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Duck and Cover

Coun­cil­lor Ray Cox nev­er want­ed this lev­el of respon­si­bil­i­ty. He went into local pol­i­tics for the social sta­tus, the finan­cial ben­e­fits and the per­son­al perks, nev­er to actu­al­ly try and help anyone.

Things have sud­den­ly changed.

The pop­u­la­tion of Tay­chester has been wiped out, and Ray’s the only coun­cil mem­ber left alive. And now the hun­dreds of thou­sands of undead Tay­chester res­i­dents are look­ing towards him for answers…

Coun­cil­lor Ray Cox had nev­er want­ed this lev­el of respon­si­bil­i­ty. He worked in local gov­ern­ment pure­ly for the social sta­tus and finan­cial impli­ca­tions, not any oth­er rea­son. Over­paid and under­worked, he’d sat in the shad­ows at the back of the coun­cil cham­bers for years, doing all he could not to be noticed, except when it was in his inter­est to be seen and heard. It was a sad indict­ment of the apa­thy of his con­stituents that he had been elect­ed, then re-elect­ed, with­out actu­al­ly hav­ing done very much for them at all. It had been dif­fer­ent to begin with, of course. In the ear­ly days he’d tried to make an impres­sion, to be some­body. But the nov­el­ty of office had quick­ly worn off. Ray’s pri­or­i­ties changed and his prime con­cerns became lin­ing his own pock­ets and claim­ing back as much food, enter­tain­ment and trav­el costs as he could. Serv­ing the com­mu­ni­ty had long been for­got­ten: nev­er com­plete­ly ignored, but usu­al­ly con­ve­nient­ly over­looked and put to one side. In the space of a sin­gle dev­as­tat­ing day, how­ev­er, every­thing in Ray’s world was turned on its head.

Work­ing with the coun­cil lead­ers had stood Ray in good stead, both finan­cial­ly and on a per­son­al lev­el. He’d made a few very pub­lic mis­takes a cou­ple of years back, get­ting him­self mixed up in an ill-con­sid­ered and whol­ly inap­pro­pri­ate (bor­der­line ille­gal) busi­ness deal. His friends in high places had seen him okay. They found him a mod­est lit­tle office at the far end of a par­tic­u­lar­ly long cor­ri­dor and gave him respon­si­bil­i­ty for the borough’s ten­nis courts and foot­ball pitch­es and var­i­ous oth­er pub­lic ameni­ties which tend­ed on the whole to pret­ty much look after them­selves. They had enough of their peo­ple work­ing around him to keep him out of trou­ble and ensure he made the deci­sions they want­ed him to. All things con­sid­ered, Ray Cox was pret­ty hap­py with the way things had turned out.

Full coun­cil meet­ings tend­ed to be long, drawn out affairs which fre­quent­ly degen­er­at­ed into tedious, overblown debates about the most triv­ial of issues. He’d sat there for hour upon hour before now lis­ten­ing to argu­ments for and against the polit­i­cal­ly-cor­rect renam­ing of school black­boards to chalk­boards, whether pave­ments should be tar­ma­cked or block-paved, and whether or not the thread­bare chairs in the coun­cil cham­bers should be reuphol­stered with dark blue or light pur­ple mate­r­i­al. Ray switched off whilst these point­less debates raged, not even both­er­ing to lis­ten, often decid­ing his vote on the toss of a coin. He nev­er con­tributed to the dis­cus­sions and it was hard to hide his dis­in­ter­est. He’d always felt the same about the Emer­gency Plan­ning Com­mit­tee too, although, of course, he’d pricked up his ears and lis­tened intent­ly when they’d briefed the coun­cil­lors on what they should do in the event of an emer­gency. He’d even found a rea­son to go down and check out the bunker on more than one occa­sion, just to be sure he knew where he was going. The com­mit­tee — or EPC as they were known — were the butt of many pri­vate jokes and whis­pers: a group of fair­ly senior coun­cil mem­bers whose role it was to plan how the Bor­ough should be run if the unthink­able were ever to hap­pen. Well now it had.

Ray had ini­tial­ly thought the EPC an unnec­es­sary waste of time and mon­ey. He just couldn’t see the point of it, say­ing ‘we’ll all go togeth­er when we go’ when­ev­er any­one asked him what he thought. The truth of the mat­ter was the coun­cil did a pret­ty bloody poor job of run­ning things at the best of times, so how the hell would it cope in the event of a nuclear or chem­i­cal attack or sim­i­lar? And any­way, the Cold War was over, and despite the increased num­ber of ter­ror­ist attacks around the world recent­ly, such things nev­er seemed like­ly here in Tay­chester. The bor­ough was hard­ly of glob­al impor­tance. Lis­ten­ing to the EPC dis­cussing the rationing of food, decon­t­a­m­i­na­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, the dis­pos­al of mass fatal­i­ties and the like had seemed point­less and not a lit­tle sur­re­al. If the world did come to an end, he thought, then the pop­u­la­tion would be bug­gered what­ev­er hap­pened, and no amount of coun­cil diplo­ma­cy and plan­ning would help. When­ev­er he thought about the sub­ject he couldn’t help remem­ber­ing an old Amer­i­can pub­lic infor­ma­tion film he’d seen again recent­ly on TV. Duck and Cov­er, it was called. In the film a car­toon tur­tle walked hap­pi­ly though a car­toon for­est, whistling a tune, only to have to hide away and cow­er safe­ly in its shell when a near­by car­toon atom­ic bomb explod­ed. What was the point telling school chil­dren to get under their desks in the event of a nuclear strike? As far as Ray was aware very few mate­ri­als had been dis­cov­ered that could with­stand the pres­sure, heat and after-effects of a ther­monu­clear explo­sion, and he was pret­ty sure that if such mate­ri­als did exist, the wood that school desks in Tay­chester were made from wasn’t one of them. And even if the kids man­aged to sur­vive the blast, what was the point? What would be left? Ray had always believed it would be bet­ter to be right under the first bomb. Duck and Cov­er was an absolute bloody joke as far as he was con­cerned, as was the Tay­chester Bor­ough Coun­cil EPC and its under­ground bunker. If it ever did hap­pen, he’d want to go quick­ly and pain­less­ly. He didn’t rel­ish the thought of being around to pick up the pieces after­wards. There’d be one hell of a mess for the coun­cil to sort out …

Well now it had hap­pened, and it was noth­ing like any­one had expect­ed. The world had end­ed yes­ter­day morn­ing and now, sit­ting alone under­ground in the semi-dark­ness of the coun­cil bunker, Ray strug­gled to make sense of it all.

