The Dream. An Undead Short Story.
The Dream. An Undead Short Story. Dear reader, This was originally a deleted scene from The Undead 24, but for whatever reason, I decided not to use it. The setting is when the main team are asleep in the open-sided barn deep in the countryside. Clarence and Paula are on watch, and everyone is asleep… and because of the hive mind, their dreams connect. Anywho. Although I cut the scene, I still really liked it, so I’ve tweaked and re-worked it a touch and hoped you might enjoy it. Much love! Day Twenty Six ‘I cannot believe you still watch this crap,’ Natasha says with a heavy sigh at the opening theme tune to EastEnders blasting from the television. A look from her mother. An eyebrow lifting. ‘Shush. Go and put the kettle on, your dad’ll be home in a minute.’ ‘I’m home now…’ a deep voice from the narrow hallway. A heavy tread and her father stops in the doorway scowling at the piercings in her eyebrows and the tattoos on her arms. She holds her head up in sullen defiance as he crosses the room to stare down at her. ‘You’re in my chair,’ he says. A big man with thick limbs. His beard now flecked with grey. Lines about his eyes that seem deeper every time Natasha comes home to see her family. ‘Said you’re in my chair.’ ‘Heard you,’ she says without moving. He stiffens and draws air in through his nose. ‘You ain’t been here for months…’ ‘So?’ she glares up, hardening her features. ‘You ain’t my dad.’ ‘You think I’d father something like you,’ he fires back. ‘I’m pregnant,’ she cries out. ‘And I’m a lesbian…’ ‘Yeah? Well, I’m gay,’ he shouts back. ‘I’m gonna be a nun!’ ‘Me and your mum are having gender re-assignment surgery and I’ll be mum, and she’ll be dad but I’m keeping my beard and then you’ll have two beardy dads.’ ‘Pack it in,’ her mother groans, turning the volume up. ‘Can’t hear the telly…’ ‘We’re just doing the storylines from that crap,’ Natasha says as her father sits down on top of her. ‘Dad! Get off!’ ‘What?’ he asks, wriggling his arse on her lap. His own arms covered in tattoos and piercings in his ears and eyebrows. ‘Tappy! Leave her alone,’ her mother says again. The telly remote control in one hand, a half-drunk cuppa in her other. The telly blasting out. Her brothers showing off their karate moves. Dad talking about work. Mum talking about her friends. Nadia talking about school and boys and music and all of them doing it at the same time. Chaos, but a beautiful chaos all the same. Natasha wishes she could stay here forever. Just here. Dipping into conversations. Warm and safe. Salt and vinegar smells hanging in the air. A family size bottle of cola. This. Just this. Forever just this. Then the night comes, bringing forth a darkness that will forever cover the land and Natasha stares at the window, sensing the dread building inside but unable to say or do anything. Watching herself from inside and out at the same time. Both an observer and a participant. ‘Go to bed,’ her mother says. Natasha doesn’t want to go, but she kisses Nadia goodnight then her mother and crosses to her dad’s chair and kisses his head. He smiles and winks at her. She kisses the boys and pauses by the door, offering a sleepy wave. She’ll see them tomorrow. She’ll go to her dad’s workshop and start on the old army truck, but she will never see them again. Natasha screams at herself. Begging herself not to go. She has to tell them to hide or get in her dad’s van and drive deep into the countryside because something bad this way comes. Except she can’t do those things because this a dream. ‘Love you,’ Natasha says sleepily, waving from the lounge door. At least she said that. If nothing else, she said that. She watches herself mount the stairs and go into the bathroom to brush her teeth before climbing into bed. Remembering the smell of her mother’s laundry and the feel of her old bedsheets. Dread in her gut. Dread in her heart. A welling up of fear, of pressure. Don’t go to sleep. Please. Don’t. Natasha. Don’t. But sleep comes and Natasha sinks into the void of nothingness that exists between the layers of conscious thought. * A long barn deep within the countryside. One side open to the world but with eaves hanging down that give cover from the rain falling on the pitted and broken concrete hardstanding outside. A cash-in-transit van to one side. A horsebox, the rear open. The Saxon parked with the back doors open where Clarence stands on watch, eating biscuits with Jess and Meredith. A fire burning low bathing the inside of the barn in dancing orange shades as Tappy murmurs quietly. Her eyes flicking side to side as she becomes gripped within the nightmare. * Roy across the barn, twitching as he sleeps and dreams about being in his van in a state of utter terror from the crippling anxiety that ruined his whole existence. The absolute belief that he is dying. He has cancer. He has heart disease. He has tumours. He’ll go blind. Limbs will have to be amputated. He’ll develop diabetes. His liver will stop working. His organs will fail. Something is wrong. Something is always wrong. He invents symptoms to match whatever disease he believes he has. Why won’t this go away? Why can’t he be normal and not feel like this? He could have competed in the Olympics. He could have been so much more. The therapists told him to just live his life and try to not think bad things. How? How do you fucking do that? Roy wishes with everything he has that he could do that, but instead, he sleeps alone in his van, isolated from everyone in the world because of his health anxiety and the belief that he is going to die, and so he holds the noose in his hands. The noose made from the rope he bought from the DIY store earlier. The noose he will loop over the tree branch outside and end it. He cannot live like this anymore because he knows he will never get better. Tappy feels all of that with a rush of emotion surging through her. She feels Roy’s fear and the strain he was under through his whole life. His emotions mingle with hers. Invading her mind as their nightmares become mingled. * ‘Do you want to come with me, Little Mo? Do you want to come with Grandpa? We’ll get tea and toast after. Yes?’ ‘Yes, please, Grandpa.’ Tappy and Roy balk at the voice of an old man. Lilting and Arabic in origin. A sense of love inside. A sudden image of Little Mo. Seven years old and being carried through the violent streets of his estate by his grandfather. They can feel his grandfather’s beard on Little Mo’s face, and they know it is nearly time for the fajr. For the dawn prayer. ‘Why do we all face the wall in the mosque when we pray, Grandpa?’ ‘We do not face the wall, Little Mo. We face east. We face the Kaaba. Do you know what the Kaaba is?’ Little Mo shakes his head, staring at his grandpa and Roy and Tappy feel the love Little Mo has for this man. ‘You have not been listening in your lessons,’ his grandfather chides, pinching the end of Little Mo’s nose. ‘The Kaaba is a building in Mecca. It is the direction all Muslims face when we pray. Others will turn west, or north, or south. All across the world. Millions and millions of us all facing one direction.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because Allah wills it.’ Mo’s grandfather had calloused hands. Tappy and Roy feel Mo’s memories from holding his grandpa’s hand. They remember the words of the prayer. They remember the smell of the mosque. They went everywhere together. Little Mo with Big Mo. Big Mo took him to school and collected him after. He took Little Mo to pray and then to the café for toast. Grandpa was the once that put Little Mo to bed and put coins in the meter to keep him warm. Mo’s dad was a stranger in prison. Mo’s mum let men have sex with her for drugs and booze, but Mo was protected from all of that by his grandpa. Big Mo. Then Big Mo died of a heart attack and Little Mo was no longer protected from those things. After that, Little Mo woke alone to a drunk mother covered in vomit and strange men coming and going all day and all night. There wasn’t anyone to put coins in the meter and so the house grew cold and damp. Little Mo went to school hungry and in the same clothes every day. He started to smell because it was his grandpa that told him when to bathe and brush his teeth. The other children mocked him. They wouldn’t play with him. Nobody took him to the mosque, or to the café to eat toast. Social services came to his house. His mother was angry when they left. His mother was always angry, or drunk, or crying. Normally all of them at the same time. Now Mo Mo grunts on his bedroll in the barn, trapped in the dream as a little boy alone in a cold damp bed, staring through the door to the filthy hallway and the filthy men trudging up the stairs and crossing the door to his room to have sex with his mother. Another one. Then another, and another. He can hear it too. The grunts and groans and the rhythmic shunting coming from his mother’s room. He stifles the sobs, shivering from the cold with hunger gnawing his belly while feeling Roy’s crippling anxieties that ruined his life, and Tappy’s panic at being in her house at the start of the outbreak. All three of them feeling the fear of the others at the same time. * ‘You little cunt!’ Kieron lashes out, battering Danny down to the floor then towering over him. ‘Your dad is fucking dead. Get that into your thick head…’ Danny glares up defiantly. His mother is out. His family aren’t home. It’s just him and his stepdad Keiron. ‘He was better than you,’ Danny says, pushing back up to his feet. ‘He was a soldier!’ ‘What did you say?’ Kieron demands, his voice dangerously low. ‘I said my dad was better than you…’ another thump in the belly and Danny bends double, gasping for air with Tappy, Roy, and Mo all feeling his pain and humiliation. Danny was only thirteen. Just a boy. Keiron was a big man and Danny was still reeling from the loss of his father killed while on patrol in Afghan. ‘He was a soldier!’ Danny says, forcing himself up to his feet again. ‘You’re a fat cunt…’ Another hit and Danny goes down again, spitting blood through split lips. ‘Danny, don’t,’ Tappy whispers, trapped in her own dream. Standing in her bedroom while her own form sleeps in the bed. Roy tenses in his van, his knuckles turning white as he grips the noose while feeling Danny being hurt while Little Mo tries to bury his head in the cold wet pillow. ‘Finished?’ Keiron asks. Danny nods and starts to get up, blood dripping from his mouth. ‘Yeah, I’m finished… you fat prick.’ ‘Danny!’ Tappy cries out as Keiron punches Danny hard to the back of his head then pulls his leather belt from the loops about his jeans and uses it to whip Danny as the veins bulge in Roy’s neck at the impotence and rage and fear and pain. Tappy cries. Mo’s eyes flood with tears. Danny feels them too. On the floor while being whipped. Roy’s anxieties. Mo’s abandonment. Tappy trapped in her house. * A new image comes. A new memory surging through them. Strong hands gripping her arms, legs, and hair. Mo, Danny, Tappy, and Roy all feel Charlie thrashing on the table in a filthy room in an army barracks. Men holding her down. Men pawing at her. Charlie can’t break free. Blinky is dead. Raw pain and desolation inside. The others are being beaten and tortured, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Tappy wasn’t here for this. She wasn’t a part of it all. Danny wasn’t with them either, but they feel it now. They gain those memories in one slamming surge of absolute horror going through them like a tsunami. They can feel it too. They can feel the hands twisting Charlie’s hair. Hurting her. Holding her down. Tappy sobs, and Roy lowers his head in his van, the tears streaming from his eyes. Danny weeps on the floor, his body shunting from Keiron’s belt across his back while Mo lies hungry and cold in a bed in a damp house that smells of sick listening to strange men fuck his mother. Charlie feels them too. In the dream. In the nightmare. In the old army prison while pinned down. She senses Roy, Tappy, Danny, and Mo, gaining all of their fears and worries and the dread and pain of each. She screams out, fighting to break free. * Cookey dreams too. In his dream he’s running away from something terrible. A big circus tent ahead. He can’t go in there. He’s scared of going in there. But he can’t stop himself and he runs through the opening and cries out at the sight of the clowns in the middle. All of them facing in to each other while laughing demonically. He turns to run back out and pulls the flap aside to see a brick wall as the laughs get louder. Cruel and sadistic. Cookey spins and the sight of the twisted features of clowns with painted faces make his guts twist in a consuming terror. Sickening and grotesque clowns. Some with huge red smiles smudged and bloodied that show fanged yellow teeth. Wigs torn and hanging down in greasy strands and their garish, baggy clothes hanging in shreds. They move out from central ring as Cookey spots his mother in the middle on a sofa laughing so hard the ash from the cigarette held between her teeth spills down her front. ‘He loves them clowns he does!’ ‘Mum! Please…’ Cookey cries out, running to get out but he’s not moving. ‘Please mum… Make them stop!’ Cookey cries out as the clowns move around him, laughing and cackling. His mother knew he was afraid of clowns. She made him watch them on telly. She forced him to sit and watch them. Even when he begged and pleaded. Even when he pissed himself in fear. She took him to the circus. She told him to man up and stop being a big girl. They’re just clowns. She called them over and took pictures while Cookey screamed at them to get away. ‘Cooooookeeeeee,’ they call his name, the voices echoing and rolling. He runs on, gasping for air, begging them to leave him alone. Begging his mother to make them stop. She said he was being stupid and silly, but the fear is real. The fear that’s the same as Roy’s belief that he is dying. The fear that matches the grief and loss within Danny that his father is dead while his stepdad whips him with a belt. The same fear that Tappy has at being in her bedroom the night of the outbreak. The same awful fear within Charlie at being held down by her hair while Blinky lies died. All of their dreams merging, all of their worst fears pushing into the minds of the others as they murmur and gasp on their bedrolls within the barn. * Nick stands at the crossroads under a torn and broken sky. A road going east. Another going west. A sign on each filled with words he cannot read. A rising panic in his chest making his stomach lurch and drop as his heart beats weirdly, making him feel sick with apprehension. He has to read the signs, or the others will die. He doesn’t know why the others will die, only that they will. A thing of certainty. A thing of absolute fact. He must read and choose the correct one, or they will die. He tries to focus on the first letter, but it starts to swim and change. He thought it was an A. Now it looks like a Z, now a number 8. He looks to the other sign, but that’s the same. The letters are changing. ‘Thick Nick. Thick Nick. Thick Nick…’ The chanting comes quietly at first from a place unseen. The voices of children whispering as Nick feels the panic and fear building inside. He must read, or everyone will die. They are relying on him. Everyone is relying on him. The chanting gets louder, coming from every direction. He spins in a circle, trying to see them, but when he turns back he spots a irritated man with a beard shaking his head in disgust while jabbing one of the signs with a long stick. ‘It’s bloody simple, Nicholas. Just read the damn word. Are you thick?’ the teacher asks as the chanting keeps going. ‘Thick Nick. Thick Nick.’ Tears prick his eyes. His stomach flips. His legs grow weak and rubbery. * ‘Mum!’ Cookey pleads, weeping as he runs from the cruel and evil clowns cackling at his miser with delight. ‘Please!’ ‘He loves them clowns!’ * Roy squeezes his eyes closed, the tears falling fast. Pattering the backs of his hands and soaking into the rough twines of the noose across his lap. He can feel the others pain and humiliation. He can every shred of terror inside of them. * Tappy hugs herself in her room, crying hard as she watches herself sleep as the first screams come from outside. The outbreak starting. Her own misery is enough, but she can feel the others too. All of them in positions of abject horror. * Charlie cries out. Thrashing on the table as the men paw at her body and hold her down. She wants to break free, but she can’t, and she can feel the pain inside of her friends too. Their terrors and fears as strong as her own. * Little Mo pisses the bed. His body trembling from head to toe as he curls into a ball and the men traipse past his door with the sounds come from his mother’s room and inside he feels the others. Each one of them trapped with the collective mass of their pain and suffering only make it so much worse. * Reginald cries out. Trapped in his own nightmare as he is carried down the corridor of the old army prison. His memory taking him back to the time they were captured and tortured for no reason other than malignant cruelty. But now. In the dream, the uniforms of the soldiers become grey with each one embroidered with a patch showing an evil red eye. The same symbol on torn red banners hanging on the walls. His mind so much more powerful than the others and so the world around him, even in his night-terror, becomes rich with detail. The pores on the soldiers faces, and their ragged sharp filthy fingernails. They grimace as they carry him, showing stained teeth with wet glistening blood on their lips and jaws and their eyes are red and bloodshot. ‘You won’t win,’ he says. ‘You won’t win!’ he tries to cry out, to summon bravery while knowing he is a timid small man that can’t fight or defend himself, and now he is alone and being punched and hurt as they carry him with his hands cable tied behind his back. His glasses fall to be broken under a heavy foot. His guts cramp up. Terrified beyond compare. His whole body shakes with fear, and tears stream down his face. He goes into the room, propelled into the chair. His ankles secured. Water thrown in his face. He cries out again. He has never been so scared, so terrified. He chokes on the tear gas in his throat and the water filling his mouth. A leather gloved fist punches the side of his head. He feels his body dropping as the chair topples over. He stays on his side. Whimpering and listening to the deep forced laughs of men trying to pretend this is funny. ‘Please stop,’ he whispers, but they won’t listen. They never will listen and they lift the chair upright as he blinks at the red bloodshot eyes and the Nazi-grey uniforms, and the beating starts again. Hit. Kicked. Knocked over. Picked up. Water poured over his face. Water poured into his mouth. He retches and sobs. He begs and pleads. Trapped forever. They all feel it. Charlie, Tappy, Mo, Roy, Cookey, Nick, and Danny. And as the soldiers beat and torture him, so Reginald feels all of their fears too as they all stay trapped in their own nightmares. Running from clowns. Unable to read words. Pissing the bed. Gripping the noose. Being whipped with a belt, and Tappy unable to wake herself and stop her family from the horror coming as they murmur and breath harder on their bed rolls within the barn. Another voice pushes in. Another surge of memories and emotions as Blowers wedges himself in the doorway of the house. A kitchen behind within which the woman screams as Maddox cuts her open to take the baby from her womb. Impacts from the front as the infected slam into Blowers, raging and wild. He has to hold. He has to fight. He stabs out with his knife, killing and cutting into them. Some drop but more come. More than he can fight. More than he can stop. The fear grows inside that he will go down and fail. He failed before. When he joined the Marines and broke his leg at the end of his commando course. That was failure. It wasn’t his fault, but it was still failure, and now he is about to fail again as the pressure grows. Pressure unrelenting. Compressing from the front as the infected swarm into him. But within the nightmare the infected change seamlessly from looking like the people they once were into hard-faced men and women in Nazi-grey uniforms. Stained teeth and blook-stained mouths. Filthy sharp fingernails and red bloodshot eyes. All of them coming at him at once with frenzied snarls. The blows become too many and his body starts to weaken. That fear grips and grows. That panic takes over. Teeth on his hand and the others all feel as Blowers’ finger is bitten away. They feel the nails raking his skin, opening his flesh and they feel his utter pain at knowing he is going down. Then a finger pushes into his eye, bursting it as the darkness comes to one side of his vision. Still, he holds on. Still, he keeps to his feet, but they are too many, and he is too weak. He is failing again. He starts to sink. * ‘Read it, Nicholas! Read it, Nicholas!’ the teacher demands. Now dressed in the same Nazi-grey uniform embroidered with a patch showing a glowing red eye, and he prods the sign with the stick. ‘It’s one bloody word! Are you really that stupid and thick?’ ‘Thick Nick. Thick Nick.’ He twists and turns, seeing more men and women with hard faces and wet blood on their mouths chanting while in the same uniform. Chanting the same words as the fear grips him inside. The awful terrible humiliation he faced all through childhood at not being able to read no matter how hard he tried, and he drops to his knes. Feeling weak and broken and terrified. * Cookey falters too. His legs giving out as the grey-uniformed clowns with painted-faces and stained teeth laugh and cackle as they circle around him. Looming in with bloody mouth and waggling their hands close to his face. Almost touching him with their filthy sharp nails. He can’t get away. He can’t make it stop. Nothing will ever make it stop. * Roy on his knees in his van. The anxiety inside that destroyed his life. The crippling awful sense of impending doom that made him think he was dying, and in his mind, the doctors he saw for the imaginary lumps and tumours and symptoms his head invented become dressed in Nazi-grey uniforms. