Authors: David Moody
Tags: #Horror, #Zombies, #Virus
'So what happened?' I press.
'I was sat there at the back and Jack stood up right in front of me. Most of the children were in front of him and they all had their heads down so there wasn't much of a reaction at first. Then he just started to run towards Mrs Shields. He was kicking and tripping over the kids and some of them got hurt and started to shout and squeal. By the time everyone had looked up Jack had made it over to the side of the hall. He shoved Eileen Callis off her chair and she ended up flat on her face on the floor. All this happened in seconds. We were all just sat there, too surprised to do anything. Jack grabbed hold of Eileen's empty chair, lifted it up over his head and ran at Mrs Shields. She moved towards him to try and stop him but he was running at her, swinging the chair round over his head and just missing the kids sitting down at the front. He missed her a couple of times but then he hit her right across her face, just under her eye. Jack's almost as tall as Mrs Shields. He kept swinging the chair at her and before anyone knew what was happening she was lying flat on the floor with him standing over her, smashing the chair down on her back again and again.'
'Didn't anyone stop him?' I ask.
'Don Collingwood and Judith Lamb got to him first,' she answers, nodding. 'Don grabbed him and Judith tried to wrestle the chair off him. Bloody hell, Danny, it was like he was possessed or something. It was horrible. Mrs Shields was screaming and that was making some of the kids scream. She was curled up in a ball on the floor next to the piano with her hands over her head. Her hair was all over the place and her glasses were smashed. She had blood running down her face and…'
'But why?' I interrupt. 'What was the matter with him?'
'Nothing as far as I know. I saw him before school started and he seemed fine. He was having a laugh with his mates. I've never known him do anything like this. There are plenty of kids at that school who wouldn't have surprised me if they'd done it, but not Jack…'
'Doesn't make any sense,' I mumble, my mouth full of food.
'You're telling me.'
'So what did they do with him?'
She shakes her head.
'The place went crazy. Don dragged Jack off into one of the offices and locked him in. He trashed the place. He was screaming and shouting and… and God, it was horrible. The poor kid, you could hear him right the way through the school. He sounded terrified.'
'What about the Head? What about Mrs Shields?'
'They took her to hospital and had her checked over. I think she was okay, just a few cuts and bruises, that's all.'
I turn my attention back to my food for a second but it's impossible not to keep thinking about what Liz has told me.
'What made him do it?' I ask, knowing full well that she won't be able to answer.
'No idea,' she sighs, getting up to make another drink. 'Makes you wonder if it's connected to what we saw over the weekend.'
'Can't be,' I snap instinctively. 'This was a kid at a school, how could it be connected?'
'I don't know. Anyway, they closed the school not long after it happened and it's probably going to be closed again tomorrow. We tried to keep the kids distracted but you know what it's like, Dan, it's a small school. It's a close school. Everyone knows everybody else. They had to call the police in to deal with him in the end. Christ, I felt so sorry for Sally. You should have seen her. She looked like she was the one who'd done wrong. And when they took Jack away…'
'When who took him away?'
'They took him off in an ambulance in the end. He wouldn't speak to Sally, wouldn't even look at her. He was screaming for help. Poor kid had lost it completely. He didn't have a clue what he was doing. Wouldn't let anyone near him. It was like he was scared of the rest of us.'
It's past ten o'clock before we know it. The children are finally settled and asleep and the flat is silent. The television has been off all evening but now the living room is too quiet so I switch it on just so that we have some background noise. Liz is subdued and preoccupied and we've hardly talked. It's getting late. It won't be long before we go to bed. Before we know it I'll be up again and back into the grind. Sometimes I feel like I'm running at a different speed to the rest of the world. I feel like I'm always having to go flat out just to keep up.
I go to the kitchen and make us both a drink. I take Lizzie's through to her.
She looks up and smiles and takes the cup from me.
'You okay?' I ask.
'Of course I am. Why do you keep asking me if I'm okay?'
'Just want to be sure you're all right. You've had a shitty day.'
'I have but I'm okay,' she says, her voice a little edgy and tense.
'Fine,' I grumble, overreacting, 'sorry I asked.'
'Oh come on, don't be like that…'
'Be like what? I only asked if you were okay, that's all.'
I sit down next to her. She stretches out her arm behind me and begins to gently rub my back.
Same old rubbish on TV. I pick up the remote and work my way through the channels. The comedies aren't funny tonight and the dramas are too dramatic. Nothing seems to suit the mood. I head for the news. I want to find out more about what's been going on. Apart from hearing the odd snippet of information at work today this is the first chance I've had all day to catch up. What we see is more of what we saw yesterday - more trouble and more violence. What we don't get is any explanation. Each individual report seems to follow a pretty standard format - one or more incidents take place in a particular area and they report how people react to the fall-out. This is insane. I keep hearing phrases like 'copycat violence' and 'revenge attacks' being banded around. Are people really as stupid as Harry tried to suggest yesterday? Would anyone really want to start trouble just because they've seen others doing it?
