The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 21: Rule Britannia
Morris Penn crushed the zombie's skull beneath his military-issue boot, the rotted bone crumpling easily like wet cardboard. Chunks of brain and coagulated blood squirted out like someone slapping a fat mosquito. Morris took a moment to spit on the creature's twice-killed corpse.
"Bloody wretches," he cursed.
"Damn straight," said Jacob Hensen. "Fucking things are everywhere, and we're not halfway through the city yet."
The city in question was Liverpool, once a bustling hub of England, now a zombie-infested quarantine zone. Penn and other soldiers of Her Majesty's army had been dispatched to clear out the infected sectors of the country, a task that was looking more and more hopeless as the undead's numbers increased.
It had begun so quietly, too; shoreline attacks where couples out for a moonlight dip were suddenly dragged screaming into the sea, after which a few bones would wash up ashore The whole tragic incident would be written off as a boating accident, with the remains picked clean by fish. Penn recalled the story of Walter Mathes, a fisherman who had gone out late one night, a pole in one hand and a bottle of whisky in the other.
His boat was found the next day, the anchor in the water and more blood than any human had any business carrying in his veins decorating the decks. Word had it that three rookie officers ate their guns afterwards. Understandable, when you came right down to it.
The government tried to explain away the deaths, a shark or a mechanical accident, but Penn had seen the photos of Mathes' boat, had seen the teeth marks on the railing, and he and every other Englishman with their brainstem connected knew what was responsible.
The dead had come to England, and they weren't here to see Big Ben.
Unless you were referring to Big Ben Johanson, who was found with his head, arms and pretty much everything else torn off a week ago.
But as with everything else that threatened the precious status quo, the government did their level best to keep a lid on the truth to avoid a panic. The media was ordered to print cover stories, and any journalist that even hinted at a zombie presence soon found themselves occupying a jail cell. Additional police patrolled the city, and for awhile, it seemed like the undead problem could be contained.
But death is a force like no other, and all the quarantine zones and cover stories only mean the problem was delayed, not stopped.
Within a day many of England's major cities were overrun by the walking dead. Military response was swift, brutal, and in the end, utterly pointless. As America's army had discovered, fighting off a living tide of death is nowhere near as easy as it sounds, and frankly, it doesn't sound that easy to begin with.
Morris had been in his small home with his wife and two children watching the reports of the outbreaks in the cities when it decided to pay him a personal visit. A neighbor, now with half her face removed, came crashing in through the window, tackling Morris before he could even react.
It was his ten-year-old son David who saved the day, taking the still-hot iron and smashing it against her head, melting away rotted flesh and burning her tattered hair like musty cobwebs. The smell alone was enough to make a person sick, but seeing her brains, some well done, convinced the Penn family that staying put was anything but a good idea.
The cities, however, were no safer. The government had the brilliant idea of herding all the people together as a means of making them easier to protect. In truth, all this did was put all the food in a single, easy-to-consume location. All it took was one bite, and the zombie virus spread, infecting hundreds of people in the span of a day.
Within 24 hour, the military abandoned the cities, leaving the people to fend for themselves. Bridges were blown up, roads were mined, and every attempt was made to contain the infected zones until an appropriate countermeasure could be devised.
They're still working on it.
Morris was clearing out an alley when his radio sounded. He thumbed the transmitter. "Morris here," he said.
"Morris, this is Blake over by the docks. There's something you gotta see," said a voice on the other end.
"I'm kinda tied up here," Morris said. "You know, walking dead don't kill themselves. Again, that is."
"Trust me," said Blake. "You need to see this."
Morris looked the large ship over. It was a passenger vessel, with a large meeting room below decks and a bar an restaurant above. The image of the stars and stripes painted on the side left no doubt as to its origin.
"So it's from fucking America," he said, spitting on the ground to show what he thought of the land now known as The Graveyard. "We've seen hundreds of ships from America. Usually through a target scope."
"That ain't what I wanted you to see," Blake said. "Follow me."
Morris walked aboard the ship. The mahogany wood creaked with his 240 pounds, the sound reminding him of the corpses this ship once housed. The windows were cracked, some misted over by the unseasonably cold English weather. The interior looked similar to the party boats rich families chartered for birthdays and celebrations, but this one had been stripped down; even the bar was empty, much to Morris' dismay.
Then it hit him. "Blake, where the fuck are all the people?"
"That's what you need to see."
