Undead uk remember me de.., p.18

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 18

 part  #1 of  Undead UK Series

 

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead
 


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  He’d come this way, and Breht knew he was close. Fluid still pooled from the body. Breht pulled the tiles off the roof and entered the house.

  Dropping through the attic hatch onto the upper landing, Breht found himself in a building with old wooden ceiling beams. Through a glass panelled door, he saw a children’s bedroom with cartoon patterned wallpaper and bunk beds. Three small zombies in night gowns stirred, rising off the floor. Dragging themselves to the door, they pressed their sickly green faces to the glass.

  Further down the hall, groans and hisses issued out from an open doorway. Clutching his ice axe, Breht stole over to investigate, then relaxed.

  It was a bedroom, and two zombies dangled from ropes tied around their necks. Their faces bulged from the rope pressure keeping the fluid build-up in their skulls, and they slashed at the air, trying to get free, but they weren’t going anywhere.

  Breht assumed they were the parents. Having murdered their children, they’d hung themselves. Were they ill, or simply unwilling to face the apocalypse?

  Maybe both. The children couldn’t have been more than four or five years old when they died. Breht didn’t want to know what it would have taken for someone to do that to their own offspring. He certainly didn’t want to picture the moment. Turning his back on them, he proceeded downstairs.

  Opening the front door, he holstered the ice axe and drew the Katana, holding it upright in a two-handed grip. Instinctively, he bent his knees slightly, moving crabwise towards the headless corpse, glancing up and down the street.

  The zombie corpse wasn’t as fresh as he originally thought – the fluid around the edges of the pool had dried up – but the head had been decapitated with a single blow from a sharp instrument. It was a no-brainer, really, but he had to check. There were no doors open onto the street that Breht could see, and the terraced Tudor-style buildings abutted straight onto the narrow pavement, with no front gardens. Breht didn’t think the person he was after had tarried long on this street.

  No, he was close to his goal now. If he’d been delayed enough already, he’d have been keen to get a move on.

  The old street curved to a wide junction, linking to a modern street full of shops. He was back in the centre of town. A group of zombies hung about on a corner, like a gang of delinquent kids. The tweed jackets, woollen cardigans and sensible shoes, however, were clothes that no teenage gang would be seen dead in, even now. These post-apocalypse delinquents spanned the full class range, from the urchins to the genteel, and the latter were no longer inclined to look down their rotting noses at lesser beings. They were all one now. When Breht came into view, they ceased their mute interlocution and lurched immediately towards him. A woman with her face ripped off and an umbrella swinging from its wrist-strap raced ahead of the group, her exposed jaws open wide.

  With nowhere to run, Breht chose to make a stand, dropping his backpack and adopting a classic samurai crouch, sword held vertical. Tracking the zombie’s speed, he waited till the last moment, pirouetting to one side to avoid her lunge and swinging the sword in a single fluid movement to chop at the back of her neck as she swept past. The zombie collapsed.

  Breht moved swiftly to the next opponent, a tweed wearing gentleman with his entrails swaying from his gouged out stomach. Breht sliced off his outstretched hands, stamped his boot into the side of the zombie’s knee to break his leg, then lopped off his head as he fell.

  The remaining undead were slower and Breht danced out of their reach, decapitating them. When he’d finished he was breathing hard and sweating, adrenaline coursing through his body. Wiping his blade clean on a dirty cardigan, he sheathed his sword.

  26

  “I need to teach you how to fight,” said Zak.

  “That’s not condescending at all,” remarked Breht sarcastically.

  “You’ve lost your edge.”

  Breht propped himself up on his elbow. They were lying among the tangled bedding after another long night of frenzied love making, and Breht felt spent and relaxed. And it was love. Of that, Breht was certain. He couldn’t deny the significance of the warm glow he felt any longer. Loving Zak had its complications, like his abrupt mood swings, but for the second time in his life, Breht felt at ease with his place in the world, and it was a completeness he didn’t want to risk with petty doubts. Occasionally, however, those doubts returned.

