Authors: Suchitra Chatterjee
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
Phoenix’s fingers had gone still; he was staring at the screen intently.
“Well?” Seb said impatiently. Phoenix ignored him; he pushed the cursor to one of the pulsating boxes and gently tapped on it.
The box he had touched expanded outwards, it momentarily went black, causing Seb and me to suck in our breath, but Phoenix didn’t seem worried, he just stared at the screen and then the black turned to white, there was a hissing noise and then we were looking at a moving landscape. A landscape in bright and vibrant colour from high up in the air.
Confused I leaned forward, trying to work out what we were all staring at.
“It’s a Drone,” Seb worked out what it was first “What the bloody…” The Drone was high up in the air, moving over land, land that for some reason didn’t feel right. Something was missing, but I couldn’t quite work out what it was just then. I squinted.
“It’s over some country road,” the Drone suddenly dived downwards and it was then we all saw the cars. Not many at first. Some were upside down, somewhere in hedges, and a couple were on fire, but there was no sign of the emergency services.
The Drone seemed to increase speed and we watched as the road moved from being in the countryside to merging with roads that link towns together. More cars at odd angles, none moving. What the hell was going on? There should be moving cars on the road however few because it was a Sunday.
We could hear the soft whirr of the Drone’s battery, it was a constant hum, hypnotic in fact, but there was something about it that bothered me though I didn’t know what it was right at that moment.
We saw our first bodies’ minutes later when the Drone flew over a town, I have no idea where the town was or is, it was just an ordinary English town and on a late Sunday afternoon, it should have been bustling with people, but instead it was still. Still and silent.
No noises of life! That was it! That was what was bothering me. The silence and the stillness other than the whirr of the Drone’s battery. I found myself moving in closer, my eyes on the screen. We didn’t speak, we just watched.
The Drone dropped again and we saw the first two bodies, lying on the pavement, face down, it looked like they were sleeping. Two men, dressed in bright yellow jackets. The Drone hovered over them and we heard a clicking noise.
“It’s taking pictures,” Seb spoke first and I was surprised to hear revulsion in his voice.
“Why isn’t anyone helping them?” I was bewildered and then Drone moved on and I got my answer as to why there was no help for the two men. There actually was no help available for anyone.
We saw more bodies, this time it was more than just two people, they were outside a nightclub and it was obvious that these particular people had been spilling out into the street when they had dropped.
People it appeared had simply slumped to the ground by the look of it. One minute they were apparently standing; the next minute they weren’t. The Drone moved back and forth taking many pictures.
Although I didn’t want to, I looked closely at the bodies the Drone was photographing, there were no apparent physical injuries to the bodies, but the flesh on those faces I could see were grey, like the light coloured clay you find in some rivers.
“What the hell is going on?” for once Seb wasn’t inappropriate.
I don’t think the real horror of what we were looking at had actually sunken in. It was real because it was in front of us, but it wasn’t real because we were safe and sound in the home. We were detached from it, at least right then we were.
Phoenix clicked onto other boxes on the screen. All were flying Drone cameras and all were flying over silent places that shouldn’t be silent. We saw cars burning, black smoke rising into the sky and of course silence. An eerie silence that just got worse.
I think the enormity of it hit home for the three of us when Phoenix clicked on a box where one of the Drones was flying over London itself. A London with burning cars, bodies on the ground and the silence of a city that had been struck down so suddenly it had left nothing, not even ghosts. For once you could hear the lap of the water of the Thames even above the whirr of the Drone’s batteries.
As Phoenix pushed the cursor across the screen it became apparent there were more than just 48 Drones because underneath the first layer was another layer and then another and another and these were of other countries other than our own. America, Japan, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, China, Korea, Africa, India, all the same, bodies, burning cars and buildings and of silence.
“I think we need to tell Adag and Mitch,” I said.
Phoenix moved the cursor back to the Drones that were hovering over places in the UK.
I stared at the images and then it hit me, “Gregory… Shannon!”
“Shit,” Seb swore.
“Thorncroft could be ok,” I said.
“No,” Phoenix spoke then, “It’s not,” his words made us look at the screen and for the first time in many years, I felt tears burn at the back of my eyes.
