Read Last Days With the Dead Online
Authors: Stephen Charlick
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Horror, #Fantasy
‘No…’ she managed to say, the string of Rosary beads slipping from her grasp to fall to the cold stone floor.
‘What is it Rebecca?’ asked Sister Claire, worry and concern etched on her wrinkled features.
‘I know who she is,’ Sister Rebecca replied, turning to look at the worried woman next to her, ‘Holy Mother protect us, I know who she is.’
that, Sister Rebecca pushed herself up from her knees and gathering up the fabric of her habit, turned and ran down the aisle.
You know who ‘who’ is?’ Sister Claire called after her, as Sister Rebecca reached the large carved wooden doors of the Chapel.
‘Hide in the storage room, Claire
,’ Sister Rebecca answered, ‘I’ve got to warn them.’
And with that
, Sister Rebecca had pulled open the heavy door and disappeared into the darkness.
She knew she had to get to Patrick or Phil as soon as possible and tell them just who Lissa really was
, but as she turned a corner, she suddenly caught sight of movement in the dark shadows further along the hall and froze. Pressing herself tight against the wall, Sister Rebecca threw a prayer to the Saints that the darkness would hide her presence, and as she held her breath, she watched the dark form slowly move down the corridor and disappear round the corner. With her heart thumping in her chest, she forced herself to wait, hoping to put some distance between whoever the shadowy form had been and her. When she thought she had waited long enough, Sister Rebecca edged her way slowly along the wall to the end of the hallway. After a nervous glance in the direction that the shadow had gone, she threw herself away from the wall and ran to the small stone staircase that led up to the sleeping cells.
When she reached the top, she paused briefly by the window, listening for any more movement in the dark. With no sounds but the heavy thumping of her own heart coming to her, Sister Rebecca bolted to
the room she knew Patrick shared with Helen and their baby.
,’ she cried, banging franticly on the door, ‘Patrick, open the door!’
Almost instantly, she heard movement from within the room and as the sound of a crying baby began, Patrick threw open the door, a length of metal pipe already in his hand.
‘What is it, Sister?’ he asked, panting as the surge of adrenalin from being woken by her cries pumped through his body.
‘We’re in danger, Patrick
. She’s been lying to us,’ Sister Rebecca said, the relief bringing tears to her eyes.
,’ asked Helen, standing in the shadows behind Patrick with Jasmine in her arms? ‘Who’s been lying to us?’
‘Lissa,’ Sister Rebecca replied, straining to see the faces of the two people in the dark room, ‘that’s not her real name
, I’ve remembered who she is.’
Patrick reached forward to calm the obviously distressed nun.
‘Who is she, Sister?’ he asked.
‘Mary Donaldson,’ Sister Rebecca managed to say in a whisper, ‘she’s Mary Donaldson.’
‘You’re sure?’ Helen asked. ‘It was a long time ago…’
‘Yes,’ the Sister replied, ‘I remember her from when she worked in the village Tesco
, it’s her alright.’
Patrick knew of the strange incestuous Donaldson family that had made their home an island on a lake surrounded by dense woodland. At
best, they were unfriendly to strangers, at worst they were violent animals. Last year, one of the men of the family had been killed as he tried to rape Liz, and it looked like now they had decided to use the guise of a sick baby to get payback.
‘What’s happened?’ asked Phil, scratching his stubble as he opened his own door further down the hall, wearing only his underpants.
‘Wake everyone up,’ Patrick called back, ‘it’s Lissa. She’s one of the Donaldson’s.’
‘Shit!’ replied Phil, now fully awake.
Suddenly, a brilliant flash of light came through the window at the end of the hall, lighting up the entire hallway for a fraction of a second, only to be followed by the loud boom of an explosion outside.
A few minutes earlier, Lucy had hurried down the dark corridors with the sleeping Charlie held tightly in her arms. In her haste, she had not seen the figure of the Sister Rebecca pressed deep into the shadows, but as she made her way along the ground floor to the main door, she could not help but notice the approaching flickering light up ahead. Panicking and not knowing another way out of the Convent, Lucy froze. Unaware that those at the Convent had been infected with a new virus that stopped them from reanimating after death, she assumed Alice would be coming back as one of the Dead any second. She simply didn’t have the time to turn and find an alternative way out, she would have to deal with whomever was approaching her, and quickly.
