Chapter Fourteen

'They can't get up here, can they?' Wilcox wondered timidly, concerned that he really was to blame for this unsettling new development. He looked over towards Bushell for an answer. Bushell shrugged his shoulders.

'Don't know. Can't see why not. If enough of them keep pushing forward from behind, my guess is they'll start climbing eventually.'

'But they won't get up here, will they?'

Bushell shrugged his shoulders again.

'This place has one main staircase in the middle of the building,' he explained, still staring deep into the vast crowd below them. 'There are a couple of fire escapes, but they're blocked off as far as I know. To be honest, I didn't look into security too deeply when I got here. There didn't seem to be any need when the place still had a front door.'

Wilcox glared at him for a moment.

'So what are you saying?'

'If there are enough of them and they keep coming, who knows what they'll be able to do. Give them enough time and there's every chance they'll manage to get up here.'

'Can we still get out of here if we need to?'

'Well, I think we can get back down no problem,' Bushell sighed, 'but what we do once we're down there is anyone's guess. Thanks to you lot the building is surrounded. I can't see a way out.' 'Let's all keep calm and try and get things into perspective,' Proctor said quietly, doing his best to prevent panic from spreading. 'The chances of them getting to us are slim and we're so high up here that they'll probably disappear long before they even get close.'

'You reckon?' Elizabeth snapped. 'There doesn't seem to be much else happening in town this morning, does there? It looks like we're the main attraction.'

Bushell, Elizabeth, Wilcox and Proctor stood side by side at the window and stared down. The streets below were filled with grey, staggering bodies and in the absence of any other distraction the whole damn rotting mass seemed to be making its way towards the hotel.

There were already thousands of them down there, and thousands more were dangerously close.

DAY NINE

THE GARDEN SHED

Lester Prescott thrives on order and uniformity. On many levels he has constantly proved himself to be an inept and dysfunctional human being. He finds it difficult to connect with people emotionally. Although he has tried, over the years he has proved himself to be a boring and dull husband, a passion-free and unimaginative lover and, perhaps worst of all, a disappointment both as a father and role model. Lester has, however, excelled in other areas of his life. His home is pristine and perfect and is situated in a relatively well-to-do residential area, he is well respected socially and is the most accurate and productive accountant ever to have been employed by the firm of Ashcroft, Jenkins and Harman. Lester Prescott thinks in black and white. Show a child a cardboard box and they'll turn it into a spaceship, a plane, a car, a robot suit or whatever else their unrestricted imaginations can create. As far as Lester Prescott has always been concerned, however, a cardboard box is, was and only ever could be a cardboard box.

Prescott and his long-suffering wife Janice have been married for twenty-seven years and two months. For twenty-five of those years they've lived in the same semi-detached house a third of the way down Baker Road West . Twenty-three years ago next month their only child - Madeline - was born. Maddy, as she's known, left home at the age of eighteen to study. She loves her parents dearly but does her level best to only go back and see them when she absolutely has to. She recently qualified as a nurse and now works in a large hospital on the other side of town.

Last Tuesday morning Janice, Maddy and more than six billion other people were killed by the most virulent virus ever to curse the face of the planet. Much to his surprise, Lester Prescott survived.

Day eight ends and day nine begins. What will this day bring? This last week has been harder than I could ever have imagined and I need to stop and take some time out now. None of it makes any sense. I sometimes come here at night to try and work it all out. I sit here on the end of Maddy's bed and look around her room. It's just as she left it when she went to university. Mother and I didn't see any point in changing it until she'd got herself married and settled down in her own home. It'll never happen now, of course. I'll never change this room now. It's a little oasis of normality in a world that's gone completely mad.

