Undead uk remember me de.., p.23

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 23

 part  #1 of  Undead UK Series

 

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead
 


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  Blocks tumbled from the walls and ceiling. Decayed hands reached in and brushed his arms and hair. The torch light stuttered, and strobing images of rotted faces appeared as bodies started to pull themselves from the earth exposed by the gaps in the walls. Breht hacked at whatever showed itself and ran like hell. Ghastly moans echoed.

  Abruptly he reached an old wooden door, the end of the tunnel. He slammed into it, but it wouldn’t give, and a frantic search yielded no lock that he could pick. In the gap between the door and the frame, he saw the bolt on the other side that held the door fast.

  He couldn’t go back – the tunnel was filling with zombies. Taking a few steps back, he charged his shoulder into the door. It rattled, but didn’t budge. He tried again with the same result.

  The groaning reached a crescendo, joined by a strange guttural screech that made his neck hairs stand on end. Backing up several feet, he charged once more, slamming into the woodwork.

  Feet shuffled behind him.

  Bracing himself against the wall, he kicked hard against the door, hearing a distinct crack as screws pulled at the door frame. Another kick yanked the bolt clasp out of the wood and the door swung open. Breht leapt through the doorway as a hand scratched against the back of his coat.

  The chamber on the other side was filled with stacked chairs and Breht knocked them over as he fled, mounting the steps at the end. At the top of the steps was another door, but this one was modern and Breht was relieved to see the lock was a simple night latch with a knob. Twisting it open, he barged through and slammed the door shut behind him, the lock clicking into place.

  He’d hoped to reach the castle, but found himself inside a church, the pews empty.

  Leaning against the door, he felt a thump, but the door opened inwards to the chamber, and the zombies would have to break either the door or the frame to get through. Secure for the moment, Breht explored his surroundings.

  At the height of the plague, Breht had heard rumours of people packing the churches and dying there as they prayed for salvation, but the truth was that the government had banned all public meetings in a vain attempt to stop the sickness from spreading, and most churches complied by locking their doors. Breht found neither sign of life nor death in the vast space. Heart still beating fast, he located the steps to the bell tower and climbed up.

  At the top, he peered cautiously out of the belfry openings. The church grave yard was small but, as Breht had feared, it had been used for a mass grave, and emaciated zombies were crawling out of the soil. The tunnel passed through the area of the grave. The zombies must have lain dormant until they sensed Breht’s passage through their midst. Now they were very much awake and filling the space around the church.

  That wasn’t the worst of it though. From his position, Breht could clearly see the castle – all of it. Or rather, what was left of it.

  It wasn’t as substantial or impressive as Conwy castle had been, consisting only of a large, rectangular keep, which had been converted into a museum, and an adjoining curtain wall that enclosed some ornamental gardens, now gone to weeds. The single tower was separate, raised on a mound, enclosed by its own wall and reached by a series of wide steps from the castle courtyard that snaked up through the garden’s alder and redwood trees. The castle gate was intact, and the entire structure would probably have housed a reasonably vigorous community – if it wasn’t for the fact that the keep had at some point caught fire and burned to the ground, collapsing a large section of wall. Zombies roamed the gardens now.

  The smoke from the fire was presumably what Martin had witnessed from the other side of town, lending credence to his fantasy of another functioning community, an obsession that would eventually kill him.

  But there was no community. No shangri-la. No sanctuary. And no sign of him either. Just a dead end.

  34

  “Can’t you see it’s over?” said Breht angrily.

  “I agree,” said Zak calmly. “For now. We’re not ready to take back the town. But that’s temporary. We need a better method, that’s all.”

  “For Christ’s sake, Zak. The town belongs to them now. We’re not going to get it back. Which part of that don’t you understand? These people need a break.”

  “And I never said they weren’t going to get it.”

  They’d moved out of Zak’s basement, which had gotten flooded, and relocated to the south-west tower near the gate, which everyone avoided on account of the zombies banging on the gates every night. Their small chamber overlooked the open interior of the tower, and the rain swept in through the opening.

