A while back I posted about an exciting project I was involved in along with a number of other writers whom I've met on Twitter, and my good friends Julie Hutchings and Ben Gumbrell.
Well, after three stories it got around to my turn, which is posted here in full. The aim was to write a stand-alone piece even though it links to the stories which went before, and which can be found at the blog of Miss Chynna-Blue Scott at chynnablueink.com.
I hope you enjoy my first foray into zombie fiction - Rezerection...
by J.C. Michael
A single, lonely, tear, meandered down her cheek, and fell upon the page of the novel which sat open on her lap. The page greedily absorbed the water, distorting the word upon it. The word was ‘pain’. Closing the book, she looked out of the window at her husband, who stood motionless at the bottom of the garden, a curl of smoke rising from the cigarette which he held in his hand. He stood ramrod straight, as any good military man should, and her mood lightened a little as she watched the cigarette burn down in his hand rather than from between his lips. He’d effectively given up when they found out she was expecting, but he often lapsed, particularly when on tour or, as now, just returned. She supposed if a man in his business lived to an age where lung cancer was a worry he would be thankful and, as she absentmindedly rubbed at the scabbed trackmarks running up her arm, she wondered how things had come to this, why the light seemed to have blinked out on her future, and what that future held for both them, and their unborn child.
“How’s Mel?” asked William Fuego, Firey Bill to his mates, a man with a short fuse and long memory.
“Not too bad,” replied Victor Howard. Neither man looked at each other as they spoke. Diplomatic protection was boring work, and neither saw it as their real job, but it was still work, and they were professionals. Amateurs and fools didn’t get to wear the flaming Excalibur of the Special Air Service.
“She say’s her pelvis feels like it’s made of broken glass, can’t sleep ‘cos of it.”
Just then their earpieces crackled, “Sergeant Howard, head to the office. Wharton will take your spot.”
Howard followed the order without question, and with the minimal response of “Yes Sir”. If the Captain wanted him at the office then that’s where he needed to be, without delay.
Leaving Bill behind to watch the foreign diplomats witness a textbook demonstration of how to clear a building of terrorists, Howard jogged towards the office, but before he was half way there his earpiece crackled again, “Howard, scrap that, just get to your car and get to the hospital. Your Mrs has gone in.”
His stomach flipped in a way it didn’t even when under enemy fire. If the baby was coming it was almost two weeks early, not enough to cause too much concern, but enough to be a worry. “Yes Sir,” he said in reply to the Captain. “Soft cunt, get a grip,” he muttered to himself as he changed direction.
The radio crackled once again “And Howard?”
“You’ve seen a lot of death in your time. Don’t waste your chance to see a life start. In other words, don’t fuck off down the boozer. I’m letting you go for your wife and child’s sake, not so you can get pissed.”
Three days later he was still at the hospital, and even though he’d been trained to withstand confinement if ever captured, Howard was starting to go stir crazy. He was also increasingly worried about Mel. Not only was she suffering from fatigue, she’d been in labour for over 56 hours, and her explanation for the needle marks on her arm, vitamin injections, just didn’t sit right. He knew how to spot a lie, and he knew his wife. Something was wrong. Eventually the decision was made which they knew was coming, a c-section was the only way. As Howard stood by, helpless, he watched the epidural and, minutes later, the team were in the room busily preparing her for surgery. One of the doctors asked if he’d be ok, the stare he gave in return providing all the answer necessary. Shit, this may be his wife, but he’d seen mates as close as brothers shredded by I.E.D’s. He’d been shot himself, twice, and had once spent two hours in the desert holding a local guide’s intestines in place while the rest of his troop lit up their target. That poor fucker ultimately died, but he’d been opened up in a sand dune, not a private hospital in Hertfordshire.
From the very start of the procedure he knew something wasn’t right. Fuego had told him that the birth of his daughter had been “magical”, the high point of his life. This was torture, not nice at all, and the worried glances between the doctor, nurses, and anaesthetist, told him far more than he wanted to know. Yet even then it was a shock when the monitor hooked up to the baby’s heartbeat first raced, and then flatlined. He locked his eyes onto those of his wife, “It’s OK,” he heard himself saying, not for a second believing the words as they passed his lips. The tearing sounds came not a moment after he had spoken.
