Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 24part #1 of Undead UK Series
Breht was aghast. “Yeah, but if he’d won, they’d have put me in the glasshouse.”
“That would have taken another case. Maybe you’d have been found innocent then. That might have been Cann’s assessment.”
“Or maybe he just didn’t give a shit.”
Breht couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I’m not sure that makes me feel any better. He still accused me of doing something I never did.”
“Well now you know how I feel,” said Zak. And with that, he turned and walked back inside.
Breht was left baffled at how the whole thing had been turned around so as to make him look bad, rather than Simon Cann.
Jesus Christ, I’m understanding this guy less and less.
Breht woke alone in the tower. Zak’s bedding lay undisturbed from the night before – he hadn’t come to his quarters. Rolling out from under the damp layer of blankets, he grabbed his helmet. He was already dressed and his boots were still on – it was too cold to undress at night anymore.
It was raining again outside, and Breht walked briskly over to the canteen lean-to. The generator was silent, and there didn’t seem to be anyone else up. Jennifer was normally the first person awake, preparing the food for everyone. It didn’t look like that would be happening today. Rummaging through the scant supplies, he helped himself to a breakfast of stale biscuits, washed down with some of the boiled water left from the day before. A sudden shout alerted him to the possibility that he wasn’t the only one awake.
He followed the sound to the chapel tower, where he heard more voices. Nobby’s voice. Zak’s voice. Cobb, standing at the entrance, stopped Breht from entering.
“I wouldn’t go in there, if I were you.”
“What the hell’s going on?”
“Nobby’s girlfriend died in the night. He’s understandably a bit upset.”
Breht’s heart sank. He heard Nobby shouting: “I only left her for a few minutes! She was fine when I left her.”
And Zak’s voice: “Calm down, mate. These things happen.”
“No they don’t! She spoke to me before I left. She told me she loved me. She was going to have our kid!”
“Get a grip, son. There’s a lot of sick people here.”
“Yeah! And it’s because of YOU!”
Breht heard the sound of a scuffle and pushed past Cobb to race up the steps. He reached the chapel just in time to see Zak dodging Nobby’s punch and slamming him against the wall. Breht pulled them apart. “Enough! The pair of you!”
Nobby scrambled over to his girlfriend’s side, picking up his rifle. He aimed it at Zak.
“Nobby, put the gun down,” said Breht, stepping in the way.
“He’s not taking Kimberley away,” snarled Nobby.
“Hey, nobody’s taking anyone anywhere.”
“He is. He’s going to throw her over the wall.”
“She’s infected,” said Zak. “We’ve got to get her out before she turns.”
“You touch her and I’ll kill you.”
Breht held his hands out, conscious of the wavering rifle barrel. “Nobby, please. Let’s talk about this.”
“Why? You’re only going to agree with him.”
“No, I’m not. We can do this properly. With some respect. But she is infected.”
“See? I told you. I’m not stupid.”
“No, Nobby, you’re not. And you loved her, so we’ve got to do this right. We can find a way.”
“I already have,” said Nobby. He picked up Kimberley’s frail body in his arms, still aiming the gun. “I’m going to bury her, and I’ll kill anybody who gets in my way, including you, Breht. Now put your hands up on your head and step aside.”
Breht did so, noticing that Zak had somehow slipped out and was gone. “Okay, Nobby. You do what you have to do.”
“You too, Cobb,” shouted Nobby down the stairs. “Come out where I can see you and put your gun down.”
Cobb, with a look of resignation, stepped into view and placed his rifle on the ground.
“Now back off.”
Nobby descended the steps as Cobb moved away. At the doorway, Nobby looked suspiciously out. “Zak! Where are you?”
There was no reply. Nobby walked out, turning circles as he scanned the battlements. Breht moved down to the doorway, triggering a reaction from Nobby.
“Don’t come any closer,” said Nobby.
“I won’t, Nobby. You just go ahead. I’m not getting in the way.”
As Nobby walked warily to the dirt mounds, Breht caught Cobb’s eye. Cobb glanced first at him, then at the rifle at Breht’s feet. Breht didn’t want to pick it up, however. He didn’t want to shoot Nobby – what for? - and there was still time to resolve this peacefully. Just needed to remove the tension, first.
Nobby reached the dirt mounds and laid Kimberley down. Checking to see that there was nobody nearby, he put his rifle down and began digging into the soft mud with both hands.
A single shot rang out, echoing between the castle walls, and a piece of Kimberley’s head exploded across the ground. Nobby was shocked into immobility as he stared at the fluids leaking from his girlfriend’s desecrated skull.
A figure with a sniper rifle stood up on the far tower. “Now you can bury her,” called Zak.
Nobby sobbed and reached for his rifle. Another shot rang out, splashing mud up from near the hand grip. Nobby recoiled.
“I said bury her,” shouted Zak, re-cocking his rifle. “Or get buried yourself. Your choice.”
