That’s what they called it, but whatever the title it might have, it was a disturbance in places long hidden from the light.
Humans dug deeply into the earth, disturbing the ancient bedrock. Minor quakes rattled places that humans had yet to explore.
Perhaps they should not. For there are places in the earth that were buried so deep as to be forgotten.
They should remain forgotten.
But not this day.
All that remained for those still standing, with all their maps and explorations, was…
The red haired Yank drew his bow and sighted over the arrow at the horror that approached him from forty-paces away.
Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.
Thirty paces and closing, its breath wheezed audibly in decaying lungs. This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the other undead.
His focus was a laser point as he aimed, he pushed fear of approaching death down into a small compartment in his soul.
He waited, measuring.
The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to the living. The Archer took a deep breath and let it out slowly, at one time this was a handsome youth.
Archer shot the arrow into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened and fell over backwards.
“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.
RCMP when he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.
“Bone is thinner there, with luck it’ll punch through hole that the optic nerve passes. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried build wood arrows, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge, even starting as dowels.” Archer said. “But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find any high tech arrows in stores someday.” The Archer pulled out a straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a tip made from a silver spoon he had pounded into shape with a discovered hammer, but was no arrow that Archer was willing to shoot. “Ah well, let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said, as he pulled his arrow out of the head of the nightmare that had been walking at him— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.
A dead-dead person.
“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.
The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.
You could say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.
Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.
It began in the land of Oz.
In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. A virus the newscasters said.
A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. The walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and security forces.
The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent arrows made a path without attention.
The shuffling dead did not know or communicate when an arrow had stilled one of their own.
The pair made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Hiding behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after he walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.
Andrea St. George the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.
Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to, while Andrea held a single-shot rifle ready.
The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.
Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.
Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back
“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”
Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Two jars of Vegemite he set on the counter.
“You have taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have here.”
“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “
“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.
“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected I’d say, it’s safer.”
“Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said.
Chapter 2. Eating Well
“We need to move before sunset. Tomorrow we need to head down to the marina.” The archer said. “I’d say if we head south, we will head into the mess at Darwin. Sydney is the best way out of this hole.”
“Aw, you don’t like my BrissVegas?” Andrea laughed.
The archer chuckled while accepting a biscuit from Andrea, who was instructing the Yankee on how to eat the Vegemite and bread before he continued.
“The boats down at the marina will allow us to sail with safety.” The archer said softly as he choked on the Aussie treat. “Damned lucky for beer.” He gasped out.
“You Yanks have no taste.” Andrea laughed. “I told you to take a bite, not pop the whole muffin in your mouth. It will pull your tongue out by its root and beat you over the head with the bloody end.”
“I do have a taste, I like beer.” He winked. “And it was bite sized after all! This is saltier than ocean water.”
“We will need to fight our way to the marina.” Al interrupted. “It’s a long ways there to run and the how those creatures move about, we need more ammunition.”
“Guns equal attention.” Stormy said. “I watched it happen when they first attacked the police roadblock. Shooting our way there isn’t viable.”
“The chance that saved your ass in that bus.” The archer said as he stood. “These… zombies… were going after the cops and their guns, that kept them away, they were inside the terminal going after the officers that were making so much noise. Those that were injured, turned. The others won’t be awarded medals for bravery, but they lived by running, it was FUBAR.”
“FUBAR?” Zac asked. “What’s FUBAR?”
“Fucked up beyond all repair.” The archer said.
“Or reason.” Al injected.
“Or recovery.” Gail added.
Nodding and chuckling, the archer continued. “I needed to choose, clear the coach or the cops out. I opted for the civilians, it was a tough call. But… Cops took an oath, you folks did not.”
His lowered his voice to almost a whisper describing the scene, looking at a bit of plastic on his finger.
“It was a nightmare. I took down thirty of them beasts before they knew I was there. Before they knew anything, I had recovered enough arrows to cover the difference. That’s when I yelled through the door.”
“Well. Let’s dash over to the police station. It’s six blocks away, but in the right direction of the marina.” Al said putting his hand on the archer’s shoulder.
“Let’s walk, no tripping.” Andrea said softly, kissing the crimson-haired Yank on the cheek. “Archer, I’m glad you made the choice.”
3. Stepping Out
The door of the bank opened quietly, there were few creatures in the street, not one of them alerted to the humans.
