Below is the first three chapters to book one of Among the Dead. I am completely open to criticisms, or general conversations, about the content. You can find me at:

PROLOGUE

I remember learning about something called the Cotard Delusion. The common and more exciting name for it is Walking Corpse Syndrome. Simply, it’s when people believe they are dead. They believe they have died and are living in the afterlife. There was a well-known case of a man who suffered from the Cotard Delusion, and everything that happened to him just contributed as evidence to reinforce his delusion. He travelled to South Africa and believed the heat of the country was due to the fact he was in hell. Evidence surrounding the Cotard Delusion has always been a little indistinct. No one has ever been sure what to make of it. Even I thought the delusion was a ridiculous concept. With everything that happened in my life, I don’t feel that way anymore.

I saw terrible and horrific acts. I committed even worse. I changed. My thoughts. My feelings. My ideology. My attitude about life. Something that changed is my belief about the Cotard Delusion. With everything that has happened, I feel that there is irrefutable proof that it genuinely exists. I constantly think back to that day on the coach, and how everything went from good to bad to worse. However, I realised something that causes everything else to make sense. I think on that day, so long ago, I died on that coach. It wasn’t what I expected. There was no everlasting peace. I didn’t see the faces of my loved ones. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. It all just … carried on. Everything that happened since is the afterlife and I’m in hell. That is clear to me. It had to be. If it wasn’t true, then how would I be able to carry on living with everything I’d done?

 

****

 

The early days of the infection were unique to put it simply. Not because people were killing each other. As a species, we had done that ever since the first caveman bludgeoned their neighbour to death with a rock. I wouldn’t even say it was unique because people were eating each other. That happened before everything started as well. What made it unique was that it was the fastest noticeable social change since public fear of a global terrorist attack. The news wasn’t just full of reports on people attacking other people, but it was all about the level of brutality and animalistic nature of the attacks. That is what made it different. Teeth were used to rend flesh. Fingers were used as claws to maim and kill. That was before any mention of an infection, or “Daisy” as the news referred to it. I watched news reports of people trying to tear out eyes, and of family members attacking their own kin. Dying patients attacked doctors. Doctors attacked patients in the same hospital. Yet, they weren’t planned attacks, or some sort of protest. Attacks were feral and bloody. Attacks happened in the night. Attacks happened in the day. In the street. In the home. In your home. People just weren’t safe. The rich, poor, and homeless were victims. It didn’t matter if you were the working class, the upper class, or anywhere in between. You just stopped going out at night. You stopped going out at all if you could help it. It was no longer classed as a domestic problem contained to homes, it was a public concern. It was insanity.

The police, and government, tried to find some link between the early attacks. The rumour mill believed it was a new drug that made people act crazy. The only problem with that theory was that it assumed an elderly couple in Manchester took the same drug as a homeless man in London, as well as a few school children in Liverpool. Another rumour said the cause was some sort of mental illness that caused people to act on their most primal instincts, to attack and feed. There was no logic. Research teams were just grasping at straws to find a reason behind the new epidemic.

It wasn’t long before city councils called quarantine. There was a mass exodus out of cities as people returned to their respective homes and homelands. Trying to quarantine a whole city was next to impossible. Besides, it’s human nature to resist authority. Well, my human nature at least. Then the military began moving. One day you could go out and there would be nothing, the next day there were military personnel everywhere. There were checkpoints set up throughout the city. The military were posted at hospitals, bus stations, the mall, and any other major institutes. The military ran everything the day they decided to turn up. I remember going into a local supermarket and I saw armed military standing around telling jokes while they handled their weapons – like it was the most casual and everyday thing in the world. Yet, we accepted it without any explanation from the government. It just happened and the citizens of Great Britain had to deal with it, and we were happy too for the most part. Conspiracy theorists went into overdrive. I imagined some of them needed a change of underwear just from the thoughts going through their heads as they connected photos on a wall with pieces of string. Some theorised that the government was rooting out the Russian sleeper agents living amongst us. Then again, those same theorists were also the sort of people you would see on a Saturday night yelling at meat in a supermarket. Most people didn’t believe the theories, but they knew something was happening. I knew exactly what was happening, and I had mentally prepared my whole life for it.

