fbpx

Kate James

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.

‘What?’

‘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.

Qui­et 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.

Bod­ies.

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.

Alone.

Ter­ri­fied.

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.

THE AUTUMN SERIES