Looking away from the pain etched across Mel’s face, he glanced around the blue screen erected between the proud parents and the business end and saw a scene that made everything else he’d witnessed during his career, during his life, evaporate into insignificance. There it was, his baby, tearing itself out of Mel like a demon clawing its way out of a blood-filled hell. Green bile spilled from its mouth as it opened its jaws with a piercing scream through which it introduced itself to the world, and then it was free, launching itself with a “thwup” as it left the bloody cavity of Mel’s womb behind. Like a heat seeking missile the projectile infant locked onto a target, and clamped its jaws against the cheek of the midwife. The midwife’s screams mingled with those of Mel, whose tattered body belonged in a war zone, not here, and then both sets of screams died as Mel lost consciousness, and the midwife collapsed to the floor, tearing away a chunk of cheek as she did so.
The baby, they were going to call him George if it was a boy, Stephanie if a girl, turned, and looked at Howard with a maniacal grin, a full set of yellow-green teeth bared and tipped with thick red blood. As the midwife tried to scramble away the baby lunged once again, but his dive fell short as he was pulled back like a dog on a lead by his umbilical. Howard looked around but the rest of those present may as well have been marble statues, the shock petrifying them in place despite their training. His own training kicked in, switching off the normal thought process in favour of a machine-like need to get a job done, to identify and neutralise the threat. Leaping over his torn apart wife, whose bottom half now hung limp off the end of the bed, he reached into the locker and pulled out his service 9mm. The safety was off in an instant, and in a single fluid movement he turned the gun on the naked baby that now stood covered in afterbirth, blood, and green slime, between his wife’s bloody legs, its umbilical clenched between its teeth as it tried to bite through the cord which had sustained it for nigh on nine months. Irrespective of his training Howard paused, paused just long enough to see that the devil was a boy, his very own demonic son, and then he shot George right between the eyes.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” said General Edmund Pickering, “I hear your wife was a special woman.”
“Thank you Sir, she was,” said Howard as he took the glass of whisky the bigger man was holding out to him and, following a barely perceptible nod from the senior officer, he took a sip.
“Did she ever say much about her work?”
“Not really Sir, we both had our secrets which we needed to keep.”
“You know she worked on defence contracts though?”
“Yes Sir. That’s how we met. I was on duty keeping an eye on her lab as there’d been some threats from A.L.F. One of the few times I was pleased to have been doing the Police’s job for them.”
“Hmmm, cutbacks, yes, but it keeps you boys occupied.” Selecting an overstuffed armchair Pickering sat, and gestured for Howard to do the same. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve personally called in to interrupt your,” he looked around cabin, “recuperation.”
“I did wonder Sir. I’m grateful for the leave but hope you’ve come to take me back.”
“Let’s see if you feel the same when I’ve finished,” said Pickering as he settled back and placed his own, untouched, drink on the hearth. Your wife was working on a Project known as ‘Rezerection’,” he said as he passed Howard a manila folder with both the title, and ‘Top Secret’ typed across the front. “It started out with crops – the basic idea was that when a plant was sick, a genetically altered gene would kick in and give the plant a boost, sort of a built in first aid kit. More antibodies and such like, don’t ask me about the science, I’m a soldier not a boffin. Or a farmer, for that matter. Our interest came later, with regards to the potential implications for humans, and, from our perspective, the potential benefits in the operational theatre.”
Pickering paused, his eyes searching Howard for a response. When none was forthcoming he continued. “The M.O.D pumped in some finance and animal testing was the only truly valid way to progress the research, that’s where you came in and met your good wife. On the physical side the project was a success, injured animals had surges of energy, the healing process was accelerated. The issue was the mental state. Confusion, enhanced aggression, and in some cases it appeared that the subjects actually died before the gene kicked in and then, somehow, reanimated them.”
The old warrior’s gaze was intense, but Howard met it with an emotionless expression of his own. “Zombies, Sir?”
“If you wish, it’s as good a name as any. We believe that somehow Mrs. Howard came to be infected, we don’t know when, and since then she has had to give herself an antidote. It further seems that the antidote worked, to some extent, but that your son was still affected. If it was that which caused his death.”
“My gun caused his death, Sir.”
“Sergeant, he was dead already. The heart monitor showed no heartbeat from your son from the point just prior to him leaving her body. As I said, it’s unclear if the infection was the actual cause of death or not. But it damn sure caused what happened next.”
Howard took another drink, all the while holding the old man’s intent gaze. “I appreciate you telling me all this, Sir, but why do I get the feeling you’re leading up to something?”
“Because you aren’t a damn fool, that’s why. You know the drill, we may owe an explanation but that doesn’t mean you’d be getting one if it wasn’t in our own interest. You can class the background as part of your briefing. The name Boyd Jackson ring any bells?”
“Yes Sir, he…”
“You can drop the Sir for the moment, we’re heading beyond formality here and strictly off record,” said Pickering brusquely as he picked up his own glass and swirled the liquid within it.
