Annie Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was good to get home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll get by. I’ll survive.



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition