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Designated Driver

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A greasy wind slid down the street, carrying a horrifying stench of decay. A single streetlight flickered above. Its ever-changing light made the most mundane objects, door-frames and postboxes, cast gruesome shadows. In their depths, brief flickers of movement caught the eye, but the thick gloom hid any chance of a guess at what lurked there. In the wind, a single leaf fluttered jerkily down to the pavement, occasionally pausing and then dashing on, as if spurred by a nameless terror. It came to rest against the door on the corner, huddled on the doorstep like it was afraid to go any further.

The door burst open, spilling cheery light, the sound of a football game, a strong smell of beer, and four mates out into the street. It shut immediately, taking the light and song with it, but the men valiantly continued their commentary as if they could still see the game.

"Oh--oh, no, aw, the ref's blind! He shoulda--shoulda--"

"You tell him, Dan, yeah. He's a--he's--blind, they all are."

Dan nodded vigorously. "I mean, his back was turned, he couldn't see anything! That last foul should have been a yellow card--"

"Nah, not yellow, red! They should have sent him off, I don't think it even was a goal."

"'m sure he was offside, sure of it."

"Bloody right he was offside, anyone coulda seen it."

The general agreement died into a mumble, as the four began to look around uneasily. Somewhere, something moaned. The streetlamp gave one last attempt at light, then gave up entirely, leaving the street in gloom lit only by the reflection of the moon in the mists drifting around the corners.

"Where's... where's Michael?" Dan mumbled. "Wasn't he--was he in the pub?"

"Yeah, he... uh. He, uh. Jamie, did you see Michael?"

"Wha?" Jamie lifted his head blearily. "Oh, uh, yeah, he stepped out a bit ago to clear his head."

The men chuckled and nudged each other, their statements overlapping as they all chimed in. "That Michael." "Yeah, Michael's a good one." "Best designated driver anyone's ever got." "Michael's a good guy."

Silence fell again, as the mates looked around, confusion cutting through the alcohol and beginning to clear their heads.

"Michael?" Dan yelled half-heartedly. Michael did not appear.

"'s not like Michael to wander off," Jamie ventured.

"Unlike some people."

"Aw, lay off, Cole." Jamie scowled and lightly punched Cole, who promptly punched back. But the scuffle died quickly, worry taking the fun out of this everyday activity. The shadows seemed to draw in closer.

"What's that?" Cole yelped. They all jumped, looking around wildly.

A cat peered around the corner. The four men took a step back.

"Is that... is it one of them?" Jamie whispered hoarsely.

The cat yawned, white incisors glinting, then padded away again. The four breathed audible sighs of relief.

"I'm sure it was fine," Cole said bravely, patting Jamie on the back. "We'd know if one came close. We'd smell it."

"Yeah. Yeah, we would," Jamie said uncertainly.

"And we brought the flamethrower!" Dan said brightly.

"And Michael's got it," Jamie said, glaring at Dan. "So that's of no use in the least."

"Well there, Michael's fine then, right? If he's got the flamethrower and all. He'll be back any second now, just you see." Cole nodded firmly.

They all looked around. The yowl of a cat echoed through the fog, then was suddenly cut off. Cole sidled closer to Dan.

"Should... should we all yell?" Dan ventured.

But before anyone could respond, a figure appeared out of the gloom. "Sorry I stepped out, boys."

"Michael!" they chorused, gathering around and slapping him on the shoulder. "Where've you been, mate?"

"Well, I have some bad news for you," Michael said, scratching his head sheepishly. "I can't drive home tonight."

The men stared at him blankly.

"What?" Cole said finally. "You never had a drink."

"No, no, not that," Michael said. "But I, uh... well, I got bitten." He rolled up his sleeve and showed his arm. Even in the darkness, it was easy to see the ragged wound, the flesh around it slowly turning white, then blue, before their eyes. A small piece pulled off the bone, shriveling as it fell and sending off the distinctive sickly sweet odor of rot. "By the time I'm halfway home, it'll have reached my brain, and you know I can't drive then."

They all nodded solemnly. It was a fact that that a full quarter of the deaths caused by the infestation were due to incapacitated drivers losing their brains driving down the M1.

"I... I'm really sorry, mate," Cole said solemnly, patting Michael awkwardly on the back. "That's a... well, it's a shame."

The others nodded solemnly.

"Well." Michael blinked a few times, clearing a tear from his eye, or possibly his eyelids were dislodging as they rotted. "I appreciate that. I wanted to make sure I told you that it's been... well, it's been an honor to be friends with you. That's all." He looked at each of them in turn, and they met his gaze solemnly. "Er, right, well, enough about me. We still need to get you lot home."

"We could find a taxi?" Jamie said hesitantly.

"No," Dan said firmly. "That never turns out well."

"We can't stay here," Jamie said. "I've got work tomorrow at eight."

"I know what we've got to do," Cole said suddenly. "He can eat our brains."

"What?" Michael said. "Oh, no, I couldn't do that!" But the others were nodding enthusiastically.

"It's the perfect solution, mate!" Dan clapped Michael on the shoulder. "That'll give you enough to get us home safe. And we'll all be reanimated by morning!"

"I don't need my brains for work!" Jamie grinned. "I'll never even know they're gone!"

"You are the best friends anyone's ever had," Michael said, slinging his arms around Dan and Jamie. He was already drooling slightly as he lost muscle control of his jaw.

"I've got a straw!" Cole said, waving it.

As Michael grabbed the straw and Dan and headed towards the nearest darkened doorway, the bitter cold of the wind and fog was mitigated by the single thought that filled all five men with warmth:

You know who your mates are.