Authors: Ben Brown
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Random Mouse Publishing
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Copyright Ben Brown
Published By Random Mouse Publishing
A year or so ago I wrote and published a novella titled, The Lingering. The book seemed to be well received by those who enjoy a good zombie tale, and many of those readers have asked for more. I have to say, I really enjoyed writing The Lingering, and I’ll go even further. At the time of writing this, I have seven books under my belt. They range from science fiction, through speculative fiction and all the way to horror. I have enjoyed writing them all, but The Lingering comes out on top for the most fun.
Let me start by saying I love all things zombie. In my opinion, The Walking Dead is one of the best TV shows of all time, and World War Z is in my top five for books. Therefore, when I decided to give a zombie book a go, I knew I had big shoes to fill. In spite of this daunting prospect, I threw myself into the project wholeheartedly. I started to write and quickly found that every word gave me a buzz, and every bite gave me a thrill. I think my excitement came through in the book, and that might be why people liked it so much. I know many people have contacted me to tell me they enjoyed it, so I think I must have got at least something right.
I originally wrote The Lingering as a stand-alone book. It really starts right at the end of the whole Lingering historical journey. So, although The Lingering was the first zombie book I ever wrote, but really, chronologically speaking, it’s the last book in the series.
Okay, now I’ve told you all that, I’ll get down to the why’s and what’s of this book, and the ones that will follow. I decided that I had so much fun with The Lingering, why not do it again. I thought it would be a good idea to write a series of books that start at the beginning of the outbreak, and end up back at The Lingering.
The series will travel to different regions of the world, at different times throughout history, but each novella will deal with the trials caused by the Lingering virus. Each book will be quick and easy to read, and with luck, it will leave you gagging for the next instalment. If I can keep up the pace, I hope to have a new instalment out every three to four months.
Right, so let’s get to it. Outbreak At Hope Cove is where it all begins. Grab yourself a drink, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy.
Location: Hope Cove, a small coastal community 100 miles north of Boston
Date: March 7, 1841
Time: 11: 21 am
Jonathan Wentworth worked his way through the forest with all the stealth of a highly skilled predator, and like every other predator on Earth, killing came naturally to him.
Realizing he had his prey just where he wanted it, he drew to a stop and hunkered down. As he readied his weapon, he looked back towards his son. Callum mirrored his father’s actions, and hunkered down just a few yards from his father’s position. Jon watched his son with an almost overwhelming sense of pride.
The boy was only twelve years old, but he could already outhunt most of their neighbors. Jon nodded his approval, and turned back to the hunt. He slowed his breathing and raised his musket. He only had one shot, and with his target’s head all but hidden by a bush, it would be a difficult shot indeed. Still, he had no doubt in his abilities, and he knew he could make the shot. As he breathed out, he pulled the trigger and sent a round of lead straight through the eye of his intended target.
Callum jumped up and started cheering. “You got it, Pa, you got it.”
Jon smiled and got to his feet. “Of course I did, Boy. Come on, let’s get on with it.”
They stood over the deer, and despite being dead, they could not help but admire its noble countenance. Thanks to this buck, they would have food for the next week, also pelts to sell. Life could continue for a little longer. A crack of thunder rattled overhead, causing both father and son to look up.
“There may be a storm a brewing,” Jon said as he studied the skies. “I think it’ll most likely pass, but we best get this beast back home and skinned.”
“Pa, when we get it back, can I skin it?”
Jon pulled his pipe from his pocket and packed it with fresh tobacco. Callum waited patiently for his father’s response. Finally, he got a simple nod, which told him he had the honor of skinning the buck.
Jon nodded again and looked back towards their home. “It’ll take us a goodly hour to lug yonder beast home, which means we’ll be back just after half past the hour of noon. You’ll have more than enough time to skin it and to perform your chores before dark.”
Callum’s shoulders sunk. “Pa, surely my chores could wait until tomorrow.”