I recognised the church spire, twisted and leaning gently to the left. The pride of Thorncroft, built in the 15
century as a gift to the town by a rich Earl and was still standing, albeit at an angle.
The Drone was flying steadily over the town, there were no bodies in the street, Thorncroft was the sort of town that went to bed at a reasonable hour. It was not a big town, in fact, it wasn’t a town, it was a large village, it had two pubs and they all closed at the same time, last orders at 2300 hours.
There were no night clubs, no cinema and no all-night supermarkets though it boasted a large supermarket at the end of the high street, along with three specialist cafes, a sports come camping shop, a Post Office that served also as a newsagents and of course an independent chemist.
Any young person wanting a good night out had to travel another 15 miles to what was a big town with all the amenities that Thorncroft didn’t have.
The Drone didn’t stay long over Thorncroft, there was nothing to photograph per se, but what was worrying me was to where the Gorilla and Shannon might be.
“Do you think one of the Drones will fly over here?” Seb said.
I gave this some thought before saying, “Not sure, maybe…perhaps we should, you know, stay indoors, just to err on the side of caution,” I didn’t want to say what I was really thinking which was, that my instinct told me that the Drones were not out and about to help anyone alive in any way shape or form.
“We can’t do anything until the Gorilla and Shannon get back,” Seb finally said. We were at a loss as what to do, but we did know one thing, we really didn’t want to share what we had just seen on the computer screen with anyone else. We didn’t want to admit to what we had just seen because it was horrible and though we did not say it, not right then, we knew it was going to get worse.
We left Phoenix at his computer and Seb and I made our way silently to the kitchen. Mick was still in the garage and Adag was still in her office. Stevie was fast asleep on the sofa and the others would be sleeping now as well, the drug that Adag had given them keeping them safe in slumber until the morning.
I made tea for us both. We drank it slowly. Seb looked around the kitchen, taking in the stainless steel sinks, the big fridges and the outside work surface for preparing meals. He looked upward to the ceiling and squinted.
“We’ve got no mobile phone signals,” he said thoughtfully, “The land lines are working, but no one is answering them when we ring and anything digital seems to be screwed by the look of it, but the electricity hasn’t gone off…yet.”
That was a worrying thought. I exhaled and took another mouthful of tea. Right now everything seemed so ordinary, we were in the kitchen, having a cup of tea…oh shit who was I trying to kid. We weren’t normally allowed in the kitchen, and Seb and I never drank tea together. Hell, we didn’t even like each other!
“When do we tell Mitch and Adag?” I broached the question because one of us had to.
“It will become obvious soon enough,” Seb said with a thin smile and then before I could say anything he said, “Do you have any family Lady of Shadows?”
I shook my head, “No, not that I know of, foster kid.”
He didn’t make fun of me as I half expected him too. He looked into his tea cup, and swilled the contents around, “My family are…were in London.”
My stomach turned. I hadn’t given any real thought to anyone’s family, Shannon’s perhaps because she had mentioned them, but no one else’s. I didn’t know what to say.
We stayed where we were. In the kitchen, in the silence, saying nothing. It’s funny how long you be silent. I stared at the kitchen clock watching the second hand move its way around the clock face. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes.
Adag came into the kitchen. She didn’t tell us off for being there. I offered to make her a cup of tea; she said she would prefer coffee.
“Phoenix showed me,” she said simply.
She knew. I exhaled, “There’s no sign of Gregory or Shannon.”
“They must know by now,” Seb added
“They might have tried for the next town.”
Gregory might I thought, Shannon would stay with her family. Her dead family. On the other hand, perhaps they were dead too. Going into Thorncroft could have killed them, but then why weren’t we dead? Why had we survived? Way too many questions for me to take in and process right now.
Seb gripped his cup tightly in his hands, “I could kill a beer right now,” he said.
“How about a tot of whisky?” Mitch’s voice made us all jump. He came in through the kitchen back door, holding a bottle filled with a dark brown liquid. His face was pale, his eyes bright. He looked shaken.
“You ok Mitch?” Adag asked him in a concerned voice. He went to one of the cupboards and got himself a glass. He poured himself a liberal amount into it, then came over to Seb, and added a large splash into the remains of his tea.
