Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 7part #1 of Undead UK Series
“As soon as I stop the train, get the civvies up and over the fence.”
Breht’s hand hesitated on the throttle lever. Undead heads turned at their approach, hollow stares converging on the arriving train. Again, he considered driving on. A group of undead were clustered on the track and already shambling towards the new sound, the nimbler ones breaking away from the group, mouths agape. He could plough the train right through them and continue to somewhere else. Anywhere else.
But that was a fantasy, and he knew it. Releasing the throttle lever, he pulled on the brake handle. The diesel engine dropped to an idle and the brake blocks hissed.
He’d miscalculated how much room he needed to stop, however. The train rolled past the spot he’d chosen and towards the approaching zombies. He pulled on the handle with both hands, but it was like stopping a car on ice. Closer and closer to the undead he got, when, at precisely the wrong moment, the train shuddered to a halt, just yards away from the nearest sprinting fiend.
Grabbing his rifle, Breht scrambled out of the cab and into the carriage, hearing the side doors slide open. “Contact!” he screamed.
Nobby was about to exit the train when Cobb turned and swiftly fired through the window. The decayed head of a zombie burst apart like a water melon. Nobby stepped out of the door, swore, then started firing, his single shots repeating rapidly.
“Everybody out! Run!”
The civilians, already nervous, panicked, leaping from the carriage and running back the way the train had come. They were over a hundred yards past where the rope waited for them, and heads atop the castle wall shouted encouragement, urging haste. But they still had to get over the fence. Two of the older children ran ahead, but the smaller children, with their little legs, fell behind. One by one, the adults picked the children up and ran with them.
They left the soldiers behind; Nobby, Harris and Cobb firing into the mass of zombies pressed into the corridor between the train and the fence. It wasn’t the only direction the undead were coming from, though. From the meadow, more of them scrambled over the weed entangled wooden fence at the bottom of the embankment that separated the track from the meadow. Others appeared on the bridge. The civilians were unprotected and heading straight towards them.
“Filipova,” shouted Breht as he ran after them. “Wait!”
Nobody heard him, and one of the undead cleared the wooden fence and ascended the embankment to the track, focussed on the leading child: a teenage girl with a duffle bag bouncing on her back.
Breht halted and sighted his rifle. Breathing heavily, the reticle on his sight rose and fell as he aimed for the creature’s head. The recoil kicked as he squeezed the trigger, and a gout of plasma rose from the zombie’s shoulder, but the creature took no notice. Breht’s second shot passed over the creature’s head. By now, the girl had seen the ghoulish apparition, a fat pyjama-clad monstrosity with black lips, and the girl darted towards the chain link fence, trying to climb it.
The zombie, for all its apparent mass – and Breht doubted it had ever run so fast when it was alive – was set to get to the girl before she could make it halfway up. Breht held his breath and squeezed off another shot, trying to get that elusive head-shot. The bullet landed low, slicing through the back of the neck. With its spinal cord severed, the creature collapsed, tumbling over on the ground.
“Filipova! Get everyone over the fence!”
The dead converged on them from all angles and Cobb, Harris and Nobby retreated to the apex of the semi-circle at the fence. Nobby was out of ammo and he stooped to pick up a steel bar that had been discarded at the side of the track. He turned to face the attackers as a runner flew at him. Breht had a clear shot, but was too slow to aim his rifle. A futile warning shout was on his lips as he whirled, Nobby trying to block the zombie’s lunge. He was off-balance, and the zombie was about to collide with him.
There was a sharp crack and the zombie’s head simply flew apart.
Breht turned to see who had fired the shot – Cobb and Harris were both facing the wrong direction – when a strange, gruff voice spoke in his earpiece.
“Better get moving, son. I can’t hold them all off from here.”
It was the figure on the tower, peering down the scope of a sniper rifle. The same voice Breht had spoken to on the radio. The sniper rifle cracked again, and another undead body slammed down hard onto the gravel of the tracks, head cleaved open.
