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Authors: Calum Kerr

Undead at Heart

BOOK: Undead at Heart
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Undead At Heart

 

 

A novel

by
Calum Kerr

 
 

plus the bonus extra flash-fiction: ‘Judith’.

First
published in Great Britain, 2012, by Gumbo Press.

www.gumbopress.co.uk

 

Copyright © 2012 Calum
Kerr.

 

The
rights
of the above named person to be identified as author of his work has
been
asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988.

 

All characters in this
book are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, alive or dead, is
purely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved.
No parts of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by
any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any
information retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the
publisher.

 

This book is sold
subject to the condition that shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent,
resold, hired or otherwise circulated without publisher’s prior written consent
in any form of cover or binding other than that in which it is published, and
without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the
subsequent purchaser.

 

Cover and Page design:
Calum Kerr.

 

 

 

 

 

For Mum,

for
all your
encouragement and support

and
your
zombie-hunting skills, of course.

One

 

 

Nicola gritted her teeth
and gripped the steering wheel hard with her fingers. Some mothers had to cope
with endless repeats of the
Rastamouse
theme song, some with The Best of
Disney or something equally annoying. For some reason Alyssa, her daughter, was
hooked on Bohemian Rhapsody and every time it came to the end of the song she
would ask her mother to put it on again.

This was only a short
journey, thank God, but they were already on the sixth repeat and, with another
ten miles to go in increasingly busy traffic, Nicola calculated that she had at
least another five or six to go. Rock legends they might have been, and Freddie
might have been the most amazing show-man ever to grace a stage. But when
Galileo was mentioned for the 65
th
straight time, she could quite
happily have strangled the whole lot of them.

Alyssa’s Christmas
request was to be taken to go and see the musical,
We Will Rock You
. She
knew she would have to bow to her daughter’s demands in time, but for the moment
she was not engaging with Alyssa’s requests in the hope – no, the fervent
prayer – that she would forget and find a new obsession. Reading would be good,
origami even better.
Or maybe bonsai trimming?
Nicola
smiled to herself, the muscles of her face softening from their rictus for a
moment, as she imagined her six year-old daughter trimming a tree which would
be almost the same size as her.

The moment didn’t last
however, as the song reached the end and the voice from the back seat called,
‘Again!
Again!’

Nicola dropped a weary
hand to the stereo and hit the ‘back’ button to start the track over and
resumed her routine grip and grit.

In a more relaxed
state, Nicola liked to think that she looked pretty good for her age and
certainly nothing like her 34 years. Her naturally-curled hair had now grown
long enough to hit her shoulders in a way she liked, the weight of the length
pulling the curls into soft loops, rather than the tight rings which they had
been for so many years. Its mid-brown shades offset her deeper brown eyes and,
she hoped, leant
her an
air of mystery. However,
having caught sight of herself in the mirror on journeys like this, she knew
that the tightening of her jaw that could now be caused by just the first few
piano
notes,
rendered her skin too tight and called
attention to the underlying sharpness of her features.

She tried to relax,
and had a small amount of success, but then the operatic middle came around
again and she started to grind her teeth.

She reached down and
turned the sound down a little.
“Honey?”

“Yes,
Mummy?”

“Do you think we could
listen to something else for a little while?”

“No, Mummy! Mohebian
Bapsody!
Mohebian Bapsod
y!”

Wary of a tantrum,
Nicola decided it wasn’t worth the effort. There was enough danger of tears and
stamping when they arrived at the dentist’s, so she decided she would have to
live with the prog-rock classic just a little while longer.

It was only a routine
check-up - at the nearest NHS dentist which Nicola had been able to find on her
return from the States – but suddenly she was hopeful for a filling or an
extraction. That would make Alyssa docile enough to let her mum listen to
whatever she wanted. Or – oh bliss! –
maybe
nothing at
all.

Of course, this
thought was immediately followed by a wave of guilt. How could she possibly
wish such a thing on her daughter? But, she reasoned with herself, it was hard
bringing up the girl on her own. Never mind the slightly disturbing obsession
with a song written over thirty years before the girl was born. Just being six
was enough to cause Nicola problems. She blamed Rob, which was, after all,
perfectly natural.
Bastard.
And, she thought, not for
the first time, she could also blame him for the musical accompaniment to
nearly every car journey she had taken with her daughter in the past two years.
It was one of Rob’s parting gifts to her. Who plays Queen to a four year old?
Who? Rob, that’s
who
.
Bastard.

So, if from time to
time she weakened and was not the perfect mother but, instead, a weak human
being who just wanted a little peace, a little time to herself, then surely
that was natural. After all, it wasn’t as though she planned to hit Alyssa till
one of her teeth came loose, was it? She
wasn’t
that bad a mother.

