KATE JAMES

 

It’s days since they left here. I’m not exactly sure how long. I’ve lost all track of time. I’ve lost track of everything.

     Things changed as soon as Michael, Carl and Emma left, and I know now that I should have gone with them. I wish I’d had the strength to go. I wanted to at the time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take that first step away from here. My head was telling me that what they were doing was right, but when it came down to it my nerves got the better of me. When it came to the crunch I couldn’t move. Like everyone else here I was too scared. I was born in Northwich and I’ve lived here all my life, give or take a couple of years. Might as well finish it here. Might as well stay here now and end my days close to the places I used to know and which used to mean something.

     Come on. Get a grip. Got to stop thinking like this.

     The rest of the people here are as frightened as I am. I can sense it coming off them. You can almost taste the fear in the stale air now. No-one looks into anyone else’s face any more. People just stare at the ground because if you start trying to communicate with anyone else, you know you’re going to end up talking about the mess we’re in. When you do that you realise just how bad things really are and you start thinking about how hopeless the situation really is. You start to realise that this is never going to get any better. Whenever you talk to other people you start to remember everything you’ve lost.

     The community centre has become deathly silent. It’s been like this for days.

 

     This morning four of them went out to get supplies. It wasn’t through choice; they did it because we’ve got nothing left and we were thankful. We had absolutely nothing. No food, no water, no fresh clothes, no medicine . . . nothing. They went out in one of the cars that had been left in the car park. The noise of the engine sounded so loud and the rest of us just sat there in fear because it made us feel more vulnerable and exposed than we already were. The sudden noise made me realise just how quiet and dead the world has become.

     I could still hear the car in the distance even after they’d been gone for almost ten minutes. I couldn’t tell whether it was getting closer or still moving away. The engine noise eventually faded away to nothing but then returned about an hour later. I stood and looked out into the car park through the little window by the main door. The world was still save for the bodies and the dead leaves which blew across the ground. After what felt like forever there was a sudden burst of frantic, frightened activity as the car sped around the corner into the car park. I opened the door and started to help them get the things they’d collected into the building.

     The four men who’d been outside were subdued. They looked even more desperate and frightened (if that was possible) than they had been before they’d left. I could tell that something was wrong but I didn’t want to know what. At that moment my ignorance was my only protection, and a pretty bloody weak protection it was too. It was as we unloaded the car that I noticed the bodies approaching. Three or four of them at first, but soon their numbers increased dramatically. They were as slow and clumsy as any we’d seen before, but they were dragging themselves towards the community centre with real intent. It was almost as if they’d followed the car, but that wasn’t possible, was it?

     One of the men looked back over his shoulder and saw them closing in.

     “Come on,” he said, his low voice filled with fear, “get inside.”

     The men barged past me, throwing bags and boxes into the hall and forcing their way back into the community centre. The last man – I think it was Stuart Jeffries – pushed me inside with him and slammed the door shut behind us, locking it quickly then leaning against it.

     Jag Dhandra, one of the men who’d been out, was sat on the floor next to where I was standing, slumped against the wall. His face was pale and his brown eyes wide with shock. Tears were rolling down his cheeks.

     “They can see us,” he mumbled when he saw I was watching him.

     “What?”

     “They can fucking see us!” he spat, his voice trembling. “Those bloody things out there can see us and hear us and . . .” He stopped talking momentarily and tried (unsuccessfully) to compose himself. He cleared his throat and tried again. “We were getting the stuff. We were busy with what we were doing and we didn’t notice them at first. When we looked up and tried to get out there were hundreds of them all around the building. They were just stood there, waiting for us.”

     “But why? How could they . . . ?”

     “They can hear us!” he repeated, his voice louder. “The bloody things can hear us and see us!”

     The rest of the people in the community centre were all listening to Jag’s terrified words. When he stopped talking I became aware of another noise behind me – a dull thumping. I stood up and walked back towards the door. I could feel it moving as the bodies outside collided with it. Although weak and decaying they seemed to be hitting the side of the building with controlled force. I looked out through the window. There was already a crowd – somewhere between ten and twenty of them as far as I could see – gathered around the front of the building.

 

     Christ, we’d been lucky until then. Out on the edge of the town we’d somehow managed to stay fairly isolated and safe. Maybe it was because of our location, tucked away to the side of a once busy main road, out of sight, or perhaps it was just because we’d hardly made a sound for days that we managed to escape their attention for so long. Whatever the reason, the trip out for supplies had blown whatever cover we might have had.

     This afternoon the group has disintegrated. Already battered and bruised through days of constant fear, the people here seem now to have lost the last degree of control that they’d each managed to hold onto. And once a few people began to crack today, most of the others quickly followed.