Tues­day had begun nor­mal­ly enough. After tak­ing a cup of tea up to Mar­cia in bed, he’d left home at the usu­al time and had dri­ven across town to the coun­cil house. He’d dri­ven down the ramp into the car park below the main build­ing and it was there his night­mare had begun. He was revers­ing into his usu­al space when he glimpsed move­ment behind him in his wing mir­ror. Thomas Jones, one of the finance direc­tors, had col­lapsed at the side of his car. Ray jumped out and ran around to help him, but Jones seemed to be suf­fo­cat­ing, chok­ing on some­thing. Ray shout­ed for help but no one came. He wasn’t a des­ig­nat­ed first aider and he didn’t want to risk touch­ing Jones in case the wily bug­ger sued, so he ran back up the ramp to the secu­ri­ty guard’s hut, only to find anoth­er three peo­ple along the way who were all writhing in agony on the dirty con­crete floor like the first man. Dan Potts, the secu­ri­ty guard, was in a sim­i­lar state also, thrash­ing around on the floor of his lit­tle square fibre­glass cabin.

Ray start­ed to pan­ic. Nev­er mind the fact that at least five peo­ple around him had been struck down by some­thing he couldn’t see or hear, he was ter­ri­fied he might be next. He con­tin­ued out of the under­ground car park, run­ning for cov­er, but when he reached the civic square, he stopped. His legs buck­led with ter­ror. It was hap­pen­ing every­where. For as far as he could see in every direc­tion, peo­ple were drop­ping to the ground, unable to breathe, grab­bing and claw­ing des­per­ate­ly at their burn­ing throats. He knew he should do some­thing, and for a sec­ond he gen­uine­ly tried, loos­en­ing the col­lar of a par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive woman’s blouse and try­ing to stop her arms and legs from thrash­ing, but when he realised he couldn’t help any of these peo­ple, the only option left was to help himself.

Ray turned and ran back under­ground, mov­ing faster than he had for years. Lev­el G, Lev­el 1A, past his car on Lev­el 1B and then down to Lev­el 2. And there it was, right at the far end of Lev­el 2: a sin­gle, incon­spic­u­ous grey met­al door — the entrance to the emer­gency bunker. He stag­gered towards it, his lungs about to burst but the fear that the invis­i­ble killer might be clos­ing in on him keep­ing him mov­ing. A woman lurched out of the shad­ows to his right and stum­bled into his path, arms out­stretched, des­per­ate for help. With­out think­ing he grabbed her and dragged her along with him. He smashed into the bunker door, entered the access code on a hid­den key­pad with a shak­ing index fin­ger, then yanked it open and dis­ap­peared inside with the woman. He turned back but paused before seal­ing the shel­ter. He couldn’t see any­one else. Where were the rest of the EPC? Were they already dead? He couldn’t risk wait­ing. He had to stay alive. Ray slammed the door shut.

The woman was on the ground, con­vuls­ing. It was dark inside the bunker and the only illu­mi­na­tion came from dusty yel­low emer­gency lights hang­ing from the low ceil­ing. Ray crouched at her side and looked her up and down, not know­ing how to help or even where to start. Before he could do any­thing her arms and legs went into a sud­den flur­ry of quick spasms – some kind of seizure, he thought — then she stopped and lay omi­nous­ly still. His eyes now becom­ing used to the low light, Ray took a torch from a rack on the wall above him and shined the light into her face. Her wide, blue eyes stared des­per­ate­ly into space, but she didn’t react. She was dead. Her pale white skin, he noticed, was speck­led with spots of crim­son blood. Ray wept with fear as he wiped the blood away and shook her shoul­der to try and get her to respond. He’d seen her around before. A nice look­ing girl, he had an idea she worked in Pay­roll, but he’d nev­er spo­ken to her. The name on her ID card was Shelly Bright. Much as he’d gen­uine­ly tried to help her, Ray now wished she wasn’t there. He cursed him­self for bring­ing her inside.

#

Adren­a­lin and fear kept Ray work­ing unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly quick­ly for the next cou­ple of hours. Like most coun­cil mem­bers he had a basic knowl­edge of the work­ings of the bunker and how the gen­er­a­tor, lights and air con­di­tion­ing and fil­tra­tion sys­tems were oper­at­ed. Rel­a­tive­ly fool-proof instruc­tions had been pro­vid­ed and, to his immense relief, he was able to get the bunker ful­ly oper­a­tional in a fair­ly short peri­od of time. It was a dark, depress­ing place which was stocked with basic sup­plies but noth­ing much of any sub­stance. Orig­i­nal­ly des­ig­nat­ed as a region­al com­mand cen­tre way back at the height of the Cold War, the equip­ment and stocks with­in the bunker had steadi­ly dwin­dled over the last decade, and now just the basics remained. There was suf­fi­cient food and water to keep a small group alive for a cou­ple of days, maybe as long as a week. Pre­oc­cu­pied as usu­al with thoughts of his own sur­vival, Ray esti­mat­ed that if he was care­ful, there would prob­a­bly be enough to keep him going for the best part of a month. He didn’t want to think about what might hap­pen after that.

It was a short time lat­er, once the ini­tial shock of the morning’s ter­ri­fy­ing events and his sud­den con­fine­ment had begun to fade, that Ray tru­ly began to appre­ci­ate the enor­mi­ty of what had hap­pened. Shelly Bright was dead and so, he assumed, was every­one else. Of course he had no way of know­ing how wide­spread this attack or what­ev­er it was had been, but the fact no one else had yet tried to gain access to the bunker almost cer­tain­ly meant that vast num­bers of peo­ple in the imme­di­ate area had died. But sure­ly he couldn’t have been the only one who’d sur­vived? In an unfor­giv­ably self­ish moment he found him­self hop­ing he was. Because, he realised omi­nous­ly, if the oth­er coun­cil mem­bers were dead, by default he would now be in charge of the bor­ough of Tay­chester! He’d nev­er want­ed this lev­el of respon­si­bil­i­ty. It wasn’t what he’d gone into pol­i­tics for.

He didn’t dare move. He couldn’t risk going back out there. Sud­den­ly Duck and Cov­er seemed like sound advice. Ray sat alone in the cold, echo­ing empti­ness of the bunker and waited.

#

He began to hate Shelly Bright’s body. The corpse fright­ened him. He couldn’t bring him­self to touch it. He didn’t want to look at it, but at the same time he was too scared to look away. What if she moved when he wasn’t look­ing? What if she wasn’t dead? He hat­ed the pained expres­sion on her face, her unblink­ing eyes search­ing for answers he couldn’t give. He’d once thought her attrac­tive (Ray found any woman under the age of forty attrac­tive) but her smooth skin and soft, del­i­cate fea­tures had been hard­ened by the pain of her sud­den demise. In the waver­ing dull yel­low light under­ground the shad­ows seemed to shift and her expres­sion seemed to con­tin­u­al­ly change. He knew she hadn’t moved, but it looked like she was grin­ning at him now. A minute lat­er she was sneer­ing, then smil­ing, then snarling … Even­tu­al­ly, in a moment of unchar­ac­ter­is­tic strength and con­vic­tion, he cov­ered the corpse with a heavy grey fire blanket.

