Authors: Frank Tayell
Surviving The Evacuation
Book 5: Reunion
Copyright 2015 by Frank Tayell
All rights reserved
Dedicated to my parents
Whilst the journeys depicted follow a real route through our real Britain, and whilst the series has been written (mostly) on location, all people, places and (especially) events are fictional.
Surviving The Evacuation:
Book 0.5: Zombies vs The Living Dead
Book 1: London
Book 2: Wasteland
Book 3: Family
Book 4: Unsafe Haven
Book 5: Reunion
(In the charity anthology, ‘At Hell’s Gates 1’)
(In the charity anthology, ‘At Hell’s Gates 2’)
Work. Rest. Repeat.
A Post-Apocalyptic Detective Novel
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: The Approaching Dawn
July - Kew Gardens
Stewart staggered, slipped, fell, and hit the ground hard. Pain shot up from his wounded shoulder. As he rolled over, he saw a sea of nightmare faces surrounding him. Each bore the same judgemental visage of a woman. That woman. The one that he, Barrett, and the others had killed back on the farm.
“Go away!” he tried to yell, but the words were choked by a mouthful of blood and broken teeth. He barely noticed. He pushed and pulled and punched his way back to his feet. The scratches and grazes on his fist didn’t register until a snapping mouth came down on his out-flung hand. Stewart wrenched his arm back. His hand came free but without his thumb. Time slowed to a glacial crawl as he watched an arc of blood spray out over the creature’s face. Its mouth opened and before it snapped down, the thumb fell out. The spell broke and time sped up once more. He tried to raise his left arm. He couldn’t. Then he remembered. He’d been shot. By whom? The woman’s grandfather? It must have been him.
“I didn’t mean it!” he yelled, pushing his way through the scrum of identical banshee faces. But it couldn’t be the grandfather. He was dead. Properly dead. Stewart had made sure of that himself. And afterwards, they’d had to do something about the grandaughter. The pain in his hand and shoulder receded to a dull pinpoint against the greater agony of memory as he finally saw his life as it had been and his recent actions for what they truly were.
“We had to,” he moaned. “We were starving.” Even in the delirium of shock and terror, he shied away from that memory, bringing up another more recent one. It hadn’t been the grandfather who’d shot him. It was that man, Bill, the one he thought had died back at the boathouse.
Stewart stumbled on, feeling no pain as undead fingers clawed against his face and body, tearing cloth and ripping flesh. Rather, he felt no physical pain. His soul, already battered and tortured by the self-inflicted horrors of the past six months, cried out in anguish every time he saw a face,
face, the face of the woman they had killed and e—
“No!” he tried to scream, trying to drown out that word in the hope that he could wish the deed undone, but all that came out of his mouth was a weak splutter of blood. He tried to think of something, of anything other than the waking hell of recent months, but he couldn’t banish from his mind that moment of satisfaction after the woman had died and his hunger had been sated. He tried to remember his childhood, his youth, his triumphs, or even his failures, but all that would come back to him was when he had sat at that farmhouse table with Barrett, Chris, Daphne, and Liz, and how they had talked of food, and how there wasn’t enough. How if anyone went to search for more, it was inevitable they would die, yet if no one died, then they all would.
And now he saw how false their arguments were. The woman, the grandaughter of the farmer who’d died, she had been the obvious one. She… she was everywhere, in every face he saw as he staggered and fell and stumbled back to his feet, bleeding on the once-pristine lawns of Kew Gardens.
And then it changed. It was no longer that woman back at the farm, but the face of that girl, Annette, the teenager they had taken with them down the river. They were trying to save her; that was why they had brought her and the infant, Daisy, with them. The girl hadn’t understood.
would have saved her. Except that was a lie. He knew it, and as he tripped over the decaying remains of a giant palm leaf, he admitted to himself that he had always known it.
As he fell, his hand went out. Pain stabbed through the fog, and as he levered himself up from the cool, unkempt grass, he couldn’t stop himself from looking back. Dozens of apparitions slouched across the once-manicured lawn. Some bore the face of the farmer’s grandaughter, others of the girl, but not all were following him, some were drifting after the sound of a disappearing engine. The rest though, twenty at least, were just a few yards behind. Behind. That small part of his brain that was still functioning repeated the word. They were all behind. And he realised he was running again, running away from the undead and running towards… what? Not safety. Not rescue. There would never be either of those, nor would there be salvation, not after what he had done. But he couldn’t stop. To stop would mean to be eaten. Eaten. The word echoed through the dark chambers of his mind. It gave him the strength to continue. To find somewhere that would be safe just long enough for him to die.
