VIROS (Barnaby Taylor, 2017)

Chapter 6

With the hatch in the floor bolted shut,  the twins led me and Ellis down a dimly lit service corridor until we came to a large metal door in the wall. The boy pulled the door open and stepped through.

            ‘After you,’ said the girl to the two of us. Ellis walked slowly through and I followed.

            We found ourselves in a small utility room. One wall was lined with metal shelves. There was a steel sink in the corner and above the sink was a first aid box. The girl opened the box and took out a box of bandages. She pointed to a rusty chair by the door.

            ‘Sit down, ‘ she said to Ellis. ‘I’ll take a look at your ankle.’ Ellis sat down. I suddenly felt very tired and slumped to the floor. The boy handed me a bottle of water. I said thank you with my eyes and took a big swig.

            ‘Who are you both and why were you following us?’

            ‘I’m Abraham,’ said the boy, ‘but everyone calls me Abe.’ Abe pointed at the girl. ‘My twin sister’s name is Amber.’

            ‘And I’m the eldest by three and a half minutes,’ said Amber as she expertly wound a bandage around Ellis’s ankle. ‘We were on our way back here,’ she continued, ‘when we heard the two of you making enough noise to wake the already awake dead.’ She laughed.

            ‘This tunnel is a favourite short-cut for the infected of this town and had you carried on much further you would have stumbled upon so many of them that you would never have escaped. We were running to warn you.’

            ‘And also because there was another swarm right behind us,’ laughed Abe. Ellis looked puzzled.

            ‘But how did you know that this place existed?’ she asked.

            ‘Our dad owned the construction company that was repairing this tunnel and he told about this secret room. Apparently, it was built just in case anyone got trapped in the tunnel due to a train crash, landslide or other disaster. They could make their way here and wait to be rescued.’ Abe was a cheerful boy and laughed again. ‘Clearly no-one is coming to rescue us any time soon.’

            Amber finished with Ellis’s ankle and put the bandages away. Everyone was silent for a minute and then I spoke.

            ‘We are Jake and Ellis and we met on top of a roof. My mum is missing and we are on our way to find Ellis’s brother, Vinnie who we think is still alive and hiding at St. Dunstan’s School. We have been bumping into these viros all day.’ The twins nodded.

            ‘Viros,’ said Abe. ‘That’s a cool name for these things.’

            ‘We went past the school earlier,’ said Amber ‘and there was a group of people on the roof of the gymnasium. We couldn’t stop to help as we were being followed by a very persistent bunch of these things.’

            ‘We managed to lose them, ‘ continued Abe, ‘and made our way here to wait for nightfall. Once it was dark we sneaked out to try and see if there was anyone else left alive. We were just coming back when we saw the two of you ahead of us.’

            ‘We had no way of knowing who you were,’ said Amber, ‘so we followed you until we realised that we were being following by a swarm. That’s when we started running.’



Chapter 5

The railway cutting was now in front of us. Trying to show how brave I was (not) feeling, I went first and dropped down over the edge. I landed softly enough in the thick undergrowth that had grown along the brickwork. I turned back up and Ellis passed me her backpack. She lowered herself over the edge.

            ‘Ouch!’ she hissed painfully as she landed. ‘I think I’ve just twisted my ankle.’ I looked down to see that she had landed on a broken brick. I put my arm around her shoulder and we staggered onto the track ballast. Ellis sat down and looked at her ankle.

            ‘It’s really sore,’ she said. ‘I don’t think it’s broken but my ankle doesn’t feel quite right.’ She looked sad again. ‘I’m sorry.’ I sat down next to her and wanted to put my arm around her shoulder but didn’t know whether I should.

            ‘Don’t say sorry,’ I said. ‘It’s not your fault.’

            ‘But I’m going to slow us both down,’ said Ellis disappointedly. ‘It’ll take forever to get there now.’

            ‘We’ll be fine,’ I said even though I knew she was right. ‘If your shortcut works then we’ll find Vinnie before you know it.’ I stood up. ‘Come on, we’d better get going.’ I leaned down and helped Ellis get to her feet.

