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|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
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I shovelled the last of my spag bol into my mouth as Jason's phone buzzed. Putting down his fork, he lifted his bum, pulled the phone from his back pocket, and checked the screen.
On Dad's knee, my little sister Ava cupped her tomato sauce covered hand over her ear and said, "Hellooo." She puckered her lips. Ava could be a pain, but she was ultra-cute.
"Jason, you know the rules. No devices at the table," Mum growled.
"Sorry. Got to go," Jason said, standing up. Pocketing his phone, he handed Mum his empty plate. "Bruce and Dave are waiting outside for me to let them into the garage. We're mixing a new song."
Bruce and Dave were the argonauts from Jason's band, Jason and the Argonauts. The band was going to be a household name one day, moving the world with the beat of their music. At least, that's what Jason said. Hardly the whole world. So far, the only households that had heard them were ours, and the house on the other side of the fence.
"Remember the neighbours," Dad said, "Keep the volume down."
"No worries." Jason gave me a wink as he skived out the back door, closing it behind him so Cody, our Labrador, couldn't get out.
Shaking her head, Mum stepped around Cody as she carried the plates to the kitchen, her high heels click-clacking. With Jason gone, she was going to ask me to load the dishwasher. He was a pro at getting out of the dishes.
I gave it my best shot anyway. Letting my shoulders slump and exaggerating a yawn, I opened my mouth wide, surprising myself when it turned into a real one. "I better get going too," I said, from behind my hand. "I've got some maths homework to finish. Probably be up late." I heaved a sigh for good measure.
Mum smiled. "You go and make a start then, Seb. Your dad and I will wash up." She stooped to pick up a piece of spaghetti that Ava had flung on the floor.
My yawn had worked. I could hardly believe it. "Thanks Mum!"
Dad threw me a look. "Thanks Mum, thanks Mum. What about, 'thanks Dad'?" he grumbled. "I make the beds, clean your clothes, cook gourmet spaghetti bolognaise, and now I've got to wash up too? Everyone takes me for granted around here."
Ava grabbed his nose with her tomato sauce fingers. "Fank you, Daddy," she said.
Dad wrinkled his tomato sauce smudged nose.
I grinned. "Yeah, thanks Dad." I pushed back my chair, scraping the legs on the floor in my hurry to make it out of there.
"Sebastion, how many times have I told you not to do that?" Mum said. "You're going to ruin the floors." "Sorry," I called, already half way up the stairs.
"Grace, you'll never guess what Ava did today ..." Dad was saying as I slipped into my room. I closed the door, took my maths book out of my bag and flipped through the pages. I only had three equations left to do. They wouldn't take long, especially if I copied my mate Darren's answers tomorrow, before school.
Dropping the maths book on the floor, I picked up my tablet and powered up. The tablet kicked into gear with a cheery drawn out joooop.
I'd barely finished typing in my password when the graphic I'd seen earlier surged across the screen:
Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse!
A warrior, clad in leather, a scar on his right cheek, stalked through a desolate street in my direction, the graphic zooming out so he never quite reached me. Zombies slunk out of the shadows, their clothes rumpled, their faces slack and listless. They raised their arms and shambled after the warrior, sunken eyes following him hungrily. The hero ignored them. It was as if they weren't there.
Words popped up: "For a limited time, Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse is available for free download. Touch here for a free demo."
I hesitated. It wasn't safe to download freeware. Still, it was only a demo.
I held my breath, not expecting it to open. Mum had virus protection and parental controls on our devices. Without her password, even the Hulk would struggle to get through.
A zombie hand emerged from the screen. Blackened fingernails extended, and, dripping blood, it grasped at me, the tendons raised. Whoa! My heart thumped out a rap song. I snatched my hands away, the tablet balanced on my knees. The gruesome hand, finding nothing, slipped back into a blanket of fog.
I inhaled deeply to slow my pulse. Wicked 3D effect! I wasn't even wearing any dorky glasses. Chaos Games were the best.
The hero from the trailer stepped out of the fog. "I am Bastion Axestone," he said, a derelict urban landscape appearing about him. "Zombies have taken over the world. I need your help. Join me on my quest to seek out survivors." A warehouse exploded. Bastion didn't turn to look, just strode away, giving one of those man-of-the-world winks, the sort that make girls giggle.
Bastion. Short for Sebastion. The same name as me. That was about all we had in common, though. If I even dared to wink at a girl, I'd probably trip over my own eyebrow.
"Zombies are everywhere ..." Bastion intoned, his expression stern. "They're your co-workers, your brother, even your best friend. We must take up the challenge, avoiding the plague that has infested our loved ones, and forge a new world ..." He looked me in the eye. "Or die trying."
A split second later, a car careered into view, brakes screaming. A businessman in a grey suit dived out, rolling away in a swirl of dust. The car exploded into a brick wall. Black and orange flames billowed from the wreck. His sleeve in tatters, the man got up, then staggered and fell. The zombies were approaching. Almost there. The man's face contorted in terror. He raised his arms to shield himself. They were going to get him! Slowly, Bastion Axestone turned. The scene froze.
Noooo. It couldn't just stop there. Was he going to die or not?