The passage of time hasn't made any of this any easier to understand or deal with. The chain of events which began last Tuesday are still as confusing, inexplicable and painful as they were when they first happened. It started like just about every other Tuesday has started since I've worked for AJH. I arrived at work at ten to eight, got my desk ready and then started on my figures. Bill Ashcroft (one of the senior partners) was the first person it caught. He was standing talking to his secretary Allison when it took him. I then watched it work its way around the office, killing everyone around me, and I just sat there, too afraid to move, waiting for my turn. I still don't understand why it didn't get me. I don't know why I escaped. Before I knew it I was the only one left alive.

I left the office as quickly as I could, stopping only to put away my papers again, pack my briefcase and fetch my newspaper and coat from the cloakroom. I made my way home as fast as I could but the journey was harrowing and painfully slow. Outside it was as if someone had simply flicked a switch. Everyone seemed to have died at almost exactly the same moment. I saw hundreds of bodies down and cars crashed. It seemed to take me forever to work my way through the wreckage and get back to the house.

I had been thinking about Janice and Maddy constantly since leaving the office and I had hoped to return home to find Janice sitting there waiting for me. After all I seemed to have survived, so why shouldn't she have too? Sadly it wasn't to be. I found her in the kitchen, lying on her back on the floor in an inch and a half of water. The tap had been left running and the room was awash. My dear Janice was soaked through. I set to work sorting things out straight away. I dried her off as best I could and then wrapped her in a blanket and covered her with black plastic refuse sacks which I taped up. It wasn't an easy or pleasant task but I managed to get it done. It seemed a little undignified at the time, but I was acting in accordance with the instructions contained in the government information booklet we received last summer. Janice used to mock me because, by nature, I am occasionally pedantic and perhaps a little obsessive. She used to say that my attention to detail was infuriating. Thank goodness I am that way is all that I can say. As a result of the filing system I've implemented in my study I was able to lay my hands on the booklet immediately and deal with my wife's body quickly, humanely and hygienically, just as the government had instructed.

As I worked to move Janice's body and clean up the mess in the kitchen I kept a constant eye out for Maddy. I felt sure that she'd come home before long and I wanted to make sure that Mother had been properly dealt with before she arrived. My mood darkened with every minute that passed. As if losing my closest companion hadn't been enough for one day, with each second that ticked by it looked increasingly likely that my only child was gone too. Eventually, at half-past one that afternoon, I could sit and wait no longer. I set out to find her. Once again my progress outside was frustratingly difficult and slow. I arrived at the hospital in an hour and ten minutes and immediately started to look for her. According to my notes she should have been on duty but I couldn't find her. I had an awful time searching through the bodies for Maddy. So many poor, innocent people had lost their lives so suddenly and inexplicably...

When I couldn't find her on any of the wards she covered I worked my way back from the hospital to the house she shared with her friends Jenny and Suzanne. It was there that I found our little girl in her front garden, lying on her back in the long grass. Bloody hell, she deserved much more than that. Such a cruel, sudden and undignified end to such a short and beautiful life. It broke my heart to see her like that. I put her in the car and brought her back home with me. I dealt with her body in accordance with official instructions, just as I had Mother's.

It was impossible and undignified to leave my family out on the patio as I had done. They both deserved so much more than that. I read through the government booklet again that afternoon. It said that the bodies of any fatalities should be buried away from the house. Dejectedly I decided I would have to do just that. I dragged them both the length of the garden to the small area of lawn between the garden shed and Maddy's old swing. We'd originally brought her that swing on her sixth birthday but Mother and I decided we'd keep it even after she'd grown out of it and stopped using it. It was always there to remind us of her. She used to have so much fun playing on it with her friends. Even now whenever I look at it all I can see is young Maddy swinging on it in the summer sunshine. We had hoped that we'd have grandchildren to use it one day.

I unlocked the shed and went inside.

The garden shed has always been my escape. As well as being a very practical and convenient storage space, it was also a quiet and comfortable little area where I could sit and work or read my paper or listen to sport on the radio. Maddy and her mother liked their television and their soap operas but I couldn't abide the constant noise and distraction. Quite often - almost daily in the summer months, certainly most weekends - I would shut myself away in the shed and relax in my own company with a cup of tea or a glass of something stronger.

