Authors: Oliver Kennedy
Copyright©2013 Oliver Kennedy
All rights reserved.
Many thanks to all those who have helped me along the way. In particular to Gaz for his diligence in test reading.
Also to my family, the bedrock on which all else is built. Thank you to my wonderful daughter Grace, who never fails to inspire me from one moment into the next.
I hope that you enjoy my book. Read on, keep a wary eye on the road ahead. For the dead have risen, and they care not for your hopes and dreams.
Where would you like me to start? Shall I begin at the beginning, the genesis of our nightmare. Maybe I should recount every single footstep and the consequences of each stride that has brought me here today. Maybe I should tell you what it feels like to wake up at three in the morning with good old uncle Richard frantically trying to claw your face off with his bare hands? maybe you would like to know what it feels like to scoop up that odd looking bedside ornament and stave his head in with it?
Deep breaths. It's a nice day, I don't want to ruin it.
A year ago I found out what it is like to become a part of the news story. To step inside the bubble. I could not channel hop away from what was happening. The sky was filled with helicopters and the streets were wreathed in fire. The Deathwalker Virus was in town for lunch and it appeared that the general populous was on the menu.
Family had been the first thing that sprung to mind. Family is god. Not for everybody, but it is for me, and nobody wants to lose their god if they can help it. The only problem was that after a frantic dash across the city, after gathering my family to me I realised that our problems had only just begun. I was relieved, for about ten seconds. Then started the long flight out of the city. Then started the traffic jams. I don't know what was worse, the early days when we were bombarded with news about the cataclysmic nuclear exchange between the US and China or the times after, when there was radio silence, a cacophony of static and recorded emergency broadcast messages which told us nothing.
After days of people sitting in their cars peering at each other through smeared windows and exhaust fumes, the fuel started to run out. As peoples cars died they just got out and wondered up the embankment into the trees, out of sight, out of the mind of the world.
Eventually our own trusty family car went the same way. I looked at my darling Sue, I looked in the back seat at my sons Mac and Zachary and my beautiful daughter Ellie, I looked at my best friend Greg who'd been with me on his tea break when civilisation collapsed. We didn't speak, we got out of the car, grabbed the belongings which we'd salvaged, the tents and the sleeping bags and the meat cleavers. We joined those who had already passed from the memory of the world, we climbed the embankment and lost ourselves in the pines.
We walked forever, over the hills and far away. We encountered cadavers, fortunately in numbers small enough that we could sufficiently deal with. In the before times on long journeys we played I-Spy and such like. Now there was another game, 'name the cadavers'. Deathwalkers was a moniker coined by the popular press and derived from the designation of the virus which had caused our downfall. But I was quite impressed with some of the names the kids came up with, 'Maggot men', 'Graveborn', 'Wormwalkers' to name but a few, it was a way to pass the time.
This was an existence which had never been planned, every day was improvised at first, but we soon fell into a routine. Up at first light, walk all day, steer clear of towns, if we came across other travellers we would hide from them while they hid from us, and eventually we would creep past each other, casting furtive, suspicious glances across clearings and over fences. Avoid the roads, kill the cadavers, scavenge and walk, walk, walk and walk some more. We would set up a tent in the undergrowth and huddle inside listening to the imagined horrors of the night until sleep came.
At first I'd been glad of Greg's presence, he'd helped us deal with the cadavers and the odd traveller who was not content to hide from us and thought they would try and add to the trouble of the world. But as time went by I started to get an uncomfortable feeling, especially in the tent at night when we were all squashed in together, I knew that they'd all fallen asleep except for him, without even looking I knew he was awake, laying there waiting for something.
Greg had been my friend since senior school, he'd also had a crush on Sue since senior school, a fact he never hid but always spoke about with self-deprecation and a smile on his face, but it was a statement which could never fully conceal the wound in his eyes, the resentment which he harboured.
We were living in a changed world and I hoped sincerely that Greg had successfully let go of the emotional anchors which held him to the old world in the wake of the bigger concerns we had. My hope was in vain.
It started innocently enough, helping Sue wash clothes down by the lake, helping Sue cook the dinner, helping Sue dismantle the tent. She laughed off my attempts to start an argument over it, she told me I was being silly, so I bit my tongue and kept my suspicions in check. In truth I'd lost track of time, but it had been only a matter of months when Greg decided to fully turn away from the civilised life somewhere on the horizon behind us, like a dying sun whose light would soon be lost.
It was during one of Greg's 'I'll help Sue gather firewood outings' that it happened. I heard a scream, very faintly on the wind. I told the kids to stay put and followed that scream and the ones that followed to it's origin some distance off into the trees.
Sue's blouse was ripped, her face was red on one side and a thin trickle of blood was coming from one of her nostrils, Greg stood over her, busy loosening his belt. Sue saw me, I saw the fear and the relief in her eyes, Greg didn't notice either. Several images of the past flashed before me, Greg at school, the crying girl in the toilet who we never saw again. Greg on nights out barely saying a word as he watched the girls go by, the secretary at work who lost her harassment case. Years of denial crumbled in front of me.
I am not a violent man, or should I say I was not a violent man before. The weight of everything that had happened came crashing down upon me, it mixed with the red mist which had descended when I saw her laying on the ground in the leaves and the dirt. My despair and my rage merged, the death of who'd I'd been occurred in the same instance as the man I needed to become was born.