  Zak continued, “Stacking blankets has made you soft and flabby. You’re better than that.”

  Breht had to admit he wasn’t in as good a shape as Zak, in spite of being much younger, but he still felt offended. “I’m not the fighting type.”

  “Bullshit. You didn’t join the army to crochet patterns. It’s all about training. As an instructor, you should know this.”

  “I wasn’t that good an instructor.”

  The speed with which Zak slapped him shocked Breht. “Don’t give me that,” said Zak, pressing his face close to Breht’s. “I could feel your energy last night. Running yourself down like that is an insult to me. I don’t choose worthless lovers.”

  Staring into Zak’s eyes, Breht thought he caught a glimpse of madness. It was unsettling.

  Zak broke the tension by stroking his cheek and kissing him. “And I didn’t choose one, either. So leave that humble crap behind you. You’re better than you realise.” Zak rolled away and stood up, suddenly grinning. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s do your first fight.”

  The dew lay heavy on the grass outside as they squared up to each other. Puzzled onlookers going about their morning ablutions stared, wondering what was going on. Zak dropped two curved wooden swords on the grass. “We’ll practice with the bokken later, but first we’ll sort out your unarmed combat. Your debut against Nobby was pathetic.”

  “Well, he was pretty good,” offered Breht.

  “No, he wasn’t, but you were even worse.”

  “Thanks. What happened to the whole positive vibe thing?”

  “That’s only regarding the future. This is the present, which requires total honesty. Now sort out your stance.”

  Breht adopted a vague kind of pugilist posture, fists up and ready. Zak, crouched down, arms loose at his side. “The problem with your stance right now,” he said, “is that you’re telegraphing your fighting approach. It’s obvious you’re going to lead with your fists, which means I can anticipate your first moves. You, on the other hand, have no idea what I’m going to do next, so you can’t guard against it.”

  Breht begged to differ. He expected Zak to begin with some kind of Kung Fu kick, which he was prepared to block. “We’ll see, won’t we?”

  Zak suddenly moved at him, and Breht aimed a punch at his head. Not too hard – he didn’t want to hurt him – but he lunged quickly at what appeared to be an open target. Zak, however, disappeared, sliding beneath the punch. Before Breht could react, he felt the pressure of Zak’s shoulder under his ribs, then he was lifted off his feet and flung over, landing on his back. Zak’s bare foot pressed down hard on his wind pipe.

  “We shall,” said Zak. “And now you’re dead.”

  Breht wanted to speak, but he knew his voice would come out falsetto, so he didn’t. Zak removed his foot and stepped back.

  “Okay, point taken,” Breht said, getting up. His throat felt tight, and it still sounded like he was on helium.

  “You have to loosen up. Be less clumsy. You have to watch your opponent, and be aware of everything. You need to anticipate. And remember, you can’t count on set moves and limits. Out in the world, there are no rules. There’s only what works, and what doesn’t. Your life, and your death. Read your opponent wrong and it’s all over. Especially if they’re undead.”

  “Wasn’t planning to brawl with a zombie.”

  “Really? What if you run out of bullets? What if you lose your gun, which in your case has already happened. What if you’re cornered and there really is nothing to fight with? You might have to kill them with your bare hands.”

  “Bit extreme.”

&nb
sp; “No. It isn’t. Wake up. This is the apocalypse.”

  “Okay. So I need to be more careful.”

  “No,” said Zak. “You need to embrace it. You need to be in harmony with it, flow with it. Being defensive or trying to shut it out will simply block your flow, and then you won’t see. Accept it.”

  Breht found that part a bit hard to stomach. “You really love all this, don’t you? The whole end-of-the-world thing.”

  Zak launched a high kick at him, which Breht was able to avoid by deftly stepping back. It was a feint, however, and Zak planted his foot and swung his other leg round. Breht was slightly off balance, and his feet were together. The sweep took both his legs out from under him and in the next moment he was on the ground again. In the distance, Nobby guffawed. Zak looked down at Breht, disappointment on his face.