Before I picked up my tools I sat down on the deck chair in the corner of the shed and tried to take stock of all that had suddenly happened around me. Sitting there it was hard to comprehend the enormity and finality of what had happened and I could hardly believe that my wife and daughter's lifeless bodies lay just inches away. With tears in my eyes I looked around the little wooden hut and remembered all that I had lost. The season was almost over and the mower and some of the garden tools had been cleaned and were ready to be put away. On the opposite wall was where I stored the summer things that Maddy and her mother used to use; plastic patio furniture, sun-loungers and deck chairs, garden games and the like. In a small wooden box tucked away in one corner I found a collection of brightly coloured buckets and spades which I had again kept for those grandchildren who would now never arrive. They reminded me of many summer holidays now long gone where Maddy, Mother and I would spend endless days playing on the beach in the blistering sun. All of that seemed hundreds of miles and thousands of years away now.

With a heavy heart I stood up, picked up my spade and the garden edging tool, and set to work. I took a rough measurement of the length and width of Maddy's body (she was slightly taller and thicker set than her mother) and marked out the shape of the two graves in the turf close together. I carefully lifted the turf and then spent the next two hours digging. Although we used to go to church most Sundays I wasn't quite sure what I should say before I covered up their bodies. It was difficult to think of the right words. I loved them both very much but I've always found it hard to properly express my feelings. Being gushing, emotional and romantic was something I've always struggled with, such words have never come naturally to me. In any event I thanked God for their lives and asked that they would now find peace. They were good people and I was confident they would. I was far less sure about what the future had in store for me.

I'm not the kind of man who sits around feeling sorry for myself. I wouldn't have been doing anyone any favours if I'd just sat there and done nothing. I spent a lot of time over the first two days of the crisis trying to make sense of what had happened but I soon realised that it was impossible. No answers were forthcoming. More to the point, I couldn't find anyone or anything to help me find those answers. Strange as it seemed, the whole world seemed to suddenly have died. The whole world, that was, except me. I read through the government booklet again and again but it was of little help. It kept talking about how the authorities would help and how I should sit and wait for further instructions from them. I was ready to sit and wait, but I was pretty certain that no further instructions were ever going to come. As far as I could tell (and I didn't do anything to verify the validity of my claim) I was the only man left alive.

So what did I need to do in order to sit and wait? I had plenty of food at the house, but it was already clear that I'd need more. With each hour that passed it seemed more and more likely that what had happened was going to take many weeks and months, possibly even years to sort out - if it ever got sorted out at all. I needed to be ready to fend for myself for a long, long time. With that in mind I took the car round to the shops and started to collect supplies. Food, cleaning materials, clothing, medicines... even books, paper and pens. I had already realised that it would be important to try and keep myself occupied both physically and mentally. I had written myself a comprehensive list that ran to almost two full sheets of paper. I managed to get just about everything I needed and it took two trips in the car to get it all back home. It didn't feel right taking such a large amount of goods without paying, but I had no means of making payment and there was obviously no-one there to make payment to. Instead I made a second list of what I'd taken and also the cost of each individual item. When some semblance of normality finally returned, I decided, I would go back and make a payment for everything I had been forced to take. The proprietors of the shops involved, if they ever returned, would undoubtedly understand.

The third morning was as frightening and disorientating as the first had been. Just when I was beginning to get used to my situation it changed again. On the third morning many of the bodies that had fallen and died suddenly began to drag themselves back up onto their feet again. When I saw the first of them I hoped that was the end of it, that this was the first indication of an impending return to normality. It quickly became clear that was not the case. The bodies that had moved were unresponsive and slow. I stood out in the middle of the road in front of the house and stopped the body of Judith Springer from number 19 as it staggered past the end of the drive. I had known Judith and her husband Roy for many years, but the cold, empty creature which stood in front of me that morning was most certainly not Mrs Springer. It looked the same (save for a few unpleasant signs of deterioration) but it failed to react as a normal human being should. For goodness sake, the bloody thing wasn't even breathing.

