Alan Jackson has adjusted well to the end of the world. He’s learned the rules. He has a plan.

You can learn a lot about them by watching. Bide your time. Take it easy. Don’t panic and you should be okay.

I’m not a biologist or a doctor. I don’t know what’s happened to them or why it hasn’t happened to me and to be honest, I don’t care. I don’t know if I’m immune or whether I’m just riding my luck and it’ll get me eventually. I might only have a day left, but I might last another twenty years. I know hardly anything about this strange new world, but I’m learning how to survive.

I never had any training for this kind of thing. I did a couple of years in the Boy Scouts but that’s all. I could have done with a stretch in the forces, but it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t stand the shouting and the discipline. I’ve never been able to handle being told what to do. Unless I’m the one doing the ordering, then I work better on my own and I always have done. I used to get on with other people well enough but, given the choice, I prefer my own company every time. Especially now. I wouldn’t be able to trust anyone else to stay quiet or still enough when the bodies are about. The rest of the world is dead and everything I do is exaggerated by the stillness. I can’t take any risks.

If I move they’ll see me. If I make a sound they’ll hear me. They have numbers on their side and I know that if I give them half a chance, they’ll kill me.

So what have I learned about them? Well, forgetting about what they used to be, they’re pretty simple creatures now; easy to read. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of conscious thought going on in their festering brains, but I have noticed them beginning to follow certain behaviours. And those behaviours are changing almost by the day.

It’s almost a week now since it happened. I checked enough of them at the start to be sure they were dead, but something inside them has survived and it’s growing stronger. It began when they picked themselves up and started to move again, then they were able to hear and see. Over the last twenty-four hours I’ve seen them become even more animated. They’re beginning to show rudimentary emotions too: anger, although that could just be a physical manifestation of frustration, and either fear or pain, I can’t tell which.

Enough of this. I’m wasting time. Daydreaming is dangerous. Hypothesizing pointlessly about what might or might not be going to happen to them won’t help: all I can do is respond to the changes day by day and try to stay one step ahead of the game. My comparative strength and my intelligence should see me through. I have to keep control and hold my nerve. Start to get jumpy or twitchy and I’ll make mistakes. Make mistakes and I’m dead. No second chances.

These things don’t communicate with each other, but they’re developing a strange tendency to move together in large groups. It’s almost like they’re herding. Something happens that attracts one or two of them, then more and more follow the first until there’s a huge crowd of the fuckers. I can use that behaviour to my advantage, but there are dangers too. The advantages? When they’re together it’s easy to pick them off in bulk. I haven’t yet, but I can imagine being able to take out hundreds of them at a time if I have to. And the dangers? If I’m the one causing the disturbance that’s attracting them, I’m fucked.

Attacking a group of them can be unexpectedly positive. Starting fires also helps. A little heat and light is enough to draw them out from a wide surrounding area. The stupid things can’t help themselves, and they stumble towards the flames without giving me a second glance. I can walk right past them and they won’t notice if there’s something more interesting happening nearby. Their senses are dull and basic. Give them something obvious to focus on and they lose sight of everything else. I’ve been collecting fireworks. Feels strange to be rooting through toy shops now, wrong almost. But if I’m cornered all I have to do is set off a rocket and wait for them to react. I got the idea from a Romero movie, back when this kind of thing was just fiction.

Darkness is my best friend.

The creatures are still clumsy and slow. Take away their sight, and the advantage I have over them is massively increased. That’s why I now travel almost exclusively after nightfall.

So what’s the plan? You have to have a plan, don’t you? I’m heading for the coast. I’ve a hell of a distance to cover still and it’s not going to be easy travelling on foot, but I can’t think of any other option. I tried using a car, but the noise caused more trouble than saved and if there’s one thing I’ve got plenty of, it’s time. And why the coast? Seems as good a place as any. Nowhere will be completely safe anymore. The coast strikes me as being rough and inhospitable, and with the ocean on one side I’ll have less land to have to watch. Maybe I’ll find myself a lighthouse, somewhere strong and remote like that. Somewhere they can’t get to.

I’ll be all right on my own. Maybe I’ll get lonely, maybe I won’t. Whatever happens, I’m just glad I survived. In a strange way I’m almost looking forward to whatever the future brings. The only thing that’s guaranteed is it’ll be free of the countless bullshit trappings of my previous daily life. A future without the drudgery of trying to hold down a job and pay bills. A future without politics, crap TV, religion and who knows what else. I know I sound naïve, because for every problem the infection has solved, it’s created hundreds more, but you have to be positive, don’t you?

I often wonder how many people like me are left out here? Am I the only one, or are there hundreds of us creeping quietly through the shadows, avoiding the bodies and, by default, avoiding each other too.

Doesn’t matter.

Everything will be all right in the end.

More to the point, I’ll be okay.



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition