Kate James is a primary school teacher who appears in AUTUMN. Initially strong and positive, the pressure of events take their toll on Kate, and although she wishes she could leave the Whitchurch Community Centre with Michael, Carl and Emma, her nerves crack and she stays.
Kate’s story explains what happens to the rest of the group of survivors after the others leave for the country.
It’s days since Michael, Carl and Emma 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 they went. I know now that I should have gone too. I wish I’d had the strength to do it. I wanted to at the time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to take that first step out the door. My head was telling me they were right to leave, but when it came down to it, 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. Might as well finish it here too. Might as well stay here now and end my days near the places which used to mean something.
Come on, Kate. Get a grip. You’ve 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 anymore. 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, then you realise just how bad things really are. We all know this is never going to get any better, but when you talk to other people you start remembering everything you’ve lost.
The community centre has become silent like a morgue. It’s been like this for days.
This morning four of them went out to get supplies. They went not through choice, but because we’ve got nothing left. 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 ever. The sudden noise made me realise just how quiet this dead world has become.
I could still hear the car in the distance even after they’d been gone a while. I couldn’t tell if they were getting closer or still moving away. The engine noise eventually faded to nothing but then returned about an hour later. I stood at the little window by the main door and waited for them to come back. The world was still save for the bodies and the dead leaves blowing across the ground. After what felt like forever there was a sudden burst of frantic, frightened activity as the car sped around the corner. I opened the door and started to help them get the things they’d collected inside.
The four men who’d been outside were subdued. They looked even more desperate (if that was possible) than they had before they’d left. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t want to know what. At that moment my ignorance was my only defence, and a pretty bloody poor defence it was too.
It was as we unloaded the car that I noticed the bodies approaching. Three or four of them at first, but 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 voice filled with fear, ‘get inside.’
They barged past me, throwing bags and boxes into the community centre. The last man in – I think it was Stuart Jeffries – pushed me away and slammed the door shut behind us, locking it quickly then leaning against it.
Jag Dhandra, one of those who’d been out, was sitting on the floor next to me, slumped against the wall. His face was pale, his brown eyes wide with shock. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. ‘They can see us,’ he said when he saw I was watching him.
‘They can fucking see us! Those bloody things out there can see us and hear us and…’ He stopped talking and tried to compose himself. ‘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 said again, his voice louder, more desperate. ‘It’s like the bloody things are coming back to life!’
The rest of the people in the community centre were all listening to Jag’s terrified rant. When he stopped, I became aware of another noise behind me – an intermittent dull thumping coming from outside. I walked back towards the door and I could feel it moving as the bodies outside tried to get to us. Although weak, they were hitting the side of the building with controlled force. I looked out through the window and saw there was already a crowd of more than twenty of them gathered around the front of the building.
Christ, we didn’t realise how lucky we’d been until then. Out on the edge of the town we’d somehow to stay relatively isolated and safe. Maybe it was because of our location, fenced-off and tucked out of sight in the shadow of a once busy main road, or perhaps it was just because we’d hardly dared make a sound for days that we’d managed to escape their attention for so long. Whatever the reason, the trip out for supplies had blown our cover.
This afternoon the group has disintegrated. Already on the very brink, the people here seem now to have lost the last little bit of control 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 the men brought back with them 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 as I scrambled around on the dirty floor on my hands and knees, degraded, ripping open bags and boxes, desperate to find anything that might give me a little nourishment. Had it not been for the fear distracting me, the hunger pains that have ripped at my gut for days now would have driven me out of my mind.
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 ran from her attackers and tripped and fell on top of me. My face got smashed into the floor and I tasted blood in my mouth. The shock stopped me from feeling any pain at first, but I can feel my split lip stinging now. The woman got up, but then men both grabbed her and dragged her back, trying to stop her screaming. One of them threw her against the wall, and the force of impact seemed to make the entire building shake. I was scared. Bloody terrified. As they hauled her away I grabbed hold of all the bags and boxes I could lay my hands on and crawled into the shadows.
The fighting’s continuing. Getting worse. It’s spilled out into the hall again and more people are involved now. The supplies have disappeared but people are still hungry and want more. Almost everyone is involved, battling over the last few scraps like dogs. I’m sitting in virtual darkness in the quietest corner of the building I’ve been able to find, hoarding the odds and ends I managed to grab. I don’t dare make a sound for fear of them turning on me and trying to take my things. I’ve got a tin of cat food, a bottle of milk drink which has 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, but I know I’ll have to eventually.
The noise in here is frightening and confusing. It’s late, and in the low gloom it’s difficult to see what’s happening. Every so often there’s a lull in the frantic noises and scuffles around me and in those few, random moments of quiet, I can hear other noises coming from outside the building. The dead are surrounding 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 on his feet and now he’s climbed up onto a chair to look out of one of the small rectangular windows which run along the length of the main hall. Has he heard them too? His face is pressed against the glass and he’s trying to look down at the ground. He’s looking around the hall again now, trying to get people’s attention. ‘They’re trying to get in,’ he yells, his voice too loud. ‘The bloody things are trying to get inside!’
