I wake up in a puddle of blood. At this point I’m not sure if its mine or not.
My thoughts are a smoky haze. When I look around me I am surrounded by bodies and for a fraction of a dream I don’t know where I am. Then the smoke clears.
For some of us, the worst is behind us. For others its only the beginning.
Ben is checking the perimeter, going from window to window, each of them boarded and nailed, and he is checking to make sure they are all secure. In his right hand he is holding a rusty hammer. In his left, some nine-inch nails. His little routine is to wriggle each board with his left hand, one by one. Any that move, even the slightest, he then takes his left hand and holds up a nail and hammers it in. Tap, tap, tapping, then drives it home with three or four powerful hits. Always the same. Tap, tap, tap. Bang, bang, bang.
Every now and then he will hit his hand, curse the Goddamn hammer, or the fucking nail, then resume tap, tap, tapping.
This is his routine, his ritual for his sanity. And we all have them.
We took refuge in this church, an enormous old cathedral, so big in this main room that it echoes. Right now the tap, tap, tapping is all you can hear.
Inside it is dark. Dark and quiet, except for the tapping. All counted there are seven of us. Seven survivors. There were nine, but nobody talks about Jim and Susan. Not anymore.
At the window, if you put your face up to the boards and peer through the cracks, you can see our jailors. You can sometimes see their dead eyes glaring back at you, those eyes that died some time ago. Those hungry, dead eyes. Outside they appear to be everywhere. And from what little we can see from between the boards they are increasing in numbers everyday.
They know we are in here, on some primal level. Maybe they can smell us. And so we go about our existence, safe from them outside. At least for now.
In here we are carrying out our routines, our rituals. Ben with his tap, tap, tapping. Tony with his planning, constantly planning. How will we get out of here, where will we go? How will we get food? What can we use as weapons? We can’t just sit here forever.
His little routine, his ritual. Our commander in chief.
Every few hours he is drawing up plans for our escape, only, the power went out a few days ago so we can barely see what he is drawing. His little makeshift map of the church, scribbling on a piece of old paper, everyday he is scheming our exit strategy.
And he is telling Ben, ‘stop that fucking hammering will ya, I can’t hear myself think.’
Then Haley with her whimpering, telling everyone just how scared she is. Reminding us all of how we are all fucked, humanity she means. Most of the time she is just sitting around staring at the ground, jumping at every little sound from beyond the walls.
Her little routine, her ritual. Our resident doomsayer.
And to take her mind off the end of the world we have appointed her responsible for our food. She’ll distribute the meals; help ration out what little we have left. And then, when we are close to running out she can whimper about it and tell us how we are all fucked, really us this time she will mean, not humanity.
The priest is saying his prayers and comforting those who need it. He is constantly draping a reassuring arm over Haley. He is clapping Tony on the shoulder and telling him what an asset he is, good to have a take charge person in this hour of darkness. He is asking Ben how the defences are holding up? He is telling me to keep my chin up, saying God will provide.
His little routine, his ritual. To be a cliché.
Right now he is reminding me of every priest that I ever saw on TV. And he is talking to the two girls, Sarah and Emily who are talking about how their friends are probably all dead. How probably everyone you have ever met and been close with is dead. Dead or worse. And saying, wouldn’t it be ironic to be killed and eaten by those who meant the most to you. And chances are, just outside, among the walking dead, are some of those very people. Like maybe your high-school teacher, your doctor, your boyfriend. And then Emily, she goes quiet.
To be honest they are taking it pretty well. Sarah is all about teamwork. She is all about getting us through this and doing what needs to be done. It was Sarah who has been stopping everyone from jumping down each others throats. She is always saying, ‘we need to pull together guys, come on, lets work as a team and survive this.’
Her little routine, her ritual. The voice of reason.
Sarah and the priest, the stitches holding us together. This gaping wound of survivors.
Right now, Emily is the hunter and collector. She is foraging around the church, hunting for this, collecting that. “Batteries,” she is telling Tony, “we’ll need batteries” and then she opens her hand and dumps four c batteries on the floor in front of him. “Just in case we find a torch.”
Her little routine, her ritual.
Then she is back off into the gloom, hunting and collecting. Saying something about rope. And in the grey, almost light, she looks pretty. Pretty and tragic.
Every day since we arrived I have climbed up into the bell tower, squeezed up through the trap door at the top of the ladder. This tiny space, big enough only for one person, so as to keep maintenance on the bell. I wedge myself in between the edge of the tower and the bell itself. What I’m doing is keeping a lookout. I’m reporting our situation. Tony’s idea. Still, it keeps me busy.
My little routine, my ritual.
From up here I can see all around the church. From other parts of the city, thick black clouds are trailing away into the sky. Storm clouds of destruction drifting back into the heavens. From here I can even smell the burning buildings in the air. What else I smell is death. What it reminds me of, is road kill.
I can also see we are surrounded. Completely and utterly on every side of the church there are hundreds, if not thousands of things that used to be people. That’s where the smell is coming from, the freshly dead corpses that are now walking the earth.
Out here its dawn and the sun is so bright I have to squint my eyes, and through squinted eyes the world almost looks normal. The zombies below almost look like the people they used to be. Almost, but that smell really ruins the fantasy.
Twice per day we ring the bell, once at dawn and once at dusk. These things are attracted to noise, apparently, so we try to keep it to a minimum. But just in case there are other survivors out there somewhere, we ring the bell. Sarah’s idea. Also because we are trapped. And if the army or what’s left of it are still around we want them to know we are here.
From below, inside, I can faintly hear the tap, tap, tap of Ben’s hammer. I go back down and I tell Tony of our situation.
Everywhere, I tell him, they are mobbing the building, I think they realise that we are in here.
In the background is the tap, tap, tapping. Bang, bang, banging. Tony scribbling. Haley whimpering. The priest, comforting. Sarah encouraging. Emily foraging. Then I go and ring the bell.
My Horror story.