Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Dead Are Coming: Jim and the Old Man Part 1


The Dead Are Coming: Jim and the Old man




Nothing moves. Only the condensation on the glass. The frost trickles slowly downward. Drip. Drip. Run. All frosted. The cardboard covering the window is damp and sits poorly fixed, obscuring all but the tiniest light from outside, the world. An eye peers inquisitively through this portal. Outside it is dawn, cold and peaceful in appearance. The light is good and almost gives the impression of summer, except that the cold rivals it. Trees and branches, no leaves; no birds, no noise. Definitely no cars or people. Living people. The old man is peeping out still, squinting. Outside there is a young man. A young dead man, recently deceased and slowly shambling around seemingly aimlessly.

 If the cold could jump into his eyeball, it would. The window is barely a defence anymore from the onset of winter, it almost appears ice itself now. The old man’s face is tough, though, skin which couldn’t freeze in the tundra. An appearance which has said “come get me world” for decades. He is old for a reason. The old man is a survivor. His eye does not move from the young dead man outside. Although the world is well lit, the old man is comfortably hidden in his den. Dew glazes the grass, there is wind but not much. The world has been paused, seemingly. 



The world has not been paused. What seems like a pause is in fact the retreat of life. The outside is for the dead, for they walk now. Animals, humans, life; all remain mute to keep from unwanted attention. Many of those people not slaughtered in the initial carnage and confusion of the plague are dead through the mistakes of their friends, family and kin. Those still breathing are boarded up, quiet or living like nomads, always on the move. They are all very, very scared. Britain is eating itself from within.

The old man grumbles to himself and moves away from the window, replacing the small corner of his lookie hole. He wanders towards a back room, carefully shutting doors quietly and locking them behind him. This darkened den is his ward, and he is Matron. The rooms are empty and droll. This is a care home, presumably for the elderly, but it is mostly empty. God’s waiting room. Does God hate his creation this much? In the kitchen are two old women, decrepit as the corpses hunting the outside world, but mad as a badger on stilts. They are bickering over something. The old man mutters.

“Fuckin’ jungle bunnies.”

“Ey?”

“Oh leave him Ethel, he’s just a nasty old racist. Now try channel 5.”

“Channel 5’s never worked!”

The two women return to their tug of war over the remote for the small television, mounted up in the corner of the care home kitchen. It stares blankly down on them. Grumbling, the old man wanders over to beneath the telly and picks up a walking stick. He hoists it to the machine and cracks the glass on its screen.

“What ‘ave you done that for? We was watchin’ that!”

“You’ve been fighting over the damn thing for days. There’s no electricity and the channels were down long before that went. You’ve both dementia, and can’t remember, or won’t. It is driving me crazy, as if there ain’t enough to worry about.” He spat back.

The old man's patience was gone with the two bundles of jackets, glasses and grey hair that stood bent double in front of him. Pathetic creatures really, but then lack of food on an already frail frame and the cold meaning anything warm must be adorned hardly help the grooming process.

“I don’t have dementia. Do I?”

Ethel looked sadly at Agnes for an answer. Agnes looked back and turned away to the old man.

“Why isn’t the leccy working anyway?”

“Cos of this flaming African flu! You’ve seen them, dead in all but they’re still walking. The staff, the others, in the other room. They don’t breathe, they don’t sleep, they just eat.”

“They eat what?” Agnes asked.

The man sighed. A week, maybe, since they’d had the last encounter. Probably too long for the women to recall. Sad that even an event so strange was gone in a few days to them. Or was it better?  Ethel went in to a cupboard and pulled out some tins.

“Shall I cook dinner? It is dinner time isn’t it?”

“I expect so love. Mr Grumpy do you want some food?”

The old man ignored Agnes. Deliberately.

“Listen here, there’s no need to be rude. We’re making do on our own now, without the youngsters, without the others, and we’re going to have to be a bit civil. It isn’t nice being on our own but as you won’t let us out…”

His face shot round. His sneer said he thought she knew more. He hadn’t said they couldn’t go out for some days. He hadn’t said they couldn’t go out since…

“I’m going to see Jim. Remember him? You two stay ‘ere an’ cook.”

