Passing the aftershave bottle back and forth beneath his nose, Ben inhaled deeply. His breathing was heavy and fast, the bottle moving quickly, a small splash of the fluid visible in the flesh between thumb and forefinger. He stared at the living angel as he cleared the zombies with passes of his laser. Held casually at chest height, the camera recorded it all but Ben needed to witness this with his own eyes as heads were sliced over and over again. Flicking his eyes back to the white-armoured figure, he saw an angel of death, a grim reaper taking its harvest. Suddenly the angel stopped, bent low and rose again, a huge staff in his hands. He began stabbing at the zombies' heads, dropping them more slowly but just as efficiently
Ben needed to see more. Needed to see suffering. He lifted the camera high and used the zoom function to glide the image past the angel and through the shattered doorway to the people beyond. Tash and two other men were moving to help pile the zombies.
Where was she?
The Killer. Her face was wet with tears as she bent over the big man. The bitten. Ben’s breathing quickened again. He had seen him fall, seen the zombies crash onto him, bite him. The turn. It could be quick. Ben enjoyed the turn. He looked down at the body of Craig beneath his boots. As he looked back to the museum, the Killer reached for something, Ben couldn’t tell what, and held it behind the man’s head. Ben held the camera as still as he could, waiting for the whatever it was to plunge into the skull. It didn’t happen. The Killer bent to the bitten, kissed him. Ben watched, his lip curling in distaste as the killer walked away, grabbed the younger of the two men’s shoulders and spoke to him, wiping at her eyes the whole time.
Ben spoke silently to himself, his voice a whispered whistle in the neck of the aftershave bottle. ‘If you leak, you’re weak,’ he said silently to himself. ‘Your eyes leak, Killer. I know that you’re weak. I’m coming to get you, Killer. Not today. You’re weak today. But maybe tomorrow.’
He licked his lips and held the camera steady.
‘Now?’ said Jared to Stella. Over his shoulder, Vine continued to hack and haul at the deads. ‘Right now?’ The sound of the bone hitting deads’ heads and their bodies being dragged onto the fleshy wall punctuated their conversation. ‘Shouldn’t we wait till he’s dead?’
‘He’s suffering,’ said Stella, wiping her eyes for the tenth time in the half-minute they had talked.
Jared shook his head. ‘I'm sorry, Stella, but I won’t kill anyone. I’m not starting that. We wait till he turns. Otherwise it’s just…’ he trailed off, leaving the word unsaid.
‘How did you survive out there, Jared?’ Stella was suddenly aggressive, leaning at the captain.
He backed away from her, instinctively feeling for his jaw, still sore a week after her wake-up punch. ‘By not killing,’ he said to her. ‘By staying human when everyone else was turning savage. I saw them, Stella. The killers. They weren’t living. They weren’t even surviving. I always swore I wouldn’t be a killer.’
‘You’re army.’ Stella said it flatly as if it were illogical to make any kind of moral protest.
‘That’s different. That’s war.’
‘This is war!’
‘No it’s not. This is survival. This is what’s left. I won’t make it a battle ground.’ He stood firm, facing her with grim determination.
Stella could see the nervousness in him but knew he wouldn't change his mind. In that moment she hated him for it. ‘The only thing you’re making is a fight with Hook when he gets up and tries to eat us. This is the way it is now, Captain.’
‘Not for me.’ Jared turned from Stella and grabbed a limb fallen from the wall.
Stella watched him push it up and back into the folds of rotten flesh and clothing. Grey gore dripped down his arm as he did it. She looked to Gregor but the old man shook his head at her and carried on pulling another corpse onto the top of the wall.
Vine turned to her. ‘Stay with him to the end,’ he said. ‘And then I’ll do it before he turns.’
Tash nodded her head, as if in support of the angel.
Stella glared at Vine, at them all as if they had betrayed her. ‘I can’t…’ She started but stopped, the eyes of the others suddenly spotlights, scaring her words away. She turned to Gregor. ‘Be with him for me,’ she said to the old man. ‘I can’t do it.’
Gregor gestured to the wall and to Stella’s arm in its sling. ‘Wall needs building, Stella. You’re the only one who can be with him. And you’re the only one he wants.’
She glared at the old man, trying to make her stare prove him wrong. Gregor couldn’t return her stare but he didn’t need to; her shoulders sagged as she accepted the truth.
Hook opened his eyes as she stood over him. Noticing that her warmth was gone, replaced by her usual cold distance, he smiled widely. ‘There you are,’ he whispered.
She moved closer to hear him, her movements stiff and awkward as she bent at her waist, keeping her back straight, one arm firmly at her side and the other making the sling a shield across her chest.
‘There was someone who looked just like you here a few minutes ago. But it couldn’t have been you. Too nice.’ He smiled again, trying not to laugh at himself, trying not to shake with the pain in his back and shoulders.
Stella deliberately avoided looking at the bite wound and saw instead the thick splinter sticking into his other shoulder. Blood seeped from the wound, slowly, carefully, as if it were saving its energy for something else. ‘I never saw that before,’ she said.
‘I’ve got so many holes,’ Hook replied with sigh. ‘I can forgive you missing one of them. Hurts like hell, though. Be nice to have a little sympathy.’
‘I don’t do sympathy.’
‘No, you don’t.’ Hook paused while a spasm of pain passed through him. Stella could feel the heat radiating from his body. ‘You should. You save them but you don’t care about them.’
‘I can’t.’ Stella stopped herself, straightened, moving away from the body of Hook and her own confession.
'You can. You do,' he said. 'I've seen it. It's why they'll follow you.' He gasped back another wave of pain.