For a second, the entire group is silent. The arguments and the fights stop. And in the silence, they can all hear it now:
a constant barrage of bangs, thumps and crashes coming from all sides. It sounds like the whole community centre has been surrounded. The noise the men in the car made earlier was enough to attract a few of the corpses, but the shouts and cries and screams coming constantly from this place since then must have attracted many, many more.
After the brief moment of stunned silence, panic again tears through the building.
Ralph jumps down from the chair loses his footing. He’s fallen onto another man – Simon Peters, I think – who grabs him by the scruff of his neck to try and calm him down. Ralph is kicking and screaming and 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.
Ralph’s on the ground now. Didn’t see what happened, but he’s lying there, panting and struggling to get back up, his face pressed against the filthy floor. He’s looking over at me and I can see absolute terror in his face. Like a man possessed, he gets back up again and now he’s gone for Simon, knocking him out of the way. Pumped full of adrenalin and fear, he’s punching and kicking Simon and now their positions have been reversed and Ralph’s the one attacking. Ralph picks up a chair and holds it above his head. Simon’s trying to crawl away but it’s too late and… and I can’t bear to look, but I can hear him hitting Simon again and again and again.
Simon’s lying in the middle of the room in a crumpled heap, twitching. Ralph’s standing over him, chair held high, ready to strike again if anyone moves.
Someone – I couldn’t see who – just ran at Ralph and tried to grab the chair from him. He’s swung it at them, catching them on the side of the head. Now Jag Dhandra has sprinted the length of the hall and tripped over Simon’s motionless body. He’s picked himself up again and is running towards the main entrance.
I know what he’s doing.
Jesus Christ, he’s going to open the door.
Oh, God, he’s completely lost it. People are trying to stop him but it’s too late and the door’s open. I can already feel the cold air blowing into the building from outside. People are screaming, and the more noise they make, the quicker those things outside will react. I can see them rushing to grab their belongings and move deeper into the community centre and—
—and now I can see them.
There’s an endless stream of grey, featureless bodies filling the room. I have to get out of here. Jesus, I need to find a way out, but there’s no way back through the hall. Now there are other people around me, all moving in the same direction, all trying to get away from the sea of dead flesh which continues to flood in through the open door. 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 again, knocking several of the bodies off their feet. Their flesh is decaying and each blow from the chair seems to tear them apart. Now Ralph has lost his footing and has gone down in the bloody mire. 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 a stream of panicking people, and all I can do is go with them. I can’t stop and I can’t fight. Somehow I’ve managed to keep hold of the cat food and tablets and I’m grabbing them as tight as I can as the crowd surges through the semi-darkness. One of the women to my right has climbed up onto a chair and is getting 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 have to keep moving.
I manage to get up and my head and shoulders through the skylight but the gap’s too narrow. I don’t think I’m going to make it. I try to turn back, but there are people pushing me from below, all trying to get out too. I can feel the window frame digging into my skin, cutting me, and I kick and push and scream…
Then somehow I’m out. I pick myself up, 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 fallen. It’s not very high and I’m sure I’ll survive the drop if I have to, but I don’t want to go down there. I’m at the very edge of the building now and there’s a vast crowd of dark, shuffling bodies below me. I try to get over to the other side but I can’t. The constant stream of people fighting to get out of the community centre pushes me back towards the edge and I try to stop myself but I know I can’t and they—
Kate landed in the middle of the crowd of cadavers, their empty bodies breaking her fall. Winded, 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 and a patchy fog added to her disorientation. Terrified, she forced herself to keep running, moving away from the community centre, heading deeper and deeper into the darkness.
She couldn’t keep going long. Kate was undernourished, out of shape, and terrified. For a while she slowed to walking pace before finally giving into her exhaustion and stopping completely. She found a children’s playground which had been hidden by the mist and sat on a swing and held her head in her hands. In the near distance she could hear the dying screams of the people she’d left behind.
Too tired to move.
Kate James spent her final day in Northwich. She cowered under a slide until morning when the daylight left her hopelessly exposed. Her every movement attracted the attention of hordes of obnoxious bodies. She made it as far as a nearby house, but when she closed the door she realised she’d only succeeded in buying herself a little time. There were already crowds outside. The end result would inevitably be the same. This house would eventually go the way of the community centre.
At nine o’clock in the evening, sitting in complete darkness in the attic of the nondescript semi-detached house, halfway down a similarly indistinct street, Kate gave up. It was too much. She took the headache tablets she still carried and every other packet of pills and bottle of medicine she could find in the silent house, and swallowed enough to be sure she wouldn’t wake up again.