Breht needed to get a grip of the situation. The civilians were climbing the fence too slowly, struggling to get their feet into mesh-gaps. The girl with the duffle bag was over already and running towards the ropes on the castle wall, but the younger children were still at the foot of the fence, waiting to be handed up by the adults holding them. Breht realised that he should have made the girl wait at the top of the fence, to help the others, but fear would soon have them all thinking only of themselves. Breht needed to hold them together, not spook them with his own panic.
“Nobby! Get to the top of the fence and pull 'em all up.” Breht shifted over to Cobb. “Got any grenades left?” he asked him.
“A couple,” said Cobb.
“Chuck them. Break some legs.”
The mass of the undead coming up the embankment were walkers, but struggling among them were some runners trying to break through the herd. Other runners were sprinting along the foot of the fence from both directions, but they were felled by shots from the tower. Hitting fast moving targets with one shot from such a distance was not easy, but the runners went down with clinically accurate head-shots. Pulling the pin from a grenade, Cobb bowled it over the tracks and into the feet of the undead. The explosion blew them over, sending feet flying, but the shockwave failed to stun them, and the crippled ones rolled over and crawled towards them, undeterred. But they were less of a threat, now.
Nobby scrambled to the top of the fence and, straddled across, hauled the civilians up with hefty pulls.
Breht sighted on an undead child – a child! Soiled blonde hair, glazed eyes and baby teeth stained with blood. It was no older than some of the children being lifted up the fence. Clad in grubby one-piece pyjamas with tiger stripes, Breht couldn’t help thinking about where it had been when it became infected. Had it been attacked, screaming in its bed, by one of the undead?
The child moved fast and was almost on him when he pulled the trigger. He wasn’t aware of thinking about pulling the trigger. He just did it. As the headless body of the child toppled backwards, Breht stared.
This couldn’t be real. He knew it wasn’t a dream, but it still couldn’t be real.
“Watch out,” said Cobb, calmly dispatching an undead coming at Breht from the side.
This isn’t a day for daydreaming, you fool. Get a grip!
Breht glanced behind him. Everyone was nearly over the fence. “How many rounds you got left?” he asked Cobb.
“Just the one, now.”
Breht turned to Harris, who stared back, his face pale. “I don’t know, I haven’t been counting.”
Breht hadn’t been counting either. Before him was a wall of shuffling undead, feet dragging in the gravel, low moans escaping from their rotten mouths with each exertion. “Okay,” said Breht. “Over the fence.”
The three turned and sprinted in unison, throwing themselves at the chain link and vaulting over. Nobby, waiting for them, was dislodged from the top and they all fell together on the other side.
“Some warning would have been good,” complained Nobby, rolling over and clutching his side.
“Sorry,” grimaced Breht. He’d landed badly on his hip, a nasty reminder that he wasn’t as flexible and fit as he once was.
The dead shuffled up to the fence, pressing against it. Some began to climb, their hunger urging them upwards, but they lacked the coordination to make the ascent and ended up hanging halfway, fingers clinging to the wire. Behind them, a few runners attempted to thrust themselves through the mass, adding to the push. The fence ratt
Nobby sprang up and kicked at the fence, shaking a few of the undead off. Picking up his steel bar, he hammered at the fingers, trying to break their grip, but the undead did not respond to pain and only slipped down when their fingers were broken, only to get up and try again. Cobb joined Nobby, thrusting his bayonet through the mesh to push them off.
At the castle wall, the girl with the duffle bag was almost at the top of the rope, willing hands reaching down to help her. Other children were being encouraged to make the most terrifying climb of their lives, while the younger children were tied on prior to being lifted.
Breht and Harris charged the fence, plunging their bayonets into reeking bodies and exposed organs, feeling the unnatural strength of the undead who refused to recoil at the pinpricks to their flesh. The choking odour was enough to make Breht gag, his eyes stinging and watering.
A runner climbed the backs of the other undead, reaching out to grasp the top of the fence, and a shot rang out from the tower, the bullet ripping off half the runner’s face. The force knocked its head back, but its hands gripped the fence tight. A second shot blew its head off as it leaned forward again.