The old man dimmed and growled while heading out the kitchen door and locking it behind him. A lock that he was pleased to note they couldn't break. The old women were useful, as long as they were the same as him.This apocalypse had become tiresome to the elderly. Death was already coming to get the old, a literal manifestation was just antagonistic.

Struggling, the old man limped down the corridor. One which buzzes from one shut door- flies, they would survive the apocalypse. Maybe them and the cockroaches will inherit the earth. He passes this door, covering his nose as he does. Breath visible in the hallway, he huddles his arms with his slow walk. The man does not wear as many layers as his dotty companions in the kitchen. He has no need for them. Rounding a corner he comes to another door. He stops. Knocks and waits. What is left on the other side.

Knock, knock.

Quietly.

The old man whispers.

“Jim?”

“Jim mate?”

Inside the room a rustle. The old man’s face drops.

“Jim. How you feeling?”

From inside the room, more noise. No, no not Jim too.

Weakly,

“Hello old boy.”

The old man reaches in to his pocket and removes a key. Taking hold of the handle he unlocks the door and opens it slowly. The room is dark, boarded up. The smell is awful, but crucially not rotten, not totally. In bed is Jim, an old man, ghostly pale and in bad health. The man’s nostrils are stung with the smell in here, too. He stares Jim up and down, under what could be several duvets and wearing a winter hat to keep warm, he still appears frozen. Jim speaks again, his breathing heavy and voice croaky.

“Is the world still doing down the drain? I heard a bang.”

“TV. Was me. Fed up of them two arguing over it all the time...

How you feeling? How’s the cheek?”

He leans over Jim, kneeling on the bed. With a gentleness not expressed by his usual demeanor, the old man moves Jim's face toward him. On the left side of Jim’s face he has a bandage, facing away from the old man, which has dark blood soaked through in a small oval stain. The old man moves the bandage and as the more dry scabs pull from his translucent, elderly skin, Jim moans. With the disinterest of a bad nurse the old man ignores the obvious pain. This is no time for empathy.  Jim’s left eye is swollen, half shut and bloodshot. Under the bandage is a wound, not very big but nasty looking, as if a piece of Jim’s face has been clumsily removed. Being too old to heal quickly Jim has forged a visceral portrait of death. The wound has turned a dark shade of blue, the veins in his cheek leading away from the nasty gash emphasised in their darkness and depth under his paper thin skin. 

“Nasty.”

“I’m dying.”

The old man sits down in a chair pulled up next to the bed. He stares at Jim and lets a breath in deeply. Holds it then blows it out.

“I’d say so. Slower than the others but dying none the less.”

“What’s left eh pal? I’m nearly gone, then it’ll be you and those two idiots. You’re no spring chicken, tough as an old boot but…”

Jim clears his throat and grimaces. Then carries on.

“The world’s a mess. That flu is no flu. Making people do that, live on, Y’know. How you going to survive?”

“There’s nothing left. Not within reach I doubt.”

“Exactly. I don’t blame them you know, the youngsters. Leaving when they did. They set us up best they could. We didn’t know Bill was sick, he hid it, ‘till he came at us. Got me. They could move, get free, get help for themselves. We’re all close to death anyway, making the last step shorter doesn’t matter does it?”

“They left us for dead.”

Jim sits up, clearly expending a lot of energy.

“We’re already dead. This is no life. Those people outside look at them, unstoppable.”

“That’s no life either.”

“But it is a death. You’re old, you’re dying. Did you expect to get up again?”

“Are you saying that’s better?”

Jim bristles in his bed. His head lolls round exposing his darkened left eye and bloodied dressing. He is serious.

“The room out there. What did we have to do to those bodies? To those people?”

“We smashed their heads in. To stop them getting up, comin’ at us.”

“Where’s their grave,

Where’s the mourners at their funeral,

Where’s the nice coffin,

And church and Priest. This isn’t a war, mate, we don’t die as heroes now. It’s impossible. The best you can hope for is not being torn apart. There’s no nice death we all wished for in this new world. There probably wasn't ever. But this is lying, rotting, in a poxy room with your head smashed in so you don’t get up.”