Over the first few weeks of the occupation, I made my presence known to a few of the military folk, especially the ones at the local bus station. I spoke to them daily and got to know them all personally. The plan was for me to become a friendly face and, eventually, they got to know me by name too. That was the first part of my master plan.

 

I wanted to drag my plan out over a much longer time period than I eventually did, but something happened that meant I had to move things to a closer date. During the quarantine of the cities, I had lost contact with the love of my life, Alice, who lived a full two hundred miles away in Essex. She was the reason my secret plan had been created in the first place. The goal was to go to Essex and bring her back to Bristol, my home city, so we could live out the infection together. That was until she stopped replying to my messages. Alice and I had met at a university in Bristol. However, she was originally from Essex and, as a result, had to travel between Bristol and Essex to visit her family. Alice was back in Essex when the quarantine had kicked in, so she became stuck there. I kept track of what was happening in Essex and found that the military presence had been much more advanced compared to what I witnessed in Bristol. They were taking all sorts of initiatives to prepare Essex for the eventual apocalypse, even if they didn’t know the chain of events would be of apocalyptic proportions. The preparation in Essex made sense, however, considering how close Essex is to London. Especially since the troubles started in London, or so the reports made it seem. It made sense for the nearest cities to be on alert and fully prepared for whatever headed their way. The world slowly became a horror film, and Alice never liked horror films, so that doubled my resolve to save her from a potential living nightmare. Then again, not watching horror films was probably what would keep her calm; she wouldn’t even begin to think of all the horrors that existed out in the world.

I would ring Alice every day, repeatedly, until she picked up. Just to ensure that she was safe and well. That happened for a few months, and then two things happened simultaneously. The first thing was that events in London escalated on a grand scale. What started off as a containment effort of a few afflicted individuals evolved into full-scale street wars. The news reports began to show the military gunning down individuals who were running at them. Bullets pounded into those individuals but they just kept going. If you looked at the footage closely, you could see it was only headshots that brought down the attackers for good. There was escalating warfare erupting on the streets of London and all that the rest of the world could do was watch. Hell, even we, the citizens of Great Britain, could only sit and watch.

Eventually, the government intervened and stopped the violent footage being played on television networks. The news stations were then given public-friendly propaganda videos that spewed the message of hope. The situation in London was being contained and everything was under control; so we didn’t need to worry. I stopped watching when they pulled out the classic image of Winston Churchill doing the “V” for victory. That is where online resources became useful. Venturing onto the Dark Net provided completely unfiltered and uncensored access to video files for a time. That spilled over onto the internet and people began to study them to see what extra information they could garner from the footage. Imagine a group, over a million strong, studying the same videos and all the various conclusions they came to. Let’s just say, the collective people of the internet got a hell of a lot more right than the fine members of Parliament.

The second thing to happen was the mass evacuation of London. When events took a turn for the worse, the military began evacuating people by the coachload at random. Coincidently, the “random” coachloads were the wealthy. It was good to see that even when the end was near, money still had a hold on people. Next, the coachloads of people were taken to evacuee camps all over England; one of which was in Bristol. On days that the coaches arrived, I would go to the bus station and watch. It was oddly satisfying to see hundreds of the upper class in their Armani suits sharing makeshift housing with one portable toilet between all of them. I felt an odd sense of justice.

I continued preparing for what was to come, and the online world played a major part in it. In a week I had learned how to field strip and reassemble some of the basic military guns as well as their proper maintenance; visually anyway. I used tutorials to learn how to drive; in theory. I learned how to hotwire a vehicle, change a tyre, and when your vehicle was beyond saving. I also spent every spare moment I had honing my body to perfection. I lost my excess weight that had accumulated from a lazy student lifestyle and soon had a reasonably toned body, something most people would kill to have. I learned first aid basics and read as many books on survival as I could. I needed to know everything, just in case I found myself in any dire situation. I even learned how to open a can of food without a can opener or knife, which I thought was fairly impressive. All of those skills, while seemingly useless, could very well save my life.

