Sean MacKillick was Bates' golden boy, and the highest ranking boy in the army section of the CCF. He was Deputy Head Boy and captain of the rugby team – three successive county trophies. He was also a Grade A, platinum-plated bastard.

Because of his sporting achievements the school authorities thought the sun shone out of Mac's jock- strapped arse, but when the teachers weren't around he was the worst kind of bully – sadistic, vicious and totally random. Jon always said it was because he was so short. Even now, at nineteen, he was shorter than everyone in the room, even Rowles, but he was built like a brick shitter and his head was so square it had corners. His thighs were meaty and his legs so stumpy that he kind of waddled – some of the juniors had christened him Donald Duck – but there was no mistaking the raw, squat power of the man.

His eyes were piercing blue under close-cropped blonde hair, and his face was heavily freckled, but there was cruelty in the curl of his mouth, and his eyes were all cold calculation.

Mac was a posh kid. His father was in the House of Lords until they did away with hereditary peers, but he had adopted the persona of an East end gangster. Born into the aristocracy but he acted like Ray Winstone. Pathetic, really.

Most of his classmates worshipped him, but beyond that he'd been almost universally hated, especially in the CCF. He saw the uniform as a licence to do whatever he pleased, and although he was a bully on school grounds, that was nothing to how he behaved when the army section was away on camp or manoeuvres. Army summer camp last year had reportedly turned into an endless round of forced marches, press ups and endurance tests, all overseen by Mac and ignored by Bates, who seemed to think it was just good, clean fun.

At the last camp, an outward bound week in Wales doing orienteering and stuff, he actually threw a boy into a river and then held his head under the water until he lost consciousness. When they fished him out and revived him Mac made him finish the exercise with them, sodden and disorientated. This was winter, halfway up a mountain, so by the time they made it back to the rendezvous he was literally blue; ended up in hospital with hypothermia. Too scared to tell, he pretended he'd slipped and fallen in. The other boys in the squad kept quiet too – Mac had a little gang of hangers-on and if you didn't want to end up black and blue, you didn't mess.

He and his lackeys would strut (well, they'd strut, he'd waddle) around the school laying down the law, but whenever a teacher appeared Mac would smile and fawn. The head loved him. He was only relegated to Deputy Head Boy because the Head Boy's dad had just donated a new chemistry lab. Matron loathed him. She was always cleaning up the wounds he inflicted, but the head waved away her complaints muttering platitudes about youthful high spirits. Wanker.

There were dark rumours of a death too, a long time ago, back when Mac was a junior. But as far as I knew that's all they were – rumours.

Mac had left school the term before The Cull started, won some big prize on speech day for being king of the brown-nosers, and Jon had keyed his car during the ceremony. Jon who was now dead. We were so relieved to see the back of Mac, so sure he was gone forever.

Basically, Sean MacKillick was the last person on the earth you wanted looking after a group of vulnerable kids in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Bates gave an exclamation of joy and – God help us – hugged the bastard.

'Welcome back, Mac,' he said. 'Now we can really get started.'

Over the next few weeks we had a steady influx of people taking up residence. There had been over a thousand boys in the school and at 7% survival rate that left about seventy alive. Of these about forty turned up in the weeks following my return. Some brought brothers or sisters, mothers, grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends. Only one boy arrived with his father, but the man died the next day of pneumonia. Bates was especially good with the boy – Thackeray, his name was – and I saw a whole other side to him. He was caring, kind and thoughtful; surprising. All in all we were forty-six by the end of the month and it felt like life was returning to the old buildings.

Everybody who returned brought their stories with them. Wolf-Barry, a skinny sixth-former who was a bit of a computer geek told of bodies littering the streets of London, rats emerging from the sewers to feast in broad daylight. Rowles had seen mass graves and power stations converted into huge furnaces to burn the dead. 'Horsey' Haycox, imaginatively nicknamed because he was obsessed with horses, had encountered a group of born again fundamentalist Christians who had declared holy war on anyone not of their faith, by which they basically meant anyone non-white. Speight, another sixth former, told a very similar story, but his local God-bothering nutters were Muslims. There were many other tales of shell-shocked survivors turning to extreme perversions of religion to try and make sense of what had happened, and charismatic leaders building power bases while beheading, hanging or even burning anyone they deemed impure or unclean.

A generator was set up and fuel was collected from a nearby petrol station. We emptied a Blockbuster and most evenings we ran the power for a couple of hours and watched a movie. Television and radio were pretty much dead by this point, although we kept scanning the airwaves for signals. Some satellite stations were still broadcasting as far-off generators slowly ran down, but mostly they all just broadcast muzak and test cards apologising for the interruption in service. An Italian channel played an old dubbed episode of Fawlty Towers on a continuous loop for three weeks. One by one all the stations faded away to dead air. The last live station broadcasting came out of Japan, where one guy ran a daily news show. He showed footage of distant explosions and gun battles, empty streets and haunted, echoing city canyons. We watched him every day for a month until one day he just wasn't there any more.

Bates and Mac took charge and organised everyone into work groups, and we started to feather our nest. A spotty little Brummie called Petts prepared a section of land to be a market garden come spring; after all, our supplies of tinned and dehydrated food were running low and soon we'd need to start growing our own.

The main kitchen was a useless modern gas range, but in one of the outbuildings we found a turn of the century kitchen with a long-forgotten wood burning stove. We cleaned it up and had hot food once a day, prepared by one of the boy's aunts, who we started to call the 'Dinner Lady', although her name was Mrs Atkins. Lots of the dorms had old, bricked-up fireplaces, so we took a sledgehammer to those, opened up the chimneys again, harvested some grates from an abandoned hardware store in Sevenoaks, and slept snug every night. The woods in the school grounds provided all the fuel we needed.

We even set up a paddock and rounded up a cow for milking, two pigs and three sheep. Being a posh private school, St Mark's had no shortage of wannabe gentleman farmers and two had survived and returned – Heathcote and Williams took to their tasks like pigs to swill.

The school came to seem like a haven. We organised football and rugby tournaments, started having assembly after breakfast; hell, we even had campfires and sing-alongs. The big stone wall that enclosed the grounds on three sides, and the River Medway which marked the school's southern border, kept the outside world distant and held it at bay. We felt safe and insulated, and Bates and Mac were fine as long as that lasted. Sure the scavenging parties were a little too soldiery to take seriously, but without his cronies Mac seemed almost normal, and Bates gradually settled down. He relied heavily on Mac to organise things, but sorting out the rota for planting spuds and milking the cow doesn't really provide much opportunity for megalomania.

It was surreal. The world had died and here was this tiny, insular community of grieving children carrying on as if everything was fine. And for a while, just for a while, I allowed myself to be lulled by it, allowed myself to think maybe things would be all right, maybe the world hadn't descended into anarchy and chaos and cults and blood and horror, maybe the rest of the world was like we were – hopeful and coping. Maybe this little society we were setting up would work.

What an idiot I was. A community is only as healthy as the people who lead it. And we had Bates and Mac. I should have realised we were fucked before we even began.

We could only keep the madness at bay for so long. We were living in denial, and Mr Hammond's arrival changed everything.

Norton and I were in the south quad working on a madcap contraption designed by some fifth-form chemistry 'A' student called Dudley, designed to harvest methane gas from animal shit, when we heard the first gunshots. They echoed off the walls and we couldn't tell where they were coming from. There were sharp repetitive sounds too, which we quickly realised were hooves on tarmac, and distant shouts. The front drive!

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