(Planned Release: October 2021)
Three Months ago…
Sophie didn’t know what time it was, but it felt like late afternoon. The sun spilled in through the supermarket’s tall front windows and showed no signs of going away. But despite the early hour, she was bone tired and fuzzy headed; the possibility of taking a nap in safety was enticing.
I didn’t think I would ever feel safe again.
Sophie and her would-be mother-in-law, Nancy, had discovered the supermarket full of friendly strangers shortly after dawn. They had been hiking alongside the highway on their quest to exit Manchester when someone had started waving at them enthusiastically from the building’s car park. It had been a risk worth taking to go and say hello, because the people in the supermarket turned out to be friendly, and more than happy to welcome Nancy and Sophie inside. With twenty-two aisles stacked with supplies–and a warehouse filled with more–the forty-odd residents had food and water to last the year.
It was tempting to stay put. To just ride out the apocalypse and hope for the best.
But that would mean giving up on Ryan.
The world had turned to shit just over a week ago, but Sophie and Nancy had remained inside their homes, setting off only three days ago. The going had been tough every step of the way. They had witnessed anarchy and destruction at every turn, from simple vandalism to brutalised bodies lying in the gutters. Mass panic prevailed, and had done so since the very first news reports had arrived, describing a vague calamity that no one quite understood. A fuse had been lit, and its relentless burning gave off fumes of fear and anger. People looted and stole, or bunkered inside their homes, armed to the teeth. Nobody worked together or tried to keep the anarchy at bay. Disinformation reigned supreme, but the most prevalent theory was the most frightening of all.
The earth was being invaded.
I still can’t believe it. Alien organisms sent from space. Crazy.
The final news reports before the lights blinked out had warned of some kind of green fungus spreading rapidly to all four corners of the globe. Manchester remained free of infection, but the damage from the last eight days of rioting was severe. A quarter of the city now burned, while the rest was a fermenting war zone. Tribes had formed; people fighting and stealing from each other, desperate to see themselves safe. Sophie didn’t blame anyone–she and Nancy had partaken of a little looting themselves–but she couldn’t help but worry that they were making things harder on themselves. Clearly, no miraculous government rescue was coming, so it was up to everyone else to hold things together. Society was in danger of plummeting into an abyss.
After a week of sleeping rough, Sophie intended to make the most of being at the supermarket. She and Nancy had been robbed twice since leaving their homes, and two days ago, a horrible old man had struck Sophie around the head with a walking stick for no reason. They kept off the beaten track after that. People were dangerous, unless they were in large groups like this one.
It was a relief not having to worry for a while, so Sophie lay back on her sleeping bag and focused on the rhythm of her own breathing. It was the most relaxed she had been in days, and she was desperate not to spend the time worrying. She worried a great deal lately; for good reason.
Nancy, however, was full of beans, holding conversations with everybody at the supermarket. She pecked them on the cheeks or hugged them, shared stories and told jokes. She laughed out loud several times, an alien sound after what they’d been through. Sophie hadn’t realised until now quite how much her mother-in-law loved people.
But I can take or leave them. Especially lately.
Nancy had been a social butterfly even before the fungus had arrived, known by everyone on the estate–and liked by most. Twice-weekly bingo had been the highlight of her life. Sophie, on the other hand, was as comfortable by herself as she was in company. A night in front of the telly with Ryan had always been enough for her. Perhaps that was why she was weary, suddenly surrounded by so many people. Learning forty people’s names, and constantly smiling politely, was draining.
Despite her exhaustion, though–or possibly because of it–a selfish voice whispered that she should stay there at the supermarket. She and Nancy could survive here in comfort–at least until the fungus inevitably found them. Why set out on a perilous journey to find Ryan when the chance of finding him was close to nil?
Don’t think that.
The moment you think that, you lose something you can’t get back. Hope.
