Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 15part #1 of Undead UK Series
“Why do you keep asking me? I’ll help out where I can, but I’m not a leader. Not anymore.”
“Bullshit. You’re a natural, and you were sent here to play your part. Nothing happens by accident. I told you, it’s fate.”
Breht started to feel creeped out, and wondered if Zak was going to begin chanting next. He looked into his eyes, trying to catch some hint of irony, some semblance of a joke, but the man appeared deadly serious. Was this part of Jennifer’s New Age influence, or was he religious? Like, deeply religious.
Breht stared at him some more, but couldn’t fathom it. “Talk to Cobb,” he reiterated. “It’s that simple. And you’ve got a whole bunch of people here who are prepared to pull together to support you. You don’t need a lieutenant. This isn’t the army.”
Zak smiled shrewdly at him, like he knew something that Breht didn’t. “You’ll come round,” he said.
“And if I don’t?”
Zak’s smile dropped. “You’ll regret it.”
Breht reacted angrily to the icy tone. “Just fuck off, all right?”
He stormed off, irritated. His day had started well, and he didn’t need this bullshit. Why couldn’t he just be left alone? Between Cobb’s cryptic game of thrones, and Zak’s guru act, he was starting to think they’d all gone stir-crazy. Things were surely bad enough without them all complicating things.
He passed Filipova sitting on a chair, writing something in her journal. Breht stopped.
“Are you the community’s chronicler now?”
Filipova didn’t look up. “No, I’m just working out a solution for the undead.”
Breht moved round to see what she was doing and saw she was drawing some sort of Mad Max style road warrior, complete with shoulder pads. “Not exactly a continuation of your research, is it?”
Filipova finished shading in the leather trousers. “My research is dead. We need to adapt, and I think personal protection will be the most fruitful way forward. Some sort of armour. I used to be in a medieval re-enactment society.” She paused. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Can’t imagine that I had a hobby when I was younger? Or do you think I was born in a white coat?”
“Just surprised, that’s all.”
“I used to cut quite a dash in my page boy doublet. I wasn’t one of those girls who wanted to flounce around as a princess.”
“Didn’t fancy yourself as a knight, then?”
“I couldn’t ride a horse. Horrid things. Feeding them sugar lumps was about the extent of my skill. But it was an interesting experience. We used to have some marvellous craftsmen who could make armour from scratch. They even weaved chainmail, which would be very useful to us now. Divers wear chainmail when they’re around sharks, so if it’s good enough for them, it will certainly be good enough for us. Not sure we have anyone here who could make it, however. I did ask around. But leather is much easier to work with. Boil strips of it and you can make a coat of overlapping, hard scales. You didn’t by any chance see a motorcycle shop on your travels, did you?”
“Can’t say I did, no.”
“Pity. Some riding leathers would be a good start, though I do understand most motorcycle jackets these days seem to be of the padded goretex variety. The male mid-life crisis isn’t the same as it used to be. Not enough leather fetishists anymore.”
“You could always try a sex shop.”
“Strictly PVC darling. Won’t help you against the zombies, unless you want to dildo them to death.”
“No, I wouldn’t recommend it,” smiled Breht.
“So, how was your chat with the Supreme Leader? I noticed you left his briefing rather abruptly.”
“He’s getting on my nerves. I don’t understand what he’s after.”
“No. I tried to interest him in my ideas about armour, but I confess he seems to have rather an offhand manner. I’m not sure he has much time for civilians, in spite of his role. He only seems interested in a few people, you being one of them.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know why.”
“Maybe he’s a closet royalist who wants to choose his personal circle of courtiers.”
“Is everything medieval to you?”
“Not really. It’s a trait of many dictators too. And prime ministers as well, come to think of it.”
“Well, I’m not interested in joining his gang.”
“But he’s demanding your membership?”
“I wouldn’t put it like that, but he is acting strangely.”
Filipova looked across at the children, who were sitting on the ground, being taught rudimentary lessons by a robust woman. Her gaze softened. “Do you think he knows what he’s doing? I mean, granted, he’s a little eccentric. But he’s done a good job here, and I suppose we should be grateful he let us in.”
“He probably does,” conceded Breht. “But I don’t know if he’s asking too much. He wants to take back the whole town. That’s a big risk, and there’s a lot of ways it could go wrong. That said, he’s probably got experience of taking big risks.”
“But you don’t trust him?”
“Not really. But maybe it’s just me.”
“And you don’t trust your instincts?”
Breht screwed up his face. His instinct was to simply burrow down and forget about stuff. Everything here felt temporary to him, and he just couldn’t see himself as being a part of it.
“My instincts aren’t the best guide for anything, now.”
Several wooden walkways had been built for tourists to access parts of the castle better, and Breht helped to dismantle them, holding one of the supporting beams as it was sawn from its concrete base, then carrying it on his shoulder to where the wood was being piled. He walked through a stone arch and brushed past Nobby, who was chatting up a teenage girl as she leaned against the wall, idly twirling her hair.