‘Hello?’ said Nadine, shifting her book under her arm and holding up her small candle, so she could see who was st
anding ahead of her in the shadows. ‘Oh, Lucy, is everything alright? Do you want me to show you the way back to your room or to your brother?’
Taking a step closer, the small pool of light from the candle fell over the baby in Lucy’s arms.
‘What’s going on, Lucy?’ she said, recognising Charlie. ‘What have you done to Alice?’
But Lucy looked back
at her blankly and said nothing. Slowly, the young girl pulled her hand from beneath Charlie’s blanket to reveal the handgun she held. For a second, Nadine watched the candle light reflecting off the barrel of the silencer. She knew if Lucy decided to pull the trigger, no one would hear the shot, and she would likely be dead by the time anyone discovered her injured body.
‘Please don’t…’ Nadine asked, instantly knowing her life now rested in the hands of this
Looking up into Lucy’s eyes
, she saw no compassion or warmth there, only determination and the cold reflected light of the candle. This girl had already chosen her fate.
‘You’re going to kill me aren’t you?’ Nadine whispered, her words full of remorse.
‘Yes,’ Lucy said, levelling the gun to Nadine’s chest and pulling the trigger.
Nadine’s brain registered the fact she had been shot in a somewhat detached manner. She had heard the muffled pop of the gun firing
, and then after a pain that felt like a sharp punch to her chest, her whole world seem to be solely comprised of the sound of her own erratic panting, and a high pitched whistling in her ears. As she instinctively reached out her blood-covered hand to the wall for support, the book she had been carrying dropped to the floor with a thud. But her arms, suddenly weak and drained of strength, could not support her weight and slowly, with a soft cry, Nadine slid down the wall. Unable to move from where shehad fallen, Nadine’s eyes followed Lucy, watching as the girl stepped around her legs and disappeared into the shadows. Almost by compulsion, Nadine reached painfully for the book that had fallen just beyond her grasp, her movement sending a spasm of pain through her.
‘No…’ she breathlessly murmured, knowing she would never feel the comforting weight of a book in her hands again.
These things that had given her stability and the tools to survive in this world of the Dead, had always been more than mere paper covered in printing ink to her, they had been instruments of wonder. Through them, knowledge had opened up untold worlds to her, and she had revelled in every minute fact and detail they offered her, storing them away in the recesses of her mind for her to savour and enjoy forever. And that was one of the things that upset her the most, this information that she so treasured, would fade away as her life faded away. Even now, she could almost feel the details evaporating from her mind as synapses blinked out of existence one by one.
‘The city of Austin, Texas was originally called Waterl
oo,’ she panted, her hand tightly gripping the small candle that was miraculously still alight. ‘F…fish can taste with their fins as well as their mouths… the capital of New Zealand is… is Wellington… the length of the Amazon r…river is… is sixty… sixty-four hundred kilometres long… the sm… the sm... the smallest… the smallest… the…’
But Nadine’s body could no longer keep her torn heart beating
, and as the pool of her blood began to spread out from beneath her, Nadine’s organs began to slowly shut down. Words, meanings, names, places, all began to blur in her mind, and as Nadine’s eyes drifted one last time to the small candle she had in her hand, she managed to generate one last coherent thought.
At least I won’t die in the dark
she was gone.
Silently, as the tension slowly left her muscles and her fingers began to relax, the candle slipped fr
om her grasp and fell to the floor, rolling away from her body. For the briefest of moments, the candle rocked back and forth, its flame flickering slightly in a breeze and then, like Nadine, it too was extinguished.
ucy gently opened the large wooden door just wide enough to make sure she would be unseen. Looking up at the walkway, she could see two figures silhouetted against the night sky. They were walking slowly along one side of the convent’s high wall towards a corner.
,’ she mumbled to her herself, waiting for the two figures to disappear from view.
She watched as one of the two on watch, paused to look down at something on the other side of the wall. Suddenly
, there was a flash of reflected moonlight as the figure pulled out some sort of blade, took aim, and threw it at an unknown target. Glancing back into the Convent, Lucy knew her time was running. Surely, the woman she had just killed, if she had not already done so, would be reanimating any second. The last thing she needed was a wild hungry corpse running down the corridor towards her. She knew she might just have to take a risk and make a run for it. Using a just few more of the seconds she could ill afford to waste, she anxiously waited for the figures to continue on their circuit of the wall. With a silent sigh of relief, the two figures began to move again. Her chance had come. Slipping through the door, Lucy darted across the small courtyard, past a chicken coop and a stable, and into the shadow of the wall.
,’ came her mother’s urgent whisper.
Lucy looked to her left
, and could just about make out the darker shadow of her mother in the darkness.
‘I’ve got it
,’ Lucy whispered back, reaching out for her mother.
‘Good,’ Mary Donaldson replied, ‘now let’s get out of here
Facing the wall, so no light would alert those on the wall of their presence, Mary pulled out the simple communication device and after pressing a button
, saw the digits 11.58 briefly flash green. What happened next would be completely out of her control, and she knew she would just have to trust them to come through with their side of the plan. If they didn’t, she doubted she would get out of the Convent alive. Mary looked at her daughter, the moonlight reflecting on her eyes, wide with worry.
,’ she whispered, typing one final word into the device.
The word ‘NOW’ flashed green for a second
, and then the message was sent. Mary pulled Lucy to her and waited for the others to play their part. For what seemed like an eternity, they waited, all the while knowing the two people on the walk would be completing their circuit at any moment. Then as the digits flipped over to 12.00, an explosion of light and sound rocked through the grounds of Lanherne. Amid a cloud of debris and twisted metal, Mary watched as the small side gate was blown from its hinges to land in pieces in a vegetable patch.
,’ Mary said, pulling her daughter to the opening that was to be their escape route.
, she could hear the thumping of running footsteps on the walkway above them, as those on watch ran towards them. Mary and her daughter darted through the space where the gate had once stood, and they were suddenly bathed in blinding electric light.
‘Get on!’ shouted a man’s voice, his hand reaching for Lucy.
Not waiting to be told twice, Mary and Lucy each ran to one of the two black motorbikes and jumped on the back.
‘Did you get the boy?’ one of the men dressed in black said, turning to look at the woman now sitting behind him.
‘Yes,’ Mary replied, rapping her free arm around the man’s waist, ‘Lucy has him, now let’s get out of here.’
With a nod of his crash helmet, the man turned back and with a rev of his engine, the two
motor bikes shot forward, leaving Lanherne and the devastation they had caused disappearing fast behind them.
Karen knew, one way or another, she would never spend another day hidden from the world within the subterranean tunnels of the base. Either Matt’s plan worked
, or they would be gunned down in the attempt, it was as simple as that. With a look of bored nonchalance masking the worry and fear that bubbled just beneath the surface, Karen walked calmly through the dim corridors to the lift. As usual, for this time of night, the lights were set to their ‘night’ setting. It was thought to give those within the underground base some semblance of the passing day. As far as Karen was concerned, it didn’t work. To her, the dimming of the lights did little but highlight the fact that they spent most of their time shut away from the world, it was a constant but subtle reminder of their shame. The very people they were meant to help had, at best, been abandoned, at worst, after the fit and healthy had forcibly been conscripted, the old and sick had been left to fend for themselves. When it became apparent the Death-walker plague wasn’t going to just run its course after a few months of bloody carnage, those in charge had decided only those who could contribute with either their mind, muscle, or in the case of women, their wombs, would be given the chance of rescue. Though at many times over the last eight years, Karen had wondered who had got the rum end of the deal there, especially after hearing from Matt about the survivors at the Lanherne Convent.
Surely, those at Lanherne could not be so unique in the world beyond the base. If there was one group working, living
, and managing to deal with the Dead, then surely there would be others. Perhaps humanity was not as close to the brink of destruction as they had been led to believe after all. From Matt she knew, unlike here, the group at Lanherne cared for their weaker members and were even willing to die to save one another. And from that moment, she knew that was the sort of life she wanted, and even if she had to die trying, that would be the life she would have.
Although his superiors had believed Matt’s tale of the convoy being overrun by the Dead, they had not believed the attack
just to be a random event. They were sure that those from Lanherne had somehow caught up with the convoy and orchestrated the attack to reclaim their friends amid the confusion. Of course, Matt’s superiors didn’t really give a damn about the rescued civilians or even the dead soldiers for that matter, but what had sent them into a frenzy, was the baby Dr Morris had injected with their precious antivirus, had presumably been rescued along with them. As far as Captain Cardin and Dr Farrell were concerned, these people had stolen something from them and they wanted it back, no matter what the cost. So when Karen had relayed a communiqué from the squad in the field that they had positioned themselves around Lanherne, she knew it was time for her and Matt to act. Even though apart from Steve, she didn’t even know these people, she was willing to risk her life to help them, and she realised for the first time in a long while, she felt a sense of hope for a future.
