Burden of Survival: Killing the Dead : Season Two (5 page)

BOOK: Burden of Survival: Killing the Dead : Season Two
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The three pigs we’d found appeared healthy enough. They were caked with mud from the churned up end of the garden where we’d fenced them in and the stench was less than pleasant. The shed at the furthest end of their pen had been filled with straw and the door removed to give the animals somewhere to stay in relative warmth during the colder nights and bones that had been too big for them to eat lay scattered around.

“What’s the problem?” I repeated.

“That,” Gregg said as he pointed into the pen. “That’s what’s wrong. We’ve been feeding them zombies for the better part of a month and they’re absolutely fine.”

“So the infection doesn’t transfer to them,” I said.

For some reason he didn’t look as pleased as I did at that and I couldn’t understand why. The bloodied butcher knife lay in the mud at his feet and the last few pieces of the latest zombie I’d killed were beside it, waiting to be thrown to the hungry pigs.

“Yeah, they’re bloody fine.”

“Then we can move on to the next stage,” I said.

“Who the hell will we get to try it?” Gregg asked. “Seriously, who in the right mind will eat an animal that’s been fed a steady bloody diet of zombie flesh?”

“It’s not like we have to tell them what the pigs have been eating,” I said calmly as his face twisted in disgust.

“How the fuck can we not tell them?” he demanded.

“Simple, we butcher them here. No one will know.”

“Who’re you going to test it on?” he asked. “Take it back to camp and risk infecting everyone at the same time?”

“No,” I said. “We need a small group to test it on. We can maybe trade the meat at Coniston and see what happens.”

“You can’t do that,” he said. “No one in their right mind would agree to do that.”

“Volunteers then?”

“Good luck finding them,” Gregg snapped. “Unless you want to try?”

“Never was a big pork eater,” I said with a smile that wasn’t returned.

I let out a sigh. It had been hard enough convincing Lily and the others that this project was necessary. They’d finally agreed but had reservations about it and if Gregg was the standard to judge by, the next part would be even harder.

“You know this is necessary,” I said.

“Doesn’t mean I have to fucking like it,” Gregg said as he turned his head to spit into the mud at his feet. “Leaves a bad taste mate, you know what I mean?”

“Not really,” I said unapologetically. “You’ve seen them yourself. Birds and rats feeding on the dead. Whatever infection reanimates them is likely already in the food chain. How many of the fish we catch have fed on the corpses that end up in the lake?”

“I really don’t want to think about that.”

“Well you need to,” I said. “Dozens of zombies fell into the lake when we visited Windermere that time.”

He nodded as he recalled that disastrous trip where he’d been so distracted by trying to shoot me that we’d found our rowboat drifted too close to the crowded docks and the undead and fallen into the water all around us.

“Those undead can’t swim and the water screws with them,” I said. “They end up clinging to the bottom of the lake until something comes close. How much of their blood or loose flesh, will have entered the diet of those same fish we’re pulling out and eating?”

“Fine mate, I get your point.” Gregg said with a look of distaste. He’d eaten fish like the rest of us had. Though after I’d convinced them of the potential problems we might face with it, Lily and her council had placed limits on how much each person could consume.

It wasn’t ideal but since that diet of fish had kept our community alive during the winter we’d needed to risk it.

That wasn’t even the worst part. The water we drank, the biting insects, flies and the like that would rise in plague like numbers in the summer months with all the dead flesh to feast on… well, the chance for infection to be spread was too high to leave to chance.

I needed to know if surviving during the winter had just been delaying the inevitable. If despite everything we’d done, we would all end up being infected by something so ridiculous as eating fish or drinking water.

 

Chapter 6

Lily

I ran as fast as I could to where the boy had told me the threat was coming from. I had a duty to protect my people and I was damned if anyone would die while I could help it. For some though I was already too late.

They came through the trees at the north end of the island, twenty or more and three of them at least were people I had waved to just that morning. I pulled my hammer free from the loop on my belt as I fought back the tears at such pointless loss.

