Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Dead Are Coming: John and Stephen

The Dead Are Coming
John and Stephen

Prologue / Simone (parts one)

Two men stalked the side of the semi detached house, like burglars on the prowl. Fat, wrapped against the cold, unlikely burglars. It is daylight in the city, hardly burglary hour. Their method is similar to that of a thief, stay quiet and do not get caught. Although they are looking to take, it is not from the living. Quite what “living” is, these days, is open to debate. Depending on your disposition. The only conventional living people they have met are boarded up and shoo them off hurriedly; they’ve been meeting less of these people of late.

The other “alive” housing occupants wander their halls, decaying and trying to get out, bouncing angrily off their old life. Life. These houses should be treated with caution. Empty houses are better. Or houses with corpses which aren’t animate. There are dead outside the houses, too, walking. This is why they work at day. Danger from an animate assailant is another real concern, but one they’ve calculated. The men crawl silently up to the door and crouch by the letterbox. John is older than Stephen by ten years or so, making him around fifty. Both are physically imposing and sport heavy stubble. Stephen peeked through into the house.

He speaks, hushed,

“Looks clear.”

John leans and glances through.

“Looks, yeah.”

John cocks his ear to the door.

“Can’t hear much either.”

Stephen goes to check if the door is open.


The two men hug the door with their ears pressed to it. The world stops for a minute. Their faces against the wood, facing one another, mouths open, briefly. Listening. Inside the house is a shuffling noise. Possibly. A noise, at least. Both men duck down so as not to be seen through the patterned window. Stephen spoke.

“Move on?”

“Yeh. Not worth it mate. Let’s skip the next house too. Mark it down yeah?”


Stephen notes the house number on a pad from his pocket with the street name on the top of it. Next to the number he writes “O” for occupied, followed by “D” for dead. He does the same for the next house, and looks at John who is scowling at their environment. Eventually John notices him.

“Let’s move.”

The two men creep out of the house front garden, the same way they came in. Checking up and down the street as they do, John leads as they cross the small wall separating the house from its neighbour at its closest point to the property, to avoid entering the street. They did the same in the next garden, but Stephen accidentally knocked an ornate duck over.

John whirled round, incredulous.

“Fucking idiot!” He hisses, reaching up at Stephen’s throat, forgetting the code of silence both need to succeed.


Stephen responds by gasping and removing John’s thick, hairy hand. Pushing his friend back with two hands, and growling in his face.

“Calm the fuck down. Weren’t deliberate.”

John scowls and pauses, looking at where Stephen’s hands landed on his chest, almost swaying with anger. As his breathing slowed he came to, realising where they were and what they were, had been doing. The outburst had made him more tense. More tense on a job like this was neither pleasant nor conducive to a positive outcome. He cocked his ear like a dog, turned back slowly, paused again then signaled for Stephen to follow him. Ignoring the set to.

Unfortunately for both John and Stephen, there is only ever room for one alpha male in each pack, and both men are used to imposing their stature on a group. Quite literally. Their physique, brashness, their obtuse outlook. This was their life, now. It is, at least, a life. Working together is not their idea of fun, but the others in their pack are too young, or weak, and scared. Or women.

Reaching the front door of the next house in line to pillage, as dictated by their map, the men discover its nice, deep red painted, Georgian style door, ajar. John listens, then opens it slowly. He looks at his partner. Stephen nods, and the men hurry silently in, on guard. John shut the door without noise as Stephen removed a kitchen knife. John had on a knuckle duster with a large spike, nasty, Nazi hand me down. The thing is heavy, old and mean. It has definitely has had a long career of causing pain and bloodshed.

Light rested on the hallway through windows, not perfect. Dark and quiet, light in shapes the windows threw. Floor tiled with a black and white triangle design, they tread carefully. A lounge on the right is empty and tidy. Sunlight sits still on the furniture and coffee table, Sunday supplements laid neatly on it, even in this mess. On the mantelpiece sits a photo of a couple in their late middle age. Stephen checks the cabinet.

“No booze.”

John noded silently, and points around the room.

“No Telly.”

The men look at each other, pausing, trying to figure out what trap they’d wandered into. Suddenly John’s face screwed into a ball, and he points to the bookshelf. Mouthing, worriedly.

“Bibles. Crucifix.”

Stephen’s features fell in disappointment at the unlikelihood of his finding spirits, past the belief in a Holy one, in this residence. Joy is so hard to come by. Happiness the byproduct of industry. The two move out of the room and to the kitchen, which is in comparative disarray. A plate is smashed on the floor, a chair has been tipped over.

