Chapter 31

Emma finally managed to fall asleep a little after two o'clock the following morning but she was awake again by four.

Her bedroom was dull and cold. She woke up with a sudden start and sat bolt upright in bed. The air around her face was icy and her breath condensed in cool clouds around her mouth and nose.

Since arriving at the farm she and Michael had shared this room. There was nothing sinister or untoward about Michael's presence there  -  he continued to sleep on the floor in the gap between the bed and the outside wall and he discreetly looked away or left the room whenever she dressed or undressed. Neither had ever spoken about their unusual sleeping arrangements. Both of them silently continued to welcome the warm comfort and security of having another living, breathing person close nearby.

This was the first morning that Michael hadn't been there when she'd looked. He often rose first but, until this morning, she'd always been aware of him getting up and leaving the room.

She instinctively leant over to her right (as she often did first thing) and, finding it hard to focus her eyes in the early morning gloom, stretched out her arm, hoping that her outstretched fingers would reach the reassuring bulk of her sleeping friend. This morning, however, her tired eyes had not deceived her  -  where she had expected to find Michael she instead found only his crumpled sleeping bag. He had definitely been there when she'd gone to bed because she could clearly remember hearing him snuffling and snoring as he had drifted off to sleep beside her. She leant across a little further, picked up the empty sleeping bag and pulled it close to her face. It smelled of Michael, and it was still warm from the heat of his body.

No need to panic, she thought.

Had it been any later then she wouldn't have been unduly worried, but it was only four o'clock. Perhaps he hadn't been able to sleep. Maybe he'd just gone elsewhere because he'd been restless and he hadn't wanted to wake her up.

Regardless of the reason, Emma got up and pulled on a nearby pair of jeans and a thick towelling dressing-gown which she had left draped over the back of a chair on the other side of the bed. She tiptoed across the dark bedroom with arms stretched out in front of her to give guidance and balance. The varnished floorboards were cold beneath her bare feet and she shivered as she reached out to open the door.

There was considerably more light on the landing. The thick curtains drawn across her bedroom window had blocked out almost all of the early morning light. She glanced up the short flight of stairs which led to Carl's attic room and saw that his door was open. Unusual, she thought. With Carl becoming more of a recluse with each passing day, she had become used to not seeing or hearing him before midday. At the moment the last thing he seemed to want was any contact with Michael or herself, especially at this time of the morning.

She crept along the landing to the top of the staircase and peered down to the hallway.

'Michael,' she hissed. The deathly quiet of the building amplified her voice to an unexpectedly loud volume.

No response.

'Michael,' she called again, this time deliberately a little louder. 'Michael, Carl...where are you?'

She waited for a moment and concentrated on the silence of the house around her, hoping that the ominous quiet would soon be shattered by a reply from one of her two companions. When no such reply came, she took a couple of cautious steps forward and called out again.

'Michael,' she called for the forth time, her voice now at full volume. 'Christ, answer me, will you?'

Another step forward. She stopped again and waited and listened. She lifted her foot to take a further step but then, before she could put it down again, the oppressive quiet was shattered by a dull thump from outside. She froze, routed to the spot in fear. She had heard that sound last night.

Another thump.



Then suddenly the sound of a thousand bodies beating their rotting fists against the barrier round the house.

Desperate, Emma ran downstairs. The relentless noise coming from outside was increasing in volume. It was different this morning, harsher and already much, much louder than last night. Last night the bodies had hammered against the gate with tired, clumsy hands. This morning they sounded more definite. This morning they sounded purposeful.

'Michael,' she hissed again, still no closer to finding either of her companions. She looked up and down the empty hallway for any signs of life.

The noise outside reached an almighty crescendo and then stopped. Confused and terrified, Emma ran to the front door and stared out over the yard.

The gate across the bridge was down.

A vast torrent of stumbling bodies was surging towards the house.

Seconds later and there was another noise, this time from the kitchen. It was the cracking of glass. Emma ran into the room and then stopped dead in her tracks. Pressed hard against the wide kitchen window were countless diseased and decomposing figures. Pairs of cold, clouded and expressionless eyes followed her every move and the remains of numb, heavy hands began to beat against the fragile glass. In abject horror she watched as a series of jagged cracks quickly worked their way across the window from the bottom right to the diagonally opposite corner.

Emma turned and ran. She tripped on a rug in the hallway and half-sprinted, half-fell into the living room, landing in an uncoordinated heap on the carpet. She looked up and saw through the French windows that more rotting faces were staring back at her from outside this room. Forgetting about Michael and Carl, she knew that her only chance was to barricade herself in Carl's attic bedroom  -  the highest and, she hoped, safest part of the house.

As she sprinted back down the hallway towards the stairs the front door burst open under the force of a thousand desperate bodies outside. Like a dam that had broken its banks, in seconds an unstoppable flood of abhorrent creatures were inside. She struggled to push past the first few corpses and get to the staircase. She ran up the stairs and then paused for a fraction of a second to look back down. The whole of the lower floor of the house was carpeted with a seething mass of writhing, rotting bodies.

She ran into her room (as it was the closest) and slammed the door shut behind her. Struggling in the darkness, she threw a chair out of the way and kicked her way through a pile of Michael's discarded clothes. Once she'd reached the window she threw back the curtains and looked outside to see her worst nightmare made reality. The barrier around the house was down in at least three places that she could see. Countless figures continued to stagger towards the house and the yard was a heaving sea of bodies. The van  -  her only means of escape  -  was hopelessly surrounded. Beyond the remains of the fence, for as far as she could see in all directions, hundreds of thousands of shadowy figures traipsed relentlessly towards Penn Farm.

There was a sudden crashing noise behind her and Emma span round to find herself face to face with four corpses. She could see more of them on the landing, the sheer volume of bodies having forced them into the room. The nearest of the group of four  -  something that had once been a Policeman  -  stared at her for a moment before lurching forward. She screamed and tried desperately to open the window.

As the bodies approached she turned and kicked the first creature square in its withered and rotting testicles. It didn't flinch or show the slightest flicker of emotion. Instead it reached out for her with vicious, talon-like fingers and caught hold of her hair, yanking her down onto the bed.

As the first sharp claws tore into her skin the nightmare ended.


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