My people were streaming away from the zombies, panic filling the air as word spread. Our refuge was breached, no longer safe and for my people who had grown so complacent and sure of their safety, they had no protection.

“Lily!” Cass screamed behind me but I ignored her as I dashed over the ploughed ground that we’d hoped would bring a bountiful harvest of potatoes, carrot and cabbage.

I leapt the last three feet towards the leading zombie and screamed my rage as I cracked its skull with the worn head of my hammer. Thick blood sprayed across my coat but I had long grown used to that.

Moans rose around me as they stumbled and staggered towards me. I sent silent thanks to the man I loved as I used everything he’d shown and taught me over the winter to bring death to these foul creatures that had dared invade my sanctuary.

My arm swung the hammer in controlled motions, no energy wasted as I beat at the closest zombies, seeking to crack their skulls. The second fell with a shattered temple, the third’s jaw broke away with my swing and as it clawed at my arm I reversed the hammer and dug the claw part into its head.

The fourth was Janet, a sweet woman who cared for the children whenever she could and watched them with a wistful expression as she remembered her own. Her eyes were empty now of that care that had once filled them and the bloodied hole at her throat told how she died. I wept silently as I pushed her away, hammer raised to bring some peace to her death.

Before I could swing another zombie caught me in its embrace and pushed me to the ground. The sickly sweet stench of decay was all I could smell as cold water, stained with its blood dripped onto my skin.

I struggled with all my strength to push it away as I felt another set of hands tightening on my leg. Death was coming for me and I refused to give in.

A kick from my free leg connected solidly with something and the pressure eased on my other. My second kick struck true and something gave way beneath my boot. The hands holding my leg released their hold and something heavy fell against the zombie trying so desperately to reach my throat.

With a twist of my hips I managed to dislodge the zombie so that I could push it to one side. Not enough to get it completely away from me but enough for me to gain enough momentum as I swung my hammer once, twice and a third time against its head.

Rotted flesh fell away with each blow and on the third strike it went still. I wriggled out and away from it as I waited for the next attack, but it never came.

Pat had caught up to me along with Cass. He stayed protectively near her using his prodigious strength and heavy lump hammer to good effect. He rarely needed more than one swing to split a skull.

Cass used a shovel taken from the field behind us to good effect. She slammed it against the head and shoulders of a zombie before thrusting the thin edge of the blade against its neck to cut through to the bone. A second thrust severed the head from the body completely.

I pushed myself to my feet and had a moment to catch the disapproving look from Cass before several more of our community joined us. Their weapons while improvised were used to good effect and in just moments the last of the zombies had fallen.

The whole fight had taken less than five minutes and my body shook with the adrenaline surging through me. Well, that and the fear.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Pat’s voice was raised in a roar for perhaps the first time ever as he crossed to me and enfolded me in an almost crushing embrace.

“Are you hurt?” Cass demanded and I returned her glare with one of my own.

“Are
you
?” I asked with a meaningful look at her stomach.

“We’re fine,” Pat said with a glance between his girlfriend and me, clearly not understanding our unspoken words. “You were the one who ran in all alone, what were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry,” I said in a small voice as I wilted beneath their gaze.

It had been foolish and I could tell they were scared for me. I wanted to explain, to let them know of the violation I’d felt at seeing the undead invade our safe space. A place where they should never have been able to reach but instead I turned away and looked over the dead.

“Three of them were ours,” I said. “The others came from the trees over there.”

Pat nodded as he looked to where I pointed. He needed no further bidding and with a gesture gathered several of the armed people nearby and headed to the trees. He’d be thorough in his search and ensure that no more would be found.

“These must have been checking the chimes,” Cass said. Her voice was filled with a sorrow that matched my own and I nodded silently with no need for words as her hand found mine, seeking comfort.

I gave her hand a squeeze and spoke to the group gathered around us. Their faces were filled with fear and I couldn’t blame them.

“We’ll bury our people but the rest of these we need to burn,” I said. “James…”

“Yes?” the young man was barely in his twenties and looked so very lost just then.

