PART ONE: THE GAME

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The moment a ferocious black Hummer blasted into the parking lot, I knew the rest of the day was going to be insufferable. Turning off a wailing AC/DC compilation, the driver – a young man in a military uniform and aviator sunglasses – dropped from the mechanical beast, grinning, an unlit cigar dangling between his lips.

'Oh my God! Where did you get a Hummer?' Cathy squealed as the driver trudged towards us, his boots crunching on the car park shingles.

'Rented it just for the occasion,' the soldier replied in a bad American accent. His voice was so gravelly even Batman would have offered him a lozenge. 'Maxed out my credit card. But, what the hell, you never know which day could be your last when you're going to war.'

I groaned, rolling my eyes.

'Shouldn't you be saving money now that your degree's over, bro?' I asked. 'I mean, it'll probably take you a while to find work.'

'Hey, Will, don't crush his dreams,' Charlie said next to me, loud enough for Cathy to hear. He pulled a scruffy hoody over his head and adjusted himself inside his skinny jeans. Then, leaning in, he added, 'Cathy loves the whole fancy dress vibe Theo's got going on – it gives her something to psychoanalyse – so give him a break. If my girlfriend's using her psychology degree on him, she won't be trying to break down everything I say and do. Anyway, I hear a third in musical theatre's tough to get.'

'Yeah, it is,' I quipped. 'Getting anything below a 2:1 takes real effort.'

Charlie smirked, taking a drag of whatever questionable substance he was smoking at the time.

'No need to defend me, Charlie!' Theo shouted, a slightly camp, theatrical voice leaking through his drill sergeant persona. He leaned confidently against a tree in the car park. 'An hour from now Will's gonna be screaming for my help. You know why? Because he ain't a soldier. He ain't had the training. He ain't strong. He ain't fast. He ain't – argh!'

'...afraid of leaves?'

Theo glared, chewing his cigar. 'Let's just get this show on the road.'

I agreed, smiling.

Although, he inevitably got tiresome, watching Theo's failed attempts at method acting was one of my favourite pastimes. I'd never admit it, but he was kind of fun to have around. His enthusiasm for every situation was almost worth the three drama-laden years of having to share a student house with him. Almost.

'Necroville: Village of the Dead. The ultimate zombie survival experience,' Cathy snorted, quoting a sign above the log cabin marked 'Visitors' Centre' after we had taken our backpacks full of basic survival gear out of Charlie's old Ford Focus. 'Sounds super scary, right, guys?'

'Chilling,' I deadpanned. 'Pompeii ain't got nothin' on this.'

As you can imagine, spending a night at Necroville wasn't my idea. Our old flatmate Mia had organised it to celebrate the end of our university stint together. The zombie run was supposed to be a shared memory that would 'tie us together forever'. Being caught up in the nostalgia of leaving university, I foolishly agreed to come. The others weren't bad, and I actually got on really well with Mia. Though, she was the only one with which I actually planned to stay in contact. So when she bailed on us last minute for a holiday in Pompeii, I was understandably a little irritated.

'I agree, Will,' Cathy said, missing the sarcasm. 'Who'd want to go to Pompeii, anyway? The thought of being stuck in a village full of actual dead people freaks me out. Charlie, you'd better put that out now. I doubt you're allowed to smoke inside.'

'I don't see why not. It's only a plant,' he complained, sucking one last drag from the joint and stepping on it. 'You know I have to get at least three of my five-a-day, babe. It's the only way I don't lose my head when the stress piles on.'

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