The stillness of the world outside is overwhelming, palpable even, as then men look at each other. They are close but this is unchartered territory. Jim speaks first,

“I’ve hours left with this poison in me, maybe more but who knows. You have days, perhaps weeks. When I go and get up you’ll have to smash my head in like we did Bill.”

The old man gets up, and begins to pace, albeit at his age restricted speed. He plays thoughtfully with the shoddy, charmless curtain covering the boarded up window. There aren't the words in him. He's hateful, upset and sad; like many people facing the last breaths of their generation. What to cling on to now. Again, Jim beats him,

“I’m fed up of this home. I’m fed up of dying, let me go.”

“You’re asking me to kill you.”

Jim smiles.

“Perhaps. In a sense.”

“What?”

“In a sense I’m asking you to join me.”

“You’re mad.”

“Think about it…”

The old man leaves the room, locking it behind him. In the corridor he leans against a wall by the buzzing door. His perma-sneer worsens at the smell. Reaching in to his inside coat pocket he takes out a packet of cigarettes and opens it. Four left. Putting one in his mouth and the pack away he goes to light it but his fingers aren’t quite dextrous enough to spark the flame first time. Finally lighting up, the flame illuminating the flies around him briefly, he inhales and breathes out ensconced in his thoughts.

Everything he does these days is slower. Not like it used to be. He’d no interest in much, even before all this happened, and certainly now. He was angry at the world, but more at himself. Knees all creaky, back stiff, easily tired and he hated Agnes and Ethel. But they are all he has to cling to, to be responsible for. He hated them not for who they were but what they had become, with age. Time heals all things, until you get old, then it’s your worst enemy. You want it to slow down, stop or go back but it won’t, it just keeps noting every more minute gone. Every bug going round, gang of petulant youths, the weather, the health service; you fear for your life over everything these days. Or those days. Now the big fear is on the doorstep and soon to be in Jim’s room, looking like him, but walking. And hungry.

He finished his smoke, paused, opened his toughened old hand and extinguished it on the fleshy part at the base of his thumb. Pain. Always pain. They didn’t feel pain. Took ages bashing their heads in. The young ‘uns had done it at first and left instructions with Jim, Bill and him what to do. He and Jim not realising how soon they’d get the practice. The plan had been two on the arms and one swinging the lead pipe. Not one and one. Jim had been bit before he’d got the first hit on Bill. He'd been hugging Bill at the time, Jim. It was sad, the way a n important friendship had become ironic. An act of love obliterated with an act of violence.

Bill had turned round toward Jim ,who, to show love and support, had consoled him. Not even registering what had been done, Bill refocussed on the others. Dead eyes. At first the old man had thought his lack of strength was why it hadn’t hurt Bill, but as he opened his mouth to come at him pieces of teeth and black, dry blood had come out. By the time Bill was finished off he’d had his arms beaten to pulps, his face was swollen and neck had to have been broken. Nothing, no pain showing. He didn’t notice, didn’t even stop moving until his head finally imploded. The relief was overwhelming, so was the adrenaline.

The door to the room opened with a creak and had to be pushed as the old man entered. Handkerchief over his face the body on the floor was preventing the hinges opening fully.  The flies roared around him. Through the window, this one not being boarded up, was the gardens with their safe, high walls and depressing concrete fountain. It had been a while since he had seen that view, was it now better? No. It was simply preferable to taking in the room he stood at the mouth of. The chairs they had used to while the hours away in were still mostly full, of corpses with heads and faces in varying states of recognition. Grey and green flesh and bone and that eerie black blood. Spattered. Floral dresses and slippers. You could spot the youngsters in jeans. The smell seemed to be entering his eyes it was so strong. The old man grunted deeply and slowly. He looked down at Bill. The backside of his skull hanging open like a burst orange, eyes open and greyed over, mouthing the moan he had made even still. His friend, Bill. The old man raised an eyebrow.


Persistent bastard, Bill, cowardly of him not to mention he was bit, but good God what a fight.

Locking the door to the slaughter, the old man turned to the kitchen again. Better check on the children.

Unlock door.

Open door slowly. Shut door.

Lock door.

The women were at it again, this time over the “dinner” they were supposed to be preparing. It didn’t seem as if they had got anywhere, but they stopped arguing as he entered. Agnes was first...

No comments:

Post a Comment