"Free today. Join Bastion in his quest. Click here."
I had to know what would happen next. I touched the screen.
"Add explosive effects."
Explosive effects, I definitely wanted those.
"Add 3D option."
And that. I pressed again.
"Add subliminal quotient."
I wasn't sure what a subliminal quotient was, but if the preview was anything to go by, it was bound to be good. I tapped again, thinking that had to be it, but there was more.
"Select setting: Small town or global adventure." Small town.
"Give your town a name."
Maybe the game was customised: if you put in New York, you got to fight zombies in Central Park; you put in Antarctica, you battle zombies in the snow. Cool! I was about to write Antarctica, but at the last second I changed my mind and typed Bridgewater, the name of our town. I liked the idea of fighting zombies on my home turf.
"Add heavy metal soundtrack."
Might as well have that, too. My fingerprint hadn't disappeared when a cymbal boomed. Quickly, I switched off the sound.
"Seb?" Dad called.
Whoops. I was supposed to be doing maths homework. I thrust the tablet under my pillow. Scrambling forward, I leaned over the edge of my bed and picked up my maths book.
Dad opened the door, carrying Ava who was twisting and squirming. Holding Ava was like trying to grasp an eel still wet from the creek. Or a kitten who'd just spied a dog. Across the hall, the water was running for her bath. That explained everything. Ava hated baths.
"You okay in here?" said Dad, fending off Ava's palm on his chin.
I waved the book in the air. "Dropped my book on the floor," I said.
Dad paused a second, then nodded. "How are you getting on?"
"Just three problems left to do," I said. Well, it wasn't a lie.
"Good stuff," he said while grappling with Ava, who was leaning backwards like an ice-skater in a death spiral. "Pleased to see you're being more responsible about your homework."
I forced a smile. Mum and Dad had been going on and on about priorities since parent-teacher conferences. Mrs Pike had told them that with a little regular attention to my homework, I could be Prime Minister if I wanted. Personally, I had no intention of being Prime Minister, but maybe Mum and Dad thought I'd make them pay less tax or something because they'd been on my back ever since.
"I'd better not interrupt you, then," Dad said. "Come on, Jitterbug, let's get you clean," he said to Ava.
"Noooo, no barf," Ava wailed. She had trouble pronouncing the 'th'. Dad closed the door, cutting out the drone of the water and Ava's moaning.
When the coast was clear, I lifted my pillow and retrieved my tablet, resting it on top of my maths book.
"Special offer! Today only. Touch here to install your free copy of Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse." I hesitated. Mum wouldn't like it.
The game was cool, though.
What if Chaos never made the offer again?
A shriek of outrage came from across the hall. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
That girl could wake the dead. But luckily the screeching made me look up — I saw the door handle move. I shoved the tablet under my duvet just in time.
Mum breezed in.
"Mum! You should've knocked first. What if I'd been getting dressed?"
"Oops." She tapped her head. "Sorry. I wasn't thinking. I have a Skype call to make for work, so I've come in early to kiss you goodnight."
I was twelve and she still thought I was a baby. In a waft of perfume, she leaned in. Closing my eyes, I screwed up my face. She dropped a kiss on my forehead anyway.
"You won't forget to brush your teeth, will you?"
"Mu-um," I groaned. She'd busted me once, when I was six, by feeling the bristles of my toothbrush and discovering they were dry.
She ruffled my hair. "Just reminding you. It's my job to check. You only get one set of teeth, you know."
Actually you get two sets, more if you count false teeth, but I didn't dare say it.
"Night, love. Don't stay up too late, okay?"
"Okay. Night, Mum."
The door safely closed behind her, I lifted the duvet.
Whoops. I must have touched the screen when I shunted the tablet under the covers. The game was already installing. I waited for it to load, but my battery winked low. Sighing, I got off my bed and plugged the tablet into my computer to charge.
I'd have to wait until tomorrow for the Zombie Apocalypse.CHAPTER 2
Mum forgot to wake me. I was running late for school. I got dressed, unplugged my tablet, and hurried downstairs.
Mum wasn't in the kitchen. Nor was Jason, but then he never got up until the last minute. Nearly sixteen, Mum says my brother's made procrastination an art form.
"No point in getting there early," Jason always says. "What if the Earth was invaded by aliens overnight? I'd have wasted a sleep-in."
Ava and Dad were at the breakfast table, though. Wearing their pyjamas, Ava was in her high chair, licking the Marmite off her toast, while Dad was watching television on his tablet. Cody sat at their feet, his tongue out and his big tail whumping on the floor.
Ava squealed when she saw me. "Seb." She waved her toast at me. "Open wiiide," she said, mouthing an 'O' herself.
I stopped to take a bite. The toast was soggy and a bit squished, but I was late and it was easier than arguing.
I bent and gave Cody a quick pat. "Hey, boy," I said, my mouth still full of toast.
He followed me to the fridge.
"Where's Mum? Did she leave early?" I asked Dad as I shifted a jar of gherkins, looking for my lunch.
"Mum's in bed," Dad said. "She was up all night at her computer."