  “You still don’t understand.”

  *

  The practice lasted all morning, with Breht trying and failing to defend himself. He listened to Zak’s instructions, going on the offensive as advised, but still found himself flat on the floor. When his bones felt like they wanted to give up, Zak switched to the wooden swords – the bokken – and began the basic lessons on how to handle a blade. That was easier, with a lot of slow motion sweeps and snippets of samurai history, but when they put it into practice for a final clash, Breht still ended up with bruised ribs and bleeding knuckles.

  By now, a small crowd had gathered to watch. Zak made of show of wiping the sweat off his sword handle, though Breht noticed he was hardly sweating at all.

  “A good demonstration,” said Zak, addressing the crowd, “of what we all need to do more of. Spread the word. We’re going to have a town meeting. Right now.”

  Unsure whether to clap or frown, the crowd dispersed.

  “Yep, things are going to change here,” said Zak to Breht. “No more half-arsed efforts.”

  Breht rubbed his wrists. The shock of parrying Zak’s blows had left them aching. “You planning to open a sword fighting school?”

  “Yes. Or, to be more precise, you are.”

  Breht gave him a bemused smile. “I don’t know much about sword fighting, as you will have discovered.”

  “And they know even less. Wasn’t thinking of swords anyway. We haven’t got any. But we can make some spears. Even the dumbest of them can use one of those if their life depended on it.”

  “You’re not actually going to send them out like that, are you?”

  Zak looked at him, as if it was obvious. “Yes.”

  *

  Zak held his bokken like a baton as he addressed the crowd, pacing back and forth.

  “We’ve entered a new phase. Thanks to Breht here,” he pointed the bokken, “the town has been emptied of most of its undead. They’ll be replaced in time, so we’ve got to act fast. Four of us have been doing all the fighting so far, but that’s not enough, so I need volunteers. I also need carpenters and builders.”

  A sea of faces stared at him.

  “Come on, people, it’s simple enough. If you’re helping Jennifer with the crops, then you join the agricultural group. If you’re looking after the children, and it doesn’t take many to do that, then hang back. The rest of you join the group of fighters over here, or the carpenters over there. Sort yourselves out.”

  The faces were hesitant, looking left and right to see who would be the first to move. In the end it was Nobby, striding forward to stand by Zak. Cobb followed. Three people with shotguns came next, looking a little uncomfortable.

  “What if we don’t have weapons?” said one man, a bearded hipster with a prominent hoop-cage in his ear and lavish tattoos on his forearms.

  “We’ll get you some.”

  The hipster consulted with his black-leather clad girlfriend, giving her a hug before stepping forward to join the group.

  “And what about your girlfriend?” said Zak.

  The hipster was perplexed. “She can’t. She’s, uhm, she’s a...”

  “She’s unemployed, that’s what she is,” said Zak. “Make your choice, love. What are you going to do?”

  The woman looked a little shocked, then rallied, coming forward to join her boyfriend. “I’ll fight,” she said nervously. Surprised by her own decision, she looked up at her boyfriend, and they hugged each other.

  “That’s more like it,” said Zak. “Now the rest of you.”

  There followed a hasty rush of individuals who immediately formed the carpenters’ group, and a couple who hurried over to stand by Jennifer. That left roughly half the community, who were now looking worried. The levity and joy they’d hitherto enjoyed was long gone.

  “What about you, Colin?” said Zak to the farmer. “You joining the agricultural group?”

  Colin scowled. “When there’s some agriculture to be done, yes, but not the half-baked effort you’ve got going here.”

  “Then join another group.”

  Colin spat on the ground and walked slowly over to the carpenters.

  “Okay, taking the easy option,” said Zak contemptuously. “And what about you?”

  Zak was addressing the teenager whom Breht remembered as the girl with the duffle bag from his group.

  “I don’t know how to do anything,” said the girl.

  Zak dismissed that. “You were quick enough to leave the rest of your group behind when you ran to the castle, and strong enough to climb the ropes by yourself. You can fight.”

