“What’s happening now Steph?” I peeked through a crack in the boards out into the gloomy twilight.
“They’re stirring,” I muttered dejectedly as I flopped down onto the itchy, lumpy green chair that I’d been using as a bed. Patrick groaned and then left the room to make sure all of the lights were out. During a Zombie apocalypse you had to make sure you went undetected and light seemed to draw the bastards to everything. Before the street lights were permanently shut off it was actually really funny to watch them swarming around the lamppost, bathed in a horrible orange glow that made them look like they’d eaten a bottle of fake tan. The street lights are gone now, lots of things are gone.
When that fateful day came and everyone started to randomly turn into mindless, rotting, savage beasts I had been in work. Work to me had been enjoyable. I liked my colleagues, the hours were brilliant and I had good holidays. Working in a museum meant that I was surrounded by history; however when you told people that you worked in the Workhouse Museum in Londonderry, you usually got the same reaction.
“Isn’t that place haunted?”
“Do you know it’s haunted?”
Up until I became trapped in the Workhouse I would have just rolled my eyes at those foolish morons. Ghosts, who would be stupid enough to believe in ghosts? Then again who would have thought a zombie apocalypse possible?
The old Workhouse building had been converted into a library and museum back in the 90s so there was always a good amount of people in the place. On the day of the outbreak there were fourteen people in the building. Seven, including myself, were members of staff and seven were visitors. The outbreak, which originated in Altnagelvin Hospital, was only a short distance away from us so we all made the decision that we would barricade ourselves in the Workhouse. The walls were thick and there were plenty of wooden floor boards to cover the windows. A small group of the staff managed to leave the building to steal supplies from a nearby shop. We had enough food for about two weeks.
The foyer on the ground floor was invaded pretty quickly. The zombies were in frenzy at this point and remained in frenzy for another two days until suddenly they didn’t want to come within 200 yards of the building. After three days of intense terror I didn’t think to question why the zombies would suddenly have an aversion to this place, at that point I was high on relief and just thanked whoever and whatever I could that those flesh eating monsters were staying away.
For two weeks we stayed put in the building and we thanked our lucky stars that the electricity and water was still running although we knew that they would stop at some point. When the food became scarce a group of the staff decided to try and get some more. We begged them not to even though our stomachs were in knots with hunger but they went on their mission regardless. A group of five left and only one returned. When the zombies caught on to their presence within the shop they went crazy and hunted them down. As soon as the last member of the group got within the 200 yard perimeter of the Workhouse the zombies backed off.
I found it hard to sleep at night with the zombies howling and groaning outside. For a period of thirty-six hours I found myself awake and that was when I started to think about the perimeter. Why did the zombies linger on the edge? Why would they not breach it like they had in those first few days? My eyes stung in my head as I tried to read the time on the clock. What about my parents, had they survived this zombie nightmare? How could they? They only lived 2 minutes from the hospital. A hot, salty tear rolled down my cheek and I swiped it away. I couldn’t cry I needed to stay hydrated.
What was that? I looked around me confusedly and tried to see if anyone else was awake; all asleep, all drifting in the comfort of their dreams.
Thud thud thud
I looked up at the ceiling; the noise seemed to be coming from above me. My sleep deprived brain immediately jumped to the conclusion of zombies. They’d breached the perimeter and had climbed the walls to the windows on the top floor. Could zombies climb? Well if they could exist then they could climb. I nudged my colleague Patrick who was asleep beside me.
“I heard something,” I muttered, my eyes as wide as saucers. He looked at me in a bewildered fashion.
“I don’t hear anything,” he murmured softly as he tried to stifle a yawn.
“It came from upstairs,” I said quickly trying my hardest to not completely freak out.
Patrick listened again for a moment or two, then grumbled something about me needing sleep and settled himself back down into his lumpy green chair. I blamed it on my lack of sleep and didn’t hear anything for a while.
We lost more and more people to the zombies all in our quest for food. Eventually it was just me, Patrick, a boy named Louis and a woman named Mary. We were the best at getting food. We were all quick, fit and silent when we moved. When the zombies chased us we always got to the perimeter. As I tried to read a book on survival techniques I heard Patrick swear loudly as everything went dark.
“What happened?” called Mary from one of the exhibition spaces. Louis ploughed into the staff room which we had claimed as our bedroom and stared at me intensely.
“What happened?” he demanded, his skinny chest rising and falling in what was either shock or anger or both. I set the book aside; there was nothing of use in it anyway. Why would anyone have written a survival guide for a zombie apocalypse?