I shut my door on the rest of the world again and went through to the back of the house. What about Maddy and her mother? Had their condition changed also? I found myself faced with the bizarre and repulsive (but very real) possibility that the wife and daughter I had buried just two days earlier might now be trying to escape from their hastily dug graves. I made my way through to the back garden and crouched down next to the two slightly raised humps in the turf. There had been no change as far as I could see. I didn't know what to do for the best. I lay there and put my ear to the ground and listened but I couldn't hear anything and I couldn't feel any movement. I reminded myself that not all of the bodies outside were moving again, some still lay where they had fallen. I didn't know whether Maddy and her mother remained motionless or whether I had buried them too deep for them to be able to get out. For a second I seriously contemplated digging them up and exhuming their bodies, but what would that have achieved? If they were capable of moving, so what? What difference would it have made? Judith Springer, as vacuous and uninteresting as I had always found her, was most certainly dead, despite the fact that she was suddenly and inexplicably mobile again. I decided that it was kinder both to Maddy and her mother to leave them where they were and preserve what remained of their dignity.

I sat out in the garden shed again that afternoon and read a book and occasionally dozed lightly. My sleep was punctuated with desperate dreams and twisted nightmares about my dead daughter and wife. It was almost dark when I woke up properly and went back inside. The low light increased my unease. I regretted having slept. I tossed and turned all night in bed.

As the situation outside continued to change I made a conscious effort to try and find things to do to try and keep myself positive and motivated. I had left the car parked on the drive and had stored the provisions I'd taken at the far end of the garage. In fact I had collected such an impressive volume of supplies that they filled almost the entire length of the cold, rectangular room. On the morning of the fourth day, when there was finally enough light to see clearly, I sat at my desk in the study and made a list of my daily dietary requirements. I used reference books, our family medical dictionary and the encyclopaedia to calculate the minimum I would need to eat each day to survive. I then spent the entire day in the garage, dividing the numerous boxes and bags of food into equal-sized daily rations, making sure there were sufficient levels of the necessary vitamins, proteins and whatever other chemicals I needed for each day. I also allowed myself a daily luxury - a can of beer or a packet of sweets for example. It quickly became apparent that I wouldn't be able to get quite everything I needed from my provisions. I decided I would have to look at fetching vitamin and mineral supplements when I next went out, if they proved necessary. During the day I also became very aware that none of the food I had was fresh. Perhaps, I thought to myself, I could start trying to grow my own vegetables if my situation remained unchanged for any length of time. Janice and I had always maintained a small vegetable plot, but perhaps I would need to expand the operation over the coming year. Sitting there on the garage floor surrounded by packages of food I found the idea of having to fend for myself on such a basic level strangely exciting.

I worked long and hard that day and, by eight o'clock when the light had all but disappeared again, I was finished. On the garage floor lay forty-three separate food parcels for the next forty-three days. I tried not to think of them as rations but that, in effect, was what they were. Talk of rationing made it sound like it was wartime, but it most certainly wasn't. For me to have been at war I needed an enemy, and at that moment in time I was very definitely alone. I locked the side garage door and walked around to the back door and let myself back into the house.

Things changed again on the morning of day five.

I woke up and threw back the curtains to find myself looking down on a street scene very different to the one I had last seen the previous evening. Outside my house was a vast and continually growing crowd of people. Initially elated I quickly got dressed and readied myself to go outside to see what they wanted. These people - although similar in appearance to the empty souls who had been dragging themselves along the streets for the last two days - behaved differently. They were definitely gravitating around my house with a purpose, not just drifting by. I stood out there with them, separated from the crowd by only the metal gate across the end of the drive, and for what felt like an eternity I said nothing. My heart sank as I got closer to them. Their faces were blank and empty and they seemed to look through me as if I wasn't there. The nearest few figures were being continually jostled and pushed against the gate by those immediately behind them and yet they failed to react or stand their ground. I tried to speak to them but they didn't acknowledge my words. Every time I opened my mouth to address them there was a ripple of sudden movement (bordering on muted excitement) throughout the crowd, but none of them seemed capable of responding to me properly. I began to lose my temper. Perhaps it was just the frustration of my increasingly confusing situation getting the better of me. Whatever the reason, I stood there at the end of the drive shouting and screaming at them to answer me. It was an embarrassing show of uncontrolled emotion which I immediately began to regret.

