There's a blender on in the kitchen backstage, full of coffee beans and double cream and, if the shocking shade of nail varnish is anything to go by, something that looks curiously like a left hand that's usually attached to Caitlin from craft services.
Had the person punching buttons on the blender in question been anyone other than Heston Blumenthal, Simon might have noticed that something was amiss a fair bit sooner.
As it is, he just gives the guy a wave and reminds him that they've got retakes in ten.
Ten comes and goes without a word. Simon sits down and starts a new Sudoku.
Twenty passes right on by, but delays are old hat by now — most often it means one of the guests is busy being a spectacular diva, but some days Phill is just feeling irregular — and he's nearly finished with the next medium level.
By half past he's gotten puzzled in more ways than one and gets up to stick his head into the hallway, and that's right about when the screaming starts. High-pitched, horrible, barely-human screaming, which could either be a woman, a wailing cat, a particularly petrified man, or that kid who rigs the lighting and regularly blurts random facts about eunuchs.
His producer comes tearing down the hall just then, and Simon feels the first tingle of true fear. Screams he can handle, but Stu without a clipboard and a Blackberry attached to his head is clearly a sign that the end is nigh.
Stu skids to a stop at the dressing room door, white as a sheet and clutching at Simon's shirt. "Oh, thank Christ, I thought they'd gotten you, too."
"Thought who'd got me? What the hell is going on?"
"You wouldn't believe it. I barely believe it and I saw it with my own eyes, but… The script team and the camera crew and half the studio fucking audience, just… My god, all those people. Only they're not people anymore, they're… I think they're…"
There's another blood-curdling scream, and Simon blinks for a beat. "Is this some kind of surprise improv experience for series end? Because I'd rather just have cake and be done with it."
"I'm serious. Somebody bit Beatrice and then Beatrice tried to bite me and now it's every third person out there, either biting or eating everyone else. They're zombies, Si."
Simon glances around the back halls in search of stray BBC bigwigs. "Careful," he hisses, sotto voce, "they'll hear you."
"It's the bloody zombie apocalypse!" Stu screams, yanking Simon so close his eyes cross. "We are all going to die."
"Right," Simon says, trying to pry himself free. "I suppose now I say something like 'so get your tongue out of my ear!' and we see how everyone else makes them connect."
"Sod this, you're on your own." Stu lets him go with a shove and a little salute. "Best of luck to you, mate, may your end be quick and painless."
He takes off again, reaching full speed just in time to mow down the man that's just come shuffling out of the kitchen. The blender carafe Heston's holding in one hand fumbles and falls, spilling something brick red and thick with lumps all over the freshly-waxed floor —whatever culinary concoction was happening in there, the whole thing is a wash.
He's almost positive that Heston doesn't mind, since the chef sinks his teeth into the fleshiest part of poor Stu's face.
"Oh god," he groans, over the sound of Stu's screams, "it's the zombie apocalypse."
Then, as any decent human being would do when faced with sight of a friend being eaten alive, he turns on his heel and runs like hell.
Funny thing, for future reference: if you happen to ring the police as you run for your life — just to let them know that there's an army of zombies in the BBC Centre, and it'd be grand if they could pop by — they're not all that eager to help. Especially if there's been a rash of prank calls along the same lines.
By the sixteenth or so try, they'll eventually stop answering altogether.
He's just started down the human resources hallway when he's jerked through a half-open door.
Once he's stopped screaming behind the hand over his mouth, it registers that he's in one of the maintenance cupboards. Then the hand is gone, and Omid is wedged between some shelving and the wall, Martin is crouched on an upturned mop bucket, Simon is standing (and shaking) in the center, and that's pretty much all the space there is.
"So," he says, "zombies."
Martin nods, looking a little green. "Apparently."
"And you two have, what, joined forces? I'd've thought it'd be every man for himself."
"See, I tried that in a film once," Omid says. "Got my brain eaten by a beetle. And since zombies seem to enjoy brains even more than movie bugs do, I'm not all that keen to give it another go."