'Look at that,' Lizzie says as we stare at the headlines together, 'they're even giving them a name now. How's that going to help?'
She's right. I heard the word used a few minutes earlier but didn't think anything of it. The minority who are causing the trouble have been branded 'Haters'. It came from a tabloid newspaper headline that was published this morning and it's quickly stuck. It seems appropriate because there's still no mention of these people fighting for any cause or reason. Hate seems to be just about the only thing driving them.
'They have to give them a name,' I mumble. 'It makes it easier for them to talk about it if they give them a name.'
Lizzie shakes her head in disbelief.
'I don't understand any of this.'
'They're talking about it like it's an epidemic. How can it be? It's not a disease, for Christ's sake.'
'It might be.'
'I doubt it. But there has to be a reason for all of it, doesn't there?'
She's right, but like everyone else I have no idea what that reason might be so I don't bother answering. Watching the news makes me feel increasingly uneasy. It's making me feel like shutting the front door and not opening it again until all of this sudden violence and disruption has stopped. I instinctively start trying to come up with an explanation to try and make myself feel better if nothing else.
'Maybe it's not as bad as they're making it out to be,' I suggest.
'They always exaggerate things on the TV, don't they? They've just been saying something about an increase in the number of violent incidents being reported, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's been any increase in the number of incidents actually taking place, does it?'
'Not necessarily,' she says, sounding unsure.
'There might have been just as many fights as last week, but they weren't newsworthy then. Problem is when something like this makes the headlines people start jumping on the bandwagon.'
'What are you saying?'
'Maybe this whole situation is something the TV and newspapers have created,' I say. I'm making this up as I'm going along.
'It can't be. Something's definitely happening out there. There are too many coincidences for…'
'Okay,' I interrupt, 'but if they haven't created the problem they're definitely making it worse.'
'What about what happened at the concert on Friday? And in the pub? And whatever was going on with that car last night and what happened at school this morning… are you saying that all those things would have happened anyway? Do you think we're reading more into them just because of what we've seen on TV?'
'I don't know. There's no way of telling, is there? All I'm saying is that we've seen things like this get out of control before.'
'Of course we have. It happens all the time. Someone somewhere broadcasts a story, then a brain-dead section of the audience copy just to try and get themselves on TV or on the front pages of the papers.'
Now I think I've really lost her. I can tell from the expression on her face that she doesn't understand. Either that or she doesn't believe me. I'm not entirely sure about this myself.
'Don't get you.'
'Remember dangerous dogs?' I ask. She shakes her head and screws up her face again. 'A few years back a kid round here got attacked by their neighbour's pet Rottweiler, remember? The kid's face got all messed up and she needed surgery I think. They had the dog put down.'
'So? What's that got to do with what's happening now?'
'Point is until that story broke hardly anyone had heard anything about dogs attacking kids, had they? But as soon as it made the papers there were suddenly stories about the same thing happening all over the place. There was a bloody epidemic of dogs attacking kids. Now you only hear about it happening once in a blue moon again.'
'What's your point? Are you saying that those kids didn't get attacked?'
'No, nothing like that. I guess what I'm saying is that things like that must happen all the time but no-one's interested. As soon as it makes the news, though, people start to report it and before you know it you've got dogs biting kids on every street corner.'
'Not sure if I agree with you,' she says quietly. 'Still not even sure I know what you're talking about. There's never been anything on this scale before…'
'I think that these idiots,' I explain, pointing at the TV, 'are doing more harm than good. By giving these people a label and giving them airtime they're glorifying whatever it is that's happening and blowing it out of all proportion. People are seeing the violence and the glory and rebellion on TV and they're thinking, I'll have some of that.'
'Bullshit. You're starting to sound like Dad.'
'It's not bullshit. Remember those riots last summer?' I ask, luckily managing to think of another example to try and strengthen my tenuous argument. About eight months ago there was a string of race-motivated disturbances in a few major cities, ours included. Lizzie nods her head.
'What about them?'
'Same thing again. Someone started a little bit of trouble out of the way in some back-street somewhere. The media got hold of it and the problem was made to look a hundred times worse than it ever was. It was the way they reported it that made it spread and maybe that's what's happening now. There's a genuine problem somewhere that gets reported and before you know it you've got mobs in every city starting trouble using whatever it was that caused the very first fight to kick off as an excuse to get involved.'
'And do you really believe that?'
I stay quiet. I don't honestly know what I believe.
'I think you're talking crap,' she snaps. 'None of what you've said explains why I watched a perfectly healthy and normal eleven year-old boy beat the hell out of the headteacher this morning, does it?'
I still stay quiet. I'm relieved when, at long last, something different happens on the news channel. The usual presenters behind their expensive-looking desk have suddenly disappeared and we're now watching a round table discussion between four people who are probably all politicians or experts in some field or other. They've already been talking for a couple of minutes so we've missed the introductions.