“Hey, watch what you’re doing with that,” said Nobby.
Breht ignored him, as it was obvious Nobby was only showing off. He dumped the beam on the pile and went back to the dismantling.
When he returned with another, Nobby had taken a step back and was in the way. Breht bumped shoulders with him as he squeezed past.
“I warned you,” declared Nobby.
“Grow up, Nobby,” said Breht, dumping his beam. “You’re not at school now.”
Nobby clenched his fists and stepped up to Breht. “What did you just say to me?” he said.
Breht was tempted to laugh. It was like one of those playground bullying scenes in a children’s TV episode, complete with bad acting. “Give it a rest,” he said, pushing past.
Nobby put a plate-like hand on Breht’s chest, arresting his progress. “I asked you a question,” he growled.
Breht felt a flush of fear – he wasn’t ready for this. Then he felt angry. “Stand down, Private.”
A cruel grin spread across Nobby’s face. “You ain’t staff sergeant anymore, and you ain’t going anywhere until you apologise.”
“For saying I was thick.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Yes you did and you know it, you shirt-lifting pouf.”
“Sod off, Nobby.”
Nobby straightened himself up to his full height, looking down on Breht and slowly squeezing his fingers to grip the front of Breht’s tunic. Breht realised his disadvantage too late and pushed back against Nobby’s chest.
It was like pushing at a wall. Nobby hardly budged, and he began to lift Breht off his feet until their eyes were nearly level. Breht lost his composure, useless squeaks of protest tumbling out of his mouth, and when Nobby laughed, Breht hit him.
Breht regretted a lot of things then. He regretted having let it get this far, and regretted not facing up to Nobby earlier, encouraging Nobby with his passiveness. What he regretted the most, however, was that he hadn’t maintained his own fitness. Being amused by Nobby’s obsession with body building had been fine before, when it di
It was a one-sided fight. Breht got a few good punches in, and a solid blow to Nobby’s nose showed the big man wasn’t invulnerable. Nor fast. But Breht tired quickly, and his punches got weaker. When Nobby’s fist smashed into his face like a battering ram, Breht found himself sitting on the floor, his head spinning. Nobby dragged him up and punched him again and again.
The fight ended when the girl pulled the big man back, screaming at him to stop. Breht lay sprawled across the floor, his mouth full of blood. His vision was clouded, and as he looked up, he saw the faces of the rest of the community looking down on him.
Concerned, shocked, but not really doing much.
And at the end of a hazy tunnel, he saw Zak, smiling grimly.
Looking back, Breht knew he should have seen that as a sign of what was to come. It was a warning and, as usual, he hadn’t spotted it. He was focussed on Nobby, when really Nobby was just a tool for someone else’s designs. Someone else’s strategy.
Breht himself had been another tool in that bizarre play, and it mystified him now why he hadn’t been able to see it. Because with hindsight, it was so obvious.
Hindsight also made the humiliation burn hotter when, at the time, he just felt stunned.
Breht finished boiling the water for his breakfast, the smoke curling out through the attic roof. The wound in his chest ached, but he didn’t want to waste the few painkilling tablets he had left. He always ached worse in the morning, and it would soon pass once he got moving.
The pain was useful anyway, as it was a constant reminder of what he was doing, because it wasn’t in his nature to hold onto a grudge for so long. He was a retreater, a hideawayer, but that side of him had betrayed him too many times, dragging him down into the deep pits of depression and alcoholism. It felt like a refuge when it was really a trap. And it was that side of his nature that had brought him to this, marking him out as an easy target.
If he couldn’t tell the difference between the wolves and the sheep, he should have at least have appeared threatening to them both. It was idle fantasy perhaps to suggest that, if he had, a lot more people would still be alive today.
But maybe it was true.
Breht walked the castle walls, massaging his jaw. One of his teeth was loose, but it had ceased bleeding, and the tissue around his left eye was swelling up, obstructing his vision. It could have been worse. His cheekbone throbbed, and with the force of Nobby’s punches, he wondered if he’d broken it. It didn’t feel like it, but it hurt like hell. The broken skin on his knuckles stung too.
He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, preferring to walk away, but he also didn’t want to feel sorry for himself. Though he did. He looked across at the hills and wondered again about just leaving.
How many times are you going to think about it before you do it?
It was a futile fantasy. Life here was just starting, and it was bound to change with time. He just needed to be more patient. And more careful around Nobby. When the right moment presented itself, he’d know it. And he didn’t feel it was yet.
Zak’s girlfriend, Jennifer, was also on the wall, and Breht thought she was just enjoying the view across the river, her whisper-thin dress blowing in the breeze. As she leaned over, however, he saw she was hauling on a rope. When he got closer, she lifted up a metal bucket that was tied to the end of the rope.
“Oh hi,” she said, pushing the hair out of her eyes.
Breht looked out over the wall. Between the two bridges, the muddy river bank was only a few yards away. He watched as Jennifer tipped out a quarter of a bucket of sludge onto the walkway. “Interesting concept,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “If Colin wants silty soil, then I’ll damn well get some.” She threw the bucket out again, splashing it in the shallow water, then dragged it along with the rope until it had scooped up some more mud.