“Jackson worked for Mel. American guy, I met him a couple a times, but not enough to get to know the bloke.”
“Read the folder and you’ll know him as well as you know your own face in the mirror. The Yanks have been working on their variant of Rez for a while now, Project Hazard. We share data, to a point, but, as you’d expect, they also have mechanisms in place to gather the things we don’t share, as do we from them. Makes it all a bloody farce, but that’s the way these things go. Long story short, Jackson was on Uncle Sam’s payroll as well as your wife’s. Last night there was a break-in at the lab, and Jackson was apprehended at the scene. An accomplice got away with the Police only picking up his movements just past Alnwick.”
“Heading for Scotland?”
“Seems that way, we don’t know why, and he never got over the border. The Police gave chase and he ran off the road into a body of water known as Hutchings Reservoir. Thankfully the drinking water from there only feeds the homes of one small village.”
“Thankfully? They took something from the lab didn’t they?” asked Howard, the answer already known.
“I was told you were perceptive. Seven vials of Rezerection suspension were taken. Jackson had none on him, so we assumed it ended up at the bottom of the reservoir. An assumption which proved accurate when the population of Huntingmoor started mutating and tearing each other limb from limb. It’s a bloody mess, a very literal bloody mess, and we want you to clean it up.”
“Just you. The infected have reduced intelligence, on a par with chimps apparently, but enhanced strength. We’re fortunate the area’s isolated, which enabled us to place a quarantine plan in place. The regular army think it’s an exercise and, utilising small teams, each unaware of the others, we’ve surrounded the village with mines. Anyone coming out will be blown to kingdom come. The exercise will resume tomorrow, with the clearing of the mines, giving you an opportunity to go in and take out the hostiles. When all’s clear a secondary team will move in and tidy up after you. The cover-up will be an absolute nightmare but that’s our problem, not yours. I’ve read your file – you’ve killed British citizens before in Ireland, plus a couple here on home turf, so I expect you won’t have any problem with carrying out these orders?”
“Good. There’s a car outside, everything you need is in the boot – kit, weapons, and a list of all hundred and thirty-eight residents, with the six we know to be out of town marked. The sat-nav is programmed for the village and post-mission rendezvous point. All comms. coming out of the village were intercepted before the first reports of the outbreak started coming through. There’s been nothing for the past,” Pickering checked his watch, standing as he did so, “fifty-five minutes. We’re assuming all inhabitants are infected or dead.”
Howard took his lead from the officer and also stood “And if there are any survivors?”
“Get them out if you can. It’ll be another headache, but we can’t go killing people without just cause.”
“There’s no cure?”
Pickering hesitated, put his drink down on the table, and began to button his coat. “Only your wife would have known that. I’m genuinely sorry for your loss, and for those poor bastards we need you to take care of. Now, time’s ticking, soldier. Good luck.”
Five minutes after passing through a checkpoint Howard was driving into the village – a glance told him he’d be driving out of it in sixth. He turned off the C.D he was playing; it wasn’t his style but it had been left in the player, all bass and some fella shouting “Discoredia, you know the score,” over the top of it. However hard he tried, he just couldn’t shake off the sense that this was all too Resident Evil to be true, and if he saw an Umbrella logo anywhere he wouldn’t be at all surprised. Why the fuck hadn’t they given him an armoured vehicle? An RWMIK Land Rover with a nice meaty GPMG so that he could just park up in the middle of town and drop the bastards. He could’ve done that and then done a house to house, it would’ve thinned them out at least. Pulling up in the middle of the road, he glanced at the Google maps printout of the village. It was little more than an inhabited crossroads.
Ahead of him was the village pub, the only sign of any commercial goings on, and at this end of the green was the church, with a school in-between. A whole life could be planned out from one end of the village to the next and back again, a microcosm of birth, school, pub, death. Maybe with a detour for marriage and christenings mid-way through.
As he edged the car forward a pang of guilt hit him, an emotion with which he was largely unaccustomed. His recent infanticide had lurked at the back of his mind ever since he’d put a bullet in George’s brain, but now he was being asked to kill again, and the murder of his freshly born son clawed for recognition. He brought the BMW to a stop, pulled the handbrake, and lit a cigarette.