My family consisted of my mother and sister, Tracey and Kelsey, respectively. My mother was a kind, caring, and overweight lady who desperately tried to lose said weight; she was pretty good at it too. My sister was a cow. Not a literal cow but a figurative one; she was so annoying. I suppose that is what siblings do though. She was the sort of girl who cared more about her looks than most other things. She would refuse to take out the rubbish without makeup on just in case someone saw her. They both had their quirks and their ways to annoy me, but they were family and I would miss them. My father, although dead to me, was still alive and not a nice man. For years I wished the status of the former would change.

I was kind of a misfit in terms of appearance when compared to the rest of my family. I was taller than all of them, which wasn’t hard when you’re six foot two. I had dirty blond hair which, if left to grow too long, ended up looking like Lego hair; kind of one texture and just placed on top of my head. It wasn’t a good look. When asked how I would describe myself, personality wise, I often went back to a quote a college teacher had used to describe what I was like. It was after class and two teachers and I were sat around chatting.

The teacher, who had never had me as a student, asked my regular teacher, “So what is Sam like as a student?”

My teacher looked between me and his colleague before answering, “It’s like having a genius sat in the class, albeit an evil genius.”

He was joking of course. Sure I was intelligent, but no more than most. Still, that description had always stuck with me and I used it. Mainly because it was funny and I felt as though I was a funny guy. I never said I was a humble person …

CHAPTER 1

“Alice, I don’t know how many times I’ve called you. I know you’re probably busy, but it is crucial you get back to me as soon as you can. I’ll chat to you later. I love you,” I said as I left yet another voicemail.

The situation in London had already been bad, but it had gone from bad to hellhole. There were rumours that the infection spread beyond London, although the media heavily censored any news which would contribute to the nation’s decreasing morale. Regarding the infection, it was determined by the government that anyone who got bit or scratched by an infected individual would later die and then reanimate as infected themselves. Although the government never used the words “die” or “reanimate,” everyone knew what they actually meant. Most people in the Western world had watched a zombie movie and, even if they didn’t want to admit it, knew what was really happening. About the time the infection had spread out of London, if you believed the rumours, Alice had missed three days’ worth of calls. A system I had set up to keep track of her wellbeing. With no contact and the infection spreading, I naturally expected the worst. I hadn’t expressed my concerns to my family. I knew they would just give me false hope with empty words. They would just tell me to leave her be. They needed me to keep a level head because, in all our hypothetical scenarios concerning the end of the world, I did most of the planning. I was a key player in the survival of my family should the infection spread to Bristol, which is why what I did was so selfish and disloyal. The Judas act I committed? I left Bristol.

 

****

 

Over the few days after I had lost contact with Alice, I wrote out every scenario for survival I could think of. By the time I had finished, I had a printed document ready to give to my family. It was every thought I had ever had about an infection like the one which spread through England: a zombie outbreak. It was around one hundred and thirty pages, double-sided, with diagrams; I had even bound it with a spiral spine and laminated covers. If I was going to do something, I wanted to do it right, and with some awesome presentation. I hadn’t even put that much care into my university work! I had packed a bag of basic survival tools in case I came across harsh conditions. I even purchased a combat knife and wristwatch from the nearest military surplus store; a pricey item which I hoped I wouldn’t need. I also managed to find a pair of military-grade boots in the same store. They took ages to wear in properly but once they had, it was like wrapping my feet in clouds they were so comfortable. I packed a sleeping bag, a torch with batteries, and a few other bits and pieces. My next move was to leave in the middle of the day. It would seem less suspicious than if I left in the middle of the night. It was also a lot less cliché. With my heart full of self-anger for what I was about to do, and an edge of excitement at the prospect of something different, I told my family I was “going out for a walk.” They said “bye” and “see you soon,” not expecting me to leave for good. They barely gave me a glance as I began to leave. I hesitated at the boundary between the inside of my home and the outside of the world. I stared at my family. It was how I would remember them: my mum in the kitchen preparing food, and my sister with her horrible noise she called music upstairs. I took a deep breath and swallowed the lump in my throat. I left them the survival document, jokingly named “The Tao of Sam” by the telephone so they would see it next time it rang. I also left a letter which explained my intentions, even if it felt like an excuse for my betrayal. I scooped up my bag of supplies and left. Had I not trained my body over the months, the large rucksack would have seemed heavy, but now it felt more of a minor inconvenience than a burden. I walked quickly, drawing as little attention to myself as possible. I avoided neighbours and friends when I saw them and continued onwards to the bus station. Not that they would have suspected anything anyway. I wore jeans, my military boots, a t-shirt and a hooded jumper. Just comfy clothes which I could move in. I momentarily doubted my choice of underwear and considered going back to change, but I knew that was just procrastination to delay the inevitable. If I went back, I knew I would never leave again.

