A Zombie Chronicle

With the mother of all colds coming on, Daniel commutes into London at the beginning of the New Year.

All is not what it seems as everyone around him appears to be suffering with what he first believes are severe colds, possibly flu. As the morning wears on, he and his American friend, Rob,fight for their lives to get out of the City and back to Daniel's home, where, hopefully his wife will be waiting for him.

From there they must decide what to do, fight for their lives in the UK or escape to the USA, if there are still any available flights, perhaps with the chance to start a new life in the Midwest. Unless the problem is there to greet them upon arrival.

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1. Commuting

“Oh, God. I feel like crap,” Daniel said as he rolled over in bed. Janet, his wife of four years, mumbled something unintelligible and turned over, desperate for every extra minute she could catch. She was definitely not a morning person. This morning, neither was Daniel.

He turned over and hit the snooze button of the radio alarm. The snooze function activated a further three times before he felt his wife’s foot at the base of his spine. With less than gentle pressure, she eased him to the edge of the bed.

“Get up, you lazy sod,” she mumbled, desperate to sleep while he performed his morning rituals; his always took longer than hers for some reason. He groaned and slowly sat up on the edge of the bed. As he began to wake, he realised he had a cold. He’d hoped it was only a small hangover - last night had been excessive but fun - but it wasn’t. Colds weren’t like they used to be, everyone said it. They used to come and go in a few days, now they would last a couple of weeks and sometimes even require antibiotics to finally clear up the last dregs.

Using his feet to fish for his slippers, he finally found them and put them on. He stood up slowly and stretched his legs and back. The chill of the late winter mornings always made his back stiff at first. Then he remembered it was his first commuting day into the new office. He groaned out loud at the thought. He’d pleaded with the company owner to have a new office out of the City, even the Docklands would be preferable; being resident in the City was so passé. Although it was supposed to be twenty three minutes to Cannon Street Station from his station in Mottingham, a small town in the south east of London, the commute wasn’t always easy, especially getting past London Bridge. Almost every time he went through there, especially in peak hour, there were delays. He knew there were a lot of trains passing through a single junction area, but sometimes it felt like Network Rail was surprised by the arrival of actual trains.

He commenced his ablutions on autopilot, the same old routine, only now they had to be performed an hour earlier than before the company had moved offices. Thanks, Bill, he muttered under his breath. Daniel couldn’t really complain, his salary was higher than average, with luck he should be able to pay off his mortgage early; God he was thinking like an old man already, and he was only thirty two. But still it hurt to have to wake up at this hour. The shower was hot and, putting his head under the shower nozzle, he felt life coming into his body. He was definitely getting a cold, now he could feel it in his sinuses and his head felt a little fuzzy in spite of the warm water flowing over it.

Cleaned and shaved, he wandered back into the room and, feeling a little playful he reached under the bedding and goosed his wife. He jumped back quickly as her lightning quick reactions would most likely connect with full force. As it was, her semi-clenched fist went sailing past his nose to slap harmlessly against his pillow.

“You bastard,” she tried to exclaim, it coming out more like a whimper, “I need sleep!”

He smiled and replied, “I have no mercy for someone who’s had more sleep than me. Get up, lazy bones.”

He continued dressing, not bothering with a tie, the office was really going into dress-down mode these days. Finally, he headed downstairs and called back to see if Janet wanted a cup of tea.

“No, get me something for a cold, Paracetamol or something. I think I’ve got your man flu.” She always caught his cold, even when it wasn’t from him. For men, colds were almost always fatal, or that’s how she alleged they behaved. For women, colds were always the bloke’s fault.

He continued downstairs, rubbing his eyes, still not fully awake. Entering the kitchen, he picked up the kettle and filled it with enough water for a couple of drinks. While he waited, he walked to the fridge and, as he opened it, he remembered that his local butcher had managed to get him, under the counter, what he had been asking about for weeks. Lamb’s brains. He loved them, but the successive obsessive governments had banned the eating of brain because of the CJD outbreak, some years before. He got the package out of the fridge and opened it. In spite of his cold, he was determined to enjoy it and so got out a pack of bacon and a couple of eggs as well. From a high cupboard he retrieved the box of breadcrumbs he had bought especially for the occasion. He was ready.