“Could take a while,” said Breht, thinking of the size of the grassy area she wanted to fertilise.
“Quite possibly,” she grunted as she hauled on the rope. “But it’s better than sitting around debating it, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so.”
Breht helped her bring up the bucket and together they tipped out the contents, which included a disgruntled looking crab.
“Oh, your face looks dreadful,” said Jennifer as she straightened up, looking at him.
Jennifer tutted. “That Nobby is such a brute.” She threw the bucket out again, wincing as it narrowly missed a zombie stuck in the mud. “But I suppose we need brutes in times like this.”
Breht watched the zombie struggling to move towards the bucket. “You realise the water, and the mud, could be contaminated with the protozoa?”
“Protozoa. The parasite that created the undead.”
“Oh I don’t think so. And I wasn’t planning to drink it, anyway. I just want to plant crops.”
“Might be an idea to talk to Filipova about it. She’s the expert.”
Jennifer wrinkled her nose. “She’s one of the people responsible for this, with her technology and pollution. Upsetting the balance of nature. This is what happens. Nature fights back. If we’d done more to combat the damage we were doing to the planet, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Breht wasn’t sure how to follow that, so he didn’t. The crab, after waving its claws for a while, dug itself deeper into the mud.
Jennifer hauled up another load. “Zak thinks highly of you,” she said airily.
“Oh yes. He talks about you all the time.”
“Why does he think highly of me?”
Jennifer shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s probably a man thing. You know, brothers in arms and all that. He’s a soldier.”
“He thinks highly of him too. He’s very happy now that he has other soldiers to talk to.”
“And what does he think of Cobb?”
Jennifer thought for a moment. “He hasn’t mentioned him. But I expect he likes him too. Zak is very sociable.”
Again, Breht wondered how Zak and Jennifer ever got together. Were they stranded on a desert island once, with nobody else to choose from? “I’ll bear that in mind.”
“I think that’s enough manual labour for now,” she said. “My arms are aching. I suppose I’ll get stronger with time. By next year, I’ll have muscles like an Amazon. Feisty, independent and self-sufficient.” She smiled at him. “You should see to those bruises before they get worse. I have some camomile that will soothe the irritation and bring the swelling down. I’ll get it for you. Now let’s return this chap where he belongs.”
She scooped up the crab and tossed it back towards the river.
As she walked off with her bucket, Breht watched as the zombie in the mud lunged out to grab the crab that had landed near it. Closing its discoloured fist over it, the zombie thrust the crab into its mouth, biting through the shell with a savage crunch.
Breht entered the nearby tower, helpfully labelled as King’s Tower, though what the king would have thought of it now was probably not worth recording. Like most of the towers, the interior wooden levels had rotted and collapsed over the centuries, leaving a large, empty cylinder, the old alcoves and hearths left hanging, serving as nests for pigeons and seagulls. Breht wondered how long it would take for someone to suggest trapping the birds for food. For now, everyone was happy with the supermarket takings, probably never imagining that they’d have to get involved in the messy business of killing and gutting an animal. If they balked at that, then maybe Jennifer’s salad option would become attractive to them.
But Breht doubted it. When the food supplies ran out, people were probably going to wonder why the previously neat and sanitised supply system had broke
Maybe it was just a failure of imagination.
Staircases and passages were built into the thick tower walls, with hollowed out chambers bare and cold. Breht had moved his quarters to a small chamber that had a large latrine chute angled down through the wall. Through it, Breht could see the mud at the base of the railway bridge, and the crab-eating zombie.
Breht wondered if the king had ever taken a shit from here, squatting on the stone lintel, and imagined he probably had. It was a draughty and cramped place to sleep now, but Breht liked the privacy.
His solitude was broken by the arrival of Filipova.
“You can be a hard man to find,” she said. “There are so many nooks and crannies here to hide in. Quite astonishing for such a small place, really.”
“I think you’ll find this is a pretty big castle.”
“Yes, but it will shrink with time, you’ll see.”
“Thought this place would appeal to your medieval sensibilities.”
“I like my history kept at a distance. Sleeping on a stone floor was never one of my hobbies. How are you, anyway? I heard about the fight.”
“I’m fine. It’s just bruising.”
“I found some vinegar that should get the swelling down. Marvellous stuff.”
“Jennifer’s already promised me some camomile.”
Filipova rolled her eyes. “That woman doesn’t know a thing.” She uncapped the bottle and handed it to Breht.
“Do you know she’s fertilising her plants with mud from the river?” he said. “The same mud that the zombies are stuck in.”
“Yes. A silly idea, but when I mentioned it to Zak, he seemed uncomfortable with my explanations. Typical man. All macho when it comes to action, but reluctant to confront his girlfriend in case it causes a row.”
Breht, applying the vinegar, glanced sideways at her. “You have a problem with men, don’t you?”