Just having had the
thought was enough to make Nicola feel guilty. She blamed Rob again, whispering
the word ‘Bastard,’ quietly under her breath, and turned up the stereo in an
attempt to make amends for her evil thoughts. Alyssa didn’t know what she had
been thinking, of course, but Nicola doubted she’d mind.

Eyes focussed back on
the road instead of inward to her problems, Nicola was slightly surprised to
see a military helicopter flying low over the road. The trees were thick on
either side of this stretch of the A34, presumably to protect the delicate
Oxfordshire cows from having to look at all the ugly traffic which sped up and
down the road each day.

It was one of those
long helicopters with a rotor at both the front and the back.
A Sky-hook?
Chin-hook?
Something
like
that. It emerged over the tops of the trees on the
right like a startled grouse taking flight, crossed low over the road, it’s
shadow disturbingly large as it trailed over the traffic in front, and then
disappeared equally as suddenly behind the treetops on her left.

It seemed strange and
incongruous on a nice day like today. She might have been grumbling about the
musical accompaniment, but she couldn’t complain about the weather or even the
view. It was a bright and sunny July day, like the days of the summer holidays
that she remembered from before they moved to America. The trees, though thick
at the sides of the road, were full and green and reminded her, with a slight
pang of not-quite-home sickness, of rural roads she remembered from her time in
the States. She made a mental note to come back here in the fall when the
leaves would be turning and see how they compared to Maine or Vermont. Her
parents had moved to Boston, her father leaving his position at Oxford to take
up a Professorship at Harvard, but their holiday home had been in Maine, and
holidays had been taken in most of the rest of the top-right corner of the
country known as New England. New Hampshire had been her least favourite,
probably because most of what she had seen of it had been from the interstate
as they drove from Boston to Portland, but she had loved Maine dearly and had
hated leaving it. She had to get away from Rob, though, and returning to
England seemed her only choice.

Something
else to blame Rob for.

Her reminiscences were
interrupted by two more of the large helicopters flying almost directly over
her car. This time she really did jump in her seat as the loud noise of their
passage trailed behind them. Should they really be so low? Was that safe?

Some part of her brain
woke up and she remembered that there was a military base nearby. Was it Brize
Norton or was that somewhere else. Salisbury Plain wasn’t that far away, she
was fairly sure. Was that where they were headed?

She drove past a long layby,
and noticed that it was filled with green army trucks. There was no sign of the
soldiers she would have expected to fill them, and the engines appeared to have
been turned off. Nicola felt disquieted.

She found herself
staring at the trucks as she drove past them. Finally, as they slipped behind
she looked back to the road and saw that she would have to slow as the traffic
in front of her had started to bunch up. She watched as her speedometer dropped
from 50 to 40 and cursed under her breath. There was a chance that they might
now be late, and the dentist was never very accommodating with that kind of
thing. If they were she would have to make another appointment, probably at
least a month away – partly because they were so busy, but at least partly, she
was sure, as a punishment for being late. And then she would have to drive home
with Alyssa, un-sedated, calling over and over for her favourite song.

As if this thought was
a mental cue, the song once more came to an end and Alyssa called, “Again! Again”

Nicola glanced down,
hit the back button on the stereo once more, and looked back up. The huge roar
which came from the fields to her left made her give out an involuntary 
shriek, and then she was straightening her leg on the brake, her whole body going
rigid as she tried to get the car to stop in time,

It wasn’t the sound of
the explosion, nor the stationary traffic which caused this reaction,
it was
the sight of an articulated lorry flying through the
air, the canvas sides of the trailer flapping in flames, heading for the road
and the cars in front of her. Despite her foot on the brake, she was still
heading for it, and she didn’t think they would be able to stop. Her instinct
was trying to twist her in her seat to protect Alyssa from the impact, but at
the same time her brain tried to work out a way for her to avoid the blow
altogether. Could she dodge or weave? Could she duck?

It was with relief
that she realised that the truck had been higher than she’d thought when it
appeared, like a bizarre echo of the helicopters, over the trees, and was
actually heading for the far carriageway. It was bad news for the cars
travelling South, especially the sporty silver number which seemed to be on an
irresistible collision course with the front of the fiery truck. But she
couldn’t worry about that now. Adrenaline had flooded her body, leaving her
panting, but they had had a lucky escape and she could just travel home – the
long way round – and find out about the casualties, and the cause of the
explosion, on the news tonight. It was cold and callous, but she had Alyssa to
worry about, after all.

She turned away, not
wanting to watch as the wagon hit the silver car, and so missed the way that it
twisted and rolled as it hit the road, the link between truck and trailer
snapping. What she did see, when she looked back, was that the trailer, now
free of its anchor, metal frame twisted and canvas still aflame, had flipped
back on itself and was going to land right in her path. There was nothing she
could do about it and, as Alyssa screamed, Nicola did finally turn in her seat
to try, with her slight frame, to stop the tonnes of oncoming metal from
killing them both.

BOOK: Undead at Heart
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