The kettle boiled as he was preparing his breakfast. He would have to be quick as Janet deplored the idea of eating brains. If he could make it look unlike what it was before she came down, she would eat it. It always smelled great when it was cooking, so he knew he would be half-way to pleasing her at least. Women, he argued, didn’t like the thought of killing cute little fuzzy creatures, but didn’t mind eating them if they looked just right and shop-bought.

By the time Janet came down the meal was ready, along with a warm drink each, Janet’s containing warm water and water-soluble Paracetamol. His was coffee, without which he couldn’t function properly for the rest of the day. The smell of the crumbed brains, bacon and warm drink made him feel a lot better and he thought he could get away without medication until he arrived at the office.

Janet had collapsed in her chair in the living room so Daniel decided to treat her by bringing her the breakfast on a tray.

“Braaaaiiinnns,” he said, handing it to her.

“You promised you wouldn’t say that. You lied.” She retorted, trying to crack a smile.

Putting his own breakfast plate on a tray as well, they both sat in the living room, watching the morning news. The newsreader on the screen, looking fresh as a daisy - he’s probably on uppers, Daniel mumbled uncharitably, was warning the public about the fact that over one million people had so far succumbed to the Norovirus in the last two weeks. He continued to warn his audience not to go into work if they didn’t have to. Yeah, that’ll happen, Daniel thought. So who will earn the money to pay the bills, then? These official warnings were always pointless and usually only fed the fever of fear in people.

Both of them ate their breakfast in silence; glancing at her, he wasn’t sure Janet even knew what it was she was eating. At least there were no complaints. He was feeling restless, so he picked up his plate and, continuing to eat from it, he walked to the front window. He peered out at the three people he could see, walking in the direction of the train station.

“God, they look worse than I feel,” he muttered. “Hey, Janet. You should see these happy souls, they look zombified. Tired, drawn, dark circles under their eyes, looks like they’re on autopilot. Urgh, one of them has a bloody nose. Wipe it, then,” he said, offering the sufferer advice while watching the blood trickle down the girl’s chin onto her blouse. “Jeez, I thought I felt bad. Just think, love, a week from now I’ll be looking like that, and some other bastard will be staring at me and thinking the same thing.”

He turned around and looked at Janet. She looked terrible.

“Are you okay? You look really bad.”

“Thanks,” she replied. “Way to make a girl feel better.”

“Are you sure you should be going out at all today? Surely you can find some of what you need on the internet. Do you have to go to the library?”

“You know I do, I need to look at the Domesday book copy they have there. I won’t be out long. Then I promise I’ll come straight back home.”

“Do you want me to stay with you? I feel pretty shitty, too. It’s not like I’ve not got a valid excuse.”

“No, you go in. Bill will only call you a million times and make you feel guilty.”

“I guess you’re right.” He glanced at his watch, seven minutes before he had to go and catch the train to hell, or his office, whichever was closer. “I’d better get going if I’m to catch the train.”

He took his dish to the kitchen and put it in the sink. “Can you do the washing up, please? I’ll be late if I do it.”

“Sure, I’ll do it later. No rush. I’m sure to feel better once the drugs kick in.”

“Thanks, love.” With that he raced up the stairs, did his teeth and grabbed his laptop bag, making sure his notes were in the side pocket.

He ran back down again and kissed Janet on the forehead. She did have a temperature.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay, you feel hot.”

“Go,” she said, drawing it out like a moan.

“Alright, then. Don’t overdo it, come back home as soon as you have what you need from the library. I’ll try and sneak out early. Call you when I get there. Love you.”

He hurried out the front door, slamming it shut in his wake. There were another couple of people just ahead of him, ambling along, apparently not in a hurry. He rushed past them, not glancing backwards, intent on getting his train. He arrived at the crossing point on the A20 and noticed there had been a prang higher up the hill, nearer the intersection lights. A couple of people were standing near the cars, dazed, bloody wounds clearly visible on their hands and faces. Other people were milling around.

He made the decision not to get involved; surely someone had already called the emergency services. He needed to get to the office on time, make sure he got organised and on with real work quickly. He jogged down the snicket to the station and queued to buy a ticket.