Jon took a deep draw on his pipe, and then blew a smoke ring into the air. “Mayhap they could. I tell you what. If you make a good job of skinning our friend, then I’ll do half your chores. How does that sound?”
Callum wrapped his arms around his father, and Jon returned his son’s hug with a loving pat on his back.
Callum worked on the deer for three hours straight. He first skinned and gutted the beast, and then carefully went about the task of carving it up. His father stood by, sometimes offering advice in the quiet manner he had, but mostly he just watched. Finally, with the job completed, Callum looked to his father for approval. Jon nodded, smiled and then stretched his back. It clicked loudly, and the man let out a contented sigh.
“Good work. What say you to deer stew?”
Callum smiled broadly. “Sounds good, Pa. How much longer ‘til ma and Tilly get home?”
Jon tapped his pipe out on the heel of his boot, and looked at their picturesque little house. “I can’t rightly say. Your grandma is mighty sick, so I would think they’ll stay with her ‘til she’s mended … might be another month or more.”
Callum nodded. He missed his mother, and he was even starting to miss his older sister, Tilly. The boy felt the two had already been gone an eternity, but in reality, only a few weeks had passed.
Jon looked at his son, and then said, “Let’s get our friend here in the pot, and then we might take ourselves a stroll down to the beach. What do you say, Cal, does it sound like a plan?”
Callum nodded. His father’s waters ran deep, but he always knew exactly how to cheer him up. A walk along the beach was just what he needed to take his mind off his mother and sister. “Sounds right good, Pa. Can I bring my rod?”
Jon nodded, picked up some of the deer, and headed for the house. “If you catch anything we’ll have it for breakfast. Before you wash up, get the rest of the meat stored away, and then hang the pelt.”
The walk from their little house to the beach only took them fifteen minutes. When they arrived, it was a little after four in the afternoon. Callum held his rod in one hand and a bottle of cold tea in the other. His father carried his trusty gun, and of course, his even trustier pipe.
The two ambled up the shoreline talking about anything that popped into their heads. It was a conversation only a father and son could enjoy; full of unimportant nonsense.
Abruptly, Callum drew to a stop and pointed to the distance. “What’s that?”
Jon followed his son’s gaze, and saw a great deal of wreckage strewn across the beach. He raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, and gazed at what was clearly the flotsam of a wrecked ship.
“It looks like a ship has fallen foul of the rocks.” Jon slung his musket over his shoulder and began to run. “Come, there may be survivors in need of aid.”
Callum dropped his rod and drink, and sprinted off after his father.
The two drew to a stop, panting from their exertions. All around them pieces of timber, rope and sail littered the sand. Barrels washed back-and-forth in the waves. Dead animals, sheep, cows and a few goats lie bloated by the water’s edge.
Jon and his son worked their way carefully through the wreck, but their search uncovered not one single survivor, or even a body. The wreckage was completely void of any humans.
Callum turned in circles with his hands on his hips. “Where’s everyone? Could they have already left?”
Jon looked towards the tree line. “Maybe. If the ship came ashore last night, then high tide would’ve washed away their tracks. What offers me a quandary is why haven’t we seen anyone. Not everyone would’ve walked away from such a wreck as this. At least a few would have broken limbs; even more would be dead. Yet, there are no signs of them along the shore.” Jon turned and looked out to sea. “The animals are washing in because the wreck happened out on yonder rocks.” He pointed out to sea. “The Bluff has taken more than its fair share of mariners, and dead bodies always wash up long after the ship goes down. Thus far, there are no bodies, other than these beasts of course.”
Callum moved to his father’s side. “What does it mean, Pa?”
“I know not. It’ll be dark soon, so I think we should head home. In the morning I’ll scare up a party to go looking through the woods for survivors.”
The two started to walk away, but Callum’s sharp eyes spotted something. He ran over to a large leather bound book and pulled it from the sand. Jon moved to his son’s side and stared at what the boy held. Having never learned to read, he asked, “What do the words say?”