‘Can’t sleep,’ she said
, smiling at a bored looking guard stationed by the lift, as she pressed the button that would bring the lift to her, ‘just need to feel the sky above for a while, then I’ll be fine.’
The guard looked at her as if he couldn’t give a damn. That was one of the problems with the base, they had any shred of duty beaten out of them in one way or another
, and even though their lives depended on tight security, it was obvious the guard couldn’t really bring himself to care. As long as he was seen to be doing as he was told, and kept under the radar of his superiors, that was enough for him.
With a ‘ping’
, the doors to the small lift opened and Karen stepped in. There were three lifts to the island above. The large cargo lift, which by its very size would attract attention from even the most bored of guards, and then there were two smaller lifts solely for personnel. It was not unheard of for those cooped up in the base all day to need an hour or so up on the surface, so what she was doing shouldn’t attract too much attention. As the doors closed slowly behind her, she bid a silent but relieved farewell to the stale recycled air and oppressive confines of the place she had been forced to call home for the last eight years. She would certainly not miss it, and assured herself even if things went bad in the next half an hour, at least she would never be coming back here.
Being only three floors below ground level, it was a short journey
, but to Karen, it seemed to take an age for the counter on the level reader finally to reach zero. When the doors eventually opened, she was met by a similarly uninterested looking guard sitting behind a simple desk. The room in which she stepped was windowless and empty, apart from the guard at his desk. She nodded to the man as she calmly walked past him, reassuring herself that up until that point, she had done nothing out of the ordinary, so he would have no reason to question her actions.
‘Hey,’ he suddenly said, rising from his seat at the precise moment she reached for the door handle.
With her heart pounding in her ears, Karen turned to him and tried to banish the guilty look she assumed covered her face.
‘It’s raining out there,’ he continued, stepping forward to hand her a large plastic rain mac that had been draped over the back of his chair, ‘here, take this.’
‘Thanks,’ she managed to force herself to say, hoping he didn’t notice the shaking of her fingers as she took the item and slipped it over her shoulders.
‘Thanks again,’ she nodded, quickly pushing open the door before the bored guard tried to engage her in conversation.
The moment the door closed behind her, she was hit by the salty smell of the ocean and the calming smell of damp earth. After the stale air of the base, the sensation of being outside again quickly revived her. To look up and not see the cold flickering lights and steel tiles of the oppressive corridors, but a huge expanse of nothing, filled her with a dizzy, almost childlike, excitement. She took a few moments to breathe deeply and fill her lungs with the clean chilled night air. It didn’t matter to her that there was a drizzle falling, the very air itself exuded life, she could feel it. Now was not the time to enjoy such simple pleasures, she had to meet Matt and hopefully if luck was with them, leave the nightmares of the base far behind her.
The island, deserted for many years under the guise of a fictional anthrax outbreak while the base was under construction, was approximately just under a mile long and had a small
, but functional airstrip. The few original crofter cottages that had been built on the island centuries before, were now nothing but shapeless lumps of rubble, dotted among Poly tunnels and hastily erected hangers in which the base stored their various vehicles and aircraft.
Karen walked along one of the gravel paths that skirted close to the rocky cli
ffs. Enjoying the fresh breeze blowing off from the ocean, she held her hand up to shield her eyes from the rain, and looked out across the bay to the dark shadow that was HMS Bulwark. Anchored a mile off shore in deeper waters, the destroyer had become little more than a slowly rusting white elephant. With the smaller Ramped Logistic boats in the bay, easier to manoeuvre and able to use less of their precious reserves when on missions to the mainland, the Bulwark had more or less been demoted to an unmanned radio relay point.
Karen pulled the hood of the rain mac up over her head and began to wind her way through the Poly tunnels to the airstrip, where she knew Matt would be waiting for her. Even from a distance, Karen could see the collection of aircraft that sat like scattered beach
ed whales, most of them never to be flown again. The base had three attack Apache helicopters, one of which was on the mainland right now, awaiting to receive its precious cargo from Lanherne, four small commercial planes in which much of the personnel on the base had arrived, and two small domestic choppers. Karen wasn’t sure who had arrived in them, but they had sat forgotten and hidden beneath tarpaulins for years. Forgotten that is, until Matt had returned to the island knowing he would at some point in the future, have to leave again. Like many on the base, Matt had increased his usefulness to those in charge by adding to his skill base. For Matt that meant learning to fly. Of course, with fuel reserves so low, they couldn’t actually afford to waste it on practice flights, so all of Matt’s knowledge had been gained through theory and simulation exercises. Despite Matt being a fast learner, and acing the simulations, Karen was still more than concerned that he may find reality of flying the helicopter a little different, but what choice did they have. Fuelling the chopper had been tricky, but with the help of a dark night and a syphoning tube, Matt had salvaged just enough from the second chopper to top up the one they would be taking. The amount in the fuel tank was far from full, but Matt assured her it should at least see them to the mainland.
