Undead uk remember me de.., p.9

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead, page 9

 part  #1 of  Undead UK Series

 

Undead UK: Remember Me Dead
 



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  “Probably not.”

  “So why continue?”

  “Why not?”

  William looked up at the ceiling. “You’re just being obtuse now. You’re intelligent enough to realise why not. This act of pointless machismo doesn’t suit you.”

  “William, you don’t know me. You don’t know what I’m like, and you don’t know what I’ve done. For the sake of the community, you’re better off not trusting me, nor anyone else that comes in. There are people out there who are better off staying out there.”

  William looked at him. “But you’re not one of them. I realise that now, and I apologise for not seeing it sooner. I don’t know what caused you to lose faith in humanity – and I’m sure you have your reasons – but this is a safe place, and these are good people. They like you.” William bit his lip. “And my daughter likes you.”

  “I know.”

  “Okay, that sounds like I’m bribing you, and I didn’t mean it to come out that way...”

  “I know.”

  “...but I see no reason why you shouldn’t stay. You have no need to go. You’ll destroy yourself if you do...”

  Breht shook his head, eliciting a tut from the hairdresser. “Forget it, William. You don’t understand.”

  “I have all the time in the world, Breht. Explain it to me.”

  “I don’t have as much time as you.”

  “Well, at least wait a couple of days. See what you think.”

  “No. Every day I wait, he gets further away.”

  “He’s likely dead.”

  “You don’t know him as well as I do.”

  “I don’t have to! His party was annihilated. Nobody who enters the town centre comes back alive! Don’t you understand? It’s just death in there. It’s death everywhere outside these walls. There’s nothing – nothing! – to journey towards. No untapped supplies, no mythical community or secret government that’s going to bring this country back. Civilisation is right here. This is it, old, sickly and frail, and we need people like you!”

  The hubbub of conversation in the church ceased, all eyes turning to William and an uncomfortable silence ensuing. William rubbed his face, his hand trembling. “I can’t do this any more,” he said, and walked away.

  Breht stared straight ahead and waited for the snip of scissors to resume.

  *

  Breht laid out his blanket near the old church organ on the upper gallery, instinctively picking the high ground as the safest place to be in case of an invasion. The church doors were solid, and there was no indication that the refuge was about to fall that night, but Breht had learned to leave nothing to chance.

  The darkness in the church was total. Whispered conversations, snoring and flatulence were underscored by the constant background noise of bumps and scratches on the doors and walls as the undead and their nocturnal senses homed in on the tantalising source of food.

  Breht practised his sit-ups and press-ups, as he always did now. Months of poor eating meant he’d lost a lot of weight and bulk, and exercise used up calories he could ill afford to lose, but staying fit and strong was his number one survival tip for a prosperous and zombie-free life. Lean and wiry, he was fitter now than when he’d been an army instructor, travelling further and on less food than he’d previously thought possible. He remembered stories from other soldiers about Taliban fighters who roamed the mountains in sandals, walking for miles with just a bag of dried meat, pole-thin, yet surprisingly strong. Civilisation was a great softener, and the lack of it now had changed him in ways he hadn’t considered before.

  He was emotionally colder now, for sure. The community in the church appeared friendly and forgiving, with elderly faces happy to see him as a virile young man, and the children happy to see a strong dispenser of toys and security. But behind the facade he could see the quieter ones, the sick ones, the ones who only had a fifty-fifty chance of making it through the next winter. Aside from the honeymoon welcome, he didn’t want to get to know the people better, didn’t want to see the hidden dividing lines, the bitter recriminations and the jealous sentiments that were bound to be lurking there. He didn’t want to memorise their faces or bond with them because he knew they were pretty well doomed. He didn’t want to think of the children and the elderly dying, and he didn’t want to lead them. William was right to feel pessimistic, weighed down as he was by the burden of a fruitless command, but blocking off evil thoughts and preferring a bizarre version of Happy Families wasn’t going to help. This wasn’t a reality TV elimination game, and there would be no prize money for the last one standing.

  Breht preferred the dangers outside to painfully witnessing what would come next. His emotions couldn’t stand that, so he bricked them up, locked the door and tossed the key.

  *

  Months of constant alertness left him a perpetual light sleeper, so he snapped awake instantly when he heard someone approach. A shadowy figure on all fours crawled towards him, but he knew who it was.

  The figure came to his side, and a hand slipped under the blanket, feeling his bare leg and walking the fingers up to his groin, grabbing his semi-erect penis. Breht clamped down on the arm. “No, Laura,” he said.

  Laura began stroking him. “Oh, come on,” she whispered. “Nobody will know.”

  Breht forcefully pulled her arm off. “I said, no.”

  Laura sat up quickly, and Breht could tell she was naked, her breasts bouncing. “Are you serious?” she hissed. “It’s just a little fun. God knows we need some fun here. A few minutes, maybe more. Let’s get it on. I’m yours for the night.”

  “No means no, Laura.”

  “Oh my God! Are you gay or something?”

  “Yes,” said Breht, rolling away from her. “Now go away, I need to sleep.”

  There was a confused pause.

  “Are you serious about being gay?”

