CHAPTER ONE

It wasn't quite a wasteland but it wouldn't be long before it was. The buildings were crumbling and the plants were slowly taking over but that was fine. Maybe it was for the best, many of the survivors seemed to think so. But the girl that was ducking from shadow to shadow didn't agree. She had liked the world the way it was, this brave new world sucked. Actually, it didn't just suck, it sucked donkey balls!

Ferelith Diosal ducked behind a huge metal bin and leaned against the wall, her dark skin was slicked with sweat. She hated being out in the open but she had to get supplies if she wanted to get out of town. A car wouldn't hurt either. Ferelith stepped out from behind the dumpster, the heel of one of her golden knee boots came down on an empty Ribena carton. The mini explosion made her jump; tiny drops of liquid hit her white Aladdin trousers. She froze, her chocolate brown eyes darting from side to side.

"Nobody heard that. Nobody heard that" she murmured. Ferelith hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and poked her head out of the alley, the supermarket was opposite. She just hoped that there was something left in this one; the last two had been picked clean. Ferelith took a deep breath; she adjusted her white shirt and denim waistcoat before strolling across the street. She didn't want to make any sudden movements or to draw attention to herself. There were other things to worry about besides Smilers out there.

The world hadn't really ended when the Smilers came; it just felt like it did. Unlike most of the zombie stories it hadn't happened over night but the change had been frighteningly quick. The virus had sprung up, just a little thing really. A few sniffles and a few deaths and then the infected had started attacking their families. That was when the zombified shit had really hit the fan.

Ferelith pushed open the door to the supermarket and stepped inside. She waited and listened for a minute but she couldn't hear anything. She flicked her blonde dreadlocks over her shoulder and opened her bag, walking down the aisles and placing as many tins as she could manage into the bag. They rattled and the bag bulged the more she put in. The door made a sort of sucking noise as it swung open, Ferelith ducked into the next aisle. She bent over and peered through the shelves, she frowned as a line of people all dressed in white robes and masks filed into the building.

"You gotta be kidding. The world nearly ends and the Klu Klux Klan survives?" she murmured. A hand dropped onto her shoulder, Ferelith shrieked and tried to run but she was yanked back by the strap on her bag. The tins rolled across the floor as she was dragged around the shelving unit and forced to her knees in front of the gathering crowd.

"You've led us quite a chase" said the closest figure. He pulled off his mask to reveal a face that was pockmarked and set in an almost permanent leer.

"I didn't do anything to you. What do you want from me?" asked Ferelith. Her eyes darted from side to side in search of a weapon but the supermarket had already been picked clean of anything useful.

"You are to be tested; we are searching for the Chosen One. The girl that will mate with our new leader and introduce a new world order!" A cheer went up from the assembled white robes; Ferelith almost wished she had been found by the Klu Klux Klan. At least they would be talking understandable shite.

"I remember when I was the Chosen One." Almost as one, every head turned towards the new voice. Ferelith felt a slight lifting of her spirits as she stared at the newcomer. She looked to be in her early twenties with jet black hair tied back into the tiniest of ponytails. She was tall and slender in a pair of purple combat trousers, white vest and a cream coloured shirt. Her boots were huge and covered in metal, blue eyes danced with mischief as she smiled at the white robes. A chocolate coloured Labrador sat at her feet.

"This does not concern you" said the unmasked white robe. The girl grinned and the dog growled.

"Yeah it does. Besides, I'm not sure how I feel about being replaced so quickly. It's only been six months since we left Stamner House." There was a collective gasp and the unmasked white robes face twisted in fury.

"You're her! You killed Lucy and let Smilers into our most sacred house!"

"Yep, I'm sorry about that. Oh wait, no I'm not!" The girl reached behind her head and pulled a shotgun from a sling across her back. She pointed it at the nearest white robe and pulled the trigger. The report was almost deafening as the white robe became a red robe. The rest took the hint and scattered, dragging their leader behind them.

"Are you okay?" asked the girl. Ferelith stood up and nodded, she rubbed her arm and winced as she found a bruise just above her elbow.

"What's your name?"

"Ferelith."

"Nice name. I'm Mckey, that's Kahlua and we need to leave. You can come with me if you like, I'm sure the others won't mind." Ferelith thought for a moment. It was difficult to know who to trust since the world had almost ended but if Mckey had wanted to kill her, she could have done it already.

"I'd like that. I was searching for supplies" said Ferelith. She looked for her bag. Ferelith scooped it up and replaced the fallen tins before following Mckey back out onto the street.

