‘Barricade’ was started in ~ September 2014 after a Reddit comment which I took as a writing prompt. It was not originally intended to be anything but a comment made during lunch one day – and now we’re over 50 Chapters! As always, it is thanks to the Reddit community who asked for more and supported me every step of the way.
Below are chapters 001 – 005.
“Use bleach!” Jay was shouting now.
“Bleach?!” I whipped around to face the bathroom cabinet. Pill bottles, toothpaste and bandaids tumbled out of the cabinet as my hand pushed its way to the back.
“It has chlorine in it, can be used for purifying the water.” He explained as I thrust the bottle at him.
A few rooms down the hallway, we could hear Annie coughing. She hadn’t stopped for days now and hadn’t had the strength to even get out of bed this morning. We’d been here over a week, locked up in this stranger’s house. Whoever they were, they’d thankfully had the sense to fill the bathtub with water before they disappeared to wherever they’d gone.
The scrabbling noises from downstairs rarely stopped, and now was no exception. For the first few days we’d been worried about the owners returning to their house only to find us squatting here. Those fears soon turned darker – the owners weren’t coming back, at least not alive. There were hundreds, thousands, of those things on the streets. The scrabbling never stopped because – maybe they could smell us, we didn’t know – but they wanted to get in.
There was a break in the scrabbling, but then the banging began. Some of them, from what we’d observed, were stronger. They still had the strength to bash against the doors, the walls. None had had the strength yet to break in, and Jay had barricaded the windows shortly after we’d arrived.
“Go downstairs and check it out.” Jay whispered. “It sounds… Louder.”
I crept out of the bathroom and peered down the top of the stairs. We’d started breaking them apart, but they were still strong enough to be functional. I inched my way down the staircase, avoiding that one loud creaky spot we’d learnt about our first night here.
“Holy shit.” I exhaled. The thudding hadn’t stopped, they hadn’t given up, because a plank in one of the barricades had broken away. The thudding was getting louder as more of them sensed a way in.
Upstairs, I could hear Annie coughing.
It was Annie’s cough that broke my trance. I could see their arms – some flailing mindlessly, others slamming the barricade with force I knew we only had minutes at best.
They knew we were here, but I couldn’t risk blindly running up the stairs, couldn’t risk exciting them more. I gripped the rail with one shaking hand – the parts that remained intact, anyway – and quietly fled back up the stairs.
Jay was gone.
Of course, he was with Annie. Trying to soothe her. Her coughing was quieter now, as though it was calming finally.
The banging thundered in my ears, it was all around us now. They were hitting it harder, faster. Maybe they’d seen me, maybe they’d gotten my scent.
“Jay,” I managed. He hadn’t looked up when I’d skidded into the room, he was cradling Annie. She was so small in his arms, so pale. “They’ve found a way in.”
“They can’t… We haven’t finished the stairs,” I knew he held the same regret I did – we’d chosen to break down the stairs quietly, slowly, rather than rip them out as quickly as possible. He looked down at Annie – too young to understand what was really going on, she was slipping into a dream – and determination set over his face. “Get the packs. Now!” He barked, when I didn’t move.
I hoisted my pack over my shoulders, stuffing a few stray items around it back in. I pushed teddy – Annie’s – into Jay’s pack and shoved it towards them. He roused her gently and she stood, rubbing her eyes.
There was a sudden lull in the banging and we froze, listening.
At least one more plank had broken, probably more.
Panic surged in my chest, my hands trembling around the straps of my pack. I was so nauseous I felt like my heart would explode. This was it. We were on the second floor of this stranger’s house, and we had nowhere to go but down – right into the waiting embrace of those things, breaking down our protection, plank by plank.
He took Annie’s hand and led her to the opposite end of the room, away from me. Away from them. He gestured for me to follow.
With one last terrified look behind us as more planks fell, he cracked open the window.
“Annie.” Jay knelt in front of her, ruffling her hair. “We’re going to climb out the window, okay? I need you to walk as carefully as you can over to that chimney. There – you see the red bricks? I need you to hug them, okay? Hug them just like you’d hug Teddy.”
“I don’t wanna,” Annie was too young and so far, we’d protected her from knowing just how afraid we were. “It’s cold. You guys said we have to stay inside.” What she did know was that it was freezing outside, and she hadn’t been allowed to play outside for well over a week.
