SKIN

 

My name is Skin, and I have been waiting for this day for so fucking long...

#

His name is actually Scott Weaver. He’d never admit it, but despite all the bravado and bullshit, he’s scared as hell. Skin is what he used to beg his friends to call him. It’s the name he used on forums and in chatrooms, the tag he left sprayed onto the side of buildings and bus shelters. Skin is sixteen and, like many other distant, alienated and disenchanted adolescents, he has a grudge against the rest of the world because he’s convinced the rest of the world has it in for him. His frustrations have been building and his problems festering for months now, and each day he has felt himself getting closer and closer to breaking point. Three weeks and two days ago, however, some of the pressure was inexplicably released. Three weeks and two days ago the rest of the world died.

     In the long hours he’d subsequently spent alone, Skin often thought back to how it began. It was a Tuesday morning, and his parents had been giving him hell because he’d only just come back in from being out all Monday night. He didn’t know what their problem was. He’d been out with a few friends and they’d lost track of time, so what? They’d had a few drinks, so what? They’d done some drugs (nothing heavy, but his parents didn’t need to know that), so what? His dad had gone on and on about how this was the time of his life where he needed to be putting more effort in, not less, then he and Dad had started yelling and swearing at each other and that had made Mom cry, and that had made Dad even angrier. Christ, they didn’t ever see his point of view. More to the point, they didn’t want to. They judged him more by the way he dressed and the music he listened to and the people he hung around with than anything else. His dad hadn’t spoken to him for almost a month when he’d first had his ears and nose pierced. Fucking hell, if only they’d known about the tattoos and the other piercings he’d had done in the summer just gone...

     He’d been sitting there in the kitchen, trying to find a way out of the conversation without letting them win, when it happened. One minute they were both in full flow – Dad screaming at him for being a bloody waste of space, Mum crying into her cup of tea and yelling at Dad to stop yelling – the next they were dead. Both of them. Face down, dead on the floor.

     The death of his parents (and, apparently, the rest of the world) was the moment it finally all began to make sense. Until then Skin’s life had been becoming increasingly fucking miserable, and the tedium showed no sign of relenting. He’d flunked his exams and left school and had then been forced to enrol for re-takes at college. And his girlfriend had left him. They’d been together on and off for eight months when Dawn ended it. She said that he’d bullied her into having sex. She’d said that he kept asking her to do things she didn’t feel comfortable doing. It was her fault, the fucking tease. She was the one who dressed like a fucking whore all the time for Christ’s sake. Jesus, she was the one who’d been sat there in a fucking corset, tight black mini-skirt, torn fishnets and knee-high PVC boots when she’d told him that she didn’t want to be with him any more. He’d lost his virginity to her pretty early on in their brief relationship and his imagination had run away with him since then. He’d already learnt that he’d been the only virgin in the relationship (he’d suspected as much but wasn’t bothered) and that made him feel like he had something to prove, or that he had some catching up to do. Skin had always imagined that first sex would have been this incredible event – the undisputed highlight of his young life so far – but the reality had been bitterly disappointing. Instead of endless hours of uninterrupted dirty passion, he’d had to settle for a fifteen minute fumble in Dawn’s bedroom while her mom went to the chip shop. And half of those fifteen minutes were spent trying to get the bloody condom on.

     In the three weeks between Skin splitting up with Dawn and the sudden arrival of the end of the world, he began to hate her with a vengeance. He still saw her regularly because after she finished with him, she started sleeping her way around his friends, doing more with each of them (if the rumours were to be believed) than she’d ever done with him.

     After they’d all died he’d been nervous and frightened for a while of course (who wouldn’t have been?) but his fear and anxiety was primarily due to the fact that he didn’t know whether he was in danger, not because of what had happened to everyone else. As the hours ticked by and his personal safety and apparent immunity to whatever had happened seemed more certain, his confidence gradually returned. He got himself as far away from his parents' safe and predictable upper-middle-class home as he could and began to enjoy his new and unexpected role as king of the world. He could do what he wanted, whenever he wanted. After a couple of days the bodies had risen, but even that hadn’t dampened the sudden euphoria he’d felt at having survived when absolutely everyone else had died. The zombie apocalypse was, as he’d always hoped, incredibly fucking cool.

     Skin was invincible. Without doing anything, he had won.