The white robes had vanished but Ferelith didn't think it would stay that way. She stayed close to Mckey as she ducked into alley after alley, never once stopping to get her bearings or look around. Ferelith glanced down at the dog and figured that he was the alarm system; Mckey didn't need to know what was round the next corner when Kahlua would know three corners before it.

"Where are we going?" whispered Ferelith. Mckey finally stepped out onto what would have been a main road, there was a rather run down hotel opposite with a scruffy looking van parked outside.

"In there" replied Mckey. She grabbed Ferelith's dark hand in her light one and dashed across the empty street; they ducked into the building and bounded up the stairs to the top floor. A door opened at the end of the landing and a man appeared. Ferelith stopped at the head of the stairs; she swallowed and glanced behind her. The man was very tall and muscular with brown hair hanging on his shoulders. He wore blue jeans and a black shirt, Ferelith noticed his face light up when his green eyes fastened onto Mckey.

"I thought we agreed we'd only go out all together? It was your idea -" He stopped when he gaze stopped on Ferelith, Mckey turned and smiled.

"This is Jethro; he's okay but a complete worrier. Come on, they should have the kettle on by now" said Mckey. She smiled and Ferelith pushed all thoughts of repeated gang rape from her mind and followed Mckey and Kahlua into the room.

The room was just a typical hotel suite. The walls were paper in a weird shade of pink and covered in cherries, the carpet was an odd shade of purple and the curtains were almost orange. Two beds were pushed against the back wall and a sleeping bag was unrolled on the floor. Another guy was sitting at a little table; he was holding a metal kettle over a camping stove. Jethro pulled out another chair and waved Ferelith into it; she sat down and dropped her bag on the floor.

"I shot a White Robe" said Mckey. She grinned and puffed out her ample chest with pride. The guy making tea held out his fist and Mckey bumped hers against it. Jethro rolled his eyes and shook his head before perching on the edge of the nearest bed.

"I thought we'd got rid of them" said Jethro. Kahlua joined an Alsatian that was snoozing on a mat under the window.

"They did say they had branches everywhere. We were bound to come across more sooner or later. I didn't see any Smilers though, not even any of the little ones" said Mckey. She crossed to the window and peered through the grimy glass into the street below.

"How do you take your tea?" Ferelith turned her head and found the other guy smiling at her, goose bumps suddenly raised all over her arms. His head was shaved which made his emerald eyes almost pop out of his head; there was a definite resemblance to Jethro which made her think they were brothers. But whereas Jethro seemed to exude confidence, his brother seemed on the shy side. He wore a simple white t shirt and black trousers but he was a little too skinny to be classed as muscular.

"Black, one sugar please" said Ferelith, she smiled and moved over to the little cooking area to try and make herself useful.

"I'm Ash, by the way. Since my brother and his girlfriend left their manners outside with the Smilers" he said, Ferelith shook the offered hand.

"She's not my girlfriend and you're big enough to talk for yourself" said Jethro, he stood up and ruffled his brother's hair. Ash shoved him away and handed Ferelith a cracked mug of hot tea, she took it from him and sipped appreciatively. Ash handed Jethro and Mckey a mug each before switching off the camping stove and regaining his seat.

"What happened with the White Robes?" he asked. Ferelith told them how she had been caught and Mckey took up the story, she also filled Ferelith in on a little White Robe history. Kahlua and Toby suddenly jumped to their feet, hackles raised, and started growling at the window. Mckey picked up her shotgun while Jethro edged over to the window and looked down into the street. At first he looked confused and then his mouth dropped open and his eyes bulged from his skull.

"Jesus tap dancing Christ" he breathed. Mckey and Ash glanced at each other before joining him at the window, Ferelith squeezed between them and followed Jethro's gaze.

Emerging from between two buildings was an almost blindingly white horse, it walked between two cars and into the middle of the empty road. But the weirdest thing was the little red squirrel that was sitting on its back.

"I thought red squirrels were only on the Isle of Wight?" asked Ash.

"It's riding a horse. Your argument is invalid" replied Mckey. Ash slapped the back of her head and pointed to another shape that was jerking out of the shadows.

"Is that a Smiler?" whispered Ferelith. She pushed herself away from the glass and found herself leaning on Ash, he smiled and rested a warm hand on her shoulder. The Smiler walked across the empty pavement, stepped into the road and seemed content to jerk its way past the horse. A pink tube, about a foot wide and six feet long, suddenly snapped out of the horse's stomach. Long tendrils unwrapped from it and snared the Smiler in their grasp; the horse neighed and snorted a little. It reared up on its hind legs and the Smiler was dragged bodily into its stomach. Silence followed this brief interlude.

"What the fuck is happening now?" said Mckey. They stepped away from the window and closed the curtains