“What the…? Dog shit? You have got to be shitting me.” Smithy lifted his foot and winced as the smell hit his nose. He’d survived the end of the world, but dog shit was still the worst.
He wiped his trainer on some nearby grass, almost losing his temper completely. Not much happened during a typical day anymore, so something like this was enough to ruin his mood till bedtime.
The demons didn’t seem to fuss much over wildlife, which was why packs of wild dogs now roamed the landscape. In the early days of the apocalypse, dogs had been a rarity, but it had become clear that they were just cowering and hiding. Once starvation steeled their nerves, they had reappeared in force, rooting through bins and finding their way into kitchens. Every now and then one would take a nip at Smithy, but he was always happy to reply with his ice hockey stick. It wasn’t a particularly fearsome weapon, and he used it more for exploring the various rat infested nooks of the world, but it was enough to give a skinny mutt a nasty prod in the ribcage.
Smithy’s tummy rumbled. Food was getting harder and harder to find, most of it now rotten. He was starting to lose weight, but luckily he had been about three stone too heavy to start with. He was far from skinny, but his hunger was starting to worry him. Starvation, for the first time in his existence, was something he needed to take seriously.
God, deliver me a kebab. With hot sauce and jalapeños.
He didn’t know the name of the town he was in. It was easy to wander without paying any notice. There was no meaning to place anymore. He had no home and no destination. Who cared what town he was in? And this place was just any other. The short row of shops before him all had smashed-in windows and ripped up bodies littered the pavements. In the late Summer, the bodies would have hummed and stank, but Autumn and Winter had frozen the rotting flesh and sent the smells away. Now the bodies were stale, like oily cardboard. Smithy still wore a scarf across his face, but he didn’t know if the bodies were dangerous. Eventually they would just be bones and dust.
If only he could find some living people. Not the odd stranger or couple on the road, but a town full of hardy survivors. He constantly envisaged rounding the next bend and finding a working farm with armed soldiers on the walls. Surely some part of society had managed to survive. The bloody dogs had managed it. He could still smell their shit on his trainer.
Six months had passed since those horrible gates had appeared everywhere, but it felt like a decade ago. He had started the apocalypse with a gold Seiko on his wrist — a present from his old man for his eighteenth — but a couple of weeks ago he had found a digital Casio that displayed both the time and the exact date. Ditching his father’s gift in lieu of the cheap plastic timepiece had been difficult but, somehow, keeping the calendar alive had seemed more valuable.
Loneliness had never been an issue in his former life. He’d been a qualified web designer with his own fledgling business and two younger brothers. He was popular — the life of the party — and while he’d had no girlfriend when the gates first appeared, a long list of conquests had lined his past. Life had been good. Not amazing, but good. Those things meant nothing now though. His entire existence had been erased, made worthless. Now he was no different to the stray dogs, rooting around in the rubbish and shite left behind by millions of dead people. When he wasn’t doing that, he was avoiding packs of demons or fighting them off. That he had been able to survive when so many others had died was his only source of pride. His existence might be worthless, but he was pretty badass.
At last count, he had kill fourteen demons. In the early months, they had travelled in savage packs, but a while ago things had changed. Now the demons wandered around in a daze, seeming not to know where they were. Some of them didn’t even attack you when they saw you, they just mumbled and fidgeted like anxious children. Others were just as deadly as before — and those he had been forced to fight. Smithy’s advantage came from the fact most demons didn’t think to arm themselves, so whenever they attacked, they did so with bare hands. It was easy to take them out with a claw-headed hammer or an ice hockey stick. Smithy was getting pretty good at killing, although there was something sad about cracking open demon skulls lately, like he was somehow giving them mercy.
Christ, he was lonely. He could have had a companion by now, but whenever he found other survivors, they seemed half-starving and mad. Just a few days ago, he had spotted a skinny woman eating a branch from a tree. Maybe she thought the bark would give her sustenance. She hadn’t spotted Smithy, and he’d decided to sneak on by without saying hello. He needed a survival partner, not a burden. He could barely feed himself.
But he couldn’t help thinking about that woman. She had survived as long as he had, so she obviously knew something. Maybe he should have said hello.
Yeah, we could have gone halves on her tasty tree branch. Sorry, but I’ll pass. Give me a Big Mac…
Christ, I’ll never eat another Big Mac.
Smithy felt close to tears. The previous him would have been embarrassed, but when you lived each day in complete solitude, it actually helped to have a little cry. It felt good. The lads would never going to be there to laugh at him, so what was the harm? No sobs escaped him, just a voiceless trickle of tears. The chilly nip against his cheeks was rousing. Emotion was the only thing that reminded him he was human in a world full of monsters and stray beasts.
When he stepped in another slopping pile of dog shit, his tears turned to curses. “Oh, you have to be shitting me? I swear, I see a bloody mutt with the squits and I’m going to drown it. My Dog’s Trust membership is hereby revoked. Goddamn it all to Hell.”