     Brought up on a dark diet of pulp horror films, comics and trashy books, Skin revelled in the filth, disease and decay. As the bodies around him became more active, he actually became more self-assured because he was better than them. As the potential dangers increased, so his excitement and adrenaline levels rose also. He looted shops, taking food, booze, cigarettes, magazines, music and whatever else he damn well wanted. And, in a long-considered and calculated gesture of defiance, he built a base for himself right in the middle of the school he’d just left. He spent days tearing the place apart. He ripped the heart out of the place that had caused him and countless hundreds of other kids untold amounts of grief over the years. He’d pissed on the headteacher’s corpse. He’d even squatted down and taken a shit in the middle of the classroom where he’d been humiliated and yelled at by his Nazi-like Maths teacher Mr Miller last term. And where was Miller now, he thought smugly to himself? Dead, just like the rest of them. Skin had sat in the classroom for a while, his feet up on Miller’s chair, drinking scotch. He laughed out loud at the irony of it all. And they’d said he’d never amount to anything...

     The bodies became increasingly insistent. The damn things just wouldn’t leave him alone. He tried to convince himself that he was the subject of some bizarre kind of hero-worship by the dead but he knew that wasn’t the case. Just the slightest sound or unexpected movement from him would cause a crowd of the bloody things to herd after him incessantly. And he noticed that they’d started to become violent too, occasionally fighting with each other as they jostled for position. He guessed that it wouldn’t take much for them to start on him if he gave them half a chance. Skin made a conscious decision to keep out of sight and lie low for a while but, before disappearing from view, he went out looting again. He rode into town on his bike, following the route of the bus he used to take. Once there he cycled through the side-streets until he reached one particular shop. He and his friends had spent hours looking in the window before now but they’d never managed to make it inside. The shop sold hunting and fishing equipment. He didn’t know what he wanted or needed, but he took as much from the shelves as he could carry: knives, pistols, rifles and anything else which looked vaguely useful and suitably dangerous. He packed it all onto the bike and rode back to school.

     Skin was in charge now. He was unstoppable. He made the decisions and he made the rules and after a while he decided that hiding away didn’t suit him. Why should he keep out of sight when he was in control? He moved through the bodies with contempt and disinterest, only running when he absolutely had to. Already feeling vastly superior to the decomposing relics which surrounded him, the fact that he was now armed made him feel all-conquering. He carried weapons with him all of the time. He hadn’t had to use them yet, but he was ready.

     Food soon began to become a problem. He’d had some supplies but they’d quickly dwindled down to nothing. With a rucksack slung across his back and a rifle in his hand he walked to the local shopping precinct, which was around half a mile from school. He’d spent many long afternoons hanging out there with his friends when they should have been in lessons. Hadn’t done him any harm missing school, had it, he thought to himself as he crept through the supermarket, collecting up all the food he could find which was still edible. Most of the shop’s stock had gone rotten and the place stank so badly of decay that he almost threw up. He needed to rest and catch his breath before he made the trip back to school. Not wanting to wait in the foul-smelling supermarket, he walked further into the building, eventually emerging out of a back entrance. A metal staircase led up to a row of boarded up, graffiti-covered flats above the shop. Skin climbed the stairs and forced his way into one of the flats. He rested for a while in a damp living room which had a mouldy carpet and peeling wallpaper. He sat on the floor and passed the time with cigarettes and alcohol he’d taken from the shop below.

     A narrow veranda ran across the front of the flats. After almost an hour had passed Skin stepped outside and looked out over the whole of the dead precinct below him. A large, roughly elliptical collection of run-down shops centred around a large oval patch of muddy grass, it didn’t look very different now to how it always used to look, he thought. There were a few bodies still lying on the ground, but other than that the place looked as grey, lifeless and terminally dull as it always had been. Even those bodies which incessantly dragged themselves around looked strangely similar to how they’d been before they’d died: slow, vacant and pointless. Skin baulked at the idea of ever allowing himself to become like that.

     Standing up there, in full view but untouchable, he felt incredibly powerful and strong. He felt in full control, almost like some kind of ancient tribal chief looking down on his rotting subjects. Maybe this was his opportunity to show them just how powerful he was? He ran back into the flat and grabbed the rifle he’d brought with him. He rummaged around in his rucksack for ammunition and then stepped back outside. He loaded the rifle and took aim.

     Can I do this? Of course you can.