Adag started to protest, but she saw the look in his eye and she held out her coffee mug. He added a shot, but I shook my head when he offered it to me. He gave a shaky little laugh and sat on what of the kitchen stools.
“What’s up?” I asked him.
“Everyone is dead,” he said taking us all by surprise.
“How do you know that?” Adag said.
“I have a radio,” he said and he took a large and long swallow from his glass, “From my military days, it’s not digital, it’s old school analogue, I found a channel, a military one…” his voice trailed away and then he realised that we hadn’t reacted, as we should. Surprised that he knew, but not shocked by his actual words.
We had to tell him what we had seen on Phoenix’s computer and about the Drones.
“We need to stay inside,” he said immediately, “They mustn’t know we are here.”
“Phoenix said the same thing,” I said, “But he has conspiracy theories on the brain, but you…” my voice trailed off.
“It was some kind of global experiment,” Mitch said licking his lips, “A test, it went wrong…really wrong.”
“What do you mean?” Seb frowned.
“Just that,” he said, “It was some kind of test and it went tits up…big time.”
“This is ridiculous,” Adag said.
It felt ridiculous, but it wasn’t. It was real.
“Why?” I asked.
“No idea,” Mitch shook his head, “No bloody idea…”
“Christ,” Seb exhaled.
This was our first ground zero day. The day of the Twice Dead, though we didn’t know that part yet, the day the residents of the Thorncroft Home for the Disabled had to make its own stand and survive when others without all the additional shit we had going on, had been wiped out in a single moment.
Before we could discuss anything further, we heard the sound of a car horn, honking frantically, closely followed by the screech of rubber on gravel.
“Gregory!” Adag jumped to her feet and was running out of the kitchen door a moment later.
a new kind of Zombie reborn out of a nature based pathogen. The pathogen attacks the red blood cells in the body, clotting them into a ‘black goo’ which results in a sudden “death
” that can last up to 36 hours
The body physically dies and the pathogenic virus takes over the husk, reanimating it. However, the husk is also dead despite the reanimation, hence the term Twice Dead. The Twice Dead are human flesh eaters, both of the living and their own kind. Unlike the stereotypical Zombie, the Twice Dead appear to have a collective intelligence that is evolving on a day-by-day basis both physically and mentally.
e all followed Adag out of the kitchen, Mitch first, with Seb steering his chair swiftly around all obstacles until we were outside.
Gregory’s car had skidded to a halt in front of the Home’s front entrance. As we got to the front door, we witnessed the car door swing open and Gregory literally fall out onto the gravel pathway. It took a moment for us to take in the physical state of him.
There was blood all over his clothes, he sat down on the gravel with a crunch, legs straight out, staring into space as Adag knelt beside him, speaking to him, but he didn’t respond, at least not at first. There was a white froth on his bitten lips and what was even worse there was an ugly, deep oozing wound on the left side of his neck.
I went to look in the car, but there was no Shannon in the passenger seat.
“Where’s Shannon?” Adag heard me and got up, hurrying over to the car.
Mitch had run back into the building and returned moments later with a quilt from one of the resident’s rooms. He flung it around Gregory’s shoulders and this seemed to revive the man.
“Mitch?” he said, his eyes dilated, and he began to shake. Mitch pulled the quilt around the big man’s shoulders.
“Make some tea,” Mitch ordered me, “With a lot of sugar and put some of my whiskey in it.”
“Get him into the staff room,” Adag ordered Mitch, “Seb can you get the doors open?”
I placed everything on a kitchen trolley and rolled it into the staff room where everyone who was away now was.
Mitch and Adag had put Gregory into a large armchair by the bay window, he was wrapped in the duvet and a blanket had been produced as well and was tucked around his legs.
Mitch gave Gregory the mug, which the man took with his shaking hands. I began to soak the towels in the warm water and when I rang them out, I handed them Adag along with a pair of rubber gloves.
She looked surprised, but she put the gloves on and then she placed the towel carefully onto Gregory’s neck. He didn’t seem to notice he had a wound, he certainly didn’t appear to be in any pain which was odd. Surely a gaping wound like this one should hurt? What had caused it?