Breht’s rifle and gloves were covered in gore, and as the infected blood splashed out, he realised how dangerous this tactic was. Fighting to remove a bayonet stuck between some ribs, he backed away. Further down the fence, runners were starting to climb over. “Back to the wall,” he shouted.
Disengaging from the leaning fence, the soldiers began their retreat. In the distance, a runner flopped over the fence, landing in an untidy bundle. Breht dropped to one knee and sighted on the creature as it scrambled to get up. His optics were obscured by filth and he relied on the back-up hard sights on the top of the scope, double tapping the zombie. It made no difference and the creature broke into a run, ignoring the soldiers and heading straight for the civilians. Breht tracked the zombie, pumping rounds into it, and Harris joined in, chewing up the creature’s arms and shoulders as they tried to get the head. Breht’s last bullet took a chunk out of the base of the creature’s skull, then his bolt clicked. The creature, however, took a dive and didn’t get up again.
The straining fence leaned over at forty five degrees now, and the dead crawled up it, their weight forcing the fence down even lower. The children were hauled up the wall like express elevators, and the adults began to climb the other ropes.
A twang signalled the snapping of a wire attached to a fence support, and the undead tumbled forward onto the grass as the fence gave way. The shufflers stood up, swaying, to begin their march forward, and were immediately knocked down by the faster ones who surged forwards, seeking their prey. Harris fired the last of his bullets. The click as his bolt rammed forward onto an empty chamber was ominous and loud. “Run,” said Breht.
The four soldiers turned and sprinted towards the ropes. Above them the bark of the sniper rifle was joined by the blast of shotguns firing into the horde, but the scattered shot had little effect on the putrefying corpses hurrying to close on them.
The ropes shook as the civilians scrambled desperately up them, and there was a terrifying scream as one of them lost their grip and fell. It was a woman, one of the research scientists, and she plummeted down the rough face of the wall, fingers clawing the air, and landed heavily on the ground, accompanied by the audible snap of a bone.
Cobb reached her first. When Breht got there, his heart sank. The woman was hyperventilating, fighting to hold back the pain. Her leg was broken at the calf, the splintered bones protruding from the ripped flesh. Behind them, the dead closed in.
At the top of the wall, a child was untied and the free rope thrown down.
“Tie her on,” Breht told Cobb.
They had no time. A zombie in a blood soaked shirt and tie broke free from the group, trouser legs flapping as it loped towards them, teeth bared in a ghastly grin. Nobby reacted instantly, charging with his metal pole and smashing it into the zombie’s collarbone. The zombie’s grin didn’t alter, but the sheer force of the blow knocked it down. As it sprawled on the ground, a kick from Nobby dislodged some of the teeth, but the zombie was unperturbed as it tried to bite down on his boot, hands curling round Nobby’s leg. Holding the pole vertically, Nobby drove the end down on the creature’s head, cracking the skull. The zombie’s fingers gripped Nobby’s leg tight and Nobby slammed the pole down again, breaking the skull open and driving the metal into the exposed brain.
Breht and Harris, meanwhile, were caught in their own struggles as they tried to keep the horde off Cobb and the woman. Breht smashed the butt of his rifle into a snarling face, then reversed his grip to bayonet an undead woman in a supermarket uniform. It was a pointless exercise, as she leaned forward with the blade in her gut and tried to bite him. Breht punched her in the face with his armoured glove, then kicked her off the bayonet.
The shots from above ceased as the circle tightened around the soldiers, the shooters fearful of hitting the wrong targets, and Nobby widened the circle momentarily with a mighty swing of his club. Breht punched and kicked his way free of an entanglement, retreating a little more. The supermarket woman came at him once more, eager for his flesh, and he bayoneted her in the face, driving the blade up towards her brain. The bayonet was again too short, however, and he lacked the strength to break through the skull. He pulled away again, and the woman, her face split open, lunged forward. A hole appeared in her forehead, and brain fragments spewed out from the back of her skull. For a moment, Breht thought it was the sniper in the tower, but the trajectory was all wrong. Glancing behind him, he saw Cobb, rifle levelled, barrel smoking. He’d fired his last bullet.
