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Authors: David Moody

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Year of the Zombie (Book 8): Scratch

BOOK: Year of the Zombie (Book 8): Scratch
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SCRATCH

 

by David Moody

 

 

 

Copyright
©
David
Moody 2016

All rights reserved

 

The right of David Moody
to be identified as the author

of this work has been
asserted by him in accordance with

the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act 1988.

 

This is a work of fiction.
All of the characters,

organisations and events
portrayed in this novel are

either products of the
authors’ imaginations

or are used
fictitiously.

 

First published in 2016
by Infected Books

 

www.infectedbooks.co.uk

@infectedbks

 

Cover design
by David Naughton-Shires

www.theimagedesigns.com

 

www.davidmoody.net

www.facebook.com/davidmoodyauthor

@davidjmoody

 

 

 

 

 

MONTH EIGHT

 

The body of the early morning swimmer had been
facedown in the sand long enough for any footprints to have been washed away.
He lay on the beach like a washed-up jellyfish. Flabby and unnaturally pale,
wearing unflattering speedos and not a lot else. Lank hair splayed like
seaweed.

Colin walked the dog
here every morning, whatever the weather. He liked to see what the surf had
dredged up. He’d found plenty before now, but never anything like this. Even
from this distance he could tell that the man on the sand was dead. It was the
way he was lying there with his right arm unnaturally buckled, folded under his
bulk, and how he failed to react when the ice-cold waves scampered up the beach
and tickled the wrinkled soles of his feet.

Arnold, Colin’s dog,
couldn’t contain his excitement. He bolted. ‘Come back here, you little shit,’
Colin yelled after him, but Arnold wasn’t having any of it. He sprinted over to
the corpse and sniffed around the dead man’s face, burying his muzzle under his
chin and pushing upwards.

Colin finally caught up
and grabbed his dog by the scruff and reattached his lead.

He stood a little way
back from the cadaver, uncertain. He glanced over his shoulder to check if
anyone else was around, keen to find someone else to share the burden of his
grim early morning discovery, but there was no one. The beach was deserted; the
early hour and heavy clouds confining holiday-makers to their caravans and
tents. He thought about just walking away, but when he looked down and saw his
heavy footprints in the sand leading up to this point, he knew it would be
impossible to disappear and pretend he’d never been here. He really could have
done without this. He came down to the beach each morning to clear his head and
de-stress. Finding a washed-up stiff was the very last thing he needed.

Wait. Was the man
actually dead? The fact he hadn’t moved and wasn’t reacting either to the cold
or his badly injured arm indicated he most likely was, but Colin thought he
should do his civic duty and check. He fished his phone from his pocket and
crouched down. He dialled 999, and as he waited for someone to answer he
gingerly shook the body and checked for signs of breathing. He noticed three
vicious-looking marks on the man’s exposed right shoulder. Bloody gouges. Deep,
raking scratches.

Still no answer, just
ringing in his ear. He checked the display then cancelled the call and dialled
999 again.

Arnold was acting up,
keen to keep moving. He made a dash for the water and Colin pulled him back,
almost losing his balance. He cursed his dog who then ran the other way,
jumping the corpse. The second change of direction caught Colin off-guard and
he fell back, landing on his backside in the damp sand almost on top of the
dead man. He swore again and let go of the dog, then tried the phone a third
time. Still no answer. Bugger.

There was something
moving in the scratches on the man’s back. Colin thought it was his eyes
playing tricks at first, but when he looked a little closer he could see
teeming movement. Hundreds of tiny, writhing things. They looked like minute,
translucent maggots; almost amoeba-like in their simplicity. A visible
infection.

He knew it was a stupid
thing to do, but he did it just the same. Phone gripped tight in one hand, with
the outstretched fingers of the other he prodded dead flesh. He jumped out of
his skin and scrambled back to his feet when the corpse reacted. The longest of
the three scratches appeared to move in response to his touch. It briefly
closed up then pulled apart and widened again like a grotesque and impossible
sneer.

Colin staggered away,
looking around frantically for help but still seeing no one. With 999 still
ringing out unanswered, he tried another number. He called home, hoping Marj
would come to his rescue as she usually did.

By the time his wife
picked up the call, Colin had dropped the phone and it was lost in the surf.