            The tunnel entrance loomed dark and dangerous ahead of us. There was absolutely no way I wanted to go in there but it was too late now. We were here and Ellis needed first aid. I really wanted to find Vinnie now and every second we waited felt like a second too long. I put my arm around Ellis and tried to support her as best I could. We set off into the darkness.

            It is amazing how quickly the black of a tunnel can swallow a person and we were only a few steps before it was almost impossible to see where we were going. I kept looking back at the entrance so that I could gauge how far we had gone but it looked like were getting nowhere. Ellis struggled along beside me, limping painfully but bravely not making a noise. It was so dark and so frightening in the tunnel that we were both afraid to speak.

            We shuffled forward slowly and it was then that I knew were being followed. To begin with, I thought I heard something slip on the ballast back by the entrance. Ellis felt me getting tense.

            ‘What’s the matter?’ she hissed in my ear.

            ‘There’s something following us,’ I hissed back. ‘I just heard it slip.’

            ‘We’d better hurry then,’ said Ellis and began to limp faster.

            Ellis and I started to move a bit faster but it was hard work. Whatever was behind us seemed to be keeping up and I was starting to get really worried. I tightened my grip around Ellis’s shoulder and pulled her along the tunnel. Though I could hear the pain in her breathing she didn’t complain. We struggled on for a couple more minutes and then I could hear the sound of feet scrabbling on the ballast and whatever it was behind us started to run. This was hopeless. Ellis was going as fast she could but that wasn’t fast enough. Whatever was behind seemed to be gaining on us rapidly.

            ‘Ellis,’ I whispered. ‘We need to get out this tunnel.’ She nodded.

            ‘But how? Tunnels only have one way in and one way out.’

            ‘Yes and no,’ I said. ‘I once did a school project on Victorian engineering. Tunnels like this would have a series of ventilation shafts dotted along their length. If we can find an entrance to one then we might be able to get out of here.’

            We both started to feel our way along the filthy brick wall of the tunnel, hoping to find a ladder or a doorway. This slowed us down and meant that our pursuers started to gain rapidly on us. My hand found a row of pipes attached horizontally to the wall.

            ‘Quick,’ I whispered. ‘We’ve got to follow the pipes.’

            Decades of grime and dirt and dust made the pipes filthy to the touch but I kept my hand on them and let them lead us deeper into the darkness. As we moved along I could feel the pipes change direction slightly as the wall of the tunnel curved its way deeper into the hillside. It was hard going with one hand on the pipes and the other hand dragging the limping Ellis behind me. I could hear she was really suffering now.

            ‘I can’t keep going,’ she said between gritted teeth. My ankle is killing me. You go and find the shaft and come back for me later if you can.’

            ‘No way!’ I said. ‘I’m not leaving you to be eaten alive in a dark dirty tunnel. You saved my life once, now I’m going to save yours.’ I pulled her harder. ‘Now come on.’

            As we followed the curve of the tunnel the unmistakable howling of another viro swarm now joined the sound of the scrabbling feet behind us. Ellis started crying with the pain as she pushed herself to run faster and faster. This is hopeless, I thought. Why couldn’t I have woken up a viro like everyone else? Why did I have to survive? I started to get a pain in my side.

            ‘Stitch,’ I gasped. ‘I’ve got a stitch.’

            ‘Keep going!’ she screamed. ‘There must be something up ahead of us.’

            ‘There is,’ said a voice behind us. ‘It’s just up here on the left.’ I half-turned and to my amazement saw two identical-looking children run past us. They disappeared from view and then I heard the sound of someone climbing a metal ladder followed by a clang.

            ‘Quick,’ said the voice. ‘Get up the ladder before they get hold of us.’

            I pushed Ellis in front of me and she started to climb.

            ‘Too slowly,’ said the voice beside me. ‘She’s climbing too slowly.’ I put my shoulders beneath Ellis’s feet and started to boost her up the ladder. Up above her was a shaft of light and someone was leaning down to help pull her up. With a heave of my shoulder I launched Ellis up through the hole above us. I followed and then the voice behind and we all tumbled into a small circular room. The boy who had been leaning down to help Ellis slammed the metal hatch down over the hole and slid the thick-looking bolt across.

            ‘That should hold them for a while,’ he said with a sooty smile.



