Undead uk remember me de.., p.3

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 3

 part  #1 of  Undead UK Series

 

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead
 



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  The train picked up speed suddenly, surging forward and throwing everyone off balance. The dead hanging off the windows were steadily plucked off by the strengthening slipstream.

  “I’m out,” shouted Cobb, indicating that he had no ammo left. He backed away and Nobby stepped forward to take his place. The train continued to accelerate, the wind rushing in through the broken windows as buildings and trees swept past in a blur. Breht knocked off the last of the clinging zombies and watched as it wrapped itself around a telegraph pole. The suburbs ended and they raced past open fields.

  Harris and Nobby ran low on ammo as they cut down the festering mob still trying to get in from the rear carriages, and Cobb primed a grenade and threw it into the mass. In the confined space, the explosion splattered dead flesh onto the ceiling and blew out the side walls of the next carriage. Backing away, Harris and Nobby added their own grenades to the mix. The resulting explosions shook the train and caused the rear carriage roof to lift up and peel back. With the train approaching a hundred miles an hour, the sides of the rear carriage disappeared until there was just a skeleton framework with debris streaming back from it. Dismembered zombies clung to the burning seats, faces distorted as they fought to hold on. Mutilated bodies slid back down the aisle on a skating rink of blood. The carriage lurched, nearly derailing the train, then the chassis broke and ripped itself apart, decoupling the front carriage from the tumbling wreck behind.

  The soldiers looked on in shock at what they had achieved.

  The carriage they were in started to rattle and rock.

  “Better get Wolfy to slow down before we all end up in the shit,” shouted Harris above the noise of the wind.

  Breht agreed. Staggering down the aisle, he passed through the engine compartment and stopped.

  Someone was hammering hard on the other side of the driver’s cab door.

  Breht pushed it open and backed away immediately as a bloodied hand with torn fingernails slashed at him. He raised his rifle as the zombie fought to open the spring-loaded door. When it succeeded, Breht’s mouth fell open.

  It was Baker. Or rather, a dead version of Baker, with extra chunks taken out of his flesh and fresh blood dripping from his mangled lips and teeth. When the dead Baker’s one good eye locked onto him, Breht thought he detected extreme bitterness directed at him.

  Dead Baker lunged, and Breht squeezed the trigger and held it, emptying his magazine into the creature’s face. The corpse of his old comrade dropped at his feet.

  Breht stepped over it and entered the cab. Wolfe’s body leaned against the throttle lever, the back of his neck ripped open to reveal his spine. Breht pulled the body back and the lever slid back with it, the train coasting as it slowed.

  Wolfe’s eyes were locked open, staring sightlessly at the ceiling. Breht hoped he’d died quickly, regretting the last lie he’d told him about his dad. He didn’t deserve to go like that. Remembering the last glare Baker had given him, Breht wondered at the revealed malevolence. Were the undead really capable of revenge upon those who’d abandoned them, or was that just an illusion, triggered by the heat of the moment? As Breht wondered whether Wolfe would hold a grudge too, he remembered that the body was now infected. Wolfy could reanimate any time.

  Breht heaved the body out of the broken window.

  When he returned for Baker’s body, he found Nobby staring down at it. Baker’s face was unrecognisable, but the uniform and the corporal’s stripes told Nobby everything he needed to know.

  “You bastard,” he said to Breht, his face as bitter as Baker’s had been.

  “He was dead already.”

  Nobby sneered. “If you’d listened to him in the first place, he’d still be alive.”

  4

  The human exodus from the cities was both frantic and futile. People wanted to get out, but they had no place to go. There was no sanctuary in the wilderness outside of civilisation, simply because, in England, there was no wilderness. Thousands converged on the imaginary emptiness of Wales, clogging up the handful of roads with worse traffic jams than any bank holiday in living memory. Southerners travelled into the Midlands, Midlanders headed north, and Northerners formed queues into Scotland, only to find exactly what they’d left behind. It was the biggest displacement of the population since the Dark Ages. The authorities set up aid and treatment centres in fields that soon became tent cities. Poor sanitation and lack of food weakened and killed many. The plague and the arrival of the dead scattered the rest.