“Okay, quiet, cover each other’s back. I’m first, Stormy to my right, Andrea and Zac in the middle, cover sides and up. Gail, Al, you have the rear and up. Keep them from dropping in on us from fire-escapes or windows.” Archer said as he placed an arrow on his bow.
“Why is the Mountie not first?” Gail asked.
“I shoot faster with my rig than he can until he gets practice.”
Al loaded up a vertical crossbow, holding it so that anywhere he looked, the arrow aimed naturally.
When they stepped out into the street, a single shabby ex-human shambled towards them from where they were going. The Archer loosed his arrow and it fell to the ground as they walked quietly towards the police station. No other of the animated dead that patrolled the area
The Archer paused as they walked past the body and pulled the arrow out of the head of the horror-come-archery target.
The Archer kept his place on point as they headed to the station, an arrow nocked, his bow ready to draw in a heartbeat if a need arose. and carefully moved forward to the gate of the fortress-like structure. It stood ajar and opened silently on high security hinges.
They dragged the body of a large Rottweiler by its thick harness, Al cried when he saw it wore a badge. The head of a half-eaten corpse of the police dog blocked the spring-loaded gate from fully closing. Toothmarks on the badge where something had chewed, obliterating the badge number. Torn bodies lay about, decaying in the concrete courtyard. The K-9 cop did not die gently, as evidenced of a furious fight by the bodies in the courtyard.
“Never thought a dog could tear limbs off of a body.” Jameson said.
“Canine officer. They teach them well and they require robust intelligence with these dogs.” Al said softly, tracing his index finger over the mutilated badge.
A bullet-proof glass and steel enclosed observation area inside the building controlled the gate.
Sergeant Frobisher, quickly figured out how to operate the lock and secured all the exits with a control panel.
“Excellent.” Al said. “Now we can relax.”
“No, now we need to check all the cells and rooms.” The Archer said. “I’m not sleeping without clearing this place from top to bottom.”
“You need to sleep, no matter what.” Andrea told The Archer. “When was the last down-time for you?”
“It has been a day or so.” The Archer nodded. “We will rest when the building’s secure.”
“Al and Zac stay here. Stormy, Gale and Jameson upstairs. Andrea and I will search below.” Archer said.
The Sergeant nodded.
“Here,” The Sergeant reached over into a locker as the groups were getting ready to leave. “I found these radios. Keep them on this channel I selected. Radio checks every five-minutes, everything is voice activated, so I will hear you the moment there’s a sound louder than a deep breath. As the Archer said, no rest until this entire building is cleared.”
Archer taped an LED torch (as the label on it said) to the side of his bow and he adjusted the beam to fill a room with the glow from the diminutive light. Andrea stood next to him loading a police shotgun liberated from a gun-rack they found. She had used a key she found in a drawer and was quite proud of her discovery that allowed all the other firearms in the station available to the others.
“Right, ready.” Andrea said as she racked the riot gun and chambered a shell. “Buckshot and slugs. That’s what this girl is made of.”
For good measure, the Aussie filled her pockets and a bandolier with shotshells she had found while digging around the observation port. Al pointed it was not police issue.
But Andrea could not care less.
The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.
Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.
But they were not alone.
Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.
It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.
Something hissed at Andrea, avoiding the lights as it moved.
It went under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.
“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.
The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger and drove the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment, an arrow buried its tip into the head of the shadow causing a shriek of anger, a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.
Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.
The Archer’s earpeice buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”
“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.
Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot an arrow at the wrong shadow and it stuck out in a stupid angle that made him shake his head while nocking another shaft to the string, tracking the correct shadow – the one with teeth.
“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”
The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell. An arrow intercepted the creature, penetrating it in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.
The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, knocking over a video projector that shattered on the floor. The creature landed on all fours and its face unbelieveably rebuilt as it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.
Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, but suddenly bi-pedal. Still, its features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.
However it was immensely strong and changing shapes, wriggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it.
Point-blank range, she fired another load into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.
Gristle and meat, black blood and bone splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her head.
The angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked, clawing at a wooden arrow stuck in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.
“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.
“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.
Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.
“No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.
“You shouldn’t talk, that thing is LOUD.”
“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes in the sheetrock.
The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had too many fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.
“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”
“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.
“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.
“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”
“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”
Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.
“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.”
“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”
“It means,” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”
“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.
“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creature, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”
“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus! We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG! NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…
“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.
“Coincidence.” The downed man moaned out.
“There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”
“There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”
“Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.
“No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”
“Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that. Vampires terrified me as a child.”
“No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”
“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.