"Right," Simon says, and then something clicks. "That's right, you're actors, you play heroes, you… save fake worlds for a living. So let's have it. Which of you has fought zombies before?" They both blink at him blankly, and he claps his hands together. "C'mon, Freeman, there's got to be some Hitchhiker's left in you."
"Hitchhiker's was aliens, actually."
Simon cringes. "Omid? What was that one you were in with the mummy?"
"The Mummy," he answers. "And it was a mummy."
"Well I'm not picky. If it rose from the grave and ate people, that's close enough for me."
"Hang on." Omid squats down to squint at his fellow thespian. "I could've sworn you'd done Shaun of the Dead."
"Oh get him, Mr IMDb," Martin snorts. "Had to look me up before this gig, did you?"
"I didn't say that I'd watched it, I said that you'd done it."
"As a walk-on, yes. Wasn't even a speaking part. I did see the film, naturally, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant, but —"
"Fine, thank you, it's not a press tour," Simon says. "We don't need the DVD commentary, we need the details. So, assuming that these ones are anything like the sort you typically get onscreen… what does your average zombie apocalypse entail, exactly?"
"Far as I can recall, uh…" Martin screws up his face and starts ticking off fingers. "Dismemberment, disembowelment, some light decapitation, and um… well, death in general, really."
"Ah." Simon swallows, backing up to slide down the wall, and they sit in loaded silence for a moment. Then he takes a deep breath, and his smile feels deranged. "It's nice that there's a bit of variety. Then we won't know what to expect, in the end. I say we start a pool."
They've only got the two choices, really — leave the safety of the cupboard and try to make their escape, or continue to cower in the cupboard until they're either discovered by zombies or dead of starvation.
It still takes three tries to come to a consensus.
Then it doesn't matter anyway, because there's moaning just outside, soon accompanied by the muffled sound of scratching at the door.
That's it, then. Years of being out, proud, and pretty damn loud about it, and he's going to die in the closet.
Omid clutches a bottle of all-purpose cleaner to his chest, nozzle out and finger on the trigger, as if it will do any good. At least Martin's found himself a mop.
The moaning becomes manic, suddenly joined by a series of sickening thuds, and Simon braces for the inevitable, hands coming up to protect his most vital parts. Then the knob turns with a squeak, the door is thrown wide open, and through one squinty eye, he sees…
Josh Groban, bloody and breathing hard and brandishing a fire ax in both hands, the headless body of Heston Blumenthal at his feet.
Huh. You just never know with some people.
Josh, as it turns out, is a bit of a creature feature connoisseur.
He gets them mobilized and marches them out, crowded together and clutching each other, with Simon and Martin squashed into the center and Omid moving backwards at the end. As such, he's appropriated Martin's mop.
They take out two unrecognizable staffers and Ian the camera operator, then barricade themselves in the read-through room with the conference table shoved up against the door while Josh lays out all the ways to avoid being eaten — stay with your buddy, steer clear of the bathrooms, shove something sharp into any undead brain you may encounter.
"How do you know all this?" Simon asks.
Josh looks sheepish, which is a bit odd, given all the blood. "The Zombie Survival Guide. Just when you think a gag gift's only good for the satire, life sends you a little surprise."
Escape is imminent — or at least exit from this particular room — but they still need a decisive plan of action.
"What if we were to find the first one?" Simon pipes up. "There's always a patient zero in these things, right? Or the one creature who's in control of all the other creatures? Then you find it and you kill it and everything goes back to normal. I mean, I don't know that Ian's arm would grow back, but he was right-handed, anyway."
Josh looks unconvinced. "I think that only works with pod people."
"Do you want to make a plan or not?"
Martin pulls one of those faces that defies description. "How would we even go about searching for an alpha zombie? Just… wait until they rot a bit and see which one starts to smell first?"