Redetermined to find her fiancée, Sophie chided herself for wavering. On the night Ryan had proposed–a simple, one-kneed gesture at a Mexican restaurant they both had loved–she joked about not letting him off the hook. She would drag him down the aisle if she had to. Ryan was a man-child, but it was time for him to grow up and grow old with her. She didn’t see why an apocalypse was an excuse for him not to keep his word.
I’m coming to get you, Ryan.
I love you.
While determined not to remain at the supermarket for more than a single night, she would at least allow herself one indulgent evening. She deserved that much. She needed that much. The last eight days felt more like seventy.
I’m trying to be strong–to take charge–but I’m not sure I can do this much longer. The world is getting more dangerous every day.
Just let it all go. Just for one night.
After a quick nap, she intended to grab a paperback from the display stand beside the tills–and a bottle of wine if they allowed her–before crawling up somewhere quiet. Only a nice hot bath and trashy reality TV would make it better.
Like that series on the yacht with the chef who always cooks beef cheeks.
What the hell is a beef cheek?
But before Sophie got a chance to nap, Nancy came over and disturbed her. She was munching from a bag of crisps. “Get yourself fed,” she said as Sophie propped herself up on her elbows. “Colin said we can stuff ourselves for one night. He’s a good man.”
The person in charge of the supermarket was the store’s ex-manager, a cheery soul named Colin. He had explained, upon their arrival that morning, that rationing was in effect, but that anyone who made it in from the road could have a little extra on their first night. New survivors reportedly arrived every day, and only twice had anyone been turned away. Colin refused to say why, but it was easy to read between the lines; not everyone played nice with others. Less so now than ever before.
“Part of me wonders if we should stay here,” said Nancy.
Sophie sat up and hugged her knees. “I’ve been wondering that myself. What do you think?”
She appeared to think about it for a moment, but then shook her head. “My boys are out there. I have to find them. But I understand if you need to stay. This place is safe.”
“It’s not safe, Nancy. For now, perhaps, but eventually trouble will find this place.”
“You’re such a cynic, Sophie. These are good people. Smart people. They’re making the best of it here.”
“Perhaps you’re right. All the same, I don’t want to stay here. I love Ryan, just like you do. Enough that I’d rather die than be without him.” She shook her head and tittered. “That was a bit dramatic, wasn’t it?”
Nancy shrugged. “Love is love. He’s lucky to have you.”
“Thanks. I know we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, Nancy, but it’s nice not to be alone in this.”
“I agree. I keep thinking about all the people I might never see again. All of my friends, my family–even the postman. I keep imaging who’s alive and who’s dead. It’s morbid, I know, but I fall asleep every night listing all the people who I don’t think are going to survive this. Like Frizzy Lizzie at the end of the road. She has no one; no kids or grandkids. She’s outlived all her friends. I can’t think of a way she won’t die alone in that old bungalow of hers. That’s if she’s not dead already. It breaks my heart.”
“I keep thinking about my mum and dad,” said Sophie. “That last phonecall I had with them before the lines went dead… They were hiding out at my brother’s house in Kent. I have no idea if they’re okay.”
The news reports had shown most of the South under attack by strange monsters, misshapen people covered in a dark green fungus, and had warned of slug-like creatures spreading an oily substance that could prove deadly upon contact. It was a shit show.
“They’re alive, dear,” said Nancy. “Of course they are. Hasn’t this place given you hope that the world isn’t over?”
Sophie pulled a face. “Half of Manchester is on fire, and we don’t even have the fungus here yet. I can’t imagine what things are like elsewhere.”
“So don’t imagine, then. If you can’t be sure, there’s no point in guessing. Your mind will always conjure the worst.”
“I suppose so. Anyway, I’m going to take a rest if that’s okay.” She lay back on her sleeping, desperate to give her mind and body a break. “Wake me up if you need me.”
But please don’t.
“Okay, dear. I’ll be in the staff room. There’s a pool tournament going on.”
“We’ll find Ryan and Aaron, you’ll see. Try to stay positive.”
Sophie closed her eyes. “Sure thing.”