  A year later, both the living and the dead had gone, leaving collapsed tents, debris and plastic bags flapping in the hedges. Breht walked through the remains of Aid Centre 37, sword drawn, picking over what was left.

  Would he have come through here?

  Breht looked around. He wasn’t sure anymore. The trail had gone cold, and he was relying on intuition. And faith.

  Do you really think you’re going to find him? Seriously?

  Breht glanced up at the crows on the telegraph wires, all lined up and watching him. Waiting.

  They’ll pick your bones when they get the chance. And you know it’ll be soon, because you’re wasting your time.

  The medical tent had been trampled into the ground, footprints smeared on the white fabric, blood splashes forming dark stains. He lifted the fabric, seeing the empty stretchers that were covered in the same stains. Medical boxes lay open. He searched through them, but someone had been there before him, taking anything that was useful.

  Was it him?

  Hard to tell. Could have been anyone. There had to be other survivors, and they would have all become scavengers. He tried the other tents, finding scattered belongings. Again, most of the useful stuff was gone, but he found what he was after: children’s toys.

  If the undead had arrived at the camp when it was still occupied, as all the signs indicated they had, there would have been pandemonium. Those that could flee would have grabbed whatever they thought they needed – like food, weapons, even clothing. Children’s toys, however, would have been on nobody’s must-have list, and the scavengers that came after would not have considered them as essential for survival. They tended to be adults, after all.

  Well, it was their loss. Breht gathered up teddy bears, dolls and toy cars, stuffing them into his backpack. Lego figures, toy soldiers, colouring books and pencils, he took them all. He was halfway across the site when he caught the sickly sweet smell of a corpse.

  He dropped his pack, sword out. Nothing moved on the site, so he crept forward, following his nose. He found the body lying in the long grass.

  It was a dead undead. He knew it was undead because of the dried blood on its fingernails and around its mouth. He knew it was dead because of the neat round hole in the middle of its forehead, and the exit wound that spread shrivelled grey brain fragments in a wide fan behind it.

  Breht examined the wound, working out the bullet trajectory, then looked at how the body had fallen, seeing where it might have been before it fell. The powder burns indicated a close range shot, point blank range, in fact, so Breht backed up and searched the ground. A patient fingertip search yielded a spent bullet cartridge, and Breht held it up to examine it.

  It was a 5.56mm cartridge casing. Standard British army calibre. It didn’t necessarily mean it had been fired by him, but it was a recent kill.

  The crows took off suddenly from the wires and Breht dropped to the ground, flattening himself out, eyes searching.

  The undead shuffled into view, six of them in a tightly packed group, walking along the road that skirted the field. They moved like they had a purpose, though their blank eyes stared at nothing, and they were listless, limping with resignation as they walked slowly past. A rustle in the hedge on the other side of the field gave way to another zombie pushing its way through, leaving skin and tissue on the branches of the thorn bushes. Further disturbances indicated more undead trying to break through, all heading in the same direction as the six on the road. Breht pressed himself into the s
oil, not daring to breathe, his hand gripping the sword tight. If it came down to it, he would have to fight, but the odds weren’t good. Within a minute, there were at least ten of the undead staggering across the site. Breht watched anxiously as one dragged its broken foot just thirty yards from his location. The zombie’s gaze remained unfocussed, and Breht prayed it would just carry on.

  They did just that, forcing their way through the hedge on the opposite side and disappearing from view. Breht waited, cold sweat trickling down his face. Then the crows returned to their perch on the wires, signalling the all clear.

  Breht rolled onto his back, taking deep breaths as his heart hammered.

  They’ll get you in the end. You know that, don’t you?

  Breht needed to get moving, preferably to somewhere with a better vantage point, but his exhaustion pinned him where he lay. Dark clouds passed overhead, and he smelt the moisture of the approaching cold front. He was fortunate to have been downwind of the undead, and he listened as the plastic bags fluttered in the freshening damp breeze. Spots of rain settled on his face and finally he turned back over.