“Please go back to the house and gather some volunteers to help us. Inform everyone else to stay inside and bar the doors until we are sure the island is secure.” I couldn’t say ‘safe’ not after what had just happened, it wouldn’t feel safe for a long time.

I slipped my hammer back into its loop on my belt and set about the grisly task of cleaning up the dead. Not a pleasant task and one I could easily pass to others as I supervised but that was no way to do things.

“Where’s Ryan?” Cass asked as she grabbed one leg while I picked up the other. “Normally he’s first to a fight.”

“With your brother most likely,” I said and she quietened. She knew where Gregg was and also why. She also knew that wasn’t something that needed to be discussed around others.

We dragged the body to one side where a small pile was growing and I wiped hands coated in blood - and other fluids I didn’t want to think about – against my jeans. A small burst of laughter escaped me and Cass looked at me in surprise.

“Just thinking you can get used to pretty much anything,” I said with a gesture to my soiled clothing. “Once upon a time I would have freaked out at getting someone else’s blood on me… now, it’s just wipe it off and carry on.”

“Yeah, some things are just too easy to get used to,” she said with a sorrowful look at the piled dead as her hand rested protectively against her stomach.

“This won’t happen to your baby,” I said in a whisper as I leant close to her. “I promise.”

“You can’t promise that,” she whispered back. “No one can.”

Since I had no real answer to that I squeezed her shoulder as I moved past her to get another body. More people were arriving from the house and they set to the grisly task as a few stood to one side, weapons ready to defend against any possible threat.

A voice called my name from the trees and I looked over to see one of those who had gone with Pat waving me over. Cass nodded as I looked at her, an acknowledgement that she’d deal with the dead as I dealt with whatever else was needed. I smiled my thanks, weak though that smile was and ran to join the others in the trees.

I followed the man who had called me over, his name didn’t immediately spring to mind and I realised I hadn’t been getting to know the newer members as much as I should have. I resolved to spend a little time doing so as soon as that time was available.

When we reached the lakeshore it was just in time to see Pat striking down on the skull of another zombie. Several more lay scattered around and drawn up against the shore was the wide raft of branches that had brought them to us.

Woven from thick branches and tied together with rope it was a flimsy craft, one that wouldn’t last long in anything but the calmest of waters. Dark stains covered the wood and I could imagine it crowded with the undead as it made its way to our shore.

Pat met my eyes and nodded grimly, he’d seen the raft and understood immediately what it meant. Someone had sent those zombies to us.

 

Chapter 7

Ryan

We made it back our rowboat disappointingly without incident and I sulked about that a little as we crossed back to the island. My one consolation was the one eyed zombie I’d left in the cellar. If I were right then in a couple of days when I opened it up, I’d have a fight on my hands.

I smiled at that thought and allowed myself to run through the possible scenarios of what could happen when I opened the door. It had such potential for mayhem and fun that I was almost giddy by the time the boat ran up on the shore and we climbed out.

As we were pulling the boat up fully onto shore and securing it, Jenny frowned and lifted her head as she sniffed noisily.

“Smoke,” she said and Gregg looked at her in alarm.

“From the kitchen?”

“Too strong,” I said as I caught the odour drifting to us on the breeze.

We threw the last of the loose branches over the boat and set off at a brisk pace through the thick undergrowth towards the house. No one needed to say what we were all thinking, that much smoke could only come from one thing.

My irritation grew as we reached the round house and found the grounds around it empty. Something had happened and I’d missed it. We turned the corner and saw to the north a burning pyre with several people who looked to be armed standing close by.

“Oh god,” Gregg said. “My sister.”

“She’ll be fine,” I told him. No need for panic though I was curious to realise a small urge to locate Lily was making itself known.

The doors to the house were locked and only after we knocked and answered a question were they opened. I frowned at the woman performing guard duty and she flinched away from me as I pushed past her.

BOOK: Burden of Survival: Killing the Dead : Season Two
4.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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