Authors: Suchitra Chatterjee
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
Eden had been diagnosed early with regard to having Kabuki and to give her family credit they had spent a lot of money on her care when she was a child, but when she turned 18 her parents divorced and neither could look after her on their own so Thorncroft became her home with her parents visiting her on alternate months. This month though both her parents had other commitments so Eden had to stay at the home much to her annoyance.
“Shut up Eden,” I said softly. I leaned toward her as if to hand her some bread, “Or I will tell Shannon she didn’t really lose her purse in town.”
Eden’s mouth snapped shut at my words, shock etched on her face. I handed her a slice bread and she took it, her hand trembling, but she shut up.
Shannon came into the lunchroom carrying a tray. She looked at me apologetically, “Lucy, would you go and tell Phoenix its lunch time please?”
What was it with people and my name? How difficult was it to say Lucia, I wasn’t Lucy, as pretty as the name was? My name was LUCIA. I sighed.
“Won’t it be easier to let him eat his food in his room like Paul?” I said to the young Auxiliary.
Shannon hesitated. Adag was in her office doing paperwork as she always did on a Sunday afternoon. Mitch the coach driver who also acted as a night worker for the home would be tinkering with the coach in the garage, and the Gorilla had gone to get the ladder from so he could climb onto the roof in order to check the satellite dish.
Around the lunch table was me, Jasmine, Eden, a morose Stevie and of course Cassidy. Seb was still fiddling with the digital radio; he was exasperated I could tell.
Adag let Paul eat his food in his room because his immune system was weakened after his last bout of therapy, but everyone else was supposed to eat in the dining area.
Phoenix hated it. Usually he had a one to one PA, but as it was Sunday and a holiday month the home was somewhat short staffed.
“Don’t let Adag know,” Shannon said as I got up from my seat, my leg brace clicking as I collected the tray of food and headed for Phoenix’s room.
Phoenix’s door was shut, but I kicked at it with my good foot, knowing he would answer because he hated anyone kicking his door. He came to the door minutes later, ready to shout, but his mouth snapped shut when he saw me holding the tray with his lunch. We stared at each other.
Seb’s occasional knick-name for Phoenix was Longshanks as the 21-year-old was tall, thin and wiry. He was as pale as milk from too much time indoors, his grey pupils never truly focused on you even when he was forced to make eye contact. He was always neatly dressed, but if he was obsessed by something, he was doing on his computer he had to be told to wash, eat and drink or he wouldn't bother.
Phoenix said nothing, but reached out and took the tray with his surprisingly delicate hands, making sure not to touch me. Phoenix wasn’t keen on being touched though he tolerated it when he had no choice. I wasn’t offended, each to their own as Theresa, one of my foster mums used to say.
“Is your radio working?” I asked. Phoenix usually had his radio on. He listened mostly to a show in America, called TechTalk. I suspected he mentally filtered out the banter by the four Tech Presenters and focused on their discussions about technology.
Phoenix had been turning to go into his room, but he stopped and turned back.
“No,” he said carefully, “It went off last night,” Like Cassidy most everyone in the home thought Phoenix wasn’t very bright, that his love of all things computer and technology were just an obsession like Cassidy’s love of food.
I had watched him as I watched most of the residents since I had arrived and though I barely now remember the ones who are gone, the ones left behind fill my mind with what I have logged and subconsciously stored over time.
Phoenix was clever; a genius with computers, his guilt-ridden family had ensured that he had plenty of money to spend on the latest technology. The reason we had such a good Wi-Fi connection in Thorncroft was because Phoenix’s father, a wealthy businessman, had paid for it when Phoenix had moved into Thorncroft at the age of 18.
Phoenix’s family came to see him every two months. The visits were always difficult, as Phoenix liked his routine, liked to spend time on his computer, playing games, watching his favourite films, which ironically included every single Zombie film and TV series going.
“The TV in the lounge isn’t working either,” I said. Phoenix went into his room, but he didn’t shut the door. He put his lunch tray on his bed and went over to his computer. I watched as he tapped away at the keyboard as I waited.
Finally, he turned to look at me, “I’ve just switched over,” he said and he moved so I could see what was on his screen. Nothing, but white static.
Phoenix’s TV wasn’t linked to the home’s shared satellite, he had access to an external digital aerial, but his Wi-Fi was working, I could see his state of the art modem box flickering a steady blue light.
I don’t know why I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out my mobile phone. I often wondered why I had a mobile phone. I didn’t call anyone and no one called me. However, I did like to browse the web and read my electronic books on it so it served a purpose.
No signal. Phoenix reached for his own mobile phone, the latest Apple had to offer. He looked at it.
“Wi-Fi is working,” he said.
“Anything on the web?” Phoenix turned quickly back to his computer. I watched his hands fly over the keys and suddenly he was online. Later he would tell me he was watching movies on his computer and hadn’t noticed that the net was doing very strange things.
Now you have to understand something about the residential home we lived in. It is set in some fifty-five acres of land in a natural dip, set in the middle of nowhere and on the edge of an ancient forest, and an equally old lake, thought to have its origins in the ice age with the name of Lake Monocot. It is also a protected area of natural beauty.
Thorncroft is a privately run residential home with two spaces for people nominated by the council. I was one of those two, the other had gone home to see his family for the weekend, we never saw him again.
The owners of the home had several other homes across the country of a similar ilk, they charged top dollar for a residential space at Thorncroft so everything in the home was set to a high standard.
I dropped lucky being allocated a place at Thorncroft, any family who were being funded by the council who got their disabled offspring into the likes of Thorncroft kept them there until they were too old to live there anymore and were transferred to an older care facility within the same private care group.
