‘And so that’s when I knew that I had to get away,’ Ellis said as she looked over my shoulder to check that my infected pursuer hadn’t managed to get up onto the top of the van. Despite his best effort Mr. Smith was struggling to get as far as the bonnet.
‘Luckily,’ she continued, ‘Mum and Dad were so distracted with our next door neighbors that I was able to slip out the house without them seeing me.’ Ellis smiled grimly. I didn’t know what to say and looked down at my trainers. The laces suddenly looked dirty. And they were brand-new. Everything felt really weird.
‘I’m over it already,’ Ellis said after a while. ‘I have to be. What else can I do? My mum and dad are now viros.’ I half-smiled.
‘Is that what you call those things?’ I asked. Ellis nodded.
‘Virus. Viro. It seems to make some kind of crazy sense.’ Ellis looked away and at that moment I kind-of momentarily half-realised that her choosing that word to describe these creatures was a way of making the loss of her parents slightly easier. Ellis continued. ‘They’re not coming back and as far as I can imagine they are going to keep on attacking people now until they are destroyed.’ She shrugged and I looked at her again.
‘My mum was, is, might still be at work. She cleans in a hospital in the early mornings and I make my own breakfast. She gets home just as I’m leaving for school.’ My voice faltered as the enormity of everything suddenly threatened to consume me like the worst kind of shameful blush.
‘What if she’s now … a viro?’ I could feel the panic rising from deep inside me. A tear was forming in my eye. Don’t cry, I told myself. Don’t be a baby! I paused and Ellis kindly saw that I was getting upset. She opened her rucksack, reached inside and handed me half a ham sandwich.
‘Eat,’ she said. ‘It will make you feel better.’
‘Thanks,’ I sniffed.
I looked around as I chewed on the sandwich. There was a low wall all the way around the roof, with barbed wire along most of its length. The roof itself was covered in bird poo and peeling paint. We were certainly safe up here but there was no protection from the elements. Eating wasn’t making me feel any better.
‘What are we going to do?’ I asked Ellis. ‘How am I going to find my mum?’
‘We need to find my brother,’ replied Ellis. ‘Vinny will be able to help us find your mum.’
‘Where is he?’ I asked. Ellis stopped smiling.
‘Vinny didn’t come home last night but I know he is safe somewhere. He told me that he had football practice at school and that he would see me later.’ Ellis looked sad. ‘Vinny goes to St. Dunstan’s.’ I smiled.
‘That’s right by the hospital,’ I said excitedly. ‘Let’s head there now.’ Ellis looked at me. She shook her head.
‘It is a long way from here and the streets are full of these viros. We won’t get far during the day. We had better wait until tonight. It will be much safer to travel under cover of the darkness.’
And so we waited for the night to come and as we did we chatted about the things we knew were now gone forever; like our normal lives and all our friends and family and all their friends and family. And as we chatted we both cried for all the things we had lost but we also felt relieved as well that we were still alive and together.
‘After all,’ said Ellis bravely. ‘We are almost all we have each got left.’
From where we were we could see the viros going about their daily business which, from here, looked a lot like howling and moaning, chasing and eating anybody foolish enough to stumble upon them, and then doing some more howling and moaning with a bit of shuffling and walking slowly thrown in for good measure. There were a couple of occasions when Ellis was tempted to fire her catapult but chose not to in case we got surrounded. It was a fearsome-looking slingshot with a foldaway wrist brace.
‘Where did you learn to handle that thing?’ I asked.
‘My uncle has a farm in the country and every summer we would go to stay with him. He decided that he would let me earn some pocket money by hunting rats and collecting a bounty for each one I killed.’ Ellis smiled and pointed at her catapult.
‘This beauty has killed over two hundred rats,’ she said as we both watched another infected shuffle past, ‘but seeing as we’re not on the farm any more I now have new prey to hunt.’
Fortunately for us the viral apocalypse had occurred in the middle of winter so even though it was a real shame that civilization had collapsed at least it meant that we didn’t have to wait too long for the night to come. It was a fairly simple job for the two of us to get down off the roof. Ellis went first and once down she crouched with her catapult loaded just in case. I scrambled down, grazing my knee in the process. It really hurt but I didn’t have time for pain and like two heroes in their very own game, we set off to find Vinny.
It was relatively easy for the two of us to slip past any individual viros that we saw. Most of them were preoccupied with whatever it is that viros are preoccupied with and so didn’t really notice us. Occasionally, one might turn its head, as if it heard something. Or sniff the night air suspiciously but we would be on our way before they could see us.
I had never really been out in the town at night before unless it was in a car so walking the streets after dark was a new and nervy experience for me. Ellis, on the other hand, seemed far more comfortable and moved with real confidence. I felt much safer with her around and just as I was saying this to myself she suddenly froze and pointed ahead. I stopped too and strained to see what she was pointing at. I gasped.
Just ahead of us stood an enormous crowd of viros. There were so many of them that it looked like they were queuing to get into a football match or grab some bargains at a January sale. Ellis motioned with her hand for us to retreat but as we turned to go back the way we came we saw that another huge swarm of viros was moving towards us. We were stuck.