The wound was spongy and soft, like a black sticky glue. I frowned; it didn’t look very much like drying blood. And the edges to the wound, I looked harder, not sure if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing; the edges of the flesh had a chewed look about them, it reminded me of a time when one of my Foster mums had given the family bull mastiff a couple of freshly skinned rabbits to chew on. He had torn at the raw red flesh with his teeth, whilst eating…I pushed the thought out of my mind. I was being silly thinking such stupid thoughts.
Gregory held the mug of tea tightly in his hands. So far, he had only said Mitch’s name. Slowly his pupils, which were still dilated began to retract and his gaze focused first on Adag then on Seb.
“Seb,” He said again and tears welled up in his eyes. Seb was sitting quietly in his chair opposite the man who had been his PA for nearly as long as he had been in Thorncroft.
“Hey Gorilla,” Seb said, “We were getting really worried about you.”
The Gorilla managed a watery smile, he turned to look at Adag, “I’m sorry,” he said.
“Sorry?” Adag echoed, “Where’s Shannon?”
Dark tears dripped from the Gorilla’s eyes, and I handed him a piece of kitchen towel which he took and wiped his face with. When he dropped it into the black bag I held out to him I noticed that the soft white cloth was tinged with a sticky grey substance.
“What happened?” Mitch spoke, “Did you get to Thorncroft?”
The Gorilla didn’t answer, at least not at first. Mitch shook his shoulder, gently because of the wound on his neck.
“Greg, we need answers, what happened, we know people are dead, we know that, but what the hell happened to you and where is Shannon?”
“They’re twice dead,” he said and he began to rock back and forth on the chair, “They’re twice dead.”
“Twice dead?” I repeated his words. Trying to make sense of them. This was getting weirder by the second. Not only weird but frightening too.
“They are just dead,” Mitch, said firmly, “We’ve seen that they are dead!”
Mitch’s head shot up though he did not stop rocking, his eyes crinkled and he rasped out, “They are twice dead, but they woke up, but they’re dead…”
Hope momentarily flared in my heart. Had the unknown outbreak we had yet to name just knocked people out? Put them into a temporary coma? That would be fantastic if it was just that…my hopes were dashed as Gregory continued, his voice rasping, filled with the horror of what he had witnessed, “Shannon’s went to her mum’s house, they were in bed, they looked like they were asleep, they were so grey, so cold, and their eyes, wide open, staring, oh dear God they were dead…they were…”
More tears, leaving dirty streaks on his face. His huge shoulders heaved under the weight of his memories, his head dropped downward into his chest, he was like a coiled spring and all we could do was wait.
We waited. Slowly he looked up, and for some reason he looked at me with his haunted black shot eyes.
“We tried to call for help, but the whole town…there was no one, we went outside, we walked about, but there was nothing, we heard dogs barking, we saw birds, cats, but people, no people…at least not then…we got into the car, Shannon was crying, she asked me to drive her to her boyfriend’s place, oh God I should have said no, should have come back here, but I hoped…” it was obvious what he had hoped. He had hoped he would find someone alive, that it was all a bad dream and that there was an explanation as to why his world, so ordinary and unchanging had turned upside down in a few seconds.
“What happened?” Mitch’s voice was gentle. No urgency in his words though the urgency was there, for all of us. Seb for once was silent, Adag was standing next to Gregory, the black custard like blood on his neck was leaking into the towel. A slow seep of black goo.
“We got to Ben’s place…Shannon’s boyfriend,” the Gorilla said hoarsely, “It was like her parent’s place, no life, we went into his flat, he was lying on the sofa, the TV was on, only it was just the white static like here, Shannon lost it then, she had been upset about her family, but seeing Ben…it was too much for her, she started tearing her hair out, screaming, she was hysterical…”
“I’m not surprised,” I muttered. I rubbed my arms and leaned heavily against the wall behind me. My leg was hurting and now so was my head.
“I tried to calm her down, I managed to drag her out of the flat, oh God if only we had come back here before…” he let out a low moan and began to rock back and forth in his chair.
“Go on,” it was Adag’s turn to urge Mitch to continue speaking.
