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Skin

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.

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.

Noth­ing.

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.

Good.

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.

THE AUTUMN SERIES