Callum ran his fingers over the embossed letters and read them aloud. “Ship’s log. The Capable.” He looked up at his father. “We should take this with us; it might give us a clue about what happened.”
“Good idea, Son.”
As the sun fell, Jonathan Wentworth dished out two bowls of deer stew, and then joined his son at the table. The two ate in silence, and once they had cleared their empty bowls from the table, Callum heaved up the ships log to replace them. The pages of the book were soaked with seawater, which meant Callum had to ease the pages apart with great care. The vast majority of the log referred to the daily tedium of ship’s life, but after an hour of reading, they reached what appeared to be the beginnings of the ship’s troubles.
Jon adjusted the lamp so its dull light better illuminated the pages for his son.
“Read on, Boy.” Jon said as he lit his pipe.
Callum nodded and turned his full attention to the book.
“Ship’s log, entry number fifty-five. Date…”
Ship’s log, entry number fifty-five. Date: 12th of January, in the year of our lord 1841.
I, Captain William Matthews do lay down this log as testament to the evils that have fallen upon this most illustrious ship and crew. In all my years spent navigating the oceans of this blessed planet, never before have I witness such a turn of events.
Three weeks ago, we fell into the doldrums and for more than a week our sails found not a breath of wind. This troubled me not, as we had ample supplies onboard to see us through several months at sea. Regrettably, I cannot say my crew shared my optimism.
We were deep out to sea and many feared we would drift for months on end. Others suggested we might starve. I tried to point out our supply situation, but uneducated men are hard to sway. Discipline and morale plummeted quickly, so I decided a distraction was in order. With this in mind, I ordered the men to fix up nets. I told them that the sea was a bountiful basket, and as long as we had saltwater beneath us we would not starve.
The men set about the work with gusto, and before long our nets drifted behind us. Two days passed with little to show for our efforts, but on the third day things changed.
I awoke to a chorus of bellows. I quickly adorned myself of clothes, and headed topside. One of the nets had caught something … something big. It took nearly half the crew more than three hours to haul the net aboard, and when I saw what the net contained I too began to think a curse had befallen us.
Callum looked up from the book and stared at his father with frightened eyes. “Pa, can we read this in the morning? The dark seems to be making things worse.”
Jon sucked on his pipe, and then said, “There ain’t nothing on the pages of that there book that can hurt us. Sure, the dark makes the telling all the harder, but it doesn’t mean the things on the paper can harm you. I think these sailor folk are a superstitious bunch, and because of their superstitions, they may have just brought the disaster on themselves. Keep reading, Boy.”
Callum looked back at the page, and with more than a little apprehension, continued to read.
My crew stood staring at our catch aghast, as did I. However, not wanting to spread further fear amongst my subordinates, I moved closer to the leviathan. Trepidation filled me, but I did my best to hide my deep-seated worry about what now lie on the deck.
The creature bore neither scales nor gills, or at least, none mine eyes could see. It measured near fifteen foot in length, and according to my men, it must have weighed in at nigh close to half a ton. This I can neither confirm nor deny, as I did not help with its hauling in. On this I must take my crew’s word, but I daresay half a ton would be close to its measure.
The creature resembled nothing I had ever seen before. In my humble opinion, it resembled no fish, whale or dolphin I had ever seen. If forced to compare the creature to something the average person could picture, then I would say it looked a mix of dragon and bloated dugong. I know this is still not an easy image for most to conjure, but with my limited knowledge of fauna—both mythical and otherwise—I realize the picture I paint is far from complete. To say the monster appeared grotesque, insults all other repugnant things. Its appearance offended not just ones eye, but ones soul.
I sent one of my men to fetch the ship’s Doctor. Duly, said physician arrived and I bid him examine our catch. Dr. Joseph Chapel, an agreeable fellow who fancied himself somewhat of an amateur naturalist, set about examining the beast. He concluded it had come from the oceans deepest depths. Hence, its unusual and hereto never before seen appearance.