The day dragged unbear­ably. Ray couldn’t switch off: his mind was filled with a thou­sand and one unan­swer­able ques­tions and a sim­i­lar num­ber of night­mar­ish images, split sec­ond rec­ol­lec­tions of every­thing he’d seen above­ground. An inher­ent­ly self­ish man con­di­tioned through years of reg­i­ment­ed, nine-to-five work­ing, it was only when it reached six o’clock in the evening — din­ner­time — that he began to think more about his wife. Was Mar­cia safe? Would she be wor­ried? Should he leave the bunker and go and find her? He already hat­ed being under­ground but he knew he couldn’t do that. He’d had a lucky escape this morn­ing. If he went out­side now, he’d sure­ly be expos­ing him­self to what­ev­er had killed every­one else. He had no choice now but to sit and wait.

Nev­er a man to fol­low pro­ce­dures (usu­al­ly because he didn’t under­stand them), it wasn’t until much lat­er that Ray start­ed to read the emer­gency plan­ning guide­lines which were stored in the com­mand room. Fol­low­ing step-by-step instruc­tions with the painful, awk­ward slow­ness of some­one who had avoid­ed as much con­tact with tech­nol­o­gy as pos­si­ble over the last few years, he even­tu­al­ly got the radio work­ing. He cursed the fact that he was so hope­less­ly inept. Forty-five min­utes of fid­dling and mess­ing with the con­trols and all he could get was sta­t­ic punc­tu­at­ed by brief moments of silence. What he’d have giv­en to hear anoth­er voice, some­one out there who could reas­sure him he was going to be okay.

#

It felt like the morn­ing would nev­er come. The lack of nat­ur­al light was strange­ly dis­ori­en­tat­ing but, hav­ing slept inter­mit­tent­ly for a few hours, Ray got up just after five o’clock. He man­aged to pluck up enough courage to start prop­er­ly inves­ti­gat­ing his sur­round­ings. He’d already found the stores, the plant room (where the gen­er­a­tors and air purifi­ca­tion equip­ment machin­ery was housed) and the bath­room, but now he also dis­cov­ered two musty smelling dor­mi­to­ries and a hope­less­ly inad­e­quate kitchen. Per­haps it was the lack of any prop­er illu­mi­na­tion which made things appear worse than they actu­al­ly were, but the whole place seemed to have fall­en into a state of ter­ri­ble dis­re­pair. He found him­self curs­ing those peo­ple (him­self includ­ed) who’d mocked the efforts of the EPC in those end­less coun­cil meet­ings. If only he’d lis­tened and been bet­ter prepared …

It was only when he returned to the com­mand room that he realised just how much the body on the ground was still play­ing on his mind. Even though it was cov­ered up and was almost impos­si­ble to see clear­ly, he found it hard being in the same room as the corpse. What if he was stuck in there for sev­er­al weeks or longer? Imag­ine the smell … He knew he had to do some­thing about it. It took him an age to decide what to do, and anoth­er hour before he was actu­al­ly ready to do it, but he even­tu­al­ly man­aged to shift Shelly Bright’s dead bulk into one of the dor­mi­to­ries. The corpse was stiff and awk­ward to move. Rig­or mor­tis had frozen her arms and legs into posi­tion and Ray had to push, pull and shove in order to get her from where she’d died, around the cor­ner, down the cor­ri­dor and into one of the dorms. Pant­i­ng, sweat­ing pro­fuse­ly, and scared half to death, he slammed the door shut and sobbed his way back to the com­mand room.

If only there’d been a win­dow in the main door or a cam­era so he could see what was hap­pen­ing out­side. A para­noid part of him began to won­der whether the car­nage he thought he’d wit­nessed above ground was real­ly as bad as he’d thought. It all seemed so bizarre — had it real­ly hap­pened at all? Was this unbear­able self-imposed incar­cer­a­tion tru­ly nec­es­sary? Would he even­tu­al­ly emerge from the bunker to find every­thing back to nor­mal above ground? He’d be a laugh­ing stock (again). If he stayed under­ground long enough, some­one would prob­a­bly have moved into his office and tak­en over his desk. And how would he explain the girl’s body … ?

The urge to open the door and take a look out­side was impos­si­ble to resist. Just a quick look, he thought, just long enough to see what, if any­thing, was hap­pen­ing out there. Just long enough to see if there real­ly were bod­ies lying around or if oth­er peo­ple had survived.

But he knew he couldn’t risk it.

In frus­tra­tion, Ray leant against the door and wept. He wept for the fam­i­ly and friends he was sure he’d lost. He wept for the easy, com­fort­able life which he was cer­tain was gone for­ev­er. First and fore­most, how­ev­er, he wept for him­self. His retire­ment from office had been on the hori­zon and an even eas­i­er and more com­fort­able future had been in the off­ing. Now, through no fault of his own, he found him­self buried under­ground with only a corpse for com­pa­ny. Even worse than that, if and when he even­tu­al­ly emerged from the shel­ter, as poten­tial­ly the last coun­cil mem­ber left alive his life would inevitably become hard­er and more com­pli­cat­ed unless he found a way of resign­ing his posi­tion. Maybe he should have stayed out there and let it get him too … ?

Wait, what was that?

He could feel cold air; a slight breeze on the back of his hand. It was lit­tle more than the faintest of draughts com­ing from the side of the door just below its hinges. Fear gripped him and he stum­bled far­ther back into the bunker. The bloody door was sup­posed to be air­tight. If he could feel a draught then the seal had been bro­ken, and if the draft was com­ing from out­side then what­ev­er it was that had caused all the death and destruc­tion out there had prob­a­bly already seeped into the bunker. He scram­bled away from the door and hid like a fright­ened child on the oth­er side of the com­mand room, wait­ing for it to get him.

More than an hour elapsed before Ray final­ly allowed him­self to accept that he prob­a­bly wasn’t going to die, not yet, any­way. The peo­ple out­side had been struck down in sec­onds. He’d been out there with them when it hap­pened, and since then he’d been breath­ing in the same air, albeit through a fil­ter. The fact he might have some immu­ni­ty to what had killed so many seemed more improb­a­ble than the arrival of the infec­tion itself. Ray dis­tract­ed him­self by eat­ing a lit­tle food (a pow­dered meal he made with cold water), then fell asleep clutch­ing a pic­ture of Mar­cia which he’d found tucked amongst the crum­pled bank notes, cred­it card receipts and out of date busi­ness cards stuffed in the back of his wallet.

#

He could hear some­thing. Ray had been doz­ing again, but a sud­den and unex­pect­ed shuf­fling, bump­ing noise had dis­turbed him. Some­thing falling off a shelf? A prob­lem with the gen­er­a­tor or the pumps fil­ter­ing and cir­cu­lat­ing the air? There it was again … He jumped up, a cold, ner­vous sweat prick­ling his brow. In the death­ly qui­et of the bunker the direc­tion of the noise was clear. It was com­ing from the dor­mi­to­ry where he’d left Shelly Bright’s corpse. But it couldn’t have been, could it? As much as he want­ed to walk the oth­er way and cov­er his ears and pre­tend noth­ing was hap­pen­ing, Ray forced him­self to walk towards the room.

