Authors: Duncan P. Bradshaw
Class Four: Those Who Survive First Published in 2015
Published by The Sinister Horror Company
Copyright © 2015 Duncan P. Bradshaw
The EyeCue Logo Copyright © 2014 Duncan P. Bradshaw
The right of Duncan P. Bradshaw to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living, dead or undead is purely coincidental. This also rules out voodoo, hoodoo, tarot card readings, palmistry, mummification, alien manipulation, absinthe intoxication, and any form of brain controlling parasitic ticks and/or worms. Any attempts to recreate any portion of this book in real life is frowned upon too. You try to sue me in a dream, you better wake up and apologise.
Daniel Marc Chant and J.R. Park, my Sinister Horror Company brethren, there aren’t two people in this world that I would rather be on this journey with.
Ash Williams and Stuart Park for beta reading this and pointing out things I’ve missed or elements that need sorting, lucky to have you both do this for me.
Paul Feeney for his advice on a particular section and Hannah Lockett for the inspiration to an entire set piece, thank you.
All of those people who volunteered to be characters in this book, I appreciate your enthusiasm, I hope I’ve done you justice.
Adi Stone and Paige (Madame Grotesque) for the covers and Penny Gaff illustrations respectively. I can’t draw for shit and your work gives this book a real added dimension, you rock.
Adam Millard, proofreading this badboy in three days and transforming it from a seven stone weakling into a sand kicking beach bully. Your kind words for the back cover are thoroughly appreciated.
For Debbie, the balance in the Force, your unending support gets me through the days when all of this seems so impossible.
Mum, Dad and Stuart, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without you.
To all those lost along the way, the hole you’ve left never leaves us, but you’re always alive as long as we remember.
And finally to you.
These words only come alive thanks to your imagination breathing life into them.
‘People were always getting ready for tomorrow. I didn’t believe in that. Tomorrow wasn’t getting ready for them. It didn’t even know they were there’
- Cormac McCarthy ‘The Road’
‘It is necessary to do (useful?) violence to oneself, to induce oneself to speak of the fate of the most helpless’
- Primo Levi ‘The Drowned And The Saved’
‘If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten’
- Rudyard Kipling
Nice watch huh?
No, it’s not broken, not at all. It’s meant to be like that; serves as a welcome reminder. The world we live in today holds so few certainties anymore; some things fade away, whilst others endure.
For instance, the memories I have of the times before the end are like a disjointed slide show, or a shoddily edited old 35mm film reel. You know, the ones we see with all the glorious conquests these days.
Random scenes with people I can no longer recall the names of, in places I couldn’t give you directions to. All existing in a world which lives solely in the stories that the survivors, us, tell.
I have but three images of my mother. Whether time or grief removed the others, I haven’t the slightest clue.
One is from my seventh birthday. I was crying for reasons unknown, she pulled in close to me and whispered soothing words, I wiped the tears from my eyes and blew the candles out. She smelt of cake mix and her skin was as smooth as a sharpened blade.
Another is from the final morning we had together. My reluctance to eat breakfast was testing her, I can remember the strain in her eyes. I had no idea why we had to leave so quickly that day; it would be years before I was able to understand the look she gave me that fateful morning.
The last image is the one I like to dwell on the least. I used to think she was wearing a red scarf, but time and adult eyes revealed the awful truth that it was her blood.
She had come back as one of
by then. The face I snuck a glimpse of as the man told me to look away, whilst similar to the other pictures of her, looks the least like her.
I remember the man striking her with the baton, I ignored his warning and watched as she died.
For the second time.
These days such horror seems so distant, so utterly alien. The things I have seen since then and over the course of so many years have withered away the ability to baulk at such sights.
But whilst my senses have been dimmed, one thing burns brighter than ever. The wish to keep alive those voices that were silenced in those days, months and years. We had plenty of false dawns in the struggle to reclaim our place in this world and, for many, they never got to see the world we live in now.
Those early days almost extinguished all hope we had. Some withered away, whilst others took evil into their hearts and used those dark times to create private fiefdoms or empires based on suffering and blood.
These places were the last to conquer, the hardest. Where
were found, they held no claim, other than to the body they were spawned within, they acted on instinct and impulse alone.
The others, though, were there because they felt they were owed something. They took advantage of the zeitgeist and acted out their depravity to every unimaginable whim.
This story, or at least the one that I can relay, is to speak for the silenced.
His is not the only one I have heard and remembered over the years. The other story I’ll impart with his, is from another who felt equally compelled to remember those he shared time with.
In life, there are no coincidences, no fate, no master plan; there is only a choice.
Many of us are able to make our own decisions; for some, that privilege was taken away, but it was a choice to someone nonetheless.
Sometimes though, lives, both in the past and present become intertwined. This is nothing more than chance.
So please, stay a while. The lights will remain on a little longer yet, this zone has been cleared of the last of the risen dead. We’ll get no further interruption.
Let me tell you a story.
This is not how he died.
This is how he lived.
The black and white security monitors flickered. Aside from a stern looking woman locking up at Warchuck’s, the wide angled shots showed no signs of life.
Francis sighed and looked back to the crossword:
five across, eight letters, one that returns after death or a long absence, R at the beginning and an N next to last.
His pondering was broken by ‘If Love Is A Red Dress’ singing from his phone. He looked at the caller:
“Hey sweetie, what’s up?”
“Woah, woah, woah, slow down, breathe, okay? Go on, tell me. Slowly.”
“How long for?”
“Okay baby, calm dow—”
“I know, okay, get yourself down there, I’ll—”
“I know, I gotta call up Rob though, get someone to cover for me. I’ll do that right after I finish speaking to you.”