I returned to the house and stood at the bedroom window hoping to make sense of what was happening. Although the behaviour of the bodies outside had changed, it occurred to me that my overall situation remained much the same. What the people on the other side of the gate did or didn't do had no bearing on my fight for survival. Ultimately there had been no substantial change in my situation or my priorities - I had to continue to fight and fend for myself. As the government booklet had said, I needed to sit and wait.

I could see more and more of the bodies approaching from various directions, perhaps drawn to the house as a result of my undignified rant in the street earlier. Whatever the reason, with little else happening in the neighbourhood it seemed that my home was rapidly becoming the centre of attention. It slowly dawned on me that, with everything else dead and silent around me, there was nothing else to distract them. More and more of them would undoubtedly keep coming. I decided that I had few options. I could lock the doors, close the curtains and sit and wait until they disappeared, or I could pack up now and run. After having worked so long and so hard for everything I owned I knew there was no way I could bring myself to leave home, especially not now that my family were buried in the back garden. I knew immediately that I was going to stay there. It was now just a question of how comfortable and safe I could make myself.

Although accountancy was my chosen vocation, I have always had a talent for working with my hands and have prided myself on some of the improvements I have made around the house over the years. I made furniture for Maddy's room, I decorated throughout (several times), I re-glazed a few windows and I laid the patio and built a low brick wall around it. On top of that I devised and constructed storage areas in the attic, the garage, the study, the utility room and the shed. I approached the strengthening of the house with real relish and I planned it carefully. If nothing else, the project would keep me occupied for a few days at least and would help the dragging, lonely hours pass with more speed than they had so far been.

I needed to go out to the hardware store and get materials. Timber, fixings, tools and numerous other bits and pieces were necessary to protect the house as I wanted. I had to leave but I couldn't get the car off the drive. The crowd around the front of the house was, by now, more that fifty bodies deep in places. Even if I had been able to get the car onto the road, in doing so I would inevitably have opened up the drive and the front of my property would have been surrounded. With still more of them arriving by the minute I didn't fancy the prospect of trying to herd the unresponsive throng away from my house and back onto the street.

When we'd first moved into Baker Road West there had been a large expanse of grassland beyond the fence at the bottom of our garden. Five and a half years ago the council sold the land to a housing developer who built more than double the sensible number of houses they should have on it. I certainly would never have considered buying a plot there. They were crammed together and their gardens were virtually non-existent. I had an acquaintance who lived there and I dropped him back home after golf on a number of occasions. The estate was like a rabbit warren, a sprawling maze of cul-de-sacs, groves and avenues. To squeeze more homes in, many of the later phases were built with garages at the bottom of their gardens with access from a track which led along the back of their properties and, by default, across the back of mine also. Although I hadn't yet solved the problem of getting to the hardware store, the track provided me with a convenient means of getting close to the house with the equipment I'd collected when I returned.

I decided to walk. As risky and dangerous as it may have sounded, it strangely seemed the most sensible way to leave. I could climb over the back fence, creep down the track and then quietly and carefully make my way along the main road to the hardware centre at the bottom of the hill. The store catered for trade as well as the general public. There were trucks and vans which could be hired to help transport bulky loads. I'd hired one previously when I'd built the patio. I decided I would use one again to bring back whatever it was I decided to take.