He then pointed out the creature’s ever increasing size as it swelled. He concluded the swelling might be due to the lesser pressure of our air as compared to the great pressure of the sea’s depths. Until the doctor pointed out the gradually increasing size of the thing, I had not noticed its increasing girth.
The good doctor got to his feet, and for close to ten minutes we all stood watching the thing slowly inflate. At no point did I feel either myself, or my crew, were in danger. It seemed we had simply stumbled across a harmless oddity. How terribly wrong I was.
As time passed the crew slowly returned to their tasks, leaving a mere handful of men studying the beast. I decided to return to my cabin, so I might set about the task of the day’s log. My quill had barely put a drop of ink to paper, when I heard a dull thrump and loud laughter. I headed above decks once more, only to discover the beast had exploded. Said explosion had covered four men with its innards, and also a thick brown substance.
While men hung from the sails and mainmast laughing, the four slipped around in the foul smelling discharge cursing. I had to battle against the urge to let loose a bellow of laughter too. Finally, I took hold of myself and ordered the beast thrown overboard, and the decks cleaned.
The crew set about the task with good humor, and within no time at all the decks were clean and the men had washed off. Accept for the continual ribbing the four unfortunates got, the rest of the day went without incident. However, by nightfall the four deck hands who had found themselves covered with innards, had fallen into a stupor from which they would not wake.
I ordered the doctor to examine the four, but he could find no reason for their sudden and inexplicable fall from consciousness. He stated the most likely reason for their sudden change had something to do with the beast. However, what exactly had caused their apparent stupefaction he could not tell.
As the days passed, more of the crew fell into the stupor. In fact, all who had encountered the beast’s innards fell afoul of the malady. Soon, more than two thirds of the crew lie unconscious below decks, while the remaining third talked of ill omens.
I bad the remaining crew stay clear of the sick, but in truth, I needed issue no such order. The men would no more have approached the sick, than they would have Satan himself.
The remaining healthy crew began to talk of throwing the sick overboard, but I warned them if such acts were committed, then I would see the blackguards’ responsible hung. By the fourth day, any fears of the sick being thrown overboard became but a feckless worry. The remaining crew had taken to the lifeboats, leaving the doctor and I to care for not only the sick, but the ship too.
Finally, the doldrums passed, but without a crew to operate each station, we were just as dead in the water. Our only hope lay in the cure of our fallen men. The good doctor worked day and night, nursing the sick admirably. But to no avail. He finally determined that all we could do was wait to see if any recovered from their stupor. Exhausted, I ordered him to get some rest, and I would watch over my ill-fated crew.
For five days, we took it in turns to watch over the sick, and with each day that passed the stricken seemed to worsen. The doctor and I grew more and more down heartened, but one morning a miracle happened. The crew began to waken. The doctor fetched me from my cabin and we watched as the crew started to open their eyes. However, our joy was short lived. Whilst our shipmates were wakening, it was not back to any semblance of normality they woke.
They were mere shadows of the men they had been. They seemed to have lost all intellect and more resembled mindless beasts than men. With fixed yellow eyes, they lie groaning in their bunks. None had more than a rudimentary likeness to whom they had once been. The doctor decided their quasi-human state might be only the first step in their recovery, and we should not abandon all hope.
He set about the task of feeding them, but they seemed uninterested in our dried foods and salted meat. The doctor thought fresh air would serve as a potent aid to their well-being. Between us, we managed to herd our former crewmates above decks, and then we walked them in circles. Though to say they walked would be an overstatement. They did no more than shuffle.
We coaxed this mass of groaning flesh around the deck for hours, but they seemed completely oblivious to their surroundings. Finally, the doctor dropped to his knees and cradled his head in his hands. I could see the poor man had reached his wits end. He had tried everything he could to help those under his care, but to no avail.
I pitied him, and suggested he take a brief break away from the sun and the circling yellow-eyed throng. He agreed, and headed to his cabin. I remained above deck watching the catatonic mass circle endlessly, and began to think we should have thrown them overboard when we had the chance.