“Of course I do sweetie, don’t say that. You know I’d do anything for you.”
“That’s okay, nothing to apologise for, you just go now. I’ll call up Rob and get someone in here.”
“No idea baby, hopefully within an hour or so, okay?”
“It’s going to be fine, probably just last minute nerves before coming out and meeting us I guess, eh?”
“Ha, yeah, things are going to be okay. I’ll see you real soon. I love you.”
“Okay baby, bye.”
“Who do you think they were?” Nathan asked softly. Try as he might, he couldn’t see much of the body which Francis had covered up with the sleeping bag after its initial discovery, and the now compulsory check for zombie vital signs. The missing top half of the woman’s skull confirmed quickly that she wouldn’t be getting up again.
Francis stopped reading the scavenged pamphlet and looked from the shrouded, withered cadaver to the young boy sitting at the table. He looked miniscule compared to the large oak table, which took up a good portion of the log cabin. Strewn over its surface were all kinds of rotten food debris and other flotsam.
Nathan’s hand was suspended in the air. Grubby fingers clutched a fork halfway down the handle, a piece of tuna balanced precariously on it. “I don’t know kid, looks like it was a woman. Been there a while I’d say. Eat your breakfast up, we’re not staying long.”
The flakes of fish were shovelled into the kid’s mouth, and he chewed slowly. A big gulp signalled its transition into his guts. “Is everyone dead now?” he asked reluctantly, looking into the can as if it might provide an answer.
“No, you know they aren’t, Nate. Just because most of the folks we meet these days are like them, doesn’t mean that everyone is dead.” Francis folded the pamphlet up and shoved it into his rucksack. He scratched his burgeoning beard with dirt-encased fingernails; the once clear delineation between intentional moustache and smooth cheeks were long gone.
Nathan weaselled another morsel onto his fork. “But we haven’t seen anyone alive for
, and when we did, you—”
“We have to be careful these days, kid. People aren’t what they used to be. We need to be one step ahead of them, make sure we can see them, and…” Francis looked over at Nathan with an expectant stare.
“And to make sure they can’t see us,” Nathan replied, forcing another mouthful of tuna down.
Francis nodded. “Good kid. That way, we can stay out of trouble. That’s how we’ll get through this, by staying out of trouble.”
“But…” Nathan trailed off.
“What is it, Nate?”
Nathan ran the fork around the inside of the shallow tin, herding the remnants into a heap. “Why can’t we stay somewhere? I’m tired of walking. I want to sit down for a while and read my comics.” Faux innocent eyes looked at his guardian.
Francis laughed. “Nice one, kid. I’m not going to fall for the ol’ poor puppy dog, ‘woe is me’ routine. Only one person had the power to make that work and, well, you ain’t her.”
Small shoulders sagged. The fork finished its duty and rested against the rim like a miniature diving board.
“Don’t sulk, kid. Hey, if it’s any consolation I think you’re right. We just need to find the right group of people to be with. I was told to look after you, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Francis wiped an arm across the detritus covering the map on the table. “Here, let’s have a look, see what’s around here.”
Nathan rubbed a grubby sleeve across his mouth and let out a fishy burp. “’Scuse me.”
Francis laughed and shook his head. “Shame we don’t have any toothpaste left, that stinks.”
Nathan laughed, pulled himself onto the table and looked at the map. To him it was just lines and circles; he pulled a puzzled face. “Where are we, Francis? Are we there?” a small filthy finger plonked down onto a large green area of the map. Francis took his hand and slid it a few inches diagonally towards him.
“Not bad, kid. Lucky guess. We’re in this rather large forest. I reckon we find this train line here and follow it out the other side. We can see where we fancy going after that,
“Deal,” Nathan nodded furiously and held out his pinky. Francis mirrored him and the two linked digits shook on it. The child scooted off the desk and landed on the wooden floor with a thud. Francis peeled the map off the table, which was only a matter of weeks away from becoming one with the furniture, and tried to fold it up. His many attempts ending in guffaws of laughter from the watching Nathan. “You’re rubbish at folding,” he offered. Francis scowled and eventually managed to get it back into its original shape.
The mildewed parchment was stuffed into the rucksack and Francis dug out a half packet of Tuc biscuits, wormed a few out of their plastic bondage and put them back. “Don’t even look at me like that, kid. These are mine. I won them fair and square, remember?”
The reply was a mumble of inaudible consonants and grunts. “What was that, Nate?” Crumbs of fake cheese and biscuit were spat out as the question was asked.
“I said you cheated. I’m only eight, your thumbs are way bigger than mine. It’s not fair,” Nathan grumbled.
Francis smiled. He shoved the last Tuc in whole and started to do the bag up. “As I recall, you had the choice of game, could’ve been anything, Paper, Rock, Scissors, I-Spy, but you went with Thumb Wars. Anyway, I get to put up with your fishy burps if it makes you feel any better?”
The child’s smile nearly split his face in two. Francis slung the backpack over his shoulder and ruffled Nathan’s greasy unkempt hair. “C’mon kid, let’s get a move on. It’s light enough now, let’s go and find that train line, yeah?”
Nathan jumped up, shouted, “Yeah!,” and ran to the front door. He had to use both of his hands to heave it open. He jumped off the top step and into the leaf mulch which surrounded the cabin’s porch.
“Slow down Nate, check before you head out, okay?” Francis called after the boy.
Tired eyes looked round the cabin one last time. Where the map used to be now showed the table’s true colour, a light brown, like deer-hide. Where it ended there was grime and muck. Francis took a last look at the covered body in the corner, its legs cradling the spent useless shotgun. He gave a brief nod of understanding and headed back into the forest.