  12

  Breht and Simon Cann made love to each other late at night in the back of a truck behind C Barracks, a risky move since the suspension squeaked with their exertions, and at any minute, the patrolling guard could have heard them. The risk, however, only made the act sweeter.

  Breht had been attracted to Simon Cann from the minute he set foot on the training base, dressed in his civvies and carrying his suitcase. From a professional point of view, he’d seen the military potential of Simon early on, as had the other instructors. From a personal point of view, Breht wasn’t sure if the feeling was mutual until Simon caught him looking at him during a rest stop on a route march.

  “Seen something you like, Staff?” Simon had said. He had a look in his eye that indicated he knew exactly what Breht wanted.

  Nobody else heard the comment, and Breht had continued on his way, checking on the other exhausted soldiers lying flat out on the heath, but the frisson of excitement stayed with him, made more potent by the frustration of trying to catch a moment alone with the young recruit on a busy training base. By the time they made it together, Breht was certain it was more than just sexual attraction.

  “I’m in love with you,” he said, as they lay side by side afterwards.

  Simon thought he was joking. “I bet you say that to all the new recruits.”

  “No,” said Breht. “I’ve never said that to anyone. And for your information, I usually carry out my dalliances outside the barracks.”

  Simon laughed. “You’re so serious.”

  Breht nodded. “I am.”

  Since awakening to his sexual preference in a chance encounter behind the school playground, Breht had maintained his stoic indifference to emotion, looking only for hormonal release. Gay bars and late night couplings in the park were all he needed to feed the occasional urges. Until now.

  Seeing Simon Cann changed everything and turned his world upside down. His nights were plagued with thoughts of him, his days with yearnings to catch sight of him. Sunny days seemed sunnier, rainy days a blessing from the heavens. The depth of his emotions caught him by surprise and he experienced a dee
p bliss that he’d previously thought impossible. He’d never felt anything like it, and it both shocked and soothed him, the dissonance catapulting his euphoria until he thought he was going to break apart. It was the happiest moment of his life.

  Simon appraised him thoughtfully. “You soft thing,” he said.

  13

  The party in Conwy Castle was in full swing. Breht could hear it through the thin tent wall. Every zombie in a mile radius could probably hear it, as singing, drunken voices yelled loudly into the night sky. Camp fires burned and torch beams danced as the besieged community celebrated.

  What it was celebrating, Breht didn’t know. The arrival of more refugees to strain the community resources? A euphoric paean to the end of the world, and to hell with the consequences?

  Whatever it was, he didn’t want anything to do with it, nor much else, for that matter. Instead, he lay on a sleeping bag, staring at the moving shadows through the fabric of the small tent he’d been allocated.

  It was the first chance he had to relax in... what? A week?

  No, it was less than a week. Just a few days, but it felt like a month. He couldn’t believe that just a week ago he’d been at his desk, processing stores applications, whiskey on his breath, a thick fog in his brain. He didn’t watch the news or read the papers, and people rarely spoke to him, so he didn’t know much about the national emergency, which his cynical frame of mind refused to take seriously anyway. The urgent whispers in the corridors meant little to him, other than to increase his persistent paranoia, thinking that they were talking about him. When asked to get his kit together and lead a squad, he thought it was a joke.

  It still felt like a bad dream. He couldn’t believe that the world, not just his world, but everybody’s world, had come crashing down. He couldn’t believe that the first living human being he’d ever killed in his life was one of his own men.

  Holy shit. The look on Harris’s face...

  It just didn’t feel real.

  He was expecting any minute to be told to attend a tribunal for the unlawful killing of a serving soldier. And that maybe he would wake up and realise it was just a nightmare, because he couldn’t believe what he’d actually done.

  The raucous singing and the shadows dancing like devils on the fabric told him that he had. This was real and the rest was history, now.

  He pulled out his revolver and clicked the cylinder round, counting.

  Three bullets left. The weapon had claimed the lives of one colonel and one private already. He wondered if he should add a staff sergeant to it.

  Turning it around, he looked down the barrel, the round noses of the bullets shadowed in their chambers. Waiting. He realised he already had his thumb on the trigger.

  Applying pressure, he felt the hammer ease back, fighting against the tension of the spring. The cylinder clicked round. The spring tension snapped and the hammer shot forward. Onto an empty chamber.

  Breht’s mouth was dry. He knew the chamber was empty, but he wondered what it would feel like to actually do the deed. Maybe it wasn’t as difficult as he thought.

  Letting out his held breath, he turned the pistol around again, opened the cylinder and extracted a cartridge, rolling it between finger and thumb.

  This would be the one. The bullet with his name on it. He slipped it into his jacket pocket and buttoned it.

  When all else had failed, it would be there waiting for him. It was a strange comfort.

  A shadow loomed over the tent entrance and Breht put the revolver away. The zipper rose up and Dr Filipova stuck her head into the tent.

  “I wondered if you were awake, but I don’t suppose anyone can sleep with this noise. It’s enough to wake the... well, you know what I mean. I brought you a beer.”

  “I’m okay, thanks,” said Breht.

  “Have it anyway. I can’t stand the stuff, but there’s nothing else. May I come in?”