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you! Stop wasting our time!’ And the therapists with their online qualifications. They too become dressed in grey with yellow teeth and blood oozing over their jaws. ‘Have you tried reducing caffeine? How about doing some yoga. Yeah? Wanna do some yoga? Do some yoga. Do some yoga. DO SOME YOGA!’ * Danny curled up as he’s whipped by his stepfather dressed in a Nazi-grey uniform. A big patch on his breast showing a red eye. A heavy leather belt wrapped in his hand that comes down hard across Danny’s back. ‘You’re useless, just like your dead loser dad!’ * Little Mo feels all of them at the same time. All of their fears. All of their worries. All of their terrors while the cruel and hard-faced soldiers in grey trudge past his room with blood oozing from their mouths, and his mother grunts as they take turns to use her body. * All of their fears. All of their worries. All of their terrors in each and all of them at the same time as Charlie is pinned down by the soldiers now in grey with blood spitting from their mouths as they snarl and show stained teeth. Each one with a patch over his breast showing that evil red eye. The same evil red eye that Reginald sees as his chair topples again. Slamming him down with soft words falling from his mouth. ‘Be what you were…’ * But Marcy can’t be what she was. She can’t do that. Reginald can’t say that to her. He was there. He was a part of it. He knows what she did. Now she stands, in her nightmare, in the same barracks room where Charlie lies on her back pinned by soldiers in grey, while more soldiers in grey stand in a circle around Marcy. Their hard faces sick with lust and they lick bloodied lips and stare openly at her, like she’s nothing more than meat. Her friends are suffering. She can feel each of them. All of their fears. All of their worries. All of their terrors. But she cannot be what she was, and that’s the terror inside Marcy. Not the men in front of her. Not the threat they pose. But what she did. What she once was. Something dark and evil and as one, they all feel the rush of memories of a hotel on fire on the Isle of Wight. Marcy was inside. She was taken out by Darren and was terrified beyond compare. They all feel Darren’s teeth biting into her arse, and they all feel the pain in her stomach as the infection takes her. Marcy came back, but what came back was not the same woman as before and in a truly sickening flow of images they all experience exactly what Marcy did while she was turned. She killed thousands. Men. Women. Children. Without care. Without mercy. She revelled in it. She took pleasure in it with a twisted evil pushed on by an infection still in its infancy. Limbs torn from bodies. Families made to watch as they were bitten and turned one after the other. That’s Marcy’s terror. That she has the memories of what the infection drove her to do in her head, and it renders are frozen to the spot from the feeling of guilt inside. She will never be able to undo the things she did. She will never be able to repent for them. She is tainted. Her soul is forever marked, and the tears flow down her face in that nightmare as she relives the horror she unleashed as they all suffer and twitch and murmur softly on their bedrolls in the barn. * Outside, in the gentle rain, Paula and Clarence eat biscuits side by side. Meredith and Jess but inches in front of them and the air fills with the sound of crunches and chewing. ‘Couldn’t sleep then?’ Clarence asks quietly. Paula shakes her head. ‘Bad dream woke me up.’ ‘Oh,’ he says, nodding into the awkward silence. ‘Another biscuit?’ * It’s about to happen. Natasha knows it. They all know it. They can all feel what Natasha feels and they all hear the loud bang as the front door of her house slams open and the feet thump up the stairs. A second of silence. A second of pure unabated terror. The door to Natasha’s bedroom bursts open and Nadia surges inside. Dressed in a grey uniform with a patch showing an evil red eye. She moves fast with a vicious snarl and dives on Natasha sleeping on top of the bed in her bra and knickers. The weather too hot to cover up. Natasha watches it from the side and clamps her hands over her eyes and tries to scream, but then she wakes as the girl on the bed and looking down to her own sister dressed as a Nazi biting into her belly. She screams again and from nothing but pure instinct she bucks hard and batters her away. Everything happening so fast. Everything a blur. Loud and piercing screams. Windows smashing. Deep voices yelling out. Doors banging. A beat of a heart. A blink of an eye. Natasha staggers to the door while clutching her bleeding stomach, terrified, horrified, not knowing anything. Out onto the landing as another scream rips through the house and her mother runs backwards from the lounge and mounts the stairs. A large kitchen knife in her hand slashing left and right at Tappy Drinkwater. At Natasha’s father. The greatest man she ever knew now lurching after her mother. But he too is now dressed in the grey uniform. His eyes red and bloodshot with animalistic growls coming from his throat. Motion behind him. Natasha’s twin brothers staggering in through the open front door. Both of them in grey uniforms drenched in blood/ Natasha’s heart lurches in her chest. The pure