Monday, March 29, 2010

Chaos Descends

Charlotte tapped her knife gently against the side of her glass a couple of times. The noise of hundreds of overlapping conversations gradually petered out until all that was left were the faint echos reverberating off the solid stone walls of the dining hall. She looked around the room at the expectant faces all looking up to where she sat at the head of the high table.

"Good evening everyone," she said in her loudest voice, "as you might have heard from various rumours going around, I have some good news to tell you all. However, before I get to confirming what you might have heard in the corridors and bedrooms of this castle, I want to reflect on how we've got to be where we are today.

"I can say with absolute confidence that if it wasn't for the hard work, skill and sheer determination of each and every person in this room. There is not a single individual here who hasn't earned their place in this commune ten-times over in the past four months. I never lead such an amazing collection of people and I can confidently say that I don't think I ever will once the crisis is over.

"I didn't call all of you for dinner in the great hall to hear me exalt your virtues, we have reached a turning point in our fight against the infected. This day, August 20th, will be known as the day that marks the start of the restoration of society. I received a report this morning from Officer G. Ramesh regarding the activities of the infected outside the ramparts of this castle. In his report he described that the infected had started to attack each other.

"Since the infection first consumed the world in April it has mutated several times. All the previous mutations we've seen have made our survival more difficult, from the emergence of the infected travelling in packs to the more passive form of infection which made it seem like they had developed the ability to hide. However this latest mutation is one which we can exploit to propel us from the cusps of recovery to re-establishing our towns and cities.

"The change in behaviour from the infect is a classic example that has been seen with many diseases, although never on quite this much scale. As it becomes too virulent a disease can be so deadly that it harms it's own ability to spread. Nature has stepped in to lend us a hand we overcoming it. We are still a few months away from being able to move back to our homes, but from the numbers of the infected remaining it's a very real possibility that we will be able to migrate back to a city before Christmas.

"And so it's with that news that I announce that tonight will be a night of celebration. We will have three courses," Charlotte interrupted her planned speech to address the gasps from various tables at that suggestion, "yes, that does includes a chocolate pudding." She paused and took a sip of water as a cheer spread through the hall, "There will even be reasonable quantities of wine and beer, but please try to stay reasonably sober; it's still a dangerous place outside. Those on guard duty and those on duty later tonight will be given a chance to celebrate fully another night."

Charlotte nodded at the people at the head of each table and they pulled the covers off the crates of beer and wine that had been placed at the head of each table. People started to pass the bottles down the tables and a wave of lively conversation went with them. Charlotte tapped her glass again to hush everyone once again. Despite the lively atmosphere the room grew silent quickly and she could soon continue, "So I'd like us all to raise our glasses to the ongoing health of everyone across the country and to our future."

"Our future!" chorused back the whole room.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Castle

The radio in the middle of the kitchen table crackled into life. I looked up from staring at my hands and exchanged a brief look of hope with Gopal who sat across from me. I dropped my eyes to the watch on his wrist and saw that the clock read 10am exactly: at least the government were still organised enough to broadcast on time.

"Citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland," spoke the calm voice on the radio, "it is with great sadness that I must report that the crisis is still on-going. The ferocity and frequency of the attacks of the infected have increased and that only heightens the importance of following the public health guidelines.

"Firstly it is essential to have a safe and secure place of residence. If you have a cellar, move all your supplies there and sleep there. If you don't have a cellar then choose a room with as few windows as possible and cover the windows. Metal shutters are best but wood is sufficient if firmly attached. The infected are more active at night, so ensure that you are home well before dusk and never open your door, regardless of who or what you hear outside.

"Secondly all contact with the infected should be avoided. The disease can only be spread by blood or saliva, but as the infected can behave erratically it is best to avoid them entirely. Should you be bitten or otherwise wounded then apply vinegar to the wound immediately to sterilise it. This simple step can help prevent the spread of infection.

"Finally, if you or someone you are with does get bitten or have other contact with the blood of one of the infected then you must quarantine the injured person. Your quarantine room should be entirely separate from your safe room, preferably in a separate building. You should leave the injured there with sufficient food and water and then avoid all contact for a week. This includes any form of communication as that can increase the risk of others getting infected. If after a week they are recovered then it is safe to remove them from quarantine."