Stella's hand moved awkwardly towards him then stopped. It was stuck in the space between them, suspended like a criminal in a gibbet.
Hook reached out to take her hand, wincing with the pain in his shoulder. Stella allowed him to hold it but didn't return the grip. 'They're scared of you,' he said to her. 'And they're scared for you.'
'Good,' said Stella. 'It's good that they're scared. Fear keeps us alive.'
'But it doesn't keep us living.'
'There's no difference.'
'If there wasn't, you wouldn't need those pills.'
Stella glared at Hook, her eyes flashing with shock and anger. 'That's different.'
Hook shook his head. 'No difference. You and Jared. Both the same.' His voice grew weaker with every sentence. 'But you're stronger. You can get yourself and him and all the rest through this.'
Stella nodded, her fingers twitching in his soft grip. 'Day by day.'
'More than that. Let them live. Let yourself live. Don't make them afraid of you. Don't make them cut you off. Save who you can. Including yourself.'
Hook's grip loosened in Stella's hand and she suddenly gripped tightly, ferociously. She watched Hook's eyelids flutter and droop as if he were just tired or drunk or hungover. She gripped his hand, silently urging him not to go.
'Does it hurt?' Ben whispered to the image on the tiny screen of his camera. His voice was no more than a breath. 'Can you feel pain like the rest of us?' He put the aftershave bottle down on the windowsill and let his hand fall to the hilt of the knife strapped to his hip. He caressed the handle lovingly and glanced down at the body of Craig. He smiled.
Turing back to the Killer, his smile slipped as the wall of zombies grew high enough so that he could no longer see her clearly. In the next moments she would disappear behind the barricade of corpses. He watched for as long as he could, watched her stare at the bitten.
And then she was gone, obscured by a body thrown in his way by the living angel. The limbs of the corpse wind-milled for a brief second and then slumped atop the pile, leaving nothing but a wall of flesh and a few zombies stumbling against it. Ben watched as one managed to find a foothold and started an ungainly scramble. Just as its head neared the top the long sharp weapon appeared, stabbed it in the face and left it to slither down onto the floor, tripping another zombie attracted by its actions. It struggled to its feet and stared up at the wall, as if it were unsure of what to do. It stood and stared, its head tilted back like it was in the front row of a cinema and the movie made no sense.
Ben dismissed the creature and stepped down from Craig's body, grinding his heel into the fingers of one hand and smiling as he felt the bones break. He switched off the camera and placed it to one side before kneeling down bedside the body. 'Well, Craig. Looks like it's just you and me.'
He moved to the window and retrieved the rifle. Opening its solar charge panel he moved through to the rear of the building and placed it on a window ledge in the afternoon sun. 'Tomorrow,' he said to it.
Walking back into the room containing Craig's body, he rubbed his hands together with gusto. 'We're going to have so much fun,' he said as he pulled a pair of pliers from his pocket. Bending over Craig's head, he pulled his mouth open and tapped at his teeth with the pliers. 'You might just be the highlight of my day.' He tapped in a rhythm, making a mockery of the Match of the Day theme tune. 'But the Killer is the winner.' He stopped tapping, opened the pliers and hovered over the right molar. Snatching it in the pliers' teeth he pulled at it, yanking it out in one smooth motion. 'He shoots. He scores!' Blood welled in the hole and stained the teeth to either side. Ben grabbed the next and pulled it free and then another and another, grunting with the effort.
Within minutes he had a pile of teeth on the floor next to him. His red, sweaty face was split by a wide grin. 'And now the other little piggies.' He reached over and grabbed the hand that he hadn't already trodden on. Holding the little finger first, he looked to Craig's dead face. 'This little piggy went to market,' he said in a sing-song voice before pulling the finger back and snapping it at the knuckle. He grabbed the next finger. 'This little piggy had roast beef.' He snapped the next. 'This little piggy had none.' Another finger broken. 'And this little piggy stayed home.' Ben paused as he held the forefinger. 'Do you know, I think I got it the wrong way round. I'm sorry about that, Craig, I really am.' He snapped the finger savagely, bending it and crushing it until every bone was broken and he could feel the fragments grinding together beneath the skin. 'Tell you what. To make up for it, I'll leave the thumb unbroken. How about that?'
Craig didn't respond.
'I'll take that as a yes,' said Ben happily. He took the knife from his hip and held the blade at the base of the thumb. 'This won't hurt a bit.' He sliced into the flesh, blood spilling but not flowing from the wound. He carried on through the bone and out the other side. He held up the thumb, inspecting it closely. Suddenly he ran it up the body's arm. 'And this little piggy went wee-wee-wee, all the way home!' Ben stuffed the thumb into Craig's toothless mouth, leaving just a little of the nail poking out over the lips. 'There,' he said, nodding to the corpse. 'And now we're ready. Don't worry. No rush. In your own time, Craig.'
Ben took the aftershave bottle and settled back to lean against a wall, passing the bottle beneath his nose. He pulled the camera over and placed it on his lap. He hit the playback button and settled to watch the Killer cry again and again.
When Hook finally stopped breathing, Stella, her eyes dry, left his side, nodding to Vine as she moved away.
The living angel moved to Hook's side and placed his right on the Hook's left cheek. 'Goodbye,' he said. And Gregor and Jared and Tash moved closer to say the same. Vine's hand left Hook's cheek and he pointed his arm at Hook's forehead before looking to Tash.
'Go ahead,' she said.
The flash of red was there and gone in a microsecond but it left a streak of red light in their vision that lasted for several more seconds. The neat hole on Hook's forehead and the passage bored by the laser ensured that he would not rise again