“We were wrong,” I said, desperately. “You and Teddy need to play outside. But we can’t use the stairs, okay? It’ll be more fun on the roof.”
It was stupid, it was desperate, but it worked – Annie nodded. Jay placed his hand on my shoulder briefly. I could feel the relief and gratitude sweep over him. “Now Annie, you can’t fall over and you can’t be seen, okay? We’re sort of playing hide and seek. Just go slowly and keep down. Straight to the chimney. Charlie’s going to go first, and then I need you to follow her.”
She nodded again, a brief smile emerging.
My stomach dropped. I’m not afraid of heights, but we had no idea what waited for us out there beyond what we could see of the surrounding roofs.
Another bout of thunderous banging, interrupted by another loud crack, spurred me to action. Jay pushed the window open as far as it would go, the brittle wood protesting every inch of the way.
“Charlie.” Jay put his hand on my arm as I readied myself to climb through the window. “It… It rained last night. Just take it easy.”
“Sure.” There was nothing more to say. We had no options. There were probably dozens of them downstairs now, only a few planks away from breaking the last of the barricade. We were going to be fortunate to even all get out the window before they came for us.
I scrambled out the window and crouched on the roof, taking a cursory look around before I made another move. None of them up here.
I glanced down and nearly fell back through the window as a wave of dizziness crashed into me. The streets surrounding the house were swarming. There weren’t only hundreds of them out there – the roads were covered with a moving mass of them, some stumbling mindlessly, others almost striding purposefully.
“Holy shit.” I gripped the roof tiles I could reach and gasped for air. The roof was a dark navy, my black and dirtied clothes hidden against it. We still weren’t certain of their capabilities, but I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Jay had made us change into dark clothing.
I scuttled forward, moving at a half crouch. Nearing the chimney, I dropped onto my stomach and crawled forward the last couple of paces, finally slamming my back against its brick wall and gritting myself against the sudden tears that burned my eyes.
Annie was climbing out of the window now, with Jay’s help. She dropped to her stomach right away and crawled toward me. It seemed to take forever, as though she was fighting through thick sludge preventing her from moving with any kind of speed.
I could still hear the banging from downstairs, but it was less deafening up here in the open air. I could see the panic in Jay’s expression, in the way he kept looking behind him. I wanted to tell him to come onto the roof, to start making his way to us, but I couldn’t risk yelling out here, and he’d never hear me otherwise.
“Come on,” I whispered, holding my arms out to Annie. “Just a little further.”
When she crawled the last of the distance, I wrapped her as tightly as I could in my arms. She was shivering – from the cold, from the fear – I wasn’t sure. I rocked her gently.
Jay had started to climb through the window. I watched as he whipped his head around to check behind him. He was only halfway through the window, when his careful climb became a frantic scrabble, kicking the window shut behind him. Taking no caution with the roof in its slippery state, he slid and stumbled toward us, almost running at half height.
“They’re in.” He gasped. “Jesus Christ, they’re in.”
Jay tumbled toward us, landing half on top of us, half hard against the corner of the chimney. “We have to keep moving.”
I succumbed to panic for just a moment. “We’re on the damn roof!” My voice wavered, broken and high pitched.
“I know!” He snapped. “We don’t have long before they find us. We’ve got to get across.”
He was looking around now, almost standing at full height for a better view. I followed his gaze wordlessly. We were in the midst of middle class suburbia, a sprawling area of the city outskirts that featured houses mostly too big for their tiny blocks, with only a tiny patch of grass on offer as gardens. The benefit of this kind of city planning, of course – you lived in each other’s pockets and roofs weren’t that far from one another.
Jay looked back at me and Annie, his eyes resting on mine for a moment. He nodded.
Annie was curled up even tighter into me now, quietly sucking her thumb, her eyes and cheeks shiny with quiet, probably frozen, tears.
“It’s got to be this side.” He squatted down beside us, pointing to the side of the house that backed closest to the next one. “We won’t make any of the others.”
“Jesus.” I breathed. “Annie will never make the jump…” I might not make the jump, I added silently.
“She won’t have to. Pass me your pack.”
I awkwardly shrugged it off my shoulders, trying not to disturb Annie too much as she nestled into me. Jay took it and took a few cautious steps forward, toward the side of the house we were aiming for.
