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

Teenage angst, hormones, fear, drugs, booze… a lethal combination. One Tuesday morning in September, the rest of the world dropped dead in front of Skin. For every other survivor, the death of millions began a nightmare they’d give anything to wake up from. Skin, however, is different. Skin thinks it’s the best thing that’s ever happened, and the longer he’s left alone, the better it gets.

Skin by David Shires

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 scrawled onto the sides of buildings and bus shelters. Skin is sixteen and, like many other similarly 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 by the way he dressed, the music he listened to and the people he hung around with, nothing else. His dad hadn’t spoken to him for almost a month when he’d had his first piercings. Fuck, if only they’d known about the stuff he’d had done in the summer just gone…

He’d been trapped in the kitchen with them both, trying to find a way out of the argument 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 tea and yelling at Dad to stop yelling – the next they were dead. Both of them. Facedown on the kitchen floor.

The death of his parents (and, apparently, the rest of the world) was the moment it all finally began to make sense. Until then Skin’s life had been increasingly fucking miserable, and the tedium showed no sign of relenting. He’d flunked his exams and left school, only to then be 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 discovered that he’d been the only virgin in the relationship and that had 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 end of the world, he began to hate her with a passion. He still saw her regularly because as soon as she’d 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 ever had with him.

After everyone had died he’d been terrified for a while (well, who wouldn’t have been?) but his fear was short-lived. As the hours passed and his personal safety and apparent immunity to whatever had happened seemed more certain, his confidence soared. He put as much distance as possible between himself and his parents’ safe and predictable upper-middle-class home and began to enjoy his new and wholly unexpected role. He was king of the world. He could do what he wanted, when 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’d won.

A lover of pulp horror films (the bloodier the better) and comics, Skin revelled in the filth, disease and decay. As the bodies around him became more active, he actually became more self-assured because he knew he was better than them. As the potential dangers increased, so his excitement and adrenalin 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, ripping 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 during his last term there. And where was Miller now, he asked himself? Dead, just like the rest of them. Sitting in Miller’s classroom with his feet on his desk, swigging scotch, Skin laughed out loud at the irony of it all. And they’d said he’d never amount to anything…

The bodies began to get annoying. The damn things just wouldn’t leave him alone. He convinced himself he was the focus of some bizarre kind of hero-worship from the dead, but he knew that wasn’t really the case. The merest sight of him would cause a herd of the bloody things to come after him incessantly. And he noticed they’d started to become more violent too, scrapping with each other as they jostled for position. He guessed 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 bus route he remembered, heading for one particular shop. He and his friends had spent hours looking in the window on wasted Saturday afternoons, but they’d never made it inside. The shop sold hunting and fishing equipment. He didn’t know what he wanted or what he 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 a man in his position. Why should he stay out of sight when he was the one in control? He began to move through the bodies with contempt, only running when he absolutely had to. Already feeling vastly superior to the decomposing morons which surrounded him, his guns and knives made him feel all-conquering. He carried weapons all the time. He hadn’t had to use them yet, but he was ready.

Food became a problem. He’d had some supplies but they’d soon dwindled down to nothing. With a rucksack slung over his shoulders and a rifle in hand, he walked to the local shopping precinct, half a mile from school. He’d spent many afternoons hanging out there with friends when he should have been in lessons. Missing school hadn’t done him any harm, had it?

He crept through the supermarket, collecting whatever food he could find which was still edible. Most stuff had gone off, and the place stank so badly that he almost threw up. He needed to rest and catch his breath before he made the trip back to school and he walked further into the building, eventually emerging from a back entrance. A metal staircase led up to a boarded-up, graffiti-covered flat above the shop. Skin climbed the stairs and forced his way inside. He rested for a while in a damp living room with a mouldy carpet and peeling wallpaper, passing the time with cigarettes and alcohol he’d taken from the store below.