  Breht didn’t want the company, but he just shrugged, which Filipova took as a yes, climbing in and sitting cross legged on the floor.

  Filipova proffered the bottle, which Breht refused. He knew that if he started with one, he would want another, then more. After which he would want something stronger, which likely was not available, and would probably never be available again. And he was no fan of cheap lager, which was what was being offered.

  “I was just wondering how you were,” said Filipova.

  “I’m okay.”

  Filipova cocked her head. “Difficult for anyone to be okay, considering the circumstances.”

  “I’m fine, really. I just need some time alone.”

  Filipova toyed with the bottle. “I understand. It’s just... well, on behalf of my staff, I’d like to convey our thanks to you for getting us out.”

  “Wasn’t just me.”

  “I know, but your leadership was decisive.” Filipova paused. “You didn’t need to resign. I understand your reasons for doing so, but I think you acted hastily. Because of the stress.”

  “Doesn’t matter. Ranks don’t mean anything anymore.”

  “Perhaps, but position does. The community’s going to need people like you in a leadership role.”

  Breht snorted. “I’m the last person anyone needs.”

  “I disagree.”

  “Look, I’m grateful for you making the effort and all, but you don’t know anything about me and I think we should just leave it there.”

  “I know about Simon Cann.”

  Breht hooked her in his gaze. “Who told you?”

  “Nobody, really. I just happened to be semi-involved in a conversation between your corporal and that man Nobby, who doesn’t like you very much, by the way.”

  “So I gathered. What did he say?”

  “I won’t go into the details. I’m sure it’s a sensitive subject.”

  “What did he say?”

  “A lot. What concerns me is that the incident destroyed your career and, subsequently, your confidence. I’m no psychologist, but I’d wager the incident played a part in your resignation today. Unjustly so, in my opinion.”

  “You don’t know the half of it,” said Breht.

  “Then tell me.”

  “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

  “We’re in a tent in the middle of the apocalypse. What could be better?”

  “Almost anything,” replied Breht glumly.

  “Very well,” said Filipova. “I’ll help you. Nobby said that Simon Cann accused you of raping him. That’s a horrible thing to have hanging over your head.”

  Breht shut his eyes for a moment. “Nobby needs to shut his mouth.”

  “I agree, but what’s said is said, and I for one don’t judge you. The court found you not guilty, and that’s good enough for me.”

  “The court nearly believed him,” said Breht. “And you know what’s worse? I couldn’t believe he was actually accusing me of that. After everything we’d shared. I was stupid enough to fall in love with him, and stupid enough to believe it was real. And in the end it was all a sham.”

  “You weren’t stupid for falling in love. It was he who betrayed you.”

  Breht glared. “Error in judgement. That was what the tribunal said to me. I failed to exercise good judgement, and that’s been my career from start to finish. It was my bad judgement that got Baker killed, and Wolfy and Harris too.”

  “You can’t blame yourself for Harris’s death.”

  “I shot him!”

  “You had no choice. And the same goes for the others. If we had stayed at the hospital, we would all have died and we wouldn’t be having this conversation, surely that should be obvious.”

  “Only to you, Doc. Forget it, okay? I don’t want to talk about this anymore. If you just want some gossip, then get out there and mingle, because I’m sure everybody’s got an opinion on me now.”

  “It’s not like that at all...”

  “Just go, all right? Just go.”

  *

  Breht didn’t remember dreamin
g that night, and couldn’t recall whether his nocturnal slumber had been disturbed by the kind of nightmares and dark thoughts that haunted his waking hours, but he woke to find himself holding the revolver on his chest with one hand, and his chosen bullet lying in the open palm of the other.

  And he felt grim.

  A slanting line of light lit up the top of the tent as the sun rose beyond the castle wall. Crawling out of his sleeping bag, he unzipped the tent and poked his head out.

  Dew glistened on the lawn of the outer bailey, and a fine layer of ground mist hovered between the tents. Empty bottles lay about the cold embers of a camp fire, and seagulls strutted around the camp, picking at discarded wrappers.

  Sitting nearby, like Jesus meditating after a hard workout at the gym, was the bearded sniper, bare chested and cross legged on the grass. Middle aged, grey hair in his beard, his body was lean but corded with muscle. On one side of his chest, he had a tattoo of a writhing Chinese dragon, on the other a winged dagger and the motto, Who Dares Wins. In his hands, resting on his knees, was a long, curved stick that appeared stained and worn smooth from years of use.

  “We never really introduced ourselves properly,” said the man.

  “No,” said Breht. “We didn’t.”

  “You’re Breht, I know that much. German origin?”

  “So I’ve been told.”

  The man nodded. “I’m Zak. Short and simple. Not Jewish. It was just my nickname when I was in the mob.”

  “SAS?”

  “For a while. I’m not trying to brag. I was drunk when I had the tattoo done. Wasn’t such a good idea when I did contract work in Afghanistan and Iraq – if the tribesmen had caught me, they’d have handed me right over to Al Qaeda as an important asset to be tortured. But I wasn’t planning on getting caught, anyway. The tribesmen would have skinned me alive most times if they had, even without knowing who I was.”

 
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