He started wiping his stinking trainer again when he heard a shuffling sound to his right. It was a surprise to see a demon standing right there in the doorway of Oxfam, and at first he didn’t even realise it was one. Only the sloughing flesh of the young man’s cheeks showed he was undead or whatever.
Smithy gripped his hockey stick in both hands and stalked towards the demon, but stopped when it held its hands up in surrender. “Chill out, blud. You come near me with that and I’ll make you eat it, you get me?”
Smithy frowned. He had heard demons talk before, in varying degrees of fluency, but none so clear as this. “W-Who are you?”
“I’m Frankie, innit? I’m looking for my little bro. He’s just a kid. He’ll be a mess without me. You seen ‘im?”
“I, um…” Smithy cleared his throat. “What’s his name?”
“Davey, innit? Blonde, short. Nothing impressive, but he’s my blood. I need to find him, you get me?”
“Yeah, I, um, get you. Sorry, I haven’t seen anyone in days. Is he, um… Is he dead like you?”
The demon shrugged. Or was it a zombie? “I don’t know, blud. I waited for him in the other place but he never came. I don’t remember how I got there, but Davey wouldn’t turn his back on me. He’s my little bro. Worships me, innit?”
“Oh, okay, well, maybe he didn’t end up in Hell. That’s a good thing, right?”
The demon suddenly changed. His greasy, rotting face turned feral and his bony fists bunched. A knuckle broke through the skin. “The fuck you on about? I weren’t in Hell. Why would I be in Hell?”
Smithy gripped his hockey stick and took a step back. “Easy! I don’t know where you’ve been, do I? I was just making conversation. But you are, you know, dead or whatever?”
The demon sighed. “I dunno. It’s a proper head fuck. I remember hanging with my crew, smoking bud and chillin’. I remember being banged up in the knick for a while. It’s all clear to me, but it feels… strange. Nothing makes sense. There are no memories of how I went from my old life to… this.” He motioned to his own, oozing body. “You asked me if I’m dead, but it don’t feel like it. I’m still me, it’s just… weird. Like I’m wearing my body instead of it actually being part of me. And there’s this tugging… like I’m supposed to be somewhere else. Maybe the place I was in before. The place where I was waiting for Davey.”
Smithy lowered his hockey stick and relaxed a little. This demon was certainly dangerous, but it wasn’t a mindless monster. In fact, it was probably about as dangerous as any living person could be, which could be a little or a lot. “I’m sorry, man. That sounds horrible. Did you, did you come through one of those gates?”
The demon ran a hand over its nearly bald head and sighed. The sound it made was like wasps escaping a drainpipe. “Not sure how I got here, blud. Last I remember is waking up in a pile of corpses. There were soldiers knocking about, putting bullets in anything that moves, so I scarpered. Fucking murderers. One day I’m gonna go back and wipe ‘em out. Maybe they killed Davey. Maybe he was in Portsmouth with me.”
“You were in Portsmouth? There were soldiers there?”
The demon snarled. “Pussies with guns. I’d like to see how hard they are without ‘em.”
“But you were in Portsmouth?”
“Yeah, blud. There were signs everywhere. Dunno where I am now though. Lost track.”
Smithy chewed his lip and lost himself for a moment. So there were still soldiers? Still some remnant of humanity. Was Portsmouth safe? Were the corpses this demon spoke of human or… not? How long ago had this been?
“You need to help me find my little bro.”
Smithy flinched as he realised the demon had walked right up to him, close enough to smell. The stench was worse than the dog shit.
Smithy took a step back. “I, um, I have to get going, mate. You’ll find your brother, though, I’m sure.”
“The fuck you on about? Got better things to do, have ya?” The demon waved a rotting arm to indicate the ruined town around them. A pack of dogs slunk behind a tipped-over van nearby. Were they following him?
Smithy raised his hockey stick, but was taken by surprise when Frankie lashed out and snapped it in two. Both pieces clunked to the pavement.
Smithy leapt back, feeling stupid for stopping to chat with this thing. “Whoa, what the hell, man?”
The demon was trembling with rage, but it stayed rooted to the spot, almost like it was trying to calm itself down. After a few moments passed, it put up its hands and looked ashamed of itself. “Look, I’m sorry, blud. My temper, it’s… a little up and down right now. I just need to find my little bro. Davey needs me. Please, can you help me? I don’t know where to start.”
Smithy found himself nodding. Partly it was because he was afraid to tell this thing no. “It’s Frankie, right?”
“Yeah, blud. What’s your name?” The demon offered a handshake.
Trying not to show his revulsion, Smithy reached out and obliged. He felt slimy skin against his palm. “I’m Smithy.”
“Good to meet you, Smithy. You seem like a good bloke. You’ll help me, yeah?
“Looks like it.” Smithy gave a thin-lipped smile, wishing he had chosen to make friends with the woman chewing on bark, and not this shambling corpse. Nothing about this felt like a good idea. But it was nice to have company.