Tag Archives: Zombies

Santa Claus Versus The Zombies – A Dark Christmas Tale For Readers Of All Ages

24 Dec

T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse. The same could not be said, however, for the graveyard next door. Every year, Tommy stayed up for as long as he could, excitedly peeking out of his bedroom window, hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus as he travelled the world delivering presents, and every year, Tommy fell asleep before Santa arrived. Tommy would wake next morning, his head freezing cold where it had drooped against the window pane as he dozed, to find a bulging stocking hanging from the end of his bed, but not a hide nor hair of Santa Claus himself.

This year, Tommy was determined to stay awake long enough for Santa to arrive. He was a year older now, and he was sure that this year he’d finally be able to do it. Yet, despite his best efforts, as the clock struck midnight, Tommy could feel himself starting to nod off. Trying to hold the inevitable sleep back for as long as possible, Tommy stretched and yawned. Then a movement outside caught his eye, and instantly he was wide awake. At first, Tommy wasn’t quite sure what the movement was, but one thing was for sure: it wasn’t Santa Claus. The ground outside was covered in snow, turning the usually scary looking cemetery behind Tommy’s house into a winter wonderland: frost coated the trees, and the grass, and the grave stones, making them glimmer in the moonlight, yet underneath the snow, something was stirring.

Suddenly, a long thin object thrust itself upwards through the snow. At first, Tommy watched the object curiously as it moved back and forth, then, to his horror, he realised it was a bony, wrinkled hand. The hand reach skywards, opening and closing as it grasped at the cold night air. A moment later, it was joined by another, and together the two hands pulled, first a skull-like head, then a decaying body from the ground. Tommy stared, both terrified and mesmerised by what was happening just beyond the end of his garden. As Tommy looked on, the bloated, rotting body finally pulled itself free of the frozen ground and staggered to its feet. It shuffled through the snow, dragging one foot behind it. Tommy watched it for a minute: it didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular, just wandering aimlessly between the grave stones, touching each one as it passed. Then Tommy noticed the snow lying on another grave began to tremble, and a head started to emerge. Then another. And another. So shocked was he, that it took Tommy a few seconds to notice the pattern: every time the first zombie (and what else could it possibly be, but a zombie?) touched a head stone, the body buried in that grave clawed its way from the ground and started to follow it.

After ten minutes, Tommy found he was no longer frightened. Instead, he could feel laughter building inside him. When it had just been one stumbling re-animated corpse, it had been scary, but now there were so many of them, all playing follow-the-leader as they trailed after the first zombie, shuffling and staggering, bumping into each other, slipping on the ice and the snow, and falling over when they bounced off each other. It was hilarious and Tommy couldn’t help but think that if this was all that zombies were capable of, they weren’t really anything to be afraid of after all.

Then, off in the distance, high in the night’s sky, Tommy saw something else. At first, it seemed like it was just another twinkling star, but slowly it grew bigger and bigger, and Tommy knew that stars didn’t do that. Tommy wasn’t the only one to have notice the rapidly approaching object: the zombies were looking up, too, letting out mournful moans as they reached towards it.

As Tommy watched, the object came closer and closer until it was near enough for him to see what it was, and his heart leapt: it was a sleigh being pulled by eight powerful reindeer. With the night being clear, there was no need for Rudolph to be leading the way, and Tommy tried to remember the names of the other reindeer: there was Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner, and … what was the last one again? Tommy always had trouble remembering that last name. His brow furrowed for a moment and then it came to him: Blitzen! Yes, that was it. By then, the sleigh was close enough that Tommy could make out the plump man with the long, white beard and red suit who was holding the reins and shouting orders to the reindeer. Slowly the sleigh turned and started to descend, and Tommy realised to his delight that it was coming into land on the soft, fresh snow that covered his back yard.

A second later, and Tommy’s delight turned to terror: the zombies had seen Santa Claus too, and they were now racing towards the wall that divided Tommy’s yard from the cemetery. Hang on, thought Tommy, racing? That couldn’t be right. He closed his eyes tight shut and shook his head before opening them again: sure enough the zombies which had, until then, been bumbling around aimlessly, were now moving fast and efficiently across the frozen ground. What on Earth, Tommy wondered, was going on?

As Santa’s sleigh touched down, the first of the zombies made it over the wall and rushed across the snow towards where the sleigh had come to a stop. By this time, Santa’s head was buried in his big black sack, searching for something, and that was when Tommy went cold: Santa hadn’t seen the zombies. More and more of them were pouring over the wall with every passing second, and still Santa Claus was rummaging through his sack, unaware of the danger that was descending upon him.

Tommy knew he had to do something. He couldn’t, after all, be the kid who’d let Santa get eaten by zombies, he’d never live it down, but what could he do? The house was locked and he couldn’t reach the key to open the back door. Even if he could, what hope did Tommy have against all those zombies? Then it struck him: all he needed to do was warn Santa that the zombies were coming. Santa, after all, had flying reindeer, he could easily escape from the yard before the zombies got to him. Tommy banged on the window, but Santa didn’t look up. He banged again, still nothing. Finally, in desperation, Tommy pulled the window open and yelled at the top of his voice. ‘Santa, there’s zombies coming! They’re right behind you!’

Santa suddenly shot upright, and looked round. He saw Tommy and waved, a jolly smile on his rosy-cheeked face, still unaware of the rapidly approaching danger. Tommy shouted again and gesticulated wildly at the zombies, which, by then, were only a few feet from the back of Santa’s sleigh. Santa frowned for a second and then slowly turned. When he saw the zombies, he froze, but only for a moment, then he sprung into action, grabbing the reins and yelling to his reindeer, urging them on, but nothing happened. That was when Tommy realised his warning had been too late, the zombies had already got a hold of the sleigh and no matter how hard the reindeer strained, they couldn’t manage to pull the heavily laden sleigh and all the zombies that were now clinging onto it.

Tommy watched in horror as Santa looked round desperately for something he could use to defend himself, but he found nothing. This was unsurprising; after all, the worst thing Santa Claus usually had to deal with was when the elves drank too much eggnog as they were loading the sleigh and started fighting with each other, and drunken elves weren’t exactly difficult to deal with. As Santa started frantically digging through his sack of presents, searching for anything he could use to fight off the zombies, Tommy could see the fear in his eyes. Santa glanced up and seeing the zombies just a few feet from him, he gave up searching for a weapon and, deciding to hide rather than fight, he dived out of sight. The zombies weren’t fooled and they started clambering on to the sleigh as they hunted for their intended prey. Tommy was aghast: surely there was no way Santa could possibly survive? This, Tommy thought, wasn’t how Christmas was meant to end, for without Santa Claus to hand out presents to the children who’d spent all year being nice rather than naughty, what was the point of Christmas?

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Tommy saw a red blur streaking across the heavens and towards the ground. A moment later, it landed with a heavy thud behind the zombies and Tommy instantly realised who it was: it was Rudolf. The lone reindeer pawed the ground and snorted loudly, causing some of the zombies to turn and run towards him. Despite the undead that were rapidly closing on him, Rudolph bravely held his ground. Then, when the zombies were only a few feet away, Rudolf lowered his head and charged, running the closest zombie through with the tips of his razor-sharp antlers. Once he was sure it was dead, Rudolf threw the once-more deceased zombie to the ground, but he didn’t stop there. Rudolf charged again and again, throwing zombies this way and that, breaking arms and cracking skulls.

After what seemed like an age, but couldn’t have been more than a minute, the zombies realised they were beaten. Those that could still run, tried to retreat towards the safety of the graveyard, but Rudolph wasn’t about to let them get away so easily. He chased after them, slashing at them with his antlers and trampling the last of them under foot. Soon, nothing was moving that shouldn’t really be moving in the first place, and the lone reindeer, with his bright red nose glowing in the darkness, trotted across to the sleigh and let out a gentle whinny.

Tommy held his breath, wondering if somehow Santa could have survived, then he emerged, crawling out from under the seat where he’d been curled up in a desperate attempt to remain beyond the grasping hands of the attacking zombies. Santa straightened up, adjusting his clothes and brushing stray flecks of glitter from his beard. He patted Rudolph’s nose, before leaning forward and removing a withered arm that had become wedged in Rudolf’s antlers. Santa smiled, knowing his old friend had just saved his life, and tossed the arm into the snow. He looked up at Tommy, and tipped his fur-lined hat in thanks towards the young boy, before pulling on the reins and taking off once more, Rudolph following closely after.