“A fight?” Stephen seemed surprised.

“Not the dead. We’d know by now. And everyone fights. Check the cupboards for food.”

The two shook off their hiking bags and loaded in what they can find. John opened the fridge, recoiling at the smell. It is pretty bare save some putrid milk, half a dozen eggs and ketchup. He takes the eggs and ketchup, putting them into his bag, making sure to pack the egg carton carefully.

“My bag’s full.” Stephen said softly, but in his deep, London tone.

“Mine too almost. Let’s just do upstairs then go.”

The men climbed the carpeted stairs past a few pictures of the same couple in the photo above the fire, their years falling away with the stairs like years being rolled back. At the top black and white pictures, depicting deceased family in odd looking outfits. The women with their head covered. Another crucifix. A bathroom at the top of the stairs, simple, plain. With a look and a nod John went to rummage through cupboards and under the sink.

“No fucking medicine. At all.”

John left the room in a huff, thinking of himself only; betraying his commitment to their cause. Stephen ignored him. Focussed, yet not on anything. John noticed the distraction as Stephen flared his nostrils. Eventually focussing on one door, dimming his eyes. John gestured as if to say, “What?”

“The smell.”

John leant forward, flared his nostrils and sniffed with all his might. He closed his eyes, trying to imagine what he smelt. He half retched. Gulped. Rotting flesh. A smell most people have gotten used to recognising of late.



The two big men stood in the hallway of the nice middle class house, filling it with their bulk of muscle, gut and plunder. Slightly crouched and with their weapons poised. They could not be more at odds with their surroundings. Visually checking in with one another again, Stephen crept slowly to the door, bracing one hand on the handle to hold it shut and standing to its right so that John can adopt a stance sprung in front of it, ready to attack. The men listen intently, the old house seems to creak as a gentle gush of wind tickles it. The room sounds still.

Stephen looks at John inquisitively. John nods at the door.

Still pulling the door shut with his right arm, his huge knife in his left, Stephen slowly moved his left arm forward. With the base of the knife he knocks short and sharp twice on the wooden panel.

Not a sound from inside.

The men wait. Nothing from inside the room. Nothing from elsewhere in the house. Stephen whispers.

“One… Two… Three…”

On three he turned the handle and swung the door open as smoothly as possible and in unison John moves through it, moving and positioned like a heavyweight boxer, powerfully, fast and as gracefully as possible. He stopped sharply and arced round the room, seeking an attacker as Stephen followed him in.

Nothing moves. John and Stephen swung around, on point, ready to kill anything animate.

But the room is still, so the men caught their breath from exertion, only to then both retch at smell. Eye watering awfulness assaulted their senses. In the bed lies a body. Over its head is taped a plastic bag, the nightie and rotten brown left arm showing where the right hand side of the bed has its corner turned in, as if someone else has gotten up. There is an unopened letter on the duvet over the corpse. Stephen went to pick it up.
“It’s got a name on it, it says”

… “God?”

John looked unimpressed at his burglar buddy, and the body.

“Don’t. Let's go.”

“Why? I want to know what happened.”

“Don’t matter what happened.”

Stephen put the envelope down, standing back to stare at the corpse. The two men contemplate the sad situation with the thousand yard stares of war veterans. They cared, but they don’t care enough anymore. Whatever happened here was not the worst that had happened, locally, in the country or even globally. Who knew anymore?

“Think she was murdered?”

Stephen was more bothered with the mystery than the melancholy. John breathed in sharply. Bristling and allowing himself to look at the scene properly, not in kill mode.

“No. I think she done it herself. I don’t think hubby wanted to though.”

He grabbed Stephen’s bag and tugged him away from the very personal scene they’d invaded, though not out of any sense of impropriety.

“Come on mate, let's go back to the school.”

Stephen and John turned to leave the room, heads down, untalking. They head out of the front door and quickly down a road for a couple of minutes, stopping every few gardens to hide and to look around. They do this for several roads, arriving at an eight foot black security gate, with a sign by it announcing “Christ the King Sixth Form College, Lewisham.” Stephen removed a set of keys and unlocked the padlock on the heavy iron, gate door. The men slip inside, do the padlock back up and pass up the drive to the school, a bank on their right and car park, then chain link fences and trees to their left, before the hill drops again to a train line.

They are home.

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