Dean grabbed his coat from where he'd left it at the bottom of the banister and put on his trainers. He filled his school bag with all the food he could find in the kitchen, swung it onto his back and stepped out into the open. He shut the door behind him, locked it (he was pretty sure he'd done it properly) and then put Mum's keys in his trouser pocket.
She hadn't taken her bag. Strange that she'd left it there in the middle of the street. And her phone too.
He picked up the phone and held it tightly in his hand. He picked up the bag too but then stopped and put it down again at the end of the road because it was quite big and heavy and because he didn't think there was anything that important in it. Mum always carried her purse and her money in her coat pocket because it was safer. Dean tucked the bag out of sight at the end of someone's drive.
Where was she? Where would she have gone?
Strange that there were other people moving around now. Strange that none of them seemed to respond, even when he got up close to them. Strange that all their faces looked so cold and empty and that none of them answered when he asked them for help.
I remembered the way to Dad's work because Mum took me there on the bus loads of times when we went to meet him in the holidays. I thought I'd try and walk there even though I knew it was quite a long way.
I'm going to go and find Dad and then the two of us will go and find Mum.
DAY FIVE AMY STEADMAN Part iii
A further two days have passed since Amy Steadman's corpse began to move. It is now five days since first infection and death.
Amy's body has continued to move constantly around its immediate surroundings. Until now its movements have been automatic and spontaneous and any changes to direction have occurred purely as a result of the corpse reaching a physical obstruction and being unable to keep moving forward. The corpse is little more than an empty collection of bones, rotting tissue and dead flesh. At this stage it does not have any conscious control or decision making capabilities. The body moves until it is stopped and then alters direction and continues to move again.
Although animated, the cadaver remains otherwise lifeless and oblivious to its surroundings. It is ignorant to its physical limitations. The body is continuing to decay and the lack of a functioning circulatory system is beginning to cause movement problems. Gravity has steadily pulled the body's internal contents downwards. Blood has swollen its already clumsy hands and feet. It's bowels are slowly and involuntarily evacuating. The face, already tinged with the blue-green hue of decay, is otherwise drained of colour.
Until now the body's nervous system has been operating at a massively reduced level, and the corpse is oblivious to changes in its surroundings such as temperature, humidity and light levels. Several hours ago its clothing became snagged and torn after becoming entangled with the wheel of an upturned shopping trolley. The body's once smart black skirt is now just a rag wrapped around its right foot. It has also lost one of its shoes which causes its awkward gait to become even more clumsy and unsteady.
The corpse does not respire, nor does it have any need to eat or drink or seek shelter or protection. There is, however, still some activity in the centre of the brain which facilitates some basic functionality. The eyes and ears operate at a massively reduced level. It can see and hear, although it is presently unable to interpret and understand the information it absorbs. As the rest of the body continues to deteriorate, however, the part of the brain least affected by the infection is beginning to re-establish itself, albeit at a desperately slow rate.
Less than three hundred meters away from the corpse's present location the front of another building has collapsed. Initially damaged by a truck which plunged off an elevated section of road when its driver became infected, the weakened structure has now crumbled and caved in on itself, producing huge amounts of dust and substantial vibrations and noise. Amy Steadman's body, although not understanding what the disturbance is, has instinctively altered direction and is beginning to move towards it.
It is just before eight o'clock in the morning and the building where Amy died has now been in almost total darkness for more than twelve hours. With no electricity, almost all of the visible light comes from the windows in and around the main entrance doors which the body is now moving towards. It does not realise that this is an exit, but it gravitates towards the doors because of the comparative level of brightness there and also the fact that the sound and vibrations from the building collapse emanated from that general direction. Three of the four main doors are blocked. Still drawn to the brightness outside, instead of turning and moving away when it reaches the glass, Amy's body now shuffles clumsily from side to side until it finally reaches the single open door and trips outside.
