“Morning!” the man in shorts greeted Sally as she approached the group by the bandstand. He stretched his hand in the air and bent sideways at the hip. Sally was a little disconcerted and kept her distance. The man started jogging on the spot. “I’m Martin,” he said, puffing his cheeks and blowing rapidly as though he were practicing to give birth.
“Sally,” said Sally. She surveyed the gathering. “Quite a turnout.”
“Same every week,” said Martin. “Nice to have some new blood.”
“I’m new to the area,” said Sally, wondering if she ought to stretch her hamstrings in the exaggerated manner Martin was now demonstrating. She became aware that Martin was looking her up and down and felt terribly self-conscious.
“Hot in that,” he nodded.
“Thanks,” Sally blushed.
“No, you’re going to be. Hot in that. You want something lighter and tighter fitting.”
Sally’s blush deepened. She hadn’t come here to be harassed or to have her tracksuit criticised.
“Something they can’t grab hold of, do you see?” Martin was losing patience. “And get your hair cut.”
Sally pulled a face. She had tied a ponytail high on her head to keep her hair from her eyes. She looked around at the other women. They all sported very short hair, she realised, and the men’s heads were shaved.
“You can’t give them anything they can grab. Once they get you, you’re finished. You do see that. You can’t afford vanity. Not these days.”
He blew a whistle. The others shuffled together. “Ladies and gentlemen, set your stopwatches. I want everyone to beat their personal best this morning. We can’t afford not to.”
The others pressed buttons on digital devices strapped around their wrists. Martin noticed Sally didn’t have one.
“You’ll have to get one,” he told her. “Helps keep you motivated.”
Sally’s nose wrinkled. Martin caught her scepticism. “Honestly, Sal. We can’t afford timewasters, holding us back. This is life and death stuff. Who knows how long we’ve got before they come this far south?”
“It won’t come to that though, surely?” Sally shrugged. “They’ve sent the army in. They’ll stop them before they can spread past the Midlands.”
“Believe that and you’ll believe anything,” scoffed Martin. “I’m just trying to get people ready. Weapons won’t save you. The army won’t save you. But running as fast as you can might just buy you some time.”
He blew his whistle again and the group sprinted away for the first of ten laps of the park. Sally was hard pressed to keep up. They ran past bushes. Sally couldn’t be sure but she thought she might have glimpsed someone in there, someone with blank staring eyes and covered in blood.
She looked over her shoulder but there was no sign of the zombie. I imagined him, she told herself and picked up her pace. She couldn’t let herself believe the army had already failed.