When she opened her eyes again, it was dark. Candles flickered in various places, but away from the front windows, it was almost pitch black. Sophie blinked several times, trying to adjust her eyes, but the most she could make out were grey shapes and splodges. Upon arriving at the supermarket, she and Nancy had been allocated a space over in the bakery. It was an area of the supermarket devoid of food, as freshly baked goods didn’t keep very long, but it still had a trace of that comforting smell of newly risen loafs. Several other people had beds in the bakery; she could hear them snoring. She also heard something else. Something strange.
A tapping sound followed by a dragging sound.
Sophie sat up on top of her sleeping bag, placing her hands on the cold resin floor. The movement in the darkness was too far away to make out clearly. It was more the suggestion of movement; a shifting of the shadows.
It’s probably just somebody going for a pee. Not my business.
But I could use the toilet myself. Is it okay to wander around in the dark? What are the rules here?
She lay back down on her sleeping bag and tried to drift back off to sleep before the urge to pee grew too immense. How long had she even been asleep? Her intention had been only to take a quick nap, but that nap had obviously turned into a marathon snooze. What time was it? Obviously deep in the night.
I must have been shattered. Can’t say I don’t feel better for the sleep, but what do I do now? Lay here until dawn? How long will that be?
The movement in the shadows continued, closer now. Clearly, someone was creeping around, but again, Sophie assumed someone heading for a toilet break. Or perhaps it was some scoundrel searching for an off-the-books snack. The night owls were probably in their element now that the daily grind no longer existed. All the same, the movement and the constant tapping were beginning to irk Sophie. Not just irk her, but worry her. She had a dull ache in the pit of her stomach that she couldn’t quite explain. The rhythmic tapping was unsettling. Not footsteps; something else.
Why are they tapping?
Sophie sat up again, hoping to make eye-contact with whoever it was if they came close enough and make them realise they were keeping her awake. Not that she could complain. She was a guest of these kind, generous people.
The mysterious night owl did indeed move closer, and the blurry shadow took on the form of a person: arms, legs, and a head. Except there was something not quite right about this stranger. One of their arms was too long, dragging along the ground.
What the hell?
Sophie leapt up out of her sleeping bag and backed against the wall. There was a fire escape behind her and her hip struck the horizontal bar. It made a racket, loud enough to stir Nancy, who was lying four-feet away in her own sleeping bag. “W-What are you doing, Sophie?” she asked sleepily.
Sophie shushed her. “Something’s wrong.” She looked ahead, trying to get a better picture of the person in the shadows, growing more and more anxious that something was wrong.
Then she got confirmation.
The figure stepped out of the shadows, close enough now that Sophie could see them in detail. The woman’s face was distorted, one of her eyes bulging with some kind of growth. Her left arm was sinewy, and over a metre long.
Something sharp sliced the air.
Sophie screamed and ducked.
Nancy clambered out of her sleeping bag and bundled into Sophie, swearing at the top of her lungs. The two of them scurried away, trying to find a path in the dark without bumping into displays or other people sleeping.
“Help!” Sophie cried out. “It’s one of them. One of the monsters.”
Voices in the shadows complained as people awoke, wondering what the commotion was. Several turned anxious, people’s nerves already frayed by the unfolding apocalypse of the last week. They called out for loved ones or whimpered in fright, all the while unaware that a creature stalked them from the shadows.
The fungus has reached Manchester. I knew it would.
A man rose from his bed, demanding quiet. The infected woman turned on him, lashing out with her talon and mumbling incoherently. The man screeched, agony and terror rising out of him in a whirlwind. “My eyes. I can’t see. I can’t see!”
Nancy put a hand on Sophie’s back. “What the heck is happening?”
“Nothing good lasts. Not anymore.”
“The fungus is here?”
Torches switched on throughout the supermarket, shafts of light bobbing up and down in the aisles as people raced around, trying to see what was causing the furore. When enough of them reached the bakery, the area lit up, and the infected person revealed themselves. Sophie recognised the woman with green fungus all over her face, but only barely. They hadn’t spoken, but she had been sweeping the floors when Nancy and Sophie had arrived at the supermarket. She hadn’t been infected then.