The body is ignorant to the sudden change in its surroundings. It is noticeably cooler outside and it has been raining steadily for the last two hours. A strong westerly wind is gusting across the front of the building that the corpse has just emerged from, and the sudden strength of the wind is sufficient to knock the comparatively weak body off course. The cloud of dust which was thrown up by the collapse of the second building is steadily being washed down by the rain, causing the entire scene to become covered in a light layer of grey dirt and mud. The noise and vibrations have faded now and there remains no noticeable indication of the previous disturbance. Without any obvious visual or auditory distractions, Amy Steadman's corpse begins to move randomly again, shuffling slowly forward until it can go no further and then turning and moving away.
Several hours have now passed.
The corpse has now moved more than half a mile from the building where it was infected and killed. It has continued to make constant but slow and directionless progress. Its dulled eyes have gradually become accustomed to the light levels outdoors. Additionally the rain has now stopped and the scene has brightened. Previously only able to see clear, obvious movements and stark differences in light levels, the sodden corpse is now able to distinguish a finer level of detail and is aware of more subtle changes around its immediate vicinity. There are other bodies nearby. Amy's cadaver is now able to see their movements from a distance of around ten meters away.
As a result of the immense devastation caused by the infection, the ground outside is littered with debris and human remains. The streets are uneven and the corpse frequently loses its footing and falls, its slow reactions preventing it from taking any corrective action until it is too late. As the day has progressed, however, the body has been able to move with slightly more freedom and control.
The environment through which the body is now moving is largely silent. It has reached a wide and straight road which leads out of town and it has been moving along this road in the same general direction for some time. There are numerous crashed cars and other vehicles nearby. Just ahead, straddling half of the width of the carriageway, is a family-sized estate car containing three corpses. In the back is a dead child, in the front passenger seat its dead mother. The third corpse - that of an overweight man in his late thirties - moves continually but is restrained and held in place by its safety belt. In the boot of the car, trapped behind a protective wire-mesh grille, is a dog. It has no means of escape and is becoming increasingly angry and scared. For some time the hungry and confused animal has been quiet but the movement from the body in the front of the car and the close proximity of another random corpse outside has suddenly excited it again. It has begun to bark and howl and its cries can be heard from a considerable distance away.
Half an hour and already three more bodies have reached the car. Attracted by the animal's noise they crowd around it, leaning heavily against its windows and occasionally banging their numb, clumsy fists against the glass. Their appearance and actions cause the dog to become even more agitated. Amy Steadman's corpse has now become aware of the noise and is moving towards it. It reaches the car and joins the group of cadavers. This section of road is relatively remote. Nevertheless, in the absence of any other constant and distinguishable sounds, just over an hour later and the dog in the car has been surrounded by another seventeen corpses.
By next morning Amy Steadman's corpse is one of a crowd of almost two hundred bodies gravitating around the car.
DUCK AND COVER
Counsellor Ray Cox never wanted this level of responsibility. He'd wanted the title 'counsellor' for the social status and financial implications, not for any other reason. Overpaid and underworked, he had sat in the shadows at the back of the council chambers for several years and had tried his best not to be noticed, except when it was unavoidable or in his interest to be seen. It was a sad indication of the apathy amongst his constituents that he had been elected and then re-elected without actually ever having done very much for them at all. It had been different to begin with, of course. Back then in the early days he'd wanted to make an impression. He'd wanted to be somebody. But the novelty of office had quickly worn off and the reality of the job set in. Cox's priorities had changed and his prime concerns became lining his own pockets and claiming back as much food, entertainment, drink and travel costs in expenses as he possibly could. The good of the community had been long forgotten - never completely ignored, but often conveniently overlooked and put to one side. In the space of a single devastating and unimaginable day, however, everything in Cox's world had been turned on its head.
Working with the council leaders had stood Cox in good stead, both personally and on a business level. When he'd made a few very public mistakes (a couple of years ago now) and had got himself mixed up in an ill-considered and wholly inappropriate business deal, his friends in high places had looked after him. They found him a quiet and modest little office at the far end of a particularly long corridor and gave him responsibility for the borough's tennis courts and football pitches and various other public amenities which tended on the whole to pretty much look after themselves. They made sure that there were enough of their people working with him and around him to make sure he made the right decisions and to keep him out of trouble. All things considered, Cox was happy with the arrangement.