     Should I do it? Why not, who’s going to stop you? You’re Skin: no-one tells you what to do any more.

     Does it matter? Don’t be fucking stupid. Of course it doesn’t matter. Damn things are dead anyway.

     Skin lined up a single, bedraggled figure in his sights. Breathing heavily he squeezed the trigger slightly and took up the slack, loosening his grip momentarily with nerves. There’s nothing to be scared of he thought, clearing his throat and then holding his breath as he prepared to fire. Just fucking do it. The end of the rifle seemed to be waving about uncontrollably. He wedged the butt deeper into his shoulder, shuffled his feet and re-balanced himself and then located the figure in his sights again. Before he’d had chance to dissuade himself he pulled on the trigger and fired. The gunshot cracked in his ear, rendering him temporarily deaf on one side, and the force of the shot almost threw him over. He dropped the rifle and rubbed the sore patch on his shoulder where the recoil had dug in. He shook his head clear and then looked out over the precinct. There wasn’t much to see at first, primarily because all of the bodies gathered there had turned and had suddenly begun to stagger towards the supermarket. After a few seconds he managed to locate the body he’d been aiming at. He’d hit it. Christ, he thought, he’d hit it bloody well. It was difficult to see exactly how much damage he’d caused, but it looked as if at least half of its head had been blown clean away. More importantly, the fucking thing had finally stopped moving.

     Skin stood on the veranda and fired another thirty-two times, managing to down more than twenty more bodies. Each time he fired the rifle he became more accustomed to its noise and recoil. He learned to ride the kick and absorb it. He learned how to load and reload quickly. Most importantly, he learnt how to get rid of those fucking things below him.

#

     Unchecked and unrestricted, Skin’s confidence continued to soar. No one was laughing at him now or trying to tell him what to do, were they? No one was on his back to do this or do that or be home by a certain time or not to wear certain clothes or not to speak in a certain way or not to drink or smoke... Christ, he felt like he could do anything.

     He began by getting himself more comfortable. The school had two gymnasiums, housed in a single two-storey building. He moved from his previous classroom hideout and made his home in Gym 1 (as it was known) on the first floor. There he hoarded the supplies he’d collected and, under cover of night, he fetched more. Using a battery-powered machine he filled the vast room with music from when he first woke to when he finally fell asleep at night. Fully aware of the effect the noise had on the dead population but arrogantly indifferent to their lethargic attentions, he drank and smoked his way through each day. His height above the crowds seemed somehow to camouflage the direction and source of the sound. Although it continued to attract many more bodies to the school, they wandered aimlessly around the campus rather than gravitating around the gym building.

     Skin kicked a football around the gym. He threw empty beer bottles out of the window and watched them hit the bodies below. He spray-painted the bland grey-brick gym walls. Now and then he took out one of the guns and took pot-shots into the festering crowd. He slept, he ate, he got bored. The novelty of his situation began to wear dangerously thin. A person of sound mind and average intelligence might well have been able to rise above the boredom, or put up with it in view of the potential danger outside. Skin, however, although possessing sufficient intelligence, was also still driven by a hormone, alcohol and drug-induced anger. The remarkable power he suddenly seemed to have was incredible, and yet he wanted more. The strength of his feelings was increasing by the hour and none of the distractions he could find seemed able to alleviate his frustrations. In spite of all he suddenly had, he still felt incomplete.

     It was late one night when the way forward became clear. Revenge. That was what was missing. It was the ultimate expression of his superiority, wasn’t it? Hell, why hadn’t he thought of it before? Here he was in this incredible position of power, and he hadn’t once used it properly. Sure, he’d fired a few shots and got rid of a pile of bodies, but he’d not yet taken out his anger on the people who deserved it most, had he? Christ, he had a string of people he wanted to get even with. His parents topped the list, then his ex-girlfriend, then the so-called friends she’d slept with after she’d dumped him, then his teachers... Fucking hell, he thought, what an idiot. All that time he’d been sat there, letting those fuckers wander about free.

     This was his time. He was in control. Time for retribution.

     There would be little satisfaction in just finding these people and destroying what was left of them, he thought to himself next morning as he walked through the dawn shadows back towards his parents’ house. What I need to do is make them suffer. I have to make things as unpleasant for them as they did for me. I have to hurt them.

