The Working Dead
By Rowan Edmonds
The World Financial Crisis… with zombies.
“You operate a system of one guard, working two-hour shifts. Roddy offers to undertake the first duty, and no one disagrees with him. Phil volunteers to be second-shift, and you––noblesse oblige, or its working class equivalent––claim the third turn. The first banker arrives some time shortly after midnight. It promises to be a long first night.”
Part contemporary satire of our capitalist working society, part zombie apocalypse thriller, The Working Dead is a vision of a modern-day dystopia, which threatens to engulf us all.
ISBN 978 1 912226 25 2
There’s you, Blake and Roddy. There a girl from HR whose name you don’t know, but whose name you would have tried to get to know––comprendez?––if only circumstances had been different. And then there’s Mark, Phil and Rita. Oh, and there some old geezer in overalls, who really has no place to be here. You think he only stopped by in order to bleed the radiators. A bad case of wrong time, wrong place. Anyhow, that’s it. Hardly a crack team by anyone’s reckoning. But if that’s all there is, then that’s all there is. End of.
Your first task is to barricade the office. At any rate, that is your take on the situation. The others may have a different idea. It really needs someone to take charge. These kinds of decisions are always better made if someone decides to take charge. You would suggest Roddy for leader. He has the physical stature for it. The voice, too. You know: public school; plummy. Authoritative somehow. Particularly in a crisis. But, you know that he would decline. It’s just who he is; part of his make-up. “I cannot accept a position, which places me in a situation of responsibility for other people’s wellbeing.” It is the phrase he had apparently used at his latest staff appraisal. At the time, there had been rumours that he was to be fast-tracked for promotion. Not anymore. You had heard that he had had some kind of bad experience when he had been in the Army: most likely it all related back to that. There is a lot of his kind here: ex-military. You don’t see the link yourself. They are all fast-tracked, whether they deserve to be or not. It’s like some kind of unspoken reward for past services rendered. But not Roddy. His voice, though: plummy. “I cannot accept a position…” A good egg, too: volunteer work; a prison visitor, so you understand; all that sort of shit. He would have been ideal leader material. But you know it is not to be. Blake is no leader. He is your best mate, but no leader. You are not being in any way disloyal by saying this; you would utter the self same words to his face. And he would agree with you. That is the fact of the matter: he would agree with you. Blake is strictly backroom. A geek. An IT geek. Once again: you’d say it to his face. Blake would be the very worst choice for leader. Brilliant in his own way, but no leader. Who else? Mark. Now Mark would love to be a leader. Mark believes himself to be a leader. But the simple fact of the matter is that Mark is a dickhead. A twenty-four carat dickhead. Actually, he is worse than a dickhead: Mark might very well be one of them. He ticks all the boxes, right down to the blue-and-white striped shirt, overpowering cheap aftershave and wide power-tie. And yet somehow he has ended up on your side of the partition and not the other. It doesn’t make any sense. Could he be a fifth columnist? You could be prepared to believe it, except that Mark does not appear to have the necessary imagination. Or brainpower. But, perhaps that is his genius. Don’t they say that the best spies are always the people you would least suspect? You make a mental note: Mark will bear watching. But leader? Do yourself a favour. No. And that just leaves Phil. What is there to say about Phil? Phil is a hummer. Normally this would not be a problem. He is quite a tuneful hummer, although his repertoire does appear to be rather limited to TV theme tunes. Which can be annoying. In the past, when his humming has become too oppressive, you have been able to simply get up and walk away. But now you are going to be trapped in a confined space with him. Perhaps for days. Maybe weeks; quite possibly months. Potentially, Phil’s humming could become an issue. It is worth bearing in mind. It is not something as immediately important as barricading the office, but it is definitely worth bearing in mind. No point storing up problems. Otherwise, they will only come back to bite you on the arse at some point in the future. If any of you have a future that is.
All this analysis: you are beginning to sound like some kind of a leader yourself. And why not? You have often heard it said that it is only in times of crisis that the true leaders make themselves apparent. Up until now, you have never been considered a leader––not by you, not by others––but couldn’t that be simply because the situation has not called for you to be one? You believe in providence. As much as you believe in anything. Your own name happens to mean ‘leader’. At least your surname does. Barnett. A bastardisation of ‘baronet’. Apparently. So someone once told you. Your first name is Malcolm. Malky, for short. Malky Barnett. Malcolm apparently means ‘follower’. Follower of whom? You don’t know that much. Maybe time will tell. But, is it any wonder that you have always felt as though you have been going round and round in circles, chasing your tail, all your life. You were christened for failure. Leader? Follower? Leader. Follower.
