Chapter 8

Michael spent the first five and a half hours of the following morning trying to find somewhere comfortable to sleep. When he finally managed to lose consciousness he only slept for forty-five minutes before waking up feeling worse than ever. He'd been lying on the cold hard floor and every bone in his tired body ached. He wished he hadn't bothered.

The main hall was freezing cold. He was fully clothed and had a thick winter jacket wrapped around him but it was still bitter. He hated everything at the moment, but he quickly decided that he hated this time of day most of all. It was dark and in the early morning shadows he thought he could see a thousand shuffling shapes where there were none. Much as he tried he couldn't think about anything other than what had happened to the world outside because absolutely everything had been affected. He couldn't bear to think about his family because he didn't know if they were still alive. He couldn't think about his work and career because they didn't exist anymore. He couldn't think about going out with his friends at the weekend because those friends were most probably dead too, lying face down on a street corner somewhere. He couldn't think about his favourite television programme because there were no television channels broadcasting and no electricity. He couldn't even hum the tune to his favourite songs because it made him remember. It hurt too much to think about memories and emotions that, although only gone for a few days, now seemed to be lost forever. In desperation he simply stared into the darkness and tried hard to concentrate on listening to the silence. He thought that by deliberately filling his head with nothing the pain would go away. It didn't work. It didn't matter which direction he stared in, all that he could see were the faces of other equally desperate survivors staring back at him through the darkness. He was not alone with his painful insomnia.

The first few orange rays of the morning sun were beginning to edge cautiously into the room. The light trickled in slowly through a series of small rectangular windows which were positioned at equal distances along the longest wall of the main hall. Each one of the windows was protected on the outside by a layer of heavy-duty wire mesh and each window had also been covered in random layers of spray paint by countless vandals through the years. Michael found it strange and unnerving to think that every single one of those vandals was almost certainly dead now.

He didn't want to move, but he knew that he had to. He was desperate to use the toilet but had to summon up the courage to actually get up and go there. It was too cold and he didn't want to wake any of the lucky few survivors who were actually managing to sleep. Problem was the hall was so quiet that no matter how careful he was in his heavy boots every single footstep he took would probably be heard by everyone. And when he got there it wouldn't be much better. The toilets didn't flush anymore because the water supply had dried up. The group had started to use a small chemical toilet which someone had found in the Scouts' supplies. Even though it had been in use for less than a day it already stank. A noxious combination of strong chemical detergent and stagnating human waste.

He couldn't put it off any longer, he had to go. He tried unsuccessfully to make the short journey seem a little easier by convincing himself that the sooner he was up the sooner it would be done and he would be back. Strange that in the face of the enormity of the disaster outside, even the easiest everyday task suddenly seemed an impossible mountain to climb.

Grabbing hold of a nearby wooden bench with his outstretched right hand, he hauled himself up onto his unsteady feet. For a few seconds he did nothing except stand still and try to get his balance. He shivered in the cold and then took a few tentative stumbling steps through the half-light towards the toilets. He would be twenty-nine in three weeks time. This morning he felt at least eighty-nine.

Outside the toilet he paused and took a deep breath before opening the door. He glanced to his right and, through a small square window to the side of the main entrance door, he was sure that he could see something outside.

For a moment he froze.

He could definitely see movement.

Ignoring the nagging pain in his bladder, Michael pressed his face hard against the dirty glass and peered out through the layers of spray paint and mesh. He squinted into the light.

There it was again.

Instantly forgetting about the temperature, his aching bones and his full bladder, he unlocked the door and wrenched it open. He burst out into the cold morning and sprinted the length of the car park, stopping at the edge of the road. There, on the other side of the street, he saw a man walking slowly away from the community centre.

'What's the matter?' a voice asked suddenly, startling Michael. It was Stuart Jeffries. He and another three survivors had heard Michael open the door and, naturally concerned, had followed him outside.

'Over there,' Michael replied, pointing towards the figure in the near distance and taking a few slow steps forward. 'Hey,' he shouted, hoping to attract his attention before he disappeared from view. 'Hey you!'

No response.

Michael glanced at the other four survivors before turning back and running after the unknown man. Within a few seconds he had caught up as the solitary figure was moving at a very slow and deliberate pace.

'Hey, mate,' he shouted cheerfully, 'didn't you hear me?'

Still no response.

The man continued walking away.

'Hey,' Michael said again, this time a little louder, 'are you all right? I saw you walking past and...'

As he spoke he reached out and grabbed hold of the man's arm. As soon as he applied any force the figure stopped walking instantly. Other than that it didn't move. It simply stopped and stood still, seeming to not even be aware that Michael was there. Perhaps the lack of any response was as a result of shock. Maybe what had happened to the rest of the world had been too much for this poor soul to take.

'Leave him,' shouted one of the other survivors. 'Get back inside.'

Michael wasn't listening. Instead he slowly turned the man around until he was looking directly into his face.

'Fuck...' was all he could say as he stared deep into the cold, glazed eyes of a corpse. It defied all logic, but there was absolutely no doubt in his suddenly terrified mind that the man standing in front of him was dead. His skin was taut and yellowed and, like all the others, he had traces of dark, dried blood around his mouth, chin and throat.

Repulsed and in shock, Michael let go of the man's arm and stumbled backwards. He tripped and fell and then watched from the gutter as the figure staggered off again, still moving desperately slowly as if it had lead in its shoes.

'Michael,' Jeffries yelled from the entrance to the car park. 'Get back inside now, we're closing the door.'

Michael dragged himself back up to his feet and sprinted towards the others. As he approached he could see more figures moving in the distance. It was obvious by their slow, forced movements that, like the first man he'd seen, these people weren't survivors either.

By the time he reached the car park the others had already disappeared back into the community hall. He was vaguely aware of them yelling at him to come inside but in his disbelief, confusion and bewilderment their fear and panic failed to register. He stood staring out towards the main road, preoccupied by the impossible sight he now saw in front of him.

About a third of the bodies were moving. Roughly one in three of the corpses that had littered the streets around the community centre had become mobile again. Had they not been dead to start with? Had they just been in a coma or something similar? A thousand unanswerable questions began flooding into his mind.

'For Christ's sake, get inside!' yelled another one of the survivors from the hall, their voice hoarse with fear.

As if to prove a point, the corpse on the ground nearest to Michael began to move. Beginning at the outermost tip of the fingers on one outstretched hand, the body started to stretch and to tremble. As he stared in silent incredulity, the fingers began to claw at the ground and then, seconds later, the entire hand was moving. The movement spread steadily along one arm and then, with an almighty shudder, the body lifted itself up from the ground. It tripped and stumbled as it raised itself up onto its unsteady feet. Once upright it simply staggered away, passing within a metre of where Michael stood. The bloody thing didn't even seem to realise that he was there.

Terrified, he turned and ran back inside.

It took less than thirty seconds for the news to spread to all the survivors. Carl Henshawe, refusing to believe what he'd heard, clambered out onto area of flat roof that he'd stood on last night.

It was true. As incredible as it seemed, some of the bodies were moving.

Carl stood and surveyed the same desperate scene he'd witnessed less than twelve hours earlier and saw that many of the cold and twisted corpses he'd seen had disappeared. He looked down at the place on the cold ground where the boy with the broken neck had died.

There was nothing. He had gone.

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