The woman with the broken leg was being hauled up the wall, screaming in pain with each heave of the rope.
“Nobby! Harris! Let’s go!”
With a ferocious war cry, Nobby battered at the crowd one last time, then dropped his baton to sprint for the ropes. Breht and Harris were close behind, rifles swinging on their slings as they freed their hands to grab the lines. Cobb was scrambling up already and Breht ascended on the same rope. He was hot inside his armour and sweating profusely. The top of the wall seemed a long way away, and his arms felt weary and weak. He managed a few more feet, then was arrested by a shout.
It was Harris. Breht looked down.
Harris lay on the ground, his hands still gripping the rope. Somehow he must have slipped, or been pulled down, because a zombie was sinking its teeth into his leg. Stunned, Breht watched as more undead fell on him, tearing flesh off his legs and buttocks.
“Help,” uttered Harris weakly. He seemed to be in shock himself, and was making no attempt to fight them off. Maybe he had no more energy.
Or maybe he knew that, after the first bite, he was finished anyway.
Breht stared. He knew that if he jumped down now, he would never make it himself. Frozen in indecision, he watched as the undead ate Harris alive.
Harris lifted his head once, and he locked eyes with Breht. “Please,” he murmured.
Breht’s heart palpitated, knowing what that meant. He still had the revolver. Seconds passed as he watched, and his hands didn’t want to release their grip on the rope, but slowly he forced one hand to reach into his pocket and pull out the pistol. Twisting round, he aimed it at Harris’s head.
Harris’s eyes widened. “No,” he said, confusing Breht.
What do you want from me? What do you want me to do?
The undead swarmed over Harris, nearly obscuring him from view, and Breht held his pleading face in his sights a little longer.
The trigger was heavy, and seemed to take an age to travel its full length. Then the weapon bucked in Breht’s hand as it fired.
Breht looked away, not wanting to see the result. The undead gathered at the foot of his rope, arms swaying as they tried to grab his feet, but he was just out of reach.
Breht felt numb, calmly putting the hot revolver away and placing his free hand on the rope, but he cou
It’s just you now, mate. You’re on your own and you’re halfway between heaven and hell. Except the angels may not want you now.
Not after what he had just done.
Breht clung to the rope. He didn’t feel he deserved to climb, but he didn’t have the courage to drop.
If you’re not going to do it, you might as well resign yourself to living.
Little by little, he inched his way up the rope. He felt drained, and as the adrenaline left him, his arms and legs began to shake.
“Come on, mate, keep going,” came Cobb’s voice.
Breht did just that, mechanically placing one hand over the other. When he got to the top, strong hands hauled him over onto the walkway behind the battlement crenelations. Below, in the roofless castle ruins, multi-coloured tents were spread over the lawns and gravel. Bodies crowded the battlements, and bottles of water were handed round and greedily imbibed.
Anonymous hands slapped Breht’s shoulders, but he felt nothing. Cocooned in a bubble of loneliness, he sat down, his legs no longer willing to hold him. The weight of his armour felt like an albatross around his neck. He didn’t want to move, didn’t want to stay, nothing. He just wanted to sink into a deep abyss, away from everything.
A bearded man with tan cargo pants, a fleece jumper and a hunting rifle with scope approached him on the walkway. Breht noted the desert army boots he wore. He looked like a defence contractor in Iraq. A thick gold chain glinted on his neck, and a Samurai sword in a lacquered sheath hung at his side.
“So you’re the man in charge?” he said with a grim smile, his intelligent eyes appraising Breht as he extended his hand.
Breht didn’t feel like shaking anyone’s hand. Reaching for the rank epaulette velcroed to the front of his armour, he ripped it off and cast it down, watching it tumble towards the tents. “Corporal Cobb’s in charge, now,” he said. “I quit.”