I’ve just read back my last post. Sorry to leave you in such a hackneyed way; it wasn’t intentional. I’m now supplied with enough batteries – actually, enough computers – to keep me going for a while (I’ll get onto that later), so I’ll return to Friday night, if that’s OK.
So there I was, bedside lamp in hand, pinned up against the wall by the main door of my Moseley flat, while something resembling the walking undead from a 1930s horror film – “Return of the Thing from Space that Ate People… from Space!” or something – was moaning and thumping his sorry way through the minutes.
And then it stopped. There was a pause, and – sigh – it started up again, but with renewed ferocity. It was also accompanied by loud, high-pitched screams and pleas for me to open the fucking door. It didn’t sound to me like the Pete thing I’d met only a minute ago, and as I asked myself the question “what if it really is someone in danger?”, the possibility of saving someone in peril outweighing the possible danger to myself.
I opened the door, and two women fell into the room. A quick glance up and down the corridor gave me all the explanation I needed. In all kinds of register – alto, tenor, baritone, bass – came that moan, as pitiful and saddening as it was chilling. I thought I could hear some that had moaned themselves horse; their rasping, sometimes phlegmy tones adding richness to the sound, and filling me with dread.
There were probably about a dozen; three or four walking from the left-hand lift, another eight or so clustered behind the door to the stairs on the right, whose narrow glass panel they must have punched through. I could see flailing arms more than pale faces, some already in an advanced state of decay (I found out later a bit more about the virus, which I’ll go into in another post), all clamouring to get through.
As I glanced down towards my feet, I saw the body of the Pete thing, its limbs splayed awkwardly, its clothing a mass of white, blue and rich, dark red. One side of its face was pallid and already decaying more rapidly than I’d have imagined possible; the other was an indistinguishable facial soup. Where he’d been struck on the right side of his head, his skull had virtually collapsed, giving the eye an extra bulge. A second blow had created a cavity in his chin, and forced the lips to appear to fuse and meet his sunken nose.
I tell you this not to shock or inflame, but because I’m a reporter. OK I was a junior on the Business and Technology desk and no Charles Arthur or Bill Thompson, but I don’t know how many more are blogging, podcasting, video logging or scratching pen on paper for the benefit of future readers, so I want to report the facts as I see them. I might not be the best equipped, but I’ll always be honest.
I shut the door quickly as the lift mob continued to make their way in my direction, and turned to my rescuers.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“What the fuck was you waiting for?” was the ungracious retort from the eldest of the two, who was probably no more than 20, and who had a thick accent which is the kind reserved for the top deck of the number 61 bus.
“I’m sorry, I -“
“It doesn’t matter”, said the younger – maybe 18 or 19? – in a placatory, yet distrustful manner.
“I’ve not seen you around… How did you get in?” I mumbled.
“We was at her mates’, Becca’s” said the first, tucking her severely straight blonde hair behind her ears before letting it settle obstinately back, exactly where it was before. She was tall, thin, and blood-spattered.
“Becca and me are students at uni”, said the second, in an accent I could quite place. “We were watching the TV and talking about our work, and suddenly the electrics cut off and we heard a noise from the back door.” She pronounced both letters in “TV” with equal stress, and “the electrics” was conflated to “the-lectrics”; she rolled her Rs a little. Dutch maybe, I pondered.
“Becca opened it and one of those things just attacked her. We didn’t know what to do so we just… ran. All we’d done all day was watch reports of what those things do and the… virus or whatever, and how, if you get bitten or scratched or spit on, it gets into your blood stream and you become one of them.”
I couldn’t quite see where the other girl fit into this, but I didn’t press the point. I pictured the happy scene of three girlfriends together, procrastinating and telling themselves that watching the news was more important than their fatuous studies. Thank God they did.
“I’m Tom”, I said.
“Marguerite”, said the European-accented brunette, “and this is Clare.”
Marguerite (she later assured me of the spelling) offered a long hand for me to shake, while Clare stared at the blood-stained cricket bat that had saved me from wielding a lamp with a force I knew I wouldn’t be able to match.
I shook Marguerite’s hand and offered drinks, which they declined.
“So, how did you get in?” I asked again, ever the hungry reporter.
“There was a load of them things chasing us”, said Clare, her thick accent rendering “things” as “fings”, “so we broke into this house and locked the door, but they broke the windows and got in and we ran to the upstairs and got onto the” (pause to swallow and breathe) “roof and ‘cos all the houses are connected we ran across the roofs and then we saw your fire escape” (another pause; she was getting red in the face, and I felt for her, deeply) “so we ran up and… and”.
She took a moment, tried to gather herself, but after another “and” she found she had no more strength. She looked at the cricket bat, seeming to register it for the first time, then released her grip with a flinch, and crumpled onto the floor, sobbing quietly.
Marguerite crouched beside her, putting a slender arm around her, and took up the story.
“The door to this floor was already open, so we came in, but there was three or four of them on the landing inside”. The fire escape opens to an indoor staircase, used mostly when the lifts are out of order. Opposite the fire escape is the door that lead to my corridor. It was behind that door that the eight or so creatures I’d seen, were clamouring for food. For us.
“We didn’t know what to do, so I ran down the stairs, and they chased me. I shouted to Clare to go back outside for a minute.”
“I have a lighter”, and as if to justify this, she fished it out of her jacket pocket, along with a pack of cigarettes by way of guilty explanation. “So I saw a notice and ripped it off the wall.” I was finally glad to see those fire safety warnings had finally come to some use.
“I set it on fire and threw it at them. I didn’t know if this would work, but they didn’t like it, so I sort of, jumped over the… railing?” (she looked at me to be sure she’d got the right word) “and held on to the side with one leg on and the other dangling over the side”. She flapped her right arm in demonstration, and proceeded to explain how she’d half-climbed, half-shimmied her way back up the half-flight of stairs on the handrail, head down, shrinking against the fire, past the fear-stricken creatures fixated by the mini-bonfire, until one of them grabbed her.
“It touched my leg”, she explained, in a tone which suggested this wasn’t, as I would have thought, the most awful thing that could happen to a person. “I kicked it in the face and swung back onto the stairs.”
She then explained how Clare had seen what was happening, had re-entered and was now waiting by the door to my corridor, slamming it shut as Marguerite ran past. She told me of seeing the Pete thing at my door, and how Clare had dispatched it with her bat (which she’d ingeniously discovered in a neighbour’s garden in a brief detour during their rooftop run), just in time to hear the doors of the lift open ahead, and the glass panel of the fire door behind, shatter. Guessing the creature had smelled or seen me, they counted on there being signs of life inside.
“Shit, I need a smoke” said Marguerite. “Do you mind?”
“Well, I can’t really ask you to go outside, can I?”
She smiled, and sat in silence, Marguerite smoking, Clare’s tears, sobs and sniffs beginning to slow, and thought about what we should do next.