Plans Won’t Save You – Part 1: Sam Lord

by on 26/09/2013
 

Plans Won’t Save You

By Ryan Whittaker

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Episode 1

In late 2020, a group of survivors discovered an uninhabited, unsecured pre‑fall UK government bunker. These survivors retrieved a small collection of documents describing monitored individuals attempting to survive the early infection (see attached).

One survivor, known only as “Michael” – claimed to be a scientist by the group – suggested the importance of the documents before they left, but was unaccounted-for when they emerged from the facility. The group were unwilling to retrieve Michael at the time. All survivors were plagued by psychological distress in subsequent weeks; sleep paralysis, nightmares containing “nothing”, and, eventually, complete mental breakdown and death.

Exploration of the facility was difficult due to how unusually unnerving the location was – unnerving to a group accustomed by this point to sneaking through decayed buildings infested with the dead and infected. The group observed unusual behaviour in the infected near the bunker; they would stop 500 metres from the entrance as if silently convinced they should not enter; “It was like they would get cold feet,” Graham Tutthill, the group’s leader described. “How often do you see walkers and runners get cold feet? That place wasn’t right, not even to them. Where in God’s name isn’t right to them?”

Attempts to rediscover the bunker have been dogged by technological issues, storms and herds of infected. It appears on no known pre-fall maps (government or ordinance survey), and no records of it appear in any of the operational military facilities in the Lancastrian Free-Zone. The author remains unknown and speculation abounds on their identity, methods of data collection and final fate. The bunker’s extensive surveillance equipment and generators were found inoperative and those monitoring them abandoned the facility for reasons unknown. It’s theorised from the tone of successive reports that the author likely went insane with a gradual case of Apocalyptic Despair Syndrome (ADS) and wandered into the wilderness.

Case 1 follows (with some material missing):

 [page break]

Plans Won’t Save You:

Case Studies of Survival Strategies in the Early Phases of the Revenant Plague

(damaged material)-no response from the Overseer, I took some initiative and narrowed the search parameters. No longer should the systems merely perform a meta-analysis of mass fatalities, no longer should my purpose be to merely watch over the machines; I have written a filter to spot individuals who announced their plans on the internet, to see if any of them worked in practise. I must not intervene, I must not get attached.

Case I: Sam Lord

Age: 26

Occupation: Full-time father to Darren (11) and Mark (9), Part-time Illustrator

Location at instigation: High rise flats, Salford, Manchester, 10:34 AM

Plan: [screengrab image is damaged]

Subject I (henceforth referred to as “Sam”) crouches on his leather sofa, skipping through channels. His children are at school and the sink remains piled with crusty dishes and plates. He glances at his work desk, silently pleased that the pens and pencils and reference images are lined up perfectly. He settles for BBC1, expecting gap-toothed toff-nonsense in the form of Bargain Hunt. A bright red screen interrupts the broadcast with BBC News in white in the centre. The image lingers silently.

There’s a breathy inhalation from the announcer. “This is BBC1, now a change to the schedule—” the TV says, and Sam reflexively squeezes the remote up to BBC2. “—as we join BBC News 24,” the feed continues.

“Ah, crap,” Sam says to his empty apartment. He remembers where he was when this last happened; the 11th of September, 2001. The news of the past several days have been full of images of shootings, riots and burning buildings in America and the Middle East. He could be forgiven for thinking it was the end of the world.

His mind goes cold, contemplating what new atrocity must have happened, Oh God, he thinks, I bet London’s been nuked.

A jigsaw of streets and buildings rotates on the plasma screen from a helicopter shot. Oily, stinking smoke spreads from burning vehicles and tyres. Noxious clouds obscure columns of marching police in high-visibility jackets and gas masks. Nothing about nukes. The ticker underneath says UNREST IN SALFORD. Sam feels anxiety slide through his guts, then a pring of guilty excitement as he recognises the area from the trees and giant billboard adverts. It’s several minutes away from him, near Swinton, he thinks; he drives through it most days.

“To those who just joined us from the main channels, we’re interrupting normal programming to bring you this extraordinary footage from around the United Kingdom—” a police van rams a line of rioters, “—with other reports of similar events in the US, Middle East and Asia.”

Sam sinks into the couch and presses the remote against his lips. A group of police crowd around a single suspect that breached their line, hammering him with shields and nightsticks. He ain’t getting up, Sam thinks. The cops keep up their brutal beating. Sam furrows his brow. He doesn’t seem to be going down right, either. What the Hell?

The footage cuts to fires in Camden. They had been raging when he’d gone to bed. The ticker reads: FIRES SET ACROSS CITY, PM VOWS THAT THOSE RESPONSIBLE WILL SEE JUSTICE DONE – thunderous red engines lumber out of a fire station under police escort.

“London’s emergency services have been struggling to cope with the increased number of calls in the wake of what the government has called ‘pure antisocial criminality’. We have reports of fire crews coming under attack when trying to put out the blazes – we’re cutting back to Manchester now, where apparently a large group has gathered near the Salford police lines.”