  He didn’t understand the behaviour of the undead migrating in the same direction, but he’d seen it before. Maybe the moon governed their direction the way it governed the tides, moving them en masse in some random direction. Only to then move them back again. Maybe the dead responded to changes in the air pressure, or the magnetic flux of the Earth. When they were not pursuing their prey, they were easily swayed.

  Maybe they were just bored.

  Breht had watched them many times, studying them, sometimes feeling sorry for them. They were condemned to wander the Earth, never sleeping, never dying, quiescent in their ambitions until triggered by the sound of food. Always hungry, never satiated, for the rest of their deaths. It was hard to think of a worse punishment.

  *

  The rain came down hard, slanting diagonally. Breht sheltered among the trees of a tiny plantation at the top of a small hill, within sight of the road that stretched off into the distance, flanked by fields that contained the died-off remnants of last year’s crop. Below him was a large farm, a big cluster of barns and old buildings, scattered machinery and a line of residential homes nearby that would once have housed agricultural workers. Breht didn’t want to risk exploring it and, being so close to the road, he didn’t think it had escaped looting. He checked it out with a monocular, but the lens fogged up with the damp. Several undead slouched along the road, stopping occasionally for no reason at all, and he thought he caught movement in the shadow of one of the barns, but he couldn’t see very clearly. He slipped the monocular back into his sodden pocket and did his habitual three-sixty check before tucking into his lunch of dried rabbit meat and blackberries. His metal tin collected rainwater nearby. The deluge was filling it well, which meant he’d have a good drink after eating, without having to risk a smoky fire to sterilise the water he’d bottled earlier from a stream.

  All things considered, he felt pretty good, notwithstanding the scare he’d received earlier in the day. He wondered about the possible clue he’d found. It didn’t add up to much. The army had been fully mobilised at the height of the outbreak, with rifles in the hands of regulars, reservists and part-timers. Fallen rifles lay everywhere, and anyone could have picked one up. Armed police also used the same calibre. Shotguns were currently the most common weapon in the country, but military rifles probably came a close second, which was ironic for a country with such strict firearms laws. It was pistols like Breht’s revolver that were the rare items. So one spent cartridge in the middle of a field didn’t really mean a lot.

  The neat headshot, though. That spoke volumes, at least to Breht’s ears. Putting a single bullet through the skull of a charging zombie took skill, confidence and a lot of nerve, not to mention training and experience. There weren’t many civilians who could manage that. Nor many soldiers, come to think of it. Weapons might be plentiful, but ammo was not and preserving it had become all the rage. In the face of death, however, and at such close range, it was a hard discipline to maintain. Most people would have emptied their magazine on full auto. But not this particular shooter.

  Okay, so there was a sharpshooter out there with nerves of steel. It was a faint lead, but one still worth pursuing. Breht drank from his tin, ignoring the metallic taste. Visibility was poor, and the rain on the leaves blocked out any other sound, causing Breht to keep looking behind him, just in case. The rolling patchwork of overgrown fields glistened with flooded pools, all reflecting the slate sky, lone trees standing like shadowy sentinels, bending before the squalls. A thin break in the clouds dropped a moving shaft of sun onto the land, and a flash of white caught Breht’s eye. He thought at first it was a wind turbine, but the shape and angle were all wrong. Breht reached for his monocular, but by the time he looked through it, the sun shaft had gone and all he could see was an opaque mist. The mental image of what he’d seen stayed with him, however.

  It looked like an airplane fin.

  *

  Breht walked until clods of mud doubled the size and weight of his boots. Negotiating tangled hedges and rusty fences, he lost his bearings as he tried to locate the plane, the rain lashing on his face, his heavy pack pulling him down whenever he slipped in the mud. Cresting a rise to get a better view, he saw he’d walked too far. Below him was a flood plain that flanked a swollen river, rolling branches flowing past on the brown water. A linear trough had been gouged out of the plain for almost its entire length, and at the end of it was a twin engined passenger jet, its nose buried deep in a wood.