Anoth­er crash. What the hell was going on in there? Was there anoth­er entrance to the bunker he wasn’t aware of? Ray wiped the sweat from his fore­head and cleared his throat. ‘Hel­lo …’ he meek­ly called, too scared to raise his voice any loud­er. ‘Hel­lo?’

He lift­ed his hand to open the door, then stopped. Come on, he thought, this is bloody stu­pid. The main entrance to the bunker was sealed and there was only one way in or out of the dorm, so how could there be any­thing on the oth­er side of the door? He decid­ed it must have been rats or some oth­er ver­min which had some­how tun­nelled their way in, although how they’d man­aged to do that when the place was sup­posed enclosed with­in a thick con­crete skin was anyone’s guess.

Anoth­er noise.

‘Oh, Christ,’ Ray moaned pathet­i­cal­ly. He was com­plete­ly on his own, no one to hide behind now. He knew what he had to do.

Hold­ing his torch in his left hand (both as a source of light and a poten­tial weapon), he cau­tious­ly opened the door. The dull yel­low cir­cle of light illu­mi­nat­ed the back wall but lit­tle else. It must have just been—

‘Bloody hell,’ he yelled as Shelly Bright tripped across the room in front of him. ‘What the bloody hell … ?’

He shone the torch around until he found her again. There was no doubt it was her, but how could that be? She’d been dead since Tues­day morn­ing, hadn’t she? Ray remained root­ed to the spot with fear. After all he’d been through, this new dis­cov­ery was too much to take. He stared at the body with a mix of bemuse­ment and sheer ter­ror and he only moved when the dead woman turned her­self around and, quite by chance, began to walk towards him. He shoved her away. She fell back, then dragged her­self back up and walked away, turn­ing again when she hit the wall at the far end of the room with a heavy, unco­or­di­nat­ed thud.

She was com­ing towards him again. Ray looked deep into her face. Her skin was unnat­u­ral­ly dis­coloured and her pupils dilat­ed. With­out wait­ing for her to get any clos­er, he slammed the door shut and held the han­dle tight. He felt the sud­den col­li­sion as the corpse hit the back of the door, then lis­tened care­ful­ly as she shuf­fled away again. He fetched a chair from the oth­er dor­mi­to­ry and wedged it under the han­dle, pre­vent­ing it from opening.

Back in the com­mand room, Ray paced up and down, try­ing to block out the sound of the clum­sy cadav­er clat­ter­ing around. He pur­pose­ful­ly stormed over to the sealed bunker entrance, ful­ly intend­ing to open it and leave, but then stopped. Although no longer air­tight (he could still feel the draught from out­side) he still couldn’t take that final step and go back out into the unknown. It might have been hell­ish under­ground, but for all he knew it could have been a thou­sand times worse out there. Sit­ting tight and doing noth­ing was, for the moment, the less­er of two evils. With the sounds of the body in the dor­mi­to­ry still ring­ing in his ears, Ray sank to the ground, cov­ered his head with his hands and curled him­self up into a ball.

#

It nev­er stopped. The bloody thing nev­er stopped. All day long the damn cadav­er trapped in the oth­er room barged around, smack­ing into the door, trip­ping over fur­ni­ture, knock­ing things over … The noise, although not par­tic­u­lar­ly loud, was enough to rat­tle Ray to the core. It was dri­ving him mad. He had to get away from it.

It was almost sev­en o’clock. He’d been down in the bunker for a day and a half and he want­ed out. All day he’d been sit­ting there in the semi-dark­ness, try­ing to decide what he should do and reach­ing no con­clu­sions. Did he risk going out­side or stay down there and wait? The body would have to stop mov­ing soon­er or lat­er, wouldn’t it? It couldn’t just keep going indef­i­nite­ly. And how the bloody hell was it man­ag­ing to move at all? Noth­ing made any sense anymore.

Ray knew it was impor­tant to try and eat, but the lim­it­ed food sup­plies he had tast­ed bloody awful. A lover of rich, fat­ty foods and sug­ary sweets, cakes and pud­dings, his stom­ach was growl­ing angri­ly and he seri­ous­ly won­dered whether he’d be able to sur­vive on the basic rations that had been stock­piled below ground. He was grow­ing to detest every aspect of his grim sur­round­ings: the stale, arti­fi­cial smell of the air, the con­stant noise from the body in the dor­mi­to­ry, the lack of any decent light­ing, the food … He crouched by the door in des­per­a­tion, sniff­ing at the ‘fresh’ air which was seep­ing inside. What’s the point of sit­ting in here doing noth­ing, he thought? He want­ed out. He want­ed to go home and find his wife and find out what had hap­pened to the rest of the world. He want­ed to change his clothes and eat prop­er­ly and be away from that damn crea­ture next-door. So what was stop­ping him? Apart from the obvi­ous, he realised the main rea­son he want­ed to stay under­ground was par­tic­u­lar­ly cow­ard­ly and self­ish. He didn’t want the respon­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing to do any­thing about the mess, and he def­i­nite­ly didn’t want to have to take charge of what was left of Tay­chester. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do it. But hang on a minute, why whould he have to? Although in his ear­ly days at the coun­cil he’d had his fair share of appear­ances in the local papers, who would know who he was now and, more to the point, who would care? If he got into the car and drove away quick, no one would be any the wis­er. He could get on with sort­ing out what was left of his own life and for­get about every­one else. The longer he stayed in the bunker, the more get­ting out seemed like a good idea. Anoth­er muf­fled crash from the dead body was enough to sway him. His deci­sion was made. Time to go. What’s left to lose, he thought, when it looks like I’ve already lost everything?

Ray grabbed his jack­et and the torch, and after over­com­ing a final moment of uncer­tain­ty and self-doubt, strained to re-open the heavy bunker door. He groaned with effort but it wouldn’t budge and, for just a sec­ond, he pan­icked at the thought he might nev­er get out. Anoth­er hefty shove and it began to shift. Relieved, he cau­tious­ly slipped outside.

It was qui­et out there. And cold. And dark.

Slow­ly, step by ner­vous step, Ray moved away from the bunker entrance and began the long climb back up the twist­ing con­crete ramp to the sur­face. Sud­den­ly there was move­ment ahead which stopped him in his tracks: a sin­gle fig­ure trip­ping through the shad­ows. He want­ed to call out but nerves got the bet­ter of him and he couldn’t bring him­self to make any noise. It didn’t mat­ter any­way. It was obvi­ous even from a dis­tance that this per­son was in the same des­per­ate con­di­tion as the body he’d left down in the shel­ter. It moved in the same awk­ward, unco­or­di­nat­ed way as Shelly Bright and it failed to react when he approached, even when he crossed its path and stood direct­ly in its line of vision.

As Ray neared the sur­face, the num­ber of bod­ies around him increased. There were numer­ous corpses still lying where they’d fall­en, but many more were drag­ging them­selves silent­ly through the ear­ly evening gloom. In the strangest way he was slight­ly relieved because every­thing he’d thought he’d seen on Tues­day morn­ing had actu­al­ly hap­pened. He hadn’t imag­ined it. He walked past the secu­ri­ty guard’s hut and peered in through the win­dow where what remained of Dan Potts scram­bled around on the floor pathet­i­cal­ly, try­ing des­per­ate­ly to get up but unable to cope with the con­fined space.