Full council meetings were, at the very best of times, long, drawn out and tedious affairs which frequently degenerated into huge, overblown debates about the most trivial of issues. He'd sat there for hour upon hour before now listening to the arguments for and against such issues as the politically-correct renaming of school 'blackboards' to 'chalkboards' and whether or not the frayed and threadbare chairs in the council chambers should be reupholstered with dark blue or light purple material. Cox switched off whilst these pointless debates raged, writing them off as a total waste of time without even bothering to listen. He never contributed to the discussions and he found it hard to hide his disinterest. He'd always felt the same about the Emergency Planning Committee too although, of course, he'd pricked up his ears and listened intently when they'd explained what the counsellors should do in the event of an emergency. He'd even found a reason to go down and check out the bunker on more than one occasion. The committee - or EPC as they were known - were the butt of many private jokes and whispers. A group of fairly senior council members who regularly got together to assemble and maintain detailed plans to coordinate and run the Borough should the unthinkable ever happen. Well now it had.
Cox had been one of those counsellors who'd thought the EPC an unnecessary and over the top waste of time and money. He just couldn't see the point in it. The council did a pretty bloody poor job of running things at the best of times, how the hell would it cope in the event of a nuclear or chemical attack or similar? And anyway, the cold war was over and, despite the increased number of terrorist threats and attacks that had taken place around the world recently, such an event seemed less likely than ever, certainly here in Taychester anyway. Listening to the committee members discussing the rationing of food, decontamination of the population, the disposal of mass fatalities and the like had seemed pointless and not a little surreal. If the world did come to an end, he thought, then the population would be buggered whatever happened, and no amount of council diplomacy and planning would help. Whenever he thought about the subject he couldn't help remembering an old American public information film he'd seen recently on TV. 'Duck and Cover' he thought it was called. In the film a cartoon turtle walked happily though a cartoon forest, only to hide away and cower safely in its shell when a nearby cartoon atomic bomb exploded. What was the point of telling school children to get under their desks in the event of a nuclear strike? As far as Cox was aware very few materials had been discovered that could withstand the pressure, heat and after-effects of a thermonuclear explosion. And he was pretty sure that even if such a material did exist, it wouldn't be the flimsy wood that the desks the children of Taychester sat behind at school were made from. Even if they managed to survive the blast, what was the point? What would be left? Cox believed it would be better not to survive and 'Duck and Cover' was an absolute bloody joke as far as he was concerned, as was the Taychester Borough Council EPC and its underground bunker. If it ever did happen, he had long since decided, he wanted to be stood underneath the very first bomb. He didn't particularly want to be around to pick up the pieces afterwards. There'd be one hell of a mess for the council to sort out...
Well now it had happened. Not as he'd ever expected or imagined, but suddenly, from out of nowhere yesterday morning, the end of the world seemed to have arrived. Sitting alone underground in the semi-darkness he struggled to comprehend what had happened around him. He wasn't sure what had taken place on the surface above, but from the little he'd seen it was already clear that it had been an event of unprecedented scale and devastation. It was Wednesday now - more than a day since it had happened - and still he couldn't even begin to come to terms with what he'd witnessed.
Tuesday had begun normally enough. After taking a cup of tea up to his wife Marcia and waking her gently he'd left home at the usual time and had driven across town to the council house. He'd driven down the ramp into the car park below the main building and it was there that the nightmare had begun. He was reversing into his usual space when he caught sight of movement on the ground behind him in his wing mirror. Thomas Jones, one of the finance directors, had collapsed at the side of his car. Cox jumped out and ran round to help the other man but he hadn't been able to do anything for him. He seemed to be suffocating or choking on something. He looked around for help but there was no-one nearby. Cox ran back up the ramp towards the security guard's hut only to find another three people along the way who were suffering in the same way Jones had been. They were writhing and squirming in agony on the dirty concrete floor. Potts, the regular morning car park security guard, was in a similar state also, helplessly thrashing around on the floor of his little square fibreglass hut.