Breht held his breath. Nobby wept profusely, the tears tracking down his anguished face. For a moment it looked like he was going to try for his gun again, and Breht wondered, in that flash of frozen time, whether Nobby just wanted to end it all.
But the moment passed, and Nobby collapsed onto Kimberley’s body, sobbing into her chest.
“Bad news about Nobby’s girlfriend,” said Breht disconsolately. “I didn’t know the plague could kill that fast.”
He was sitting in a tower stairwell with Filipova, watching as she tried to roll a fresh cigarette out of several butt-ends.
“It doesn’t, normally,” said Filipova. “The cases I’ve heard of took at least a week. It takes a while for the young protozoa to mature and adapt to the conditions encountered in the human body. The infection we get directly from the zombies is different, as the parasites are already adapted and present in large numbers, but outside the body, nature isn’t kind to the parasites, and they struggle to survive. I don’t think they can multiply either, not without the required proteins.”
“But she couldn’t have got it from a zombie. She was never bitten.”
“No, which makes her death something of a mystery.”
“Maybe it was because she was pregnant. That could make her vulnerable.”
“Perhaps. Or maybe the parasite has mutated again. I still don’t know why it mutated in the first place, so I’m afraid I don’t have many answers for you.” Filipova lit the Frankenstein cigarette and grimaced at the taste.
“I’ll look for some cigarettes for you when I’m out there.”
“Though I shouldn’t, because they’re bad for your health.”
Filipova laughed. “Spare me, please. Though I have to say, the parasite doesn’t like nicotine.”
“You tested for that?”
“Of course. Placed a drop in a petri dish and watched the result. The parasite recoils from it.”
“Maybe we should pass out ciggies instead of medicine.”
“Won’t do anything. The amount of nicotine needed in the blood to kill the parasite would also kill the host. It’s a poison. You might as well add arsenic. It would have the same effect.”
“This is why I like talking to you. You’re so cheerful.”
Filipova sucked hard on the cigarette, coughing at the acrid taste. “Precious little to be cheerful about. A lunatic’s running the
Breht rubbed his face. “I want to disagree with you.”
“I know you do.”
“And for the record, I do.”
“Of course. And off the record?”
Breht sighed. “I’m worried. I think the stress is getting to him.”
“And that’s all?”
“He’s not what you think he is. Okay, he’s a bit blunt and direct, but...” Breht gestured helplessly. “Doing what he did to Kimberley was necessary. And his strategy for the town was... well, it was worth a shot. Had it succeeded, everyone would have seen him in a different light.”
Filipova finished her cigarette and stared into space. “You’re blind, Breht.”
Breht stood up. “No, I’m not. Just confused. I’ll try my best to get you the medicines you need.”
Filipova put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. Ignore what I just said. And don’t risk your life trying to get those drugs. I’m really not certain that they’ll work, and we can’t afford to lose you for something so stupid.”
“We can’t afford to lose anybody.”
Filipova paused. “No,” she said, though she’d clearly wanted to say something else.
“Do what you can while we’re gone,” said Breht. He descended the steps.
“Breht,” she called. “Watch your back, please.”
Zak waited on the battlements with Nobby and Cobb. Nobby appeared subdued and almost catatonic. Zak was holding a coil of rope.
“There’s too many zombies outside the gate,” he said, “so we’ll climb down onto the town wall and get onto the rooftops.”
“Rooftops?” said Breht.
Zak looked directly at him. “Yes, rooftops. Or did you think I was out of ideas?”
“I never said you were.”
“Well, just make sure you don’t.”
Breht bridled at the hostile tone. “Was it necessary to say that?”
Zak held his gaze for a moment, then turned away. “Let’s get moving.”
“Wait,” said Breht. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea for Nobby to come.”
“Why? Have you got something against him as well?”
Breht gritted his teeth. “No. I just think he’s had enough to deal with for one day and deserves a break.”
“Do you, now?”
Zak turned slowly back to face him again. “I disagree, and I shouldn’t have to explain myself, but just this once, I will. You see, dwelling on a trauma often makes things worse. Cutting yourself off and, say, wallowing in self-pity and becoming a drunk, just deepens the darkness. Wouldn’t you agree? Creates a festering wound and the onset of paranoia. Far better to just get out there and be a man. Action numbs the pain and reminds you that you can still function. It’s the best therapy, sometimes.”
Breht breathed deeply, holding himself in check. He was determined not to take the bait, in spite of the verbal slap. “Nobby? What do you think?”
Nobby didn’t reply – didn’t even look up – and Cobb put his arm around Nobby’s shoulder. “Nobby’s okay with that,” he said. “We talked about it, didn’t we, Nobby? We all look out for each other.”
“Exactly,” said Zak.
Breht looked at them both, wondering at this sudden collusion. Again he felt he was missing something.
“I still don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said.
“You’re outvoted,” said Zak, “and we need to get a move on.”