To get to the nearest town, also confusingly called Thorncroft, which is some 20 miles away you have to be driven. There is no public transport of any kind within a 30-mile radius. Most of the staff live in on a rotation system in the home.
Adag lives permanently on site with her own two grace and favour accommodation, a perk of the job, whilst the live in staff have small self-contained studio flats near to the rooms of the residents they care for.
Of the 26 rooms for residents in the home four are double rooms, and are used by those residents who need extra care at night with a PA staying in the room with them.
When the pathogen struck it was without warning and people dropped like flies under a deluge of an ultra-toxic fly killer. It was a worldwide contagion that hit every country in the world. It then proceeded to decimate the whole planet of most of its human populations.
In Europe it happened in the early hours of Saturday morning when most people were in bed or were out on the town. It was as sudden as a guillotine falling onto the neck of a French Aristocrat. One-minute people all over the world were alive, the next minute they ceased to be human.
However, the residents still at the Thorncroft Residential Home for the Physically and Mentally Impaired survived the contagion. Moreover, they survived because of a quirk of Mother Nature.
Twenty miles away in the town of Thorncroft, the majority of the residents had already succumbed to the contagion and though we didn’t know it then, for the moment everyone was dead.
For the moment.
Phoenix tapped on a link on his computer and frowned, “It’s an emergency message, it’s on all links,” Ignoring Phoenix’s dislike of people entering his space I entered his room, I looked over his shoulder. He flinched, I ignored him.
Flashing on the computer screen in bright red were words I will never forget.
IF YOU ARE READING THIS MESSAGE STAY WHERE YOU ARE. DO NOT LEAVE. WAIT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.
That was all. I wondered if it was a joke, but Phoenix was not known for having a sense of humour and he rarely left his room unless he had too, he couldn’t have disabled the satellite dish and the digital radio in the dining room or my phone for that matter.
“Eat your lunch,” I said to Phoenix and I left his room. Minutes later, I returned to the dining room where Seb was having a row with the Gorilla.
“You need to check it again!” he was saying to the big man, “Because it’s not working!”
“I’ve checked it; all the cables are in place,” the Gorilla replied patiently, “You’re going to have to ring SKY.”
“I’ve tried ringing them!” Seb yelled, “No one is answering!” The Gorilla shrugged his big shoulders, unlike me and Phoenix no one else had an inkling that something was wrong. Really wrong.
At the lunch table, the others were eating their food, oblivious to everything, but their own small lives. Eden who had been deprived of getting Cassidy to have a meltdown was sniffing her soup and wrinkling her nose.
Hyperosmia makes her a sensitive to odours and smells. She was lucky she didn’t have a really bad case of the disorder, which can reduce some people to being violently sick over smells that no one else can even pick up, unless they happened to be a blood hound. Not pleasant.
“Yuck,” Eden said digging her spoon into the thick chicken soup, and scooping some up, “The carrots smell funny.”
Shannon came out the kitchen with bowls of fruit salad on a tray, and Eden began to whine to her about the carrots smelling funny.
Shannon ignored her, and I said nothing, but I knew on this occasion that Eden had a point. The carrots were actually on the turn; Shannon had left them in their plastic bags instead of putting them in the vegetable box by the freezer when they had been delivered and they had been overlooked for nearly a week. I had heard her tell another staff member the day before that she would have to use the carrots up soon or they would have to be binned. No one else had noticed because the chicken soup was thick with sweet potatoes, leeks, onions, beans, and so forth.
I shuddered at the thought of having such a strong sense of smell, it would drive me mad, but Eden was easily distracted by Jasmine nudging her and telling her to hurry up and finish eating so they could watch telly. This made her quickly forget the fermenting carrots in her soup bowl.
The Gorilla ambled off into the kitchen to get his lunch, and Seb swore, and would have probably thrown the radio at him, but I got in his way, blocking his line of sight. I grabbed his arm and before he could swear at me as well, I said quickly, “I need you to check your computer.”
Seb opened his mouth to tell me to fuck off, but my hand moved to make the adapted Makaton signs of “Help, danger,” whilst looking at him intently. Adapted Makaton is as much about hand symbols as it is about the expressions on your face and lip syncing.
Seb’s arm dropped to his side. He frowned, but he then pushed the joystick on his wheelchair forward and moved swiftly around the lunch table.
“Can’t you fix the telly Seb?” Jasmine said as she reached for her orange juice, “We want to watch EastEnders.”
“Not yet,” Seb said as he slid passed her, “Anyway it’s recording, you can watch it later.”
Seb’s room was two doors from mine. He hit the PAT system on the wall and the door swung outward. I followed him.
His room smelt of man sweat and as well as being a veritable shit hole. There were clothes scattered all over the floor, and he ran over them in his chair, cursing when a shirtsleeve got tangled in his wheel. He yanked it free and tossed it onto his bed.
There were dozens of open DVD cases scattered about with their contents spilling across the carpet, but the worst thing was the empty cans of diet coke lined up on the dressing table opposite his bed with chewed spit balls stuck to them.
“You are gross,” I said as I limped to his side as he slid his wheelchair under his desk. He didn’t answer as he was firing up his computer.
“Go online,” I said to him as the computer screen turned blue and icon after icon slid into view. I winced at his screen saver, a naked woman in high heels sucking on a thick silver chain.
Like Phoenix, he tried to go to a particular site. The message in red flashed across the screen.
“What the hell…” Seb said in surprise.
“It’s the same on Phoenix’s computer, and mine.”