angrily shoved it away—reacting before he’d fully thought things through—and it clattered back against a wheelie bin which thudded into several others. The noise echoed through the air.


He knew before he looked around again that he was in trouble. Many of them had noticed him now, and their reactions had, by turn, attracted even more. He might as well have fired a starting pistol into the air because, up ahead and behind and all around him, huge numbers of the dead were reacting to his presence. They began to peel away from the edge of the immense crowd like a layer of dead skin, and he knew he had to move fast. Fortunately, several of the pitiful monsters lost their footing in the confusion and were trampled by their desperate brethren. He glanced up at the castle in the distance, visible intermittently through the crisscrossing chaos. Could he still make it? It had been a while since he’d taken a chance like this. Christ, he hoped so.

Jackson swung his heavy rucksack off his shoulders, using it to smack the closest few corpses out of the way as he did so. He ran, kicking out as a foul, bald-headed creature with a hole eaten through its face where its nose used to be lifted its arm and lashed at him. He jumped up onto the bonnet of a Vauxhall Astra—his sudden change of direction causing temporary mass confusion—then climbed up onto its roof. He stashed his metal pipe, then opened one of the backpack’s side pockets and dug deep inside, finding what he needed almost immediately. As more of the dead tried to grab at him with hands drawn into spiteful claws by decay, he took out a packet of fireworks wrapped in a clear plastic bag. Ignoring the creatures as best he could, and occasionally stamping on fingers which got too close, he unwrapped a rocket and fumbled in his trouser pocket for his lighter. Distracted trying to light the blue touch paper, he didn’t notice when one of the bodies managed somehow to grab ahold of the bottom of his right trouser leg. The crowd around the car surged unexpectedly as more of the dead arrived, and the body holding onto Jackson was pushed back. When it appeared to tug at him, he tried to pull away and overcompensated. The heel of his boot slipped down onto the curved surface of the windscreen and he lost his balance, crashing down onto his backside and leaving a deep dent in the hood. He screamed out in pain—the noise attractet another sudden surge of dead flesh—and almost dropped the rocket he was trying to light. He spat in the face of another wretched carcase (because he didn’t have hands free to do anything else) then scrambled up onto the roof, straightening his legs and sliding his backside up the glass. The touch paper caught suddenly. Jackson ignored the intense heat and the shower of sparks spitting out over his hand, and aimed the rocket down into the center of a pocket of seething corpses a safe distance away. The firework whooshed away before coming to a sudden stop, embedded in the chest of a dead car mechanic who reeled back on its heels and looked down at the jet of flames sticking out of its belly—just before the rocket exploded.

The noise and flames had exactly the effect Jackson had hoped. Almost immediately the focus of attention shifted away from him and toward the mechanic, who was still staggering around despite the fact he was burning up. Jackson lit a second rocket and aimed it up into the air. The piercing scream it let out as it raced up toward the gray clouds was enough to distract an enormous number of corpses, and as they lifted their tired heads skyward he jumped down from the car and ran for all he was worth. He crossed the road and the gravel car park, then tripped over what was left of a barbed-wire fence which lay flat on the ground, already trampled down by the crowds. He lit a third rocket as he picked himself up, and shoved it into the gut of something which looked like the kind of kid he’d have done his level best to avoid. It looked down at itself, bewildered, jets of blue and green flame suddenly spitting out through various holes in its chest. Stupid thing still had a baseball cap on, glued to its head by a month’s worth of dry decay. And it was the wrong way around, peak at the back. Jackson bloody hated it when they wore their caps back-to-front like that.

As the corpse exploded behind him, he dropped his shoulder and charged deeper into the heaving throng. Many of them were now trying to move away from the castle, heading back in his direction to get closer to the flames. He felt like a derailed bullet train, smashing bodies away on either side, not entirely sure where the hell he was going or where he was going to stop. He just kept moving, knowing that every step took him closer to the castle in the distance.