The civic square in front of the coun­cil house was a grim sight. The sun was just dis­ap­pear­ing below the hori­zon, drench­ing the scene in warm orange light and cast­ing long, drag­ging shad­ows. It had recent­ly been rain­ing and the sun­light made the ground glis­ten and shine. Ray count­ed six­teen bod­ies traips­ing across the block-paving in var­i­ous direc­tions. Their awk­ward­ness was vague­ly com­i­cal. One of the stu­pid things near­est to him lost its foot­ing and tum­bled down a short stone stair­case. Its clum­sy, bare­ly coor­di­nat­ed move­ments made him chuck­le ner­vous­ly to him­self. His laugh­ter, although qui­et, sound­ed dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly loud and made him feel exposed. Now that the silence had been bro­ken, how­ev­er, he final­ly felt brave enough to call out.

‘Hel­lo,’ he said, his waver­ing voice at lit­tle more than nor­mal speak­ing vol­ume. Noth­ing. ‘Hel­lo, is any­one there?’ Still noth­ing. ‘Hel­lo…’

Ray took a few more hes­i­tant steps (avoid­ing the crum­pled remains of a foul-smelling, rain-soaked corpse), then turned back on him­self to look out across the land­scape of Tay­chester. He’d lived there all his life but he’d nev­er seen it like this before. It was an alien and cold place, unex­pect­ed­ly dark. The elec­tric­i­ty must have failed at some point because not a sin­gle pin­prick of elec­tric light inter­rupt­ed the black­ness. No street lamps. No light com­ing from inside any of the hun­dreds of build­ings he could see. Feel­ing prone, the coun­cil­lor turned and walked back down to where he’d left his car.

He wait­ed for a moment longer before set­ting off. Per­haps he should go back up to his office and see if there was any­one else around? Had any of his col­leagues sur­vived? He knew he couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t afford to get caught up in any unnec­es­sary coun­cil busi­ness when he had so many issues of his own to sort out.

The sound of the engine was uncom­fort­ably loud but Ray felt safe behind the wheel. He pulled out of the car park and began the dri­ve home. He clipped the hip of a ran­dom body which lurched into his path unex­pect­ed­ly. He slammed on his brakes and reversed back to try and help the bedrag­gled fig­ure which had col­lapsed in an undig­ni­fied heap at the road­side. He watched in dis­be­lief as, with­out any flick­er of emo­tion, it picked itself up off the ground and limped away, oblivious.

The house was just as he’d left it on Tuesday.

Ray pulled up on the dri­ve. He paused before going into the house, need­ing to com­pose him­self before he faced what­ev­er was on the oth­er side of the front door. He looked back over his shoul­der around the qui­et cul-de-sac where he and Mar­cia had lived for the last eleven years. It looked pret­ty much the same as it always had done, and yet every­thing felt uncom­fort­ably dif­fer­ent. This Wednes­day evening had the still­ness and silence of ear­ly Sun­day morn­ing. No one was around. Noth­ing moved. Noth­ing, that was, apart from Mal­colm Wors­ley, his oppo­site neigh­bour. Wors­ley was dead, his corpse trapped in his front gar­den, hemmed in by the ornate shrubs and priv­et hedges he’d so lov­ing­ly tend­ed for years.

The house was death­ly qui­et inside. ‘Mar­cia?’ he called out hope­ful­ly. ‘Mar­cia, are you here?’

She should have been in. She hadn’t been plan­ning to go out on Tues­day morn­ing as far as he was aware. He walked fur­ther down the hall. He instinc­tive­ly took off his coat and shoes (oth­er­wise she’d moan at him again), then stopped him­self. It was as cold inside the house as it was out on the street.

‘Mar­cia?’

He checked the liv­ing room, din­ing room and kitchen and found them all emp­ty, just as he’d left them. He then climbed the stairs, know­ing his wife would most prob­a­bly still have been in bed when it had hap­pened, what­ev­er it was. Christ, he hoped she was all right. But he knew she would have answered him by now. Ray pre­pared him­self for the worst as he reached the land­ing. He could see into the bed­room. The duvet lay in a heap at the side of the bed. But Mar­cia wasn’t there. The bed was empty.

The car­pet was sod­den. Water had seeped out under the bath­room door and had spread along vir­tu­al­ly the entire length of the land­ing. It was obvi­ous now where Mar­cia was. Ray walked up to the bath­room, his feet squelch­ing, and knocked on the door.

‘Mar­cia? Mar­cia, it’s me, love. I’m home …’

He tried the han­dle, but it was locked. He pushed and shoved at it to lit­tle effect before tak­ing five or six splash­ing, slid­ing steps back down the land­ing, then run­ning back at full pelt and shoul­der-charg­ing his way into the bath­room. The lock was weak and gave way instant­ly with Ray’s con­sid­er­able weight slam­ming into it. He pushed the door open ful­ly (send­ing a low wave of water rip­pling back across the tiled bath­room floor) and there, in front of him, stood what remained of his wife. Com­plete­ly naked and com­plete­ly unaware, she walked blind­ly towards him. He grabbed hold of her arms and held her wrists tight so she couldn’t move. Her eyes were dark and vacant and she felt ice-cold to the touch, her skin like wet rub­ber. He let her go then pressed him­self back against the wall and watched in heart­bro­ken silence as she lurched past, obliv­i­ous. She stag­gered the length of the land­ing and then crashed into the door of the spare bedroom.

Ray man­aged to drape a dress­ing gown over his wife’s shoul­ders then shut her in the third bed­room. He walked around the house method­i­cal­ly, lock­ing and bolt­ing every win­dow and door. Wednes­day night turned into Thurs­day morn­ing as he bus­ied him­self around his home. The flood in the bath­room (Mar­cia had been run­ning a bath when she’d died) had caused mas­sive dam­age both upstairs and in the kitchen direct­ly below. The cold water made the house smell of must, or per­haps that was just the stench of his decay­ing wife? Ray wasn’t sure. At least she’d left him with a bath full of water, he thought. That might prove useful.

Very occa­sion­al­ly, and only for the briefest of moments each time, Ray allowed him­self to think about what had hap­pened to the rest of the world. Had this hap­pened every­where? Despite his cho­sen voca­tion, think­ing about oth­er peo­ple was not some­thing that came nat­u­ral­ly to him and soon enough he’d con­clud­ed that his most sen­si­ble course of action was to con­tin­ue to focus on his own safe­ty, to sit tight and wait for help. Despite the fact that the elec­tric­i­ty was off and the pres­sure in the taps was becom­ing increas­ing­ly weak, his house remained rel­a­tive­ly com­fort­able and safe. There was a shop just around the cor­ner where he could get food and drink sup­plies, and he still had the car if he need­ed to go any fur­ther afield. It made sense to stay at home. What use would he be to any­one else, any­way? One man to help hun­dreds, pos­si­bly even thou­sands? It would be far more sen­si­ble for him to con­cen­trate on look­ing after him­self. That was, after all, what he was best at.

