Grey Dawn

Prologue

Today 5:20am

A cup of steaming coffee in hand, I watched the grey, early morning light slowly creep across the garden. Day was fast breaking and soon I’d have to get myself moving. There was a ton of stuff I needed to do and I was going to need as much daylight as possible.

Right now though I was in my usual post, looking out at the world from the upstairs bedroom window. For just a moment I could believe that all was well. That I was just an ‘early bird’ contemplating the work-day ahead, but those days had long gone.

Raising the scalding cup to my lips, I paused before drinking to look at the view…. Still untouched, I moved the cup back down to my side. I could see that ash was still falling from the sky, more bloody fires had been burning last night with the aftermath now being blown about by the wind, coating everything with a light dusting. My eyes scanning left and right, I was being very careful not to disturb the blinds as I strained to see if I could spot the latest site of destruction. No mean feat when almost the whole neighbourhood looked like it had been turned literally upside down. Who was I kidding and what did I really care anyway, it didn’t matter one bit where the fire was and stopped trying to locate it. The whole world had gone to shit and I was now I was just trying to avoid what needed to be done.

This was just a distraction technique I’d developed over the past week or so. I was really doing everything I could not to look down and see what was standing, right now in my own garden. Reluctantly and filled with the same familiar dread, I glanced down instantly wishing I hadn’t. She was there again. Stood on the patio in the garden in what had become the pre-dawn ritual for us both.

Unmoving. Head touching her chest as if she was sleeping standing up, face obscured by lank and greasy black hair. The truth was was that her head was probably now so heavy that she was just taking a rest. She was waiting for me, she knew exactly where I was. She had all the time in the world.

Marbled grey skin showed through her ripped clothes in a dozen or more places. Arms hung limply at her side, for a moment I kidded myself that she could have been a statue if it wasn’t for her ragged red gloves, blood of a recent kill still drip-dripping off her mutated fingertips that marked her as something…something else that I was struggling to accept.

Finally, like a bad movie cliche from a million movies that I’d been so bloody fond of in my past life, the figure in the garden finally raised her head. I could see her terrible milky eyes focused on me at the window. Instinctively I flinched, head jerking back away from the window even though she surely couldn’t have seen me through the blinds.

Heart in my throat I stepped back peeking through the blinds again. She was still looking up at the window, waiting for me. Susan. My wife. After what felt like forever, eyes filling up with tears, I put my now cold, untouched coffee down on the windowsill and on autopilot reached out and picked up the now well-used, steel reinforced cricket bat that I’d left propped against the wall and went downstairs…

(note: taken from a diary extract, believed to be approx 8 weeks old)

Looking back it’s hard to know exactly what order things have happened. Since ‘The End of the World’ I’ve just been living day to day, trying to survive, believing that somehow no matter how crazy it feels that life will, at some point return to normal. Anyway, what I do know for certain is that my life as I knew it, ended at 8:46am on a Tuesday morning in March.

Funny that I remember that detail so clearly really. After all the madness of the past weeks, I don’t even know what date today is! I’ve lost all sense of time since the power went out and with it, I’ve totally shown my total reliance on technology to tell me what time, where I’m supposed to be…then somewhere down the line I lost my watch as well. I guess this was going back to nature you know… telling the time by the sun and stars. Ha, yeah right.

I know I can be exact about the time as I was late for work again. What made matters worse was that it was for the third time in a row. Me and Susan had just gotten back together again and we were in that lovely honeymoon phase and well you know how it is there’s not always the motivation to get yourself out of bed, especially when I could convince myself that the 20 minute walk to work was only a brisk 10 minutes if I tried.

It also wasn’t going to help that I’d been moping around work and driving the lads crazy for weeks-at-a-time every time me and Susan split up. My boss had pretty much run out of patience with me and his once firm-but-fair management style had changed to complete-bastard-out-to-get-me. My saving grace was hopefully going to be the fact that we were really short handed in the warehouse due to some really nasty flu bug that was doing the rounds. Almost half the team were off and the rest of the lads were complaining about aches and pains so you could see it was going to impact our work load. Anyway, I still felt fine and as we were being stretched thin and I thought that I could earn some brownie points pulling a double shift or something, anything that would help prevent me getting the boot.

As I clocked-in at the swipe machine in reception, I took a look at the little LCD readout to see just how late I was as my mind raced to concoct a story I could spin to my boss, as I bent over to decipher the scratched display I noticed that there was a crowd of the lads around the TV the boss had fixed on the wall in the ‘rec area’. The volume had been cranked right up on the set which was in itself unusual, normally the sound was set to an almost inaudible buzz that kept the old boys happy and drove the rest of us mad!

I could hear what really sounded like an excited or panicked reporter, but it wasn’t just the high volume or the commentary, what struck me was the lads were absolutely silent in rapt attention to what was being broadcast. Setting my work bag down by the side of the wall next to the clocking-in machine, I drifted over.

Through the tangle of workmates, I could see that the news feed was a shaky-cam live stream complete with a distorted narrative from whoever was doing the filming. It looked like a revolution well underway in some banana republic. From where I was stood it looked like a riot was being filmed by a TV crew on a building overlooking the street where the masses seemed to be gathered.

Unsure of why this deserved such focused attention from my co-workers I pushed through to get a better view to see what the fuss was. As I got closer my mind struggled to process what I was seeing. As the camera panned around, I realised that this wasn’t no tinpot dictator being overthrown, but parkland in Paris! I could clearly see the Eiffel Tower in the background, although most of the erratic panning showed a cityscape largely obscured by massive fires and smoke clouds. What I’d taken as mass disorder, was in fact a massacre in-progress! People were literally tearing each other to shreds. It didn’t seem to matter about sides, police, military and civilians alike were just killing each other. It made no sense and I felt my gorge rising in response.