Deeper into the dead hordes now, and here they had no idea he was close until he made contact. Some were still trying to fight their way toward the fireworks, but most were looking the other way, facing the castle. He simply pushed them aside and clambered over them when they fell. And then, unexpectedly, the ground dropped away in front of him. Within a few steps he found himself suddenly having to wade through a mass of tangled, fallen bodies rather than running between and around those still standing. A few steps more and he was knee deep in churned remains. He looked back and saw that he’d stumbled into a wide ditch—the overgrown remnants of an ancient moat, perhaps. It was filled with bodies, trodden down and compacted into a repugnant gloop beneath his boots. Despite being trapped, some of them tried to keep moving, and Jackson ducked as a dripping, virtually fleshless hand swung past his face, sharp, bony fingertips just missing the end of his nose by millimetres. He was struggling to keep moving, the decay sucking him down, and then the reason for its depth became clear. The deep furrow here had acted like a valve: the dead had been able to get in easy enough, but none of them could get out again.

Jackson kept moving and eventually found himself on level ground again. The corpses on this side of the ditch were fewer in number. Despite being soaked throgh with gore and desperately needing to stop and catch his breath, he kept on running, sidestepping one cadaver which came at him, then handing off the next as if he was a rugby player weaving around the opposition to score a try under the posts. And then he realized he was finally beginning to climb, and he looked ahead and saw the castle looming, the imposing wall of old stone stretching up toward the rapidly darkening sky. His thighs burned with the effort but he kept on pushing until he passed the last of the bodies, then slowed as the ground became steeper and exhaustion got the better of him. He moved at walking pace now, struggling to keep climbing. He looked back over his shoulder at the crowds gathered at the bottom of the incline and on the other side of the trench, waiting impatiently to pounce should he slip and fall.

Once he’d reached the castle walls, Jackson followed a roughly meter-wide pathway around the edge of the decrepit fortress toward the front entrance, but it was obvious there was no chance of him getting inside that way. As well as the fact that the huge wooden gate was shut, there were more bodies here, all crammed onto a narrow wooden bridge. He pressed himself back against the stonework and looked down toward the house he’d been sheltering in, trying to assess the situation. A gently curving track wound its way up here from the car park below, and its relatively smooth surface and steady incline had enabled a stream of bodies to make the climb. Over time the main gate had become blocked by an impassable, clogged mass of rotting flesh. Jackson shuffled back the other way, only moderately concerned. Despite the inconvenience of still not having found a way into the castle, he realized it was also a good thing. If I’m having trouble getting in, he thought, then the dead have no chance.

He’d worked his way back around half the perimeter of the immense ruin, looking for another entrance or a place where the wall was lower, when he stopped to look down at an engraved brass tourist map set into stone. Obviously a popular viewpoint, as well as affording him a clear view for miles around, it also gave him a clear appreciation of the true size of the vast crowd waiting for him at the foot of the hill. Thousands of blank faces looked in his direction, an almost incalculable number of them stretching away to the right and left, wrapping around the base of the hill and sealing the castle off.

The brass map had accumulated a light layer of filth which Jackson wiped away with his sleeve. He tried to make out some of the local features it had been designed to highlight: the port of Chadwick some thirty miles east (he was closer to the coast than he’d realized), the smaller town of Halecroft to the south. A reservoir, the ruins of an abbey, a wealth of other beauty spots and landmarks—none were of any obvious use to him. He was on the verge of giving up for the day, wondering if he should just finish walking around the castle then find enough level ground up here to pitch his tent for the night before moving on in the morning, when something caught his eye. Another entrance. A secret entrance? This was the stuff of bullshit and legend, but it appeared to be real: a smaller, far less obvious way into the castle through a passage carved into the hillside. There was a brief explanation of sorts on the map—something about smugglers getting in and tyrants getting out in times past—but none of it mattered. He orientated himself, worked out roughly where the hidden entrance was, then headed straight for it.

*   *   *

A padlocked gate, a cage of green-painted iron railings set into the hillside, and an unexpected gaggle of more than a hundred corpses were all that stood between Jackson and the entrance to the tunnel. He stood several meters above the dead and composed himself, watching as several of them tried unsuccessfully to scramble up the wet grass to reach him. Hands shaking with nerves, he lit his last firework and aimed it at the back of the ragged gathering. It shot away from him, and before it had even hit the bodies, he was sprinting directly at them. The

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