     The food and supplies that had been brought back earlier didn’t last long. Like a pack of starving dogs we (me included) pounced, desperate to eat. I couldn’t help myself. I felt ashamed and degraded as I scrambled around on the dirty floor on my hands and knees with the rest of them, desperately ripping open bags and boxes in search of anything that might give me a little energy and nourishment. Had it not been for the fear which distracted and tormented me, the hunger pains that have ripped at my gut for days now would surely have killed me.

     A couple of minutes ago, two men and a woman began to fight. I don’t know what caused it. It started in another room and I didn’t know it was happening until the woman stumbled out of the room and tripped and fell on top of me. My face got smashed into the floor and I immediately tasted blood in my mouth. The sudden shock prevented me from feeling any pain at first but I can feel my split lip stinging now. The woman got up, pushed herself away from me, and then ran screaming and threw herself at one of the men who had followed her out into the hall. The force of her impact sent them both smashing into the nearest wall which shook with the collision. I was scared. As they disappeared back into the room I grabbed hold of all the bags and boxes I could lay my hands on and crawled away into the shadows.

     The fighting’s continuing. It’s spilled out into the hall again and more people are getting involved now. The supplies have disappeared but people are still hungry. Almost everyone is joining in the ruckus, desperate to get their hands on any remaining scraps. I’m sitting in virtual darkness in the quietest, most secluded corner of the building I’ve been able to find, looking through the odds and ends I managed to grab hold of. Even though the others are being distracted by the fight I don’t dare make a sound for fear of people turning on me and trying to take my things. I’ve got a tin of cat food, a small bottle of milk drink (which has probably gone sour), a box of headache tablets and a tube of toothpaste. I’ve started to eat the toothpaste. I can’t bring myself to eat the cat food yet.

     The noise in here is frightening and confusing. It’s late afternoon and in the low gloom it’s difficult to see what’s happening around me. It’s starting to get darker outside and it’s getting harder and harder to see who’s who in the shadows around the main hall. Every so often the frantic noises and scuffles stop momentarily and, in those few, random moments, I can hear more sounds coming from outside the building as the dead continue to surround us.

     Ralph (who thought he was in charge to begin with but who’s hardly said a word for days) has suddenly become more vocal and animated again. He’s scrambled up onto his feet and he’s climbed up onto a chair to try and look out of one of the small rectangular windows which run along the length of the main hall. His frightened face is pressed against the glass and he’s trying to look down at the ground. Even from over here I can see that the thin outside wall he’s leaning against is being battered from outside.

     He’s looking around now, trying to get people’s attention.

     “They’re trying to get in,” he yells, his voice uncomfortably loud. “They’re trying to get inside!”

     His words have attracted the attention of everyone in the building and, for a second, the entire group has been silenced. The arguments and the fights have stopped momentarily. People are standing still and listening. And now we can all hear it – there’s a constant barrage of bangs, thumps and crashes coming from all directions. It sounds like the whole community centre has been surrounded. If what I heard earlier was true and the bodies can now respond to the things they see and hear, then it stands to reason that their individual interest in something is going to attract more and more of them to the same place. The noise the men made earlier with the car and the arguments was enough to attract a few of the corpses, but the shouts and cries and screams which have come from this place constantly since then must have attracted many, many more.

     After the brief moment of stunned silence, panic is again tearing through the building.

     Ralph has jumped down from the chair and he’s lost his footing and fallen onto another man. The second man (I think it’s Simon Peters) has picked himself up and has grabbed hold of Ralph by the scruff of his neck. Ralph is kicking and screaming. I’m trying to push myself further and further back into the shadows because I know that the trouble in the middle of the hall is about to boil over into something far more serious. The people here are right on the edge. It’s not going to take much to push them over . . .

     Ralph’s been shoved down to the ground. He’s lying there and I can see him panting and struggling to get up, his face pressed hard against the filthy floor. He’s looking towards me and I can see absolute terror in his face. Like a man possessed, he’s somehow managed to push himself up again and he’s knocked Simon out of the way. Pumped full of adrenaline and fear, he’s punching and kicking at Simon (who is half his size) and he’s sent him reeling. Now Simon’s the one on the ground and their positions have been reversed. With a desperate look in his eyes, Ralph has picked up the chair he’s spent most of the last day sitting on and now he’s holding it above his head. Simon’s looking up at him and he’s trying to crawl away. I can’t bear to watch. I know what’s going to happen. Ralph starts to bring the chair down and I look away. I can hear him smashing it down onto the other man again and again. I can hear him grunting with effort and I force myself to look up because I have to know what’s happening. Now Simon is lying in the middle of the room in a crumpled heap, twitching and shaking with blood dripping from his head. Ralph’s standing over him, still holding the chair up high, looking ready to strike again if anyone else moves.