“Everything okay Patrick?” I called down the long narrow corridor of the Workhouse. Patrick poked his head out from one of the original dormitory rooms with a look of resignation on his bearded face.
“The power has just gone out,” he called. My heart sank. No more light, no more heat. Soon there would be no more water and soon it would all be over.
“What are we going to do? We’ll freeze!” Louis moaned. Mary appeared from the dark at the doorway and started to comfort Louis. The boy was only sixteen and had already been a skinny runt before the outbreak. Now he was a mere shadow of himself with fluffy facial hair and gaunt eyes. Mary on the other hand was much older than all of us. She wouldn’t reveal her age but I put her in her late sixties. She claimed her fitness was due to her good diet and yoga workout.
“We won’t freeze love it’ll be alright. You thought we were going to starve and that didn’t happen did it?” she cooed. I smiled gratefully at her and returned to the depths of the staff room. I punched a button on the microwaves and nothing happened. The power was definitely out. I sighed heavily and tried to think. We could survive, we would just make a super blanket and we could all huddle up under it during the day and at night because the Workhouse hadn’t been built as a place to keep the heat in.
“We’re going to find out how cold this place really gets,” muttered Patrick as he came into the staff room.
Louis and Mary were still in the corridor and I could hear their voices. They were slightly muffled but not muffled enough when I heard Louis mention something about ‘noises’. I practically ran to the door and yanked it open with so much force that I surprised myself.
“Noises?” I asked breathlessly, “What noises?”
“The noises from upstairs,” Louis said as he ran a hand through his greasy, dirty blond hair.
“When did you hear them?” I asked quickly, my gaze firm.
“Last night. I thought it was maybe the zombies and they’d finally breached the perimeter but I went up and checked and there was nothing there.” Something smashed in the kitchen and I knew Patrick had been listening.
“You went upstairs to check for a zombie on your own? You didn’t think to wake anyone and tell them?” he yelled as he strode to the door. There was fire in his eyes and I knew Patrick was so furious he could strangle the boy.
“I just wanted to make sure there was nothing in that hearse that’s up there,” he muttered to his shoes. Even though it was a tense situation Mary laughed to herself.
“Why would a museum keep a dead body in a hearse?” she asked him sweetly. The blush that warmed Louis’ cheeks spread up his face and disappeared into his hairline.
“Authenticity?” he said with a quick glance at me. I rolled my eyes and brought the conversation back to the point.
“You heard the noises though,” I said, “and I heard the noises not that long ago either, like a thudding sound.” Louis nodded his head vigorously and we both looked at Patrick. His anger deflated like a balloon with a puncture and he glanced at Mary who was looking worried.
“Mary and I have heard noises too,” he said wearily.
“What is it?” Louis and I asked in unison.
For a moment or two Patrick didn’t speak and when it looked like he would never speak again Mary piped up.
“We don’t know dear,” she said in a motherly tone.
“At first we thought it was the zombies,” Patrick said, breaking his silence, “and we both went upstairs to inspect the area but there was nothing there.”
“We should just leave it alone, my mother always said you shouldn’t interfere with ghosts and their business,” Mary said matter-of-factly as she crossed her arms.
“Ghosts?” said Louis in a wavering tone. My palms grew sweaty with panic.
“There’s no such thing as ghosts!” Louis continued. He looked like he was trying to convince himself of a definite fact but the tense set of his jaw gave him away.
“We didn’t think there was such a thing as Zombies now did we love?” Mary said softly as she placed a loving hand on Louis’s shoulder. In that moment I had the utmost admiration for Mary. In the midst of all this hell and confusion she was the rock we could all cling to.
“So you think ghosts are real?” I questioned out loud. Patrick answered me after a moment of deliberation.
“We’re not sure. It could have just been the building cooling down after the heating had gone off for the night. Now that we don’t have heating anymore we’ll see what happens.”
My head nodded as sleep threatened to engulf me. I didn’t want to sleep, for some sick reason I wanted to hear the noises. I could hear the distant grumbling of the zombies. They were more docile tonight; maybe it was due to their lack of food, they’d probably eaten everyone in the city now. If only we had some form of communication that survivors could contact us on. I just wanted to know if we were the only ones left or not. A clanging metal sound could be heard in the distance. They were obviously banging into the lampposts again; they didn’t know that the light would never come on again. I’d come to the conclusion recently that maybe zombies weren’t as mindless as they seemed. They remembered that they had liked the street lights and they remembered that they didn’t like coming within 200 yards of the Workhouse. If they weren’t so deadly, they would be interesting.