Wow. Mum often worked at night — her company had a lot of international clients — but she never let that stop her getting up at a sparrow's fart. She never let me say fart either.
No sign of my sandwich. I poked my head around the door. "Dad? Where's my lunch?"
Ava must have had nightmares again because Dad looked dreadful, even worse than usual. His skin was grey, like crumpled newsprint, and his eyes were puffy. He waved a hand in the air. "Sorry, haven't had time," he said, his eyes not budging from the breakfast news. Another first — Dad not making my lunch. He must be tired. Either that or he'd meant it last night when he said everyone takes him for granted.
Shrugging, I grabbed a packet of chips and a muesli bar from the pantry, stuffing them in my lunchbox just as Ava flung her toast. It sailed over the table and landed face down on the floor. Cody bounded over and scoffed it in a gulp, mopping up the floor with his tongue. That's weird. Cody doesn't like Marmite.
I checked his bowl. Empty. "Dad? Has Cody been fed?"
"Huh?" Dad said.
"I said, has Cody been fed?"
Dad brought the heels of his hands to his forehead. "Cody, Cody ..."
He really was spaced out. Normally he feeds the dog and takes him out for his morning walk.
"That's okay. I'll feed him," I said, glancing at the clock. Ten past eight. I was going to have to burn rubber. Quickly, I shoved a cup into the bin of dog food and poured it into Cody's bowl, topping his water up while I was at it. Cody wolfed down his breakfast.
I put my lunchbox in my bag, snatched a banana from the fruit-bowl and grabbed my bike helmet.
"Bye!" I called.
"Bye, bye, Seb," Ava said.
Dad waved vaguely as I let myself out.
* * *
The first bell sounded. I locked my bike, tossed my banana peel in the bin, and raced to class, sliding into my seat beside Darren as the second bell rang. Mrs Pike wasn't there yet.
"Quick! Lend me your maths book, will you?" I said to Darren.
Talia Wilson, in the row in front of us, turned and threw me a look I've gotten used to over the years.
Darren sighed, but he got his book out, opening it to yesterday's homework. "You do know that you're supposed to do these equations yourself," he said.
I laid the book flat and started copying his answers.
"Yeah, I know. I was going to do them, but I got busy. Keep a look-out for Mrs Pike for me, okay?"
Talia turned her back to me, and sniffed.
"You got busy. Doing what?" Darren said.
"New Chaos game," I said. "Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse."
Darren's eyes widened. "Chaos. Nice. How did you convince your parents to get you that?"
"Easy. All I had to do was complete my homework for a week."
"What?" Darren folded his arms across his chest.
"You're kidding, right? You never do your homework."
I grinned and passed him back his book. "Yeah, just kidding. I downloaded it last night for free." He frowned.
"It was fine," I said. "Nothing crashed or anything. You should've seen the preview. It's awesome: explosions, 3D effects, a killer soundtrack, even a subliminal quotient."
"Subliminal quotient? What's that?"
"I've no idea, but whatever it is, it's amazing. I could show you on my tablet ..."
Darren shook his head. "Not worth the risk. Mrs Pike'll be here any minute. If she catches you, she'll confiscate your computer and put you on litter duty."
"My place after school, then?"
Darren pulled a face, the light brown freckles over his nose squishing together. "Can't," he said, picking at the desktop with his fingernail. "I've got footy practice."
Darren beamed. "Okay."
It was nine fifteen. Mrs Pike still hadn't arrived. I could've copied ten equations by now. It was boring waiting. Some of the kids started throwing spit balls.
"I bet she's setting us a test," Darren moaned. He sighed. Sometimes my best mate could be a bit of a drama queen.
Talia stood up. "Someone should go to the school office and let the principal know that Mrs Pike hasn't turned up," she said.
Darren rolled his eyes. Talia had gone to the same primary school as us, and every other week our teacher would award her with a certificate for Politeness, or Diligence, or Being Responsible, or having the Best Science Project. If there'd been a certificate for Withering Looks That Made You Feel like a Worm, then she would've won that one, too.
And the one for Prettiest Girl in School.
"Well?" Talia said. "Anyone?" She scanned the class. No one met her eye. She sighed heavily and stalked into the corridor, her ponytail sweeping out behind her. Everyone went back to launching spit balls. Talia returned a few minutes later, looking puzzled. "There's no one in the school office," she announced.
"No teachers? That's strange. Maybe there's a staff meeting?" said Talia's friend, Penny.
Talia shook her head. "I looked in the staff room. There was no one in there either."
"Maybe there was a fire drill and we didn't hear the siren," said Darren. We hurried to the window to check, but there were no classes lined up at the assembly area.
"Doesn't look like it," said Andrew.
"Could it be a Teacher-Only day?" Penny said.
"If it was, the school would've sent a notice home," Talia replied. "And Teacher-Only day means the day the teachers come. And the students don't."
"Hang on," said Darren. He slipped into the corridor. Less than a minute later, he was back. "Mr Huffington isn't in Room 12 either."
"That's really weird. No teachers. There must be some kind of emergency going on. An earthquake or flooding or something?" Talia said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse"
Copyright © 2019 Lee Murray.
Excerpted by permission of IFWG Publishing International.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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