“I guess I’ll have to get a season ticket at some point,” he said to no-one in particular, “then I’ll officially be in the Commuters Club.”

The queue didn’t seem to be moving, and after a couple of minutes wait, his train could be heard drawing into the station.

“Damn,” he muttered under his breath. He left the queue and ran to the train. He climbed aboard and hoped he wouldn’t lose too much time over waiting to pay the penalty fare at the other end.

The train was full this morning, so he stood near the door. He looked around and began to watch the other commuters as they played the ‘avoid catching others’ eyes’ game. It made him feel miserable. On top of that, his cold was getting worse, he was getting a headache, and he began cursing himself for not taking something for it before he left the house. At least the weather was good; he hadn’t had to struggle against rain on his first day.

Looking more closely, he noticed that most of the people around him looked really bad. This cold had really taken a grip on them. Most looked bleary-eyed, dark circles under their eyes, and slack jawed. Most stared at nothing in particular. Somehow this didn’t feel right. Feeling embarrassed and not wanting to appear to stare at people right next to him, he began to look further into the carriage. He could see two more people with bloody noses, making no effort to stem the flow. At last, the driver announced their arrival at London Bridge. Good, only one more stop and I can leave this disease infested carriage. He glanced at his watch, only two minutes late; a miracle. With luck the day might go pretty well.

The train pulled up against the platform and someone opened the door from the outside of the carriage. Two or three people forced their way into the entrance. Strangely, especially for London Bridge, no-one tried to leave the train, they just stood there. Daniel was getting worried now. Something was definitely wrong, he’d be bloody glad to get to the office.

The doors closed once more and the train pulled away, the rolling motion making a few people stumble. At the other end of the carriage, a person, he thought he saw an older woman, stumbled and collapsed to the floor. Not a single person around her reacted and she lay where she fell.

“What the…” he couldn’t fathom what was going on. Due to the large number of people in the aisles, he could do nothing to assist her. At least they only had a couple of minutes to go; he would get her some assistance once they disembarked.

The train decelerated and slowly made its way along the platform. Suddenly everyone was pitched forward as the front carriage gently nudged the buffers. Only a couple of people reacted, one of them being Daniel. A scream erupted further down the carriage. Along with everyone else, Daniel was flung forwards and landed on a pile of bodies, very few of whom had reacted to save themselves from the fall. The doors beeped their unlock warning but no-one moved to try and leave the train. Daniel extricated himself from the mass of bodies and, trying to step on as few people as possible, made his way to the doors, where he pressed the release button. They beeped loudly and hissed open. A few of the people in his carriage slowly turned their heads to look at him, registering no emotion on their faces. Their skin was ashen, it didn’t matter their ethnicity, he noticed they were all beginning to look the same.

Shivering involuntarily, he got clear of the doors and looked down the platform. Only one other set of doors had opened although the yellow unlock light was lit on all the carriages. A suited man jumped from the carriage ahead of him and ran for the gates. Deciding prudence was the better part of valour in this instance, he, too, ran down the platform to try and find some staff that could help the passengers. As he ran he looked into each successive carriage and noticed a few people had finally stood up, recovered from the sudden stop. Several appeared to have bloody noses, but Daniel put that down to the accident. It was the only thing that made sense, surely.

Arriving at the exit gates, he looked around, but saw no staff at all. Strange. On top of that, there appeared to be no passengers on the concourse to speak of from other trains that had pulled in either. What the hell’s going on, he asked himself. At least he wouldn’t have to pay a penalty fare.

“Sod this, I’m going to the office,” he had started talking to himself, realising it was going to be the only sensible conversation he was going to get around here. He vaulted over the passenger barriers, and hearing no shouted objections, he began jogging down the steps, rushing out into the street. Looking around, he could see commuters milling aimlessly, no apparent sense of purpose to their actions. In a state of near panic now, he ran to the office, dodging people as he ran. Running west along Cannon Street, he was thrilled to see Queen Street, his destination, coming up. Crossing the road, he turned right and made his way along it. He crossed over and dove into the foyer of his new office block.

“Safe,” he told himself.

Copyright © 2013 David Kingsley Roberts

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