I jolted out of my sleepy musings and snapped my head towards the ceiling. I waited patiently, my heart racing until I heard the sound again.
I shoved Patrick who was snoozing beside me. He grunted loudly and shook himself awake.
“Noises?” he slurred.
“Shhhhh! Wake up Mary, let Louis sleep.”
Patrick crept over Louis who’d taken a spot on the floor and gently roused Mary who’d been sleeping fitfully. She muttered something unintelligible but sat up nonetheless. We sat in silence for a tense 5 minutes.
“Should we go up there?” Patrick whispered into the darkness. The sound of a heavy object being dragged across the floor sounded from the ceiling and my pulse quickened.
“I don’t think we should,” Mary said quietly after the noise stopped.
Patrick sighed heavily and went to the door to peer out. He was on edge and so was I. What was worse, being hunted down outside by zombies or being trapped inside with some unfriendly ghosts? A cold sweat beaded on my forehead as Patrick jerked his head back inside the room.
“There is something standing at the bottom of the stairs,” he whispered his voice cracking as he tried to remain calm.
“Its pitch black out there,” I hissed as I urged my stomach no to throw up the tiny portion of cold beans that I had for dinner.
Thud thud...thud thud...thud thud
“Footsteps,” Mary whispered as Louis started to snore gently.
“I’m telling you there was something there, something darker than...the dark,” Patrick hissed back at me. I got up to go and have a look myself. As I poked my head out the door and looked toward the stairs something grey whipped past me and tugged hard on my lank, greasy ponytail.
I swore loudly as I pulled myself back inside and slammed the door. Louis woke with a start and stared at me from the floor.
“Something pulled my hair!” I groaned as I rubbed the back of my head. As the pain ebbed something jumped to the forefront of my mind. I gasped.
“What’s going on?” Louis asked from the floor as more footsteps sounded from upstairs. He made a startled choking noise and jumped up to the seat beside Mary.
“When I first arrived at the Museum I was told all of the ghost stories that surrounded this place. Naturally I thought they were just stories. There was a little girl who was locked in a cupboard for three days for pulling the Matron’s hair and she died of rat bites. She just pulled my hair there now!” I explained as everything started to become clear in my head.
“The first Matron of this place was murdered by one of the Workhouse inmates in the grounds. Years later there were stories of people seeing her wandering the grounds. This explains our 200 yard perimeter I think,” Patrick explained as he scratched his beard vigorously.
“The footsteps?” Mary asked tentatively.
I thought for a moment. The footsteps belonged to...
“The Master,” I whispered as my heart skipped a beat. If I hadn’t been sweating before then I was sweating now.
“Who’s the Master?” Louis squeaked in the darkness. My shoulders slumped, I had to tell them.
“Mr. Humphrey, an ex-military man who was made Master of the Workhouse back in 1863. He had a love of drink and in an old diary of his he explained it was the only thing that helped him get through a day,” I explained as more footsteps sounded from the top floor and more scraping was heard.
“When the drink was in him he liked to beat the women and children and he practically pulverised the men. He was taken to court in 1867 after he beat a little boy to death. Humphrey was acquitted and allowed back to the Workhouse as the Master but he wasn’t there for long before the men ganged up on him one night as he locked them into their dormitory and beat him to death.”
The room was silent; all that could be heard was the continual moan of the Zombies outside. As the footsteps started again I could hear Louis fidgeting in his chair and Mary drumming her fingernails on her armrest. Clearly they were startled by the story.
“What are we to take from these stories then?” Mary asked in a voice which implied that she already knew the answer.
“Under no circumstances do we go upstairs,” Patrick stated firmly.
We had another successful food run to the little shop and we had enough food for another four days. Nobody could sleep and the noises from both outside and upstairs continued. Louis was constantly on edge and nothing Mary could say would ease him. Even though we knew there were ghosts in the building we locked the staff room door each night.
Somehow the water was still running but the building was colder than the Arctic. At night our breath came out in clouds of moisture and the four of us had started to huddle together for heat. My idea of a super blanket had gone down well and Patrick was trying to source some safety pins to construct it.
I was awake one night when I heard something abnormal. A high pitched scream followed by loud, hoarse howls from the zombies. I bolted to the crack in the boarded up window and peered out into the night. The figure of a woman wearing a grey nurse’s uniform and a white apron was fading before a huge throng of zombies. The zombies were pressing in around her, their mouths thick with blood and saliva and they were roaring. Frenzy!
