The first rays of morning sun shone through the glass windows of the church, staining sleeping faces red and blue and yellow. Huddled between pews under thin blankets, the survivors snored softly, oblivious to the soft dawn light and the piercing cold beyond their layers.
Cliodhna O’Driscoll slept soundly under a pew. Most of her face was concealed in an oversized blue scarf that she’d scavenged from an upmarket ladies’ boutique, and the tip of her nose was red with the cold. Despite the hard, unforgiving floor, she’d slept well that night. Better than in a long time and probably because she was no longer alone.
A sudden pain erupted in her knee and she jerked awake, immediately bumping her head on the pew above her. “Feck sake,” she said through gritted teeth, trying to rub her head and her knee at the same time. She looked around to see what hit her; a sleeping pile lay on the pew above and a single leg dangled down beside her midriff. It was spasming, jutting out randomly at odd angles. She just missed another kick.
“Michael,” she growled. She thumped him until he jolted upright.
“Where’s me club?” He shouted, half-asleep.
Cian appeared from the pew behind them and covered his mouth. “Keep it down,” he hissed. Michael nodded, his eyes wide, and Cian removed his hand, running it through his messy hair to mould it into shape. Mornings were tough. Being jolted from a nice dream only to be reminded that reality is a nightmare wasn’t something any of them looked forward to.
The others began to stir, stretching their arms out from makeshift sleeping bags and recoiling as the cold air hit them. There was a thud and a “Shite!” and Saoirse appeared, rubbing her head and scowling. Cliodhna smirked and rolled out from under the pew.
Ashley raised her head, her ponytail askew, and mumbled a good morning.
“Morning,” Saoirse replied with a sigh, crouching beside her back pack and pulling out a dented can of sweetcorn. Cian threw the can-opener at her and she struggled with it for a minute before prying open the rusty lid. She dug in, scooping out a handful before getting up and passing it to Cliodhna. Ashley plodded over to her, yawning, and took her seat. She cupped her chin and watched with droopy eyes as Cliodhna picked at the soggy sweetcorn.
“Do we not have any beans?” Cliodhna sniffed the can and immediately wished she hadn’t.
“We’re out,” Cian said, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“Lads my back is killing me,” Michael stretched.
“That’s what you get for sleeping on a pew,” Cliodhna said, though she wasn’t in the best shape either. She barely remembered a time when she didn’t feel each and every one of her bones. Trying to ignore the empty feeling in her stomach, she passed the half-empty can to Michael.
He grimaced and said, “Jesus I’d love a pint.”
Saoirse, who was walking the length of the church, shot him a look of disgust. “A pint? Do we not have enough to deal with without dragging your drunk arse around?”
“I’d only have the one!”
“The one arse or the one pint?” Cian said, chuckling to himself from the altar.
“It’s never just one with you,” Saoirse snapped, pulling her blanket around her.
“Don’t start,” he said.
“Excuse me for thinking the collapse of society and the dead coming back to life would make you cop yourself on!”
“An apocalypse is the perfect time to get drunk in my opinion,” he grinned, his teeth a dull yellow after weeks of not brushing.
“You won’t be laughing when you’re hammered and stuck in a puddle of your own sick, not able to run or even stand.”
“It’d almost be worth it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have to listen to your harping.”
“What was that?”
“Guys please don’t fight,” Ashley said, looking between the two.
“Can you all shut your collective holes please?” Cliodhna said, rubbing her temples. Ashley’s thick American twang got on her nerves at the best of times.
Michael turned towards her. “She could do with a pint!” He glanced back to see Saoirse had walked away. “Or ten,” he muttered under his breath.
“I actually wouldn’t mind a few scoops,” Cian piped up. He picked at a mouldy protein bar before dropping it and shaking his hands in disgust. “We could find ourselves a pub, maybe pick up some food and a few more weapons. We’re hardly going to find anything useful here.” Flipping through a pocket bible, he coughed as a cloud of dust burst from the pages.
“Where are we going to find a pub?” Ashley asked, exasperated.
They stared at her. She threw up her arms. “What?”
“We’re in a village in rural Ireland,” Cliodhna said, amused. “There’ll be more pubs than houses here.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Michael said, heaving himself out of the pew.
He didn’t notice Saoirse behind him and he jumped as she put a hand on his shoulder, lowering him back down. “No, just an idea. A bad one,” she said.
“I don’t know about that,” Cliodhna said. “If there’s a snowball’s chance in hell at finding a single gun in this damn country, a farm or a pub is our best chance. And a pub is probably closer.”
Saoirse looked like she was about to protest when Cian said, “Okay, executive decision. We’ll chance finding a pub to look for supplies. We’re not exactly fully stocked, are we?” He looked back at the remnants of the protein bar to see a mouse hovering near it.
“Check the Dead,” Cliodhna said. “If they’re spread out we can make a run for it.”
“Make a run where though? We don’t know where the pub is,” Ashley said.
“I do,” Michael said from the window. Saoirse rolled her eyes. “You can see the edge of the Guinness sign from here!”
“What’s the Guinness bird called again? They always used to ask in pub quizzes,” Ashley said, packing an empty can into her bag.
“Toucan,” Cliodhna replied. “It’s a toucan.”
“Who gives a shit?” Michael said. “Let’s just get out of here.”
“We can’t just leg it without checking if the street is clear,” Cian said, frowning. “Calm yourself.”
Michael rubbed his face and sank into the nearest pew with his feet up. They dangled lazily off the edge of the wood, like bait on a hook.
“You’re in the Lord’s house,” Saoirse said, poking him. “Put your feet down!”
Michael groaned but lowered his boots. “He’s too busy with his latest plague to notice my feet!”
Saoirse hit him upside the head and he rubbed it, glowering at her.
“Keep your voices down,” Cian whispered. He pried open the double doors of the church and peeked outside. The street was deserted except for an old lady shuffling outside the Post Office and dragging what looked like a broken foot.
“Okay, we’re in luck,” Cian said, closing the door gently. “There’s just one freak outside. If we’re going, we go now. Get your shit together.”
While the others gathered their back packs, Cliodhna stood by the door and peered outside, the crack of light causing the dust in the air to sparkle. She breathed deeply, relishing the fresh air despite the hint of rot. The smell got stronger as the wind turned and she blinked, pulling her scarf over her nose to block the scent. She opened the door a little wider to see partially eaten limbs at the bottom of the church’s steps.
“Lovely,” she muttered, watching curly white maggots crawling over what used to be a hand. Cian appeared beside her. He poked his head out the door and, quick as a meerkat, he popped back inside and motioned for the others to leave. Cliodhna stepped back.
“Move carefully towards the pub and keep a lookout for freaks,” he whispered as they passed. “Things seem quiet enough.”
Michael was first out the door after Cian. Ashley and Saoirse dipped their fingers in the holy water font on the wall and quickly followed them, but Cliodhna paused before rubbing the bottom of the bowl to get the last of the water.
“Can’t hurt,” she said, blessing herself as she ran after the others.
If you liked this story and you want to see what happens next, leave me a comment to let me know! 🙂