He ran into a white pole. No, it was a small flag. Where was he? A golf course? He tried to remember the journey to the gardens and whether they had seen a golf course, and then he saw the river to his right. He turned around. Behind him was a wall but no undead, though he could hear them pawing and clawing at the brick work on the other side. Though he didn’t remember it, somehow he’d climbed the wall. A guttural wheeze came from his left. He turned. Once more he saw that snarling open-mouthed face. He had to get away from the girl. He couldn’t let her eat him.
“It was you or me! I didn’t have a choice. It was you or me,” he moaned at the girl staggering towards him. He started running once more.
His foot tripped on the hard concrete curb. Concrete. He was on a road. Where was the river? Water would cleanse, it would wash away the past. He had to get to the river and… the boat, yes, that was it. He remembered. They had travelled by boat, so if he could reach it, then he could float out onto the river, and there die in peace. The girl wouldn’t be able to eat him then. And he knew she wanted to. She still followed him, this avenging demon with two faces but myriad bodies.
There it was. The river. And there was the boat, the bow drifting in the current, the stern still tied to the shore. But there were zombies between him and it, and he wasn’t sure he had the strength left to push through them. Except these weren’t moving towards him, they were already dead. He must have killed them days before, when they came ashore. He didn’t remember that, but right then the only clear memory he had was of the morning they had killed that woman.
He collapsed on the towpath, the boat right in front of him. He grabbed at the rope. The cold water felt like acid as it splashed against his bleeding stub of a thumb. As he rocked backward, bellowing a scream of rage, the rope in his hand grew taut, and the boat moved towards the shore. It banged against the concrete river wall, and he tumbled forward into the small craft. He struggled to his knees, fumbled with the rope, and managed to get it free.
That small part of his brain that was still functioning told him it was the wrong boat. It must belong to Bill and Kim, and their boat, though smaller, was filled with boxes. One was marked with a red cross. He pulled it open, managing to slap a bandage on his hand and another on his shoulder before he realised that would only delay death. He didn’t want that. He needed to die here, on the river, where neither the woman nor the girl could reach him. He tried to peel the bandage off, but he no longer had the strength. The boat drifted across the river, and he drifted in and out of consciousness.
It wasn’t fair, he thought. The boat was being carried straight to the opposite bank, and he could see two figures running along the path towards where he was sure the boat would hit. No, he thought, it wasn’t fair, but it was just. And then he had another thought: zombies don’t run.
Nilda & Chester
September - The Pennine Mountains
20 miles southeast of Penrith
Zombies. Five of them, strung out along the road. They’d been hidden from view until Nilda, a few paces in front of Chester, rounded the bend. She slowed, readying to dismount. Chester didn’t. He unslung his long-bladed straight-sword and put on a burst of speed, angling towards the first of the living dead. Nilda was certain she heard him mutter ‘windmills’ as he rode past. Taken with his large sword, larger build, and small-framed bike, it was nearly comical. Nearly.
Within seconds he’d covered the scant few feet between them and the undead. He held the sword out, point angling slightly downwards, then stood up on the pedals as he speared the blade through the creature’s open mouth. It cut through sinew and shattered teeth. Chester twisted the sword, wrenching it forward and to the left, ripping through skin and bone. The blade was free, and Chester hit the zombie’s ruined face with his elbow. As the creature fell, Chester cycled on, the bike wobbling as he regained his balance. He brought the sword back and up once more. This time, he let go of the handlebars to grip the weapon two-handed. When he swung the blade in a great curving arc, the sharpened edge cleaving through skin and skull, momentum caused the bike to swerve and topple. The zombie fell, the bike skittered across the road, and Chester tumbled off, scrambling back to his feet as Nilda brought her own bike to a halt two-dozen paces behind.
She dismounted, unsheathed the gladius, and dashed forward, slamming the point into the ruined remains of the first zombie’s skull before darting to the second, partially scalped creature. She hacked the sword down on the back of its head just as it was rising to its knees.
Chester, still gripping the sword in an odd two-handed grip, was hacking at arms and legs. He wasn’t even aiming at their heads – he was just cleaving and slashing with furious abandon.
“Just kill them!” she yelled. “Finish it!”
And though it took a moment for her words to cut through his berserker rage, he did.
Nilda stopped ten paces from him, watching his shoulders heave up and down. It seemed like he’d been acting differently over the last few days, or perhaps it was the person she’d met back in Anglesey who had been the act. Ever since they had spent that day at the mansion in the Lake District he’d seemed different. At times he had an almost jocular obliviousness to the horrors of their world, and at other times, times like these, he seemed possessed by some dark inner regret.