“Wake up!” I screamed as I kept my gaze fixed on the woman. It had to be the matron.
“What is that?” asked Patrick hurriedly as he shoved his face next to mine to get a better look. The woman was fading fast and she turned her back to the zombies to stare at us. She opened her mouth for another blood curdling scream but nothing came. Whatever power she had was leaving her, the zombies were becoming too much.
“Oh shit!” I exclaimed. The matron stared at us with complete misery on her fading face. She was losing her perimeter which meant we were vulnerable.
“Grab a weapon,” I shouted. Mary and Louis scrabbled to the drawers and pulled out every knife we had. A serrated bread knife was shoved into my hand just as the matron hung her head in dismay and disappeared completely.
“They’re coming,” Patrick yelled as he ran out of the room and down to the barricade we had created just after the outbreak.
Louis was babbling uncontrollably. Mary was whispering to herself, her words steady and filled with emotion. She was praying, which was probably the best idea. Moments later Patrick was back, panting heavily and searching for something. I heard him pick up something metal from the table and he clicked on his small torch.
“I checked the barricade and it should hold but I can’t see the windows holding for long,” he panted just as the zombies started to break the downstairs windows and hack at the boards. The bottom floor would be overrun in no time but we’d expected that. It was our middle floor that we needed to hold.
“We’re going to die,” Louis whined as he held on to Mary. The sounds of the boards snapping echoed through the building. They were in and they could smell us.
“They’re coming up the stairs to the barricade!” shouted Patrick over the pounding of dead feet. I reached blindly over to the kitchen counter and grabbed another knife, a butter knife. Blunt but good for one hard stab into a neck. The howling of the zombies was louder than it had ever been.
“We’re sitting ducks in this room,” Louis yelled as the howl of the zombies grew even louder. Patrick agreed with him, there was no escape from the room we were in and we’d blocked the fire exists on this floor as a precaution. Mary stopped praying and I could tell she was looking at me.
“There are fire escapes upstairs aren’t there?” she enquired shakily. I nodded even though I knew she couldn’t see me.
“But the ghosts are upstairs,” Louis breathed, his voice growing weak with fear.
“What’s worse, ghosts or zombies? The matron was protecting us,” Patrick said firmly as he too grabbed a butter knife from the table. I heard Mary swallow her fear, literally.
“We need to get out of here,” she murmured hoarsely. Patrick grunted as he turned and left the room. Louis bounded after him and Mary and I followed. The roar of the zombies echoed through the old building sending jagged chills down my spine. My stomach lurched with each step I took and as I reached the stairs I nearly lost it.
“Louis you go up first and let them follow after you,” Patrick told us, “I’ll bring up the rear.”
If there had been any light I would have seen that Louis had gone a funny colour but nonetheless he went to the top of the stairs. I followed with Mary clinging on to the hem of my jumper. If it was possible upstairs was even colder than downstairs. My teeth chattered as I got to the top and my skin exploded with Goosebumps. The fire exit was at the opposite end of the building which meant you had to walk past the old hearse. Louis knew this and he was standing in the doorway to the next room.
“Louis hurry up there is nothing in the damn hearse!” I exclaimed. I looked over his shoulder into the dark hall which led to one of the dormitories. The door to the dormitory was lying open but the darkness was so concentrated that we couldn’t see anything.
“We just have to go to the other end of the dormitory,” I whispered in his ear. He jumped slightly as he swung round to look at me.
“Go you first!” he hissed, “I’m not walking past that damn thing until you do.”
“Louis start walking,” Patrick growled from the top of the stairs. I could feel the tension rolling off Louis in waves. He was having an inner battle with himself. Finally he swallowed and started to put one foot in front of the other. Slowly he passed the hearse and made it to the entrance of the dormitory. I heard him turn at the door to look back at us.
“I did it!” he exclaimed, “I passed the hearse and nothing hap-,” he said but his sentence was cut short and he screamed an ear splitting scream as something from the intense dark of the dormitory yanked him back.
“LOUIS!” we screamed just as we heard a loud, bone breaking snap. Louis fell quiet, his breath cut short as if his neck had been broken.
“Oh God,” I breathed as I saw something darker than the dark appear at the dormitory entrance.
