Sunday, 13 September 2009 - 9:48 pm

Care and feeding, part two

I’m having to get sneakier in order to be able to post. I think I’ve found somewhere I won’t be disturbed this time. Where did I get to?

Oh, of course. The noise, the thumping drifting to me through the building.


I was torn. I was there to watch over Sylvia. Simon had left me with strict instructions and a set of restraints, should she pass away while I was watching her. That’s really what I was there for: to secure her in case she became part of our After-world nightmare. Hope of recovery had long since died, and she was past any comfort I could give her. She was close to the end and shouldn’t be left unattended.

But there was that thumping. Once I had picked it up I couldn’t put it down; my ears were tuned to it like it was my name across a crowded room. I tried to ignore it but it itched at my consciousness. It started to play tricks, moving away and coming closer, but it was always the same volume. It wasn’t moving at all. I was, though: pacing back and forth while I kept count. My mind kept trying to find patterns in the sound, but there was no regular tempo to track.

I had forgotten to ask for a flashlight. There was just the candle and the dawn a few hours away. It didn’t feel right leaving Sylvia in the dark, but I told myself that she was past knowing or caring about that stuff. I had to know what it was. I had to know what was thumping like that. It might have been just a shutter in the wind but it kept growing into all kinds of awfulness while I wasn’t looking.

As it turned out, it was almost as bad as I had feared.

I was determined not to be reckless. I put the restraints on Sylvia, just in case – the only reason Simon hadn’t put them on her already was respect for the not-yet-dead, along with a last dredge of hope that they wouldn’t be necessary. They weren’t going to hurt her. Then I took the candle and crept the empty corridors towards that sound.

It felt like hours before I finally found it. The sound shifts strangely at night and reflections kept leading me astray. I stumbled on the door to the basement by accident. I didn’t even know that there was a basement here; no-one had shown me that part. Now I know why.

I stared at the flickering shape of the steps and knew it was a bad idea to go down. I’ve seen horror movies; I know that you never go down into one on your own at night, especially when you’ve never been down there before and it’s a big old secret. Especially when there’s a creepy thumping coming from down there and you don’t know what’s causing it. It felt like all of my internal organs were trying to crawl out of my throat and escape, with my heart leading the charge.

Standing there, I wanted to run away. I wanted to pretend I couldn’t hear it down there, thump thump thumping at something solid. But all I could think was that whatever it was would chase me. It would follow me all the way back to wherever I thought was safe. It was a wolf, and you should never run from a canine, imaginary or otherwise.

So I hunkered down and crept down the steps, with the stupid candle failing to show me much of anything. I tried not to over-analyse every little scrap of information and failed – the steps had footprints on them and there was something sticky on one. It smelled awful down there, rotting and rising like fog as I slunk into it. A part of me knew that I was winding myself up and I’d roll my eyes later, but I couldn’t help it.

It was that kind of moment when something small skitters across your foot and you shit yourself, then you realise it’s just a mouse and laugh, telling yourself to stop being stupid. Except there was no skitter – nothing to let me realise and relax. Just that thumping, accompanied by a metallic clink now that I was closer. It rolled around and past me. It called me on, and I had to know. I had to know what it was.

It led me to a door. It wasn’t loud but I knew it was coming from the other side. There was a scraping in the fabric of the sound – metal, wood, and a scratching when the thumps hit. I stared at the door, at the handle, and couldn’t decide if it really was moving or if it was just the shifting candlelight. My internal organs had given up trying to desert me and were attempting to convince the rest of me to leave instead. I almost took them up on the idea.

I really didn’t want to open the door. I looked around and discovered a window cut into the wall beside it. I was relieved and terrified at the same time. There was no glass in it – just an empty hole cut into the panel. Big enough to crawl through. Big enough for anything to crawl through. I edged sideways, trying not to let my hand tremble as the candlelight fell inside and inched across the floor of the room beyond.

In my heart, I think I knew what it was. My eyes needed to see it for themselves before my brain would believe it, though. I had to see the truth to stop my mind from making up all kinds of awful things in its place, swelling a single monster into a flood threatening to burst over us while we slept.

It was just one: a lone shambler in the darkness. The metal clink was the chain harness criss-crossed over its torso, holding it bound in place. It was mindlessly straining against the restraint and the chains bit deep. Shattered ribs stuck out through the torn skin and it had leaked all over itself. When the chains shifted, they ripped pieces of flesh off, showing far too much bone. It didn’t notice.

It had stretched itself against and through the harness enough to reach the door, but only just. It smelled me and shifted its target, reaching out for the empty chunk of wall instead. I staggered back a step, trying not to cry out or throw up – air and dinner fought for space in my throat and for a moment neither of them fit.

Its hands were ruined. That’s what the scraping was – its hands breaking and wearing down against the door while it thump thump thumped.

It stretched its head towards me, teeth bared in case I might stray close enough for a bite. It didn’t make any noise – with the mess that its chest was in, there was no way it could hold enough air for a moan. Then there was a wet crack and I flinched, spilling hot wax onto my wrist.

That was enough. I had seen too much and turned tail to run. I barely remember the scramble up the stairs or closing the door behind me. I didn’t stop until I was in the back room with the soon-to-be shambler, Sylvia. My hands shook when I put the candle holder down and I peeled the wax off my skin. It was a while before I even felt the burn.


When Simon came to relieve me just after dawn, I didn’t mention what I had found. I had taken the restraints off Sylvia and reported a quiet night. I wasn’t sure I could handle whatever explanation he had to give me. Even in the orange daylight, my skin crawls every time I pause for thought in the infirmary, and I look around for that empty face and ruined, reaching hands.

I have to ask him. I have to confront him. I know I’m not going to like it, but hopefully hard facts will drive away the fear.

Right now, I’m feeling far too much like that candle flame, guttering in the dark.