Thousands upon thousands of cold, rancid, decaying bodies once spread across almost the entire length and width of the dead land but now crammed into the space of just a few square miles. Relentless, vicious and unstoppable shells. Creatures without direction. Creatures without purpose. Savage, instinct-driven, insect-ridden carcasses.

Empty, rotting, skeletal husks which had once each had individual identities and lives and reasons to exist but which were now nothing more than emotionless collections of tattered rag, grey-green greasy flesh, withered muscle and brittle bone.

In little more than a few seconds the lives of each one of these pitiful, tortured things had been ended. Forty-seven days ago, without warning or explanation, the disease had struck and killed billions. The most brutal and unforgiving infection ever to have cursed the face of the planet tore through the defenceless population with unstoppable speed and ferocity, leaving only an unfortunate few unaffected.

Now, more than a month and a half later, the full effects of the deadly germ were still making themselves known.

At the furthest edge of a cold, wet and generally featureless field, the dishevelled carcass of what had once been an affluent fifty-three year old investment banker lifted its dark, clouded eyes. Surrounded on all sides by hundreds of similarly bedraggled and featureless cadavers, the remains of the once powerful, wealthy and well- respected man shuffled awkwardly forward, slipping and sliding through churned mud, and lifted its tired arms and grabbed clumsily at those bodies which stood in its way.

The body didn’t know what drew it to the field, it didn’t know why it was there, it didn’t know what it wanted, it just knew that it had to be there. Survivors. Although it didn’t know what they were, it could hear them and feel them. They were different. Buried underground deep beneath the creature’s feet they hid in fear and attempted to salvage some kind of life for themselves in the unnatural semi-darkness of their subterranean base. But it was impossible for them to exist without giving their location away. The world had become a lifeless, empty place, and the sounds made by the people underground echoed relentlessly through the fragile silence. The heat they produced burned like a fire. In the cold, vacuous and featureless land they attracted the corpses to them like moths round an incandescent flame.

The disease - if that really was what had caused all of this to happen - had dealt around a third of its victims a blow of unimaginable cruelty. All of those affected had been killed within seconds of infection. Most corpses - the fortunate majority - remained motionless and inert and simply rotted away where they had fallen. The remainder, however, had been sentenced to an unnaturally prolonged existence of relentless suffering. The germ had spared a key area of these creatures’ brains. Somehow unaffected, a spark of primordial instinct had survived the disease, leaving the bodies physically dead but still compelled to move; lifeless but incessantly animated. And as the flesh which covered these lurching, stumbling creatures had rotted and decayed, so the unaffected region of the brain had grown in strength and had continued to drive them forward. As the brain slowly recovered basic senses had gradually returned, then a degree of control. Finally something which resembled base emotion gripped the cadavers and forced the desperate figures to keep moving.

They didn’t know what they were or where they were.

They didn’t know why they existed and they didn’t know what they wanted. They had no need to eat or drink or rest or sleep or respire. Sentenced to spend every minute of every day shuffling pointlessly across the empty landscape, even the slightest sound or movement was enough to attract their limited but deadly attention.

As the days had passed since their initial infection, so the behaviour of the bodies had continued to slowly change. Apathy and emptiness began to be replaced.

Restricted by their steadily worsening physical condition, the hordes of the dead became violent and increasingly aggressive. They did not have decision making capabilities, only the desire to try and silence their individual pain and protect themselves. In the empty, featureless vacuum above ground they gathered en masse around every disturbance or distraction, no matter how slight or insignificant, hoping to find release. Only time and decay would end the torment, but the bodies had no way of knowing whether such release would ever come.

What had begun as a few random corpses stumbling upon the underground military base by chance had now grown to be a massive crowd of vast, almost incalculable proportions. The appearance and movement of the creatures inevitably attracted more and more of them from the surrounding area. Now, several days since any of the soldiers had been above ground, almost one hundred thousand bodies fought to get nearer and nearer to the impassable bunker entrance.

The dead investment banker’s way forward was blocked by more bodies. It lifted its emaciated arms again and then, with unexpected force, lashed out at the figure immediately in front. Soft, putrefying flesh was ripped from bone as the decaying office-worker tore the unprotected body in front of it apart. The sudden violence rapidly spread to the nearest cadavers on all sides and then rippled out further into the enormous crowd before petering out again as quickly as it had begun. All across this massive, decomposing gathering in random, isolated pockets the same thing was happening, triggered by each body’s instinctive need to ensure its self-preservation.

Apart from the continual shuffling and fighting of the bodies and the wind blowing through the swaying branches of nearby trees, the world around the buried base appeared motionless and frozen. Even birds had learnt not to fly too close to the creatures because of the reaction their darting movements and fleeting appearances invariably caused. In spite of the fact that the dead were individually weak and clumsy, what remained of the rest of the world instinctively feared them and despised them.

Deep underground in the military base, almost three hundred survivors cowered helplessly and waited for something - anything - to happen. Despite being physically stronger than the dead, and even though they had control, intelligence and power on their side, they were afraid to move. It was obvious to all of the lost and terrified souls trapped in the concrete maze below the fields and hills that the sheer number of bodies on the surface would soon be too much for them. Their options were desperately limited.

They could sit and wait, but no-one knew what they’d be waiting for. They could go above ground and fight, but what would that achieve? What use was open space and fresh air to the military? The disease still hung heavy in the contaminated air. Each one of the soldiers and their officers knew that a single breath would, in all probability, be enough to kill them. And the survivors immune to the disease who also sheltered there knew that they would fare no better from such a confrontation either. Any attempt to clear the bodies from above the base might help in the short term, but the noise and movement such an act would inevitably cause would doubtless result in thousands upon thousands more cadavers being drawn nearer to the shelter.

Below the surface the survivors and the military were forced to remain apart. The base was reasonably well-equipped and technologically advanced. Designed to cope with the expected after-effects of chemical, nuclear or biological attack, the air pumped through the underground levels was pure and free from infection. The survivors, however, were not. Decontamination had been half-heartedly attempted, but the woefully ill-prepared military commanders, scientists and advisers who controlled the base had known from the start that it had been a futile exercise. The germ could be washed away from equipment and from the soldier’s protective suits, but the survivors were riddled with infection. They had been breathing the contaminated air constantly for more than a month and a half. Virtually every cell in their bodies must surely have carried the deadly contagion and, whilst it had no effect on them, even the slightest exposure might be sufficient to start the deadly chain reaction which would inevitably lay waste to the soldiers and contaminate the base.

Despite their sizeable arsenal of weapons and the huge psychological and intellectual advantage which they had over the dead, the soldiers and survivors alike knew that they were trapped. The men, women and children sheltering underground lived with a constant sense of uncomfortable claustrophobia and despair. The military

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