A narrow veranda ran across the front of the flat. 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 an oval-shaped patch of muddy grass, it didn’t look very different now to how it always had done. 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. Even those bodies which continued to incessantly drag themselves around looked strangely familiar: as slow, vacant and pointless as they’d been before they died. Skin baulked at the idea of ever allowing himself to become like that.

Standing up there, in full view yet untouchable, he felt like he was 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 grabbed his rifle and rummaged around in his rucksack for ammunition. He loaded 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 already.

Skin lined up a single, bedraggled figure in his sights. He squeezed the trigger slightly and took up the slack. Then he cleared his throat and held his breath as he readied himself to fire. 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, then located the figure in his sights again. Then he pulled 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, then looked out over the precinct. There wasn’t much to see at first, primarily because the noise had caused all of the bodies to stagger towards the supermarket, but after a few seconds he managed to locate the one he’d been aiming at. He’d hit it. Christ, what a shot! Half the damn thing’s head had been blown away. More importantly, the fucking thing had finally stopped moving.

Skin stood on the veranda and fired another thirty-two times, managing to down another nineteen bodies. He became more used to the noise and recoil of the rifle with each shot, learning how to ride the kick. He learned how to load and reload fast. Most importantly, he learnt how to get rid of those fucking things below him.

Unchecked and unrestricted, Skin’s confidence soared. 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 B on the first floor. There he hoarded the supplies he’d already collected and, under cover of night, he fetched more. Using an old, 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 outside but arrogantly indifferent, 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 his 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 walls. Now and then he took pot-shots into the festering crowd with one of the guns. 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 not stupid, was also still driven by a hormone, alcohol and drug-induced anger. The power he had now was incredible, and yet he wanted more. In spite of all the freedom he now 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 needed 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 a fucking idiot. All that time he’d been sat there in the gym, 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 decided next morning as he walked back towards his parents’ house through the dawn shadows. 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 still lay on the ground where she’d fallen, slumped between the now defrosted fridge-freezer and the dishwasher. 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, though, followed him around the kitchen, occasionally lashing out at him 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 below his den, and watched what was left of Dad scramble around aimlessly for a while. He spat 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, eh Dad?’ he shouted as the corpse came at him again. ‘Who’s laughing now?’

Skin found Dawn in her bedroom at her mother’s house. He slipped the lead around her neck, 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, though it was getting harder to distinguish between individual corpses. 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 eaten away, but he knew it was him. Although his skin was a blotchy blue-grey, he could still see the tip of a tattoo Glenn had recently had done on his neck, just below the loose collar of his blood-stained school shirt. 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, crawling 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, and she’d hated him too. He tried to drag her to the gym by her long grey hair, but it wasn’t strong enough. It kept coming away from her scalp in sickly clumps. Skin resorted to the dog lead again.

Over the course of the next day and a half he gathered together another fifteen bodies. Some of the rapidly putrefying corpses had been people who had wronged him in one way or another. Others were just poor unfortunates which just happened to have been in the wrong place at the right time, plucked from the faceless masses and flung into the gym.

So what do I do with them now?

He pondered the question as he lay on his makeshift bed at the far end of Gym B. Music blared out of the player which 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 anymore. The room was filled with a haze of smoke. It helped disguise the increasingly noxious stench of death which filled his 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 move until early afternoon. He woke with a hangover of epic 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 today.

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 contempt, pushing them away whenever they came at him. Keen to spend a reasonable amount of time with each body and not be rushed, he built a corral in one corner of the gym with benches and various other pieces of apparatus. 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 behind vaulting horses, trampolines, crash mats, weight training equipment and anything else he could lay his hands on.

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 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 grabbed hold of his ex-girlfriend’s corpse and hauled it over the barrier.

‘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 almost lost his nerve. What was he actually going to do? He hadn’t thought this through. He squinted as she came at 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 to its knees in front of him and then managed to pick itself up again, clumsy feet skidding like a new-born animal. Dawn 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 in places. She had a deep cut on her 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? 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 music at the school. He’d almost forgotten that he’d found Read’s body. He hadn’t set out to get this particular teacher, but he was glad he had 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 specific issues with 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 made it harder for him to do their corpses justice? He just needed practice, that was all. Mr Read’s body 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. As the body dragged itself after him, moving pathetically slowly, he took 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 rod. 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. It 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!