Tommy watched until Santa, his sleigh and all the reindeer, including Rudolf, had disappeared into the night’s sky before turning his attention to the devastation which had been left in his back yard: there were bodies, or what was left of them, everywhere. That, Tommy thought to himself, would take a lot of explaining when his parents woke up and saw the mess, and he really wasn’t sure they’d believe him if he told them what had just happened. Maybe he’d be better off not telling them anything about what he’d seen, and instead left them to try to work out what happened when they got up the following the morning. Satisfied that this was the right thing to do, Tommy decided he’d better go to bed before anyone discovered he was still up and started asking awkward questions.

That was when Tommy realised that in his rush to get away after Rudolf had saved him, Santa had forgotten to leave him his presents. At first Tommy was upset, but after giving it some thought, he realised that one small boy missing out on his presents this one year was a small price to pay for saving Santa’s life from the zombies. Tommy sighed, and turned away from the window; that was when he saw the over-stuffed stocking hanging at the foot of his bed. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief: how on Earth had Santa managed that? Then it dawned on Tommy and he smiled happily to himself: while Santa might be just as scared of zombies as the rest of us, he’s still magic.

Happy Christmas!


A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.

This is the third year that I’ve done a special Christmas-themed zombie short story for the readers of my blog. If you haven’t read the previous ones, you can find the Christmas 2013 story, titled The Office Christmas Party – The Tale Of A Christmas Night Out That Goes Horribly Wrong, here, and the the Christmas 2012 story, titled Waiting Up For Santa Claus – A Cautionary Tale, here.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.


The Office Christmas Party – The Tale Of A Festive Night Out That Goes Horribly Wrong

23 Dec

I was never a fan of the office Christmas party, but as I cowered in a decidedly rank cubicle of a pub toilet, feet braced against the door as three of my colleagues did their best to break it down, I couldn’t help thinking this had to be the worst one ever.

It had all started so normally, with the false joviality and bonhomie of people being forced to socialise with others they’d clearly rather never see once the working day was done. I mean, half the people there would usually cross the road to avoid having to speak to the other half if they saw them on the street. Yet, here they were, having to make small talk while clutching plastic glasses of cheap sparkling wine while we waited for the signal to move on to the restaurant. As usual, there was the core group, mostly made up of secretaries and personal assistants, who were full of the festive spirit, and probably quite a lot of the alcoholic kind too. They were the ones who organised the Christmas night out, meaning it was their type of evening, while the rest of us, those who didn’t really want to be there, floated around the edges, trying to avoid getting drawn into an apparently never-ending conversation with Mike, the office bore. If you did happen to get caught, the best tactic was to try to pass him onto someone else as soon as possible, since it seemed he was more interested in talking than talking to anyone in particular. This meant if you could draw someone else in, you could then make your excuses and leave, and he’d barely bat an eye-lid.

Just as someone tried to dump Mike on me, the cry went up from the organising committee telling us it was time to head off to the restaurant. The plan was to go for that most traditional of Christmas meals, a curry, before heading off for some drinks in whatever pub would let us in on what was known as Black Friday, or even Black-Eye Friday, because of all the trouble caused by overly-drunk office workers out with their colleagues on the last Friday before Christmas.

Even as we headed out into a night chilled by a biting wind and horizontal rain, I could see a few of my fellow workers were already stumbling and bumping into each other; others were bedecked with strings of tinsel around their necks and cheap Santa hands on their heads. Two of the PAs, both of whom I knew had partners at home, had their arms round each other in a manner that suggested it wouldn’t be long before they’d be all over each other.

Looking back, I remember thinking to myself at that precise moment, that, given previous Christmas nights out, it was all following the same old routine. As I snorted derisively at how wrong I’d been, the door under my feet me shook and shuddered as the people outside continued to throw themselves against it. I wasn’t too sure exactly who they were, but my best guess was a couple of the rugby players from the accounts department because the door was already starting to splinter and it wouldn’t be too long before they get through.

Everything seemed normal in the restaurant too. The food was ordered, a choice between having one of the usual curries off the menu or the special turkey curry which had been added just for Christmas. Predictably, almost everyone chose that, despite the fact that it sounded disgusting. I went for a chicken tikka masala, which caused Mike, the bore, to start rambling on, to no one in particular, about how this wasn’t actually a traditional dish from India, as you might at first think, but rather it was invented in Britain, most probably in a restaurant in Glasgow, in the 1950s. This would have been quite an interesting story, if he hadn’t told it at exactly the same point of the Christmas night out for at least the last eight years in succession. Looking across the table, I caught Mark’s eye. He nodded towards Mike and held up nine fingers forcing us both to stifle a laugh. You see, the reason I know that Mike has done this for the last eight years, well nine now, even though I’d only worked for the company for five, was because Mark had started keeping a count, and had told me about it on the first Christmas night out I’d been forced to go on. Mark was one of the good guys, and with a bit of luck, once we moved on for drinks he and I could find a table in the corner and amuse ourselves by watching the others make complete fools of themselves.

By the time the food arrived, we were all pretty well-oiled and the conversation had grown loud and boisterous. As I tucked into my tikka masala, I heard Mike launch into his story again, just in case someone hadn’t heard him the first time. Sam, one of the PAs who was sitting to my left, poked at his turkey curry. He spiked one of the lumps of meat onto his fork and sniffed it, ‘It doesn’t really look like turkey, does it?’ He gingerly nibbled a bit. ‘Doesn’t taste like it either.’ He took another nibble. ‘I mean it doesn’t taste bad, it just doesn’t taste like turkey.’ He took a larger bite. ‘Tastes more like pork or something like that. I thought turkey was meant to be white meat …’

On hearing this, Mike immediately switched seamlessly from talking about the origins of tikka masala to talking about the difference between brown leg meat and white breast meat on turkeys, and which he preferred to eat. To give him credit, it was a new story, but that didn’t necessarily make it interesting. Everyone turned to the food in front of them and did their level best to ignore him.

Soon enough the food was finished and we were heading back out into the night to find somewhere for drinks. Giving everyone the once over, I noticed that almost all of them seemed a lot more drunk than they should have been given how much alcohol they’d consumed: tripping over their own feet and hanging onto each other for support; even those who usually kept themselves pretty sober seemed heavily intoxicated. If fact, it seemed that Mike, Mark, me and the girl Sam was currently clinging to were the only ones who weren’t having trouble walking. We must have come across as a bit of a drunken rabble because we were turned away from the first five bars we tried.

Eventually, we found somewhere and trooped in out of the wind and rain. Inside, it was a real dive, but rather than head back out into the night to try to find somewhere else, we decided to stay put and make the most of it. While Mark commandeered a table where we could watch the rest of the bar, I got the drinks in and joined him there after a couple of minutes. We clinked out glasses.

‘Cheers!’ I clinked my glass against Mark’s, being careful not to spill too much as I did so.

‘Here’s to another easily forgettable night with some of the most banal people on the planet!’ Mark’s opinion of our colleagues was about as high as mine. ‘Although …’ He glanced around the room, ‘… they seem to be a lot more worse for wear than usual which might make it memorable after all. I mean, look at that,’ he pointed to the far corner, ‘Sam’s already passed out, and it looks like Janet’s about to do the same over there.’

No sooner were the words out of Mark’s mouth than Janet fell forward, her head hitting the table with an audible crack, but even that didn’t wake her.

‘Yeah, but some of them are up to their usual tricks.’ I nodded towards the bar, where Mike had two of the temps cornered and was telling, if I wasn’t mistaken, the tikka masala story for the third time that night as they swayed gently back and forth in front of him. ‘That’s got to be new a new record!’

‘You’d have thought so, but it’s not even close.’ Mark sipped his pint. ‘He’s still four short of his personal best.’

‘Should we go and rescue them?’

‘Nahhh, wouldn’t want to cramp anyone’s style.’ Mark tipped his head towards the far end of the bar where three lads barely out of puberty were trying to pluck up the courage to mount their own rescue mission in the hope of securing the girls undying gratitude – or at least a quick snog under the mistletoe before the end of the night.

By the end of the fifth pint, Mark and I had long since given up on all that was going on around us and had set out to put the world to rights. I think this is why we didn’t notice what was going on until it was too late. A sudden scream brought us back into the room.

