CHAPTER ONE

The virus had spread quickly; nobody quite knew where it had come from. In a matter of months over half the population of the planet was infected. Small pockets of people survived but it only took a scratch to infect you and it took just days for the virus to change you. The symptoms were pretty obvious; Sharpened teeth, jerking movements, limited brain functions and a rictus grin that clamped the jaws shut untill they needed to feed. The News nicknamed them Smilers.

Mckey Black stepped out of her room and onto the landing; she winced as a board creaked under her foot. Her chocolate Labrador, Kahlua, followed. Mckey hefted her cricket bat onto her shoulder and crept downstairs. It was broad daylight and only one person could be downstairs but still she crept. Mckey edged her way down the stairs, she peered left and then right towards the kitchen. A short, plump woman was scuttling around; it almost looked as if she were cooking breakfast. Mckey reached out her hand and grasped the knob on the front door, she slowly twisted it to the right, there was a loud click in the almost silence as it opened.

"My baby?" Mckey froze; she stared at the kitchen door as her mother filled the frame. Her voice was distorted because her lips were pursed tight as if she were trying to whistle. Mckey pulled the door open and Kahlua slipped outside, her mother tipped her head to one side and blinked.

"Are you leaving, my baby?" Mckey tried to speak but her tongue seemed glued to the roof of her mouth, she swallowed and tried again.

"I'm just t-taking the dog for a w-walk." Mckey stepped sideways and resisted the urge to just run; her mother sighed and shook her head.

"You can't go out." Mckey stepped sideways once more, she was almost out. Her mother's lips suddenly parted in a smile to reveal two rows of razor sharp teeth, but the smile continued to spread untill it passed her ears and vanished into her hairline. Mckey didn't stay to watch as the creature that had once been her mother propelled itself along the hallway towards her.

"Kahlua, heel!" Mckey yanked the door shut behind her and bolted across the garden with the Labrador at her side. She heard the door crack and splinter as a weight was thrown against it, Mckey skidded to a stop just outside her gate. There was nowhere to go. They were everywhere. Smilers jerked towards her with their sardonical grins, clawing at the air. Mckey swung the cricket bat at the nearest Smiler and winced as the shock travelled all the way to her shoulder. The Smiler went down, eyes rolling and Mckey lifted the bat to take a second swing. She was yanked backwards as the bat was snatched from her grip. Unwilling to try an attack with any part of her body that could be bitten, Mckey loosed a strangled sob and crouched down. She pulled Kahlua to her chest and closed her eyes. A sound split the air, the engine of a car and then a few muffled thunks, squealing tires and a voice.

"Oi! Get in!" Mckey looked up and found herself staring into the face of a man, he was leaning across the passenger side of an old van. Mckey staggered to the door and hauled Kahlua inside before jumping into the front seat and yanking the door shut. The van sped away, knocked the Smilers that had just regained their feet back down again. Mckey peered out the seat window at the house she grew up in and felt the tears sliding down her cheeks, they were silent and she kept her head turned, refusing to cry in front of a strange man.

After a few minutes, Mckey wiped her face, sniffed and twisted round in the seat to face her savior. He was broad shouldered with long, chocolate brown hair tied back in an elastic band; his eyes were a deep sea green. He wore grimy blue jeans and an oversized stripy jumper, Mckey thought he looked about 35 but the events of the past few weeks had aged everyone so he could've been younger than her.

"Enjoying the view?" he asked, glancing at her before turning back to the road. Mckey snapped her head forward and stared about them as more Smilers then she had ever seen jerked their way around the empty streets.

The older ones didn't bother Mckey as much as the kids, especially the very small ones. Children shouldn't be creepy but these were, some were even playing with dolls and footballs. As the van slowed to take a corner, Mckey spotted a little girl in a yellow gingham dress. Her face was ashy pale, blonde pigtails streaked with gore and in her left hand she held a dead cat. The girl stared at them as they passed and raised her hand, wiggling her fingers in a wave.

"Who are you waving at?" said the man. Mckey frowned before she realized that she had lifted her own hand and waved to the little Smiler.

"Nobody."

"What's you're name?"

"Mckey."

"Mickey? What's that short for?"

"No, Mckey." She turned and looked at him, unconsciously reaching out to scratch Kahlua behind his ear. "Who are you?"

"Jethro. That's Toby." He cocked his thumb over his shoulder into the back of the van; Mckey peered into the gloom and spotted an Alsatian curled up on a blanket. Kahlua jumped into the back and curled up next to him, seeming to sleep.

"At least they're happy" muttered Mckey. She sighed and swiped at her eyes to stop the tears from coming again. Jethro cleared his throat.

"Were you the only one in the house? I mean, do you wanna go back for anyone?"

"Just my mum, but she's . . . One of them now." Mckey sighed; she ran a hand through her short, jet black hair, automatically pulling the spikes back into place before asking Jethro if he was alone.

"No, I've still got my brother. I only came back here to find my dad but it was too late. I saw the crowd of Smilers and drove through it." Mckey smiled.

"I'm glad you did, I thought that was it for me." Jethro grinned and chuckled.

The streets outside the van were littered with Smilers, they seemed to be everywhere. The news had said it was just a virus, something that contracted the muscles which is what gave the Smilers their gruesome grin and jerky movements. Then people began to die, murdered by their family members that had contracted the virus. Things went downhill quickly from there, it seemed like the world had been this way forever but it only started two months ago.

About an hour later, the van turned onto the seafront and headed away from Brighton. Jethro suddenly yanked the wheel to the left and pulled up by a bus shelter, Mckey frowned as a sudden cold jolt of fear gripped her insides. Why was he stopping? She had a sudden vision of being raped and murdered and then left on the side of the road for Smilers to pick over. Her mother had always said don't get into strange cars with even stranger men. Mckey scrabbled for the door handle but before she could get out the back of the van swung open and a tall, lanky guy with a shaved head jumped inside with two other people. One was a short, plump girl with masses of auburn curls and a rather miserable looking countenance. The other was a guy, not much taller than the girl but he was powerfully built with a face that seemed to be set in a permanent leer.

"Alright Jeff. This is Chloe and Bert; I found them living under the arches and said they could come with us. Who's this?" Jethro stared at his brother for a moment, and then he cleared his throat.

"This is Mckey. I found her in the middle of a mob, that's her dog so watch where you sit." Bert's leer turned to a frown as he sniffed.

"I hate dogs." Kahlua and Toby both gave a low growl.

"The feeling seems mutual" said Mckey, Bert looked at her for a few long seconds. "Okay flesh, anytime you want to stop crawling, it's okay with me" muttered Mckey as she turned back to the road. Jethro stifled a grin and introduced his brother as Ash; he pulled the back door shut and sat down between the two dogs with Bert and Chloe opposite. There was a sudden thump on the side of the van, Chloe screamed and clamped her hands to her ears.

"Time to go" said Jethro, he floored the accelerator and the van shot forward. Mckey glanced in the side mirror and giggled as a little gang of Smilers stood in the middle of the empty road, shaking their fists and looking like grinning versions of Leather face. Jethro looked over at Mckey for a moment before glancing in his own side mirror, and then a grin lit his face and transformed him into a different person. He started to chuckle and soon both of them were laughing so hard the van was weaving from side to side as if the driver were drunk.