     His mother and father were still in the kitchen of the house where he’d left them on the first morning. His mother lay dead on the ground where she’d fallen, slumped between the now defrosted fridge-freezer and the dishwater. Her soggy body stank. She was going nowhere, but a whack to the back of her head with a rolling pin removed any uncertainty. Skin’s dead father followed him around the kitchen, occasionally lunging at him and lashing out with sharp, twisted hands. Skin brushed aside his pathetic attacks and slipped a dog collar and lead from the dead family pet around his neck. He tied his father’s hands together with washing line and half-led, half-dragged him the quarter-mile or so back to school. He threw the body into the empty ground floor gym and watched what was left of Dad scramble around aimlessly for a while. He kicked balls and threw stones at it, then lit a cigarette and blew smoke into the damn thing’s face.

     “Bet you wish you hadn’t been such an uptight fucker now, don’t you Dad?” he sneered as the corpse stumbled towards him again. “Who’s laughing now?”

     Skin found Dawn in her bedroom back at her mother’s house. He slipped the lead around her neck and then tied her to the bed. Before leaving he spent some time going through her belongings. He wasn’t sure whether that made him feel better or worse. In her underwear drawer he found the kind of things he’d hoped she’d wear for him, but which she’d obviously saved for his friends. To humiliate the dead bitch he stripped her bare before dragging her back through the streets and dumping her in the gym too.

     He’d had a feeling that he’d already seen the bodies of Mr McKenzie, Mr Miller and Miss Charles wandering around the school. It was getting harder and harder to distinguish between the bodies. It was while he was searching for them that he came across what was left of an ex-friend (and one of Dawn’s recent conquests) Glenn Tranter. Tranter’s face was pretty badly decayed, but he could tell from the body’s general build that it was him. Although his skin was a blotchy blue-grey, he could still see the tip of a tattoo he’d recently had done on his shoulder and neck, just below the collar of his blood-stained school shirt. The corpse’s neck was scrawny and emaciated and the shirt hung unintentionally loose, revealing more of the tattoo than he’d ever been allowed to show at school. Another one for the gym.

     There was no sign of Mr Miller. Damn, if there was one fucker who deserved a little dismemberment and torture, it was him. It was of some consolation when he found what remained of Mr McKenzie, his dictatorial modern languages teacher, dragging itself along the corridor outside the main assembly hall. Stupid fucking thing was still wearing the same damn tweed jacket it had worn to school every bloody day for as long as he could remember. He took great pleasure in wrapping the dog collar around the dead teacher’s neck and dragging the body twice round the school before throwing it into the gym.

     Miss Charles, his twisted, sadistic, sour-faced ex-head of year, had been trapped in the stock cupboard next to her office when she’d died. Skin found her still crashing around the room, half-buried beneath text books and papers. He’d hated this bitch more than any of the others, and she’d hated him too. He tried to drag her to the gym by her wiry grey hair but it wasn’t strong enough and it kept coming away from her rotting scalp in sickly clumps. Instead he resorted to the dog lead again and another drag through the increasingly crowded school grounds.

     Over the course of the next day and a half he gathered together another fifteen bodies. Some of the rapidly putrefying, reanimated corpses had been people who had, in one way or another (according to Skin), wronged him. Others were just unfortunate cadavers which just happened to have been picked out of the faceless masses and flung into the gym.

     So what do I do with them now, he thought to himself as he lay on his makeshift bed at the far end of Gym 1. Music blared out of the CD player that he’d now hung from a basketball hoop with skipping ropes. He thought it sounded better like that, although the volume was so loud that getting the right acoustic settings didn’t really matter any more. The room was filled with a haze of smoke from cigarettes and improvised spliffs, the smoke helping disguise the increasingly noxious stench of death which filled the the world.

     Tomorrow I’ll make those fuckers suffer, Skin decided as he drifted into a nauseous, drink-fuelled sleep. One by one I’ll take each of them apart.

#

     He didn’t wake up until early afternoon. He woke with a hangover of immense proportions which, he decided, could only be eased by drinking more alcohol. Damn, he was getting low on booze. He’d need to go out and get more soon, but not today. He had more important things to do.

     After he’d taken a piss out of a first floor window onto the heads of the crowd below (and thrown up too – he was feeling particularly bad today) he ambled down to the ground floor gym and opened the door. The twenty bodies he’d shut in there immediately began to move towards him. He pushed his way through them with an ignorance which bordered on contempt. With complete disinterest he pushed them away whenever they made to lunge towards him. He was preoccupied with his plans for the day and, ultimately, for each of them. He wanted to spend a reasonable amount of time with each body and not be rushed into destroying any of them too quickly because of unwanted attention from one of the others. These fuckers were all due some uninterrupted personal service from him.

