First published back in May of 2014, David Moody’s ebook only novella ‘The Cost Of Living’ was actually the third version of the story which Moody had penned, having originally come up with the idea for the tale whilst writing the ‘Autumn’ novels. At first Moody wrote a 4,000 word version of the story which he titled ‘Priorities’. Later on, a 750 word ‘Flash Fiction’ version appeared on the ‘This Is Horror’ website (www.thisishorror.co.uk). However, as Moody states in his 2 page introduction, because of the limitations of the word count, he felt that he never fully achieved what he wanted with the tale. Then in May of 2014, this novella length version was published. A version that was not constrained by a word count and one that the author finally felt happy with.
The ebook contains the full novella length version of ‘The Cost Of Living’ (2014), as well as the shorter version, ‘Priorities’, and the Flash Fiction Version, ‘The Cost Of Living’ (2012).
Their first glimpse of what was going on came whilst they were out shopping in the local supermarket. Stuart and Gabby saw the woman come into the store and subsequently collapse along the alcohol aisle. But it was what happened next that scared the hell out of them. The woman, who appeared to have lost consciousness, suddenly burst back into a vigorous life; grasping for those around her and desperately attempting to get her saliva over anyone she could. A poor young shop girl who had been trying to help the flailing woman, was pulled down and covered in the woman’s spit. It was then that Stuart realised it was just like the reports they’d seen on the tv.
Back at their home, Stuart was becoming increasingly concerned about what was going on around the globe. The mainstream media was making the infection out to be less of a big deal than he knew it was. In fact, the press seemed to be side-lining the whole thing. However the unofficial news, such as what was being said across the social media sites, were painting a very different picture.
And then on Wednesday everything changed. Stuart knew if he was going to look after his family then he needed to act now. He could see where all this was going, and he had to get in early in order to protect those he was responsible for. So he started to stockpile for the apocalypse. A visit to the warehouse where he used to work and then on to the local DIY store provided him with all the supplies he needed for him and his family to keep going for couple of months.
But Stuart knew it would take some doing to convince his wife that this was what needed to be done. That it was necessary. That it was essential.
And then suddenly what they had been hearing about in the news was on their very own doorstep. Suddenly, the infected were everywhere, and they were hunting out the living. They appeared dead but for the germ which drove them on. Their emaciated forms wanting but one thing – to spread the infection.
From the relative safety of their now boarded-up house, Stuart looked out over the masses of infected that roamed the streets outside. Within their house Stuart had a family that he would do anything to ensure the survival of. Along with Gabby, he had his fifteen-year-old son, Nathan, a three-year-old daughter, Sally, and their newborn baby Hannah. A family he would do anything to protect from what was outside. But as he will eventually learn, sometimes it’s not all about just being practical...
Okay, so you know what to expect when confronted with a zombie-apocalypse-style story that was written by David Moody. After all, since Moody first penned ‘Autumn’ (2002) he’s become somewhat of a master of the subgenre. Indeed, there’s a hell of a lot in this third re-working of Stuart and Gabby’s plight which is very close to a number of scenarios from within his ‘Autumn’ series – not to mention the likes of his rage-fuelled ‘Hater’ (2006) trilogy or indeed his earlier zombie-apocalypse-observing short ‘Muriel’ (2011).
Indeed, here we have another global epidemic closely akin to a zombie outbreak, although utilising what appears to be more of a ‘rage’ style of virus. Very much akin to the premise within Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’ (2002), the threat seems to be more of an infection rather than the actual reanimation of the dead. Although this particular point isn’t thoroughly detailed – and to be honest, it’s not altogether that necessary to.
As you’d expect from a David Moody story, the novella is primarily focused upon a handful of everyday characters and the huge emotional strain that they are confronted with. Indeed, the chapters of the tale jump between the perspectives of Stuart, Gabby and Nathan (although it’s mostly writted from the perspective of Stuart), detailing how their tightly confined and horrendously restricted existence is affecting them.
Although much of the story is from within the four walls of their family home, there are a few scenes outside of the property that see definite elements of ‘Autumn: Disintegration’ (2011) or indeed Richard Matheson’s classic ‘I Am Legend’ (1954) creeping in. And when these reasonably fast-moving scenes come to fruition, they hit the reader like a sledgehammer to the face, in complete juxtaposition to the majority of the story’s trapped and confined setting.