It seemed to be a ghost town, real Silent Hill style shit, but as he stepped out of the car he saw the first one. A shuffling figure leaving a pub, the sign proclaiming it to have the very un-villagey name of ‘The Awkward Turtle’. The shambling creature could have been mistaken for a drunk, had it not been for the body it dragged behind it. Reaching back into the car, its engine still ticking over, he took his SA80 A2 from the passenger seat, and rested the barrel between the open door and chassis. He had no idea if the thing stumbling toward him could only be taken down with a head shot, but it would have been his shot of choice even if the target had still been a regular human, and not some fucked up GM crop zombie. His finger tightened on the trigger, gently squeezing against the tension as his breath slowed, and his aim settled. The gunshot cracked and the familiar recoil pushed into his shoulder like a friendly punch. The target’s head burst like a melon in an explosion of red and green and he quickly rose up and swept his weapon down both sides of the street fully expecting a mass of the creatures to burst out of their homes. Instead, they flooded out of the pub.
Bastards in there should’ve been drinking beer, not water, he thought, unless some tight arse landlord had been watering down his ale. It must have been the cups of tea they’d had before going out that had infected them, or their five minute pre-boozer shower. Either way, he had a job to do, and settled into it like a man returning to his lovers arms. The first target was an old man in a flat cap. Crack. Down. Next were two youths running at him with pool cues and howling like fucking monkeys at the zoo when the scally kids rile them up. Crack. Crack. Three for three. He let loose a few more shots in quick bursts, no time to take a careful aim now, and a handful more went down, but still they came. “Fuck,” he thought, as he heard doors slam open and windows smash as creatures started to come out of the houses. His car had become his own Rourke’s Drift, but it was also his escape route, and jumping in he slammed down the handbrake and floored it. The car leapt forward and he was relieved that the automatic gearbox relieved him of the added concern of changing gear as he accelerated, knocking the zombies aside like bowling pins. Fucking strike.
As the car shot past the pub he wrenched on the handbrake and spun the vehicle around before ploughing back into the crowd, a number of which were getting back up despite being hit on his first run. Suddenly a middle aged woman leapt onto the bonnet like a safari park baboon and punched the windscreen. A spider’s web of cracks radiated from the point of impact and if she’d punched again she’d have been through. Instead she was forced to grab hold of the wipers with both hands as the car swerved, and Howard raised his Glock, the very gun that had killed his son, and shot her in the face. The body arched back and went under the front end, causing Howard to curse as the vehicle bumped over the corpse. He was through the throng once more, but this time the decision was to put some ground between him and the green goo dribbling monstrosities pursuing him. Checking his mirror, he grunted under his breath as he wondered just how fast these cunts could run, but it was the scene in front which caused most concern as he turned back to see one of the bastards, a bastard built like a ballet dancer yet acting like the fucking World’s Strongest Man, overturning the row of cars by the roadside, pushing them into the middle of the street. With no time to wonder if this was a deliberate plan or an unfortunate accident, instinct took over, and with a slight turn of the wheel Howard altered course towards the church, slamming all on moments before the vehicle hit the porch. The impact jarred every bone in his body and his ears rang from the explosive sound of the air bag, but the adrenaline coursing through his veins overrode such issues. This time the blow to the windscreen came from within, and with that out of the way Howard crawled through, slid over the bonnet, and entered into the cool welcome of the House of God.
Shutting the door behind him, he thanked the Lord for the key left in the lock and after turning it he dragged a pew across just as the first creature hammered into the old oak. He followed with a second and third pew but the wood was splintering already and they’d soon be through. His head was cut but he felt nothing, the only giveaway being the blood running over his left eye which he wiped away with his sleeve. A quick assessment of the situation rattled through his brain. He was battered and bruised but no serious injury; he had his sidearm, and a reasonable amount of ammo for the group he’d already encountered, but he needed to get more from the car, plus the rifle if at all possible. He backed up and raised his gun.
Come on, you twats, I’ve a surprise for you, he thought. The first plank gave way, a drooling woman in a shower cap poking her head through a gap that was at least an inch too small, tearing her ears off in the process and causing a mixture of blood and green pus to ooze down each side of her face. It wasn’t a great look, but nor was it something which needed to trouble her cosmetically, as a second later her head exploded from the impact of a 9mm hollow point. The pews were shifting and the doors disintegrating as clawed hands ripped at the wood and bodies pressed to get through the ever widening gap. As shots rang out and echoed through the ancient church a smell of compost and rot mingled with the acrid smell of the fired gun. The monsters were nearly through.
Ducking down behind the font, Howard holstered his sidearm; it was time for a change of tack. He couldn’t use the two grenades he unclipped from his belt here, as the last thing he wanted was to blow up the car, and the ordinance in the boot, but all he needed to do was lure the fuckers away from it. As soon as he heard the pews move aside, and the doors swing inwards, he was up and running down the aisle and, sensing the villagers on his heels, he dropped one grenade, then the other, and threw himself behind a stone pillar. A BOOM BOOM shook the room bringing dust, splinters, and bloody green body parts to rain down around him, but he was unscathed and, 9mm back in hand, he quickly turned to check for survivors. None of the bodies moved.