I never saw Greg's living face again, he died from the first blow of the meat cleaver as it burrowed its way into his head from behind. I didn't stop there though, I was overcome by the maelstrom of grief and fury, I was petrified at how I was going to stand up against the monster the world had become, I channelled all the rage and fear down the arm which held the cleaver. When I'd finished, when I sank exhausted to the floor there was not a whole lot of Greg left, I could feel pieces of him congealing between my fingers, but I did not move to immediately clean the stain of my best friend from me, I just lay there for a while in the dirt with Sue cradling my head in her hands until the sun went down.
The kids asked surprisingly few questions, which was nice. Maybe they'd had that same uncomfortable feeling as I'd had for the past few months, maybe they thought things would be better now Greg was gone, they were wrong of course.
We kept going, ever further north, following an elusive dream of sanctuary. Autumn waned in it's vigour. Winters hand would soon hold us all and I knew that we couldn't keep sleeping in tents. Eventually we reached lake Windermere. We avoided the town itself and scouted over the hills of the western shore. Just as we were about to descend onto the lowlands to the north of the lake Ellie spotted the house.
It was nestled within the trees and backed onto the lake around a bend, a long way from the town and out of sight of any other dwelling. It looked perfect, but then so did Windermere itself from a distance, yet I knew up close we would find infection staggering through the streets looking for someone to devour. But this house, this house might just be the sanctuary we were looking for.
We scouted it for a couple of days, there were no comings or going, no fires were lit and no movement could be seen. The cold was setting in and I decided that time to be bold had come. It was me and Zak who stormed the place. Zak, my eldest son who I'd always hoped to have passed more on to than how to effectively decapitate a cadaver.
Inside we found an old lady and a dog, neither were alive but both were consumed by hunger. The dog was tiny, probably a poodle before it turned, I could not tell for now it was hairless, grey, bloody and missing large chunks where its once loving mistress had taken bites out of it after she'd turned. I used the machete and pinned the poor mutt to the floor such was the force with which I ran it through. I looked up to see Zak executing a poor attempt to despatch the shuffling form of the old lady who had once been.
He slashed upwards through the abdomen and ribcage, slicing apart the frock which she had once laboured so hard to keep nice, the move succeeded in covering Zak in blood splatter, however he made up for it with his next move. The old ladies head bounced and rolled for a few feet across pristine carpets before coming to a rest.
Her name had been Mrs Robinson and when I opened up a pot in the kitchen to find a plentiful supply of earl grey I whispered a silent prayer to her, where ever she might now dwell.
So we had a home, we cleaned up the blood, buried the bodies, thoroughly, and hunkered down. Winter came and went and we saw not a single soul, alive or dead, the entire time. Snow covered the land and ice made a prisoner of the lake. We were alive and we were together, and by the time spring came around, Mrs Robinsons amply stocked larder was now just a sparse cupboard, but still hope managed to bloom.
So that's that, the last year of my life, but I will not dwell on the past, this is the now so let me tell you about it. Let me tell you what I see. Clear water gently lapping at the shore. Birds over head. Long grass bending in the wind. Let me tell you what I hear. The children are playing, their shrill cries of mock terror are a little too loud for me, as I have warned them many times. I call them children, and I sorely wish they still were, but at fourteen and sixteen and having lived through the end of the world I don't think I can call them that any more. I hear the occasional quiet plop as a curious fish comes up for air before weaving its tiny ripples across the lake and diving back down into the darkness. The birds are singing a merry song and this is as close to perfection in an imperfect world as I have been in many a day.
I had no maggots to use, so rough, home baked bread is my bait, a tiny ball of yeast and flour on the end of a hook. They will bite or they will not. This is the first time I have embarked on leisure since the madness began, I am in no hurry to end the contentment.
A duck makes it way across the water. They are a rare sight these days, ducks are too slow, too stupid to run, it's the same with the swans and the geese and all the water birds. They take too long to get in the air. Not the fish though, the fish are safe, cloaked in the darkness beneath the water.
A car rumbles up the driveway. Sue and Mac have returned. Given how long it's been since we've seen a living soul we have started to use Mrs Robinsons little run-around to scavenge the local area. They will have fuel, hopefully, to refill the butane gas canisters the Robinson's had installed. Now all we need is some fish. But I am in no rush, if I can wait they can wait.
After a few minutes I hear the patio door slide open. I crane my head and smile. There she is, this could be any Summer. Her low cut dress shows off her gorgeous legs and those soft smooth thighs. Sunglasses hide beautiful blue eyes that would make the sky above me jealous if if had the wit to look upon her, if it had the privilege of gazing into them as I do.
Lush auburn hair frames a pale freckled complexion. She stops in her tracks, her smile is frozen, strained, struggling to maintain its presence on that most beautiful of faces. She's brought out two bottles of lager, looks like Budweiser, I don't mind so much, I can drink American. Besides, it's all limited edition these days.
But she has stopped, and the smile has gone. In slow motion I see the two perspiring bottles fall from her hand and break apart on impact with the patio. She pulls the tortoise shell sunnies from her face. Then I see the terror. That's where it lurks for us all, behind the eyes, behind the beauty. But it's not me, it's beyond me she's looking.
Dazzled to distraction by this wife of mine who makes me weak with her walk I barely noticed the tension on the line, the tug of the fishing rod which I have left dangling in the water. Her terror jolts me out of contentment. I spin around and watch the placid water break as something emerges from it.