‘What the fuck …’ Mark was staring across the room to where Sam was now clearly wide awake because he’d lunged at the girl sitting next to him and was all over her. The attention was obviously unwanted, but no one seemed to be doing anything about it. I cast my eyes around the room and that was when I noticed how many people were slumped over tables beside half empty glasses or on the benches that ran along two sides of the room. Mike was still rambling on to the people around the table where he was sitting, ignorant to the fact that they’d clearly been passed out for some time. The bar staff didn’t really seem to mind and were having their own conversation out the back, but the girl’s scream brought them running through, one of them grabbing a bat from behind the bar. He pointed this at Sam, ‘Oi! You! No means no around here!’

Sam ignored him and carried on pawing at the girl, and trying to kiss her despite her protests. The barman shouted again, but this only seemed to rouse the rest of our co-workers from their collective stupors: that was when I realised we were in big trouble.

As the barman vaulted the bar and started towards Sam, there was a cacophony of scraping and clattering of wood against concrete as the others clambered unsteadily to their feet. Almost immediately, it became apparent there was something not quite right about them. They no longer seemed drunk, but rather they appeared stiff and uncoordinated; yet with each passing second their movements became more fluid. As one, they rounded on the barman, taking him by surprise and pulling him to the ground. He tried to fight back, but there was little he could do against so many and within seconds he’d been ripped limb from limb, sending his head skittering across the floor. This attracted the attention of Maree, the slightly plump secretary of the managing director, and she chased after it.

Meanwhile, in the corner, Sam was still all over the girl, but it was now clear he wasn’t trying to kiss her; instead he had his teeth bared and was trying to bite her. That was when I noticed his eyes: rather than being clear and blue, they were now dark and dull, and they stayed still and lifeless despite his frenzied attack. I looked round at those attacking the barman and saw they were the same.

‘What the hell’s going on?’ I stammered to Mark, half under my breath.

He ran his hands through his hair, ‘I don’t know, they can’t be that drunk, can they? Maybe someone spiked something …’

I ran this scenario through my head, but there wasn’t any drug I could think of that would make people act like this.

‘Whatever’s happening, I think we need to get the hell out of here,’ I whispered across the table.

I glanced around the room. Our table was tucked out of the way and while we couldn’t make it to the main door without being seen, it seemed like we could slip into the corridor leading to the toilets and, more importantly the rear fire exit, without attracting too much attention. As quietly as possible, we got to our feet and with Mark behind me, we crept along the wall towards what we hoped would be our way out. We’d got no more than a few feet before the sound of breaking glass echoed round the bar. I turned and froze. In his inebriated state, Mark had bumped a table covered with empty glasses and bottles, sending several spilling onto the floor where they shattered into a million pieces. We looked at each other for a moment and he mouthed ‘Sorry’.

There was something slightly comical about it, and being quite drunk, I almost laughed, but then a roar brought my attention back to the rest of the room. I turned my head and was greeted by a bizarre tableau: most of our colleagues, dressed in their Christmas finery, complete with tinsel and Santa hats, stood over the bloodied and broken body of the barman, while Sam had finally looked up from where he’d been chewing through the face of the girl he’d pounced on. Further along the same wall there was another, smaller knot of people with blood dripping from their hands and faces. All of them were now staring at us with dark, soul-less eyes.

I felt Mark’s hand pushing me forward as he hissed one word into my ear: ‘Run!’

At the same time, the others surged towards us and we made it to the door way just ahead of the fastest of our colleagues. We sprinted along it as quickly as possible and, as we rounded the corner, seeing the exit ahead of us for the first time, it seemed like we’re pulling away from those who were pursuing us. We reached the door and, without even slowing, crashed into it, expecting to burst into the night – that didn’t happen; instead, we crumpled against it. Confused, we looked down and saw a heavy metal chain looped tightly through the handles and secured with a heavy-duty padlock.

‘Shit!’ I glanced down the corridor where our colleagues were just turning the corner, ‘What now?’

‘In here!’ I looked round and found Mark pointing the door to the men’s toilet. We pushed it open and leapt inside before throwing ourselves against it in case they tried to follow us in. For a moment, it seemed like we had got away, but then we felt the first of our colleagues hammering on the door. Within moments, there were so many of them trying to get in that we knew we’ll never be able to keep them out.

I turn desperately to Mark, ‘What now?’

‘The cubicles. The doors have locks on them.’

It didn’t seem like a great idea, but it was better than staying where we were. ‘Okay. On the count of three. One. Two. Three!’

We leapt to our feet and dashed across the grubby, tiled floor. The door crashed open behind us as we slide into the cubicles; me into the right hand one, Mark into the left. There was just enough time to get the door shut and the latch flipped before our colleagues reached it and started trying to break it down. I wedged my feet against the door, just in case the lock didn’t hold, but it seemed pointless as the door looked too flimsy to hold out for long.

I called out to Mark, ‘What the hell’s going on?’

‘I don’t know …’ He sounded as scared as I was.

For some reason, I had a flash back to the restaurant and what Sam had said about his food; about how the meat didn’t look like turkey. That’s when something occurred to me. ‘Mark, what did you eat?’


‘At the restaurant, What did you eat?’

‘What the hell d’you want to know that for?’

‘Just tell me.’

‘I was going to go for the turkey curry, but I remembered how bad it was last year so I went for a prawn makhani instead.’

‘Who else didn’t have the Christmas special?’

‘Only you, Mike and that girl Sam was chewing on in the bar. Everyone else had the turkey curry. Why?’

‘I don’t think it was made from turkey.’

‘What d’you mean?’

‘Well, Sam said it tasted more like pork.’

‘So it was pig not poultry,’ there was a confused tone in Mark’s voice. ‘Why would that make them act crazy?’

‘I don’t think it was pig; just something that tasted like it.’ I tried to think of what it might have been, but I couldn’t come up with any possible answers. ‘Whatever it was, I think it must have been tainted or infected or something …’

I heard the sound of splintering wood and glanced up to see the top hinge had separated from the door, and I knew it won’t be long before they’d break through.

Mark called through from the next cubicle again, ‘How the hell are we going to get out of here?’

I looked round for a window or some other way of getting out, but find nothing. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Shit!’ There was a brief pause before he carried on. ‘Knew I should have stayed at home!’

There didn’t seem to be any way we’re getting out in one piece, but I felt I needed to say something to lighten the mood. ‘Look on the bright side, we won’t ever have to listen to Mike’s chicken tikka story again.’
‘What d’you mean?’

There was another crack from the door as a second hinge gave way. Now the door was only held in place by the remaining hinge, the latch and my feet.

‘The last I saw of him he was being eaten by the managing director, two of the interns and that work experience girl everyone kept flirting with.’

‘Well, at least there’s a plus side then!’ Mark shouted back as I heard his door give way.

At almost the same moment, the final hinge gave out on mine and I knew it’ll only be seconds before the creatures that had once been my colleagues finally got hold of me and tore me to pieces, just like they had to done to the barmen, ‘Yeah, happy bloody Christmas!’


This is the second of the two Christmas stories I’m posting this year (you can find the first one here). It was inspired by the many office Christmas parties which I’ve been to over the years. Most of them ended better than the one in the story. Then again, some of them ended up worse!

A PDF of this story can be downloaded from here.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale

22 Dec

This is a very short story I put together for my blog readers to mark the holiday season (after all, nothing says Christmas like zombies – or is that just me?). Be warned, it’s not your usual happy festive tale. Then again, since it features the undead, this is probably not surprising! As you might have guessed, and despite its title, this is not a story for a younger audience. It’s just a quick piece I wrote to explore an idea that popped into my head a few days ago, but hopefully you’ll still enjoy it. If you’d rather read this story offline, you can download a PDF from here. Merry Christmas!

Waiting Up For Santa Claus: A Cautionary Tale

‘Look!’ The girl pointed excitedly, ‘It’s him, it has to be.’

The boy glanced at the clock on the wall, slightly confused, ‘But it’s not midnight yet.’


‘So it’s not Christmas Day, is it?’

‘But it looks just like him. And besides,’ the girl said knowingly, ‘It’s already Christmas somewhere. Maybe he’s just early.’

The two children were peeking through their curtains, trying not to be seen. Despite their mother’s frequent warnings that he wouldn’t come unless they were asleep, they’d been determined to catch a glimpse Santa Claus. They tried every year but they never quite managed it. This year it seemed they might have finally succeeded. At five minutes to twelve, they’d heard a noise and had scampered from their beds to investigate.

Outside, their front yard was covered with snow, the snowman they’d built earlier in the day still staring off into the distance. Beside him was a new figure, his red coat stretched across his portly belly. They couldn’t see his face, but curly white hair hung down below a hat edged with fur. Beside the man lay a large sack from which spilled brightly wrapped packages. He stood slouching, one arm around the neck of the snowman. The man wasn’t really moving, just swaying slightly from side to side.