In five minutes under two hours I was back. My trip out progressed with little incident, save for a few uncomfortable moments in the hardware store car park when I found that another crowd of ragged, dishevelled people had gathered around the front of the building after I had disappeared inside. I took my time and moved around quietly, hoping that they wouldn't notice me. I used a trade entrance at the rear of the building to load up a small truck and was able to load everything before any of them had seen me. Once I got home I parked the truck at the back of my house and threw the timber and other items I'd taken over the fence. I left the truck where it was just in case I needed to use it again.

The figures in the streets had become increasingly inquisitive and, for want of a better word, nosy. I couldn't move without huge swathes of shuffling, lethargic bodies tripping towards me. They appeared washed out and empty and, although they were easy to brush to the side, their unwanted attention made me feel uncomfortable. If they continued to come, I thought to myself, the house might end up surrounded by incalculable numbers of them and I might end up using the hardware store truck as a means of escape. I couldn't imagine leaving. I decided that it was more important than ever to make my property as strong and secure as possible. I set about barricading and strengthening every door and window, even every vent, no matter how small, insignificant or unreachable it appeared.

I began with the front of the house. My property is already separated from the road by a knee-high brick wall with a low iron railing on top and a strong iron gate. It seemed sensible to try and increase the height of the barrier, to completely block the house and myself from view as far as was possible. I sank a row of six-foot concrete posts and fence panels into the flower bed directly behind the wall and I used nylon rope and chains to secure a split panel onto the gate (which I also locked with a hefty padlock I had taken from the store). The front of the house was the hardest place to work. The relentless interest of the people on the street was unsettling and disturbing. On more than one occasion I had to push them back to get them out of the way. I asked them to move back but the bloody things were incapable of any positive response. In the end I just shoved them off my drive and back into the crowd.

I did a beautiful job on the ground floor doors. In a moment of inspiration I decided to build a second timber frame around each entrance and fitted new doors on top of the existing ones. Solid wooden fire doors, separately hinged and able to open independently. Perfect. I did something similar with the windows, making wooden shutters that completely blocked out the light. I couldn't help but make a terrific amount of noise as I fitted them. I had no option but to drill into the masonry around the windows and doors. From the top of the ladder working on the front of the house I could see over the newly raised fence and I was able to see the dramatic effect the noise was having on the crowd of people in the street. Some of them began to bang and hammer angrily on my new gate. At times the noise they made threatened to drown out the sound of my drill. I was almost relieved when the battery pack ran out.

It took the best part of two days to make the house as secure as I wanted it. By the time I'd finished I was exhausted. I worked whenever it was light, knowing that I would have plenty of time to stop and rest once the job was complete. At six-thirty on Tuesday evening - more than a week since all of this had started - I sat out on the lawn next to Maddy and her mother and looked back at the house with pride. They would have been impressed with what I'd achieved, I was sure. If nothing else they would have been proud of the fact that I had survived when so many others had fallen. Perhaps Janice wouldn't have been too keen on the aesthetic side of the alterations, but she'd have surely appreciated their functionality. I sat between the graves of my wife and my daughter with a can of beer and the remainder of my daily rations and finally allowed myself to relax. The food and drink tasted better than ever. I had a normal appetite for the first time in days. Rationed food wasn't so bad after all, I decided. I had a fairly wide selection of tastes and flavours in each day's supply. I fully appreciated that my choices might lessen and become substantially more limited as time progressed but, for now, I was doing fine. Tired, but fine.

I slept well last night.

This morning I found that the situation had deteriorated again. Things have suddenly become much less certain and I feel increasingly unsure. Although the house is now secure, today I feel scared and the enormity of what has happened to the world has again become painfully apparent.