The announcer took a deep breath before continuing, "That is all until the next broadcast in twenty four hours time. We wish you all the best of luck and are confident in the reserve of the British people to not only preserver through times of such tragedy and hardship, but also in the ability of all of you to aid in the quick containment of this crisis. By maintaining civil order and strictly following the department of health's guidelines we will be free of this plague within a year. Britain will once again be great and we all have a vital part to play in the ending of our most trying times."

The radio made a popping sound and then just made a quiet white noise sound. Gopal reached over and flicked the power switch to the off position.

Gopal looked at me and with a sigh said, "Nothing new. They've said the same thing for the past week."

"And they'll probably say the same thing tomorrow," I interrupted, "and the day after, and the day after that. We've just got to sit tight and we'll be fine." I reached over and put my hand over the back of his hand before continuing, "We've got enough food and drink for at least a week. We've boarded up the windows and doors so well that we can't even see any daylight on the sunniest days. This home is our castle and we're both kings of it."

"I never did think much of royalty," muttered Gopal under his breath, "but you are right. We'll be ok. I just can't wait for the army to sort it out."

We both slept badly that night. The radio announcer was right when they said the attacks of the infected had increased. That was the first night that I remember hearing the banging on the doors and windows of our home accompanied by the unintelligible shouts. Before then it had just been distant shouts and screams. It could have just been the sounds of a rowdy party a few streets over had it not been for the build up, with people getting attacked and all the talk on the news of the infected.

This really was the zombie apocalypse and we were living it. Or rather hiding, boarded up in our two bedroom terraced house; an inch of wood keeping us safe from the outside world. The thing I found most unnerving at night wasn't the shouting and the banging, we were both confident that you'd need to use power tools to get through our defences, it was the spells of silence which followed the noises. My mind would always try to work out what could be happening, thoughts of why the mouths of the infected were no longer shouting sent shivers along my spine.

---

It was just five days after that night that the announcements started to show that things were far worse than they'd been saying originally. All we could tell from the noises from outside was that there were more infected, many many more of them. We could even here the sound of shuffling feet outside during the day now. Both Gopal and myself didn't know what this meant, apart from it confirming our mutual desire to not leave the house. However day by day our supplies were diminishing and so the bottom dropped out of our world when we heard those four words over the radio: "No support is coming".

It only spoke the ideas that we both knew but had avoided mentioning to each other, but still it hit hard. It made everything we did so much more delicate and precious. It put the edge on the most mundane of day to day tasks, from the noise of the tin opener cutting into one of our diminishing supply of a tin to the cold water of the morning shave. It pushed our thoughts one step further, onto thoughts of what we should do when the tins and bottles ran out.

Which bring me to today. It's ten past ten in the morning and the words from the radio broadcast of today are still ringing in my ears. 'Feed yourselves' is the first, followed by 'move by day' and 'don't take risks'. Since then Gopal and I have been rushing about the house, stuffing backpacks with clothes, bandages, snack bars and anything else which comes to mind. Now we stand in the hall, Gopal with a crowbar in hand.

"So," I look over to Gopal, but can't finish the sentence myself.

"So," he replies, "this is it?"

I shrug before saying, "I guess it is."

"Shall I do the honors?"

"If you'd like," I reply.

"Ok then," says Gopal as he steps forward and uses the crow bar to pry off the planks nailed to the door frame. The eight planks come off with relative ease but with a bone retching splintering of the wood of the frame. As the second to last board is levered off I realise that my hands have started to shake uncontrollably so I stuff them into my arm pits to try to hide my fear.

With the planks piled in the hall Gopal turns to me and offers me is free hand, "Shall we do this?"

I take his hand and squeeze it tight before replying weakly, "Yes."

I reach my free hand up to the door and pull it open towards me. Bright sunlight floods off the street into our house. I glance back, partly to get a last look at the house, but mainly to check that Gopal is ok. He smiles grimly back at me. I smile back, realising I wouldn't want anyone else as an apocalypse buddy. I then turn towards the doorway, letting my hand fall out of his as I do and then step over the threshold.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beats of the Soul

The church bell rung out, the time was one o'clock, I rolled over onto my back and opened my eyes; the ceiling was still there, the walls still stood, the curtains flapped lightly in the small breeze creeping in through the window. The eerie dappled yellow glow from a street light danced as a tree in front of the street light moved in the breeze. The room was the same as it was last night, the same as it had been for the past 17 years, the same as it will always be. My hand slowly slid off of the bed and came to rest on the wooden side of the bed. I just stared up at the celling and let my mind drift, this was my time; I, different from being awake, different from dreaming, was in control of myself now.