The boy looked up at his sister. ‘What should we do?’

The older child scratched her head as she surveyed the room they’d shared for as long as either of them could remember. A Christmas tree stood decorated in one corner while home-made streamers were strung across the ceiling. Finally, her eyes landed on the stockings that hung expectantly from the ends of their beds and an idea popped into her head. She grinned at her brother, ‘Let’s go out and see if he’ll give us our presents now, before we go to sleep.’

‘Yeah, that would be really cool.’

‘We’ll need to be quiet though. We don’t want Mom waking up.’

The younger kid rubbed his backside, remembering how it had felt when he’d been spanked for getting into a fight at school. If she’d been mad because of that, she’d be madder if she caught them out of bed on Christmas Eve. She’d already shouted at them earlier in the evening when they were still bouncing round their room long after they should have been tucked up in bed. Twice. But this was an opportunity not to be missed. After all, how many other kids would be able to say they’d got their presents from Santa Claus himself rather than just waking up on Christmas morning and finding he’d visited them in the night?

They grabbed their stockings and crept to the door. The elder child inched it open, making sure it didn’t squeak. Once there was enough room, they slipped through and snuck down the stairs, remembering to jump over the loose one at the bottom, the one that always creaked loudly when anyone stood on it. At the front door, the girl turned to her younger brother, ‘You sure about this?’

He nodded enthusiastically.

She reached up and took the key from its hook before sliding it into the keyhole. It first turned smoothly and silently, then there was resistance followed by a quiet click that told her the door was now unlocked. The girl pressed down the handle and pulled it open, letting in a blast of frigid air. The two children shivered in their thin night-clothes. Outside the street was silent, the snow muffling the usual noises of the night. The man had moved away from the snowman and now stood on the far side of their front yard with his back to them. The snow round his feet was messed up as if he’d been shuffling through it rather than walking across it. His sack still lay open on the ground by the snowman, seemingly forgotten.

Leaving the door open, the girl stepped forward, feeling the snow crunch under her weight, the cold shooting up through the soles of her feet. For a moment she thought about going back for her shoes but that would take time and he might be gone before she got back. She’d just need to be quick. Running forward, she called out quietly, ‘Santa, don’t go, we’re here. Can we have our presents now?’

Just as the girl reached the snowman, the figure in the red suit turned and she saw his face for the first time. She skidded to a halt, causing her brother to crash into her from behind, and stared at the face beneath the fur-trimmed hat. The man’s pale, sallow skin was splattered with red and his white beard was stained by a thick dark fluid that dripped slowly onto the snow. His deeply sunken eyes were a dull black with no spark of life in them.

‘That’s not Santa Claus. Is it?’ There was a frightened tone in the young boy’s voice. He clung to his sister’s arm. He didn’t know why but the man scared him. Maybe it was something to do with the eyes and the way they seemed to stare right through him.

‘No.’ The girl was frightened too. She tried to think of what to do next, but it seemed her brain had stopped working. She wanted to run, but couldn’t; she was rooted to the spot.

Then the man started towards them, slowly at first but becoming faster with each faltering step. Suddenly, the girl was no longer frozen with fear. She turned and fled, pulling her younger brother with her, but it was difficult to run across the snow in bare feet. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that the man in the Santa outfit was gaining on them. As he moved, he let out a moan that sank deep into her soul.

The kids were almost back at the house when the girl’s foot slipped on a patch of ice. She tumbled to the ground, pulling her little brother with her and landing heavily on her back. She pushed the boy onwards, towards the safety of the front door. As he disappeared inside, the girl rolled onto her front. The snow crumbled beneath her as she desperately struggled to get back onto her feet.

The girl yelled when she felt the man’s hand close around her leg and start dragging her backwards through the snow. But it didn’t feel like a real hand. While it gripped her so tightly it hurt, there was no warmth in it. Instead, it felt as cold as ice. She turned and saw the man’s face again, this time much closer. His red hat had fallen from his head, but he didn’t seem to have noticed or even to care. While his eyes looked lifeless, maybe even soulless, his jaw moved back and forth, causing his teeth to gnash against each other.

The girl kicked out, trying to break his grip, but even though she hit him as hard as she could he didn’t seem to notice. She heard someone screaming. It seemed distant at first, but quickly grew closer and closer. For a moment, the girl wondered who it was, then it dawned on her that it was coming from her own mouth. She struggled frantically but it was no use, she couldn’t get away. As the figure in the red suit loomed over her, blocking out the stars, the girl felt his fetid breath on the side of her face and realised she was going to die.

The man sank his teeth deep into her neck, ripping at her flesh. Although the girl could see her own blood spraying across the snow-covered yard, turning it a deep crimson red, she felt no pain. As the life drained from her body, the girl wished she’d listened to her mother. She wished she’d gone to sleep instead of trying to stay awake until Santa arrived.


For those who have read this far, here’s a quick reminder that between the 26th and 31st of December, I’ll be posting extracts from the first three chapters of my new book, For Those In Peril On The Sea (available in the UK from the 3rd of January 2013 – I’m afraid it won’t be available outside the UK until March) on this blog. It’s a tale about post-apocalyptic survival in a world where the land is no longer safe, so if you liked the above story, you might like it as well.

Sketch to Final Art: Zombies Love Brains — Surviving the Dead

16 Oct

My upcoming children’s book Zombies Love Brains will finally be published on the 21st of this month. It’s been a real pleasure working with Mike Kloran on the pictures, and it’s been an amazing learning experience for me. In this post, from his Surviving the Dead blog, Mike’s done a really nice post which shows part of the process we went through when developing the artwork from his initial ideas to go with my words to the final artwork, and for those who are interested, I’ve re-blogged it below.


Very soon (October 21st) you’ll be able to get your hands on this great little book I did the illustrations for. Zombies Love Brains is a salutary tale for young readers, aged 3 and over, which explains that becoming a zombie is no reason to be impolite to others, or to take things that don’t […]

via Sketch to Final Art: Zombies Love Brains — Surviving the Dead

‘The Island At The End Of The World’ Has Been Selected As A Finalist In Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards For 2015

9 Mar

The Island at the End of the World, the third book in my For Those In Peril series of post-apocalyptic survival novels, has been selected as a finalist in the horror category of Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards for 2015.

I’ll be quite honest and say that this came as rather a pleasant, and unexpected, surprise. While both the previous books in the series (For Those In Peril On The Sea and The Outbreak) were also short-listed for this rather prestigious prize (making it three years in a row that one of my book has made it this far in the competition), I was really not too sure that The Island at the End of the World would match the successes of its predecessors. This is not because I don’t think that it is as good a book, but rather that it is a very different type of book. While it still has strong horror elements, its focus is much more on post-apocalyptic survival than fighting off the infected, making it much harder to categorise.

The timing of this announcement is actually quite good. As those who check this blog our regularly will be aware, I have been very poor on the blogging front for the last year or so. This is because life keeps getting in the way of my writing time (I’ll explain more in a future post or two), and I’ve been struggling to get anything of any substance done – whether blogging, or indeed starting the next book in the For Those In Peril series (which has a working title of The Rise of the Infected – but that’s about as far as I have got with it so far).

Hopefully, knowing that The Island at the End of the World has reached the final short-list for this year’s INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award will give me the impetus I need to knuckle back down at the keyboard again and get to work, both fleshing out the rough ideas I have for The Rise of the Infected, as well as the various short story and blog article ideas that I’ve been carefully filing away over the last 12 months in the hope that I’d eventually get round to turning them into finished pieces. To find out if this is the case, just watch this space!

For those who are interested, the winners in Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards for 2015 will be announced at the end of June 2016, so I’ll be keeping all my fingers crossed until then. If you want to see what other books The Island at the End of the World is up against, you can find the full list of finalists here.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Now Available: The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics: 25 Zombie-based Maths Problems

4 Dec

9781909832213-frontcoverSeveral years after I first came up with the idea, I’ve finally completed a curious little project called The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics. This is essentially a print version of my Maths With Zombies blog, although it includes an additional scoring system so that you can work out how well your maths skills will help you survive in the event of a zombie apocalypse that is only available in the book.

For those of you who are no familiar with the Maths With Zombies blog, it provides zombie-based scenarios which can be solved with a little mathematical knowledge (or, since multiple choice answers are provides, you can just guess!), and it aims to unite my twin interests of zombies and recreational mathematics.