The reporter is right. A large group has gathered, on the screen to the south of the police line; easily two to three times the size of the police force. Straight away, Sam can tell that this isn’t a riot, this is a swarm. The crowd is shoving, crushing, climbing and crawling over the fallen to get at the police. It moves like liquid filling a jar.

“I know exactly what this is,” Sam says under his breath. He glances at his Romero DVDs. “Or close enough.”

A severely damaged number 27 bus rides in from the right side of the screen, horn blaring, wildly out of control. Bright red mess obscures the windscreen. The bus smashes through the police flank, scattering the cops and capsizing clumsily onto their vehicles. The mechanical doors on the bus reflexively fall open and disgorge its cargo; the inhabitants of the bus leap from the door, unhindered by pain or trauma, most of them stained bright, blood red. They swarm the line of cops from behind and drag a small group of them to the ground.

The southern swarm extends an amoeba-like arm of bodies through the small gap and pools outward. Sam stares, unable to look away. The police have had it; this now can only end one way. The swarm envelops and devours the police from all sides. The footage cuts to London, where the cameraman keels over, dragged down like a zebra. The broadcast mercifully cuts back to the studio, but Sam mutes it, feeling like he has something he needs to do and he’s not going to like it.

“I go through that area every day,” he says. “Every day, well, Monday to Friday, I…” and it dawns on him. “…the kids… they’re in school!” Their school is only a 15 minute walk from the bloodbath. He paces, looking again at his substantial collection of horror DVDs. He looks at his phone in his trembling hand. “Contacts… Darren,” he says, jabbing at the screen with his index finger as his thumb is panicked and unresponsive.

“Due to unusually high amounts of traffic, it has not been possible to connect you, please try again later,” a recorded message says. Not even any voicemail? Christ, Sam thinks.

“What do I need?” he asks himself. He yanks on his waist-length leather coat; hard-wearing, tough. A simple but effective defence-layer, he reasons. He frantically opens doors to every room, wondering what he could use as a weapon. Bathroom, shower rail? No, stupid. Too light. Cleaning products? No. Bedroom. Football shinpads – great idea. He slides them over his forearms. Kitchen. Chopping board? Too bulky. Knives? Not really useful in this situation. He opens a drawer, a bulky metal flashlight rocks between the chopsticks, bulbs and wires. He weighs it in his hands. Sturdy.  It’ll do.

He grabs his car keys from the hook on the wall and leaves the flat, closing the door carefully to avoid making noise. The building is quiet, deserted. The corridors smell of dusty carpets, not blood or smoke.  He moves swiftly down the heavy stairs, stopping briefly at each window to peer at ground level and any potential trouble. Shopping bags and dead leaves move across asphalt and concrete, no people.

The car park is outdoors but electronically gated, fob-activated. He stalks his parked car, squeezing between neighbours’ cars to maintain as low a profile as possible. For every footfall, he imagines a corpse grabbing his ankle; they will drag him down and that would be it, to die here between the cars and razor teeth. He shakes off the thought and grips the torch, imagining bludgeoning a zombie in self-defence. He feels better momentarily, then it subsides again to paranoia.

He presses his car fob and the locks spring open in unison. A groan and a metallic clatter splash from the gate. Flesh torn open, no lips, a white-eyed ghoul in a postman uniform claws wildly in Sam’s direction. His blue uniform is now a smeared a slick black-red. His ID reads “John” – the rest obscured by bloody fingerprints.

Sam sprints the last 15 feet to his car. He slams the door violently, shocking himself and releasing ribbons of collected rain down the car’s windows. He curses under his breath.

“Fuck it,” Sam says. “It’ll attract more, but fuck it.” He presses the gate fob and the mechanism whirrs loudly. He turns the ignition key and the engine splutters into life. He eyes the gap, ready to floor it when it gets just wide enough.

The dead postie is too stupid to free itself and is dragged with the gate bars. Its arm crunches wetly in the gate’s mechanism. It hisses and jams, a yellow warning light flashes on the top of the brick column that the railings roll into. The gap is still far too narrow for a car. “Give me a break!” he yells.

The postman’s arm snaps in the gate, releasing the angry corpse. It runs for the car, Sam slams the gearstick into first and pumps the accelerator. The tyres screech and the car lurches violently through the gateway. The dead postman buckles at the hip as he bounces away from the passenger-side headlight. The passenger wing mirror clips the metal gate as the car burns past, scratching at the asphalt.

The postman snarls and claws in the direction of the fading red brake lights.

Sam tries to avoid the main roads; he darts his Mondeo behind the main rows of housing. His vehicle creeps in neutral down wheelie bin-lined back streets and disused Victorian ginnels. He keeps the engine low to avoid attracting attention. It works until he runs out of back streets. No other option, he thinks, I have to risk the main road.