“She didn’t want to leave him, she was crying, it took me ages to get her down the stairs, I had to drag her, I shook her hard, told her we had to get back, she wasn’t really listening, I was pulling her toward the car and then I saw him, not just him, others from the flats, they were coming out of the door, Ben was in the front, I should have realised it was wrong, they were shuffling, swaying from side to side, not walking like normal people, but I didn’t realise…and then Shannon saw him, she was so happy, she didn’t realise…oh God she ran to him, laughing, she was so happy…she ran to him…”
What Mitch told us next made me rush out of the room. I turned, and fled. My leg brace clacking loudly as I tried to run. I just about made it to the communal accessible bathroom two doors down from the office and promptly threw up in the toilet. My stomach heaved back and forth, as vomit spewed out of my mouth in a slick orange and red lumpy explosion.
Eventually my belly was empty; I was gasping for breath and blindly scrabbling around for toilet roll to wipe my mouth. I felt a hand grab mine and guide it to the roll of toilet paper and through streaming eyes I saw Seb, he had followed me in his chair, thank God for large accessible toilets is all I can say.
I moved from the toilet and sagged against the cool tiles of the bathroom and wiped my mouth with the scrunched up peach coloured paper and said in a voice that burned from the pain of the acid that had come up from my stomach, “No snide remark about me being a weak fucking cripple eh Seb?”
He didn’t reply, he just leaned forward and was equally as sick as I was, his vomit mixing with mine, splattering the toilet and the seat with equal intensity. I found myself leaning over him, grabbing more toilet paper and pushing it toward him.
He grabbed my hand, still holding the bog paper, two vomit stained people leaning over a toilet filled with our sick, sharing toilet paper and the horror of what we had both just heard moments before.
Oh, this didn’t make me and Seb best of friends right there and then, far from it, but what it did do was cement an understanding between us about who we were as people on a certain level. We might never agree on another thing in our lives, but we knew something important about each other right at that moment and in the days to come this was going to help us in ways we would have never thought possible.
“I think I chucked up more than you Lady of Shadows,” Seb said as he let go of my hand, taking some more toilet roll from me and wiping his mouth clean of the debris he had just heaved up from his stomach.
“You always have to be first in everything,” I said. I leaned over him again and flushed the toilet, watching the contents of our stomachs swirl out of sight.
“First counts for everything,” he replied, “Coming second means nothing.”
“Even in a puking contest?”
“Especially in a puking contest.”
“Let’s go back,” I said and he nodded his head. We left the bathroom, heading back into the office where Adag was sitting at her desk, her head in her hands, and Mitch was looking out of the office window onto the normalcy of the beautiful wild land that Thorncroft was set in.
“Sorry,” I said in embarrassment, “My stomach…”
“You must have the constitution of an ox,” Seb said to Mitch as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand for the third time.
“Not really,” Mitch took out his cigarette packet from his shirt packet and lit one, inhaling long and deeply, no one in the office objected, “But I was in the army, I did three tours of duty in the Middle East, you see and hear a lot of shit that you try not to think about too much, you adapt,” he let the smoke out of his lungs, “Mind you there are some things you see that are seared into your brain for eternity.”
What Gregory had just told us would be seared into my brain for the rest of my life. Seb and Adag’s too I suspected.
The Gorilla was hunched in his seat, still holding his cup of tea in both hands.
“I always did like horror films,” Seb exhaled, long and hard, “Found them great fun, the gorier the better, nothing quite like the Night of the Living Dead.”
“It’s supposed to be imaginary,” I said in a faraway voice, “Not real…”
“It’s real alright,” the Gorilla mumbled from his huddled seat, “They ripped her apart, her own boyfriend, he bit her throat open, oh God, she didn’t know what was happening, her face, her eyes…they….”
“Stop it,” Adag spoke, she lifted her head up, her eyes were filled with horror and guilt. I had a good idea what she was thinking and feeling. She had allowed Shannon to go with Gregory to Thorncroft; she had played a part in the young Auxiliary’s death, “You’ve told us, we know.”
Mitch moved from the window and held out his cigarette to the older woman. She took it, her hand shook, but she managed to take it and put it to her lips. Right then I really wished I smoked.
“Lucy,” Phoenix’s voice made me jump because he was suddenly right behind me. His tall angular frame didn’t quite come into the office; he hovered on the border, not entering at first even when I moved so he could. Eventually he entered the office, gingerly, pulling the door behind him, but keeping his hand on the handle.
“What’s up?” I said.
“A Drone followed Gregory’s car, it filmed what happened.”