#

A strange sense of nor­mal­i­ty grad­u­al­ly over­took Ray. Apart from mak­ing one hur­ried trip to the shop to fetch food ear­ly on Fri­day morn­ing, he remained locked in his home from day­break ’til dusk. He checked on Mar­cia a cou­ple of times but there was no obvi­ous change in her con­di­tion. He man­aged to get a loose dress over her head and shoul­ders, and even­tu­al­ly moved her to the garage to lim­it the noise her end­less stag­ger­ing around upstairs was mak­ing. She was con­stant­ly crash­ing into thing but he didn’t as get annoyed as he had with Shelly Bright. Mar­cia couldn’t help it.

With lit­tle else to do to occu­py his time, Ray tried to make good the water dam­age to his home, but it was dif­fi­cult to do any­thing with­out any pow­er. He was actu­al­ly relieved the elec­tric­i­ty sup­ply was off. It was safer that way. The light fit­ting in the kitchen was full of water from the over­flow­ing bath. He’d drained as much of it off as he could. By the time the pow­er comes back on, he decid­ed, it’ll prob­a­bly have dried out. He’d have to get some­one to come out and look at the dam­age lat­er. No doubt they’d charge a fortune …

On Fri­day evening Ray sat at his desk in the alcove in the din­ing room at the front of the house. He read books by can­dle­light until his eye­lids began to droop. It was good to keep occu­pied and dis­tract­ed. It was a relief to have some­thing pos­i­tive to do for a while. He was find­ing it increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to deal with the silence and soli­tude of his dead world. After search­ing in the attic for a while he found an ancient-look­ing bat­tery pow­ered cas­sette play­er and used it to play a tape of loud clas­si­cal music to drown out the quiet.

At a quar­ter to two on Sat­ur­day morn­ing, Mal­colm Worsley’s corpse final­ly escaped from his gar­den across the road and stag­gered over to Ray’s house. Wors­ley slammed against the win­dow next to where Ray was sit­ting read­ing. Star­tled, he leapt up, his heart pound­ing. He quick­ly regained his com­po­sure when he realised it was only Mal­colm and he watched as his dead neigh­bour pressed his dis­fig­ured face against the win­dow, leav­ing behind a greasy smear. As he watched, Mal­colm lift­ed a rot­ting hand and slapped it down on the glass. Strange, thought Ray as he watched the wiz­ened shell of his dead friend hit­ting the glass again and again. It didn’t both­er him undu­ly. In fact he felt quite sor­ry for Mal­colm. The win­dows were dou­ble-glazed and that muf­fled each bang to lit­tle more than a dull thud. Tired, Ray turned up the vol­ume on his cas­sette play­er and car­ried it upstairs with him to bed.

#

Sat­ur­day morn­ing. Day five.

Ray had slept well. It would have been wrong to say he was hap­py with his sit­u­a­tion but, all things con­sid­ered, it could have been much, much worse. Regard­less of what had hap­pened to every­one else, he remained rel­a­tive­ly safe and he was fair­ly warm and well pro­tect­ed. For a while he lay in bed and didn’t move, star­ing up at the ceil­ing and think­ing about how every­thing had changed since this time last week.

What was he going to do today? He real­ly need­ed to start think­ing about get­ting more sup­plies in. He’d noticed ear­li­er in the week that dec­o­ra­tors had been work­ing in one of the hous­es down the road when all this had start­ed last Tues­day morn­ing, and their van was still out­side. Per­haps he could bor­row it and dri­ve around to the local super­mar­ket? If he spent a lit­tle time today fill­ing the van with absolute­ly every­thing he’d need, it would save him hav­ing to go out again for maybe as long as a cou­ple of weeks. By then he was sure that his sit­u­a­tion would have improved. It couldn’t get any worse, could it? In a cou­ple of week’s time, he decid­ed, the oth­er peo­ple who had sur­vived like him would start to coor­di­nate them­selves and get things organised.

Ray got up, winc­ing at the sud­den drop in tem­per­a­ture when he swung his legs out from under the cov­ers. With­out the cen­tral heat­ing work­ing the house was icy cold. He tip­toed to the toi­let (step­ping gin­ger­ly over the still damp land­ing car­pet) and relieved him­self in the plas­tic buck­et he’d been hav­ing to use since the cis­tern had dried up. Once a day he car­ried it down to the bot­tom of the gar­den and emp­tied the con­tents over his ros­es. That felt bet­ter, he thought as he shook him­self dry and walked back to the bed­room to get dressed.

He was half-dressed and halfway down the stairs when he noticed how dark it was. Feel­ing slight­ly uneasy, but not over­ly con­cerned, he con­tin­ued down.

He saw them at the front door first. Vis­i­ble only as shift­ing shapes through the frost­ed glass, he could see the heads and shoul­ders of at least four corpses, maybe more. Unusu­al, he thought as he con­tin­ued down, zip­ping up his trousers and tight­en­ing his belt. As it was every morn­ing, his next port of call was the kitchen. Still half asleep, he walked bare­foot across the cold, tiled floor and fetched him­self some break­fast cere­al from the cup­board next to the sink. The cup­board door slammed shut (the hinges were loose and need­ed tight­en­ing) and the sound echoed through the emp­ty house like a gun­shot. Ray cringed, then frowned. He could hear Mar­cia mov­ing around in the garage. Was it just coin­ci­dence, or had his wife just react­ed to noise for the first time since she’d died? He was about to go and see her when he caught sight of some­thing in the din­ing room. Like the rest of the ground floor of the house this morn­ing, that room also seemed dark­er than usu­al. He put his head around the door, then imme­di­ate­ly pulled it back again. Bod­ies … loads of them. Fight­ing to stay calm, he peered through the nar­row gap between the door and the frame and saw that the entire width of the wide bay win­dow at the front of the house was packed tight with dead flesh. He could see count­less ghast­ly faces pressed up against the glass, scour­ing the room with their dry, cloud­ed eyes. Why were they here? What did they want? Ray couldn’t under­stand what was hap­pen­ing. None of the crea­tures had shown the slight­est inter­est in him before, so why now? Were these some­how dif­fer­ent to all the oth­er bod­ies he’d so far seen? His mind wan­dered back to what had hap­pened just before he’d gone to bed. Mal­colm Wors­ley. That was it, that bug­ger Wors­ley had brought them here. He must have tipped them off that he was from the coun­cil. Did they think he’d be able to help them? Before he’d died Wors­ley had asked Ray to do favours for him on more than one occa­sion — every­thing from rush­ing through a plan­ning appli­ca­tion for an exten­sion to his house to try­ing to get a park­ing fine over­turned. Ray had no rea­son to think he would have changed his ways now just because he’d died. He peered through the gap again. There he was, the sly bug­ger, his dead face pressed hard against the win­dow, let­ting every­one know where Ray was, wrong­ly assum­ing that he was the man who could (and would) help them.