  Breht wasn’t entirely sure where he was, but he was pretty certain there was no airport nearby. Moving down the slope, he trekked through the soft mud until he stood under the plane’s tall tail.

  On the tail were the faded letters: KLM. Dutch airlines. The mildew and corrosion indicated it had been here for some time. The plane had landed on its belly, and the wings were still intact, so it was a good emergency landing, but it had been unable to stop before it hit the trees, and the nose section and cockpit were caved in.

  Breht walked around, seeing the dried blood on the inside of the cockpit windows. The nose had cracked open like a boiled egg, and Breht caught a glimpse of the exposed leg bones of one of the crew members. Scavengers and maggots had picked the carcasses clean, and Breht surmised that the pilot and co-pilot had been killed on impact. They probably hit the trees at over a hundred miles an hour, so death would have been instantaneous.

  He climbed up onto the wing to peer into the cabin windows and leaned back involuntarily when a blotched and partially rotten face lunged at him, swollen black lips squashing themselves against the triple layered glass, tombstone teeth gnashing ineffectually. The plane that had been so silent suddenly pounded with the feet of the undead as they all tried to get at the new food source.

  Breht calmly looked in through the other windows. The agitation of the dead belied the fact that every single one of them was still strapped into their seat. Anxious to answer their hunger pangs, they leaned and lunged at whatever window he looked through, but none of them had the sense to release their seat belts.

  Not all the passengers were undead. The impact of the crash had broken the necks of at least half of them which, for some reason, had prevented their reanimation, and their corpses remained doubled up, emaciated black skin stretched over skeletons. The fuselage remained sealed behind the closed pressure doors, and the real dead were mummified.

  Breht imagined that the plane had fled Europe during the plague, perhaps looking for a haven somewhere else, imagining that island Britain had escaped the fate of the rest of the world. Maybe they had tried every airport on the continent, finding them overrun by the undead, and had crossed the Channel, finding the same here, eventually making an emergency landing when they ran out of fuel. Whatever the motive, it was obvious that, far from fleeing the plague, they were carrying it with them.

  Breht wondered how many cruise ships were in
the same situation, stuck at sea with half the passengers trying to eat the other half.

  Drawing his sword, he jumped down from the wing, his mind made up. This plane had almost certainly never been looted, and that was too good an opportunity to pass up.

  Breht cracked open the fuselage door, recoiling at the noxious fumes that escaped, retching so much that he nearly threw up, eyes watering. He should have expected that and he castigated himself for being so stupid. Digging into the bottom of his pack, he pulled out a gas mask. He’d long since lost his own and had salvaged this one from a fire station. Putting it on he re-entered the plane.

  The undead whipped themselves up into a frenzy to get at him but remained pinned to their seats. Breht levelled the sword in a two handed grip, the martensite steel gleaming, and began decapitating them, working his way down the plane. By the time he reached the end, his arms ached and he was sweating, but the plane was silent once more. He headed back outside to tear off his mask, breathing in the damp air, and waited until the fuselage had vented out the worst of the sickly fumes. When he entered again, the smell was still bad, but nowhere near as bad as before. Breaking open a tampon, he stuffed the sterile cotton up his nostrils and closed the fuselage door, sealing himself in.

  The prepared meals in the galley were inedible, but the food trolley was stacked with plenty of biscuits and chocolate still in their wrappers. Taking out a can of coke, he flipped the ring pull. The hiss and fizz told him it was okay to drink, and he downed it in one, his first sweet drink in months. Tossing the can, he then helped himself to the bottled water and the beer, each one worth its weight in gold now. Searching the passengers, he began removing rings, bracelets and necklaces, then rummaged through the hand luggage, doing the same. Afterwards, he locked himself into the toilet, washed his face with bottled water and the complimentary soap, and curled up for his first peaceful sleep in days, the rain drumming on the skin of the aircraft.

 
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