That night, clouds started to form, and I could smell a storm on the breeze. I left the doctor as long as I could, but finally I had to call for his aid. The seas were growing, and we needed to prepare for the squall. We also had to get our wards back below. With the seas roughening and the wind rising, we tried to herd our crewmates belowdecks. Waves had started to crash around us, but our yellow-eyed friends seemed unconcerned by the impending danger.
The doctor spotted one of our sick crewmates heading in the wrong direction, so he moved to guide the stray back towards the rest of the sick. At just that moment, a mountainous wave slammed into the deck washing the stray overboard. The doctor grabbed a rope and hung on for dear life, but his luck was about to fail him. His legs hung perilously close to the taffrail, and as another wave pounded the ship, the rail gave way. With a loud crack, the wood of the rail shattered and it came crashing down, trapping his leg beneath. I dashed to the poor man’s aid, and instantly saw he had sustained a compound fracture. His tibia, now clear for all to see, protruded through his flesh. His blood began to mix with the seawater, forming a crimson foam that quickly covered the deck. I tried to lift the rail from his shattered limb, but the constant pounding of the waves made the act impossible. His screams, which had been ear piercing at first, began to abate as he slipped into unconsciousness.
Apart from the sounds of the ever-increasing storm, I now worked in silence. It was then I became aware of a change in our stricken fellows. Their low groans had turned to growls, and on noting the change in their guttural sounds, I turned to look at them. While being herded about the deck, they had seemed bewildered and completely harmless. Now, they seemed menacing and hunger filled their faces. I returned my attention to the doctor and doubled my efforts to free him. However, before I could do much more, powerful hands pulled me away from my injured friend. I stumbled back and watched on in horror as the once docile and disease filled crew turned into wild animals.
They tore at his flesh with terrifying savagery. I jumped to my feet and tried to intervene, but a particularly large fellow blocked my way. The person before me had once been Petty Officer Jack Meadows, but now he looked more like a deranged beast of the jungle. He lunged for me and sunk his teeth into my neck. I grabbed for the knife that hung from my belt, and plunged it up to the hilt into his chest. Meadows seemed unaware of my attack, and came in for another bite. Four more times my blade found his chest, but only with my fifth attempt, did I fell him.
My fifth stab found his ear, and my blade skewered his head. Gruesomely, the tip of my blade suddenly appeared from his other ear, and he fell to the deck. He had bitten me a number of times, and now my blood mixed with that of the poor doctor’s. Now the rest of the maddened crew turned in my direction. Their intent was clear. I would be the next course in their nightmarish feast. I did not intend to meet the same end as the doctor, so I bolted for my cabin. Once inside, I locked and barricaded the door, then tended to my many wounds.
They bashed and pounded at my door, but English oak does not yield to mere flesh. While they clearly seemed driven to get to me, they had not the sense to look for a battering ram. Instead, hour after hour they pounded at my door.
The events above our now in my past and I now know I have no future. The creatures have been pounding on my door for nearly twelve hours straight, and I can feel myself weakening. Not only do I have no way of escape, but I fear Meadows has infected me with whatever foul disease they carry. I can feel it coursing through my body with the speed of a bushfire, but I will not allow myself to succumb to its evil. Therefore, I write this log not only to document our downfall, but also to warn all those who have the misfortune of wandering upon this ship.
This ship is cursed, and I along with it. It saddens me to write this, but my once loyal crew must die. All fifteen are now pounding at my door, and I now know they are not the men with whom I embarked. Those who read this may think my statement heartless, but it is not, it is merciful. Those things are no longer my crew, or men; they are monsters.
After my encounter with Meadows I believe the only way to kill them is by destroying the brain. Therefore, with that in mind, at the end of my entry in this log I will use my trusty flintlock to take off the top of my head.
I know suicide is a sin, but I am sure God will forgive me.
Captain William Matthews, Captain of The Capable.
May God have mercy on my soul.