I began to feel sick, and I almost vomited once and nearly turned back twice. But, perhaps unluckily for me, my resolve was steady. I approached the military guard post at the bus station.

“Hey Sam, haven’t seen you in a few days!” one of the guards said, a husky man named David. He was one of the men I had spoken to most, and seemed the friendliest. I could have almost considered him a friend if I hadn’t been using him to achieve my plan. He was slightly shorter than me, with shaven brown hair. He normally wore glasses but used contact lenses when he could get away with it.

“Hey man,” I replied. I opened my mouth to say more but closed it nervously. He stared at me, confused by my nervous disposition, and that’s when he spotted my bag.

“Going on holiday, lad?” He laughed. I laughed too. Nervousness and not mirth was the cause.

“Not exactly,” I replied uneasily. I looked him in the eye before continuing, “I need a favour, one bigger than you have probably ever done for anyone.”

David took a partial and uncertain step back, but the military in him came to the forefront and he straightened up.

“What is it?” he asked cautiously. His thoughts didn’t even come close to what I would ask.

“I need you to let me on one of the coaches back into London,” I replied quickly and in one breath. Even though the streets of London were a constant warzone, people were still being evacuated little by little. The bus stations were major hubs of activity as people tried to leave. The plan was simple: catch a ride into London, and then get one of the evacuation coaches to Essex – a near perfect plan.

“You know I can’t do that, lad,” he replied sternly, his role of guard overruling his friendship with a stranger.

“Why not?” I protested. I had prepared my argument word for word, knowing it was my only chance to get through, “At this point, they’re only taking people out of London because of how bad it is. The only reason they’re not letting people back in is because no one is that kind of stupid. Unfortunately, I am that kind of stupid.”

“Why, lad?” he said softly, “Nothing is worth going there for.”

I shrugged and asked, “So, is that a yes?”

David cursed, a little at me, and a little at the situation. He then looked me straight in the eyes and said what I had been hoping to hear, “Okay, but dammit … you realise I’m signing your death warrant?”

“No you’re not,” I replied, smiling. “You’re just letting some idiot do what he needs to do.”

David smiled at this and led me through the guard post constructed of chain-link fencing. He waved someone over to carry on at his post while he showed me the way.

“Won’t they say anything?” I asked when I saw a soldier staring at me.

“They will, later, but at the moment they don’t care enough either way. There are bigger things going on than some kid wandering through,” David replied matter-of-factly, like he knew a lot more than he was letting on. He cast a glance at his watch and sped up his pace. “The next coach leaves in five, so we have to be quick about it.”

“Thanks for this, man,” I replied. “You don’t realise how much you’ve helped me.”

“Hey lad, if you want to chase after a woman, who am I to stop you?” David said with a smile.

I turned to him and asked, “What makes you think this is about a woman?”

“Everything stupid done by any man has been done because of a woman. Fact,” David laughed, although he was completely serious in his sexist belief.

“Fair enough, nice guess,” I shrugged, and added with a grin, “you’re right.”

A few minutes passed before David replied. He looked at me sadly. He was so sure I would die.

“You do realise that whoever she is, she isn’t worth it?” he asked quietly.

I smiled at him before saying in a barely audible whisper, “Alice is.”

We walked the rest of the way in silence. What was once a familiar bus station for me was no longer recognisable. It was a makeshift military outpost. Where sleepy travellers normally would wait for buses which rarely turned up on time, there were now armed men walking around; some with purpose but most were bored. As we got closer to the coach, nervousness choked me. I was leaving everything and everyone I ever knew behind for, what most would consider, a journey of a madman. If I was a superstitious man, I would have thought that the tightness was the hangman’s noose around my throat getting tighter with each step, but that was a ridiculous thought. I swallowed away the lump, the thoughts of seeing Alice melting it slightly.