Cox had started to panic. More terrifying than the fact that at least five people around him appeared to have suddenly been attacked by something that he couldn't see or hear, he realised that it might be about to get him too. He continued to run. When he staggered back out into the open and looked across the civic square, however, he stopped and his legs buckled underneath him with nervous fear. It was happening everywhere. For as far as he could see in every direction people were dropping to the ground, unable to breathe, grabbing and clawing desperately at their burning throats. He had to do something. He couldn't help them. The only remaining option was to help himself. Instinctively he turned and ran back underground. Moving faster than he had done for years he forced his unfit and overweight body to keep moving. Level G, Level 1A, past his car on Level 1B and then down to Level 2. There it was, right at the far end of Level 2, a single, inconspicuous grey metal door - the entrance to the council's emergency bunker. He pushed himself towards it, his lungs about to burst but the fear that the invisible killer might be closing in on him kept him moving forward. A figure lurched out of the shadows to his right and stumbled into his path, arms outstretched, desperate for help. Without thinking he grabbed the body and dragged it along with him. He smashed into the bunker door, yanked it open, forced himself and the body inside and then turned back to seal the shelter. He couldn't see anyone else nearby. The Emergency Planning Committee, he decided, were probably already dead. Cox slammed the door shut and sealed and locked it behind him.
The body on the ground was convulsing. Inside the bunker was dark and the only illumination came from dusty yellow emergency lights hanging from the low ceiling. Cox crouched down at the side of the helpless figure and looked it up and down, not knowing how to help or even where to start. Before he could do anything its arms and legs went into a sudden flurry of quick spasms - a fit or a seizure - and then it lay ominously still. His eyes now becoming used to the low light, Cox looked around and took a torch down from a rack on the wall above him. He shined the light into the face of the person now lying motionless at his side. No reaction. The young woman was obviously dead. Her wide, blue eyes stared desperately up into space, as if searching for an explanation as to her sudden demise. Her pale white skin was speckled with spots of dark, crimson blood. Cox wept with fear as he tried to wipe the blood away and as he shook her shoulder to try and get her to move. He had seen the girl around before. He knew that she worked in Payroll (their offices were not far from his own) but he'd never had anything to do with her. The name on her ID card was Shelly Bright. Much as he'd genuinely wanted to help her, Cox wished that she wasn't there. He wished he'd left her outside.
Adrenaline and pure fear kept Cox moving uncharacteristically quickly for the next couple of hours. Like most council members he had a very basic knowledge of what was housed in the bunker and how the generator, lights and air conditioning and filtering systems worked. Relatively basic and foolproof instruction manuals had been left by each piece of machinery and, to his immense relief, he was able to get the bunker operational in a fairly short period of time. It was a dark, depressing place which had been stocked with basic supplies but nothing much of any substance. The EPC had considered it increasingly unlikely that the bunker would ever need to be used as the regional command centre it had originally been designed for. Much of it had been decommissioned over the last decade with just an essential core being preserved. There was sufficient food and water down there to keep a small group alive for a couple of days, perhaps even a week. Alone and preoccupied as usual with thoughts of his own survival, Cox estimated that if he was careful there would probably be enough stored underground to keep him alive for almost a month.
It was a short time later, when the initial shock of the bizarre morning's terrifying events had begun to fade, that Cox truly began to appreciate the potential enormity of what had happened around him. Shelly Bright was dead and so, he assumed, was everyone else that had been affected. Of course he had no way of knowing how widespread this attack or whatever it was had been, but the fact that no-one else had yet tried to gain access to the bunker meant that vast numbers of people in the immediate area had probably been struck down. But surely he couldn't have been the only one who had survived? In an unforgivably selfish moment he found himself hoping that he was. Because, he realised ominously, if the rest of the council were dead, by default he was now in charge of the borough of Taychester! Cox had never wanted this level of responsibility. It wasn't what he'd become a council member for. He didn't dare move. He couldn't risk going back out there. Suddenly 'Duck and Cover' seemed like sound advice.