Before I could protest, he’d flung my pack over the gap and sent it skidding along the next roof. He slid his own off his back. He hesitated, then unzipped it and pulled Teddy out, sitting him next to his feet. Silently, he flung his pack across, with more force this time – it skidded a good few feet away from my own.
He picked Teddy up and handed him to Annie, then scooped her up into his arms. “Charlie’s going to jump over to that roof, you see over there, Annie?”
Jesus. I crawled closer, looking down at the gap. It seemed impossible. I slid back and shook my head at him, unable to even begin forming coherent protests.
“It’s not as far as it looks. Then I’m going to…” He paused, “…I’m going to throw Annie across to you.”
Jay was strong, and Annie had become surprisingly skinny in the short time we’d been here, surviving on the usually pretty shitty rations we’d been able to find.
“Jesus.” I said. “Jesus Christ.”
A thud from somewhere in the house. Not at the window yet. We still had some time, but it may have only been seconds.
I looked over at our packs again. I tried to ignore the persistent buzz of movement constantly flittering in the corner of my eye – the masses below us, some mindless, some strong. Thousands of them, hunting us, even if they didn’t know it yet.
Annie was openly crying now. Quietly – Jay had shushed her, but the sniffles burned in my ears.
If I fell, I was dead. Instantly from the fall, or less quickly from the hordes below. I would know nothing of what happened to Jay and Annie.
If I didn’t jump… They would find us. They would smell us, or see us, or hear us, any minute now. They knew they were close. We would be helpless up here, trapped.
I didn’t look at Jay or Annie again. I turned my back on them, took a step back. Then another.
It felt like hours, years, that I floated over the gap between houses. My arms and legs flailing uselessly around me.
I landed with a sickening crack, rolling and slamming into the tiles. I’d hit my face, I could taste blood and salt as I stood up, my entire body tremoring.
My vision shifted back into focus and I could see Jay and Annie, who was crying even harder now. The tears left mucky streaks on her dirty face.
I positioned myself a few feet before my pack. Annie wouldn’t make it as far as either of the packs, I was certain. My knees creaked, threatening to crumble beneath me.
Jay was talking quietly to Annie. She clutched Teddy tightly, curled herself up into a little Annie-ball. He looked across to me and nodded.
He threw her.
We slammed backwards into the roof, loose tiles scattering beneath us and the taste of blood overwhelming me. She cried out loud, in pain, in terror.
I caught her. I managed to hold her, but barely. We slid along with the loose tiles, the edges cutting into our skin and catching our clothes. I tried digging in – my feet, my elbows – the tiles rained off the roof around us.
We stopped, somehow. Annie wasn’t crying anymore, she was silent, unmoving.
Without hesitation, Jay made the jump himself. Just before he landed, I heard it. From the way he landed – awkwardly, unplanned – I knew he’d heard it too.
A guttural moan.
No. Many guttural moans. Rasping, wheezing, groaning.
“Fuck.” Jay had barely landed before he had grabbed Annie’s hand and shoved me forward. The roof we were on sloped down, with a flat section at the front of the house. We slid into it, hiding flat against one side.
They’d found the window. Had they seen us?
Jay pulled Annie into his chest, muffling her sobs.
We sat, silent, afraid to breathe.
The grunting and moaning dragged on. We could hear them scuffling along the roof, and what sounded like frenzied sniffing.
I could hear Annie softly crying, but with all the movement being made next door, we hoped they wouldn’t hear her. She was cold, frightened and probably hurt after being thrown – to expect her to be able to stop crying now seemed more impossible than the jump had.
“We wait until dark.” Jay whispered, then let his head drop against the wall of the roof, trembling hands pulling Annie closer.
The fumbling, scrabbling continued noisily next door, in a way I couldn’t help but think of as hungry. There were no telltale thuds of landing, no indication they knew quite where we were.
Jay didn’t stir. He’d closed his eyes now and was humming, barely audibly, to Annie. I knew he couldn’t – wouldn’t – sleep, he was processing what we’d done, planning our next move.
It was a few hours away from nightfall. We hadn’t had the time, or presence of mind, to pack anything from the stash we’d squirreled away at the house. What we had packed was stuck on the higher part of the roof somewhere, abandoned where Jay had thrown it. I knew Annie would probably get hungry soon, but rifling through my pockets proved pointless, as I’d known it would.