  Murmurs of discontent emanated from the community, and Breht leaned over to Zak. “She’s just a kid, mate. You can’t be serious.”

  Zak glared at him. “Don’t disagree with me in front of the rest of them.”

  “I’m just saying.”

  “Well don’t.” Zak frowned as he turned back to the girl. “Okay. If you’re a kid, you can look after the other kids. So you,” he said, turning to the woman who’d been giving lessons to the children, “you can take her place and fight.”

  The woman stared back, goggle eyed. “But I’m a teacher.”

  “Exactly,” said Zak, “so you’re probably one of these lefty types who likes to bang on about equality. So put your money where your mouth is, and risk your own neck for once instead of leaving it to others. If women in Kurdistan can fight, so can you. Join the group.”

  The woman, who was slightly overweight, hesitated, then walked slowly to the group as if she was heading to her execution.

  Filipova and her fellow scientists were next in the firing line. “Some of you look fit enough,” said Zak. “No reason not to fight. Step forward.”

  Two male scientists looked about to do that, with heavy hearts, but Filipova stopped them. “No,” she said directly to Zak. “We’re scientists, and our skills lie elsewhere. This community requires more than just brawn to survive.”

  “Does it now?” said Zak. He turned to the group behind him. “Apparently these people are too clever to risk their lives for the community. They want you to do that instead. Because you’re not worth as much as they are.”

  Filipova drew herself up to her full height. “Ah yes,” she said. “The classic attempt to appeal to mob rule. You were not particularly interested in the opinions of the majority earlier, however. Not when you were deciding, by presidential fiat, who would be doing what. If you’re so curious about what people think, why don’t we ask them now about these new arrangements?”

  “Because we don’t have time. The town is wide open right now. The streets are nearly deserted.” Zak raised his voice to address everybody. “Do you still want to be stuck in this castle this winter? Do you want to be besieged here for good? Because the zombies are going to keep coming – from the surrounding suburbs, from Llandudno. Every night they’re going to be drawn to us, and they don’t give up or get tired. If we don’t take the town now, it will get harder and harder, and cost more lives. The odds against us will rise, day by day, week by week, until it becomes impossible to succeed. Is that what you want? To wait here until divine intervention rescues us?” Zak pace
d the crowd, baton held behind his back. “You’ve all had to fight your way to get here. You know what’s out there. There’s no safe haven to go to, no army coming to liberate you. No government, no United Nations, nothing. And no God, either. Survival comes from the decisions we make, starvation from the actions we fail to take.” Zak looked into their eyes. “It’s entirely in your hands now. And the town is there, waiting. The houses and beds that you could be sleeping in this winter are waiting. The tinned food and dry goods that are sitting in kitchen cupboards and shop shelves are waiting too. There are gardens and greenhouses to grow food in. Hearths to build fires in. And if we get control of the harbour, and some boats, then there’s an ocean to fish in.” Zak finished his pacing in front of Filipova. “When that’s all done, you can all break up into your specialisms. Right now, though, there’s only a couple of skill levels that are relevant. And one of them is to fight. So what say you?”

  Filipova looked peeved. “I say you’re better at this populism charade than I am.”

  “Yes, but what’s your answer?”

  The scientist tossed her hair and led her colleagues over to the fighting group.

  “Okay,” said Zak. “That’s settled.” He turned to Breht and stabbed a finger to his chest. “Your job is to train them. I’m going to take the shooters out to retrieve the Land Rover.”

  And he said nothing more. As Zak walked away with Nobby, Cobb and the shotgun carriers, Breht had the distinct feeling that he was in the dog house. What he wasn’t clear on was why.

  27

  “He doesn’t tolerate even the slightest dissent,” explained Filipova.

  Breht surveyed his motley collection of recruits. Apart from Sebastian, the hipster, Breht didn’t think them capable of fending off a group of angry pensioners, never mind a horde of flesh tearing zombies.

  “I’ll have a word with him,” he said.

  “He doesn’t strike me as the listening type.”

 
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