Now 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, desperately trying to find him, spinning circles, and he hacked at its legs. He hit the right knee cap, shattering it, the body crumbled to the ground. This was too bloody easy! He smashed the bar down again, this time coming down hard on its pelvis, feeling bone splinter under the force of the metal.

Whatever tensions, frustrations and fears had been building up inside Skin were released by the therapeutic destruction of the school teacher’s body. By the time he’d finished with the first body it had all but disappeared. Mr Read had been spread around virtually the entire gym. This was really firing him up. It felt good, and he wanted more.

Dad was next.

Hungry, 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 skipping ropes which he’d found alongside the weight training equipment, he lashed the corpse’s thrashing arms and legs to a wooden climbing frame bolted to the gym wall. His knots weren’t particularly good but Dad was weak and couldn’t escape.

Just look at the state of you, he thought as he stared at what was left of his father. The thing 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 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 about to do to him. He wanted him to understand and to be able to admit that Skin was right and he’d been wrong.


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 under 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 here. There were far too many bodies for it to just be coincidence. It couldn’t have been looters because there’d be nothing worth taking here. Most likely survivors had been sheltering here. Interesting. He’d only come across a handful of other people 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.

A door nearby 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 to 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 confused him. 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, some which had been caused by the most ridiculous of things: a squeaky hinge or rainwater dripping from a broken gutter, for example. Were these bodies trapped? He’d 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 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 grass-covered 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 they’d left behind.

How to get close? The buildings surrounding 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. 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, its random, barely-coordinated movements would add to the confusion and dramatically increase the impact. Although the infection had originally struck before school had started for the day, he had no trouble finding a suitably emaciated cadaver. The young boy was 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 a unique and individual human being died with it on that Tuesday morning, more than four weeks ago. This thing isn’t someone’s son, brother or friend anymore, it’s nothing more than a collection of dead flesh and bone. I’ll be doing it a favour. Putting it out of its misery.

Jackson checked that the door to the grass courtyard was open, 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. Hordes of bodies immediately began moving towards him, attracted first by the sound of the opening door, then by the brilliant, dancing flames. He grabbed hold of one of the dead boy’s arms and dragged it over to the diagonally opposite corner of the courtyard near the entrance to the gym building, then left it. Bizarrely oblivious to the fact it was on fire, it staggered into the mass of corpses which silently converging 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 the distraction had worked 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. Relaxing slightly, he crept along the 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 very little remained hanging from the wooden climbing frame. There was almost as much rotten flesh on him as there was left on the corpse. Dad’s head, neck, shoulders, spine and right arm still hung from the wood, but that was all.

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 disintegration of his dead father that he didn’t see the fires burning outside. Feeling invincible again, he returned his attention to Dawn. Once more 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 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 to say, ‘I was just…’

Jackson shone his torch around the blood-soaked room, unable to quite believe what he’d found. He glanced back over his shoulder as the bodies from outside began to pour 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… 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 killed massive numbers of corpses over the last few weeks? To Skin, Jackson represented everything he 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 have all 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 charged. 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 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 little 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?

Forget him. Stay alone and stay alive.

Skin slowly stood up and stared at what was left of his father. It stared back at him. He stood in the middle of the gym, drenched with blood, completely still and, for a time, ignored by the hundreds of bodies which were now inside.

The room was filling up quickly.

Skin was scared. 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 me, 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 tried 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 tore him apart.

Jackson watched from a hillside overlooking the school as it burned. It was a dry night and the fire spread quickly. The whole bloody place was in flames now.


He lay on the grass for a while, watching as more bodies stumbled past him, heading towards the bright light in the distance, not even aware he was there. When enough of them have disappeared, he decided, I’ll go and get myself something to eat.



Autumn: The London Trilogy omnibus edition