“The first thing we need to do is to barricade the office.”
It is the Girl from HR who has spoken.
It is to your chagrin that not for a second had you considered either of the two women present for the vacant position of leader. In your mind, the job specification had not added up. You know that you are no longer allowed to entertain these kind of prejudices––not out loud, or in print, at least––but, nevertheless, you are not an automaton; you cannot be expected to overturn a lifetime of workplace misogyny overnight. Funny, you had been having a conversation with Blake on the exact same topic only a couple of evenings beforehand, down your work-local. Yours is a male-dominated environment. That had been the tenor of your conversation. No amount of equal-ops legislation was ever going to change that. Fact. It was like the pub itself––it had been Blake’s analogy. No matter how many bottles of sweet, white wine they kept behind the bar, there was no getting away from the fact that men outnumbered women by eight to one––Blake had insisted on counting. One of only four women who had been in the bar that same evening had been Rita. You mention this fact simply because it serves to reinforce, not lessen, your argument. In a world of men, Rita is the eternal token female. And, to her credit, she knows her role, and she plays it for all it is worth. “And the best Oscar for token female in a male-dominated environment goes to…” Rita is a throwback: she is a caricature of womanhood that existed only for a very few brief years between Mary Quant’s invention of the miniskirt in 1966 and the publication of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch in 1970. The golden age of pre-academised feminism. Since you are skewering Rita with this particular stick and thus holding her up to public scrutiny, it would be only accurate to admit that, as a museum piece, Rita is not a prime exhibit. Give her recognition where it is due: she is still a game old bird––tart-red lipstick and heels higher than they are wide––but not even a thick morning undercoat of Max Factor foundation can disguise the glacial ravages of Time’s inevitable advance, despite what the ads might claim: it is not everyone who can be a Carmen dell’Orefice. Spam legs and bingo wings will out in the end. There is one thing that Rita does know, though: her place. Her––dinner on the table; kids all tucked up in bed; ironing pressed and folded––place. And her place is not as leader.
“Well! What is everyone waiting for?”
It is the Girl from HR again.
You had quite liked her first pronouncement: “The first thing we need to do is to barricade the office.” It had shown character; it had shown energy; it had shown drive. It had revealed a sound fundamental grasp of the perilous nature of your joint situation. Moreover, it had echoed your own beliefs: and it is always pleasing to discover a supporter, albeit one who has slightly jumped the gun and, as a consequence, unwittingly stolen a march. You had even been coming around to the idea of considering the Girl from HR as a possible candidate. Not yet a frontrunner, but a strong contender. Good for the Girl from HR. This latest announcement, though: now you are not so sure.
No one likes to be bossed around. Certainly not by a jumped-up little whipper-snapper. And one from a different department at that. In your book, there is leadership, and then there is overstepping the mark. And the Girl from HR had overstepped the mark. Big time.
You look to Blake for a reinforcement of your assertion and are surprised to see that he is helping Roddy, each carrying one end of a wooden 6’x4′ table, obviously with the intention of placing it in front of the office door. Similarly, Phil is walking his swivel chair with the evident same purpose, and even Mark appears to be weighing up the rival merits of his wastepaper basket and his co-ordinated red stacking trays in terms of best defence. Suddenly, you feel conspicuous by your inaction. While you have been standing still, events have advanced around you. A leader has been chosen. The Girl from HR’s orders are being obeyed unquestioningly.
Malcolm Barnett: there seems to be nothing else to do other than to fall in with the natural order of things. You cross to your desk, switch your reading glasses for your distance ones––now you mean business––pocket a pair of stainless steel scissors––you never know when they may come in handy; you are still watchful of Mark––and then join the busy throng.
The Girl from HR: you wonder what her name is? You look from where she stands in the middle of the room continuing to bark out increasingly authoritative orders, to the teetering pile of furniture that is towering ever higher in front of the office door. It seems likely that you are going to have plenty of time to find out.
• • •
The first banker arrives some time shortly after midnight. It promises to be a long first night.
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