Blake led him down to the meeting room. It was a large hall with several chairs and tables bolted to the floor. On one wall was a whiteboard, and Morris could see several messages written on it, mostly having to do with weather conditions and whale sightings. But they were hard to see, because there was something painted over it.
It coated the floor, walls and ceilings. There were bloody hand prints everywhere, and large scratches that could only be made by one thing.
Fingernails," he said, tracing his hand along the thin grooves gouged into the wall.
Morris turned to his friend. "Looks like we got another refugee ship gone dead," he said, preparing to leave.
Blake stopped him. "No, I don't think so. Check this out."
Blake led Morris to the doors. On the floor, there were several large padlocks, and a thick length of chain, but they had all been cut, the locks smashed. Morris bent down to examine them. "Someone locked these people in here," he said. "One of them must have been infected. The crew panicked and locked everybody up. After that, nature took its course."
"I'm not so sure," Blake said. "Check out those chains. The way they were broken. It wasn't the dead that did that. I think it was the living."
Morris looked up, uncertainty with a dash of fear on his face.
Blake leaned to whisper, looking around to make sure the rest of the crew couldn't hear. "I found a fire ax nearby, and there's no sign of the crew, no bodies, nothing. The way this ship landed, it couldn't have just drifted here. I think someone let these things out, then made a run for it."
"Why?" was the only thing Morris could think to say.
Blake looked around again, and Morris could tell he wanted nothing to do with whatever was going to be said. "We've found a few other boats like this. They all had locks on the doors, locks that we found broken."
Morris could tell where his friend was going with this, and shook his head. "No, no fucking way, no one would be that crazy."
"Oh yeah? We've seen what it's like over there," Blake replied. "There are survivors, but not many, and their military's nowhere near strong enough to retake the country. Maybe they got their sights set on us, eh?"
"But why this?" Morris asked, gesturing to the bloody room. "Why send infected over here? They're just putting themselves in the same boat."
"Not if we do their jobs for them," Blake said. "Picture this; the undead arrive, they spread like the fucking plague. We wipe each other out, leaving the spoils for whoever wants them. You know I'm right."
The other man only shook his head, turning to leave. "Nah, I just know you're off your fucking rocker. It's crazy, man, and so are you. I'm outta here. Let me know the next time you want to go off on one of your wild delusions, so I can be somewhere else."
That evening Morris returned to his spacious, government-appointed flat. Those that worked in the quarantine zones were given free room and board, and though the three-bedroom home wasn't anything to write home about, it was a better, and far safer home than his old one had been. Armed guards were on patrol at all hours, and the steel doors and reinforced walls didn't make it easy for the undead to pay the Penn family a surprise visit. None of the apartments were below the third floor, and there were several elevators, staircases and fire escapes to provide avenues of escape.
His thoughts were still on Blake's theory of the boats and the sudden appearance of the walking dead. He had to admit, his friend did have a point, and the Americans had every reason to want some payback after their former allies had left them in the lurch, but could they want it that badly? Enough to wipe out a whole nation? The possibility existed, that was for sure, but he couldn't imagine someone being that hell-bent on revenge that they would consign an entire people to the worst fate imaginable.
But the possibility existed.
The depressing thoughts were banished from his mind as he swiped his card-key and was hit with the delectable odor of a roasting chicken. Karen, his wife, looked up from the stove and smiled. "Oh, good, you're home," she said. "I heard another city had to be quarantined."
"Yeah, we try to clean one out and another bloody place falls," Morris said, his haggard expression telling his wife just how bad it was. "I guess that vacation to Barbados will have to wait."
Karen walked over and kissed her husband. They held each other, and for a moment, the world in all its undead glory melted away. A high-pitched squealing sound cut through the air, and Morris turned to see his seven-year-old daughter Alyssa run in, arms wide and ready for a hug. He swept her up and spun her around, listening to her cries of joy.
"Daddy's home, daddy's home!" she cried. "Spin me higher, daddy!"
"Higher, eh? How about I send you airborne, my little pixie?"
Alyssa clapped her hands and hugged her father tight. As he did every time he saw his children, he closed his eyes and said a quick, but fervent prayer that they live for one more day. That was all he could hope for.
When he opened his eyes, he saw his son David stood by the doorway to the living room. At eleven and going on thirty, he carried a chip on his shoulder forged of kinds of despair, fear and hatred that no child should ever be forced to contend with. Morris put his daughter down, despite the puppy-dog eyes she ast at him which begged to play more, and walked over to his son, looking at him not as a father to son, but as a man to man.