Whatever it was, or whether it was anything at all, it was dangerous, and she was beginning to question whether it made him too dangerous to have as a companion on her journey. She watched as his shoulders slowly straightened, and he seemed, if not quite relaxed, than once more in control of his demons.
“It was something I read,” he muttered, and realising that wasn’t an adequate explanation, continued. “It’s a cavalry sword, you see. That’s what the plaque in the museum said it was. Barely a hundred years old, and even then out of date. But it’s meant to be used from horseback. I just wanted to see if I could…”
As his words trailed into silence, she was ready to berate his cavalier recklessness, but saw a mix of shame and guilt on his face and decided to leave it alone, at least for now.
“There’s too many of them on this road,” Nilda said, stating the obvious to fill the uncomfortable silence. She walked over to the first of the corpses, prodding at the remains of its clothing, searching for the obvious bulge of a wallet or some other form of I.D. There was none.
“Check the map,” she said. “Are there any footpaths or railway lines we could take around here?”
“The map. Yeah,” he muttered, as she moved on to the next body. She saw a chain around its neck. She knelt, and pulled on the chain. It was attached to a set of military identification discs. She added the name to the list she was keeping. It was only a week since they’d left Anglesey, and barely longer since her rescue from the barren Isle of Scaragh, but the piece of paper was already filling up.
“There’s nothing nearby that’ll take us in the right direction,” Chester said. “It might be easier if we just cut across country and head towards the Yorkshire Moors.”
“If you’re sure there is going to be a boat in Hull,” she said. “Otherwise—”
“I am. It’s there.”
She nodded slowly though not in agreement. Whilst she believed he thought a boat
been there, that didn’t mean it still was. If she’d never met him, if she’d never gone to Anglesey, she would have headed due south, straight to London. But if she’d done that, she would have been tramping through a radioactive wilderness. Still, she didn’t like hanging all of her hopes on a boat that may now be sunk, stolen, or surrounded by the undead.
“I think…” she began, and stopped. “Did you hear that?” she asked. From Chester’s expression he hadn’t. She turned slowly on the spot.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Gunfire,” she murmured.
“A single shot,” she said, still looking around, trying to distinguish between the echo and the sound’s origin. And there it was again.
“I heard that one,” Chester said. He pointed down the road, in the direction they had been heading. “That’s a rifle without a suppressor. Of course, you don’t expect to find silencers in England. They were more strictly controlled than the firearms were.”
“You’ve got one,” she said, nodding at rough metal cylinder affixed to the rifle slung across his back.
“That was Bran’s idea. Made in Anglesey. Suppressors aren’t standard issue, and they’re certainly not the kind of thing you’d expect some farmer to rig up. But they are given to everyone who leaves the island—” He was interrupted by a third shot. “So whoever they are,” he finished, “they haven’t come from Anglesey.”
“How far away do you think it is?” she asked.
“A mile,” Chester guessed. “Possibly a bit further since the wind is in the right direction, but less than three.”
“Then let’s go and see,” Nilda said.
“And then what? You want to speak to them?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. We’ve seen no zombies with bullet wounds, so whoever they are, they didn’t come along this road. And since they don’t seem to care about noise, whether we talk to them or not, we need to know which direction they’re heading.”
Chester didn’t argue any further. They continued, more slowly this time, their eyes on the zombies in the fields to either side. There weren’t many, just occasional scarecrow figures, shambling along in the distance, heading towards the sound of gunfire. After a mile, they heard another shot.
“It came from over there,” Chester pointed to the southwest.
“If we cut across the field, we should be able to see from those trees.” Nilda gestured towards a copse of battered oaks, five hundred yards from an equally battered barn.
From the copse, they could see the road. It was another one-and-a-half lane country track paved as much with mud as it was asphalt. There was no sign of the shooter. They left the bicycles and continued on foot, following the line of the farmland as it rose up above the surrounding countryside.
Nilda saw the figures moments before she heard the fifth shot. She crouched down, worried they might have seen her silhouette against the skyline. She rose slightly. Looked. Relaxed. They hadn’t.
There were three of them, one at the front to the left, one at the back to the right, and one in the middle pulling a four-wheeled hand cart. They walked slowly, the one at the front and the one at the rear carrying their rifles across their bodies in a manner that would have betrayed them as military if their camouflage uniforms hadn’t.
Nilda found her palms suddenly coated in sweat. She couldn’t place what about the scene was so unsettling. Perhaps it was the way the group was walking rather than cycling. Or perhaps it was how, a minute later, when the one at the rear paused, aimed, and fired, he seemed completely unconcerned by the sound of gunfire.