Fearing any further resurrection of the creatures Howard put a bullet into the head of each as he walked back toward the door of the church, it was pointless keeping quiet considering the racket he’d already made. Satisfied the dead were dead, with no Lazarus style revivals apparently imminent, he reached the car and reclaimed his assault rifle before restocking on ammo and grenades from the boot. There was no sign of another attack and his aim was to move out slowly, carefully, whilst keeping low. It had been a cowboy style entrance, totally unlike him, but the end result was favourable; he was alive, a lot of villagers weren’t. As he moved along the side of the church he wondered, could they be hiding? What if some of them were armed? Intel suggested they wouldn’t be, the intelligence level should be too low, but this was so far out of the ordinary he was taking zero for granted. Particularly in a rural village where a few of the homeowners no doubt had a double barrel to hand. It was then that he heard a scream.
In a crouch he moved around to the back of the church and the sight which greeted him repulsed him to his core. A gang of four teens surrounded a fifth figure who was brutally assaulting a young woman he’d bent over a tombstone. The sun was going down and its rays flashed over the black crash helmet he wore, the rest of his outfit consisting of a leather jacket and a pair of jeans down round his ankles. If this was a movie, or some cheap paperback, he would say something either vulgar, like “oi, cunt”, or cool, or witty, but this was real life, and each bullshit word meant a wasted second, a second in which an enemy could spot him, a second in which more enemies could arrive, a second in which the monster in the helmet could inflict one more thrust on the poor woman.
Steadying his arm, he shot the first teen in the back of the head. The second he caught with his head half turned, the bullet entering the cranium just above the ear. And the third was hit smack on the bridge of his nose. The fourth dropped into a bent-over run but stopped dead as a bullet entered the top of his skull. That just left the leader, who swaggered toward him like a gorilla, his jeans left behind on the floor and green goo dripping from what looked like a vine swinging between his legs. Rather than risk the shot glancing off the rounded helmet, Howard took out both his kneecaps, strode forward, and fired through the visor. All five dead in less than five seconds. He could have been on the range. The sobbing woman was crouched behind the gravestone, a pretty young thing with short dark hair and mascara stained cheeks.
He held his hand out to her. “Come with me.”
His hand fell to his side no sooner than the words had fallen from his lips. The woman, no more than a girl really, had cramped in pain. Howard could see her stomach extending, something rapidly growing inside her. She started to cry and shake, her face losing all colour as the thing, the thing he already knew all too much about, sucked the life from her in order to feed its own. He had no interest in seeing what was within her rapidly expanding bump burst from her stomach like a Romero directed Alien re-boot and kneeling beside her he put down his rifle, placed an arm around her shoulders, and held her close.
“Close your eyes, let me take care of it,” he said before snapping her neck, picking up his gun, and emptying the clip into her stomach.
At the local school there was a notice advertising a school play that very night. He’d scanned the list on the drive down: twenty three kids of primary school age, plus parents and a couple of teachers, so it was likely there’d be about fifty in there. A glance through the window had shown a mixture of torn up bodies and kids running like it was a soft play. He flushed them out with tear gas and they stumbled out, small figures coughing, weezing, demanding that whatever humanity he possessed take pity upon them; he dropped them without hesitation with controlled bursts of fire.
He was a soldier, trained to kill men in battle, yet here he was killing not just civilians but women and children. He was a killing machine with no remorse, reconciling his actions with the fact that these weren’t humans; they were monsters, creatures, zombies. The dead walking the streets who needed to be eradicated. The horror as he cleared the houses of the remaining affronts to nature demolished his own grip on reality, his very sanity. No man could experience such trauma and leave undamaged. It was too much. The way he had adapted to it was unnatural.
It was dawn as he walked away from town. He’d wiped out a whole village and piled the bodies on the village green like a grotesque bonfire. His humanity was as lost as his wife and the son he’d murdered. The faces of the dead he’d killed throughout his career clawed at the edges of his thoughts, whilst the green dribbling faces of those upon whom he’d wrought genocide that night pressed at them from behind. Sgt. Victor Howard spat onto the tarmac. It was thick and green, like snot, but the taste in his mouth was earthy, like soil. He looked down into his left hand; his 9mm was still there. Putting the barrel in his mouth he bit down, and prepared to join the souls he’d sent into eternity.