If you’re stuck trying to work out what to get the zombie-lover in your life, then this might just be the kind of quirky little present that will score you top brownie points!

From the back of the book:

Your machine gun can fire 57 bullets a minute. There are 200 zombies staggering towards you and they’ll reach you in three and a half minutes. Do you have the fire power to kill them all before they get to you?

Mathematics can be oh so dry and boring. All those numbers floating around; and then there are the letters: what on earth are they doing in there? Shouldn’t they be in the English classroom helping people read?

But wait, did you know you can do maths with zombies? That sounds more exciting, doesn’t it? When maths becomes the key for surviving in a world where the dead hunt the living, it’s so much more fun. This is the premise behind The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics : make maths fun by adding the undead. After all, everything’s better with zombies.

And you never know, if a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen, knowing how to do maths with zombies might just save your life!

Oh and if you’re wondering what the answer is to the problem above, it’s no you don’t. To find out why, just read this book.

You can purchase The Little Book of Zombie Mathematics: 25 Zombie-based Maths Problems from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, your local Amazon site, or almost any other bookshop.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

‘The Island At The End Of The World’ by Colin M. Drysdale: Free Preview – Chapter Two

25 Oct

‘What d’you think?’ I glanced at Rob nervously.

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other and back again. ‘I don’t know, CJ. It wasn’t there last time I was here.’

We were anchored in the sparkling turquoise waters of a sheltered bay, fringed with golden-white sand, on the east side of a small island. Off to either side, the island rose in height, rearing up to form towering cliffs that no infected could ever hope to scale. On the shore, lit by the light of the low autumn sun, I could see the crumbling ruins of small stone buildings scattered amongst tussocks of grass. Here and there, sheep grazed peacefully, while seabirds wheeled overhead. Up to the left, a wooden hut stood silhouetted against the background, its well-maintained appearance contrasting sharply with the ramshackle remains of all the other buildings I could see.

The sail from North Rona to Mingulay had, thankfully, been short and uneventful, and now we were here, we were keen to get ashore to see what we could find. Mike, Jimmy and Jeff were already eyeing up the sheep and talking about cooking up as many lamb chops as they could consume without making themselves sick, but Rob and I were more cautious. The hut looked relatively new and in good condition, suggesting there might’ve been people living on the island when everything changed. If there had been, would they still be there? And would the virus be there with them?

Rob’s mood had improved dramatically since we’d finally reached the other side of the Atlantic, and he was almost back to his former, more confident self. It also helped that we’d been able to fish as we made our way south from North Rona, catching more than our fair share of mackerel, cod and fish that Rob called ‘coalies’ which I’d never eaten before, but that tasted great. The result of this was that we were all now well enough fed to start putting back on some of the weight we’d lost on the voyage over. The unexpected presence of the hut, however, threatened to set Rob back, and I could see he was starting to fret once again that he‘d dragged us all this way for nothing. I knew it wasn’t just us he worried about; it was also those we’d left behind. He knew there was a lot riding on our voyage for everyone who was part of the Hope Town community, and our success or failure would pretty much determine the success or failure of the community as a whole. We hadn’t been able to communicate with those back in the Abacos since the radio antenna had come down, and I knew they’d be worrying about what had happened to us and whether we’d been lost.

As we’d sailed down from North Rona, Rob had talked eagerly about taking the shortwave radio ashore and setting it up on the island. This would give it a greater range, and make it more likely we’d be able to contact Jack and the others again, but that was before we’d arrived and found the hut. Now, before we could even start thinking about doing anything like that, we’d have to make sure the island was, indeed, uninhabited and free of the infection.

On our arrival, we’d sailed around the island twice, past the impregnable cliffs that formed the northern and southern ends, and the entire west side, past a rocky beach at the south-eastern corner, which was the only other place where you could hope to land, and past a natural arch that reminded me of the one at Hole-in-the-Wall, where we’d had our first inkling that something bad had happened to the world all those months ago. Mingulay was just under three miles long, and about a mile and a half across at its widest point, meaning it was small, but it seemed to offer us all that we might need: a sheltered place to anchor boats; few places where drifters could come ashore unnoticed in the night; and I could make out what looked like several small streams making their way down to the shore close to the middle of the bay, suggesting a reliable source of fresh water.

A second smaller island lay not far from its southern limit, but this seemed to offer few of the advantages of Mingulay, beyond the fact that it, too, was surrounded by imposing cliffs. For this reason, we focussed our attention on the larger one, and during our circumnavigations, we’d kept a keep close eye on the shore; but apart from the hut and the occasional sheep, it looked as deserted as Rob remembered. The hut, therefore, remained the big unknown: who, or what, might be lying in wait inside?

‘D’you think someone’s been living here?’ Mike was standing next to Rob and me as we gazed towards the island, while Jimmy and Jeff lounged on seats in the cockpit. I picked up the binoculars and examined the hut more closely. It was the size of a small cottage, but it didn’t have the appearance of a home. Instead, it looked more basic and functional. ‘I don’t think it’s a house. It looks more like a glorified shed or something like that.’

I passed the binoculars to Rob, and he examined it too. ‘Yeah, it’s not exactly homely, is it? But that doesn’t mean there aren’t infected inside. Someone’s clearly been doing something here, and they could’ve brought the disease with them. They could be in there right now, just waiting for someone to be stupid enough to open the door and let them out.’

Jeff sat up, worried by what Rob had just said. ‘How’re we going to find out?’

Jimmy sat up, too. ‘Find out what?’

‘We’ve come all this way, haven’t we? We can’t just turn back because there might be infected in there, can we?’ Jeff got to his feet and padded over to where the rest of us were standing. ‘I mean, it could just as easily be empty,’ he looked round. ‘Couldn’t it?’

I ruffled Jeff’s hair. ‘That’s very true.’ I was impressed with how Jeff was coming along. When we’d taken him in, he’d been little more than a child, but now he was starting to develop into an adult, willing to take on responsibilities and take part in discussions about what we were going to do next. I still heard him crying in the night from time to time, but, given what he’d been through, that was only to be expected, and I knew I did the same. Jimmy was growing up too, and while it would have been nice for both of them to have been able to enjoy their childhoods a little longer, in the world we now lived, they had no choice, but to grow up fast. Mike was maturing, too, and becoming a quiet, but sensible young man. As the older brother, he felt responsible for Jimmy, and keeping him alive and safe was his number-one priority. With Jon gone, I knew that Rob and I would have to start relying on him more and more, especially now that it would be just the five of us until the others made the trip across the ocean to join us. And, depending on what was in the hut, that might not happen.

Rob leant forward on the guard rail that ran along the side of the catamaran. ‘I guess one of us is going to have to go ashore and check it out.’ He turned to face the three youngsters. ‘Any volunteers?’

Surprise and shock shot across their faces; much as they tried to act tough, they were still terrified by the merest possibility of encountering any infected, and I couldn’t blame them. The infected had to be seen to be believed: their speed; the anger burning deep in their eyes; the unrelenting violence of their actions as they attacked anyone they could grab hold of, tearing into them, ripping them apart. They showed no mercy, driven, as they were by a virus which had taken over their brains and erased all that had once been human. Now, they were little more than machines; machines the virus used to ensure it was spread as far, and as fast, as possible.

Seeing the looks on the boys’ faces, Rob laughed. ‘Don’t worry, I was only joking. I’ll be the one going ashore.’

I felt my eyes narrow as I replied, ‘No, you won’t; it’s too risky and you’re too important. I’ll go.’

Jeff stepped forward. ‘I’ll go with you.’

He was trying to sound strong, but the tremor in his voice gave away his true feelings; yet, still he’d volunteered. I glanced at him: he was still growing into his lanky teenage body, and this left his movements clumsier than usual. While I appreciated his offer, I knew I’d be better off on my own. I also knew I’d be able to move faster and react quicker if I didn’t have to worry about Jeff’s safety as well as my own. While I wasn’t that much older than him, I’d become like a mother to him and because of this, I felt he was my responsibility in a way I didn’t necessarily feel for Jimmy and Mike. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about what happened to them — I did, deeply — but it was different from how I felt about Jeff. Our shared pain at how, and why, we’d lost those closest to us had created a bond between us that went well beyond how I connected with the others, even Rob, who I’d known the longest. ‘Thanks for the offer, Jeff, but I’ll go on my own.’

Rob let go of the guard rail and straightened up. ‘No, you won’t. I couldn’t ask you do to anything that’s potentially so dangerous. It’ll be me that’s going.’