“Do you recognise them?” she whispered.
“Can’t say I do. Can’t say I know anyone who’d wear clothing like that. Not now.”
“The uniforms are, for all that means.”
“But where did they come from?” Nilda asked, thinking of that dead soldier whose name she’d taken less than an hour before. “I mean, they’re still wearing camouflage, but they can’t be the same uniforms they were issued with after the outbreak.”
“Perhaps they got them from some army surplus store. More likely they got them from some depot in one of the enclaves.”
“I thought all the enclaves were destroyed.”
“Yes, but not all by nuclear bombs. Some just collapsed during the mutiny, but there would still be weapons and uniforms there. Or maybe they were part of some unit that managed to hold together, up until recently at least.”
“Can we trust them?” Nilda murmured. “That’s the question, isn’t it?”
“Because they’re military? Didn’t you say that woman your son’s with, what’s her name? Tuck? Didn’t you say she was a soldier?”
“Former soldier. I think she was in some kind of explosion. Lost her hearing, damaged her vocal chords, and it left her with terrible scars on her face and neck.”
“Once a soldier, always a soldier. That’s one of the oldest aphorisms in the book. Take Bran, he’s about as British Army as you can get, and he’s the very definition of ‘a good man’. There’s Mister Mills and his crew, and Leon, Francois and that French lot. All good people, every one of them. And then there’s me, a genuine criminal. What is it they say about judging someone by the company they keep?”
She ignored him. Her eyes fixed on the trio making their slow way along the road.
“And the one in the middle, do you think he’s a…?” Nilda began, but trailed off when, without a signal, the man pulling the cart stopped, stretched, picked up a rifle stashed in the back, and swapped positions with the one at the front. That man strolled back to the rear, whilst the third soldier stowed his rifle in the cart, then walked to the front and looped the harness across his shoulders.
“Never mind,” Nilda finished.
They stayed there long enough to watch the trio continue, long enough to see another creature approach, and long enough to see it shot.
“Whoever they are, whatever they have in that cart, I say we leave them be,” Nilda said.
“At least they’re not heading towards Hull,” Chester said.
“No,” Nilda said, “but they are heading towards Wales.”
“Maybe,” Chester moved off, back across the field towards the copse where they had left the bikes. “Maybe not. It’s a bit like saying anyone heading north is going to Scotland, or travelling south is heading to London.”
Nilda grunted. There were few things she was certain of, but their new world was too small for coincidences.
“You should call Anglesey. Let them know,” she said.
“Later,” he replied, and she thought he was being dismissive. Not her problem, she decided as they headed back to the bicycles. Those in Anglesey were his people, not hers. She looked south, then north. The undead were slouching along the asphalt towards them from both directions, but she judged them no immediate threat. As they wheeled the bikes across the field over the road and eastwards across more fields, she couldn’t help wonder what had been in the cart.
They reached another road. This one was not much wider than a farm track, but had been recently resurfaced and painted with an optimistic white line dividing it into two narrow lanes.
“That’ll take us southeast to Hull,” Chester said, pointing.
“And your factory,” she said.
“And the boat that’ll get you to London.”
Nilda shrugged. It would lead them away from the trio with their rifles. For now that seemed to be the safest direction.
September - Teesdale Nature Reserve
“Pistachio,” Nilda said.
“Raspberry Ripple,” Chester replied.
“Double Choc Chip?” Nilda offered.
“Lemon Meringue Surprise,” Chester stated.
“What? Where? I can’t see that,” Nilda said, peering at the menu pinned to the front of the broken freezer.
“N’ah, not here. Back in London. There was a place next to the Tate Modern. During the summer they’d do ice cream. Only ninety-nine pence a scoop and only one flavour a day, but each day was a different flavour and it was never vanilla. Anyway, it was August, two years ago, and I was sitting outside the gallery waiting all day for this guy from China to come and drop off a package. I ate twelve of them. That was a good day.”
“Huh,” Nilda grunted. She knew he was waiting for her to ask more questions. Whilst tales of his nefarious past had kept her distracted, if not entertained, she was too exhausted to ask for any more details now. “But the ice cream is gone,” she said instead. As was everything else that had been in the small cafe attached to the gift shop at the edge of the Teesdale Nature Reserve.
There had been three zombies lying twice-dead in the car park outside. They’d seen that from the road and would have cycled on if it hadn’t been for the two undead leaning against the doors to the building, their arms slowly rising and scraping down the glass-fronted door. It was the sight of those two that had caused them to come and investigate. They had thought someone might be trapped inside. There wasn’t. Nor was there any food. There were just two more undead corpses.