We approached the coach. The driver sat tensely at the wheel, waiting for his time to leave. He had learned that when the military wanted him to leave at a certain time, they meant that second and not a minute or so later. I certainly hoped they were paying him more than just overtime.

 

David knocked on the doors, and the driver opened them immediately.

“Here’s a passenger, no questions,” David said sternly to the man, displaying an authority I hadn’t seen from him before. I stepped onto the coach and turned to David.

“Goodbye man, you’ve been a good friend,” I said and smiled. He looked at me sadly, and then looked around him to make sure no one watched as he did the unexpected. He withdrew his handgun. I recognised it as a Browning 9mm. I had many years of video games and a great memory to thank for that knowledge. It was the standard issue of the British military, although there was talk of changing it at some point. Would they ever get around to changing it with the current state of the world?

“It’s dangerous, especially when going alone, so take this,” David said and handed me the gun. I stared at it dumbly. The black metal tool was heavy and cold in my clammy hands. David continued, “It has thirteen shots. Make sure they count.”

I nodded, temporarily unable to speak. He then searched his pocket and withdrew a single round. He put it in my pocket before adding, “And that one is for you, in case you need it.”

“Thank you,” I whispered quietly to him. The gun weighed as heavily in my hands as it did in my mind. Although I would need every bullet he had given me, I knew the significance of that last round; a thought which I couldn’t bear to think about.

“Be safe and get going,” David replied, placing a hand on my shoulder. He then nodded at the driver: the symbol to leave. The driver nodded in return and started up the coach. I continued to stare at David as we pulled away, and he did the same in return. When he was out of sight, I sighed heavily and slumped into a seat about midway up the coach. I felt mentally drained and my adventure had only just begun. I so badly wanted to sleep, but adrenaline pulsed through my blood, almost in anticipation for what was to come. I closed my eyes, thoughts of my family I had so eagerly left behind dancing through my head. I needed this; I needed to get away and do what I was doing. A few tears rolled down my face but I wiped them away quickly, almost so I wouldn’t catch myself crying. I looked around the empty coach, just the driver and me, and I drifted off slowly to sleep. The simple exertions of the day had caught up with me.

CHAPTER 2

I hadn’t been asleep long. I could tell by both the lack of change in scenery outside, and the wristwatch I wore. I had woken with a sense of unease, like when you walk into a dark room and can sense someone is hiding in the dark waiting to scare you. I opened my eyes and looked around, momentarily forgetting I was on a coach and why I was there to begin with, but those memories came back to me in a flash. I sat up straight and stretched. I looked around and found the source of my unease. The driver of the coach stared at me in his mirror. Not a casual look, but a full-on stare. My eyes met his in the mirror and yet he still didn’t look away.

“Was I out for long?” I asked him, knowing the answer but desperate to get his gaze off of me.

“Not at all, about twelve minutes,” he replied. It was creepy enough to know he was watching me sleep, but even creepier that he knew to a precise degree how long for. A wave of goose bumps washed up my arms and raised the hair on my neck.

“Ah,” I exclaimed, unsure of how I should act. Was he okay with the fact I had caught him staring? Or did he simply not care either way? A second shiver ran through me, but I shook it off. I tried a different approach and asked him a question.

“Made this journey often then?”

“Oh, about seven times. Fourteen if we’re counting there and back,” the driver answered, “Seen all manner of things.”

“Like?” I asked, curiosity piqued.

“Seen a man almost beat another to death right at the back there,” he replied matter-of-factly and gestured to the rear of the coach from over his shoulder.

“Do you know why?” I asked in surprise.

“Rival bankers, both very high up, or some nonsense. Been in competition for years. One made a remark about a stain on the other’s suit and he flipped out and started pounding him. Took the escort aiming a gun at him to stop him,” the driver answered. I couldn’t tell if he was serious as he delivered the story so nonchalantly. I didn’t entirely want to know either way. People doing what people did wasn’t exactly new. I would watch the news if I wanted to hear anything like that. Instead, I focused on another aspect of his story.

“What did you mean, ‘escort’?” I questioned. His eyes were back on the road, and I began to suspect he was just weird as opposed to menacing. I imagined his journeys got lonely, and the sense of unease began to disperse.

