Rancid, swollen, images of the dead she’d seen flashed at Simone through unconsciousness. Worse was those eyes. Piercing her every blink. Eyes suggesting life but full of death. Broadcasting the afterlife. The desperate, pleading eyes of her son. Asking her not to kill him. If there was a choice she wouldn’t have done. Simone cried herself awake. Linus was making food. It was dizzying bouncing from extreme to extreme. Although this routine she could get used to. How was it that this weird little man seemed so at home in the apocalypse. It’s so hard to look to the future when the past is ripping your heart out. This man had a plan. She didn’t have time to answer her own thought before he spoke.
“Hi. Did you sleep well?”
She half lied out of politeness, in the way English people do.
“Yes thank you. I needed that.”
It was still better sleep than being meat in a can.
Simone got up and made the bed. The room was not spinning like earlier, the drink had worn off. She was hungry again though. They ate dried sausage, crisps and tinned fruit. Linus apologised for it, but the fruit made the meal. Besides; what she ate of his, he couldn’t. Simone could not have been more grateful. Linus offered her wine. Special occasion he called it. Under the circumstances, it did rather feel that way. So again they drank.
“I’d usually offer a cigar or at least a fag, but you know, the air down here isn’t the best anyway and besides I don’t have any. One way to quit I suppose!”
Simone laughed, her host was clearly adept at being cheery when it was needed, but as she’d seen from her slumber, needed to vent on his own. She also wagered he used the drink as a mechanism of coping. For better or for worse. We all have our ways. How was Simone coping, she asked herself. There hadn’t really been time to step back and examine. If nothing else, Simone’s talend was questioning people. Socratic. A Gadfly. Linus had mentioned God, and feeling more her usual self, Simone decided it was a button she wanted to press.
“You mentioned a religious upbringing. Past tense?”
“Umm, yeah, was raised a Catholic.”
“Because of, this?”
“Nah, I ‘lapsed’ as they call it years back. This changes nothing in my beliefs.”
“Nothing?”, Simone was surprised.
“Not really. People are still either nice, not nice, or out to get you. I’m a dog man!”
Simone laughed. It was refreshing talking with someone whose worries and hers weren’t exactly the same, you could move away from it more easily. From the images that flashed at her unwantedly. it was less intense. Other people, this dirty little pauper in front of her. Was this salvation? If there is hope, it lies in the proles. She giggled at the thought.
He had noticed the giggle.
“Oh. No nothing. Sorry. That’s interesting. About your lapsing.”
“So are you a religious person Simone?”
“Not religious. I believe there may be something. Something higher.”
“There is.” Linus asserted.
“So you’re deist?”
“Deist. Like it. Very academic.”
“Right. But you are an atheist? Or agnostic.”
“Lot of words Simone, you like asking questions don’t you! Bloody hell, of all the people I could save, I got Socrates! At least you aren’t talking in circles.”
“You’ve read a bit of this haven’t you.”
”I’ve had the time.”, Said Linus, gesturing to his darkened abode.
“But not to stop you, you do believe in a higher power of some sort?”
“I think so. Not God. I won’t call it that.”
“But, I’m starting to think what may be there, if it is, I don’t like all that much.”
Simone winced. It made sense.She saw his reasoning.
“Heh, yes I can see why you might think that, current situation accepted.”
Linus and Simone talked an hour or two more. It felt good to Simone to have a normal conversation. Almost normal, at least. Linus graciously let her sleep in his bed again. He slept on a bean bag with a pillow. She got the impression he’d had enough drink for the awkward position to have been negated by booze consumption. She woke hazy, and confused by the dark in the fortress of this young man.
“Linus?!” Simone was now worried. Her breathing quickened.
Nothing. Nothing! How in this Knox of a bolt hole could it have been corrupted? How was she alive still?
A grunt from the rough direction of Linus. The lights came on. Dim, then less so. Linus was still horizontal. Half on his makeshift bed, but with his arms and torso leaning to the generator to turn it on. His eyes were squinting, even this was too much light for him!
“Are you Ok?” Simone asked.
“Ugh, yeah. Give me a few minutes to wake up properly Ok?”
Simone did so, and when he did wake up they had food and cups of tea with UHT milk from those little plastic containers one finds in motorway service stations. The old world. Tea from the past. When he had sobered up Linus wrote Simone his survival list. He stressed a lot that he could not guarantee anything but that in his opinion this was accurate. A beginners guide to the apocalypse. As she was so set on finding her sister, Linus thought it would be even less relevant given London was a little bit overcrowded even before the, whatever you want to call it, end of days.
“Four horses showed up.”, Is how Linus put it.
Then in a comically deep south American voice…
“And awn the white horse was de-ath!”
He looked at Simone. She didn’t laugh. He recalibrated.
“Sorry. Where are you going in London?”
“Lewisham! Fuck me that was a state before this happened! Jesus!”
He paused and bowed nervously.
“Again, err, sorry. The list, the list...”
Linus’ list went like this.
“Do do’s, and definitely do- nots. And others.
Keep quiet. They can definitely hear. I think. They can smell too. Sight gets worse as they rot. I’ve no idea how this affects the other senses overall. If you’re worrying about touch and taste it is probably too late.