Or maybe she had been. People lie. They get scared.
And scared means stupid.
“Cathy,” said Colin, appearing from the aisles. He had a set of keys jangling on his belt and a heavy duty torch in his hand. “Cathy? My God.”
“She’s infected,” someone shouted. “Get rid of her!”
“She’s going to kill us all,” someone else yelled.
“Somebody get her.”
“She was fine earlier. What happened?”
Sophie looked left and right, witnessing the terror on people’s faces. They obviously hadn’t encountered an infected person before, and they clearly hadn’t expected to now because most of them were wearing pyjamas. Their simple life had turned sour. No one was brave enough to act.
I’m not either. What the hell do I do?
Is this the end?
The man who’d been slashed in the face fell to his knees and groped around blindly. Both eyes oozed down his cheeks.
Cathy lashed out again, this time slicing a teenage girl on the cheek. The small blonde squealed and collapsed backwards into the arms of an older woman that might have been her mother.
Everyone scattered, fleeing into the aisles. Only a few remained to deal with Cathy, who was continuing her attack, slicing at people’s arms as they attempted to dodge by. They wailed and screamed and panicked as they grabbed at their bleeding wounds. Were they infected now? Is that how it worked?
Colin leapt forwards and struck Cathy in the skull with his heavy duty torch. Blood and bits of green gore exploded in the air, much of it getting on his shirt and face. Cathy screeched, and grabbed him tightly around the waist with her human arm. Then she bit into his neck, like something out of a zombie film. Wailing in pain, Colin shoved Cathy away and smashed the torch against her skull again, this time opening up a massive dent. She fell to the floor, dead. Fat, glistening bugs leaked from her bulging left eyeball and scattered away beneath the shelving displays. Were they what the news had warned people about?
Sophie grabbed Nancy by the arm. “We have to get out of here.”
“What do you mean? It’s the middle of the night and these people need help.”
“No. These people are about to turn nasty. Their little paradise has just been destroyed. Who do you think they’re going to blame for that?”
“What? This has nothing to do with us. We’re not infected.”
Sophie hissed. “Use your head, Nancy. These people have been living here for a week, detached from reality. They had a good thing going, but now an infected person is running around trying to kill them. Who do you think they’re going to blame for that? Themselves, or the newbies?”
Nancy deflated. She was a smart woman, and had seen enough in the last few days to know how people behaved when they were afraid.
“Get your things,” said Sophie. “Then grab as much food and water as you can.”
“We can’t steal from these people, Sophie.”
“Wake up! These people don’t deserve this food any more than we do. They didn’t pay for it. They didn’t produce it. They just decided it was theirs. Now we’re doing the same.”
“This place was only ever an illusion, Nancy. Nowhere is safe now. We both know it.”
Colin hadn’t moved since caving in Cathy’s skull, staring down at her and panting, but when he saw Sophie and Nancy gathering their things, he turned and pointed. “You did this.”
Sophie glanced at Nancy and rolled her eyes. “Told you. If we don’t get out of here now, they’re going to lynch us.”
Colin stepped towards them, the broken torch still in his hand. “You brought the fungus here. You killed Cathy.”
Sophie glanced at the woman’s broken skull. “I think you had something to do with that, mate. Look, we’re leaving, okay? Just let us go and you’ll never see us again.”
A small group of people stood nearby. They found their voices now that Cathy had been dealt with. “Get them, Colin,” one of them shouted. “They need to pay for this.”
“I told you we shouldn’t let new people in.”
“I’m infected,” someone cried out from the aisle. “I can feel it. God, please help me.”
Sophie glanced aside, trying to find something that might help. She looked back at her sleeping bag and the large backpack beside it–a large, green canvas sack with stretchy webbing and multiple pockets that she had stolen from a branch of the Salvation Army.
Because I needed salvation.
Like I do now.