I scowled at him. ‘Rob, I know you’re the captain, and that means you get the last say, but you’ve got to act like one. You can’t go risking your own life just because you don’t want me risking mine. And besides, you’re not asking me to go; I’m volunteering.’

Rob folded his arms and said nothing.

‘Rob, think about when Bill died. Look at how devastating that was for us. We nearly didn’t make it through that.’ I didn’t like bringing up the subject of Bill’s death, but I felt I needed to make my point. ‘If we lost you, it would be the same situation all over again, and I’m not so sure we’d make it through a second time.’

Rob stared down at the deck, avoiding my eyes. I knew he still blamed himself for Bill’s death, but I also knew this was the best way to get through to him. After a minute, he looked up. ‘You’re right.’ He sighed and sank down onto one of the seats, shaking his head slowly from side to side. ‘When did you become so bloody brave, CJ? I remember when I first met you: you were such a quiet young girl, you’d barely say boo to a goose. Now look at you, and what you’re offering to do.’

‘I’m only doing what I have to.’ I smiled at him, knowing that this was his way of saying sorry for arguing with me. ‘And besides, I’ve had some pretty good teachers.’


Whenever I think about how I was before, it always makes me laugh, but sometimes it makes me cry, too, especially when it reminds me of all those I’ll never see again. I was completely different back then, but then again, so was the world. When I first met Rob, I was still just a child. I’d thought I was so grown-up, but with hindsight I could see that I’d been far from it. My upbringing had been sheltered and privileged, so before going on to university, I’d decided to take a gap year and see how the other half lived. In a bar in Cape Town, I’d got chatting to a man old enough to be my father: Bill. It was because of him I’d ended up on the catamaran that was now my home, as part of a crew delivering the newly built catamaran from South Africa to its owners in Miami. And it was almost certainly the only reason I was still alive.

The trip itself had been a nightmare. Jon was a pompous prick back then, and Rob kept himself to himself as much as he possibly could. Only Bill had treated me well, teaching me about life at sea and giving me my first lessons in how to sail a boat. However, while I’d been learning a lot, the longer the experience went on, the more I had been looking forward to arriving in Miami and getting back to my real life in London. Yet, when we reached land again, several weeks after a sudden squall had wiped out all our electrical equipment, civilisation was gone, and with it, everything we’d known before: on the land, humanity had been replaced by the infected, and we had no choice but to remain at sea.

It was only when we rescued Mike and Jimmy that we found out about the disease and what it did to people. While the rest of us fell apart, each in our own way, Bill kept us going, and together we worked out a plan. We’d headed east to the Bahamas to see if we could find any others who, like us, had survived the onslaught of the disease. That was how we’d ended up in Hope Town, although we lost Bill along the way. His loss had been devastating, but after some initial wavering, Rob had replace him as captain. I watched how the others changed and knew that I had to leave behind the stroppy teenager who’d boarded the catamaran in Cape Town, and do a bit of growing up myself. Jack had helped with that: he was the one in charge of Hope Town, although all decisions were made by the community as a whole, and I had learned a lot from him about how to handle other people, and how to survive.

As we both matured, the animosity between Jon and me evaporated and we started to realise that, underneath the facades we used to protect ourselves from the world, we were actually pretty similar. It would be easy to say that we’d just got caught up in the situation, but it was more than that. I’d never believed in the existence of soulmates until Jon — the real, grown-up Jon — and then he was taken away from me. It was Rob who’d killed him, but by then he was no longer the Jon I’d grow to love: the disease had seen to that.

Now here I was, sitting off another remote island on the other side of the Atlantic, offering to go ashore and check a hut for infected. I’d never have been this brave before, and if Jon had still been here, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. But now, with Jon gone, I knew I couldn’t let him down; I knew I had to step up, just as he had. And with no one else around who could do it — not without putting the survival of our little group, and indeed the remnants of the community which remained in Hope Town, in greater danger — what else could I do?


The rubber dinghy bumped against the sandy shore, and for the first time in more than two months, I stepped onto land. I felt the ground move beneath my feet, but I knew it was just an illusion caused by spending so much time floating around on the ever-moving surface of the sea. The hand-held radio tucked into my back pocket crackled and I pulled it out.

I pressed the transmit button. ‘What did you say, Rob?’

I let the button go and waited. It was a second before it crackled again. ‘I said, how’s it looking from your end?’

I swept my eyes across the beach and back again before replying. ‘Everything seems quiet, but I’m nowhere near the hut yet.’ I glanced up at it. ‘How do things look from where you are?’

I heard Rob key the microphone. ‘Nothing’s moving, CJ, at least not that we can see.’

‘Roger that.’ I tucked the radio back into my pocket and looked out towards the catamaran, the cabin’s superstructure stretched between its twin hulls and its mast stuck high into the air. The once-white paintwork was now dull, grey and peeling, and I could see long strands of seaweed growing along the waterline. It had been brand-new and sparkling clean when I’d first boarded it in Cape Town, but now, just over six months later, it was a battered and weather-worn shadow of its former self. Given all it had been through, this was no surprise, and I wondered how much more it could take. No boat would last forever, and this was one of the reasons we had to find somewhere where we could live on the land once more; somewhere which was both free of the disease, and where the infected couldn’t reach us.

The others were crowded on to the roof of the cabin, binoculars trained on the island, ready to warn me the moment they saw anything which might suggest trouble coming my way. We’d done this type of thing before and we all knew the drill, but there was one difference: last time, Rob had been armed with a hunting rifle, ready to shoot any infected that got too close. It wasn’t that we didn’t still have the rifle, we did, but we were out of bullets, so it was pretty much useless until we found some more, and I had no idea when that might happen.

I took a deep breath and started walking slowly up the sandy beach towards where the hut stood on the hill high above it. My eyes moved constantly, searching for anything which might indicate infected were coming, but everything remained still. I worried that the sound of the blood rushing through my ears might stop me hearing something important, but try as I might, I couldn’t get my heart rate down; the fear and adrenaline surging through my body meant I could do nothing to stop it pounding away like a freight train.

At the top of the beach, I stopped and glanced back. There was about fifty feet of loose sand between myself and the dinghy, and I wondered how fast I could race across it if I had to. My legs were still wobbly and I was walking unsteadily. I guessed I wouldn’t be able to run at full speed without tumbling to the ground, and in an emergency, that could be the difference between life and death. I pulled out my radio. ‘You got anything I need to worry about?’

For a moment, there was silence. I continued to watch those back on the boat and I could see Rob scanning the island with the binoculars. Mike was beside him, pointing at something and my heart leapt into my mouth. I considered running, just in case, but I stood my ground, hoping I was misreading the signals. Finally, the radio came alive again, but it was Jeff’s voice, not Rob’s, and I could hear laughter in the background. ‘Mike thought he saw something, but it turned out it was just a sheep!’

I breathed a sigh of relief and turned my attention back to the hut. It was a couple of hundred yards from where I stood, and the ground between me and it was covered in uneven tussocks of grass. Between these, narrow trails wove, which, judging by the small piles of dung along them, had been made by sheep and not humans. In fact, other than the hut, there was no trace that anyone had spent more than a few hours on the island in years. Here and there, in amongst the grass, I could see the remains of long-abandoned buildings: some were little more than heaps of stones; others were more recognisable, with fireplaces and chimney stacks still discernable. I wondered how long it would take until all of what had once been civilisation, for places where I’d once lived, to look like this: abandoned, decaying and overrun by nature. I felt an urge to explore them, but I knew I had to keep my attention focussed on the hut, and on finding out what was inside, before I could do anything else.

I crept forward, placing each foot carefully on the ground, trying to make as little noise as possible. I could hear the cries of seagulls off in the distance as they wheeled and circled above the island, and occasionally the soft bleating of an unseen sheep. Grass brushed against my legs, feeling alien and strange after so long on the boat. I remembered the joy of running, carefree, through long grass as a little girl, chasing others on warm summer days, but that world was long gone. Now, I wondered what might be lurking, unseen, in amongst the long stems, waiting to pounce on me. I did my best to push these thoughts from my mind as I carried on, the hut growing larger and nearer with each and every step.

Before I knew it, I was there, the closed door staring back at me; now was the moment of truth. I reached out my hand and then withdrew it, not sure of what to do next. While the day was sunny, the air blowing in off the sea was chilly, but despite this, I could feel beads of sweat running down the sides of my face. I pulled out the radio. ‘Anything?’

Rob’s voice came back. ‘Nothing.’