I leaned back and listened to the sounds above us. It sounded like there were less of them up there now. I felt a whisper of relief fall over me. They can’t have known we were here. I reached over and lightly squeezed my hand over Jay’s, hoping he knew everything I was trying, wordlessly, to say.
I gazed out over the rooftops, letting myself fall into memories. It had been just over a week ago when everything changed, but it felt like decades.
Jay and I had been on again, off again for months. For the past week we’d been completely off. Everyone always used to say that humans, like cattle, still want to reproduce even at death’s door. We were certainly walking down that hallway, but we sure as hell weren’t interested in anything but survival.
The rumble of grunts and dragging feet droned on above.
I’d been at their house, colouring with Annie and planning the weekend with Jay, when the first news broadcast broke.
Disease, outbreak, evacuation. All words that flashed on the screen, completely jarring in the middle of afternoon kid’s shows.
The news was brief, no real details announced. There were early suspicions a medical centre had failed to contain a few quarantined patients, and the contagion had spread at a rate never imagined.
The last words of the broadcast before static took over were that the city was overrun. Evacuation was no longer recommended, it was a case of life or … Whatever this was. Not death.
We’d done what I guess anyone would have. Ready to dismiss it, we’d tried other channels, only to be met with the same grainy snow. We’d tried calling Jay’s parents, then my own – nothing. The phones rang and rang, but never connected to a person or even voicemail.
Jay decided we’d go for a drive. We grabbed some backpacks and, feeling foolish, packed a few items – water bottles, snacks, a first aid kit taken from his parent’s ensuite.
When we hit complete, impossible deadlock only blocks from their house, we felt less foolish.
When the radio, that had been issuing nonstop evacuation orders, dropped out – we started to let fear take the reins.
We sat in the roadblock of unmoving cars and panicking people for maybe ten minutes before Jay lost his patience. He led us against the crowds – back into the suburbs. Part of us knew – knew! – this was unwarranted panic and there was no point leaving our homes only to have to fight this same traffic to get back.
As we neared his street, the crowd of people trying to leave got too thick. People were pushing and knocking Annie and she was growing afraid. We backtracked, tried to cut through the nearby woods. The deeper we got, the less people we encountered. Jay had pushed us forward, slowing down every few minutes to try dialing his parents again.
We’d stopped to catch our breath, give Annie a snack. Even this far into the woods, we could hear the crowds of people.
It was the gunshots that changed our plans.
No longer were we heading back to Jay’s house. We went deeper into the woods, as far as we could get Annie to walk and later, took turns carrying her. We waited hours in the dark, eventually falling asleep. We hid the next day, using the thick foliage to our advantage. We saw nobody else and we could no longer hear them.
We comforted Annie when she cried. Lied, told her we were camping. Tried to make it seem fun. While she slept, we whispered, trying to make sense of it, of anything.
That night, we left the woods and crept our way back into the suburbs. Not Jay’s suburb. We found the house, which had already been broken into but seemed mostly untouched.
We’d just watched, at first. Smaller groups of people were still wandering the streets. We started to keep Annie away from the windows the first time we saw one of them. When the number of them started outweighing the number of us walking the streets, Jay started pulling apart cupboards, chairs, the stairs – anything that could be used to form part of his barricade across the windows and doors.
Annie started coughing a few days in.
I remembered how frightened we were that the original occupants would return, be furious with us for destroying their belongings.
It almost seemed funny now, to worry about having someone angry at us.
They were quieter now, fewer. They didn’t know we were here.
Twilight was slipping down around us. As the sun dipped, I fell into an uneasy slumber.
When Jay woke me, it was pitch black and eerily quiet. “They’re not up there anymore.” He whispered.
Annie, who was now curled up asleep on my chest, stirred at the sound of his voice.
“I got our stuff back. We’re going to go through this house and try and get onto the street. We need to get out of here.”
“We need to check for supplies in there first,” I whispered back. “We left nearly everything back in the last house.”
“You’re right. Take Annie and look around while I go downstairs and check the street.” In the moonlight, I could see Jay half stand and shuffle his way over to the nearest window.
“What if they’re in there?”
Jay fumbled with the window. He paused to look back at us. “We have no choice.”
Glass tinkled as he drove his elbow through the window.