PART THREE: EXTREME TACTICS

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As the seat made contact with one zombie's jaw, I raised my boot and Spartan-kicked a second in the chest. Then I skirted back to get Charlie. He was stone still, gazing into Cathy's eyes, as if performing a mental rescue mission deep in the depths of her soul. I assumed that the only reason she wasn't already munching on his skull was that her nervous system hadn't had time to adjust to her new life as a reanimated corpse.

'Bro, come on! We have to get going. This isn't the time to lose your head.'

He slapped my arm away when I reached for him.

'Don't touch me!' he warned. There were tears in his eyes, but he was smiling at Cathy, performing a desperate attempt to bring back her conscious self. 'Come to me, Babe. You recognise me, don't you? It's Charlie, your boyfriend.'

A trio of ghouls skulked closer but I confronted them easily. They were elderly residents. Their muscles had degraded long before they had joined the ranks of the undead. Body shots didn't take them down quickly enough so I caved in their craniums with the seat. By the fourth blow, I was breathing heavily, spattered with pus and brain matter. Glancing back, I saw Cathy jolt forward, her cracked lips curling back as she grabbed Charlie's throat. Obviously shocked, he was slow to react, and I was too far away to save him.

'Get down!' I heard. Charlie managed to duck just as Theo's bar stool slammed into Cathy's head. Her face imploded like the crumple zone on a car. Her fingers slackened and she folded into the mud. 'Will, stool me,' Theo demanded without hesitating. There was no way I would argue with him after a stunt like that, so I tossed him my own stool.

He swung it, devastating a row of corpses like dominoes. The action cleared a path between us and the barn. We had to act fast, though, before it was replenished.

'Charlie, move. Now!'

As he whimpered at the sight of Cathy crippled in the doorway, I wrenched him towards the exit.

'Get off!'

He swung a punch behind his head but I dodged and his fist made contact with the nose of an approaching zombie, a short woman in a straw hat. Taken unawares, she overbalanced and fell. I couldn't help but smirk as we bounded away. Watching her slow brain try to save her was hilarious, like a university student, too drunk to fight outside a club.

'Thanks,' I said, surprised. Charlie just scowled but followed my lead.

Thundering to the barn, we split up with the efficiency of a SWAT team, scanning the shadows and alcoves to ensure that the area was secure before blocking our exit.

'Safe?' I called.

'Safe,' both replied, and I bolted the door.

That was when Charlie collapsed. Squatting, he buried his face in his hands and screamed. He was trembling. Strolling up to him, I patted his shoulder tentatively, without emotion. My mind had already moved on to planning our next move. Adrenaline has a funny way of numbing all sorts of pain.

'She's dead.'

'Yeah,' I admitted.

'None of you saw my weed on the way over, did you?'

'Err... we were a little busy saving you.'

'Spectacular.' His voice wobbled. I had never seen him go for so long without a joint. It was like the smoky veil had been lifted and he was forced to face reality for the first time.

'Hey, guys! Look what I found.' Theo pushed over a pile of hay bales. The ruddy yellow cuboids split and tumbled across the barn floor, exposing a dusty wall of tools behind them.

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