     Still coughing (and occasionally retching and vomiting) he began to build a barrier around one corner of the gym with various pieces of apparatus he found lying around. The bodies, although still very animated, were also clumsy and their coordination was desperately poor. It didn’t take very much to keep them restrained. Using benches, vaulting horses, trampolines, crash mats, weight training equipment and anything else he could lay his hands on he built a division around the far left corner of the room, leaving the rest of the gym clear.

     Who first?

     He’d had a late start and getting the gym ready had taken longer than expected. The sun was already beginning to set as he stood breathless and looked across the room at his motley collection of corpses. Which one of these fuckers has caused me most pain? Which one hurt me most? Which one showed the most complete disregard for me and for everything I ever stood for or believed in or wanted? It was a close call between two of them. It was either Dad or Dawn. Just because he preferred the idea of messing with Dawn’s body (it made him feel slightly excited in an uneasy, perverted kind of way) he chose her. He reached out over the barrier he’d built, grabbed hold of his ex-girlfriend’s corpse and threw it back onto the other side.

     “Okay, Dawn?” he asked, surprising himself with the sound of his own voice. Dawn’s dead body lumbered towards him, twisted arms outstretched. For a moment he was close to panicking and he almost lost his nerve. What was he actually going to do? He took a deep breath and squinted as she lumbered towards him, remembering her as she used to be. More specifically, he remembered what it was she’d done to him. Even more specifically, he remembered what it was she hadn’t let him do to her. Bitch.

     Christ, just look at the state of her, he thought as his dead ex-girlfriend slipped in a puddle of blood or vomit or something equally unpleasant. Over the course of the last twenty-four hours the floor of the gym had become covered with various noxious spillages, both from the corpses and from Skin himself. The corpse dropped heavily to its knees in front of him and then managed to pick itself up again, clumsy feet skidding like a newborn animal. Dawn continued moving towards him. She was an appalling sight but, knowing her strange tastes, he thought she might have approved of the look. Her eyes were hollow and sunken, her skin green-hued and ruptured and pockmarked in places. She had a deep cut on her bare right shoulder and, in the low light, Skin was sure he could see squirming movement in and around the wound. Was it just blood or decay glistening, or was it something more foul? Maggots, flies or larvae feeding off her dead flesh perhaps? Whatever it was, the thought of it was disgusting, too much even for the twisted mind of Skin to handle. The sight of her standing there, naked and practically falling to pieces as he watched her, was too intense. He pushed her back over the barrier and grabbed another body from the other side of the divide. Change of tactics. He’d have to build himself up to his headline acts.

     Mr Read! Bloody hell, it was Mr Read, the head of the music department at the school. He’d forgotten that he’d managed to find Read’s body. He hadn’t set out to capture this particular teacher, but he was glad he’d got him. Now this bastard really deserved to suffer. He was the one who made kids sing on their own in front of the class and play endless bloody glockenspiel solos in his lessons.

     Skin hadn’t got on with Read, but he had no real emotional attachment to this particular teacher either, just a generic dislike. He felt sure he could deal with his body without giving it a moment’s thought. Maybe the strength of his hate for Dawn, his dad and certain other ex-teachers somehow made it difficult for him to do justice to their corpses? He needed to practice. He needed to start with someone who had been fairly neutral so he was ready for when it came to the bastards who really deserved his wrath. The body of Mr Read seemed the ideal candidate.

     What could he do to him? He glanced around the gloomy gym and his eyes settled on a pile of weight-training equipment in the corner of the room. As the body dragged itself after him pathetically slowly, he took hold of a short bar (the kind he’d seen used for single arm exercises) and stripped the weights off it. He was left with a bloody heavy, fourteen inch, chrome plated metal bar. He turned back around to face the body of the dead teacher and swung the bar at its head. He’d expected to feel the impact but he hardly felt anything. The bar seemed to cut through the flesh like a hot knife through butter, such was the level of the creature’s decay. And Christ, look what he’d done! The damn thing’s jaw had been ripped right off its bloody face!