There’s a real sense of utter desperation in the novella that comes out so much more than it had in the story’s two previous incarnations. Stuart has a single mindset that keeps him going. He has a focus that pushes him on. He just wants to make sure his family is safe and that they survive. And this attitude is undoubtedly the predominant focus of the entire story. But Moody slowly creeps in questions about this single-sighted attitude. He adds layers of doubt and ultimately makes the eventual outcome far more real through its conflicting complexities. And it works so painfully and heart-achingly well.
A truly superb post-apocalyptic story.
Priorities - 20 pages at a standard font size on the Kindle.
Almost a month had passed since the beginning of the end. Outside of their house along Ashbourne Close, more than a thousand corpses had gathered, with at least as many more dragging themselves towards the mouth of the cul-de-sac with each day. The dead had undoubtedly been attracted by the presence of the survivors. And they just kept on coming. Congregating. Waiting. Hoarding.
Inside their home, Stuart and Gabby Parker, together with their seventeen-year-old son, hide from the massing corpses. They knew that there was no one else left alive for miles around. They knew that they were some of the very last survivors. And they had little choice but to remain there. Trapped in their own home. Their stockpiled supplies going down by the day.
All they had left was each other. They were still a family, and they took whatever solace they could from that. But as the days wore on, their future gradually looking bleaker and bleaker, they knew that they had to face up to the inevitable. They had to make their final choices. They had to get their priorities right. After all, it’s not all about merely surviving…is it?
Here we have the original version of the story which Moody penned a number of years ago. Like with the two versions that followed, the characters, the premise, and the underlying principles to the story are roughly the same.
Even with it’s limited word count, Moody has nevertheless managed to capture the completely oppressive atmosphere of this horrendously bleak situation perfectly. Drenched in inescapable claustrophobia, it’s a story that traps the reader within its close confines within seconds. There’s very little of the outside world here. Everything is from within the four walls of their house. And my god does it work well within those simplistic constraints.
Having already read the novella-length version of ‘The Cost Of Living’, there are really no surprises in store for the reader here. But that still doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the tale. It still traps you in the close confines of the house. It still manages to portray the desperation and the characters’ complete loss of hope. It still feels all too real. Although not as fully formed as the novella version, this original short still packs one hell of a punch.
The Cost Of Living (Flash Fiction Version) - 4 pages at a standard font size on the Kindle.
Being an accountant, Stuart was naturally a man who paid attention to the details. A man who prepared ahead, and made sure that everything was thoroughly in place beforehand. And so that’s why, when the world went to hell around them, Stuart and his family were already well-prepared and ready for the madness to come.
With the virus spreading across the globe through direct physical contact, Stuart had already ensured that along with his wife and daughters, they were completely cut off from the rest of the world – locked-up securely in their home with a garage full of water and provisions.
Outside the relative sanctuary of their home, the world was going insane. At first there was desperation, people fighting over the last scraps of food, water and DIY supplies. Then the violence followed – streets bursting out into utter chaos. And finally, just silence.
But with their supplies now dwindling, they need to ask themselves, is this really a life they want to cling on to?...
Originally published in January of 2012 for the ‘This Is Horror’ website (www.thisishorror.co.uk) as part of their ‘Flash Fear’ free online contributions, this 750 word version of the story originally had the lead character of the tale named Tom and not Stuart. Other than that, the story remains unchanged. As such, the following is the review that was previously written for the Flash Fiction version – only with the name Tom changed to Stuart:
Written in the first-person-perspective of Stuart’s wife, Moody’s utterly downbeat glimpse of a last surviving family’s dilemma within a world that is facing utter extinction is certainly a morbid one. Moody is certainly no stranger to the post-apocalyptic setting. Indeed, he is a veritable master of the particular subgenre. And with this short addition into his already extensive contributions to the premise, Moody shows that he still has plenty left to explore on the vastly emotive theme.
Although reasonably similar to his earlier short ‘Muriel’ (2011), minus the zombies that is, ‘The Cost Of Living’ plays with the claustrophobic and slightly-voyeuristic viewpoint of a family who watch out of their windows at a world that is slowly dying around them. It’s that age-old post-apocalyptic question: is it really worth surviving this? Will it not just be better to die alongside everyone else?
Utilising the carefully calculating character of Stuart, this question is made the focal part of the tale, with his careful preparation and provisions, at the end of the day, just postponing the inevitable. It’s bleak and its downbeat, with just the right amount of irony, the short tale ends with a delightfully fitting and satisfying conclusion.
An excellent piece of post-apocalyptic flash fiction from one of the masters of the subgenre.
The ebook as a whole runs for a total of 173 pages.