Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 6part #1 of Undead UK Series
“So where are we headed, Staff?”
Breht hadn’t heard Cobb approach, and the interruption startled him. “Christ knows,” he replied.
Cobb didn’t seem perturbed by the admission, and his blue eyes studied Breht, as if trying to discern some other, unspoken answer.
“What?” said Breht, when he saw Cobb looking at him.
“Nothing. Just thinking about some of the stuff I heard back at the barracks.”
“You think I’m a washout as well.”
“I didn’t say that. I was just curious. A lot of blokes took your side and covered for you, back in the day. Some of them risked their own reputations to guard yours. They weren’t the kind of blokes who’d do that for just anyone, so I wondered why.”
Breht returned his gaze to the track. “Me too.”
Cobb was silent for a while, then said, “You’ve got to treat Nobby different if you want to get the better of him.”
“What makes you think I want to get the better of him?”
Breht wondered why. “He’s just got to learn to obey orders, that’s all.”
“Yeah,” said Cobb in agreement, then said nothing more. The silence got uncomfortable and Breht wondered what he was thinking. Then Cobb said, “You’ve got to treat him with more contempt, like he doesn’t really exist. Give him orders like you don’t expect him to be able to carry them out. His dad always looked down on him, and he’s spent years trying to prove him wrong. Act like his dad, and he’ll carry out your orders out of spite. Ask him his opinion, and he’ll just think you’re weak. That’s how you need to handle him.”
Houses appeared on both sides of the track. They were entering a built up area.
“I think you’re mistaking me for someone else,” said Breht.
“Okay, it’s your call,” said Cobb. “Looks like we’re arriving in Chester. Are we stopping here?”
The 2nd Battalion was stationed at Chester barracks, and Breht thought it might be worthwhile linking up with them, but he wasn’t sure how far they were from the rail line, nor what shape they were in. Chester was a medium sized town, and if it was anything like the last place they had left, would probably be crawling with undead.
“I don’t know. See if you can get Harris to make contact with battalion HQ. They might be able to help us out.”
“Roger that. We’ve got to drive through Chester station, though. If it’s clogged up with abandoned trains, we might not be able to get any further.”
That wasn’t what Breht wanted to hear. They wouldn’t last five minutes if they had to go through the town centre on foot. “We’ll take a chance and see if we can get through. Get the civilians on the floor and under the tables. Take out anything that comes close to the train, but watch your ammo.”
“Okay. You’d better give me your rifle, my mags are empty.”
Breht nodded towards where his rifle was propped up and Cobb took it. “Here, you’d better take this,” said Cobb, handing him a revolver. “From the colonel’s private collection. Careful though, one of the chambers is empty.”
Breht checked the revolver. It was an old Smith & Wesson .38, and it only had five bullets in it.
“The colonel used it to commit suicide in his office,” explained Cobb.
Breht felt the weight in his hand, and wondered how someone could simply pocket the weapon at the scene of a tragedy. He turned to query the corporal, but Cobb was gone.
The track ran along a high embankment, and the undead that wandered around some warehouse yards saw the train coming and immediately moved to intercept it. Breht watched as they scaled the chain link fence, ignoring the razor wire coiled on the top. They couldn’t feel the blades slicing into their dead flesh, and even when they became entangled in it, they simply pulled their limbs straight out, stripping off blackened skin and leaving behind fingers, footwear and toes. Their strength was unrestrained, and they moved where they wanted, heedless of the consequences. By the time they scrambled to the top of the embankment, however, the train was gone, moving at a sedate twenty miles an hour, which was all that was needed to prevent them from catching up.
Breht was loathe to move faster, unsure how quickly he could stop in an emergency. Already they had passed an abandoned carriage on the adjacent track, and he was certain they’d find more.
Harris pounded into the cab. “Staff,” he said breathlessly. “I’ve got a contact on the radio. Switch on your PRR.”
Breht had switched off his personal radio to save the batteries. “Who is it?”
“HQ, I think.”
Breht activated his radio mic and changed channels to the command net. “This is Staff Sergeant Breht of 143 Brigade. We are inbound to Chester from the south. Do you copy?”
“We copy. This is Lieutenant Chatsworth, 2nd Battalion of the Mercians. Are you on foot or mobile?”
“We’re on a train.”
“A train? That’s original. How many of you are there?”
“Myself, three riflemen and a party of civilians. We’re low on ammo and we need assistance.”
There was an audible sigh at the other end. “Ah, I was hoping you’d be able to help us, actually. There are seven of us, plus assorted civilians, and we’re stuck in the zoo.”
“Don’t ask. We’re cooped up in one of the monorail carriages, suspended above the lion enclosure. Have you ever seen the undead rip apart a full grown lion?”
“Can’t say I have, sir.”
“Trust me, you don’t want to see it. Okay, according to my GPS, the track runs north out of town, about a mile to the west of us. If we’re clever, we can find a way to meet up.”
And if we’re not?
“What about the barracks, sir? We should pass close to that.”
“The barracks has been overrun.”