My eyes focused on the news-feed-of-doom that was running at the bottom of the screen updating on the situation. It was saying that similar reports of mass violence were coming in from half a dozen different locations across the globe, including right here in London! Parliament were convening now to discuss the situation as states of emergency were being declared in numerous places with airports and ports closed off, walling in the population. Seemed a bit too late for that to me.

As I raised my eyes back again on the video feed, suddenly an arm moved over the front of the camera and the image seemed to do a full 360 degree rotation. A distorted face smeared in red filled the screen. In what felt like slow motion the camera fell to the side, cracking the lens. Even at the angle the camera had rested at, you could clearly see shadows falling across the view that I really didn’t want to look at too hard. Even through the lo-if audio feed, there was the pretty horrible escalating and shrill cries of the poor bastard who was filming. The scream ended with a sickening crunch of what I thought sounded like bone. The stream was then abruptly cut. The video window on the news feed remained black for several seconds, with the ticker tape feed running in the bottom of the frame. Whoever was responsible for cutting the video was probably as shocked as us. Then in a burst of colour, the picture switched back to the studio and for several seconds the newsreader, face pale clearly not knowing how to carry on before whoever was probably shouting in their ears gave them something to say.

As the news reader stumbled through their script, I’d already stopped listening. This was happening here, right now in London! Without really thinking, I slowly pushed myself back through the guys, noticing that there wasn’t so much of a crowd anymore – people had already gone. Those who remained were now speaking in low tones to each other, clearly shocked. As I reached the back of the group I noticed my boss, still staring, mouth agape at the TV set. I tried to catch his eye. He was totally and utterly oblivious to me standing right next to him calling his name. In the end I just put my arm on his shoulder and gave it a gentle shake, after what felt like an age, he slowly turned towards me. Something was clearly very wrong. His eyes were unfocused and there was a strange grey patches across the bottom half of his jaw… what the hell was that?!

Still slack jawed he just uttered this horrible cracking noise from his throat and almost in a stop-motion move he moved towards me. I flinched backwards, stumbling as I just tried to get away… I was starting to panic and by now a real knot was forming in the pit of my stomach, I just wanted to get home and no longer gave a shit about the job. My work bag lay forgotten, left were I’d dumped it and ran home to try and catch Susan before she left for the day.

——

God I was out of shape!

The realisation hit me like a hammer as I was running like a madman with arms and legs flailing as I ran along the streets of Harrow. My eyes were focused on the ground about a few metres ahead of me, in an increasingly vain attempt to help me maintain some sort of rhythm.

I’d always tried to keep myself fit throughout my twenties. Eating healthily, a bit of 5-a-side after work with the lads or a few lengths at the local pool whenever I could, but sometime after I turned 30, increasingly my weekly exercise regime became late night Call of Duty thum-ercise and with irregular shifts at the warehouse I had largely ditched the healthy food for ready meals and chocolate bars. I cursed my lack of routine and lazy-assed commitment to fitness, I’d easily put a couple of stone on and could feel every ounce of it making me pay for it!

With every stride my feet were painfully jolted by the steel toe-capped boots I was wearing as they hit the concrete paving. My breathing grew ragged as I struggled to maintain a pace, my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest at any second and I had a growing, dry, burning acidy taste in the back of my mouth that was also fuelling the growing stitch in my side. Tears of despair in my eyes I just knew that if I stopped, then I wouldn’t be able to start moving again.

I tried to shake off the physical discomfort defiantly lifting up my head and for the first time since leaving work I started to notice the world around me. The high street was deserted. Shop doorways stood open and what looked like shopping bags, strewn on the pavement. There was also no traffic at all with a just a couple of cars just parked haphazardly in the middle of the road. Even with my blood pounding in my ears I thought I could hear the distant sound of sirens and the vague rumbling of traffic on the nearby ring road. Cursing myself for being too focused on dreaming up excuses for being late, I really wish I’d noticed on the way to work how quiet things were as I would have probably just turned around and gone home.

As I reached the end of the high street, the junction with the road we lived on, I saw the first people since leaving work. There was a crowd gathered around what looked to be some poor bugger who’d been knocked off their bike. The car, presumably the one that had knocked the cyclist over was parked awkwardly, partially on the curb and there was a massive spiderweb crack over the passenger side window of the car…more ominously there was crimson smeared all down that side of the car.

Distracted by the grim scene my pace slowed as I suddenly realised something was also bizarrely wrong with the crowd. It took a few more seconds for my oxygen deprived mind to catch up with what I was seeing. There was absolute silence. An event like this should have had bystanders and rubberneckers standing around gossiping whilst awaiting the emergency services, instead the group were all crouched on the floor around the hidden form of what I assumed to be the cyclist.

I could just see the an arm, angled all wrong and a leg poking out, twitching. I took all of this in as I started to slow down, thinking I could somehow help when one of the crowd must have noticed me and turned around to looked at me and started to rise. I almost tripped in shock. The lower half of their face was just covered in gore and they were almost casually spooning more into their mouth as they stood up.

Panicked to my core I forgot all about the pain I was in as an adrenaline surge kicked in. Not looking back I ran like hell.

continue reading…

  copyright Si Donbavand 2014

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  1. Pingback: The Cloud | Richard Holliday – Sci-fi author in Southern England

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