A Peugeot races past the entrance to the side street. The sounds of police sirens, breaking glass, screaming and civil unrest are louder here, but not so close as to be an imminent danger. He slowly slides the car out onto the main road and rolls towards a junction that joins a dual carriageway. He grips the steering wheel at the intersection and looks both ways. To his right, he makes eye contact with another driver, stuck in a boxy Volkswagen. His black, striped Golf is stranded in the mustard yellow criss-crossed no-stopping zone with hazard lights beating.

The trees that line the school are visible. In the opposite direction, the marooned driver, a thick, tall bald man wrapped in a tracksuit, gaudy chains and rings glares at him. His son, a slim boy no more than 14, looks deathly ill in the passenger seat. The driver emerges from his dead Volkswagen Golf and waves frantically at Sam.

He’s one of those people so piled with muscle that they look fat. Faded names and tribal tattoos wrap his arms and neck. Sam spots the man’s machete; a gigantic gun-metal cleaver that reaches the length of his forearm and halfway to the shoulder.

“Fuck that,” Sam says and fires the accelerator, pulling away towards the school. The scent of burnt rubber leaks through the car’s air con and any guilt he may have felt fades along with the man in the rear-view mirror.

The school emerges from the tree line as Sam’s Mondeo rolls up the front drive; slowly crawling over the speed bumps to the drop-off area. Ravens flit between the darkened branches above, silhouetted against the dark grey sky. The school starts with a respectable gothic chapel with an attached Victorian schoolhouse; all gigantic windows, weather vanes, slates, mossy stones and tall ceilings. Squat, ugly brutalist buildings from the 70’s spread behind like rows of rotting teeth, with an ultra-modern curvy IT and library building bolted on the side to void any semblance of architectural continuity. This was Sam’s old school; for a moment, he is reminded of adolescent anxieties, bullies and teachers that hated kids. It is a lightless place; the windows are black, reflecting the miserable skies and muddy playing fields.

He ascends the stone steps of the Victorian front, following signs for visitors through the giant, heavy wooden doors to the reception. The glass alcove to the main office is closed and the inner door is firmly locked. Peering into the office, Sam shines his torch across black computer screens and plastic in and out trays. A coffee mug lies on its side, its contents still wet, going by the shine. They must’ve left in a hurry, he thinks.

Sam thinks back to the last parents’ evening and his own childhood. The Chapel door was usually unlocked as an alternative entrance – it should certainly be unlocked during the day, think about fire safety. He clicks off his torch and heads back outside. The clouds have started to spit. His gut tells him a large downpour is coming.

He walks along the ancient side of the building, checking his phone to see if anyone had tried to call. No service, naturally. He pockets his phone and ascends the brickwork to the ground floor classroom that was once his form room. Gripping the windowsill, he clicks his torch and pushes his face against the glass. A child’s pale, blood and sick-encrusted face snaps in his direction, pupils squinting madly in the torchlight.  It bounds from the desk at him, slamming into the pane but not breaking it. Sam falls backwards in fright, landing awkwardly and spraining his ankle, his grazed palm erupting into a fiery rash as the rain starts to fall in large splats.

The dead child regains its momentum quickly and throws itself against the window. The classroom’s other windows illuminate with the flash of lightning; with the thunder crash, thirty dead kids howl and pound on the glass like mad apes. The glass shimmers and wobbles with the insane rhythm. Black veins crack across the white paint on the old window frames. The glass is single-glazed and starts to splinter. The panes shard and spiderweb at different points of weakness.

Fuck this, Sam thinks, scrambling to his feet. Guilt spreads across his soul like ink in water. Sorry, kids, I can’t do-

He shudders with the impact. Something serious has afflicted his side, but he’s not able to process what it could be. His legs can’t support him and he feels them start to give, then catastrophically crumble. He tries to grip the torch, but he can’t, can he? Maybe I am? He wonders. His mouth moves voicelessly as he collapses to the unforgiving asphalt. He can feel the little grains and stones cutting into his soft face, but no pain. He feels faint, cold. A warm liquid spreads beneath his right side.

“Wha-?” he manages, his eyes swivel but are unable to focus. A white blur moves at the edge of vision. White trainers back away carefully on black, wet ground. Glinting out of focus is the black gun-metal of a machete, dripping and syrupy. He looks to his right. His arm seems to look back, sheepish, comically severed. Sam starts to laugh. How can an arm look sheepish? That machete isn’t black, he realises, it’s red.

Machete man rifles through Sam’s pockets and removes his car keys. Sam gasps as the school’s windows shatter and spread like diamonds on velvet. Machete runs and then fades into the rain. Sam grasps reflexively. The dead children emerge from the broken window like thick worms of pus from a gaping wound. Too much blood lost, I’m dead, I’m dead— Sam squints in the rain; he can’t tell if any of the kids are his. Small mercies, he thinks. He almost passes out before they eat him.

 

Conclusion

Sam’s plans, originally revealed in a Facebook joke to “use his kids as bait”, were inverted by the crisis. His biological drives to protect his offspring forced him to a public area that was already rife with infection, where young members of hundreds of different families congregated. In hindsight, schools were an obvious place to avoid, but a father does what he must.

 

 

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