Authors: Stephen Charlick
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Horror, #Fantasy
LAST DAYS WITH THE DEAD
Cover artwork by: [email protected]
© copyright: Stephen Charlick 2013
Imran placed his boot on the shattered skull of the Dead child and with a sharp tug, pulled free the arrow that had at last given this child the oblivion of true death. Looking down at the small child’s ruined and decaying corpse, Imran could not help but wonder how this poor soul had come to be pawing at the Convent’s walls, desperate to consume the living flesh it somehow knew dwelled inside. With much of the flesh stripped from one of its arms and an array of mouth-sized chunks missing from its body, he knew this child’s conscription into the army of the Dead had been a vicious and violent affair.
‘Heads up,’ shouted Gabe from the walkway that ran along the top of the convent’s high
stonewalls, ‘there’s another two coming through the tree line to the left.’
Imran glanced briefly up at the excitable teenager above him and nodded. Turning to where the thin woodland broke against the cleared area around the Convent, he sighed. Gabe had been
right; two more Dead creatures were indeed stumbling through the trees, drawn to them by the sounds of the living. Even as he watched, one of the Dead, dressed in what may once have been a policeman’s uniform, but was now nothing but a collection of gore and mould covered rags, snagged itself on a low branch and fell face first into the spring growth of brambles.
‘Shall we wait for them t
o pull their sorry arses closer, or do you want to take them out now?’ asked Patrick, standing next to him.
Patrick, like Gabe and the others from their ruined
electrical Sub-station home, had joined the group of survivors at the Lanherne Convent almost five months ago, and had slotted into their new home and roles with ease. Since then, with almost an unconscious sense of relief, Imran, Liz, and Phil, had slowly relinquished their leadership of the Lanherne group to Patrick and his wife Helen. It was not as if the trio had ever come to their roles by a vote, but rather common sense and their natural abilities that had kept those behind the walls safe for so long, and the role was thrust upon them. Phil, despite his size, strength, and almost wild berserker attitude when it came to defending those he loved, had never really been comfortable in the role, preferring more to follow rather than to lead. While Liz and Imran, though happy to bear the responsibility for those in their care, both thought the older and more experienced Patrick was far better suited to the role than themselves. And with their new baby, Saleana, to look after, Liz and Imran both had their hands full.
‘Well, I don’t think I can get a clear shot on the man
, but the woman or whatever it is, I can get that one,’ Imran replied, giving his arrow the quick once over to make sure it was still viable, before slotting it against the string of his bow.
‘Whatever you say, Imran
,’ Patrick said, nodding for him to continue, as he smiled at the young man who had become his trusted and close friend, ‘go for it.’
‘One more for Phil to shift,’ said Imran, raising his bow up to take the creature’s head in his sights
, ‘this will be the tenth this morning.’
Phil, before the Dead had come to wreak their cannibalistic mayhem on the world, had been a butcher, so he didn’t have the same aversion to handling dead meat as many did. Because of this, whenever he wasn’t smashing Dead skulls with his spiked club, he took it upon himself to clear the corpses from the base of the convent’s walls
, and take them over to the pit where the remains would be burnt to reduce the chance of any disease. In his own way, he kept the survivors at Lanherne healthy, despite the constant nagging of his partner Avery, the convent’s doctor that clearing and burning the Dead from the surrounding area was a bit like using a sticky plaster on a severed limb, a case of ‘too little too late.’ They had been exceptionally lucky so far, with the nightmare of diseases like Cholera, an ever present threat, the Lanherne group had managed to somehow avoid such consequences of having the rotting Dead at their gates.
‘Go with Allah
,’ Imran whispered to himself, as he let the string slip gently from his fingers.
‘twang’, the string sprung back into position and the arrow flew with power and speed towards the thing, that even now, turned its Dead film covered eyes to Imran. Instantly, its head was snapped back by the force of the impact, and as one last mournful moan escaped its withered and torn lips, it crumpled to the ground, forever lifeless.
‘I’ll get the other one,’ said Patrick, resting his crowbar
over his shoulder as he stepped past Imran, ‘watch my back.’