"No good," Simon says. "We'd have to be within biting range to do it that way, and Nick from Legal's always smelled a bit funny." Then the most likely suspect suddenly occurs to him, and he grabs at Josh's arm. "It's gotta be Abs."
"What, because he's a boybander?" Martin rolls his eyes. "Come on, Amst, you've had literally hundreds of people through here today."
"Yes we have. And if you had to choose the one of them most likely to contract some strange designer venereal disease that turns normal people into undead cannibals, who's the very first person that comes to mind?"
They find Abs outside the green room, screaming bloody murder and taking futile swipes at the familiar creature snacking on his still-bare chest.
"Oh, Phill," Simon says, sickened and sad. "And you were doing so well with your diet."
Outside of the Centre's secure backstage areas, the studio audience is swarming and starving. On the plus side, the two Grobanite grannies he'd bludgeoned with their own handbags had both been carrying knitting needles, so at least their weapons cache is improving.
They'd've made more progress by now, but Josh can't seem to take an axe to the ones wearing his face on their t-shirts without apologizing profusely in the process.
It's dismemberment for Martin, Simon's sad to see, his little limbs flying every which way.
Shame they hadn't gotten round to the pool. He would've put money on that one.
An exit sign flashes in the back hallway that runs behind costuming, a little red flicker of hope.
"Stay low," Josh hisses, creeping them down the hall. Simon holds tighter to his belt and just about folds himself in half.
Then Omid seems to snap, surging forward at a full run.
"Omid, come back!" Simon screams. "Think of the beetle!"
But Omid runs on, arms flailing wildly. "I think we're gonna make it!" he screams over his shoulder. At the same time, coincidentally, that Grant comes through the costume department door just ahead. His hands grab for Omid and his bloody mouth chants a mantra of player, player, player, player, and it's all downhill from there.
So he'd decided to cut out that middle bit after all.
The mob of monsters has them pinned in the studio proper. Simon's sole surviving knitting needle is lodged in Larry the script supervisor's left eye, Josh had lost his axe to Scott the sound guy's shockingly thick skull, and they can only duck behind the desk as the zombies file in.
"I meant what I said before," Simon blurts, because it seems like an appropriate time for blurting. "I quite like you, Josh Groban. You're an amusing man, you've got quite a lovely voice if you're in to that sort of thing, and once upon a time we had the same hair. If we weren't about to be eaten alive, I think we could've been great friends."
The first mutilated head pops over the desk, and Josh smiles beautifically, like Jesus, and shoves Simon off the stage.
"Go!" he shouts, hand slapping at the audio cue button. "Save yourself!"
The zombies converge to the sweeping sounds of pop-crossover royalty, and Simon stumbles into the wings and out the side door, blinded by bitter tears.
He can see the end of the circular atrium, and the sliver of light that will be his salvation. Then a shadow steps into the space between, shuts the door with a resounding slam.
"You think you can get out? There is no escaping this, Simon."
The shadow moves slowly toward him, until Simon can make out more than the vague shape of a man, this evil brainchild of his destruction.
It's Craig David. Of course it's Craig David.
His mouth is twisted, his eyes are manic, and all of him is shrouded in familiar fluffy pink fur, perky ears plopped atop his head.
Not, then, a happy bunny.
Simon shuts his eyes and waits for vengeful death.
He's shaken so violently he nearly falls from his chair. The Sudoku slips to the floor.
When he opens his eyes, Josh is standing above him, alive and well and in one uneaten piece. A well-worn copy of The Zombie Survival Guide is tucked beneath one arm. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," he says. "They're ready to shoot the retakes now."
Simon swipes a hand over his face, takes a swig from his bottle of water. That's it, no more sushi before a show.
"Right, yeah, I'll just be a minute."
Josh smiles down at him, eerily familiar, and starts toward the door. Then he stops and turns back, one hand out as if he's just remembered something he doesn't actually understand.
"Oh, uh, Sue from wardrobe said to tell you that your... bunny suit is missing?"