I kept the radio in my hand as I tiptoed around the hut, looking for any signs that might indicate what was inside, but I found nothing. There were windows, but they were shuttered, and much as I tried, I couldn’t get them to move. I returned to the door and knocked on it tentatively, half expecting to hear the unmistakable sound of an infected echoing back, but there was only silence.

I lifted the radio and spoke into it. ‘I think it’s clear.’

‘Are you sure, CJ?’ Rob sounded concerned.

‘No,’ I readied myself for what I knew I had to do next, ‘but I’m going in anyway.’

‘Just be careful,’ Rob shot back.

I didn’t respond. I banged on the door again, this time more forcibly, but still there was no reply. Hesitantly, I gripped the handle and twisted it. It moved, but the door didn’t open. I pushed it, first gently and then harder. For a moment, it resisted, then suddenly it gave way and I tumbled forward into the darkness. Even before I hit the rough wooden floor, the smell inside struck me as hard as if I’d been punched in the face. Then I noticed something moving. The only light was coming through the open door, but as I scrambled to my feet I saw a human form moving slowly back and forth. Not knowing what it was, I bolted from the room and out into the daylight, expecting to hear the sound of footsteps chasing after me … but there was nothing. I stopped and stared back at the hut as Rob’s worried voice blared from the radio. ‘What’s wrong, CJ?’

‘I don’t know.’ I paused as I considered the situation. ‘There’s someone, or something, in there, but I don’t think it’s an infected.’

The radio buzzed with static for a second before Rob replied. ‘What is it then?’

I searched the darkened doorway as the door moved slowly in the breeze. I thought about the smell and then I realised what I’d seen. I pulled the sleeve of my jacket over my hand and pressed it firmly across my mouth before stepping back inside. In the darkness, the body moved, swinging gently from side to side, suspended from a coarse rope which had been wrapped around a wooden beam. A thick beard told me the body was male, but it was too dark to see much else. I stared at him, wondering how long he’d been there. His flesh was starting to decay and his belly was bloated, but it must have been too late in the year for flies because there were no maggots eating into his flesh. As I turned to leave, I noticed a notebook sitting open on a table, black writing scrawled across its white pages. I closed it and carried it with me as I emerged into the daylight once more.

‘All clear?’ There was a hint of anticipation in Rob’s words as they emerged out of the radio.

‘All clear,’ I replied, hearing the excitement in my words as I spoke.

As I picked my way back to the dinghy, I thumbed through the pages of the notebook, stopping every now and then to read a sentence or two. It started out as a formal log, a record of the day’s events, but gradually, as time passed, it became a diary and then a confessional, before descending into little more than scrawled ramblings. The final page was dated and I tried to work out how long ago the entry on it had been made. I’d lost track of time, but from what I could work out, it had been written only a few weeks before we’d finally reached the island. Perhaps if we hadn’t been slowed by the storms, we’d have arrived in time to save him. I flicked back a few pages and scanned the writing. Maybe, by then, it had already been too late. I found the final entry again and read the single line scratched onto the otherwise blank page in a clear hand: I can’t go on.


Rob ran his eyes over the slowly swinging figure. ‘I suppose we should get him down.’

We crowded round the doorway, staring at the body hanging inside. Once I’d got back to the dinghy, I’d  motored out to the catamaran and returned a few minutes later with the others. Jeff and Jimmy had run ahead excitedly, enjoying the feel of the land beneath their feet. Mike and Rob followed, both concentrating on the task ahead. As we’d climbed up the hill, I’d told them what I’d found and together we’d decided what we should do. Since the infected came into our lives, we rarely got to bury anyone we lost and it felt only right that we should do this for the lone man who had chosen to end his life rather than live in the world the way it now was.

The details of his final days were set out in black and white in the notebook. The hut, it turned out, was a small research station for scientists studying the local seabirds. The man was a postgraduate student, not much older than myself, sent ahead to open up the building for the annual field season, which would have started once the birds returned to breed. Yet, before anyone else could arrive, the disease had appeared on the mainland and swept across the country. He had an FM radio and knew exactly what was happening, but there was nothing he could do about it. Soon, he figured there was no one left who knew he was there, and having been dropped off by a local fishing vessel which had then departed, there was no way for him to get off the remote island.

He survived well at first, eating the supplies he’d brought with him and supplementing them with the wildlife he was meant to be studying, but after a while the birds left for the winter and the last of his supplies ran out. He tried catching the sheep that roamed the island, but they were too nimble for him to corner on his own. His descriptions of the way they’d sprint away as he lunged at them, only to stop a few feet beyond his reach before turning and staring at him, would have been amusing if it weren’t for the desperateness of his situation. Soon, he was reduced to scouring the shoreline for anything edible he could find, living off a diet of shellfish and seaweed.

As time passed, the pressure of being alone started to wear him down. The radio stopped working soon after the outbreak on the mainland began, or rather it stopped picking up any broadcasts because there were no more broadcasts to receive. In the first weeks and months, he’d occasionally see a plane passing in the distance. While he thought there was no way of attracting its attention, its presence let him know he wasn’t the only one who’d survived. Then one day he realised he hadn’t seen it in a while. Days became weeks and weeks became months. Each morning he woke, hoping he’d see the plane again, and each night he’d return to the shelter of the hut, his spirits shattered once again.

He became obsessed by the plane, doing nothing but watching the skies, waiting for it to reappear. He built a signal fire on the tallest point of the island, cursing himself for not thinking of doing so before, but it remained unlit. As winter approached and the days shortened, he’d finally abandoned hope of ever seeing another human being again. He became fixated on the idea that he was the last man on Earth, and he couldn’t cope with the weight of the loneliness that this piled on top of him.

I wondered if I’d have handled things any differently if I’d been in his position. While I’d lost a lot, at least I still had others around me. They’d become my family and they helped keep sane despite the madness of the world I’d suddenly found myself plunged into. If I’d been trapped alone on such a remote island, I’d probably have cracked too, and I may well have ended things in a similar way. If only he’d managed to hold on just a few weeks longer, he’d still have been alive when we arrived, but he had no idea of our plans; that we were meandering our way towards him even as he chose to end it all.

Rob stepped into the hut and I followed. While Rob held the dead man’s legs, I dragged a chair across the room and stood on it, reaching up to cut the rope with a knife I’d brought ashore with me for just this purpose. Rob grunted as he took the full weight of the lifeless body and then carried it outside before laying it on the grass. In the daylight, I could see his hair was brown, almost black, but beyond that I couldn’t make out any other features beneath the bloated and rotting flesh.

Rob wiped his hands on the grass. ‘Where will we bury him?’

As I scanned our surroundings, my eyes settled on a place where a stone wall, topped with a cross, still reached into the sky. ‘That looks like it used to be a church. D’you think there’s a graveyard, too? Maybe we could bury him there. That way, he’d never be alone again.’

The others looked at me curiously. None of them had read the entries in the notebook which I had read, and none of them knew how utterly isolated and lonely he’d felt at the end. Only I knew how important it was for him not to be alone in death as he had been in his last few months of life.


‘You see this soil?’ Rob rubbed some of it between his hands. It was light and sandy, but with darker flecks mixed through it. ‘This is why this island is perfect for us. It’s so rich and fertile. It’s not natural though. It’s been made by people over hundreds of years, thousands even. They’d haul seaweed up from the beach and dig it into the sandy soil, filling it with nutrients from the sea. You can grow almost anything in it.’ A chill gust of wind whipped across us, blowing the handful of dirt away. Rob watched it as it went. ‘Well, anything which can withstand the weather.’

It had taken only a few minutes to find the old graveyard, the headstones visible above the undergrowth. Some were still readable, none of the dates more recent than over a century before, marking the point at which the island had been abandoned. Others had been worn smooth by the elements, eliminating all knowledge of who was buried there. We found a spot that overlooked the sandy bay where the catamaran was now anchored and dug a grave using spades which we’d found stored in a lean-to behind the hut. We took turns, Jeff and Jimmy tiring faster than the rest of us, and within an hour we had the grave finished.

Rob and I wrapped the body in an old tarpaulin we’d found with the spades, before carrying him over to the churchyard. In silence, we laid him to rest and marked his final resting place with a short plank of wood Jeff had found on the shore. We didn’t know his name, so we had nothing to put on it, but nonetheless, we felt it was important to mark where he lay.