Her pack was filled with food and water, but little else–nothing that could help her–but then she saw, of all things, a golf-club propped up against a stack of nearby shelves. Someone must have taken it to use as a weapon.
If I can just reach it, maybe I can defend myself.
These people are going to attack. I can feel their blood boiling in their veins. They don’t want to face the truth: that this was always going to happen.
Sophie put her hands up and started edging towards the golf-club. “We didn’t do this,” she protested. “I don’t know how Cathy got infected, but Nancy and I are both clean. We haven’t even seen the fungus.”
“We were okay here.” Colin pointed the bloody torch at her. His shirt had come untucked and his gut spilled over his belt. “Everything was fine until you arrived.”
Sophie shielded her eyes, still edging towards the golf club. “I get that, but I think you’re infected now, Colin. You need to take care of your neck, it’s bleeding. Do you have any bleach, or something to clean the wound with? You might be able to kill the infection before it takes hold.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No,” she admitted. “I’m pretty much going off what I’ve seen in horror films. But it makes sense, right? An infected person just chowed down on your neck. Whatever was in Cathy is inside you now.”
“Oh God,” said a tall man standing nearby. “Colin, if you’re infected, you need to leave, right now. Give me your keys.”
Colin turned and redirected his torch light. Blood stained the collar of his light-coloured shirt. “I’m not leaving you in charge of this place, Tom. No way in Hell.”
“You’re not the boss of us, Colin. Give me the keys and leave. You’re dangerous”
“You’re only here because I let you in. I’m not handing anything over. I’m not even infected.”
“Yes, you are. Cathy bit you.”
“This isn’t a movie, you idiot. Why are you listening to her?”
Sophie sighed. It appeared not everyone at the supermarket was friends, and resentments were spilling out quickly.
And it’s only been a matter of days. This place was an accident waiting to happen.
The man named Tom stepped forwards. “You’re going to turn into a monster like Cathy, Colin. You need to leave, or…”
“Or we’ll have to take care of you.”
“Step away from me, Tom.”
But Tom kept approaching. He had a hand out in front of him and looked ready to pounce. “Colin, there’s still a chance to make this place safe again, but I need you to give me the keys and leave in peace. I’ll give you some supplies. Whatever you need.”
“Get away from me, Tom. Who the hell do you even think you are?”
A woman came racing around the corner. It was the mother of the girl who had been sliced on the cheek. “Emily’s hurt. Colin, I need to get the first aid kit from your office.”
“Not now, Sarah.”
“Colin, please. It won’t stop bleeding.” She rushed towards him. “Just give me your key–”
Colin flinched and struck out at the woman. It appeared an instinctive, fearful reaction rather than something intended, but the back of his hand caught the woman hard on the side of the head. She tumbled into a nearby shelving unit and bounced off it. She lay on the ground for a moment before crawling away, sobbing.
“Hey!” Tom leapt forward and grappled with Colin. “What the hell are you doing, man?”
The two men fought.
Sophie seized the opportunity to grab the golf club. She shoved Nancy in the back. “Get my rucksack.”
Nancy nodded and went to do as she was told.
Colin yelled, even as he struggled with Tom. “They’re getting away. This is all their fault. Stop them!”
“Damn it.” Sophie leapt forwards with the golf club, but not towards Colin. Instead, she dodged over to Cathy and took a swing at her corpse. Infected brain matter exploded everywhere in front of her, sending Tom and Colin leaping out of the way.
Sophie held the gore-soaked club out in front of her. “One whack from this,” she warned, “and it’s all over. Double bogey, or whatever it is they say.” She shook her head and moaned. “Just back off.”
Colin was a picture of fury, but Tom turned white as a sheet and started checking himself over frantically. A small group behind stepped back, eying the globs of gore staining the floor.
Sophie put a hand on Nancy’s arm. “Come on, we’re leaving.”
“What about our stuff?”
“I said, leave it. Now move.”