Morris pulled out his gun and showed it to David. On the grip of the weapon were a series of notches. David saw three new marks, and smiled.
"Good hunting," he said, smiling.
Morris nodded back. "Very good."
"Blake really thinks those boats are part of some kind of invasion?" asked Karen as she spooned a generous helping of mashed potatoes onto Morris' plate.
Morris nodded as he tore into a chicken leg. The government-sponsored zombie hunter didn't try to hide his work from his family. After what they had been through, they knew as much about it as he did.
Besides, given how bad it was out there, they needed to know everything they could to survive, should the worst happen.
You know, worse than hundreds of thousands of undead filling the cities.
"Yeah, I told him he's buggered, but the guy just won't listen," Morris replied. "He's always been big on the conspiracy theories, but since the dead came to town, it's gotten worse."
"Maybe he's right," David said, playing with his green beans. "The dead would make the perfect weapon."
"Now don't you start," said Morris. "It's bad enough hearing that claptrap from Blake every day."
David shrugged and stared at his plate. "I'm just saying he has a point. The Americans hate us, Dad. We should have been there for them, and instead we turned our backs on them. Wouldn't you want revenge, if they did the same to us?"
Morris said nothing, and went back to his food.
It was late when they came to the Penn household. They wore black body armor, and made no sound as they slipped through the alleyways. An old woman by the name of Dolores Branby would make a call to the police, claiming a 'ghost' sighting. The officers would take down the information and spend the next hour making jokes at the old woman's expense.
But these were not ghosts, though their actions were just as deadly as those of any haunted house movie. The guard at the door was dead before he even realized he had a problem, his throat slit from ear to ear.
A couple out for a midnight stroll was dead before they hit the floor, bullets from a silenced rifle embedded in their foreheads.
These men and women had a destination, a mission. Theirs was a cleanup assignment. People knew, and that knowledge could ruin everything.
That late hour, when most were dreaming about verdant fields or zombie-choked cities, found Morris wandering the apartment. Though he had tried to dismiss Blake's warnings as mere paranoia, the more he thought about it, the more chilling sense it made. Everyone knew the Americans despised the other nations. He had seen the television reports of the Foreigner Riots, when immigrants were dragged from their homes and set on fire, shot, or simply fed to the zombies, a kind of "cruel, but richly deserved irony," as one reporter stated. Men, women, the elderly, children, no one was spared. Hell, even housepets were sometimes killed. Scapegoats came in all shapes and sizes, apparently.
Morris had seen plenty of his countrymen killed during the riots, some of whom were his friends. But at the same time, he understood why it happened. People had turned to their allies expecting aid, and instead they were treated like lepers.
Worse, at least lepers were safe in their colonies. The Americans had been told to stay in a country overrun with unstoppable cannibals.
Yes, Morris understood what had happened. And as he understood that, he also understood that Blake's warnings were more than paranoia.
As he turned to go back to his room, he tripped over one of Alyssa's toys, an accident which saved his life as seven bullets flew through the space where his head once occupied, chewing up the wall. Morris rolled to his feet, making for the living room and the gun he kept hidden in a desk drawer.
Grabbing the weapon, he immediately opened fire where the shots had come from, but a lack of screams told him he had missed.
But the scream that came from him as three bullets perforated his right leg told him the enemy was not so unlucky. He collapsed to the floor, clutching at his leg as blood poured out of it.
"Tsk, tsk," came a voice from the shadows. "Femoral artery. Too bad. You'll probably be dead from blood loss before the ambulance gets here."
Morris looked up as four men entered from the windows. They all wore jet-black military uniforms. Masks covered their heads, and a green glow told him they wore night-vision goggles. One carried a sniper rifle, the barrel still smoking from the earlier rounds.
One of the men bent down so Morris could hear him. "Funny, you'd think with all this commotion your wife and kids would have come running."
Morris looked up, hatred blazing in his eyes. "You fucking animals. I'll kill all you Yank shitheads."
The man laughed, "Well, how about that, mate, you know we're bloody Yanks."
"Gonna kill you, gonna fucking kill you," was all Morris said, as his vision began to dim.
The man shook his head and put a gun between Morris' eyes. "Sorry, bro, but we aren't ready for people to know what we're up to yet. But if it's any consolation, the American people will honor your sacrifice."