     Someone – I couldn’t see who it was from here – just ran at Ralph and tried to grab the chair from him. He’s swung it at them, and he’s caught them on the side of the head and sent them crashing to the ground. Now Jag Dhandra has just run past me. He’s sprinted down the length of the hall and tripped over Simon’s motionless body. He’s picked himself up again and is running down towards the main entrance.

     I know what he’s doing.

     Jesus Christ, he’s opening the door.

     Oh, God, Jag’s completely lost it. People are trying to get to him but it’s too late. The door has been opened. I can already hear the wind and feel the cold air blowing into the building from outside. People are screaming. I can see them rushing to grab their belongings and get away from the door and move back towards this end of the community centre and-

     -and now I can see them.

     Bodies.

     There’s an endless stream of grey, featureless bodies slowly filling the room. The people out in the hall can move with much more speed and control than the dead but they’re recoiling from the cadavers lurching towards them.

     I have to get out of here. Jesus, I need to find a way out.

     There’s no way I can get back through the hall – there are already far too many bodies in here – and I don’t know of any other exit apart from the windows. Now there are other people around me, all moving in the same direction and trying to get away from the sea of dead flesh that continues to flood inside. I’m trying to stand up but it’s difficult to move. The main hall is almost half full of corpses now. Ralph is still in the middle of the room, swinging the chair around like a madman, knocking several of the bodies off their already unsteady feet. Their flesh is decaying and each blow from the chair seems to rip them apart. The shadowy-grey of the room is now splashed with dark red and crimson-brown stains. Ralph has lost his footing and slipped in the bloody mire. He’s gone down. I can see him struggling on the floor. He’s trying to get up but he’s being trampled by the dead.

     I’m being carried deeper into the building by the stream of panicking survivors. There’s nothing I can do but move with them. I can’t stop and I can’t go backwards. Somehow I’ve managed to keep hold of the cat food and tablets and I’m grabbing them as tightly as I can as the crowd surges and pushes through the semi-darkness. One of the women to my right has climbed up onto a chair and is forcing herself out through a small skylight in the ceiling of one of the store rooms. Others are following her. I don’t have any choice, and I follow too. I trip and when I regain my balance there’s a body beneath my feet. I can’t see who it is but they’re screaming and crying out for help. I wish that I could do something for them but I can’t. I have to keep moving.

     I manage to get up and out through the skylight but the gap is too narrow. I don’t think I’m going to get through but I can’t go back. There are people pushing me from below, all trying to get out too. My head and shoulders are through. I can feel the window frame digging into my skin but they keep pushing me . . .

     Somehow I’m out, and now I’m standing on a small square area of flat roof. There are already too many of us up here. A couple of people have either jumped or have fallen down to the ground below. It’s not very high and I’m sure I’ll survive the drop if I have to. I’m near the edge of the building now and I can see a crowd of dark, shuffling bodies below me. I want to try and get over to the other side but I can’t. The constant stream of people fighting to get out of the community centre is pushing me back towards the edge and I know I’m going to fall. I can’t do anything to stop myself . . .

 

    Kate landed in the middle of the crowd of cadavers, their empty bodies breaking her fall. Winded and stunned for the briefest of moments, she scrambled to her feet and began to run, disappearing into the municipal park behind the community centre. Around her other people scattered in all directions. The autumn evening was cold, dark and wet and a patchy fog covered the scene. Terrified, she forced herself to keep moving away from the community centre, heading deeper and deeper into the darkness.

     She couldn’t keep running indefinitely. Kate was  undernourished, terrified and unfit. For a while she slowed down to walking pace before finally giving in to her exhaustion and stopping completely.

    She eventually walked into the middle of a children’s playground which had been hidden by the mist. Kate sat on a swing and held her head in her hands as she listened to the dying screams of the people she’d left behind.

     Alone.

     Terrified.

     Too tired to move.


     Kate James spent her final day in Northwich. Still sitting in the playground in the park, cowering under a slide, as daylight broke she became painfully aware that she was hopelessly exposed outside. She also quickly learned that her every movement attracted the attention of the obnoxious bodies. Every step she took and every sound she made inevitably drew ragged crowds of them closer and closer to her.

     At nine o’clock in the evening, sitting in complete darkness in the attic of a nondescript semi-detached house halfway down a similarly indistinct street, she decided to give up. The pain and the effort had proved too much for her. She took the headache tablets she still carried and every packet of pills and bottle of medicine she could find in the bathroom of the silent house, and swallowed enough to make sure she wouldn’t wake up again.