The world we know came to an end with a broadcast from a shopping mall in New York. People were attacked, infected and died. Then they came back. No one is safe from the undead.
As nations fell, as anarchy and civil war took grip across the globe, Britain was quarantined. The press were nationalised. Martial law, curfews, rationing, it wasn't enough. An evacuation was planned. Everyone had to leave the inland towns, cities and villages and head to one of the defensive enclaves being established around the coast.
Bill Wright broke his leg on the day of the outbreak. Unable to join the evacuation, he watched from his window as the streets filled with refugees, he watched as the streets emptied once more. He watched as they filled up again, this time with the undead. Then the power went out.
He is trapped. He is alone. He is running out of food and water. He knows that to reach the safety of the enclaves he will have to venture out into the wasteland that once was England. On that journey he will ultimately discover the horrific truth about the outbreak, and a decades old conspiracy.
This is the first volume of his journal.
Part 1: How The End Began.
07:09, 13th March, Sydenham, London.
Zombies. It seems as strange to read the word as it does to write it. Perhaps, when I look back on this diary from the safety of one of the Islands or coastal enclaves, we'll have come up with a more scientific term. Until then, they, no, They. They are zombies. People are attacked, bitten and infected. They die, then come back with only one goal, to attack and infect others.
My name is Bartholomew Wright, though most people call me Bill. This journal was the doctor's idea. She said writing down my thoughts and feelings would help me vent without snapping at my loved ones. She was talking about my broken leg, of course, not the undead who have taken over most of the world.
It's twenty-one days since the outbreak started in New York, eighteen since I returned from hospital. It is seven days since the inland cities of Britain were evacuated and less than one day since the power went out. I didn't notice at first, not until I realised the kettle hadn't boiled. I checked the TV, the fridge, the lamp and flicked the light switches on and off for at least half an hour. I tried each socket, plugging in every device and charger I could find and after nothing worked I sat and stared at the street lights, hoping they would come on. But they didn't.
The evacuation was meant to start on the 7th March, but as soon as the twenty-four hour warning was given on the 6th, everyone started to leave. I watched people walk by all afternoon and long into the night, some on their own and some in small groups. Some were on foot, others pushed prams and bicycles laden with all they could carry. After a day the streets were deserted once again.
They had said that the power was going to be diverted from the cities as soon as the evacuation was complete, but as the days went by and my heater worked, my kettle boiled and the nights were bathed in that familiar sickly orange glow, I foolishly came to believe that they'd left the power on just for me. But they didn't. The lights in London went out yesterday afternoon and I know they won't be coming back on.
I work, or worked, as a political advisor, mostly and most recently for Jennifer Masterton MP. Jen and I have known each other since we were children. After university we set up a consultancy firm together. We were full of the usual ideas of changing the world, of ending hunger, curing disease and eradicating poverty. We planned to achieve all this through a policy shop whose only credibility came from having her father, a former Chancellor, and some of his old political friends, listed on the letterhead.
Our firm only lasted six months, just long enough for her to include it on her CV when she stood in the Bygrave North by-election. She won by a landslide. I didn't believe it and nor could she. Her father couldn't believe that she'd broken with generations of family tradition and won the seat for “The Dishonourable Enemy”, as he called them.
Her election meant the end of our partnership. I carried on alone and she felt guilty enough to throw work my way. I didn't get rich, not even close, but I managed to keep the bank manager happy. As her star rose, I began to gain a small reputation of my own. Perhaps out of that same guilt, she didn't often correct journalists when I introduced myself as the mastermind behind her success.
Jen was the reason I was walking down a Whitehall staircase at 16:30 GMT on the 20th February at the same time an RAF uniform was barrelling up it. I was knocked flying over the banister to the cold marble floor twenty feet below. I know the time and know I'll remember it, because that is when the reports started coming in.
I was unconscious for three nights. When I woke I found myself in hospital on an empty ward, an armed soldier in battledress at the foot of the bed, another by the door and Jen sitting by the bedside. They were her protection detail. All Ministers now had them, and Jen had been appointed Minister for the Interior in the eight member coalition cabinet.
Her eyes were red, and she looked oddly distant as she distractedly glanced through a folder stamped “Top Secret”. She called for a doctor who gave me a cursory examination which went into barely more depth than ensuring I knew who I was, where I was and that I understood that my right leg was broken. Jen dismissed the doctor then glanced around to make sure that no one but her bodyguard was in earshot, then she said that something terrible had happened. She took a computer from her bag, queued up a video, told me to watch and then returned her attention to her folder.
It took a moment for me to realise I was watching a clip from a news feed. Across the bottom of the screen ran a ticker that read “Biological Attack in New York State”, “At Least Ten Attacks”, “Weapon of Unknown Origin”. The footage taking up most of the screen had been shot from a helicopter. When I focused on it, I saw an outdoor seating area on the second floor of a mall. A crowd was pouring out of the building, but there was no indication why. There was no smoke, no fire, just hundreds of people pushing and shoving their way onto a balcony designed to seat a few dozen. All the time a news anchor was repeating the few scant details, an unknown threat, attacks throughout the north-eastern US, the president was going to issue a statement shortly, airports were closed, and on and on. This litany from the studio only stopped when people began to jump off the roof.