I lay lazily in bed for a while, resting after the efforts of the last two days. When I finally got up I went to the front of the house and opened up the new wooden shutters which cover the spare bedroom and bathroom windows. I immediately saw that the crowd outside had more than doubled in size. It now stretched from one end of the street to the other - filling the entire length of Baker Road West - and I couldn't understand why. Surely once I had finished work on the house and was out of sight the people outside should have drifted away, shouldn't they? I cautiously prised the bathroom window open and listened. Although not one of them spoke, there was a constant and very definite noise coming from the unwanted gathering. The sound of shuffling feet, bodies tripping and falling, things being knocked over in the street and smashed, tired hands being slammed against my fence... Individually the sounds were insignificant and indistinct but together they were uncomfortably loud. It was obvious that this was no longer a crowd which would simply drift away again. I could see even more people arriving and joining the edges of the huge gathering.

I ran to the back of the house, thinking that if I did have to leave quickly I could use the hardware store truck which I'd left parked on the track behind the fence at the end of the garden. It was no good, the truck was surrounded. Those bloody things had somehow found the entrance to the track and had filled it for as far as I could see in both directions. There were bloody hundreds of them out there, wedged in so tight that they could hardly move.

The front of the house was cut off, as was the back. Increasingly concerned and unsettled I fetched my binoculars from the study and tried to make a full assessment of the situation. The news wasn't good. My house - number 47 - is two-thirds of the way down Baker Road West which is a fairly straight road. Looking out of the back of my property there are more houses behind and to the right. To the left, two hundred and fifty yards (ten houses) away, is a large pub, The Highway. To my horror this morning I saw from the bedroom window that the pub car park was full of more of the dark, shuffling people. The crowd was immense, and it dwarfed the gathering at the front of my house. And, worst of all, all that separated them from my garden and my house was eleven wooden fences. The fences around my property are all in relatively good repair, but the same couldn't be said for those belonging to some of my neighbours. I would frequently see their fences wobbling in strong winds and I doubted whether they'd be able to withstand much force. I had an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that the mass of bodies in the car park would be able to exert more than enough collective pressure to bring them down.

At the other end of the road, almost out of sight from where I watched, was another crowd of similar proportions to the one outside the house. What had I done? What an idiot I had been. I knew that I was responsible for bringing the people here. In my haste and enthusiasm to protect the house and make it secure the noise I had made had inadvertently revealed my position to untold thousands of the damn things. Did I sit and wait this out or take my chances and run? My two original choices seemed suddenly to have been slashed to one. There was no obvious way of getting out.

I read through the government booklet again and again, hoping that I would find a page I'd somehow missed previously that might give me some idea of how to deal with my situation. No matter how hard I stared at the pages there was nothing. There was information on dealing with bomb threats, hostage situations, flu epidemics and terrorist attacks, basic first aid advice and a list of emergency telephone numbers (useless as the phone had been dead all week) but nothing to help me with the sudden and very real threat that I was facing. Apart from me the entire population had fallen and died, and now most of them seemed to have returned from the grave and were gravitating around my house. What the hell was I supposed to do?

During the course of the day now ending I have watched the crowds slowly draw closer. Just before one o'clock this afternoon the fence around the pub car park finally gave way under the weight of the countless bodies pushing against it. With the barrier down the people pushed, shoved and surged into the first garden only to stop when they slammed into the fence on the other side. It began to wobble and shake precariously but, for a time, it stayed intact, finally falling about an hour and a half later when it could no longer withstand the pressure being exerted from behind. The size of the crowd was incredible. As each fence collapsed it was as if a dam had burst its banks and the people poured through like an unstoppable wave.

Bill Peters, who lived at number 55, had a good, sturdy fence with concrete posts and a strong base which held up their progress for a while. Even Bill's fence wasn't good enough to stop them. They finally broke through at a quarter past four, leaving them just three gardens away from my home.

Day eight ends and day nine begins.

It's a little before one now and I'm sitting in Maddy's room watching them. I can see them from the end of the bed. I can see hundreds, probably thousands of shifting, bobbing heads moving in the cold moonlight. The recent nights have been overcast and dark but tonight the sky is clear and the moon is full and I can see everything. I wish it would disappear back behind the clouds. I'd rather see nothing.