  “I’m not going to let you kill these people.”

  “I’m not trying to kill these people.” Zak cupped the side of Breht’s face. “Is that what you think I’m trying to do?”

  “No,” faltered Breht. “I don’t know anymore. But we need to stop these crazy schemes. We need supplies, and we need medicines. Urgently.”

  “I agree with that too. See? We’re on the same page, mate.”

  Breht took a deep breath. “Okay. We need to plan a trip out.”

  “Sure,” said Zak. “Just calm down, all right?”

  Breht turned to go, then stopped. “Give me Harris’s rifle,” he said.

  Zak looked at him for a while, then tossed the assault rifle across. Breht caught it and strode out onto the battlement walkway with mixed feelings. The disappointment on Zak’s face hurt him – he couldn’t deny it – but his own anger continued to smoulder inside. He felt used, unable to escape the conviction that he’d been taken advantage of. He’d been seduced into acting against his own instincts, and people – Sarah – had died needlessly. If he hadn’t been so blind, he could have avoided being such a victim.

  It was Simon Cann all over again.

  The community was in trouble. People had been getting sick. In just the space of a few days, half of them had fallen ill, afflicted by dysentery and vomiting until they were too weak to move. Breht entered the chapel tower. The chapel, though only a few feet across, was the largest covered space in the castle, lovingly restored for the tourists, and the patients were lined up on the wooden floor with barely a gap between them. With few blankets to spare, they lay shivering and coughing. Cobb kept watch at the door while Filipova and the other scientists tended to them.

  “How’s it going?” asked Breht.

  “I can’t stabilise them,” said Filipova. “Not in these conditions.”

  “Don’t worry. We’re going on a supply run now. I’ll try and get everything that you need.”

  Breht spied Nobby in the corner. His girlfriend was one of the patients and he was crouched over her, stroking her forehead, which was slick with sweat. He’d laid his jacket over her and was murmuring reassurances. It was a level of tenderness that Breht hadn’t thought Nobby capable of, and he was impressed by the sincere agony on the man’s face.

  “You ready to get going?” he said to Cobb.

  “I’d prefer it if Cobb stayed here,” interjected Filipova.

  Breht noticed the level of readiness in the way Cobb held his rifle. He also noted the sharpened rod leaning up against the wall near to Filipova. “What’s going on?” he asked.

  Filipova took up the rod and ushered Breht outside, into the darkened stairwell. “It’s the plague,” she said quietly.

  “Are you kidding me?”

  “No. The symptoms all line up. These people are in the first stage.”

  “Are you sure? Please tell me you’re not sure.”

  “No, I’m very sure.”

  “That’s a load of bull,” said a voice suddenly. It was Zak, lurking in the shadows. He’d followed Breht and he had his sniper rifle with him.

  “And you’re a medical expert now, are you?” said Filipova.

  “Don’t need to be. I know that nobody who’s been infected has made it inside this castle. These people have got something else. And you’re not a real doctor, anyway.”

  Filipova faced him. “I’m the closest thing yo
u have, and for your information, I have had medical training.”

  “So explain how the plague got in here then.”

  “That is simple. The river level has risen. The water table under the castle has become infected with the protozoa brought in from outside, and is now in the well. All the water we use now has to be boiled.”

  “We don’t have the fuel for that.”

  “Then you must find it. I suspect the primary cause of infection, however, to be the crops your friend has been growing. She fertilised them using infected river silt, which had a higher concentration of parasites than the water, especially with so many undead standing in it, and her tomatoes have become incubators for the plague.”

  Zak stepped into the light, brandishing his rifle at her. “Don’t you dare blame Jennifer for this. She worked hard to try and feed the people here while you sat on your fat arse doing nothing.”

  “Blame isn’t the issue here. You asked me how it was possible for the plague to enter here, and I have told you.”

  “Then how come Jennifer isn’t ill?”

  “I don’t know. Maybe she hadn’t consumed the fruits of her labour.”

  “I know for a fact she did, so your theory’s just a load of bollocks.”

  “Rather like your leadership, then.”

  “And yours is so much better, is it? I didn’t see you offering to go outside to do what was needed. No, you preferred to sit in safety while everyone else took the risks.”

  “Yes, and I notice that you were very keen to drag out anyone you didn’t like so that they could be killed first, thus ending any challenge to your narcissistic little ego.”

  “You take that back,” said Zak, stepping forward.

  “Whoa, whoa,” said Breht, placing himself between them. “We don’t need this.”

  Zak tapped him menacingly on the shoulder with the rifle barrel. “Oh, I don’t know. I think we do.”

  “Trust me, we don’t.”

  “Trust you? How about trusting me? Earlier you accused me of wanting to kill everyone.”

  “That’s not what I meant.”

  “No? Sounded like it to me.” Zak shot a glance to Filipova. “I can see now where you’re getting your poisonous ideas from.” Turning on his heel, he stormed out.

  “If you like your men dangerous and unpredictable,” said Filipova, “then you’ve picked the right one.”

  Breht turned on her. “That’s enough, all right? Now tell me what you can do for these people.”

  “Honestly? Not a lot. Find me some Artemisinin and I might be able to arrest the growth of the parasite, but I cannot guarantee it.”

  “Artemisinin? What’s that?”

  “It’s an ancient remedy for malaria. It supposedly reacts with the iron inside the parasite to create free radicals, which damage or kill the parasite. You can find it in the alternative medicine section of wholefood shops.”

  “Alternative medicine? Sounds a bit weak.”

  “It is, but I’ve watched the most sophisticated medicines being tested on infected cells, and they did nothing, so why not try something more exotic? Perhaps some tantric yoga might help as well.”

  “Look, if I’m going to risk my neck out there looking for a remedy, I need you to be serious.”

  “That’s as serious as I can be. I’m sorry, but you could be wasting your time. This isn’t malaria. I’m clutching at straws and, yes, that is my professional opinion.”

  “Marvellous,” murmured Breht. He entered the chapel. “Nobby, it’s time to go.”

  Nobby didn’t look up. “I’m not going.”

  “Mate, we’ve got to get some medicines.”

  “I’m not leaving Kimberley.” Nobby’s voice sounded as if it was floating up from the deepest depths of his soul. All trace of bravado was gone and it was like he’d aged thirty years.

  Breht picked his way through the bodies and dropped down by Nobby’s side. He spoke softly. “Look, I know it’s hard, but if we can get some medicine, she might have a better chance. We need you...” Breht grimaced and changed his words. “She needs you. To go out there. With the four of us, we can get the necessary supplies and really improve her chances. Don’t you think?”

  Nobby clearly didn’t, and looked on the verge of tears. He turned slowly to Breht and, in a hoarse voice, said, “I was going to be a dad.”

  Breht didn’t have the heart to push him further. The agony on Nobby’s face was enough to tell him he was wasting his time. Leaving him, he nodded to Cobb to join him outside.

  “It’s just the three of us,” he said.

  “That’s not going to be enough,” said Cobb, casting an anxious glance inside the chapel. “And are you sure it’s three? I didn’t hear Zak say he was up for it.”

  “Don’t worry about Zak. He knows what needs to be done, and I’ll have a word with him. I don’t think I can convince Nobby, though.”

  “You need to be firm with him. I told you, that’s what he understands.”

  Breht thought about Sarah. “No, I don’t want to force him. He’s got to come of his own accord, or else he’ll be useless, and I don’t want him to do anything crazy. If we’re careful, the three of us can make a start on what we need.”

  Cobb was unsure. “If we go now, we probably won’t make it back before nightfall. I think it’d be better to wait till tomorrow. You don’t want to rush something like this.”

  Breht had anticipated making it back in time, but he realised Cobb was right. It would only take one delay – and the town was full of potential delays – and they’d be stuck. Or maybe worse. “Good point. I’m not happy waiting, but... tomorrow then. We’ll do it.”

