybe people were fighting back.
If there was someplace safe—truly safe—then Marcy had to get her son there. She couldn’t protect him on her own. Not forever.
“Mum, can I have this?”
Marcy looked over and saw that her son had obtained a hobbyhorse. Its brown and black fur was still plush and upright, and both beady eyes were in place. Such a rudimentary toy would have held no interest to her son two months ago, but now, in the absence of electronic entertainment, it was what leapt out at him.
“Sure, you can have it, but no more talking.”
“No, you cannot have that!” someone shouted from the back. “How dare you come in here and take things that don’t belong to you? This is a charity. You are stealing from a charity!”
Marcy stumbled in fright and collided with the cash register, which slid across the desk on rubber feet and made a screeching sound. “I-I-I was… we were… we are just looking for somewhere safe to hide. I’m sorry, sir.”
“Don’t you sir me, you thief. Get out of here before I call the police!”
“The police? Are you crazy?”
“Mummy says the police have all gone away,” said Max gravely to the shadow at the back.
An old man stepped out of the gloom and entered the dim shaft of sunlight filtering in from outside. His eyes were red and swollen, cheeks blotchy. A feral look about him—a crazed look.
Marcy threw out her hand. “Come here, Max! We should leave this gentleman in peace.”
“But the monsters, mummy. You said the monsters were coming.”
She sighed. Max was right. Something was coming. But this old man made her feel more threatened than being exposed outside. “We’ll hide somewhere else,” she said. “Let’s go.”
Max moved towards her, but the old man struck like a snake and caught the boy by the wrist. “Hold it right there, sonny.”
Marcy’s hands curled into fists. “Don’t touch him, you crazy old fuck!”
The old man shot her a bug-eyed glance, while still clutching her son. Max struggled, the grungy bunny in his free hand flopping like it was having a seizure. “What did you call me, miss?”
“Let my son go, right now. We’re leaving.”
“He’s trying to steal this horse. This horse was donated to charity. Your boy is trying to steal from charity.”
Marcy strode towards the old imbecile. “No, he just forgot he was holding it. Let him go.”
“You people disgust me.”
Strangely, the comment offended Marcy. Perhaps because it sounded as though he meant it so vehemently—that she truly disgusted him. “What do you mean, you people?”
“I mean, mothers letting their kids run amok. Whoring about and smoking drugs while their kids get up to who knows what. I see it on that Jez Karl show every morning. Scum, the lot of you.”
The Jez Karl show? This guy had lost the plot. There had been no television for weeks. “I’m sorry, sir, but you’re mistaken. I’m a married woman, and Max is a well brought-up boy. We made a mistake coming in here, that’s all. Let him go, and we’ll leave.”
“No. I’m calling the police.”
Max struggled and the old man yanked his arm, making him cry out. “Mum, he’s hurting me.”
Marcy reacted. She closed the short distance between the two of them and lashed out, shoving the old man under the chin and knocking his head back. He cried out in surprise and released Max. The boy scurried over to Marcy’s side and she gathered him close. Pointing a finger in the old man’s face, she spat with anger. “Maybe you’ve got Alzheimer’s or something, I don’t know, but my son and I are leaving, and you will back the Hell away.”
The old man did the opposite. He lunged at her.
A jolt of pain shot through the back of Marcy’s hand, and when she looked, she saw blood.
“Mummy, the man has a knife.”
“Stay back. Just…”
The old man lunged again, his delusion evolving to full-blown mania—feral expression twisting and distorting like his face was made of maggots. His snarling mouth lacked teeth. His grey tongue darted in and out of crusted lips. “Bloody whores and thieves. Ruining the country.” He slashed a small penknife and missed Marcy’s face by an inch. If it had been a longer blade, she would have had a hole through her nose. “I’ll kill you, bitch!”
“Run, Max. Run!”
Marcy shoved her son towards the broken doorway. The old man’s aged joints popped as he pursued her, and he turned the air blue with his furious heckle.
Max made it outside onto the pavement ahead of Marcy who was a step behind him. He was crying out loud—the chase summoning panic. “It’s okay,” she told him, pulling him along the pavement. “It’s okay, sweetheart.”
“Mummy, he’s behind us.”
Marcy shielded her son and faced the old lunatic. He stalked towards her with that pathetic yet deadly little blade out in front of him. “I’m going to do the world a favour, you dirty whore.”
Marcy covered her son’s ears. “Fuck you, you crazy old fuck!”
“How dare you?” In the grey glow of the waning sun, the old man unveiled his true madness: shit and piss caked his trousers; bruises blotted the tissue-paper skin of his forearms.
Marcy kept Max behind her and threw her arms out in front of her. “Stay bac-”
Suddenly the old man went airborne. One minute he was there, about to strike her, the next he was launching into the sky like a rocket. He didn’t make a sound. Marcy’s vision blurred. Her hearing buzzed.
She heard her son’s terrified screams.
Marcy turned her head to see what stood over her shoulder.
Max dropped the grungy bunny on the floor and clung to Marcy’s thigh. “Mummy, it’s a big monster.”
Marcy froze. She’d known this moment would eventually come, but now it had, and she could do nothing except yield to its inevitability. The suffering was about to end. Her son’s life was about to end. It was a relief in some ways. But in others, she was a mother failing her son.
She muttered one word.
The twenty-foot angel glared at Marcy, the same disgusted expression on its face that the old man had worn before being launched into oblivion. The angel had saved her, but it had been no noble deed. With its perfect, beautiful, snarling face, this giant abomination wanted her death for itself. “Bugs,” said the angel in a booming voice. “Insects and bugs.”
Marcy pulled Max into her bosom. The boy trembled, and it hurt her heart. “Be brave,” she said. “Mummy’s got you.”