Breht’s spirits sank at the news. It was clear the picture had been repeated all across the country. “Are you in contact with anyone else?”
“No, you’re the first.”
A dubious honour. “Okay, we’re approaching the station now. We’ll meet up with you on the other side.”
A shot rang out further back in the train, shattering glass, and Cobb’s voice sounded in his earphones. “Staff, speed up!”
“Is something up?” said Chatsworth.
Breht had no time to reply. He’d slowed the train down and failed to pay attention to his flanks, fixated on what lay ahead. Multiple tracks spread out across the station, and the undead swarmed out from behind the maintenance sheds. Stationary trains stood everywhere, and as he applied pressure to the throttle, he saw one on the track ahead. Dropping the speed further, he looked desperately at the controls, realising he didn’t know how to reverse.
Bodies thumped against the side of the train, and the cacophony of gunfire grew more urgent. Tugging at different levers, Breht didn’t notice one of the undead charging the front of the train until it launched itself at his windscreen. He recoiled at the impact as the zombie clung to the windscreen wipers and pounded at the glass. Grabbing the revolver, he pressed it against the windscreen and fired. The report shocked his eardrums, the windscreen shattered and the zombie’s head snapped back. The body slid off and Breht returned to his frantic search of the controls.
“Jesus, Staff, move it, move it!”
Paralysed by his own helplessness, he watched as the obstacle ahead drew closer and closer. Then the train switched tracks.
Suddenly, the way ahead was clear, with a gap through the carriages, and Breht slammed the throttle forward. The train picked up speed, rattling over the points, and a zombie that tried to throw itself at his broken window hit the side of the train instead and fell under the wheels.
The undead leapt and tumbled from the platforms like lemmings, heading towards sound and movement. The train ploughed through them all, the bogeys crunching bones. There were more trains up ahead – it looked like every carriage on the line ha
Cobb came running into the cab. “Staff, we’re going the wrong way. This track heads west.”
“I can’t do anything about that! I don’t know how to get it on the right track!”
“Are you having problems, Staff Sergeant?” broke in Chatsworth’s voice.
Breht stared at the black tunnel that loomed ahead and keyed the mic. “I don’t know if we can help you, sir. I don’t know where we’re headed.”
“We’re headed into Wales,” said Cobb.
“Did you say Wales?” said Chatsworth.
“Yes,” said Breht. Then the tunnel swallowed them, cutting off all communications. Breht stared at the blackness, the rumbling of wheels echoing back off the tunnel walls. He felt sick, thinking of the other unit he was abandoning.
Like you did with Baker.
Breht grimaced. “I had to do it,” he mumbled to himself.
“What’s that, Staff?” said Cobb’s voice close by.
Hurtling through the void, Breht had forgotten he wasn’t alone. Feeling a flush of shame, he said, “We need to go back. Find a way to switch the tracks.”
Cobb didn’t answer.
And why would he? It was a crazy idea. The tunnel ended and the train raced out into the daylight. To the right stretched the water and mud flats of a river estuary. To the left, green hills rose up. The radio stayed silent, and in the bright sun, Breht felt strangely vindicated. His primary responsibility was to his unit and the civilians in his charge. It would have been suicide to take them back.
He turned to ask Cobb what his opinion was, but Cobb had disappeared, slipping out as quietly as a cat.
Probably better not to ask him anyway. What was it he said about looking weak?
He wondered, however, whether he looked weak already. Maybe that was why Cobb hadn’t answered.
Jesus, I can’t do anything right.
Breht stared forlornly at the tracks, feeling suddenly very tired. Angry feet thumped on the deck and Nobby appeared, face crimson with rage.
“You left them! You fucking coward! You’re running away!”
The estuary gave way to ocean as the train sped along the north coast of Wales. Granite peaks touched the bases of dark clouds inland, and seagulls wheeled over grey sea cliffs and the white hotels of abandoned seaside towns.
When he was a child, Breht remembered hearing a song about a train that carried the souls of the dead. His father played it constantly for a while. Maybe he was thinking about his own impending journey to the next life. Breht wondered sometimes whether his father had been a lifelong depressive. Nobody ever told him he was, and Breht grew up thinking that his father’s distant brooding was a perfectly normal thing for a man to do, and thus never made the connection about his fixation with mournful music. His grandmother hated it, and hated that song in particular. There was something demonic about it, she said. She wasn’t a superstitious woman, nor a religious one, but she was convinced at times that his father laboured under some strange dark spell, and that it was a temporary curse that would soon pass. Quite why, she never said, but the young Breht watched and waited for a while, expecting his father’s mask to slip off one day. In the end he gave up waiting, concluding that the mask was all there was, and he promptly lost interest in anything else his father did. But he remembered the song.
Strange then that he was now driving a train with the souls of the living, through the land of the dead. It was a reversal that was never meant to happen. The souls of the dead were at least meant to be headed somewhere, whether above or below, but this particular train had no known destination.
Coasting along, neither completely in this world or the next, Breht got an inkling of how his father might have felt. He was never a drinking man, but the moods had more or less the same effect. Now Breht realised he was following in his father’s footsteps more closely than he thought.