“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”
“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”
“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”
“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”
“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.
The group walked into the cafeteria , Zac was carrying the skull, carefully turning it over in his hand as they all sat down..
Archer poured himself a coffee in a styrene cup from a stack he had found in a cabinet, handing one to Andrea and to Al.
“So what happened down there?” Al asked.
Archer took a tentative sip of the steaming black water while Andrea spoke.
“We entered the classroom and I would hazard a guess that it was asleep and we surprised it. It wasn’t even aware we were in the building.” Andrea said to Al as she sat with the others in what was once a cafeteria.
“If Andrea had not seen it and fired first, I’m not sure we would have survived. It came straight at her and my aim was not on. I shot the wrong shadow.”
Stormy found some herbal tea in a cabinet, saying it would be better for Archer, she took away his coffee.
“You sure I can’t have the coffee?”
Stormy gave Archer an icy look and shook her head. “I’m worried about your caffeine intake.”
“I was lucky, it happened to come over the table where I was pointing the riotgun, I pulled the trigger when it startled me.” Andrea said.
Al chuckled and turned to the Archer.
“How did you decide to shoot it with that arrow you made from a dowel? I know you carry that one you keep fooling around with. What made you think of that?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure, but if I was wrong, we were in for a hell of a fight. But, one way to destroy a vampire is to run it through the heart with a stake.”
“Okay,” Al pulled at his ear. “What you are getting at?”
“Okay, wooden stake in the chest. Can it be thrown? Could it be larger? A spear? Wooden shafted and driven through the chest?”
“Um, yes, it follows.”
“Okay then what is the difference between an arrow and a spear? A javelin and an arrow? Size? So, I used that wooden arrow that I have been working on.”
“You thought that during the fight?”
“Well,” Archer chuckled, “A significant deal more than that, but I’m being succinct about it.”
“Heh, my friend, if you think that fast after you drink your coffee, don’t you ever quit.”
Everyone except Stormy chuckled, who failed to appreciate the humor in Archer living on caffeine.
6. A Good Night
“Okay, we are cleared, top to bottom. Windows are secured, we have a room for us to sleep in. Who will take the first watch?” Al asked.
The Archer raised his hand.
“I’ll take the night half.”
“No.” Stormy, Gale and Andrea made a harmony of the word.
“Sorry, you need some sleep.” Gale said.
“Besides, you reek.” Andrea pointed out. “If I wake up and you are standing there, I will shoot your Yankee arse for one of those walking dead.”
“Okay, shower. Then I will do the watch.”
“No,” Stormy Knight argued. “Is it true that you have not slept at all? Then you need to sleep.”
Archer shook his head.
“Okay, just lay down for awhile. Rest.”
“Oh, all right. I’ll relax and recuperate for a bit. Al could you do first watch?”
“Naw, right now I need some shut-eye for a couple hours. I’m beat. I’ll volunteer Jameson. He’s slept quite well the last few nights.”
Jameson cleared his throat.
“Archer never woke anyone for the next watch, he did the whole shift!”
“No matter.” Andrea said. “You have first watch. Archer has a night off.”
The Archer shook his head slightly and winked at Jameson.
“YOU!” Stormy pointed a finger at the Yank. “Gingersnap, off to the showers with you. The men’s side has a shower system. I looked it over when checking out for any nasties that might be lurking there. You wash up and then lay down.”
“Your clothes, too, deposit them outside the door of the showers. There is a laundry . We’ll need to wash all our clothes.”
“Heh.” The Archer said without trying to hide the humor. “Lawyers will always take the shirt off your back.”
The look from the attorney of the United States was enough to for the fearless Archer to move quickly at her command.
Archer spoke loudly as he walked down the stairs, “Clean mind, clean body; pick one.”
“Anyone else want to cross swords? I will send them to the showers, too.”
Gail raised her hand. “With him?”
Andrea laughed and raised her hand. “Community shower?”
“Oh hush. I’m first in that case.” Stormy laughed. “I like the redhead.”
“We all do.” Andrea and Gail said in chorus.
7. Morning’s Early Light
Stormy nudged Andrea before dawn.
“Mm- mmph.” It was Andrea’s wittiest conversation she could have before morning coffee— her “Cuppa”.
Looking around Andrea nudged Gail.
“Wh’.” Was the best that the petite, muscular blond woman could verbalize as she stirred out of the best nighttime hibernation in a long while. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.
“The Archer is gone. Jameson is asleep.” Stormy said, matter
“Jameson!” Andrea threw a pillow at the coach driver with uncanny accuracy. “When did you come in?”