Don’t bleed. Don’t wash with soap. I think an earth smell works. A natural smell I spose. Blend in.
They are slow, which means one or two you can run from, but a huge crowd I’m yet to encounter.
They are stronger than you’d think, they do not feel pain and best smash the brain up to stop them properly. They will not tire chasing you and as long as they still think they know where you are will keep going after you.
They have no memory of life, do not try to appeal to one you may have known. It will eat you.
If you get bitten, how deep and where the wound is will determine how long you have left. Guess work is seconds with a main artery to a few days with a small bite on the hand or arm. If this happens, kill yourself or the person bit as soon as possible rather than let the poison do it. For obvious reasons you don’t want to be carrying a time bomb round with you.
Daylight is best, they can still find you at night, you are not as good at spotting them then. Sleep in high or low places. Or just secure ones. I think this and food are the hardest parts to get right. I have had no contact with friends in houses or flats for a while, I don’t hold much hope.
Carry what you can. Food, supplies. Water. Raid when safe.
You are unlikely to find a gun, even if you do the sound will attract more when you fire it. Be careful.
They do not seem to have interest in animals. It is us they loathe.
Finally, find your purpose. It will make you feel a bit better. I have mine and I’m working toward it. Slowly. Find your sister and take care of her. Just take care.
They went over the list. Linus also gave Simone a map and directions as best he could. Very kindly he also gave her food and offered whisky, but Simone thought he probably relied on that more than her, and refused. They hugged, which was strange for them both, Simone thought. She looked at him and he said.
“So out of the shelter, right and go straight for about half hour, until the small road that I showed you on the map.”
“Move quick. Also try to stop only at night, somewhere safe. If you come across one then... Oh fuck!”
“What?” Simone worried suddenly. She was nervous about leaving now. But she had to get to Sophia.
Linus rushed into the gloom of the room. Cursing and rummaging ensued. He returned holding a dagger. Long and thin and seemingly a few hundred years old. Simone looked at it puzzled.
“Through the eye if possible. Stab, don’t slash, that won’t stop them. Ear or temple are next best probably. Like a bullet in the head.”
Simone looked grossed out. Linus scratched his head.
“For the dead?”, she asked;
“I love that. The dead, yes. For them.”
There was a pause. Until Linus began again,
“Grimmest gift ever, I know. But please.”
Simone took the dagger..
“Thank you Michael. Take care.”
Linus’ jaw opened.
“I saw your driver’s license by your bed.”
He nodded, bothered by Simone’s nosey discovery. But determined to keep going.
“Ok. Look it has been a pleasure.”
“I can’t thank you enough. I hope to see you again. Maybe.”
“Yes. Look you’re going to have to go up first. Knock on the underside of the door thing and call for the dogs quietly.”
Simone did so. The concrete mounted ladder seemed less damp and claustrophobic now than it had. She knocked and called as instructed. There were definite dog noises. A bark, or growl? Simone looked down at Linus who ushered her up with a smile.
Simone undid the lock holding her rucksack in her left hand and resting her body into the ladder. Struggling a little she pushed the heavy barrier over its arch and got up through as quickly as possible. The light blinded her briefly, overwhelming even the smell of dog shit. She went to cover her eyes, almost stabbing herself with her gift as she did so, and dropped the bag. Linus was up and through much quicker.
“Fuck.” He said annoyed. Simone squinted at him, he was also covering his eyes.
“Good God the smell is worse!” Simone laughed.
Linus voice dropped.
“That’s not the dogs.”
It dawned on Simone, that foul smell was not dog leavings. Not just dog leavings anyway. As the dogs growled, over the growl was the moan. The feeding call of a hateful, hollow person. Soulless and desperate and bringing up fears and memories Simone had worked on hiding from. Get used to them where you’re going, she thought. No hiding now.
Simone stood back against the wall as her eyes cleared. Opposite was the door. Through the door, down the small corridor, was the gun room. Two dogs stood in it, growling and poised to attack. The guns pointing out were long gone, replaced instead with arms thrashing inward. Flailing, blindly seeking victims. She was awake now at least! Linus glared at her dagger. The slit window was now a macabre puppet shot. The dead enclaved their hole. A crowd. A herd. Whichever was appropriate.
“You get to try that sooner than expected.”
It was said without his usual toying. He continued.
“You open the door. They go out, I go out, you go out. We stay close and let the dogs do as much as possible. Ok?”
Simone was breathing fast and heavy. But thinking reasonably clearly.
Simone made for the door. Linus grabbed her.
“Oh! Watch your back. And keep them and arm’s length.”
She turned to the door, Linus grabbed her arm again.
“Simone! Go hard and fast, for the head. Make sure you’ve done it then move on. Push them away if you need a second.”
She picked her bag up and slung it over both shoulders. Tightening the straps. Her coat was reasonably thick, her boots tough. Dagger. Map. List. Go.
Linus spared a quick glance through the gun slot at the front, a silhouette of their death. He muttered “Ten” under his breath, slapped himself across the face and held his bayonet in the right hand of a boxing stance he’d adopted. Simone opened the door and stood back as light and arms came straight at her. They rushed into the beautiful abyss.