Cox sat alone in the cold, echoing emptiness of the bunker and waited.
Cox rapidly grew to hate the body of Shelly Bright. It frightened him. He couldn't bring himself to touch it or move it. He didn't want to look at it but at the same time he was also too scared to look away. What if she moved when he wasn't looking? What if she wasn't dead? He hated the pained expression on her frozen face. He'd once thought her attractive (Cox found any woman under the age of forty attractive) but her smooth skin and soft, delicate features had been stretched and contorted by the pain of her sudden suffocation and demise. In the wavering dull yellow light the shadows seemed to shift and her expression seemed continually to change. He knew she hadn't moved, but she now seemed to be grinning at him. A second later she was sneering, then smiling, then snarling... He wanted to close her eyes and shut her out but he was too scared not to look. Eventually, in a moment of uncharacteristic strength and conviction, he covered the corpse with a heavy grey fire blanket.
The long day dragged endlessly and Cox's mind span constantly - filled with a thousand and one unanswerable questions and, it seemed, a similar number of nightmarish images and split second recollections of everything he'd seen. An inherently selfish man who had been conditioned by years of nine-to-five working, it was only as six o'clock in the evening - dinnertime - approached that he began to think about his wife. Was she safe? Should he leave the bunker and go and find her? He already hated being underground but he knew that he didn't dare leave. He'd had a lucky escape this morning. If he went outside now, whatever had killed everyone else would surely come for him. He knew that he had no choice but to sit and wait.
Never a man to follow procedures (often because he didn't understand them), it wasn't until almost nine o'clock that Cox started to read through the emergency planning guidelines and manuals that lay around the dark and cluttered command room. Following step-by-step instructions with the painful, awkward slowness of someone who had avoided as much contact with technology as possible over the last few years, he eventually managed to get the radio working. He cursed the fact that he was so hopelessly inept. Forty-five minutes of fiddling and messing with the controls and all he could get was static punctuated by brief moments of silence. What he'd have given to hear another voice.
It felt like the morning would never come. The lack of natural light was strangely disorientating but, having slept intermittently for the last few hours, just after five o'clock Cox finally plucked up enough courage to get up from his seat and properly investigate his surroundings. He'd so far spent almost all of his time in the main command room but had also briefly visited the stores, the plant room (where the generators and air purification and conditioning equipment machinery was housed) and the bathroom. Moving slowly, and using the torch and dull emergency lighting to find his way around, he peered into two cramped and musty smelling dormitories and a hopelessly inadequate kitchen before returning to the heart of the bunker. Perhaps it was the lack of any proper lighting making things seem worse than they actually were, but the whole place seemed to have fallen into a state of terrible disrepair. He found himself cursing those (himself included) who had mocked the efforts of the EPC in those long and tedious council meetings. If only they'd been better prepared...
It was only when he returned to the command room that he realised just how much the body on the ground was still playing on his mind. Even though it was covered up and was almost impossible to see clearly, he found it difficult to be in the same room as the corpse. What if he was stuck in there for weeks or a month? Imagine the smell and the decay and... and he knew he had to do something about it. It took him over an hour to finally decide what to do, and a further forty-five minutes before he was ready to actually do it. He then shifted the dead bulk into one of the dark dormitories. Shelly Bright's body was stiff, awkward and cumbersome. Its arms and legs were frozen by rigor mortis and Cox had to push, pull and shove it in order to get the corpse from where she'd died, round the corner, down the corridor and into the dorm. Terrified, shaking uncontrollably, panting and sweating profusely he slammed the door shut and sobbed his way back to the command room.
If only there was a window in the main door or some other way that he could see what was happening outside. A part of him began to wonder whether the carnage he thought he'd seen above ground was really as bad as he'd thought. It all seemed so bizarre - had it really happened at all? Was this unbearable self-imposed incarceration necessary? Would he eventually emerge from the bunker to find everything back to normal above ground? He'd be a laughing stock (again). If he stayed down there long enough, someone would probably have moved into his office and taken over his desk...