They sidled towards the supermarket’s entrance. Sophie had seen several people slide the glass doors to-and-fro to get outside, but did they lock them at night? If they did, then she and Nancy were trapped.
Torchlight bounced off the ceiling, shafts of white and yellow cutting through the darkness. In the catacombs of the aisles, people yelled out and sobbed. Others shouted aggressively. The supermarket had been a lit firework, and Nancy and Sophie had arrived just in time to catch the show.
Colin followed them, along with a small group of others. Tom came too, keeping a distance.
There was movement up ahead, from over by the entrance.
We’re penned in at both ends.
This isn’t going to end well.
Sophie waggled her club and warned everyone to stay back. It brought her and Nancy enough time to reach the entrance, which was two sets of glass double doors and a large carpeted ‘airlock’ between them that was stacked full of trolleys. The inside set of doors was open, but the outer one was closed.
The movement Sophie had seen up ahead was the teenage girl with the bleeding cheek. She slumped against the glass, blood pouring from a ragged gash on her cheek. In the moonlight, the wound appeared jet-black against her lily-white skin. She stared at the floor in a daze.
Colin caught up and shined his blood-stained torch directly in Sophie’s face. “The doors are locked. You’re not going anywhere.”
Sophie covered her eyes with one arm and waved the club with the other. “Stay back, Colin. I won’t warn you again.”
“If I’m infected, like you claim I am, then you can’t hurt me with that, can you? I can just take it from you.”
“You can try. More likely is that I’ll drive your goddamn nuts through your arsehole. Want to risk it?”
Colin sneered, but he maintained his distance. “I let you in here,” he said. “Fed you. Welcomed you.”
“And we appreciate it,” said Nancy, trembling beside Sophie. “Please, just let us go.”
“You’re not leaving,” said Tom. “You brought the infection inside. People are hurt because of you. Look at Emily. Look at what you’ve done.”
Sophie glanced at the shell-shocked teenager and estimated her to be only fifteen or sixteen. Would she soon become a twisted, mindless creature like Cathy, the infection breaking and bending her body until nothing human remained? It was a cruel fate for a kid. For anyone.
I know nothing for sure. She might be okay.
She might be fine.
“I’m sorry,” said Sophie, looking at Colin. “You were unbelievably kind to us, and I wish none of this had happened, but it wasn’t Nancy and me who did this. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cathy must have got infected some other way.”
“Pull the other one,” said Tom. “You two must have brought it in with you. What other explanation could there be?”
“Open your eyes,” Sophie yelled. The club in her hands was shaking, and she felt her heart pounding in her ears. Nancy was silent beside her. “Do we look infected to you? We’re both fine.”
“Take off your clothes,” someone yelled from the back of the small mob. “You could be covered in the stuff for all we know.”
“We didn’t infect Cathy,” Nancy protested. “Please, don’t do this. You’re scaring us.”
“You should be scared,” said Tom.
“Think about what you’re doing,” said Sophie. She heard desperation in her voice and tried to disguise it. “You can’t take any of this back once you go too far. There’s still time to do the right thing. Let us go.”
“No,” said Colin. “You need to pay for what you’ve done. Cathy was infected because of you. She was my friend, and I… You made me do what I did.”
Sophie shook her head and sighed, realising that there was no way this wouldn’t end in a fight. Reason and logic were no longer in the building.
“It was the cat,” came a voice. It was Emily who had spoken, the teenage girl sitting in the entrance area.
Everyone frowned and looked at her, confused by what she had said. Colin shined his torch into the airlock.
The girl spoke again. “Cathy was getting some fresh air out in the car park this morning. There was this cat: a ginger one. It was skinny, so Cathy wanted to bring it inside and feed it, but when she tried to pick it up, it scratched her.”
“That doesn’t mean it was infected,” said Colin.
“It was probably just feral,” added Tom.
Emily shook her head. “Cathy started feeling unwell right afterwards. She asked me to take over sweeping the floors for her and went to bed. She didn’t even go near these two. Also, I saw the cat. It was… diseased.”