     Suddenly feeling more confident and in control again, Skin circled the helpless corpse. He was moving at several times its lethargic speed, and it had no idea where he was. It staggered around, trying to find him, and he chopped down viciously at its legs. He hit the right knee cap, shattering it and sending the body crumbling to the ground. This was too bloody easy! He smashed the bar down again, this time coming down hard on its pelvis. He felt bone splintering under the force of the metal.

     Whatever tensions, frustrations and fears had been building up inside Skin were quickly released by the therapeutic destruction of the school teacher’s dead body. Skin wasn’t the slightest bit interested why it made him feel better, but the sudden physical exertion of the attack was really firing him up. It felt good, and he wanted more. By the time he’d finished with the first body it had all but disappeared. Mr Read had been dismembered and spread around virtually the entire gym.

     Dad was next.

#

     Starving, tired and cold, Jackson approached the school.

     More bodies.

     Something must be happening around here.

     What’s the attraction? Why this place? I need to rest and I need food. Think I’ll take a look around.

#

     Skin dragged his father’s body through the creamy, barely recognisable remains of the music teacher. Using more skipping ropes which he’d found with the weight training equipment he lashed the body’s flailing arms and legs to a wooden climbing frame which was bolted to the gym wall. His knots weren’t particularly good but his father’s corpse was weak and couldn’t escape.

     Just look at you, he thought as he stared at what was left of his father. It squirmed on the wooden frame like it had been crucified. You used to tell me you were somebody I should look up to, and now look at you. You used to tell me that I should aspire to be like you, to do the things you did and to believe in the things that you believed in. Now look at you. A pathetic lump of rotting meat that’s about to be destroyed. Now you look at me. I took so much shit from you because of how I dressed, what I did and who I did it with. And why? What was so good about doing things your way? What made your ideas and your values any better than mine? If you were so fucking clever, why aren’t you the one who’s stood here now? If I was so stupid and so wrong, how come I’m in control?

     Skin had edged closer and closer so that he was now just inches away from his dead father’s face. He stared deep into the corpse’s cold, black eyes and he hoped, bizarrely, to see a flicker of recognition or emotion. He wanted his father to know what was happening. He wanted him to see and feel everything he was going to do to him. He wanted him to understand and to be able to admit that Skin was right and he’d been wrong.

     Nothing.

     Stupid fucking thing.

     In a fit of temper Skin picked up a metal-framed chair and swung it at his father’s remains. Two of the chair’s metal legs scraped across the rotting flesh covering the creature’s abdomen and ripped it open, practically disembowelling it. Partially decomposed organs began to slip, slide and ooze from the open body cavity and dripped onto the floor below its thrashing feet.

     Skin dropped to his knees and watched as what was left of his dad began to slowly fall apart.

#

     It must be somewhere around here. This is where the bodies are heading. Was this a school or a college or something?

     Jackson crept around the outskirts of the school campus. Something had definitely happened around here. There were far too many bodies for them just to be here by coincidence. It couldn’t have been looters because this wasn’t the kind of place where there’d be anything to take. Most likely survivors had been here, maybe even set up a shelter. Interesting. He’d only come across a handful of other survivors in all the time he’d been travelling. He’d found evidence of them having been around and he’d come across their remains when the bodies had got to them before he had, but he’d seen very few actually managing to survive. He’d done his best to keep out of their way. The more of you there are, he’d decided, the more noise you’ll make and the more chance you’ll have of being caught and killed. Stay alone and stay alive was rapidly becoming his motto.

     The nearest door into the school was open. Jackson went inside then stopped and listened carefully to the sounds echoing around the vast, stinking building. He heard the odd distant shuffle and crash of bodies but nothing too ominous. He decided he could risk spending a little more time looking around.

     Whenever Jackson found a staircase in a place like this, he climbed it. Stairs give you an advantage over the dead, he’d long since decided. The bodies had trouble climbing (although they’d manage it if you gave them long enough and if they had enough of an incentive). Also, the higher you go, the better view you have of whatever’s going on around you.

     What Jackson saw from the top of this particular staircase made him confused. There was a grassy courtyard in the middle of the campus directly below, and it was filled with bodies. In the dark, however, he couldn’t immediately see what it was that was drawing them there. He’d come across huge gatherings before which had been caused by the most ridiculous of things – a squeaky hinge or rainwater dripping from a broken gutter for example. Were they trapped? He’d also found large numbers of corpses which had managed to get themselves trapped, usually when there was only one way in and out, and those still coming in were preventing the rest from getting back out. He stood and watched the crowd for a little while longer, trying to analyse their movements.