“Get back down stairs!” yelled Mary as she yanked me back. As I stumbled backwards to the stairs the black mass started to fly towards me. I managed to jump down three stairs as the mass whooshed past me and into the dormitory on the other side of the building. Mary grabbed my hand and pulled me down the rest of the stairs. Patrick was holding his knives aloft at the bottom.
“What happened?” he shouted above the roar of the zombies who were at the barricade.
“The Master killed Louis!” I shouted as tears poured down my grubby cheeks. The sound of his neck snapping still rang in my ears.
“We need to get out of here; we have to start removing the barricade from one of the fire exists on this floor,” Patrick said as I tried to stem the flow of my tears.
“But what if there are zombies on the other side?” Mary asked, her voice shaking with uncontrollable fear.
“We’re just going to have to take a chance.” Patrick sprinted to the nearest fire exit and started to remove the barricade. I swallowed my grief and started to help him. I wasn’t sure how long had passed when Mary screamed.
“They’re breaking through!” she yelled as she ran back from checking the main barricade.
“I’ll go and hold them off, keep you at this barricade,” Patrick ordered me as he grabbed his knives. My heart pounded sorely against my ribs as I worked furiously to remove the barricade. Mary was pulling at things so hard she was breaking the skin on her hands.
“Get back you bastards!” Patrick yelled as I heard him slash at rotting skin. As he grunted and yelled I pulled and hauled at a large splintered board but a loud howl from the other side of the fire door made me stop instantly.
“There are zombies on the other side!” I screamed as Mary moaned in misery. There was no time to go to the other exit and there was no other way out. This was it, we were going to die. Patrick screamed in agony from the main barricade and then his screams became sick gurgles. I hugged on to Mary tightly and just as I was about to resign myself to death I felt something tug hard on my hair. I jumped and looked to my left to see the ghost of the little girl. She beckoned us with her ghostly little finger.
“Run,” her tiny voice echoed as she flew off in the opposite direction. We’d have to run past the zombies.
“Come on Mary,” I yelled with renewed hope. I grabbed my large and small bread knives and Mary and I set off at a dash. We ran straight past the hall where the main barricade was, only getting a tiny glimpse at the blood and gore that was now Patrick’s ravaged body. The girl led us into one of the older rooms that had belonged to the Matron and pointed to a spot on the floor.
“Jump, hurry,” the little girl whispered as something black and foreboding descended from the ceiling. The girl flew to the black mass and held it at bay. Mary and I jumped hard on the spot the girl had shown us and a false floor slid away. I didn’t stop for one moment to marvel at the fact this false floor escape route had been in the Workhouse all this time and no one had known about it, and jumped down after Mary.
“Holy shit!” I screamed as we slid down a narrow pipe and thudded into a damp, roughly carved tunnel. Mary was crying as I got to my knees. I grabbed her and we hugged each other for what seemed like an eternity before we pulled ourselves together.
“Where does this lead?” Mary sniffed as she collected her knives from the floor.
“I don’t know but let’s get moving,” I muttered.
I don’t know how far we walked but by the time we came to the end of the tunnel my legs were numb and heavy. The exit of the tunnel had grown over with grass and after a huge amount of effort we managed to cut our way through. We stepped out on to mucky ground and the mild scent of salt greeted our nostrils.
“The Foyle,” Mary huffed as she cleaned her knives on her trousers.
“The Matron must have smuggled inmates out of the Workhouse at some point,” I mused, finding it alarming that I was musing something like this after our horrendous ordeal.
It was quiet on the banks of the Foyle with only the occasional distant howl of a zombie breaking the night air. We started walking along the bank and eventually we came upon a rickety old row boat that had been abandoned goodness knows how long ago.
“Should we take the chance?” I asked the older woman beside me. Mary wasn’t staring at the boat but was staring across the river to the city. There was fire on the walls, like little beacons, and every so often a beacon would wink at us as someone walked past it.
“Survivors?” Mary asked.
“I think so,” I said, hardly believing it. What were we to do? Sail down the river and potentially find a safe place with food and water, or should we take the chance that there were survivors within the city walls and make our way towards them?
“Even if there are survivors within the city, outside the walls is probably crawling with zombies,” Mary said, her mind made up. I sighed, she was probably right. We were lucky in our escape from the Workhouse, we’d had help from the paranormal, but the ghosts weren’t with us now. What chance would we have in successfully making it to the city?
“Come on Mary, let’s go,” I said resolutely as I climbed into the rickety boat. She climbed in after me and I pushed us off the bank with a weather beaten oar, not knowing what lay ahead of us.