Sophie used her eyes to plead with Colin. “You see? This wasn’t us. Can we just get our things and go?”
“We don’t want any trouble,” said Nancy.
Colin cleared his throat. Some of his anger had gone, but he appeared undecided about what to do. His neck glistened with blood, and while it might have been Sophie’s imagination, she swore she could see things writhing in the wound.
Everyone turned towards the newsagent space beside the entrance. A man stormed towards them from the direction of the tills. A woman hurried two steps behind him. Sophie didn’t know the man, but the woman was Emily’s mother. Her black eye was visible even at a distance. Colin had really clocked her a good ‘un.
Colin turned his torchlight on the newcomer. He flinched and took a defensive stance. “John? What do you want?”
“Sarah said you hit her. Is that true?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“You goddamn woman-beater.” John ran at Colin, fists raised. At the same time, Tom hopped forward and snatched at the man’s keys. A scuffle broke out as Colin defended himself against both attacker and thief.
Emily’s mother hurried over to her daughter and gathered her to her feet. “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go get your face looked at.”
“I’m scared, mum.”
“I know, sweetheart. Me too. Come on now. This way.”
Sophie watched, dumbfounded, as the mother took her daughter away while the three men fought like drunkards. Had this been inevitable? Would men always find excuses to fight over pride and power? It was ridiculous. Was life not difficult enough?
Before Emily disappeared with her mother, the girl turned back and shouted. “The door release is inside a panel on the wall. You have to turn it really hard.”
Sophie nodded her thanks, wishing she could help the girl, but knowing that she couldn’t. It wasn’t definate she was infected, but it made sense. This thing was spreading somehow, creating the diseased monsters the news had described.
She wondered if Ryan had encountered anyone infected.
Or become infected himself.
Don’t think it. He’s fine.
He has to be.
Nancy hurried into the space between the doors. Sophie followed and then located a small metal panel set on the wall nearby. She yanked it open, and inside was a black plastic knob. It took effort, but she rotated it one-hundred-and-eighty-degrees until a clunk sounded, signalling the unlocking of the doors.
Nancy peeled open one of the doors and let in the fresh air. The nights were getting chilly. Sophie considered going back for their sleeping bags and backpacks, but there was no guarantee she would make it out again. Anarchy was erupting inside the supermarket. John was kicking Colin in the chest while the man cowered on the floor. Tom had disappeared with the supermarket’s keys. Dozens of people yelled hysterically.
Sophie sighed ruefully.
The supermarket is now closed.
She stepped out between the sliding glass doors and paused beneath the building’s overhanging roof, taking a deep breath. It was a relief to get out of the dark, stuffy catacombs of the supermarket aisles. The building was different at night than it had been by day. That was true for most places, she supposed.
Nancy stepped out and stood beside Sophie. After a moment, the two of them got going, strolling towards the car park in silence, neither having anything to say regarding the chaos they left behind. The supermarket had appeared a genuine respite from the horror, but it had only been hiding the darkest of threats.
People who still have something to lose.
Something moved ahead, darting out from beneath an abandoned SUV. It was the style of car Sophie had once dreamed of owning herself–something she could pile full of camping gear in anticipation of exploring the secrets of the countryside with Ryan. Now, she would be happy never to have to sleep outside again.
“It’s a cat,” said Nancy, referring to the shadow scurrying towards them.
“It’s the cat,” said Sophie, noticing its tail was three times longer than it should have been. A razor-sharp tip glinted in the moonlight like a scorpion’s stinger.
The diseased feline hopped up onto the pavement and bounded right at them. Sophie hopped forwards and swung her club. The thick metal head struck the creature right beneath the breast and launched it into the air. It landed in the carpark fifteen-feet away and didn’t rise again.
Sophie weighted up the gore-stained club in her hands, enjoying the feel. She resumed walking, more confident than she had been that morning when she had arrived at the supermarket. The sleep, too, had done her good. Now she just needed to find food, water, shelter, and–
Ryan. I need to find Ryan.