     Then he saw it.

     There were bodies trapped in a gym on the other side of the lawned quadrant. Was that really it? Perhaps the noise of them moving around in there was creating enough of a disturbance to keep the hundreds of surrounding corpses close. It was possible, but unlikely. Whatever the reason, he decided that was where he was going to make his attack. Just a very quick run in and out. Enough to cause a little damage and get a decent fire going. And once the building was properly alight he could concentrate on getting himself sorted out. He was starving. He hadn’t eaten for more than a day and he desperately needed to get his hands on some food. There’d be shops nearby. The fire would distract the bodies and when enough of them had come here he’d go scavenging through the shadows.

     How to get close? The buildings which surrounded the courtyard appeared to be connected. He decided he’d work his way around until he got as close as he could to the gym, then he’d cause a minor distraction and make a run for it through the crowd. It wasn’t going to be easy but he’d done it before. He took his rucksack off his back and scrabbled around inside for the various items he’d need. A small plastic bottle of paraffin and a cigarette lighter. Simple.

     The best thing he’d found to use as a distraction was a well dried-out but still mobile body. If he could find one that had been trapped indoors for a decent length of time, that would be ideal. The bodies were always attracted to fire, and if he managed to set one of them alight then its random, barely-coordinated movements would add to the confusion and increase the effect dramatically. Although the infection had originally struck before the school had officially opened for the day, he had no trouble in finding the suitably emaciated cadaver of a young boy scrambling around pathetically in the shadows of a second floor classroom. He grabbed the body by the scruff of its neck and carried it back down to ground level.

     There’s no room for sentimentality any longer, he thought as he held the body at arm’s length and splashed it with paraffin. Whatever this thing used to be, its character, personality and every other attribute which made it an individual, unique human being died with it on that Tuesday morning, more than four weeks ago. This thing isn’t someone’s son, brother or friend any more, it’s nothing more than a collection of dead flesh and bone. I’ll be doing it a favour by destroying it.

     Without allowing himself any more time to think about it, Jackson checked that the door to the grass courtyard was open and then lit the body. He gave it a few seconds for the flames to really take hold before he pushed it out into the night. Hundreds of bodies immediately turned and moved towards him, attracted first by the sound of the opening door, then by the brilliant, dancing flames which consumed the figure in front of him. He grabbed hold of one of its arms and dragged it over to the diagonally opposite corner of the courtyard to the entrance to the gym building, then left it. Bizarrely ignorant to the fact that it was on fire, it staggered back towards the mass of corpses which silently converged on it.

     Jackson took a deep breath and moved again. He ran back to the door he’d just emerged from and waited, wanting to be sure that the decoy was effective before he risked running further from safety and deeper into the bodies.

     Perfect. It was working like a dream. The entire mass of diseased flesh was ignoring him and moving towards the bright flames about fifty metres away. Several bodies were burning now. Stupid bloody things, he thought. Relaxing slightly, he crept along the nearest wall towards the entrance to the gym. He tried the door but it wouldn’t open. Strange. He looked down at the handle and shook it. Bloody hell, it had been barred from the inside.

#

     There wasn’t much left of Dad.

     Skin had punched and kicked and slashed and ripped and pulled and spat at the remains of his father until little remained hanging from the wooden climbing frame. There was almost as much rotten flesh on him and on the floor and surrounding walls as there was left on the corpse. Dad’s head, neck, shoulders, spine and right arm still hung from the wood.

     If the destruction of the teacher’s body had been strangely therapeutic, then this was bliss. Using climbing ropes and feeling no remorse, Skin had flogged his father’s corpse. Half-drunk, stoned and completely out of control, he tore into the body mercilessly. Nothing else mattered. Years of pent up adolescent frustrations were released in the space of a few brief minutes of revenge. He forgot about the other bodies in the gym, and he was so transfixed by the destruction and disintegration of his dead father that he didn’t see the fires burning outside. Feeling invincible again, he returned his attention to Dawn. Once again he dragged her body over the barrier and out into the middle of the room. He grabbed her from behind (it felt good to do this in front of his father) and ran his hands over her flesh. Her skin felt alternately wet and then curiously dry and brittle, but that didn’t matter. He gently caressed her still feminine shape as he decided how he would dismember her. In a state of semi-arousal and drink- and drug-fuelled euphoria, he didn’t hear the glass smash and the gym door being forced open.