The urge to open the door and take a look outside was almost impossible to resist. Just a quick look, he thought, just long enough to see what, if anything, was happening out there. Just long enough to see if there really were still bodies lying around and whether there were other people like him who had remained apparently untouched by what had happened. He knew that he couldn't risk it. In frustration he leant against the door and wept. Cox wept for the family and friends that he was sure he'd lost. He wept for the easy, comfortable life which he was certain was gone forever. First and foremost, however, he wept for himself. His retirement from office had been looming on the horizon and an even easier and more comfortable future was in the offing. Now, through no fault of his own, he found himself buried underground with only a corpse for company. Even worse than that, if and when he eventually emerged from the shelter, as potentially the last surviving council member his life would inevitably become harder and more complicated unless he found a way of resigning his position. Maybe he should have stayed outside and let it get him too...
Wait. What was that? He could feel cold air. A very slight breeze on the back of his hand. It was little more than the faintest of draughts coming from the side of the door just below its hinges. In sudden fear he stumbled and tripped further back into the bunker. The bloody door was supposed to be airtight. If he could feel a draught then the seal had been broken, and if the draft was coming from outside then whatever it was that had caused all the death and destruction out there had probably already seeped into the bunker. He scrambled away from the door and hid like a frightened child on the other side of the command room and waited for it to get him.
More than an hour had passed before Cox finally allowed himself to accept that he probably wasn't going to die, not yet, anyway. The people outside had been struck down in seconds. He'd been out there with them when it started and he'd been breathing in the same air (albeit in a filtered form) for more than a day. The fact that he might have some immunity to what had killed so many seemed even more improbable than the arrival of the infection itself. He didn't like to think about it. Cox distracted himself by eating a little food (a powdered meal which he made with cold water) and then fell asleep clutching a picture of Marcia which he'd found tucked amongst the crumpled bank notes, credit card receipts and out of date business cards he'd found stuffed in the back of his wallet.
He could hear something. Cox had been sleeping lightly again but a sudden and unexpected shuffling, bumping noise had disturbed his slumber. Something falling off a shelf? A problem with the generator or the pumps that were filtering and circulating the air? There it was again. He jumped up from his seat, a cold, nervous sweat immediately prickling his brow. In the deathly quiet of the bunker the direction of the noise was clear. It was coming from the dormitory where he'd left Shelly Bright's corpse. But it couldn't have been, could it? As much as he wanted to walk the other way, Cox forced himself to walk towards the room.
Another crash. The sound of someone tripping and falling? What the hell was going on in there? Was there another entrance to the bunker that he wasn't aware of?
Cox wiped the sweat from his forehead and cleared his throat.
'Hello...' he whispered meekly, too scared to raise his voice any louder. 'Hello...?'
He lifted his hand to open the door and then stopped. Come on, he thought, this is bloody stupid. The main entrance to the bunker was sealed and he was sure there was only one way in or out of the dorm so how could there be anything on the other side of the door? He decided that it must have been rats or some other vermin that had somehow managed to tunnel their way in, although how they'd managed to do that when the place was supposed to be airtight was anyone's guess.
'Oh, Christ,' Cox moaned pathetically to himself. He was completely on his own. He didn't have anyone to hide behind now. He knew what he had to do.
Holding a torch in his left hand (both as a source of light and as a potential weapon), Counsellor Cox timidly shoved the door open and shone it into the room. The dull yellow circle illuminated the back wall opposite the door but nothing else. It must have just been...
