George Tull glared at the television as the Foreign Secretary pontificated on the need for... George wasn't sure. He'd turned the set on hoping to hear the news but expecting to hear nothing more than the oft repeated phrase, “There are no major outbreaks in the UK or Ireland”. Instead he'd had to endure yet another rambling speech from the ageing politician.
“What's happened to the PM?” George asked himself quietly. “Haven't heard from him in, what, a week?”
The Prime Minister had appeared on television on the evening of the 20th February, as the world was reeling from the news of the outbreak in New York, but George couldn't recall having seen or heard of him since. Not when the curfew was announced and the army started patrolling the streets shooting anyone they found out at night, nor when the supermarkets were closed and the rationing started. Not even when the BBC started broadcasting the video of that plane being shot down by the RAF over the Channel.
Now he thought about it, the government announcements were made either by the Foreign Secretary or, since the establishment of the cross-party Emergency Cabinet, Jennifer Masterton. George liked her. She'd always seemed trust worthy, honest even, at least for a politician. Now though, he wasn't so sure.
A small part of him, the part George liked to think of as his internal optimist, had been surprised at how quickly Britain had been turned into an armed camp. The cynical part, a much larger part since his wife died and he'd had to move into the home, was surprised that they'd waited until the undead walked the streets before they'd abolished the rule of law.
“The Super-Rabies Pandemic is a challenge to us all...” the Foreign Secretary went on.
“Bloody liar,” George muttered as loudly as he dared “Call it what it is. They're zombies. Even I know that.”
He'd only learnt what a zombie was after he'd persuaded Mr McGuffrey, the home's manager, to allow him to have a television in his room. That was about a month after his arrival at the home, two years ago. The rule forbidding them in residents' rooms was bent for George on the strict understanding that this would keep George out of the Sun Room and away from the other residents. Watching the plethora of late night films was one of the few new pleasures he'd discovered since his wife's death. Before, when he'd had a house of his own, he hadn't watched horror movies. His wife hadn't liked them. Even old Hitchcock films had her leaving the room.
“Poor Dora,” he murmured.
His wife had died four years earlier, when he was sixty three and she fifty nine. He'd lost his job a few months later when the company he'd worked for went under. It was just one more victim of the recession, whose demise rated no more than a few lines on the local news. Most of their savings had been spent on every possible unapproved procedure, foreign specialist and overpriced herbal remedy the internet could discover. He'd even, unbeknownst to his wife, re-mortgaged the house. When it was repossessed he'd sold almost everything they had owned, scraping together just enough to cover the road tax, petrol and the monthly payments for his private health insurance.
His former secretary had let him live in her summer house for most of that year but when illness had forced her mother to move into the three bedroom semi, he'd moved out. He didn't want to be a burden, not to anyone. He'd left in the middle of the night and drifted south, sleeping in his car at grubby lay-bys, until he arrived at Dover on his sixty fourth birthday. It was only the sturdy construction of the barriers that had stopped him driving his car over the cliffs.
He'd taken it as a sign. Of what and from whom, even now he wasn't sure. He spent that year living in his car, stretching the little that he had, waiting for his sixty fifth birthday. His insurance policy, the one he maintained even when he didn’t have enough to eat, guaranteed him a place in a retirement home at the age of sixty five, subject to a medical exam. After a year of little food and virtually no sleep he'd failed the physical with flying colours.
“Liars!” George muttered as the picture changed to a segment on a former supermarket, now part of the nationalised chain of Food Distribution Centres. “That's the same one as yesterday. Same people too. That one there, the one with the scar, I remember her. And yesterday you said it was Crewe and today you say it's Bournemouth. Liars,” he muttered again.
He hated muttering. He wanted to shout. He loved to shout at the TV. That used to be one of the few pleasures he'd allow himself. Always make sure your desires are attainable, his old man had told him. It was almost the last thing he'd said before he'd dropped dead from a heart attack aged 41. George had lived his life by that aphorism, eschewing dreams of sun-kissed islands for less lofty, but more easily attainable homely comforts.
Whenever he'd start ranting at the weatherman or some hapless presenter, Dora would head off into the kitchen “to make some tea”. She knew it was a sign of a bad day at work needing to be vented away, but the sight of his blustering tirades always made her laugh and whenever she'd start laughing, so would he. That had been the secret of their happy marriage, knowing when to laugh together and when to do it alone. Thirty happy years and two thoroughly miserable ones as he helplessly watched her waste away.
He checked the time, 11:30. Lunch was served at 12:10 sharp. You weren't allowed to be early, that was frowned upon, but these past few days if you turned up after quarter past you'd probably find the staff had disappeared back to their lounge, leaving those residents who were there to freely help themselves to food meant for the late-comers.
“Bloody thieves. Carrion, that's what they are, picking over the carcass whilst it's still warm,” he muttered, but more quietly than before. He wasn't sure if they could kick him out now there was a curfew but he wasn't going to risk it. He knew for certain that there was enough food in the home to last everyone for weeks. He'd seen the store room.
“We've got to prepare, Mr Tull,” McGuffrey had said. “We don't know how long it will have to last. This crisis could go on for weeks. Months even, and what will we do then, eh?”
Except that George had seen McGuffrey load a tray of tinned sweetcorn and another of broad beans into a suitcase and wheel it down the drive and up the path towards the grace and favour cottage he had at the top of the cliffs. George tried to remember when that was. The 24th, he thought. Time was so hard to keep track of in the home, where weeks just merged into one another and months weren't as important as seasons. He'd watched McGuffrey go back and forth three times that day and twice the next. On the 27th he had confronted him.
“Just keeping it safe, Mr Tull. Besides,” McGuffrey had added with a wink, “it's not like the old dears need all these calories, is it, eh?”
Then he'd just smiled and walked off. That evening there had been a knock at his door. “Your medicine Mr Tull,” the nurse had said. Thanks to a private exam, courtesy of his insurance plan, George had ensured he was prescribed nothing stronger than vitamin tablets, which he got from the chemists at the shopping centre in Lower Wentley. He didn’t have medicine, certainly none in the evening when all they doled out were sleeping pills to keep the residents quiet. The nurse had walked in carrying a tray covered with a metal warming dish.
“Mr McGuffrey says you're to take this, as required, before bed.” She'd lifted the cover, as if she was a magician doing a trick, and there on the tray was a half bottle of scotch. He didn't drink, not since the week after he'd arrived at the home and began to work out a plan of escape. He'd given the bottle to Mrs O'Leary instead.
George changed the channel again. ITV were showing a match. He bent forward and peered at the top left hand corner of the screen. Arsenal 1 - West Ham 2. The elapsed time read 56:18. He lent back in his chair and tried to lose himself in the rest of the game. It was hard. His mind kept turning to the world beyond the Channel and the Atlantic. There wasn't much news coming in from overseas any more, but reading between the lines it seemed as if Britain was one of only a handful of functioning societies left.
It was a week since McGuffrey and the nurse had tried to bribe him, as if a cheap bottle of whisky was going to keep his silence. He'd tried to complain. He'd waited till he was sure the staff had either gone home or had retreated to their break room for the evening and then he'd called the hospital. He'd called Help the Aged, he'd called his MP, the police, the local paper and the BBC. At least he'd tried to. None of the numbers worked.
Zombies vs The Living Dead is a short story accompanying the series "Surviving The Evacuation".