I can't get out of here now. Even if I could, I'm not sure that I'd want to. This is my home. Everything I've ever worked for is here. The people I did all the work for are here too, buried at the bottom of the garden. This small plot of land is my world. I have nowhere else to go and there is no-one else to go to. I will not give up what is mine. I would rather die here than anywhere else, and as the clock ticks tonight the end of my life seems strangely inevitable.

I'm calm. I feel nervous and unsure and I don't want to face them, but I'm calm and I'm keeping my head. I will maintain my dignity and pride and I will continue to defend what's mine. There will be no kicking and screaming and no shame.

Oh, Christ... The splinter and crack of wood and another fence goes down. I move to the window and I can see that the crowd is closer than ever now, surging awkwardly across Pauline and Geoff Smart's lawn and slamming against the fence on the other side of their garden. They are now just two gardens away from me. It won't be long now.

Three-fifteen. I've sat here uselessly and watched them move closer. The penultimate fence is down now and a few thin wooden panels are all that separates the crowd from my property. I'm standing at the window now, looking directly at them. There doesn't seem to be any point trying to keep out of sight. It won't make any difference. Even if they don't know I'm here, their progress is unstoppable. They're coming here whatever.

I don't feel right. Something's missing. I know what it is - I shouldn't be stood up here watching them and waiting to mount my final defence, I should be down there. More to the point, I should be with Maddy and her mother when it happens. It's not the house I should be defending, it's my family.

If I'm out there then everything will happen as soon as the fence comes down. If I stay up here I'll be watching and waiting for God knows how long until they get into the house, and I'm not entirely sure they'll be able to get inside, no matter how many hundreds of them there are. They don't seem capable of doing anything that requires thought or concentration, they just blunder about continually. I doubt if any of them would even be able to open a bloody door. My provisions are stored out in the garage. I don't think I've got time to bring them all into the house now and even if I did I'd just be sat here with my memories, waiting for them to get in or for the end to finally arrive. Imagine starving to death in your own home. It's not right. That's not how I want to go...

I'll go outside.

Couple of hours and it'll all be over.

Lester Prescott quietly and tearfully left his daughter's room and shuffled across the landing to the bedroom he and Janice had shared for the last twenty-five years. Tired, dejected and with his heart heavy and full of resignation, sorrow and grief, he opened the wardrobe and took out his favourite jumper. Threadbare and tattered, it was the jumper he always used to wear when he was out in the garden at weekends. He pulled it on over his head and then sat down on the edge of the bed to tighten his shoe laces and pull up his socks.

Pausing only to take four cans of beer from his next week's rations, he took one last long look around his home and then went outside. He walked the length of the garden, looking around with pride and even now stopping to pick a weed from between the slabs on the patio and to tidy the edge of a flower-bed where the uncut grass has started to tumble towards Janice's prized plants. He stopped when he reached the garden shed and looked down at the two uneven mounds in the lawn where he'd buried his wife and only child.

Seems a shame that it all has to finish like this, he thought as he disappeared into the shed and fetched a spade and garden fork with which he could defend himself when the fence came down. He then squeezed his backside onto the seat of Maddy's swing and sat and looked back at the house. All that work for nothing. All those years of relentless number-crunching, day after day, week after week. Maybe he should have taken more time off? Perhaps he should have spent more time at home. And when he'd been at home, should he have spent more time sitting doing nothing with his family instead of working on his projects or hiding himself away in the garden shed? Lester opened his first can of beer and drank half of it in a series of quick, gassy gulps. He'd never been much of a drinker and the beer made him feel slightly sick. He belched and wiped his mouth and looked at the fence which was now rocking and shaking with the force of untold numbers of bodies behind it. Hope I can get through enough of these to take the edge off the fear, he thought, shaking his half-full can and stifling another belch. Bloody hell, Lester sighed sadly, this is like waiting to see the dentist. Just wish we could get it over with.

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