The house rows in the town abutted right up to the town walls, and Zak led the group across the rooftops, leaping the gaps over the narrow streets until they reached a small plaza. From their vantage point, they could see down the main street on the other side of the plaza. On the street were the town’s pharmacy and the only supermarket this side of the river. Unfortunately many of the former customers were also present, ambling aimlessly up the street. Removing the roof tiles beneath him, Zak entered the building. They made their way down through the floors. Opening the front door, they crept into the plaza and took cover behind a parked car, peering out.
A single zombie far to their left spotted their movement and shambled towards them, but it was slow and they felt able to ignore it for a while. The path to the pharmacy, however, wasn’t so easy to dismiss.
“We’re not going to be able to get through that lot,” said Breht.
“We could go back upstairs and pick them off,” said Cobb.
“That’ll just draw more of them to this part of town,” said Zak.
Nobby said nothing. Breht was concerned about him. He’d functioned enough to make it this far, but he seemed to be trapped in his own little world and Breht really wasn’t sure how he’d be once the action started.
“We can cut through that restaurant there,” said Zak, pointing to another part of the plaza, “and come round the back of the stores.”
“Once we smash our way in, they’ll hear us,” said Breht.
“You got any better ideas, smart arse?”
Breht hadn’t, until he saw the blinking LED light inside the car. It was faint – the battery must have been nearly dead – but it meant the alarm system still worked. The plaza was on a hill, and the road they were on sloped down past the train station. He turned to Cobb. “Have you still got the wire cutter attachment?”
Cobb was the only one who still retained his bayonet on the end of his rifle. The bayonet’s scabbard included a saw and, when levered to the bayonet, a wire cutter. Since the scabbard was plastic, most of the attachments tended to break off over time. Cobb struck Breht as the kind of soldier who liked to keep his stuff in good condition.
“Yeah,” said Cobb.
“Hand it to me.”
“And what do you hope to achieve with that?” said Zak, curious enough to abandon his sarcasm.
“A diversion,” said Breht. “Now hold this car from rolling while I cut the handbrake cable.”
Attaching the bayonet to a lug on the scabbard, Breht reached under and snipped through the cable. He handed the bayonet back to Cobb. “I’m going to set the car alarm off now. When I do, release the car and head over to that alley there. If all goes well, the zombies will follow the noise and we can slip into the back of the shops.”
Zak tried his best not to look impressed. “Fair enough. We’ll take it from there.”
Breht smashed the car window with his rifle butt. The alarm warbled and they all ran across the plaza as the car shifted.
The vehicle rolled down the hill, gathering speed. The alarm bleated and honked, lowering in tone as the battery reserves drained, but it was enough to attract the undead. Vaulting a wall in the alley, the others watched as the zombies lurched by, chasing the fading sound. The runners especially were attracted, pushing past the shamblers to catch up with the car.
“Okay,” said Zak in a low voice. “Me and Nobby will head to the supermarket. You two tackle the pharmacy.”
Drawing his sword, he climbed over another wall into a yard, and Nobby reluctantly followed.
Breht paused, drawing his own sword. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea to leave them two alone,” he whispered to Cobb.
“Zak knows how to control him,” said Cobb.
“Yeah, but what if Nobby snaps out of his dream state and remembers that he’s got a grudge against Zak?”
Cobb gave him a look of disbelief. “That ain’t going to happen.”
Breht wasn’t convinced.
The back of the pharmacy had a security door, with bars on the windows, but Breht didn’t need to break it in. The wood around the lock was cracked, and the door opened at his push – somebody else had already broken in. Entering the storage room, he saw the drawers were all open, medicine boxes scattered and crushed on the floor.
“Great. The best stuff’s probably already been taken. See what you can salvage.”
Leaving Cobb behind, Breht entered the front of the shop. The shelves behind the counter had been cleared, and t
A health food shop, a few doors down, on the other side of the street. Breht raced back to Cobb.
“You okay here for a minute? I’ve just got to get something.”
Cobb was sorting through the boxes, shaking them to see which ones contained tablets. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I have no idea what most of this stuff is, by the way. The labels are just gibberish.”
“We’ll let Filipova sort that out. Just grab it all.”
Back on the street, Breht checked both ways, then ran across. The Health Food shop didn’t appear to have been looted – not a lot of alternative therapy freaks in the apocalypse. With a last look around, Breht pushed his elbow through a pane of glass and reached in to open the door. Once inside, he skipped straight past the couscous and quinoa packets, focusing on the medicine sections. Apart from the numerous vitamins and menopause treatments, he found a wide variety of bottles and packets with strange names, and he tried to recall the one that Filipova had mentioned.
Was it Atmincing? Artemesis? He couldn’t remember, so he grabbed everything that began with an 'A’ and crammed it into his bag. Nervously, he kept glancing behind him, not wanting to be surprised by the sudden appearance of a zombie. He hadn’t checked the other rooms in the building, so there could be any number of them lurking. It was so silent, however, that he reasoned he’d be able to hear if anything came close.
That was when he realised he could no longer hear the car alarm.
Breht froze as a zombie drifted past the window. Hastily, he shouldered his bag and slipped towards the door.