“Not long after Archer finished his shower. All you shelia’s went to bed, Al was asleep, he was up and said he was my relief and you were okay with it.”
In the control room, Al and the Archer were talking.
“ARCHER!” The women yelled as they came down the hallway.
“Uh-oh. Busted.” The Canadian chuckled. “You violated curfew.”
“Better to apologize than to ask permission.” Archer winked.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping.” Rachel said.
“You said to rest, and I did. I rested for an hour but could not catch any luck on sleep, so I came up here so that I would not disturb anyone.”
Stormy grumbled like distant thunder with lightning flashing her eyes, living up to her nickname.
“Men and children, the only difference are their sizes.” She said to Andrea.
Andrea laughed, looking at the two men that continued to gaze out the window at the outside world.
“What are you blokes looking at?” Andrea asked.
“Well,” Al said and looked out the window. “Birds.”
“Listen.” The Archer opened the heavy, armored-glass door to the outside courtyard.
The sounds of birds singing in the early morning light.
“I have not heard that in over a month. Birds stopped singing when all this happened.” Andrea said as she walked to the door listening to the music of nature’s composition for the first time in a long while. “What’s changed?”
“I’ve been standing watch for the last four hours. ” Archer said, Stormy sighed at this news with fire in her eyes. “There has been not a single shuffler meander by. Not one.”
“Are they gone?”
“I couldn’t know about that, just that I have not seen them from the observation area. The only change is that we destroyed that vampire yesterday. After Al and Jameson ran down the street and took it into a church. We can rest assured it is not in control of anything at the moment.”
“Control?” Jameson yawned as he stumbled in. “Y’all disturbed m’ sleep.”
“I’ll do more than just disturbing your sleep.” Gale was dangerous sounding. “I should kick your arse down the hallway and back for not finishing your shift.”
“After my run down to the church there and all.” Jameson said, sounding a little more awake.
“Shut it!” Gail said, then turning to the Canadian. “Taking it into a church killed it?”
“Zac, Jameson and I took it down the road to the church— Catholic by the by— and when Jameson dropped it into a baptismal tub full of water. It bubbled and then burst into a flame, it was quite impressive.” Al said. “You’d think we dropped it into a vat of acid and gasoline, eh. It was quite exciting for a moment.”
“Yes, I would venture a guess that that did it.” The Archer continued. “I’m not positive, just a theory. Now that it is lighter, there are bodies are visible, lying all around out there. Those bodies— over there and there — we didn’t shoot them. It looks like they collapsed suddenly, what ever it is that energizes them was abruptly cut off.”
“The vampire?” Stormy’s asked. “Are you saying the vampire controlled these zombie creatures?”
“That is what I’m supposing.”
“So you think it was controlling them.” Gale asked.
“I cannot say that for sure. It could just be motivational. A bit like saying ‘rise up and walk’ and then just let them shuffle around, aimlessly. No direction, just setting them loose to put pressure on the humans.” Archer shrugged. “It is a hypothesis based on the scantest of information.”
“So.” Stormy’s logical side took over. “You are saying that it is not a virus?”
“In the way it appears as of now. The jury is still out. If you excuse the term.” The Archer winked. “It could be a sort of, I do not know, a sort of control that is passed on by senescence – death. You become dead, your systems are inert and are open to control. A frog’s leg, for example, can move even though the frog is dead or even if the leg is amputated. That could explain why those shufflers out there are not something to be reasoned with. There is no mind. Just a power control.”
“That kind of power is unknown, nothing I have ever heard of can do that.” Gale said. “And it is spread by contact with the zombies, not vampires. That makes no sense.”
“Yes, and true.” The Archer answered, nodding. “But it is all I have for now. Bigger brains than mine will need to think it over. One more reason to find a military center where they may have a fortress and are holding out against this. This started in Darwin, Sydney is the largest city, it should have a military base somewhere around the water.”
“Yes,” Jameson nodded. “There is a naval base on Garden Island there.”
“Perfect. An island is easily protected!” Al said. “That’s our destination.”
The Archer nodded. “Agreed.”
“No, it is not what you are thinking. It’s an island, but has been connected to the mainland by bridges. Like your Manhattan island, for example.”
“Still.” The Archer said slowly. “It is a base, it will be defended, I hope, and a place we can dock a boat to without walking across land with those flesh-eaters hunting fresh meat.”