Back at the hut, we set about examining it in detail. Using the spades, Mike and Jeff levered open the shutters which had been nailed in place, while Rob and I opened the windows from the inside. Jimmy hovered by the door, not wanting to enter because of the smell of decay which still hung heavily on the air. With light now filling the wooden building, we could see it clearly: it was part bunkhouse, part research lab, the walls lined with maps and photographs. In one corner, there was a small wood-burning range that, when fired up, would provide heat and warmth, as well somewhere to cook. A roughly made wooden table ran along the wall under the windows, clearly designed to act as a workspace, while against the opposite wall four sets of bunk beds stood, each within touching distance of its neighbour. Two large solar panels lay near the door, next to a small wind turbine, similar to ones I’d seen before on the back of yachts. Alongside them, was a bank of large batteries of the type used to power golf carts. Rob examined these. ‘Looks like a pretty good set-up; it shouldn’t take us too long to get it up and running again. It’s almost like he closed the whole place up, before he …’ Rob’s voice trailed off.

I decided to change the subject. ‘I wonder what he did for water?’

Rob walked over to the small kitchen area beside the range and turned one of the taps on a small sink, but nothing came out. He turned on the other one, expecting the same result, but instead a slow, but steady, stream of water, the colour of freshly brewed tea, emerged.

I eyed the water suspiciously. ‘That looks pretty disgusting.’

Rob cupped a hand under the tap and once it had filled, he lifted it to his mouth and sipped it loudly before letting the rest fall into the sink. ‘Not too bad, and perfectly drinkable,’ he smacked his lips, ‘if a bit of an acquired taste.’

I looked at him disbelievingly. ‘But why’s it so dirty?’

Rob dried his hand on his trousers. ‘It must come from a stream somewhere further up the hill. The peat in the soil stains the water as it runs through it. It always happens when you get water running over peat. It doesn’t look too appetising, but it’s safe enough to drink.’

He turned the tap off again, but as he did so, I realised that, despite all that was here, something was clearly missing. ‘There’s no bathroom.’ I looked again. ‘Or even a toilet!’

‘I guess there must be an outhouse somewhere.’ Rob peered out of one of the windows. ‘Maybe round the back.’

Before we could discuss this further, Jeff and Mike entered the hut, followed by Jimmy

‘What is this place?’ Jeff was examining one of the maps that were pinned to the walls.

‘It’s a research station. They used it to study the breeding habits of seabirds.’ I walked over to him and peered at the map. It showed an outline of the island, with a cluster of coloured pins stuck in at one end, each labelled with its own unique number. ‘I’m guessing these must be nest sites. I wonder what species they are.’

‘How’d you know that?’ Jimmy was now looking at the map, too.

I pulled the notebook out from where I’d tucked it away for safe keeping. ‘I read about it in here.’

Rob took the notebook and flicked through it. ‘Anything useful in it?’

‘I don’t know.’ I took it back. For some reason I didn’t want anyone else reading it. ‘I’ve only skimmed it so far.’

Mike eyed the notebook, obviously curious about what it might contain. ‘Does it say how he ended up here on his own?’

‘Yes. He came here ahead of the main research team,  to open up the field station and get it set up for the season, but there was an outbreak on the mainland, starting in Glasgow, and no one ever came back for him.’ I tucked the notebook away again before anyone else had a chance to take it from me, and looked round. ‘You know, we could turn this into a pretty civilised little place.’

Jeff wrinkled his nose. ‘What about the smell?’

With the windows open, the scent of decay was already starting to dissipate, but it remained strong, assaulting our senses with every breath. Below where the body had been hanging, there was a damp spot where fluids dripping from it had accumulated. As I walked over to it, the smell intensified. I pointed to the fluids. ‘Once we clean that up, I think it will go away.’

Jimmy stared at the damp patch. ‘What is that?’

‘Liquid human.’ Mike laughed as he saw his little brother recoil in horror.

Rob chuckled, too. ‘Not the best way to put it, but I guess it’s accurate.’

For some reason, their flippancy annoyed me. After all, we were talking about another human life here, but I didn’t say anything, figuring we each had our own ways to deal with things like this. Instead, I dug into a cupboard under the sink, finding some bleach, a scrubbing brush and some rubber gloves. Taking these out, I set to work, scrubbing the wooden floorboards as hard as I could. While I did this, Rob organised the boys, and together they took the solar panels outside. Soon, they had them set up and connected to the batteries, and by the time I’d finished, Rob was standing by the doorway, his hand on the light switch. ‘Here goes nothing.’

He flicked it and the fluorescent light which ran along the centre of the room pinged and flashed a couple of times before finally coming to life. The youngsters clapped and whooped in celebration, causing me to smile. It was a small thing, but it marked our first step towards taking back the land — or at least a tiny little part of it that we could hopefully, one day, call home.


‘You two go that way, this time. I’ll go this way, and we’ll see if we can trap it against that wall there.’ Mike glanced at Jimmy and Jeff. ‘Okay?’

The two younger boys nodded.

‘Let’s go then!’ With that Mike set off, the other two a few feet behind.

The three of them had been trying to catch a sheep for the last hour, but they were having little success. Just as had been described in the notebook, no matter what they tried, the sheep outfoxed them. It would let them get within a few feet, but no closer. The sheep didn’t run far, though, and once it felt safe again, it would stop and turn, bleating belligerently at its pursuers. The effect was comical, but I could imagine that for a hungry man, alone on the island, it would have been soul-sapping.

While the boys chased sheep, I continued to tidy up the hut, moving things around, making space here and there for our stuff. Every now and then, I’d come across something of the dead man’s and each time I made sure I put it somewhere safe. I didn’t know quite why, but it felt like the right thing to do.

When I was finished, I walked to the door and examined my surroundings. Thirty feet from the back of the hut was another, much smaller wooden structure I hadn’t noticed before. Above the door, stencilled in white paint, was the word ‘Toilet’. Below this hung a handmade made sign, which said ‘Unoccupied’. I wandered over and opened the door, finding a simple wooden bench with a round opening that led to a deep, dark hole cut into the ground beneath. There was no plumbing, just the hole and an aroma to match its crude functionality. I closed the door again, unsure how I felt about using the outhouse. It wasn’t what I was used to, and it would be unpleasant to have to venture outside to use it in bad weather, especially at night, but it would do the job it was designed for: keeping the inhabitants of the hut separated from their waste in such a way as to avoid the risk of contamination and disease.

Down below in the bay, I could see the boat riding gently at anchor. Rob was standing by the stern where he had two fishing rods dangling over the side. As I watched he grabbed one of them and started reeling something in. Moments later, I saw him pull a fish about the same length as his arm from the water and drop it onto the deck. I grinned, knowing we’d eat well tonight. I turned my attention to the island itself. The land nearest to the hut was green and fertile, and judging by the number of ruined cottages I could see, it had once supported a substantial population. Certainly, in the past, it had supported more than there were of us, even once the other people from Hope Town arrived. Further off, the island was more rugged, but in a world where infected roamed, this ruggedness was an asset that would prevent them from being able to make it ashore along most of its coastline. Coming here had been a risk, but Rob’s gamble had paid off: this really did look like the perfect place to establish a community where we could live our lives, as far from the threat of the infected as was possible.


Chapter Three


‘Mingulay calling Hope Town, come in Hope Town.’ Rob released the transmit button for a second before pressing it again. ‘Mingulay calling Hope Town. Come in, Hope Town.’

Again there was silence. I glanced at my watch; it wasn’t our usual check-in time, but there might be someone listening on Jack’s boat nonetheless. We were all back on the catamaran, having spent the afternoon exploring the island and double-checking that there really was no evidence of infected ever having reached it. Rob explained the local currents, and how they’d carry any drifters which came from the nearest inhabited islands away, rather than towards, us, making this very unlikely. Now we were anchored in still calm waters, it had only taken Rob a matter of minutes to climb up the mast and re-secure the radio’s antennae near the top. Once he’d finished, we went inside to see if this was all we needed to do to re-establish contact with those who’d remained behind in Hope Town.

The radio hissed for a moment and then Jack’s soft southern American accent emerged from it. ‘Mingulay, this is Hope Town. You can’t believe how good it is to hear your voice again, Rob. I was beginning to think we’d lost you. Are you all okay? Is everyone safe?’

‘We’re all fine, Jack. It wasn’t the easiest of crossings,’ Rob shook his head, remembering just how bad the voyage had been, ‘but the important thing is that we got here in the end.’

‘That’s great to hear, Rob. You had us all worried for a while there when we lost touch.’ Jack sounded relieved, and it was clear that our apparent disappearance had …


Part one of this free preview can be found here, while part two can be found here. If you wish to download a PDF of all three parts to this free preview, you can download it from here.

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