,’ Imran replied, reaching back to pull an arrow from his quiver.
With a nod, Patrick
walked across the compact earth that over time had become stained by the dark blood of the countless Dead, who had met their final demise there and over to the sparse line of trees where the Dead man still floundered. Testing the comforting weight of the pipe in his hand, Patrick stopped a few steps shy of the Dead policeman’s reach. Trying to pull himself upright, the Dead man’s eyes locked onto the living flesh that now stood so tantalisingly close, and he let forth his hungry wordless plea. The Dead man was in such a sorry state, with the filthy remains of his uniform hanging loose on his emaciated frame, and with what was left of the leathery skin on his face, tearing with each movement of snapping jaw, it would be a mercy for Patrick to end his pitiful existence. As the first skeletal fingers brushed pleadingly against his boot, Patrick raised the heavy pipe high above his head. Focusing on the top of the skull that even now looked up at him with a sense of desperate need behind its film covered eyes, Patrick once more prayed that the Dead thing at his feet was simply the mindless shell of the man it had once been. To even question what had made the man, his personality, thoughts and dreams, was somehow trapped within this decaying prison and truly was the stuff of nightmares, and didn’t bear contemplation. Giving the Dead man one final glance, Patrick watched as the cadaver prematurely opened its mouth unnaturally wide, unable to fight the compulsion to feed what fuelled its existence. As it did so, the thin grey tinged skin that stretched over its cheek, ripped, exposing the pitted and yellowed bone within.
,’ said Patrick, letting the heavy pipe fall, ‘not today.’
With a crunch, the Dead man’s cranium cracked
, and as the pipe continued its journey through the brittle skull to tear into the rotting soft brain tissue, the Dead man’s fingers at last, slipped lifelessly from Patrick’s boot.
As with many of the Dead that happened to somehow come across the Convent, Patrick gave the corpse at his feet a cursory onceover, to make
sure it hadn’t been carrying anything useful. Using his boot, Patrick rolled the emaciated corpse over onto its back, and thankful for the thick canvas gloves he was wearing, he began to search for anything salvageable. Kneeling down, he could see from the man’s clothes that he had indeed once been a policeman, two digits of his identification number were still secured to a shoulder tag on the stab proof vest he was wearing.
, this didn’t do you much good,’ Patrick mumbled to the man’s corpse, as he began to undo the side clips that held the vest in place.
The standard issue vest had been useless to prot
ect this man from the Death-walker plague that had appeared eight years ago, and like so many, he had faced an attacking army made up of his friends, neighbours, loved ones, and was totally unprepared and ill equipped to save himself. But Patrick knew from experience that the Dead were not the only dangers that roamed the countryside seeking out the living. What with the packs of wild dogs, the raiding parties of the lawless, and even the mentally deranged, the Dead were certainly not the only thing they had to take in to consideration, so the policeman’s stab proof vest could certainly prove to be a useful find. Now with the straps on both sides undone, Patrick began to pull the front up over the corpses head. With a wet sucking sound, the front of the vest reluctantly came away from the corpse’s chest.
‘Jesus!’ Patrick said, gagging from the smell.
The torso that up until that point had been un-exposed, was a mass of putrefied flesh that after having soaked through the policeman’s shirt, had only really been held in place by the vest itself. With the protective support of the vest now removed, the flesh of the corpse’s chest and stomach could no longer stay in position, and began to slip and run down the sides of the cadaver to form a rancid pool of spreading wet gore.
,’ he said, shuffling back slightly.
Giving the vest a yank to free it from the encrusted pus on the Dead man’s back, Patrick finally managed to work it over the corpse
’s head, to claim his gore covered booty. Gingerly, he placed the vest on the ground next to him and reached over to pat at the man’s trouser pockets. Finding them empty, except for a disposable lighter that no longer worked, he turned back to pick up the vest. As he did so, his hand froze. There, macabrely pulling itself across the policeman’s vest towards him, were the remains of a Dead infant.