The corpse was moving.

Unsteady, like a
new-born animal, it picked itself up and came at him. The dead swimmer stumbled
as if learning to walk for the first time, legs stiff and unresponsive,
uncoordinated. Its broken arm flapped uselessly at its side.

The creature’s movements
were unnatural. All wrong. It was as if the body was leading the head, not the
other way around. It was bizarrely puppet-like in its behaviour. Stiff and
staccato. A strange approximation of a person. An imitation of normality which
looked the part but acted anything but.

As Colin slowed down,
the dead man sped up.

The infected figure came
at him with sudden, predatory speed, its good arm clawing through the air. It
was on him in seconds and though he was initially able to push it away, it came
at him again and again, relentless.

Arnold scampered behind
Colin, barking furiously, and inadvertently tripped his owner up. Colin found
himself on his back in the wet sand with the corpse on top of him, pinning him
down. The lifeless swimmer dragged its numb fingers down his face, leaving a
series of deep and bloody diagonal grooves from the corner of his eye to the
corner of his mouth.

And then it left him.

Job done.

It got up and staggered
away.

The dog wasn’t barking
now, he was growling. And the object of his attention was no longer the dead
man, instead it was his owner. The attack may have been brief and deceptively
ineffective, but sufficient damage had been done.

Colin wasn’t Colin
anymore now that there were things burrowing deep into his brain and flooding
his circulatory system. Multiplying. Consuming. Taking over. Controlling.

***

Jody Phelps panicked in unfamiliar surroundings,
and when she found she couldn’t move, she panicked again. Cocooned in a
sleeping bag, wedged between two sleeping kids and fighting claustrophobia, she
screamed as hands clawed the outside of the tent, dragging the canvas down until
it was just inches from her face, fingers desperately scratching to find a way
inside.

‘Mum, where’s the zip
gone?’

She relaxed when she
heard his voice. It was just Ben. ‘You’re at the wrong end of the tent, love,’
she told him. ‘Try the other end.’ Her heart thumped in her chest like crazy.

Ben undid the zip,
filling the tent with dull morning light, then lifted the flap and crawled
inside. Jody propped herself up on her elbows and watched as he struggled to
shut it again.

‘Just leave it,’ she
said. ‘Where’ve you been?’

‘For a piss.’

‘Don’t use that word.’

‘Whatever. I hate this
tent. It’s stupid.’

She lay back down again.
‘I know you hate it. You’ve told me about a hundred times since we got here.’

‘Why couldn’t we have
stayed in a hotel like last year?’

‘You know why.’

‘It’s not fair.’

‘Life’s not fair.’

‘Can I go out and play?’

‘No.’

‘What are we going to do
today?’

‘Don’t know yet.’

‘It’s boring here.
There’s no pool. And I’m freezing.’

‘Get back into bed
then,’ she said, and she pulled her sleeping bag over her head and rolled over
to try and get back to sleep. She checked her phone under the covers, the
bright light hurting her eyes. Christ, it wasn’t even half-seven. It was early.
Too early.

***

Jody managed to doze for a while longer, but it
was difficult to switch off fully with a head full of crap and a tent full of
bored kids. Jenny and Holly had been playing with their dolls at the end of her
sleeping bag, squashing her feet, and she’d heard Ben playing games on his
phone. She hadn’t wanted him to bring the phone because of who he might
contact, but she was glad she’d reneged because it was keeping him quiet. She
kept telling herself
I should really get up and do something with them
,
but the longer she stayed wrapped up, the less she wanted to move.

She must have clocked
out again, because when she woke up this time the tent was quiet. Ben was
outside, struggling to get back in again. Bloody kid. Ten year old boys –
even her own son – were a complete enigma to her. She didn’t understand the
way they worked. ‘For Christ’s sake, Ben,’ she yelled, ‘how many times do I
have to tell you? The zip’s at the other end.’

He was leaning right
against the canvas again, his full weight pushing down on the tent, threatening
to collapse it on top of her.

‘I’m here, Mum,’ he
said, and she looked up fast. Ben, Jenny and Holly, all in the tent with their
faces buried in books and magazines and phones.

‘Shit.’