The camera had pulled back to show the entire front of the mall and the mass of people flooding out into the car park. When the first bodies began to fall they were just indistinct shapes.
It took a few seconds for the camera operator to react and zoom in again on the balcony. I could make out a mismatched group of Goths and teens in high-school sports jackets overturn tables in a futile attempt to barricade the doors by a juice bar. They couldn't see that, just a few dozen yards away, the undead were pushing their way through a restaurant and out onto the balcony. As the barrier got higher, the undead got closer. Then one of the Goths turned around, looking for something else to throw onto their barricade and came face to face with one of the undead.
It wasn't like a horror film, not like any I've ever seen. The zombies didn't just grab and paw at clothing, They clawed at their victims, dragged Themselves closer, biting through flesh, skin and bone.
The camera operator, safe in the helicopter, had had enough. The picture tightened on a man and a woman near the edge of the roof. They probably weren't an actual couple. In all that chaotic confusion it's probable that they'd never met before and he just acted automatically out of some ingrained archaic chivalry. He pushed the woman behind him, putting himself between her and this snarling monster that lurched towards them. Its left leg dragged behind it, as its arms grasped at the air in front, its face masked red with the blood and gore of its previous victims.
He was a large man, well over six feet tall, who looked like he'd once been an athlete before a few sedentary decades had turned muscle to fat, but he was still twice the size of the thing creeping ever closer towards them both. I watched as he braced himself, as he straightened his back, squared his shoulders, tightened his jaw, clenched his fist and threw a right hook straight into its face. He'd put his entire weight into the blow and it was a good one, a solid one that knocked the thing off its feet. For the briefest of moments, as he clenched and unclenched his hand against the pain of the blow there was a look of triumph in his eyes and a slight smile on his face. It disappeared when a snarling blonde in a security uniform lurched forward into the gap.
He picked up a chair and swung it at head height, knocking the former security guard down, but then there was another and another, and a dozen more behind those. Tears were rolling down his face as he swung again and again, knocking Them down, but They didn't notice, They didn’t even flinch. As one fell, and struggled to get up, there were always more waiting to take its place.
He couldn’t have realised what he was doing, he was totally focused on the threat in front of them, but with each swing he took a half step back. I don't think the woman he was protecting knew how close she was to the edge, not until he swung, pushed her back another pace and this time her foot found nothing but air. She grabbed at him, her mouth open in a scream, and as she fell she pulled at his sleeve, half turning him. That was all the opening the undead needed. As his head turned, as his eyes followed, as he saw the woman fall, as his mouth opened and his hand extended reflexively to catch her, the infected security guard lurched forward and tore at his throat.
The picture wobbled for a moment, before flicking away to the woman, now lying in the car park below. If the fall had killed her, then at least that would have been a more merciful death then that of her erstwhile saviour, but it hadn't. She couldn't move her legs, they were twisted at an odd angle. Her hands scrabbled at the pavement, her head twisted from side to side as she tried in vain to see behind her, back towards the main doors where the flood of fleeing people was turning to the slower lumbering stream of the living dead.
The camera zoomed out so you could see more of the parking lot. Bodies kept falling onto the pavement as people jumped or were pushed. Fights broke out as cars were stolen, or people just got in one another's way. You could no longer see the poor woman's face. She was somebody's daughter, somebody's mother. Imagine watching the news, and that was the only thing on any channel, and to see your loved one...
Then it happened, the moment when I truly began to understand what it was I was seeing, how an impossible nightmare had become stark reality. One of the fallen bodies got to its knees and began to drag itself towards her. It couldn’t have been alive, not with its jaw half twisted off and a jagged shard of metal protruding from its chest. It was impossible. It was terrible. It was unbelievable, but it was happening. Someone who should be dead wasn't. It was clawing its way forward toward the unfortunate woman, its sole intention clear to anyone who must have seen that footage.
She must have heard it approaching. Her head twisted violently back and forth. Her hands scrabbled frantically at the concrete as she tried to drag herself away. Then her head thrashed as the creature grabbed at her ankle. She screamed as it pulled itself up her legs and began tearing at her flesh with its half-ruined mouth.
Finally the camera pulled way back, to show the shopping mall, its car park and its access roads and the industrial estate next door. Individual figures were too small to make out, it was just a great mass of humanity flowing out, some in cars, some on foot, and behind it a slower inexorable wave, growing in size as some of those who'd died rose up and joined the pursuit.
When the video stopped, I looked over at Jen. “It's everywhere,” she said, almost calmly “there's no cure.” Then she bent forward and whispered “and it's here too.”
It's twenty-one days since the outbreak started in New York. Eighteen days since I left the hospital, seven since I saw the first evacuees walking through the street below, three since my last contact with the outside world, not quite one since the power went out. Three days ago Jen sent a text to say a car was being sent to pick me up. The car came. It's still there. The driver is dead.