It was unusual to come across Dead children under the age of four. By the nature of their
size, they were easily torn to pieces by the Dead during the feeding frenzy that killed them. Their limbs were easily torn off and stuffed into hungry Dead mouths, while the organs of their small bodies were ripped from them by the fist-full, to leave nothing but an immobile head with film eyes forever searching for flesh it could not obtain.
heartbeat, Patrick stared dumbstruck at the sight of the Dead child. A child that could have been no older than his own daughter, Jasmine, when Dead hands had ripped into its tiny fragile body to end its all too brief life. As he watched, the child used its short stubby arms to pull what was left of its body a fraction closer to Patrick. Reluctantly and somehow knowing what to expect, Patrick let his eyes wander across the cracked and filthy skin that just barely held fast to the child’s skull. Then down over the small shoulders still draped in the remnants of a mud caked but lovingly hand-knitted cardigan, and down to the ruin that was what was left of its body. From the rib cage down, the child was simply absent. The complete lower half of its body was missing, leaving only the final blackened strands of sinew clinging to what was left of its spine to trail forlornly behind it.
As he watched the Dead infant
advance towards him, Patrick couldn’t help but think of Jasmine, and how easily she could have become just like this creature when their pylon home had erupted in fire and death a few months ago. The thought of his beautiful smiling daughter reduced to this heap of corrupted rotting flesh, sent a chill to his very core.
‘Earth to Patrick
,’ came Imran’s voice from behind him, ‘Patrick?’
At the sound of Imran’s voice, Patrick blinked away the horrific images his mind had conjured up and
glanced briefly back towards Imran, who had already stepped forward, his bow raised in concern.
ay, Imran,’ he replied, ‘I just spaced out for a… Ouch!’
His words were cut short by a sharp pain in his hand.
‘Shit,’ he said, looking down at the Dead infant merrily trying to gum its way through the thick canvas glove on his left hand.
‘Patrick?’ Imran repeated, this time the word holding an edge of dread.
‘I’m okay, I’m okay,’ replied Patrick, trying to put Imran at ease as he forcefully prised the side of his hand from the infant’s mouth. ‘It just pinched the skin through the glove, that’s all.’
,’ said Imran, stepping closer but unable to convince himself to lower his bow just yet, ‘are you sure?’
a few months now, the rules of life had changed for the thirty-three survivors at Lanherne. Thanks to Avery, his colleagues, and the years they had spent performing genetic manipulations of the Death-walker virus, the black and white rules of living with the Dead had suddenly blurred to a grey. The Dead were still with them of course, but something had happened to those at the Convent, something that added a new shade to their monochromatic lives. When the scientists had decided to infect Alice’s, then unborn son, Charlie, with their own virus, and test its validity by killing him, Avery had said enough was enough and helped Alice escape. Taking both Alice and her new-born back to Lanherne, they had inadvertently brought something unknown with them, something hidden within Charlie’s blood, something new, and something that would change their lives. It was only when Sister Josephine died peacefully in her sleep, and remarkably remained in that state that any of them realised the virus within Charlie had mutated to become air born. Suddenly, the bout of flu they had all contracted, one by one, had become a microscopic battleground where the Death-walker plague had fought and lost. They were finally free of the infection that would bring them back as one of the Dead. They were finally free to die. But that was all they knew of their new state. What would happen if they were bitten by the Dead? They had no way of knowing and it wasn’t as if it was something any of them would put to the test.
‘Yes, I’m fine,’ Patrick continued, throwing the wriggling Dead infant to the ground
. ‘This thing doesn’t even have any teeth.’
With a stamp, Patrick brought his foot swiftly down on the tiny corpse’s skull, shattering it. The Dead infant’s arms twitched for a second as its small, blackened fingers grasped at the earth
, and then it was still. Patrick looked away from the child’s small half corpse and met Imran’s concerned gaze. He didn’t blame the young man for being cautious. Like himself, Imran had a young family to protect and it wasn’t unknown for those who had been bitten to try to hide the fact from those around them. It had happened before in other communities.