     “What the hell are you doing, you sick bastard?” Jackson shouted as he burst into the blood-soaked gym. He shone a torch at Skin who immediately let go of Dawn’s body and pushed it away, ashamed. Christ, Jackson thought, he’d seen some pretty unpleasant things over the last few weeks, but nothing like this. A stupid little fired-up teenager torturing and molesting the dead. He knew that he’d just done something pretty unpleasant to a dead school boy outside, but that had been different. There had been a reason for doing that, but what this kid was doing here was just sick, bordering on necrophilia. Twisted, evil and sick.

     Skin stood in front of his crucified father, dumbstruck, feeling like he had the day Dad had caught him wanking in his bedroom. Behind him the body still twitched. Its head rolled from side to side.

     “I...” he began, “I was just...”

     Jackson shone his torch around the blood-soaked room, unable to believe what he’d found. He glanced back over his shoulder as the bodies from outside began to drag themselves into the building through the door he’d left hanging open. He’d only intended being inside for a matter of seconds.

     “What the hell have you been doing in here?” he demanded. “Is there something wrong with you? I know what these things are and what they do, but this is wrong.”

     Skin wasn’t listening. How dare this man come into his world and start questioning his actions and decisions. Did he know who he was? Did he not realise how strong he was now? Did he know that upstairs he’d got guns and knives and that he’d destroyed huge numbers of corpses over the last few weeks? To Skin, Jackson suddenly represented everything that he’d despised about the world before the apocalypse. He saw the authority he’d rebelled against and he saw the common-sense and rule-following that he detested. He couldn’t let it go on. This man was a threat to his new found independence and freedom. He had to make a stand or it would all have been for nothing. He grabbed the metal bar he’d used to bludgeon the music teacher and ran at him.

     “Don’t be stupid,” Jackson yelled as the desperate, half-drunk teenager approached. Skin lifted the bar high, ready to strike. With twice his speed Jackson let rip with a single jab to his face, catching him square on the nose and sending him reeling back. He dropped the bar and it clattered loudly to the ground.

     Jackson looked around anxiously. By breaking into the building he’d opened it up to the bodies outside and they were now streaming inside in huge numbers.

     “Time to leave,” he suggested to Skin who still sat in a crumpled heap on the floor, blood pouring down his face. “Unless you like this sort of thing, of course,” he added. “Could have yourself a real party now, you sick bastard.”

     Skin couldn’t move. Jackson reached out his hand to pull him up but he didn’t take it. He couldn’t speak. He felt crushed. He watched in silence as Jackson turned and shoulder-charged his way through the dead and back out into the night. There were still a couple of bodies burning nearby. That, coupled with the movement around the gym, was enough of a distraction to enable him to slip away into the darkness. What about the kid, he thought as he ran? Forget him. Stay alone and stay alive.

     Skin slowly stood up and stared at what was left of the body of his father. It stared back at him. He stood motionless in the middle of the gym, drenched with blood and, for a time, remaining unnoticed by the hundreds of bodies which had managed to get inside.

     The room was filling up quickly.

     Skin was scared. All of his strength and bravado had gone. He needed help. He looked around for Dawn but she’d gone, swallowed up by the faceless crowd. There must be someone who can help, he thought. With tears of sadness and humiliation running down his face he walked deeper into the gym. He reached the barrier he’d built and looked over the mass of chairs and equipment. In the darkness he could see what remained of his friends and teachers. Over his shoulder an ever-growing mass of cadavers moved closer.

     Skin climbed over the barrier and collided with the body of Miss Charles. He had to look twice before he was sure it was her. He began to talk to her. Wiping blood and tears from his face he began to apologise for what he’d done and how he’d behaved. But Miss Charles wasn’t listening. Along with the remaining seventeen bodies of his teachers and his friends, she lunged towards him and tore him apart.

#

     Jackson watched from a nearby hillside as the school burned. It was a dry night and the fire spread quickly through the bodies outside and then to the buildings. The whole bloody place was up in flames now.

     Good.

     He lay still on the grass for a while, watching as more bodies all around him stumbled towards the bright light in the distance. When enough of them have disappeared, he thought, I’ll go and get myself something to eat.