“We were just driving along, the car was handling the roads easily enough, Ian was driving. I was sitting in the back with Sue. Then they came from nowhere. They were all around us, coming out of the trees.
I think Ian thought they were human because he swerved to avoid them. When he did, he lost control and that was when we hit the wall. We went straight through it and then down the slope towards the stream. We’d been travelling slowly but our momentum took us down the slope quickly. We were hitting trees and stuff, bouncing from one to the other. We were getting thrown around a bit in the back because we had not bothered putting out seat belts on. When we came to a stop, we had straddled the stream, bank to bank, and that’s when we saw them.”
Each of his sentences carried a note of dread that was transferred to congregation around him. Each word built on the one before to create a deeper realisation of what they could be facing.
“We knew we had to get out. There were child-locks on the back doors and Ian was slumped over the steering wheel. Blood was everywhere, coming from his head, I think he was dead. Louise was panicking. I’ve never seen her like that before. She had the baby in her arms, it was a surprise that she hadn’t dropped it in the crash, but she was out of the door. Sue was screaming, she was puling at the handle, begging Louise to let her out. For a moment I thought that Louse was going to leave us there. She had that look about her, survival and all that. At the last moment, she undid the door and Sue managed to get out. I’d climbed over the front seat and was in the stream. Those things were almost onto us. I just ran.”
“What about Sue?” somebody asked.
“I thought she was alright, I thought she could run…” hesitation precipitated confession. “I left her. She was on her knees in the stream and I left her. They were there at the other side of the car and I left her.”
Jason started to sob heavily, the recognition of his sins now standing before him. Heaving his way through the pain, the faces of some of the others showing reproach, he was lost at the lacerated point of his original decision. It was replaying itself on a loop, his hand reaching out and then puling away, Sue there in the water, the dark figures splashing madly towards him. This could be his purgatorial landscape, forever.
Laura, seeing his struggle, touched his arm. It was only the lightest of touches, one that was meant to remind another that they were not alone, a touch that suggested that others had travelled on that path. Still down there in his own depths, Jason felt the pull of the woman and started to climb towards it..
“I just ran. I ran. Louise had got to the other bank and she was starting to make her way up the hill. Those things were right behind us and we had the baby. I heard screams, screams that came from Sue but I didn’t look back. We ran.”
The room was quietly waiting for the rest of his narrative.
“We managed to get to the top of the first hill. Well, almost to the top. Louise was carrying Tom, the baby, and she was tired. No she was exhausted. She fell in the snow. I was in front of her when I heard her shouting for me to come back. The things were only about thirty yards away. I wanted to run some more but I looked in her eyes and I heard the baby cry.
I shouldn’t have left Sue there for them to get her. I turned back and tried to lift her. All she said was that I should take the baby. She pleaded me to take Tom and save him. I said I could help them both, but we knew I couldn’t. They were closing in and I got Tom. I just ran and ran thinking that my lungs would burst, that I’d have a heart attack or something. I must have been running for a while, up and down those hills with those things always behind me. Eventually, I reached the top of another hill. I fell most of the way down and then these people showed up. They saved me.”
Nobody spoke. A solid silence had been thrown across the gathering in the library, each individual having been transported to that cold landscape where only demons kept one company. Jason sat motionless with the hand of Laura still upon him. Most people were doing everything they could to avoid making eye contact with anyone else.
“There but for the grace of God go I, “ uttered Mr. Dale.
Addressing the library, Graham said, “Well, I think that this may have changed our plans somewhat. In the light of this I think we ought to open up the debate. Out there are hundreds, possibly even more, of these things. I hate to say the word Zombie, but that seems to fit.”
“We call them Leathers. We fought one and he was certainly not one of the ‘recently dead’. I don’t think they go in for whole scale cannibalism or can infect anyone they bite, but they are dead. The one that we came in contact with was all hide and nothing else. It was as if he had been dry frozen or something. He was strong, not super strong, but strong like it would have been if it had still been alive. We burnt ours. It didn’t like that, but I have a feeling that it was not fully finished with.
The second one we ran into was a more recent one. His skin hadn’t turned to leather, but he was one of them,” Laura looked anxiously towards where Michael was standing with the mother and children but he had taken them and left the room. “Michael, my son, killed him by blowing up the house we’d been staying in. It was a massive explosion and that, most definitely, finished him off.”
“Do you think that other things could kill them?” asked Judith.
“They move around in daylight, they are not afraid of water, they have obvious strength, perhaps not superhuman but something. We haven’t tried silver bullets or crosses or holy water or garlic or wooden stakes. Just the fire so far.”
Everybody was listening intently to this modern day ghost story.
“So they are still made of skin and bone,” asked Keith Rains, “and if they are then we have a chance. I’ve seen a fair share of horror movies and there’s always ways of killing the evil dead things. What would they do if we managed to chop off their heads or legs? If they are skin and bone, leather and bone, then we have chance.”
“And we are in a castle. There are suits of armour all around,” added another enthusiastically.
“And there’s an armoury,” Zack Borthwick, a twelve year old from St. Agnes suggested, “with loads of swords and stuff. We could use them.”
“That’s a great idea,” Graham said seizing upon it, “we need to sort out some defences, get armed, make sure we know all the castle’s strengths and weaknesses. We need places to defend and places to fall back to. At the moment, we hold the advantage, this s a castle after all and the have to try to get in. Fortunately for us, these castles were built with an eye to both attack and defence. We could hold out here indefinitely. All we have to do is get ourselves organised.”
There was a flicker of understanding in the eyes of Dawkins. He had spent his incarceration listening to all that had been said. He was not just looking for his opportunity to get away from these people, but was looking for an advantage, something that he could take back with him and a tribute that could serve him well.
“How long have we got?” enquired Mr. Dale looking at Laura. His reply came from another place.
“I think that we have another day before they get here. Some may already be here watching us and working out our weaknesses, but the main body of them will take at least another day.” Heads turned towards Michael’s impassive delivery.
“Thank you Michael. In that case, haste shall govern our preparations,” the history teacher replied to his once pupil.