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Annie Nelson

We first met Annie in the Whitchurch Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­tre in AUTUMN. Michael Collins spoke to Annie and her friend Jes­si­ca Short: ‘Clear­ly from oppo­site ends of the social spec­trum, they were drawn to each oth­er for no oth­er rea­son than their sim­i­lar ages and the fact they were still alive. Mon­ey, sta­tus, pos­ses­sions, friends and con­nec­tions did­n’t count for any­thing any more.’

Annie escaped the car­nage described by Kate James, and man­aged to get back home. She shows that it’s not always the strongest who survive.

After I left the com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre, I came home. There didn’t seem to be much any point in doing any­thing else. I had nowhere else to go. That was just over weeks ago now, I think. I’m not exact­ly sure. It’s get­ting hard­er to keep track of the days.

I nev­er felt safe in that com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre. The peo­ple there used to talk about sur­viv­ing, but none of them actu­al­ly did any­thing about it. There were always peo­ple cry­ing, argu­ing and fight­ing but no one did any­thing con­struc­tive. When I first got there I thought we might all bond togeth­er and make a go of things like we used to if there was a war or cri­sis, but we didn’t. Most peo­ple were too scared to even try. You see, every­one had lost some­one. Every­one had their own prob­lems that need­ed sort­ing out before they tried to help any­one else. Most of them couldn’t see the point of try­ing to pick up the pieces.

I spent most of my time there with my friend Jessie. She said she couldn’t ever see things get­ting any bet­ter. I kept telling her they had to, and I said what was the point of think­ing like that? No mat­ter how bad things get, you always get your­self sort­ed out in the end, don’t you? It might be a strug­gle, but you’ll always man­age it if you think pos­i­tive and don’t give up. I should know. Some­times my life’s felt like one long strug­gle, not that I’m com­plain­ing, of course. Poor old Jessie. She’d always had every­thing on a plate, and it nev­er did her any good in the end. I lost her when those things got into the build­ing. She tried to get away with the oth­ers, but she hadn’t got any fight left in her. Don’t sup­pose I’ll ever find out what hap­pened to her now. I gave her my address. I keep hop­ing she’ll call …

There were a few peo­ple in that com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre who were like tick­ing bombs, just wait­ing to go off. It was only a mat­ter of time before what hap­pened, hap­pened. I’ve nev­er been so fright­ened as when the fight­ing start­ed and the doors got opened. It was all I could do to keep out of the way. I curled myself into a ball and lay under a table as the room filled up with those hor­ri­ble, dirty, stink­ing things from out­side. I know that they used to be peo­ple and that I should have shown them some respect, but hon­est­ly, they were dis­gust­ing. They made me feel sick to the stom­ach. We all have to go some­day, but I hope and pray that I don’t go like that. I just want to go to sleep one night and not wake up again.

I looked out for Jessie when the build­ing start­ed fill­ing up but she must have already gone. Most peo­ple were try­ing to get out through the back and she was prob­a­bly dragged out with them. I hope she’s all right. I just kept my head low and wait­ed for things to calm down again. I kept as still as I could and watched those hor­ri­ble crea­tures as they walked around and around and around the room. My old bones were killing me but I knew I couldn’t risk mov­ing. I couldn’t let them see me. It must have been the best part of a day before I final­ly saw a gap in the crowds. I stood up, as qui­et as I could, and sneaked out the build­ing. I did my best to stay out of sight but I nev­er expect­ed it to work. I’ll nev­er know how I man­aged to get past them. Maybe they just weren’t both­ered about a lit­tle old girl like me?

It was good to get home.

I let myself in, and sud­den­ly every­thing felt bet­ter. I wish I’d just stayed there from the start. It was just like I’d left it. The wash­ing up was still in the bowl, and my clothes were still on the line in the yard.

I col­lect­ed up all the food and drink I could find, then dragged the mat­tress out of the spare bed­room down to the cel­lar. That’s where I’ve stayed since then. It’s cold and dark down here but at least I’m home and at least I’m safe. I’ve got a torch and can­dles and match­es for light and I’ve man­aged to find plen­ty to do to keep me occu­pied. I’ll stay down here as long as I have to. I’ve got books to read and I can knit and sew if I want to. Shame there isn’t any music. I miss the radio. I miss the voic­es. The radio used to keep me com­pa­ny but I know I have to stay qui­et now. If I make too much noise they’ll find out where I am. Some­times I can hear them mov­ing around. Some­times I can even hear them in my house.

Such a shame about all those peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre. Such a waste. You don’t have to make a noise and fight and scream all the time to sur­vive. Look at me. I’m doing per­fect­ly well down here on my own, thank you very much. I’ve lived through wars, ter­ror­ist attacks, flu epi­demics, water short­ages and much, much worse. I’ve been mugged twice and I got over that, didn’t I? The prob­lem with most peo­ple is they don’t have enough expe­ri­ence of life. I’m eighty-four, and I’ve seen just about all there is to see. Noth­ing shocks me anymore.

The trou­ble with most folk is they want their prob­lems sort­ed out today, not tomor­row. They’ve had it too easy with their com­put­ers and the Inter­net and mobile phones and the like. They expect to just flick a switch and make all their trou­bles dis­ap­pear, but that’s not going to hap­pen, is it? Not any­more. They just have to accept that what’s hap­pened isn’t going to get bet­ter overnight. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take patience. Be qui­et and keep your­self to your­self and every­thing will be all right in the end.

It’s very cold today. It’s the mid­dle of Octo­ber by my reck­on­ing. Not sure what the exact date is. Any­way, it doesn’t mat­ter. I’m sure I used to have a lit­tle oil heater some­where. Maybe I’ll nip upstairs and try and find it lat­er, if there aren’t any of them about. It might be in the bed­room. I think that’s where I last saw it. I need to do some­thing though because it’s going to get much cold­er yet. And the cold and damp won’t do my cough any good. I hate it when I cough. When I cough I think they can hear me and work out where I am. I don’t want them to know I’m down here.

I keep think­ing someone’s going to come for me even­tu­al­ly. They’ll have to, won’t they? They’ll have a long list that tells them who lives where and they’ll tick every­one off and realise I’m miss­ing. Some­one from the gov­ern­ment or the army will come and help us sort this bloody mess out.

I hope it’s soon. Don’t fan­cy the idea of spend­ing Christ­mas on my own down here.

I’m doing less and less every day, but I’m get­ting more and more tired. It don’t make any sense. Everything’s becom­ing an effort. I’ve got to go out and get some food soon but I can’t face it. I keep putting it off.

Keep your chin up. That’s what I keep say­ing to myself. You’ve done all right so far, Annie.

I’ll get by. I’ll survive.

THE AUTUMN SERIES