VIROS (Barnaby Taylor, 2017)


Chapter 3

This was the first time in the short time that I had known her that I had seen Ellis looked scared and this of course made me feel terrified. She seemed so calm and collected, even when she talked about her parents and so I kind of assumed that she was one of those fearless-type kids you read about in comics or see in films; the ones who seem old before their time and wise beyond their years. I went to speak and she shook her head. Her eyes were wide and I thought she was going to cry. If this was how she looked then how must I have appeared to her? I would hate to think. It is hard to be cool when you are petrified but it is harder still to be petrified in front of someone you would like to impress. The swarm was stumbling noisily closer and had now blocked off the road completely, meaning there was no way we would be able to run back past them, even if we wanted to.

            I looked around, desperately trying to think of something to do. The road we were on had terraced houses on both sides but all the doors I could see were shut and no –one had left their windows open just in case two kids might need to escape from a double viro swarm some time in the not-too-distant future. There was the odd tree in the front gardens but only the ornamental fir-type not the big-tall-hide-from-a-monster-type.

            The viros were getting so close now that I was starting to see their faces and what they were wearing. Like those old paintings of Hell we were once shown at school by our art teacher, the swarm was twisting, howling, growling, moaning, mindless and contorted. Angry-looking men and women, as well as teenagers and kids are stumbling and bumping and getting in each other’s way and pushing each other along and generally moving towards me and Ellis in the kind of nightmarish, creeping way you normally see in those TV shows that none of us are meant to watch but all of us have seen. Fortunately, and unlike many of the other apocalyptic swarms you see in films, our viros weren’t the running kind which was handy because if they had been then it would have all been over before it had even begun.

            I looked at Ellis and she still looked uncertain. I pointed at the nearest front garden and she nodded. We quickly climbed over the low wall and tried to find the thickest bush we could find to hide behind. Things didn’t look good and thinking that the end was about to begin I shut my eyes and tried to imagine exactly how it felt to be ripped to shreds by other people’s teeth. I reached out and gripped Ellis’s hand. She gripped mine hard in return. In any other situation this would have been a perfect next step in any developing relationship. Sadly, however, there was nothing perfect about any of this and so with no thought of anything else other than our rapidly approaching death, we just huddled together with only a flimsy shrub between oblivion and us.

            The noise was deafening now and there seemed nothing left to do but wait for the inevitable to happen. The swarms wailed and gnashed and screamed and keened, as if angry to have been transformed into bloodthirsty monsters against their will. Contorted twisted unhappy figures raged against the circumstances of their new existence. But it wasn’t just hateful sounds that filled the night. My nostrils began to fill with the stench of the recently infected and the business that their infection has caused them to do, namely eat human flesh. I had never smelt anything like this before (thankfully). It was acrid and metallic and ripe and rotten. I gagged. With my eyes tightly closed I could feel my senses being totally overwhelmed. I felt small and weak and helpless. I felt like there was nothing I could do. Ellis crouched terrified beside me. I knew she was feeling the same way. She gripped my hand and I thought the bones were going to start shattering one by one, knuckle by knuckle, joint by joint, finger by finger.

            ‘This is it!’ I thought. ‘This is how it feels to die.’ I braced myself and waited for the swarm to fall upon us.

            But it didn’t. Above the baleful din of the viros I suddenly heard the sounds of gunfire and engines. I opened my eyes and saw that the night was full of nozzle flashes and in the strange strobe light that these flashes created I watched in awe and wonder and shock as the swarms of angry viros were torn apart by a storm of bullets. A convoy of trucks was forcing itself through the swarms, scattering viros as it did. Each truck was carrying soldiers wearing gas masks and each soldier was firing at the viros. We crouched in stunned silence as the soldiers made short work of both swarms. Bullets flew everywhere. Dead viros began to pile up all around us and as they did so I felt the sudden urge to run towards the trucks waving my arms in a desperate bid for the soldiers to spot us and save us from the viros. I half-stood up, ready to leap over the low wall but Ellis pulled me back and held me tight and wouldn’t let me go.

            ‘They’ll shoot us too,’ she whispered. ‘At a time like this they won’t be able to tell the difference between the living and the dead. We’re all viros to them right now.’ She wrapped her arms tightly around me.

            ‘We need to stay here and not move.’