“Well, in the early days of the evacuation, each coach had a soldier onboard. More so to keep peace and watch for the infection,” the driver replied, while he drove us along the empty roads. “As time went on and the infection got worse, they stopped putting one on the coach. Probably because they would rather the forces were somewhere else, I suppose. They also became much more selective as to who they let on to begin with. Got a sniffle or some blood on you? Access denied.”

“Did you ever see any of the infected?” I asked, surprised at his openness to discuss it. Most people tried to avoid the subject.

“One or two I thinks,” he answered thoughtfully, casting a glance at me in the rear-view mirror. “On my way out of London, seen some army shooting at people. Think they were infected.”

There was a few moments of thoughtful silence. I broke it with a very straightforward, yet widely debated question: “What do you think is really going on?”

The driver let out a bark of laughter before he replied. “Seriously? They’re zombies! Short and simple,” he said with a smirk.

I smiled. At least someone in all the madness agreed with me and used the “zed” word. I relaxed back down into my seat, the gun still on the seat next to me. It was strange to have a gun within touching distance, let alone having the expectation of using it. That was one thing video games hadn’t prepared me for.

 

We drove in silence for the next hour, neither of us wanted to talk but both deep in thought. We didn’t pass a single car along the way, nor a single person, living or infected. Eventually the coach began to slow, pulling me out of my contemplative state. Surely we weren’t there already? I walked to the front of the coach to see why we were rolling to a stop. London was nowhere in sight, but in the middle of the lanes was a car. It had flipped over, and glass was smashed all across the road. A barrier between both sides of the road was heavily damaged, obviously from where the car had hit it. The most disturbing part was the blood. There was blood smeared across the car and glass; it looked like someone had crawled out of the window. However, the trail didn’t stop there. There was a trail all the way across the road, which disappeared down into the grassy embankment.

“What’re we gonna do?” I asked the driver, staring at the bloodied car.

“We can’t go round it, too much debris. The glass would be fine, but the metal … we can’t risk it with the tyres,” he replied uneasily. He looked at me with a nervous smile. He expected me to get out and move it! I sighed and began walking towards my seat to get the gun – my gun. Adrenaline began to pump through my blood as I prepared myself for the unknown, and that was when I heard a thump. It was loud and very close. The whole coach shuddered with the noise. I turned to look at the driver, doubting my sanity for a moment. He craned his neck to try and find the source. He had also heard it. Suddenly, there was another thump, followed by another. It came from the outside of the coach, on the right side. There were a few more thumps which shook the whole coach. I edged over to the window to see the source of the noise. What I saw caused me to freeze in disbelief. Running out of the line of trees, not very far away, were thirty or so people. Yet, I could see they weren’t quite people. They weren’t close enough to see “the whites of their eyes” but, even from the coach, it was clear something was wrong. Some were covered in blood and others had parts missing. Some had splinters of bone hanging out of the ragged flesh where an arm, or other body part, used to be. Some were dressed in ripped clothes, others in suits, some wore nothing at all. There were four at the base of the coach pushing against it as if it wasn’t even there. As the seconds passed, the other infected from the woods got closer.

I finally managed to free my mouth from shock-induced silence and shout, “Reverse!”

The driver, wrenched from his shock as well, didn’t wait for me to ask again and began to reverse … but it was too late at that point. There was a resounding thump and metal crumpling as thirty or more bodies of the infected collided with the coach. It shook the entire vehicle and threw me to the floor. There was a groaning and creaking of metal being stressed beyond breaking point. I thought I must have hit my head when I fell, because when I looked up, I saw the floor was shifting and leaning sideways. I tried to stand up but began to fall again. It wasn’t my head that caused the coach to shift … the sheer amount of weight pushing against the coach had begun to tip it over! I wanted to strap myself down with a seatbelt, but there wasn’t time. I braced myself between the seats, ready for what was about to happen. The coach went from being vertical to diagonal, to horizontal in less than three seconds. There was a deafening crash as it hit the concrete. I was thrown along the length of the coach, head over heels. I remember glass exploding upwards, and metal crumpling inwards. I slammed into something but had no idea what. Whatever it was, I hit it hard and I hit it fast. I blacked out …

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