Chapter Thirty-Three

The vast crowd outside the university building was still growing. Even now, several weeks after it had all begun, still more slothful, deteriorating bodies dragged themselves through the wreckage of the city centre and out towards the university complex. For the survivors gathered in there it was impossible to appreciate just how obvious their presence had become. The rest of the nearby locality remained shrouded in almost complete silence.

The only sounds to be heard there were either natural or accidental - the noise of wind gusting through brittle-branched trees or clumsy, staggering corpses colliding with random objects and sending them crashing to the ground. In this dense and relentless vacuum even the slightest disturbance became amplified out of all proportion, and the reactions such disturbances provoked were similarly exaggerated. The population of the city had once numbered more than a million before being struck down en masse. Of those killed, more than a third had subsequently begun to move again and each one of those had slowly regained the ability to react and to respond to base stimulation.

Seeing one body react would cause another to lurch instinctively towards the first, and then another would follow and another and another. A single unexpected sound would often cause more than a hundred of the pathetic creatures to herd inquizitively in the same direction. The survivors, with their frequent but unintentional noise and movement and their occasional bonfire beacons, had succeeded in attracting the unwanted attention of a rotting crowd in excess of ten thousand bodies. From a glass-covered landing three floors down from the top of the building, Yvonne, the once prim and proper legal secretary, stood next to Bernard Heath and looked down on the vast hordes below. It was early morning. As usual neither of them could sleep. 'What are we going to do, Bernard?' she asked quietly, pulling a thick overcoat around her tightly to keep out the cold. As winter approached she was really beginning to feel the drop in temperature, perhaps because she hadn't eaten properly for almost a month.

Both of the survivors were in their fifties and the physical strain of their ordeal was beginning to become painfully apparent. For no more obvious reason than their similar ages they had become close and had spent much time in each other's company over the last few long days. 'I don't know,' Heath replied sadly, staring intently into the crowds which stretched out in front of them. 'Do you think they're right, the people that say we should get out of here?' 'Don't know,' he mumbled again. 'I can't stand the thought of it. I can't bear the idea of being out there with those things. There are hundreds and hundreds of them.

How are we supposed to get past?' Heath didn't answer. Instead he simply slumped forward and rested his head against the cold glass. It was raining outside, a heavy and continuous drizzle which soaked everything and which made the dull and lifeless world seem darker, colder and ever more empty. Christ he was tired. He hadn't done any physical work to make him feel this way. Just existing in this nightmare was a continual strain that required constant effort. Down below the bodies continued to push closer towards the building. So many had arrived now that those at the very front were being crushed by the sheer weight of the extraordinary volume of corpses behind. Despite the lack of space those creatures pressed against the windows and doors still tried hopelessly to move even further forward. They had neither the strength, space or ability to get inside the building but still they tried continually to reach the survivors on the other side of the wall. 'Hungry, Bernard?' Yvonne asked. He shook his head.

'No. And anyway, even if I was, there's nothing left worth eating.' He was right. The survivor's food stores were running dangerously low. They had ransacked every square inch of the university complex and had managed to survive so far by finding sufficient canteens, restaurants and vending machines to strip bare of food and other supplies. Although they had ventured into the city frequently during the early days to get provisions, the risks had increased substantially since then. Even men like Nathan Holmes who had originally seemed so full of bravado and contempt for the bodies had now become reluctant to even take a single footstep outside.

The longer Bernard and Yvonne stared into the rotting masses below, the more the horror and complete hopelessness of their situation became apparent. Down and just to their right was the body of Sonya Farley, still somehow holding onto what remained of her baby.

Sonya's body was decaying as quickly now as the corpses surrounding her. Deeper into the vile crowd, at the point where those bodies still able to move forward reached the many thousands who were rammed tight against the walls of the university building, more base animal instincts were beginning to be displayed. Yvonne watched with morbid curiosity and mounting disgust as the occasional corpse ripped and tore at the others around it, seemingly desperate to get closer to the building. She had never been able to stomach violence, and this angry hate chilled her to the core. This hate was uncontrolled and directionless.

As much as it seemed that the bodies were directing their sudden aggression towards the countless cadavers preventing them from moving forward, it was clear that was for no other reason than just because they were there and in the way. Yvonne knew that she too would doubtless be a victim of the same venom if she ever found herself face to face with one of the abhorrent creatures.

Bernard too was watching the behaviour of the bodies. They were changing, and he found himself wondering why they were reacting in this way. He was an intelligent man and, much as confusing emotions such as fear and despair had tainted and distorted his view of the world, he knew that the rapidly changing behaviour of the creatures must have been following a logical pattern. As he peered down into the disease-ridden sea of shuffling figures below, he considered the chronology of their decline.

He'd thought about this countless times before. Since they had risen after their bodies had died on the first morning there had been a gradual but marked change in their condition. The corpses were rotting.

Even from the distance the survivors were observing from, that much was obvious and undeniable. It seemed that the virus or disease or whatever had initially killed the bodies outright, but that something inside them had somehow survived. It was almost as if parts of the brain had been aneasthetised, and that the effects of the aneasthetic were gradually wearing off.

The ability to move again had been the first sign, soon followed by the unwelcome ability to again react to external stimulation. And for a long time that was as far as the creature's limited recovery seemed to have progressed.

Other basic needs remained unfulfilled - they apparently had no desire to eat or drink or rest - they seemed just to exist in a permanent state of constant and pointless animation. Heath concluded (as he had done numerous times before) that the only part of the creature's brains to have survived was that area which governed base, primordial instinct. But there was another change now manifesting itself. Heath had noticed it beginning to develop over the last few days, perhaps even as long ago as last week.

The bodies were now more aggressive than before.

There was a new determination and energy about them. Physically they continued to deteriorate, but mentally they had changed. He looked down into the area of the immense crowd where the bodies were struggling with each other again. Some of these creatures were beginning to fight.

'See what they're doing?' he said quietly. 'Just watch them.' Heath looked up and saw that Yvonne had gone. He hadn't heard her leave. Unconcerned, he looked out of the window again and returned his attention to the dead. Where a cold and emotionless apathy had previously prevailed, new energies were beginning to show. The bodies were exhibiting signs of rage and anger.

Whereas they had so far swarmed around the survivors because, he'd presumed, there were no other distractions, he now wondered whether they wanted more? Could these bodies now be gathered around the university looking for answers from the living, or were they blaming them for what had happened?

Did the bodies now see the survivors as the enemy? As dawn approached and the morning light increased revealling more and more of the scarred world, the university lecturer's thoughts gradually became darker and more sinister. He found himself dwelling on thoughts of the pain the figures below must be enduring. Their bodies were rotting around them.

In his former life Heath had lectured in English Literature. He often considered the emotions of the characters he had studied and about which he had taught.

Pain so often seemed to go hand in hand with any number of other emotions. Heath remembered experiencing pain himself. Not a particularly practical man, he'd frequently hit his thumb with a hammer when trying to hang pictures, and he often caught his head on one particularly badly placed shelf in his office.

His first reaction to sudden pain had often been to curse - sometimes even to lash out and punch a wall or throw something in anger.

Perhaps that was what was happening to the decomposing bodies traipsing constantly through the city streets? Perhaps their increasing anger and violence were direct reactions to their suffering? His line of thinking continued down into even darker territories.

The displays of violence he'd noticed recently may well have been the first signs of further changes. With decay and disintegration tearing apart the remains of the corpses, their pain and, logically, their anger, hate and frustration would be likely to increase rapidly.

If the anger and hate he had witnessed was connected to pain, then it was likely things were going to get much, much worse before they started to get any better. There were more than ten thousand of the damn things out there.

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