She got up fast, still
struggling to get out of her bedding in the tight confines of this three-man
tent occupied by four. As she sat up, the back end of the tent crashed down.
Whoever was outside had fallen on top of it.

‘Oi!’ she yelled,
furious. ‘What the hell d’you think you’re doing?’

She manhandled the kids
out of the way and grabbed her sandals, then fumbled with the zip and burst out
into the light.

‘For Christ’s sake, what
the hell’s going on out here?’

She’d seen the woman
elsewhere on the campsite with her husband last night. Elderly. Silver-haired.
Prim and proper. Professional campers, the pair of them. One of those couples
with all the right kit and a gadget for everything. They’d watched from a
distance (and hadn’t lifted a finger to help) as Jody had struggled to get her
tent erected and cook a half-decent meal on a less than adequate stove.

Except the woman looked
completely different this morning.

She slowly disentangled
herself from the wreckage of the tent like she didn’t understand. Her eyes were
glassy and unfocused and yet, when she turned her head, there was absolutely no
question she was looking straight at Jody. A string of thick, blood-stained
drool dribbled from the corner of her mouth, and when she managed to fee
herself from what was left of the tent, Jody saw that she was barely
half-dressed. Her towelling dressing-gown flapped open, revealing unsupported,
sagging breasts. She had a dirty scratch running between them, roughly in line
with her breastbone; a rough-raw, bloody groove like she’d been mauled by a
one-clawed bear.

‘Oh my God, are you
okay?’ Jody asked, but there was no response. ‘Do you need help?’

The woman walked over
the tent and over the kids. They howled in protest from inside, but she paid
them no attention. She was coming straight for Jody now, clear vicious intent
in her unclear eyes. Jody backed away but the woman kept on coming, held back
momentarily when one foot became entangled with a guy rope.

Her head clicked and
ticked. Random, repeated movements. Alien-looking. She picked up her stilted,
awkward pace, only to stumble again, tripping over the sleeping bag Jody had
inadvertently dragged outside with her.

‘Back off, love,’ she
warned, and when the woman picked herself up this time, Jody clouted her around
the side of the head with a camping gas cylinder.

Got to get out of here.

Jody reached into the
front of the collapsed tent and felt around inside for the kids, yanking them
out into the daylight one by one, blinking against the brightness. She pushed
them towards the car. ‘We’re leaving.’

Holly, clutching a limp
rag doll, stopped just short of the old woman sprawled on the grass. She peered
down at her, feet together like she’d pulled up on the very edge of a hundred
metre drop.

The woman began to move
again. Fistful of fingers crawling like a crab.

Jody grabbed Holly’s arm
and thrust her towards her older brother. ‘Get your sisters into the car, Ben,’
she told him.

‘Did you do that?’ he
asked, unable to take his eyes off the battered creature on the ground.

‘Get your sisters into
the car!’ she screamed at him again, and this time he didn’t argue.

Jody checked her
pockets.

Fuck. Pyjama trousers.
No pockets.

Fuck. No keys.

She reached back into
the tent and felt around in the darkness for her handbag. Bedding, books, toys,
discarded clothes . . . no bag. She’d kept it at the other end of the tent for
safety, away from the zip. Crawling in deeper, up to her shoulders. Deeper
still, all but her ankles inside.

Got it.

By the time Jody had
reversed out, bag in hand, the dead woman was almost back on her feet. Her jaw
had been horrifically dislocated – locked to one side like a freeze-frame
picture of a cow chewing the cud – but she seemed not to notice. It
wasn’t her ghastly deformed face that Jody focused on, instead it was the
hideous gash below her throat. It looked different now. Wider. Glistening with
blood and pus.

Jenny screamed, ‘Mummy!’

The kids were cowering
around the back of the car, and as Jody ran towards them, she saw two loping
figures coming the other way. They too had been children once. She remembered
seeing them around here last night, loitering by the swings. A loud and
obnoxiously fat kid and his mate, a lanky strip of piss. They’d looked like a
bad comedy double-act, but this morning they were anything but funny. Fat kid
stumbled towards the car, thin kid zeroed in on the girls. Jody fished for her
keys in her bag then clicked the fob and the car unlocked with a reassuring
mechanical clunk.

BOOK: Year of the Zombie (Book 8): Scratch
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