visceral fear ramping higher by the second. Her father lunges forward. The solid bulk of him ripping Natasha’s mother off her feet and she hits the stairs hard. Slamming her head with a bone-jarring crunch. Her eyes glazing over. Too dazed and confused to react to her husband biting down into her shoulder. His teeth digging into her flesh, tearing a chunk away as the deadly infected saliva and blood pour into the wound. An impact from behind, and Nadia slams Natasha into the bannister so hard it splinters and breaks. Natasha drops on her father’s back, making him sink onto her mother. Her mother’s throat bitten through. Frothy blood pouring from the wound. Motion everywhere. Blood pouring down the stairs, making them slick and as one, the whole family start thudding down the stairs to the hallway where they land in a heap with Natasha facing towards the open front door and the view of the street outside. People running past being chased by soldiers in grey. People on the ground being bitten. Fires in houses. Screams and noises and shouts. And inside her head she can still feel the others. All of their fears. All of their worries. All of their terrors. * ‘YOU FUCKING RUNT,’ Keiron roars, lashing into Danny. ‘YOUR DAD IS FUCKING DEAD!’ * ‘READ IT, NICK!’ the teacher bellows, slamming his stick into the sign again and again as the children chant, ‘Thick Nick, Thick Nick.’ * Cookey screams out, on his back and so very terrified at the clowns clawing their way up his body. Roy sobs. Crippled by his own anxieties and rendered weak by the fears of the others. Reginald chokes, drowning from the torture. Little Mo trembling in his piss-stained bed. Charlie on her back pinned down. Marcy in the same room. Her back against the wall. Her body trembling, and all of their fears become focussed like one single beam of a laser. Concentrated and made so much worse by the magnification of so many forced into one. Natasha within a pile of bodies in her house drenched with blood. A grunt. A hiss and she looks over to see her mother sitting up. Her eyes red and her clothes now grey with an embroidered patch across her chest. Reginald keeps choking. Cookey keeps screaming. Marcy’s heart breaks over and over. Guilt and loss and pain and suffering. A nightmare that will never end. Mo will always be in this bed hearing those things. Roy will always be in his van about to commit suicide. * A sudden silence comes to them all. A silence that robs all noise. And then, within that void of sound, comes a piercing scream that some of them have heard before. The scream of a little girl pinned down and being killed slowly. A little girl screaming for her mummy and daddy in a building bordering the square during the battle of the ten thousand. The feeling of another wills into them. The feeling inside Howie when that happened. When he sank to his knees and wept and sobbed and beat his own face and screamed to make it stop. But he couldn’t do anything. The infected were too many. He couldn’t get through them. He can’t now either. Asleep in his bedroll. Trapped in his nightmare. Back in that same first floor apartment, but in the dream it’s just him in an empty room on his knees. Screaming and beating his head to stop that scream. But it keeps coming. That little girl being hurt. Calling out for her mummy and daddy. It makes him shake violently from head to toe. It make all of his fears compound into that one second relived over and over. It becomes too much. A thing that threatens to break them. All of them trapped. All of them held frozen. All of their fears. All of their worries. All of their terrors. Except in the dream Howie knows he isn’t alone and he turns his tear-streaked face all twisted in fear to stare at Dave staring down as impassive as ever. ‘Do something,’ Howie begs. ‘He can’t, Howie,’ Reginald whispers as the soldiers in grey take out their dicks and piss all over him. ‘Dave! Please. Do something,’ Howie whispers, his voice cracking with pain as Dave stares down. Without emotion. Without passion. Without anything at all. ‘Fucking do something… You can stop them! You can stop this! DAVE! FUCKING DO SOMETHING!’ ‘I can’t, Mr Howie.’ ‘You can. You fucking can,’ Howie begs and the single twitch in Dave’s face is the only show of worry. ‘He can’t, Howie,’ Reginald whimpers. ‘Howie,’ Marcy whispers, her heart ripping apart. ‘He can’t do anything.’ ‘He can stop them,’ Howie weeps, gasping the words out. ‘He’s not scared of anything…’ Except Dave does have fear. He fears this now. Being told to do something he doesn’t understand. Dave can’t lead. He can’t make decisions of such a complex nature on his own and so his fear grows inside. The fear of Mr Howie being angry with him. The fear of losing the only real friend he ever made. The one man that asked him every day how he was and if he needed anything. Now Mr Howie is crying and telling Dave to stop them but Dave doesn’t know what that means. ‘I can’t, Mr Howie… I can’t.’ All of them trapped. All of them held frozen. All of their fears. All of their worries. All of their terrors. And that scream carries on. The scream of a little girl calling for her mummy and daddy. * ‘Favourite biscuit?’ Paula asks, a few yards away from the twitching murmuring forms asleep on their bedrolls in the open-sided barn. All of them trapped in terror. ‘Custard cream,’ Clarence says. ‘Knew it. No. I did. I knew you’d be a custard cream man,’ Paula says as Meredith glances back to the barn then looks back to Clarence holding the biscuits. She wants more biscuits. She can smell them. But so can the horse. And the horse will eat all of the biscuits if Meredith isn’t here. But she can hear it too. That scream. She can feel it too. The terrors of the others. The sound and that feeling are projected within her mind that straddles this realm and the others. She whines and looks back while feeling, in her own doggy way, the internal debate over what she should do versus what she wants to do. Which is eat biscuits. ‘One more then,’ Clarence says. Which he never actually means as he always gives at least three when he says one more. She wolfs her three down with side-eyes to the horse to make sure Jess also only had three. Not that either of them can count, but the suspicion is still there. She whines for another, but the big man pulls that face. The final face. The real proper no face. She whines again just to be extra sure and she even puts her paws on his legs and lifts up to kiss his face just in case she can bribe him with doggy love into sharing more biscuits. ‘I said no,’ Clarence says. She drops down with a huff and figures she might as well do what she should be doing and pads off into the barn. ‘Wow, straight to the alpha,’ Paula whispers with a chuckle, watching Meredith head to Howie’s side and nestles in tight with her head on his chest as she closes her eyes. Eyes wide. Snapping open. Hard and dark and full of fury as the energy surges up inside of Howie and he lifts his head to snarl into the face of Meredith an inch in front of him. Her eyes fixed on his. Her lip rising to show her teeth. Her energy flowing into Howie. Giving him the spark needed to make him rise and remind him who he is. Alpha. Pack. Lead. The alpha leads. The alpha does not cry for the others to do what the alpha must do himself. The essence of Howie drives into them all, bringing forth that surge of pure dark energy and rage, and in that perpetual second holding them in eternal pain so the essence of another pushes into their minds. The essence of a mind so pure it drives everything else away. Pack. Pack fight. Howie’s head snaps left as Dave finally moves and draws his knives. Ready to follow his leader into any hell he chooses. And Howie runs. Gaining speed and slamming through the solid brick wall of the next apartment. Then another and another until he surges into the room full of men and women in grey standing over the dead child on the floor and he roars out as he charges them all. Roy’s eyes snap open as the noose drops from his grip. He slams the sliding door of his van back and launches out into a street he has never seen before, but he knows where to go. He aims for the house. Smashing through the door as he steams inside and grips the hand holding the belt aloft, ready to come down hard on Danny who looks up to see Roy snarling at Keiron with murderous intent. Danny surges to his feet, racing out of his open front door and diving through another to slam into Natasha’s family as they all lunge towards her. And from that surge Blowers rises to his feet and the fetid soldiers in grey fall back because Blowers died and what’s come back is more like Howie. Harder and stronger and he drives them back through the door to get to his mate. Cookey feels it. He feels the wall of incoming rage. ‘Fuck you…’ he whispers, looking up at the clowns. ‘FUCK YOU,’ he roars and the hits start coming as Blowers rushes in and slams those brutal punches into the painted faces, forcing them back and away. Cookey gets to his feet, his chest heaving as Blowers stands between him and the clowns with his fists clenched. ‘Go,’ Blowers says. Cookey runs and Charlie looks up at the men holding her down. ‘You’re so fucked…’ she snarls the words out a second before Cookey slams into them, battering them away and Charlie vaults up, landing on her feet to run. Knowing that Cookey can fight them with ease. Knowing Roy can cope with Kieron on his own, and she runs fast. She runs hard. Through the streets of a violent estate to a rundown council house. A flimsy front door kicked open and she powers up the stairs, ripping men in grey uniforms off their feet to cast behind her. Snapping legs and arms and necks and kill and kill so she can burst through the doorway to the tiny terrified seven-year-old boy weeping in his bed. Rushing to his side, taking him in her arms. ‘I’ve got you, Mo. You’re safe now…’ She holds him close. Banishing the fear. Filling him with the love he should have had. The love of a pack that care for him dearly, and when they part, so Mo Mo stares back at her. Sixteen, nearly a man now and Dave trained too. He smiles that cheeky grin and runs out and down the stairs. ‘Read it, Nicholas! Are you really that thick?’ the teacher demands as the voices chant. ‘Thick Nick. Thick Nick…’ ‘He ain’t thick, bro. Nick’s a genius, you get me?’ Nick looks up to Mo’s voice and the sight of Mo Mo slamming the teacher’s head against the sign, and the chants drop out with gasps and gurgles and the sound of bones breaking and he turns a fast circle, seeing the others laying waste to the soldiers in grey that were taunting him. Danny. Roy. Charlie. Cookey. Blowers. Tappy. All of them converging on Nick. All of them staring at him. ‘Which way, Nick?’ Tappy asks as Nick turns to look at the sign, not needing to read the words. ‘I know the way,’ Nick says, turning to run with the others and the men holding Reginald in the chair pour more water over his face, thinking the sounds he is making is because he’s drowning. Except he isn’t and they when they pull back the little man sprays water from his mouth and laughs out loud. ‘You fools! You have no idea what we are…’ The beat of a heart. The blink of an eye. The door slams open, framing Marcy. ‘Hello boys,’ she says with a slow wink. Sultry, gorgeous, and ready to detonate to kill the world to save her friends. She steps slowly inside with the others fanning out behind her. Tappy and Nick. Danny and Mo. Charlie and Roy. Cookey and Blowers. And Reginald grins at his captors who wilt back in fear. Feeling the coming energy as three more stalk into the room. Howie in the middle. Holding an axe. His head down. His eyes dark and brooding, the dog on his left, her head low, her teeth barred, and Dave forever at his side. His knives already drawn. * We move as one. As a pack. Tearing the soldiers apart with hands and knives and teeth, until the room drips blood from the walls and the ceiling. Until the very floor is awash with crimson. Then we stand back. Breathing hard and feeling that energy flowing between us. The hive mind connection that pulled us together as one. Pack. The dog’s will still exerted in our minds. The terror now over. Our fears abated. Our nightmares pushed back by our collective will. And still we stand back. Not breathing quite so hard and glancing at each other slightly awkwardly. ‘What happens now?’ Blowers asks as they all look to me, while I, in turn, look at Reginald. ‘I rather think that perhaps we are not really here at all,’ Reginald says wisely, and very sagely, given that he is a very wise sage. ‘Um, so if we’re not here?’ Cookey says. ‘Then where are we?’ ‘Ah, and that is a very good question,’ Reginald says as Cookey looks smug. ‘We are right where we were when we fell asleep. In the barn.’ ‘Do what now?’ I ask. ‘We are dreaming, Mr Howie.’ ‘We’re dreaming?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘All of us. We’re all dreaming?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Together?’ ‘Oh, is this the hive mind?’ Charlie asks, being that she’s also very clever. ‘Indeed, it is,’ Reginald says. ‘And what an experience it is too. A collective dream experience driven by our hive mind connectivity. And you see, even in our dreams we found a way to support one another.’ ‘Piss off,’ I say as he carries on looking all intellectual. ‘We’re not bloody dreaming.’ ‘Where’s Clarence then?’ Reginald asks me. ‘He’d never miss a scrap like this.’ ‘I’ll tell you where he is. He’s smooching with Paula on watch,’ Marcy says. ‘Awkward,’ Tappy says with a cough into her hand as we all try and avoid looking at Roy. ‘No way are we dreaming,’ I say confidently as the room we’re in stops being the room we were in and becomes a pure white space instead with no floor or roof or anything at all. ‘Hmmm. So. I think we might be dreaming.’ ‘You don’t say?’ Marcy says with mock shock. ‘Ow! What the actual fuck,’ Blowers says rubbing his arm. ‘What was that for?’ ‘Fuck off!’ Nick yelps, swatting Cookey’s hand away. ‘He just pinched me.’ ‘Duh. That’s what you do in a dream,’ Cookey says. ‘Ouch! What the fuck, Tappy!’ ‘Ow!’ Tappy then says when Charlie pinches her with everyone just about pinching everyone else as the white nothingness around us ceases to be a white nothingness and instead becomes a pleasant street lined with leafy trees. ‘Oh, this is quite nice,’ Marcy says as we all murmur and agree, while rubbing our pinched arms, that this is, indeed, quite nice. ‘Boobs.’ ‘Pardon?’ Reginald asks, looking at me. ‘I didn’t say anything.’ ‘Oh, my apologies. I thought you said boobs.’ ‘I didn’t say boobs.’ ‘Boobs.’ ‘That wasn’t me!’ I say when they all look at me. ‘Who said boobs?’ Marcy asks. ‘Boobs,’ the same voice says from everywhere at once as we all look up and left and right and shrug. ‘Do you like boobs, Danny?’ another voice says from behind as we turn around to see Danny staring at a beautiful woman in a tight wet t-shirt walking towards him. ‘Boobs,’ Danny says. ‘Oh no no no,’ Charlie says in panic. ‘We’re in Danny’s boob dream.’ ‘I’ve got boobs too, Danny,’ another woman says all sexy and low while doing a slow walk with her hips swinging side to side. ‘And me, Danny,’ says another joining the other two. ‘Do you like my boobs too, Danny?’ asks yet another, ‘Best dream ever,’ Nick says. ‘And now we know why he wakes up with a boner.’ ‘Okay. Shit. We need to get out,’ Tappy says. ‘Er. And this is bad why?’ Cookey asks as the lads grin at the sight. ‘What do you think Danny does when he dreams about boobs?’ Charlie asks as we all glance to the front of Danny’s trousers pushing out. ‘Fuck no!’ Blowers says. ‘Would you like to see our boobs, Danny?’ ask the many women. ‘NO!’ we all shout. ‘Yes please,’ Danny says as they pull their tops off to the sound of a zipper unfastening with Danny’s hand starting to delve inside and once again we all move as one. Diving on the lad to pull his hand out and drag him away down the street. ‘But Danny! We have our boobs out!’ the many now topless women shout. ‘Don’t look, Danny!’ we all say and hold his hands and cover his eyes with all of us shouting at once. All of our voices seeming to merge into one soft almost motherly voice. ‘Danny! Roll over, sweetie. Roll onto your front.’ ‘Huh?’ Danny says coming awake to blink up at Paula. ‘Roll on your front or side,’ she says kindly, trying not to look at the bulge down below. ‘I was having the weirdest dream,’ he mumbles and rolls to his side. ‘I bet he bloody was,’ Clarence whispers. ‘Fancy another brew? And I might open that other packet of custard creams…’