'Bloody hell,' he cursed loudly as Shelly Bright tripped across the room in front of him. 'What the bloody hell...?' He desperately shone the torch around until he found her again. There was no doubt that it was Bright, but how could it have been? She'd been dead since Tuesday morning, hadn't she? Cox stood rooted to the spot with confusion and fear. After all that he had been through over the last day or so, this new discovery was too much to take. He stared at the body with an uncomfortable mixture of bemusement and sheer terror and he only moved when the creature awkwardly turned itself around and, quite by chance, began to shuffle towards him. He held out his hand and shoved it away. It fell back and then dragged itself back up and walked away, stopping and turning again when it hit the wall at the far end of the room with a heavy, uncoordinated thud. Unable to go any further the cadaver slowly began to walk back towards him. Cox looked deep into its face. Its skin was unnaturally discoloured and its pupils dilated and unfocussed. Without waiting for it to get any closer the terrified counsellor slammed the door shut and gripped the handle tightly. He felt the sudden collision as the corpse hit the back of the door and then listened carefully as it turned and shuffled away again. He dragged a chair out of the other dormitory and wedged it under the handle, preventing it from being opened again.
Back in the command room Cox paced up and down with his hands over his ears, trying to block out the sound of the clumsy body clattering around. The sealed entrance to the bunker now looked more inviting than ever. He purposefully stormed over to the door, fully intending to open it, but then stopped. Although the bunker was obviously no longer airtight (he could still feel the cool draught from outside) he couldn't bring himself to take that final step and push his way back out into the unknown. It might have been hellish underground, but for all he knew it could have been a thousand times worse outside. Sitting tight and doing nothing was, for the moment, the lesser of two evils. With the sounds of the body still crashing around in the background Cox sank to the ground, covered his head with his hands and curled himself up into a ball. It never stopped. The bloody thing never stopped. All day the damn cadaver trapped in the other room moved constantly, smacking into the door, tripping over furniture, knocking things over - the noise, although not particularly loud, was enough to rattle Cox to the core. It was driving him insane. He had to get away from it.
It was almost seven o'clock. He'd been down in the bunker for a day and a half and he wanted out. All day he'd been sitting there in the semi-darkness, trying to decide what he should do. Did he go outside or stay down there and wait? The body would have to stop moving sooner or later, wouldn't it? It couldn't just keep going indefinitely. And how the bloody hell was it managing to move at all? Nothing made any sense.
Cox knew it was important to try and eat but the limited food supplies he had tasted bloody awful. A lover of rich, fatty foods and sugary sweets, cakes and puddings, his stomach was growling angrily and he seriously wondered whether he'd be able to survive on the meagre rations that had been stockpiled below ground. He was growing to detest every aspect of his grim and gloomy surroundings - the stale and musty, artificial smell, the noise of the body, the lack of any decent light. For a while he actually found himself crouching by the door in desperation, sniffing at the 'fresh' air which was somehow managing to seep inside.
What's the point of sitting in here doing nothing, he dejectedly thought to himself? He wanted out. He wanted to go home and find his wife and find out what had happened to the rest of the world. He wanted to change his clothes and eat properly and be away from the damn body which was still moving around incessantly. So what was stopping him? Apart from the obvious fear and uncertainty and the fact that he still thought going outside might kill him, he realised that the main reason he wanted to stay underground was particularly cowardly and selfish. He silently admitted to himself that he didn't want to go up there because he didn't want the responsibility of having to do anything about the mess, and he definitely didn't want to have to take charge of what was left of Taychester. He couldn't do it. He knew he wouldn't be able to do it. But hang on a minute, why should he have to? Although in his early days at the council he'd had his fair share of appearances in the local papers, who would know who he was now and, more to the point, who would care? If he got into the car and drove away quickly, no-one would be any the wiser. He could get on with sorting out what was left of his own life and he could forget about everyone else. In the intense, claustrophobic darkness of the bunker, getting out gradually began to seem more and more like a good idea. Another crash from the dead body in the dormitory convinced him that the time was right to try and make his move. And anyway, he thought, what was there to lose when, in all probability, it looked like he'd already lost everything?
Cox grabbed his jacket and the torch and, after overcoming a final moment of uncertainty and self-doubt, strained to re-open the heavy bunker door. He groaned with effort. It wouldn't open and, for just a second, he panicked as he realised that he might never get out. Another hefty shove and it began to move. He cautiously stepped outside.