The angel reared back, massive hand outstretched and ready to swat her like the bug it deemed her to be.
Just let it be quick.
Marcy flinched. The angel tottered back, reaching out and catching its balance against the roof of the charity shop. It let out an angered roar and spun around, ripping out a section of roof tiles, which shattered against the pavement like giant hailstones.
Marcy clutched her son tighter, stifling his terrified screams.
Someone was shooting.
In the early days of the apocalypse, gunfire had been as common as bird song. Marcy had not realised Britain possessed so much firepower, but in the first days of war, it seemed every family heirloom—antique revolvers and dusty shotguns—came out of the cupboard to join the modern equipment of the nation’s armed services. Then, a week or two later, the gunfire had stopped and only silence remained.
The gunfire had returned in anthem.
Bang bang! Clatter-clatter-tatter.
The angel swatted its arms like a swarm of bees was attacking it. To Marcy’s surprise, the angel bled. Bloody holes pockmarked its body—bullets finding their mark—but that was impossible. Angels couldn’t be harmed. The news reports declared it with absolute certainty before going off air.
“Take that, you big piece of stank!” someone shouted.
The angel spotted its attackers and stomped across the road. Marcy saw three men—one black, one white, and one Middle-Eastern with baggy trousers and shirt. Each of them sported guns and were firing at the approaching angel.
No, thought Marcy. It’s they who are the angels.
Marcy wanted to make good use of the distraction by running for cover, yet she was rooted in place. The men had injured the angel, but it was undeterred, picking up speed as it stamped across the road. One man legged it across the street, getting the angel’s attention. It was the white man—a massively muscled guy wearing a tight black t-shirt. He dodged between two parked cars, using them as obstacles to keep the angel at bay.
What was he doing? He would be a sitting duck.
One of the other men emerged from a side street. It was the black man, a lad with a bright green baseball cap. He held what looked like a bottle of whiskey in his hand and lit it on fire.
Marcy watched the flaming whiskey bottle arc through the sky before coming down and shattering against the distracted angel’s back. Flames engulfed it and sent it into a panicked spin.
“Take that, you lanky asshole!”
The angel’s deep bellow became an animalistic screech. The flames grew higher, singeing the air. Trapped in agony, the angel fled, disappearing down the road and slipping behind the row of shops.
Several moments passed while the three men let the dust settle, then they came racing across the road towards Marcy and Max. Marcy cowered, having no reason to trust these men any more than she had the crazy old man or the angel. Everything living had the potential to kill you in this new world—and probably would.
“You okay, luv?” asked the lad in the green baseball cap. When he spoke, she glimpsed metal in his mouth.
“W-Who are you?”
“I’m Vamps. These are my bros, Mass and Aymun.”
“It is a joy to see a female soul,” said the Middle-Eastern gentleman in a thick accent. He gave a little bow.
“You’ll have to excuse him,” said Vamps. “He’s from the desert or summin’. Got here by way of Hell Gate. Are you okay, luv? Your little boy okay?”
Marcy moved Max away from her slightly so that she could examine him. His eyes were wet, his nose snotty, but he was no longer crying. She turned him to face the three men. “It’s okay. This is Vamps, Mass, and… I’m sorry…”
“Aymun, my dear. My name is Aymun.”
Max waved a hand coyly, but did not speak.
Vamps grinned at the boy, exposing two gold fangs. “You must be a right gangster, little man, looking after your ma out here. What’s your name?”
“Good to meet you, Max. Hey, you know what, I think I have something for you.” Vamps nodded to his muscly white friend who turned around to expose a backpack. Unzipping it and fumbling inside, Vamps pulled out a colourful packet and handed it to Max. “Here ya go, bud. You like these?”
“Haribo! They’re my favourite.”
Vamps smiled again, flashing those teeth. “Good thing it’s a family pack, huh? Should last you all day.”
“I think you’ll be surprised,” said Marcy, giggling with joy at a stranger showing kindness to her son. Those days had seemed long gone. “Thank you for saving us. I… I have a few things in my pack you can have but—”
Vamps waved a hand and cut her off. “We don’t want your stuff, luv. We do just fine. The streets ain’t so bad once you know how things go down.”
“I’m afraid I spent most of my life as an accountant.”
The big guy—Mass, apparently—shrugged his wide shoulders. “S’okay. Aymun here used to be a terrorist. Past’s the past, innit?”
“Are you… are you comparing accountants to terrorists?”
Mass shrugged again.
“I was no terrorist,” said Aymun. “Just a soldier born to one side fighting against those on another. Now there are no sides. We all must be as one.”
Vamps gave Marcy a sly smirk. “What Aymun is try’na say is we all need to look out for each other. It’s us against them.”
“Really?” asked Marcy, trusting the situation enough now to relax her tense shoulders. “Because that would make you the first good guys we’ve met in weeks.”
Vamps nodded as if he understood. “You fancy tagging along with us? I’m sure we can rustle up some more sweeties for your boy.”
Marcy attempted to reply, but wavered. “You’re…. really what you say you are? You won’t hurt us?”
All three men shook their heads.
“Only things we hurt are demons,” said Vamps. “So, tagging along or not?”
Marcy grinned. “Hmm? Stay here waiting to get attacked again, or go with three heavily armed men who just saved my life. Hell yes we’re tagging along! Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Vamps laughed and patted her on the back. It was a friendly gesture, not lascivious in any way. Ironic, because in her earlier life, this street-wise kid would have frightened the life out of her. Today, in this moment, she was eager to trust the lad with her life. Please just let him be what he claims to be.
“Thanks for being our friends,” said Max, already chomping on his sweets. “I miss having friends.”
Vamps put an arm around the boy as if he were a big brother. “Let’s go find you some more then, bud. We could all use more friends.”