Loosely tangential footsteps, but footsteps all the same.
As he watched the seagulls, he fancied he could ride this train forever, but his hunger pangs reminded him that this purgatory had its limits, and no amount of dreaming could hide that.
Soon he would have to take his chances with the dead again, whether he liked it or not.
Or he could bite a bullet, like the colonel did. That would solve everything. Breht looked at the revolver, thinking about the strange chance that had brought it to him, from one depressive to another. It’s too soon for that, he told himself, not really knowing the point at which one truly took that last step.
But as he dismissed it, he also made a mental note to perhaps save the last bullet for himself.
Just in case.
Harris entered the cab. “We’ve got another contact,” he said. “I think it’s automated, though. Just keeps repeating the same message over and over.”
Shaken from his reverie, Breht switched channels.
“...survivors out there. We are located at Conwy Castle, North Wales. If you can get to us, take the A55. We’re out of ice cream, but we’ve got a lovely view of the sea. Repeat, if there are any survivors out there...”
“Is this for real?” said Breht.
Harris shrugged. “It’s a radio contact. That’s all I’ve got.”
“Where’s Conwy Castle?”
“I dunno, but it must be close.”
Breht pressed the transmit button. “Hello Conwy. This is Staff Seargeant Breht. Are you receiving me?”
There was no reply, just the automated message.
“Might be just a beacon,” said Harris.
“Beacons don’t talk about ice cream,” said Breht. He tried again, and this time a reply came through, overriding the automated message.
“This is Conwy, receiving you loud and clear. What mob are you from, son?”
Breht and Harris exchanged glances. “143 Brigade. Are you army?”
“Not any more, mate, but it’s good to hear from someone who is. Where are you?”
“On a train, heading west along the coast from Chester.”
“A train? Excellent. The track passes right by the walls of the castle. How many have you got?”
“Myself, three riflemen and ten, wait, nine civilians, including children.”
“Children? Okay, that could be awkward. We have to lower ropes over the walls for you to climb up.”
“Ropes? Don’t you have a gate?”
“It’s swarming, mate. You’ll be eaten alive before you even make it that far. Soon as you cross the bridge, stop the train and run for the ropes. We’ll cover you and hopefully we’ll be able to get you all in.”
“Roger that, we’ll contact you when we get closer.”
Breht looked at Harris.
“He seems cheerful enough,” said Harris.
Cobb arrived in the cab.
“Did you get all that?” said Breht.
“Yeah, sounds a bit mad. The kids won’t be able to climb the ropes.”
“We’ll have to tie them on, and they can lift them up. Means hanging around until they lower the ropes again, though.”
“That’s going to be tough. We’re down to about fourteen bullets each. Here, I’ve distributed them all.” Cobb handed Breht his rifle back.
Breht thought about the implications. Less than half a magazine each to fend off zombie hordes. “Are we sure we want to do this?”
The other two looked at him, like it was a question he was meant to answer, not them.
On the other side of the river, the gaunt grey castle loomed, its walls intact, its eight towers denoting strength and solidity. Two bridges carried the rails and the road, the rails to the left of the castle, the road to the right of the castle and into the town. Medieval walls encircled the town, joined to the castle and guarded by its own towers. Built by some English king to subdue the Welsh tribes, it was hard to imagine a better sanctuary. Unfo
Crossing the bridge, Breht made a tactical appraisal. The castle stood on an outcrop of granite, with grass verges sloping down to the rail track. A high chain link fence separated the track from the castle grounds. Meadows on the south side sloped up to a wooded hill that overlooked the castle. Hordes of undead milled about on the meadows that were littered with the bloodied corpses of sheep. More undead would undoubtedly spill out of the town gate once they heard the sound of the train.
With so little ammunition, the soldiers would be hard pressed to defend themselves, never mind the civilians. With luck, a few of them might make it to the ropes in time, but for the rest... Breht wasn’t sure.
You’re going to die, mate.
This was shaping up to be a really bad idea. There had to be a better option, surely, some other place he could take these people? He contemplated the possibility of simply driving on, deeper into the hills, and finding somewhere more deserted where they could disembark in safety. Perhaps they could make their own sanctuary away from civilisation, up in the Welsh mountains.
As a soldier, however, he’d trained on Welsh mountains, and he knew how bleak they could be, even in summer. The army sent them there to test them, and to break them, while they were at their fittest. A week in the wind and rain was enough to turn strong young men into miserable wrecks, eating cold rations and dreaming of warm beds. And right now, they didn’t even have rations. No, it’d be a disaster, taking the civilian survivors into that. They wouldn’t make it through their first winter. He couldn’t guarantee they’d even make it to autumn.
You won’t make it to the end of the day, mate.
“Cobb, is everyone ready?”
“As ready as they’re going to be,” radioed back Cobb.
The train clattered across the bridge and Breht eyed the fence that bordered the track. Ropes dangled ready from the castle walls, and a figure waved to them from the top of the nearest tower.