His frag­ile con­fi­dence rat­tled, Ray felt uneasy. He ran back upstairs and peered out of the win­dow in the spare room. Bloody hell, there were loads of them out there. A huge, ragged crowd of decom­pos­ing fig­ures had gath­ered in front of his prop­er­ty. The near­est few corpses had been rammed up against the front of the house by the relent­less pres­sure of count­less oth­ers behind, and the whole mass had spilled out into the mid­dle of the road. His car — his escape route — had been sur­round­ed, swal­lowed up by the dead hordes.

The ner­vous coun­cil­lor con­sid­ered his sud­den­ly lim­it­ed options. Watch­ing from behind the cur­tains, he saw more of the dark, shuf­fling shapes drag­ging them­selves along the street towards his house. Indi­vid­u­al­ly they seemed weak and irrel­e­vant and he had no rea­son to believe that they would do him any harm, but what could they do in these num­bers? He nev­er thought that his con­stituents would resort to mob rule to try and get action from the coun­cil. They’d nev­er shown any inter­est before. He began to regret the day he’d stood for election.

Ray crept around to the back of the house and sat down on the edge of his bed. I’ll stay here and keep out of sight for a while, he thought. Maybe they’ll get tired wait­ing and go some­where else.

#

By mid-after­noon the ever-grow­ing crowd of bod­ies had filled the entire length of the street. They were ham­mer­ing against the win­dows and door, and the sound could most prob­a­bly be heard for miles around. Ray had final­ly plucked up enough courage to go back down and had quick­ly come to the con­clu­sion that, as it looked as if he would be stay­ing in the house longer than he’d orig­i­nal­ly expect­ed, his sup­plies were far from suf­fi­cient. He only had enough food for a few more meals. Sit­ting well out of sight in the kitchen with his throat dry and his stom­ach rum­bling, he came to the crush­ing real­i­sa­tion that because of the bloody pub­lic out­side, his sit­u­a­tion was now nowhere near as com­fort­able or safe as he’d orig­i­nal­ly thought. Deject­ed, he got up, walked across the room and went out to the garage to see Mar­cia. Maybe her con­di­tion would have improved today? Per­haps she’d be able to offer her hus­band some long-over­due sup­port at this increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult time. No such luck. His dead wife was still crash­ing tire­less­ly around the room. Her dress was torn and she was naked again. Bloody hell, she looked awful: gross­ly over­weight, body swollen in all the wrong places, unex­pect­ed­ly limp-breast­ed … and to top it all, her skin had turned a dirty shade of blue-green. He wished she’d just stay still. As long as she was mak­ing this much noise, the peo­ple of Tay­chester would know there was some­one in the house and would con­tin­ue to beat a slow, but very def­i­nite, path to his door. Per­haps if he went in there and found a way of keep­ing her qui­et? Christ, what was he think­ing? He’d nev­er been able to keep Mar­cia qui­et when she was alive, how the hell was he sup­posed to get her to do it now?

Maybe he need­ed to get away and lie low for a while? But how was he going to get out and where was he sup­posed to go? He anx­ious­ly glanced at the clock on the wall. It was already gone two. In a few hours time the light would start to fade. He could either sit tight for anoth­er night or make his move today. He thought about the size of the crowd on the street. If there were hun­dreds of them out there now, how many more would there be tomor­row? Or the day after that, or the day after that? There was no way he alone could help so many peo­ple. More to the point, he didn’t want to. As their coun­cil­lor he had a pub­lic duty to serve them but, as he had for most of his life in pub­lic office, he decid­ed to turn his back on that respon­si­bil­i­ty and run.

Get some food, he thought, then get back under­ground. I’ll re-stock the bunker, get rid of the body, make myself com­fort­able, then wait for all of this to blow over.

#

Almost four o’clock. Exhaust­ed and anx­ious, car­ry­ing a heavy holdall full of spare clothes, Coun­cil­lor Cox approached the super­mar­ket that he and Mar­cia usu­al­ly shopped at. He’d had to walk. His way out of the front of his house blocked, he’d instead sneaked out the back and climbed over the fence at the bot­tom of the gar­den. Bloody hell, some of the pub­lic had been wait­ing for him there too! He’d found him­self in the mid­dle of a crowd of between twen­ty and thir­ty of them. He’d tried to rea­son with them, tried to make them see there was noth­ing he could do to help so many of them, but they wouldn’t lis­ten. To his shame he’d pushed and barged his way through the crowd in tears, unable to get away quick enough.

The super­mar­ket was as des­o­late as every­where else. That pleased Ray. He was sick of the way what remained of the pop­u­la­tion grav­i­tat­ed towards him when­ev­er they saw him. He wished they’d just leave him alone. Didn’t they know that he had prob­lems too? Who was going to help him out? Just because he wasn’t as sick as they obvi­ous­ly were, it didn’t mean he was able to run to the aid of every per­son who hap­pened to see him. As he neared the build­ing he could see a few peo­ple swarm­ing around the front entrance doors. He decid­ed to try and get in through the back. The load­ing bay was a much qui­eter option.

Ray weaved through the aban­doned lor­ries, trol­leys and carts at the back of the huge store, then worked his way through the bak­ery and into the main part of the shop. Bloody hell, the place smelled rank. The coun­cil health and safe­ty depart­ment would have had a field day. A week’s worth of rot­ting food and rot­ting flesh had com­bined to leave a smell so strong it made him gag. Stay calm Ray, he told him­self, you can do this. Get every­thing you need here then shut your­self away for as long as it takes for this bloody mess to sort itself out. It’s not all down to you.

Two bod­ies stag­gered towards him. Ray turned when he heard one of them crash into a dis­play of box­es of crisps, stacked up like a pyramid.

‘Leave me alone,’ he hissed at them, loud enough for them to hear but not so loud that the rest of the dead shop­pers would notice. ‘I can’t help you. There’s noth­ing I can do for any of you …’ But they kept com­ing. What didn’t they under­stand? ‘Look, I’m real­ly sor­ry. I’m sure some­one will be along soon who’ll be able to help, but it’s not me. I’m just here to get some food then I’m leav­ing. You’re not the only ones with prob­lems, you know.’

The corpses were unde­terred. The near­est of them was just a cou­ple of metres away now and its relent­less, sloth­ful approach unnerved Ray. He went down anoth­er aisle to try and get over to the oth­er side of the build­ing, but there were more of them wait­ing for him there. Pan­ic ris­ing, he looked around and could see them drag­ging them­selves towards him from just about every direc­tion; creep­ing up the aisles, crawl­ing over emp­ty card­board box­es and piles of spoiled food … he could see more than twen­ty of them now, and more were begin­ning to come in through the supermarket’s open entrance doors. In des­per­a­tion and exac­er­ba­tion he climbed up onto the lid of the near­est of a row of chest freez­ers full of defrost­ed food to both address the advanc­ing pub­lic and get out of their reach. He need­ed to put these peo­ple straight once and for all.