“Okay, then prepare to leave. Pack light. We leave at sunrise.” Al said.
“Archer.” Zac said sleepily. “You were in the showers when we came back. I wanted to give this to you, but I was asleep before you were finished. The mum’s would not let me stay up.” Zac pointed at the women as he held up an exotic shape of limbs and string.
“Where did you find that?” Archer’s eyes widened.
“I found this in a shop, it was in a glass case. The Sergeant said you would like this.” Zac smiled.
“Thank you,” Archer smiled as he ran his fingers over the four limbs of the bow. “You have any idea what you have here?”
“A bow. It is unusual, I have never seen one like it.” Zac said, his eyes glittering with glee that the face of the redhead lit up with a rare smile. “I never saw one with forked arms before.”
“This is a Penobscot style bow, it is custom made by White Wolf in the United States. Look at this here. It is called a Wind Warrior. And here? This is the number of the bow, the boyer’s name and the draw it has. This one goes up to seventy-pounds. I don’t think I have heard of one that went that high before, the name etched into it here “Midnight”. I don’t know if that is the color or the name of the bow.”
“Name?” Zac asked.
“A few shooters named their bows. I was one, but I’m considered a bit eclectic. My favorite bow was the Gertrude. But this one is my favorite now, she is beautiful.”
“She?” Andrea laughed lightly.
“Beauty, thy name is woman.” Archer said, looking again at the four-limbed bow as he held it up to the light. “The name of the bow is Midnight. Thank you, Zac, this is a wonderful gift.”
“Oh! You could use your nickname with it and call it Midnight Thunder!” Zac was pleased with his thoughts on the subject.
Archer chuckled and looked down. “Maybe. We’ll see.”
“Now if someone can point out the direction to my clothes, I have gotten chafed wearing this prisoner’s jumpsuit. It rides up a bit.” The Yank said, changing the subject.
Quiet snickers could be heard as he disappeared with Stormy down the hallway towards the laundry room, pulling at the prisoner garb uncomfortably.
“I keep getting a danged wedgie.”
The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.
He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.
“Any changes outside?”
“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”
The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.
“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”
“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.
“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought you equipment and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”
“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”
Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.
“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”
“You have a family. Your son is supposed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”
“Yes, I opposed him being pushed to be an archer on the team by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed the suit for an invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”
“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.
“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer sighed. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”
He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.
“I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”
He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.
“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”
“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.
“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”
“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”
“You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”
“Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did.”
From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.
“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.”
“Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. There were bodies with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.
He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.
“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”
“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.
They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.
The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.
9. Out On The Docks
For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The presence of ravens feeding on the dead was oddly reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens to be a good sign.
The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.
Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.
“I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.
“There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”
“A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.
“By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”
“Stormy?” Archer asked.
“You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”
“You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.
“You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”
They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.
As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.
Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.
Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.
“Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”
Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.
“Hey!” He yelled.
Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.
“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”
“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.
“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”
The skipper paused.
Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.
“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”
“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”
“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.
The skipper swore under his breath.
“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”
The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium sized, but well appointed.
“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and have been waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”
“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.
“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”
“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.
Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.
“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”
“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.
“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”
The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.
“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”
“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.
“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”
“Here here!” Andrea laughed.
Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.
“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”
“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”
The Captain stopped talking for a moment.
“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”
Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.
The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.
“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.
“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.
“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.
“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”
The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”
“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.
“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”
“Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”
Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.
“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”
Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.
“You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.
“Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.
“Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”
“Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that should be impossible.”
The Captain shook his head land laughed.
“Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”
10. Ocean and Freedom
The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.
Captain Roberts sat back and sighed.
“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”
Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.
Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.
“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”
The Archer laughed.
“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have been drinking that brand for years.
Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”
The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.
Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.
“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.
“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”
“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction return the way you came.”
“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”
“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine has been extended to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”
“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”
“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”
“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.
“Heave to, or we will fire.”
“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”
In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.
Captain Roberts looked out.
“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”
“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.
“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.
“Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.
“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”
“OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.
“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.
It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopters their weapons repeatedly.
Only after the Calliope’s shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water the gunships returned to base on shore.
The haze and smoke slowly dissipated as the killing machine moved off, returning to the carrier.
There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders and turned away back to its patrol.
Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:
Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”
Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.
“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”
“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the whole of the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night.
That night, over a month ago.
Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.
Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.
A bow floated on the wreckage, an unusual penobscot bow made of exotic woods. The bow lay on a raft of floatation devices, hastily lashed together, clear of the water with a quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.