Autumn The City


Chapter One

For most of the last forty-eight hours Donna Yorke had hidden under a desk in a corner of the office where she'd worked since the summer. Without warning her familiar surroundings had become alien, nightmarish and cold. On Tuesday morning she had watched the world around her die. Along with the rest of her work colleagues Donna worked an early shift one week in four. This week it had been her turn to get in first and open the post, switch on the computers and perform various other simple tasks so that the rest of her team could start working as soon as they arrived at their desks. She was glad that everything had happened so early in the day. She'd watched four of her friends die. If it had happened just half an hour later she'd have seen the other sixty-or-so people in the office suffer the same sudden, suffocating death. None of it made any sense. Cold and alone, she was too terrified to even start trying to look for answers. From her ninth floor vantage point she had watched the destruction wash across the world outside like a tidal wave. Being so high above the city she hadn't heard anything. The first sign that something was wrong had been a bright explosion in the near distance, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. She'd watched with morbid fascination as a plume of billowing fire and dense black smoke had spewed up into the grey air from the gutted remains of a burning petrol station.

The cars on the road nearby were scattered and smashed. Something huge had ploughed through the traffic, crossed the dual carriageway and crashed into the pumps, immediately igniting the fuel stores. Had it been an out of control lorry, truck or tanker perhaps? But that had just been the beginning, and the horror and devastation that followed had been relentless and of an unimaginable scale. All across the heavily industrialised east-side of the city she saw people falling to the ground. She could see them writhing and squirming and dying. And more vehicles were stopping too - some crashing and hitting each other, others just slowing to a halt. Donna watched as the destruction moved nearer. Like a shock wave it seemed to travel quickly across the city below her, rolling relentlessly towards her building. With fear making her legs heavy with nerves, she stumbled back and looked round for explanation and reassurance.

One of her colleagues, Joan Alderney, had arrived to start work but by the time Donna had seen her the other woman had dropped to her knees, fighting for breath. Donna was at her side in seconds but there was nothing she could have done. Joan looked up at her with huge, desperate eyes and her body shook with furious, uncontrollable spasms and convulsions as she fought to draw in one last precious breath. Her face quickly drained to an ashen, oxygen-starved blue-grey and her lips were crimson red, stained by blood from the numerous swellings and sores that had ripped open in her throat. As Joan died on the ground next to her Donna was distracted by the sound of Neil Peters, one of the junior managers, collapsing across his desk, showering his paperwork with spittle and blood as he retched and choked and fought for air. Jo Foster - one of her closest friends - was the next to be infected as she walked into the office. Donna watched helplessly as the other girl clawed at her neck and mouthed a hoarse and virtually silent scream of bitter pain, suffocation and fear before falling to the floor. She was dead before she hit the ground.

Finally Trudy Phillips, the last of the early shift, panicked and began to stumble and run towards Donna as the searing, burning pain in her throat began. She had only managed to move a few meters forward before she lost consciousness and fell, dragging a computer off a nearby desk and sending it crashing to the ground, just inches away from where she now lay. Once Trudy was dead the world became still and terrifyingly silent.. Donna's instinctive first reaction was to get out of the office, but as soon as she was outside she regretted having moved. The lifts still worked to take her down to the ground floor (although they had stopped by the time she returned to the building) and their sliding doors opened to reveal a scene of