It was quiet. And cold. And dark.
Slowly, step by nervous step, Cox moved away from the bunker entrance and began the long climb back up the twisting concrete ramp which led back through the underground car park to the surface. Suddenly there was movement ahead which made him stop dead in his tracks - a single dark figure tripping across the width of the car park. He tried to call out but the silence which shrouded the scene was intense and he couldn't bring himself to make any noise. It didn't matter anyway. The person up ahead was in the same condition as the body he'd left down in the shelter, it was obvious even from a distance. The shadowy figure moved in the same awkward, listless and directionless way as Shelly Bright's remains had done and it failed to respond when he got closer to it, even when he crossed its path and was directly in its line of vision.
As Cox neared the surface the number of bodies around him increased. There were numerous corpses still lying where they'd fallen on the cold concrete and many more dragging themselves silently through the semi-darkness of early evening. In the strangest way he was slightly relieved - everything he'd thought he'd seen on Tuesday morning had actually happened. He hadn't imagined it. He walked past the security guard's hut and peered in through the window to see what remained of Potts scrambling around on the floor pathetically, trying desperately to stand but unable to pull itself up with useless, heavy arms.
The civic square in front of the council house was a grim sight. The sun was just disappearing below the horizon, drenching the scene in warm orange light and casting long, dragging shadows. It had recently been raining and the sunlight made the wet ground glisten and shine. Cox counted sixteen bodies traipsing across the block-paving in various random directions. One of the stupid things nearby lost its footing and tumbled down a short stone staircase just to his right. Its clumsy, barely coordinated movements made him chuckle nervously to himself. His laughter, although quiet, sounded disproportionately loud and made him feel uncomfortable and exposed. Now that the silence had been broken, however, he finally felt brave enough to call out.
'Hello,' he said, his wavering voice at little more than normal speaking volume.
'Hello, can anyone hear me?'
Cox took a few more hesitant steps forward (avoiding the crumpled remains of a foul-smelling, rain-soaked corpse) and then turned back on himself to look across the landscape of Taychester. He'd lived there all his life but had never seen it like this. Tonight it was an alien and cold place. It was so dark. Not a single pinprick of electric light interrupted the steadily increasing darkness. No street lights. No light coming from inside any of the hundreds of buildings he could see. Suddenly feeling cold, alone and afraid the counsellor turned and walked back down to where he'd left his car on Tuesday morning.
He paused for a moment longer before setting off. Perhaps he should go back into the chambers and up to his office and see if there was anyone else around. Had any of his colleagues survived? He couldn't risk it. He couldn't afford to get wrapped up in any council business when he had so many issues and uncertainties in his own life to sort out. That was his excuse and he was sticking to it. He climbed into his car, keen to get away quickly.
The sound of the engine was uncomfortably loud but Cox felt protected and safe behind the wheel. He pulled out of the car park and began to drive home. He clipped the hip of a random body which lurched into his path from out of nowhere as he turned left onto the main expressway. He slammed on his brakes and reversed back to help the bedraggled figure. He watched in petrified disbelief as the corpse silently picked itself up off the ground and limped away.
Used to only having to think about himself and Marcia, Cox drove home quickly, forcing himself to block out and ignore the hundreds of bodies, the countless wrecks of crashed cars and the unprecedented destruction and devastation which lined his entire route home. The house was just as he'd left it first thing on Tuesday.
Cox stopped the car on the drive and walked towards the front door. He paused before going inside. He needed to compose himself before he faced whatever he might find in there. Turning around he stared at the quiet cul-de-sac where he and Marcia had lived for almost ten years. It looked pretty much the same as it always had done, and yet everything felt uncomfortably different. This Wednesday evening had the still and silent air of an early Sunday morning. No-one was about. Nothing moved. Nothing, that was, apart from the remains of Malcolm Worsley (who had lived opposite). Worsley's corpse was trapped in its front garden, hemmed in by the ornate shrubs and privet hedges he'd so lovingly tended for years.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com