As I sunk further and further into my mind I suddenly was aware of a tapping sound outside my mind.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Hunter

I glanced left and right and then, happy that the coast was clear, lay down on the paving. The stone trapped warmth caressed the parts of my body which lay upon the ground causing a comfortable smile to spread through my body. Passage of time slipped away and I wished that I could stay sandwiched between the rays of the sun and the heat of the earth for beyond forever.

Slowly my mind sank beneath the depths of sleep and when I next awoke I was barely aware of the passing of any time at all. The only element which hinted to me at the passage of time was the slight chill upon the air now. I lifted up one eye lid and surveyed the sky; the sun had travelled a fair distance and would soon start to disappear to the night.

I stretched out my sun baked limbs while simultaneously showing a wide yawn from my mouth. The tips of my digits brushed the cool green of the edge of the grass beside the paving, sending a prickle of cool sensation up to my shoulders. The feeling of the grass flicked an irresistible switch in my head and before I knew what I was doing I'd stood up and bounded into the middle of the lawn. The blades of grass tickled the bottom of my feet as I moved over them and helped to sharpen my senses after my afternoon nap.

I stopped in the middle of the lawn and a movement to my right caught my attention. It was a small black cat from a few doors over which had just lept onto the top of the fence. I slowly turned to face it and looked at it, both of us staring at each other's intrusion. After a couple of seconds of this I felt I should probably do something other than stand here staring at the neighbour's cat.

I opened my mouth and tried to give it my friendliest meow. I didn't mind if he was in my garden and it's always best to be kind to others than to try to scare them off.

'Meeeow,' he responded and then turned and walked upon the length of the fence and then jumped down into the runnel at the end. I wasn't sure if I'd managed to get my positive attentions across, but he didn't seem to have run in fear, which was something at least.

Once I was fairly confident that the little cat wasn't coming back I decided what to do next. There were still a good few hours of light left so I didn't want to go inside the house just yet, but wasn't sure exactly what to do instead. In my state of aimlessness I wandered over to the base of the cherry tree at the end of the garden. Having reached the tree I looked around the garden trying to work out what I could do next and realised that my mind was just as barren of ideas as when I was stood in the middle of the lawn.

Suddenly a noise in the bushes in front of me caused my muscles to tense. I pricked up my ears as my body instinctively lowered to the ground. I heard the noise again and twitched my ears in an attempt to better localise the source of the sound. My memory ticked over, trying to find a matching sound from the past. It was certainly a familiar sound, with the repeated moist crunch of damp plant matter being splintered and ripped apart.

The realisation that it was the sounds of something chewing a dead plant stem finally cemented what it was I was listening to; it must be a mouse chewing a rotten log. The thought of the small rodent started my blood pumping and I felt the moist soil and the roots of the cherry tree press against the fur of my stomach as I tried to make myself even lower.

My whiskers twitched as I thought about my distance to my prey. I was only about half a body length further away than I would have liked to be to pounce so I decided to close the distance between me and the mouse. Carefully and slowly I moved one paw after another, creeping forward ever so slightly. With my body now positioned optimally I dug my claws into the ground to ensure that I had suitable purchase for my killing leap.

Happy that I was fully prepared and feeling the muscles of my legs coiled and ready to release their energy in one powerful leap I paused, waiting for the right moment. When hunting rodents you can have the best position in the world, the strongest legs and the sharpest claws, yet if your timing is off the prey will notice your attack and, most likely, escape.

So I paused and waited until the right time. I didn't know when that would be, or what would signal it, but when it happened I would know and that was good enough for me. The quiet chomping of teeth through wood fibre continued it's steady and repetitive tat-tat-tat sound. Somewhere in the distance a thrush sang a summer tune.

I pounced. My body flew through the air and my front paws landed exactly on target. The mouse let out a small squeak as it struggled under the pressure of my right paw. I glanced left and right to check that I was alone with my trophy and, secure in my solitude, raised my left paw to deliver the killing blow.

Monday, March 01, 2010

To Us All

He moves through his life
gaining happy success, yet
feels darkness draw close.