Rounding the last of the Poly tunnels, Karen knew the time had come. Slipping her hand under the rain mac, she felt the comforting weight of the handgun she carried. There should be at least ten soldiers on night duty patrolling the island from the airstrip, across the small rocky beaches
, and down to the jetty in the bay. If luck was with them, they could get to the chopper and get it in the air before they were even noticed. But as Karen cursed to herself, she knew luck was going to be elsewhere this evening. Coming towards her were two of the soldiers on patrol.
a crappy night,’ she said, making a show of pulling her hood further over her head to keep out the drizzle.
pocket, her fingers tightened slightly around her gun, as she finally recognised the two men.
‘Your brother’s down by the jetty, Darling
,’ said the soldier she knew to be McKinley, looking her up and down.
On more than one occasion, she had found herself fending off his unwanted advances
, and it looked like he still hadn’t got the message that she wasn’t interested in him.
‘Perhaps it wasn’t her brother she came up here to see?’ said McKinley’s cohort, Private Neil Holland, licking his lips as he eyed Karen.
Having both already been in the army when the Death-walker plague hit, the two men had used their muscle and experience to dominate the younger soldiers, in particular, the women. Although there hadn’t been any formal accusations, Karen knew that some women had been forced into situations that had left them with scars both emotional and physical. The two men had an interest in sharing the objects of their pleasure with each other, so for Karen to find them together, out here beyond the eyes of any witnesses, alarm bells were certainly ringing.
‘I’m just out getting some air,’ Karen said, a little too defensibly, ‘I don’t want any trouble, McKinley.’
‘Now, who said anything about trouble?’ said McKinley, taking a step closer. ‘You say anything about trouble, Holland?’
replied Holland, grinning as he stepped around Karen to stand behind her. ‘Seems to me she’s getting hot and bothered about nothing.’
‘McKinley…’ Karen said, realising she was being boxed in by the two men.
‘That right, Darling? We making you hot and bothered? Hmm?’ McKinley continued, stepping even closer.
It was when he reached up to touch a strand of damp hair that had come lo
ose from her braid that Karen realised the way this was going to end.
‘Don’t.’ Karen said, knocking his hand away.
‘Ooh, she’s a touchy one,’ giggled Holland behind her, reaching forward to pull the hood of her rain mac down, ‘now that’s better, a pretty piece like you doesn’t want to be hiding it away.’
Karen watched as McKinley’s gaze drifted from her face and down her body. Even in the limited
moonlight, she could tell from his expression what he was thinking, and it sickened her.
‘I told you before, McKinley,’ she began, hating the quiver that edged into her voice, ‘I’m not interested.’
McKinley’s eyes flicked back to her face and something other than lust was suddenly lurking there.
, maybe I…’ he began, but his words were cut short as a blunt instrument smashed into his skull.
‘What the?’ Holland said, looking from McKinley’s collapsed body on the ground up at the figure of Matt pointing a handgun at his face.
‘On the ground, you little Shit!’ Matt spat through clenched teeth.
‘Hey, hey,’ Holland protested, raising his hands as he went down to his knees
. ‘We were only having a laugh, Matt, no damage done. Tell him Karen, it was just a laugh.’
,’ Karen said, pistol whipping the back of Holland’s head with as much force as she could muster.
With a grunt, Holland slumped forward over McKinley’s body.
‘Come on, we don’t have much time,’ whispered Matt, grabbing his sister’s hand and pulling her away from the two unconscious men.
Karen and Matt ran past the two attack Apache helicopters
, to the small chopper Matt had chosen as their aerial life raft off the hateful island base.
,’ he panted, pulling open the nearest cabin door for her, before running to the other side.
‘Are we going to be able to get off the ground without hitting them?’ Karen asked
, noticing how close the main rotary blades of the last Apache were to them.