  The rain had let up by the time Breht went outside, but the dark clouds remained. The grassy areas of the courtyard were heavily waterlogged, and the tilled soil left by Jennifer was just a pile of mud. Breht thought about what Filipova had said, and kept clear of the agricultural area, which, if she was correct, was impregnated with parasites. The very idea chilled him. And then there was the water in the well. Breht had assumed it was boiled before being offered for consumption – the well was covered in algae – but people had been washing with it too. Did they all have the parasite inside them now? Was all this effort just a waste of time?

  Zak wasn’t in his quarters when Breht went looking for him. Searching the other towers, he found him with Jennifer. She was sitting in a short passageway with a blanket clutched to her chest, her face pale.

  “You okay, Jenni?” said Breht.

  Jennifer smiled. “Yes, I’m fine. It’s just a cold. I’ll be up and about soon.”

  Crouched next to her, Zak was looking at the floor.

  “Sorry to interrupt you. I just need a word with Zak.”

  “Of course, you boys run along. I’m sure you have more important things to discuss than me feeling a little under the weather.”

  “Thanks. You coming, Zak?”

  Zak reluctantly straightened up and walked stiffly outside.

  “How long’s she been ill?” Breht asked him.

  Stone faced, Zak replied, “I don’t know. I think she’s been hiding it.”

  “She needs to be with the others.”

  “I can’t get her to move.”

  “I’m having the same problem with Nobby. He won’t leave his girlfriend, so that just leaves you, me and Cobb to go out. Tomorrow morning’s the best time for us.”

  Zak appeared to be emotionally dead. “Is it?”

  “Yeah. I’ve been talking to Filipova, and it’s possible we might be able to find a particular medicine that could treat this.”

  “I doubt that.”

  “It’s worth a shot.”

  “I’m not sure it is.”

  “For Christ’s sake, Zak, what happened to the need to remain positive?”

  “It withered away with the realisation that you’re more willing to listen to her than to me.”

  “Oh come off it! This is no time for petty jealousy. If I wanted tactical advi
ce, you know I’d ask you, but if I want scientific advice, I’ll ask a scientist. There’s no bias or favouritism. It’s just common sense.”

  Zak’s face broke into a frown. “I wasn’t referring to that side of her. I’m talking about the dark insinuations that have been put in your head about me. Like the idea that I was willing to kill people.”

  “That wasn’t her,” floundered Breht. “I mean, she has her own views, and I’m not trying to defend them. And I didn’t mean that you were deliberately trying to kill people...”

  “So what did you mean?”

  “It was just a comment, Zak. It just came out, and I didn’t think about how it was worded, that’s all.”

  “But you’re starting to doubt me.”

  “No,” said Breht a little too hastily.

  “You know you are, because that’s how you were at the beginning. I thought I could change that, but I was wrong.”

  “Look, all right. I doubted you at first, but I was different, then. I’m not the trusting type, okay?”

  “Because of Simon Cann,” said Zak.

  Breht stared at him. Was he really so transparent? “Yeah. I think so. You’re probably right. He stabbed me in the back and to this day I still don’t know why.”

  “I’m not him.”

  “I know,” said Breht awkwardly.

  “Do you want to know why he did what he did? Because it’s pretty obvious.”

  Breht hesitated. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. He’d thought about Cann’s possible motives for a long time, trying to work him out. He’d contemplated all the things he might have said to him, searching for some trigger that might have set him off. He’d examined the relationship from all angles, trying to see if he could detect the moment when Cann had tired of him. He’d consulted his soul for all the reasons why the relationship had ended, but for the life of him he could not work out why the man had wanted to take revenge. That was the part that baffled him the most.

  “Okay,” he said slowly. “What’s your theory?”

  “It’s not a theory. It’s fact. Simon Cann was in debt. Up to his eyeballs in it. He owed money to some nasty people, and joining the army wasn’t enough to get away. So he tried to sue the army. That’s what the case was about. It was all there in black and white, if you’d read it. It wasn’t about you. It was the army he was trying to get money from.”

 
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