‘Stop!’ he yelled, his voice echo­ing around the cav­ernous build­ing and attract­ing the atten­tion of the few remain­ing bod­ies who hadn’t yet noticed him. ‘Just leave me alone, will you? There’s noth­ing I can do for any of you. Go away!’

In his con­fused, mis­guid­ed state, Ray failed to appre­ci­ate the stu­pid­i­ty of his actions. With renewed inter­est the corpses surged towards him now. As the clos­est reached out and grabbed at him with numb hands, he scram­bled back across the row of freez­ers. One of them — the fourth in line — was open but he didn’t notice until it was too late. He slipped and he fell into it, sink­ing deep into a mushy sludge of soaked card­board box­es and rot­ting quich­es, piz­zas and lasagnes. The sud­den drop meant he was now face to face with the dead; eye lev­el with what was left of the peo­ple of the bor­ough of Tay­chester. The same peo­ple who used to use the ten­nis courts and foot­ball pitch­es that he had respon­si­bil­i­ty for, the same peo­ple whose lives were shaped in the coun­cil meet­ings he slept through. Ray tried to get up again but lost his foot­ing and slipped deep­er into the sog­gy mire. Ter­ri­fied, he reached out and grabbed hold of the shoul­ders of the near­est cadav­er and hauled him­self up, using the body for sup­port. He clung onto it as he climbed out, and stared into its face, hideous­ly dis­tort­ed by decay. But there was some­thing about it … the shape of its wiry frame, the lank white hair which hung list­less­ly from its scalp … It remind­ed him of his moth­er. He’d buried moth­er more than five years ago though, so there was no way it could have been her—

—the body threw itself at him. Dis­tract­ed, he was knocked off-bal­ance. It tried to force its claw-like hands up clos­er to his face. He pan­icked and tried to push the foul thing away again but it man­aged to slash at his jack­et, its fin­gers snag­ging on his lapel, tear­ing one of its nails clean off. He gagged with dis­gust as he picked off the nail and flicked it away, then ducked to one side as the body came at him again. Anoth­er corpse behind him did the same and the two cadav­ers grabbed each oth­er when they both missed him. He dropped down as they scrab­bled above him, claw­ing at each oth­er, half-fight­ing, half-try­ing to get away.

On his hands and knees, crawl­ing through ice-cold, foul-smelling water and muck, he weaved through the vast for­est of unsteady legs sur­round­ing him. The peo­ple didn’t seem to see him down there, so he kept moving.

Coun­cil­lor Cox crawled out of the super­mar­ket. Soak­ing wet. Smelling of decay. Pan­ic-struck. Ter­ri­fied. Ashamed.

#

Ray arrived back at the coun­cil house in a super­mar­ket-brand­ed home deliv­ery van. It had some food in the back, and he hoped that would be enough because there was no way he was going back there again. He slammed on the brakes when he reached the civic square and looked around anx­ious­ly, check­ing ahead and in his mir­rors. Already more of the peo­ple of the bor­ough were head­ing his way from all direc­tions. Would they nev­er stop? He’d only been sta­tion­ary for a cou­ple of sec­onds and already they were swarm­ing around the van, bang­ing and ham­mer­ing angri­ly on its sides, demand­ing he help them. He edged the vehi­cle for­ward, hop­ing to nudge them out of the way, but they just stood there defi­ant and stared at him. In tem­per he slammed his foot down on the accel­er­a­tor and tore through the lot of them.

Into the car park. Down the ramp. Round and round and down until he reached Lev­el 2. He reversed the van close to the open bunker door and ran into the under­ground shel­ter. It was still emp­ty, thank God, except for the body in the dor­mi­to­ry, of course. Too scared to stop and think about what he was doing Ray crashed through the bunker then yanked the dor­mi­to­ry door open. Shelly Bright’s corpse, now look­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly grotesque and dis­coloured, lunged at him at the same time that he lunged at her. The coun­cil­lor and the corpse both fell heav­i­ly to the ground. Ray scram­bled back up onto his feet first and then, with utter con­tempt and total lack of respect, he grabbed a hand­ful of Shelly’s hair and pulled her back towards the door. A clump of skin came free and she crawled away, a raw bald patch left just above her fore­head. Ray lunged at her again and caught her in a tight neck-lock. Pant­i­ng heav­i­ly, he dragged the kick­ing and squirm­ing dead pay­roll clerk out of the bunker and threw her into the car park.

There were oth­er peo­ple close now. It looked like hun­dreds of them com­ing towards him, their speed exag­ger­at­ed by grav­i­ty and the down­wards con­crete slope. Some fell and rolled down the ramp, their clum­sy bod­ies tem­porar­i­ly obstruct­ing oth­ers. Obvi­ous­ly attract­ed by the noise he’d made return­ing to the bunker, he could see even more of them spilling into the car park, des­per­ate for his help.

‘Bloody hell,’ Ray whim­pered as Shelly Bright’s foul, hair­less corpse lunged for him again. This time he angri­ly shoved her away to one side, not even giv­ing her a sec­ond glance as she bounced off the wall, col­lapsed, then picked her­self up and start­ed towards him again. He’d want­ed to get the sal­vage­able food from the back of the van but he knew he didn’t have time to do it now, there were just too many of them about. Maybe he’d be able to come back out in a cou­ple of hour’s time when the excite­ment had died down and the bod­ies had dis­ap­peared. He remem­bered the ever-increas­ing size of the crowd of corpses out­side his house and tried to con­vince him­self that this would be dif­fer­ent. They wouldn’t stay down here in the dark­ness wait­ing for him indef­i­nite­ly, would they?

Shelly Bright hurled her­self at him yet again. There was anoth­er body almost as close now, and anoth­er … He had to move.

Ray Cox looked around at the decayed faces of the peo­ple of Tay­chester one last time — all of them seem­ing to be silent­ly demand­ing he pro­vide answers to their unan­swer­able ques­tions — before scur­ry­ing back into the bunker and seal­ing the door.

#

No sign of them dis­ap­pear­ing yet. Every so often I try and open the door a lit­tle bit to see what’s going on. It’s been three days now and they’re still all wait­ing for me. It looks like the whole car park is full now. How the hell am I ever going to get out? Maybe it’s the noise of the gen­er­a­tor and the air con­di­tion­ing pumps that’s attract­ing them, but I can’t turn them off, can I? I’ll just have to sit here and wait. They’ll get bored even­tu­al­ly, won’t they?

I try not to think too much about what’s hap­pened because I don’t under­stand it and I don’t think I ever will. All that mat­ters now is get­ting through it in one piece. I don’t mind spend­ing a lit­tle more time down here on my own. I’ve spent years keep­ing a low pro­file. It won’t be much longer. Just a few more days. A cou­ple of weeks at the most.

Duck and Cov­er. It has to work, doesn’t it? Stay down long enough and you’ll be okay. I’ll stay here until this has all blown over.

THE AUTUMN SERIES