Image taken from slack-jawed hands as it seemed appropriate.
I wrote the following short story for a proposed e-book that was to raise money for Comic Relief, hence the innuendo of the title "The Bell's End".
The project "Zombie aid" asked writers to compose a short story about the rise of the living dead. It didn't have to be funny but I like to include black humour in whatever I write. As it is a lighthearted charity, i also included a few references to my favourite band. I apologise in advance to my fellow fans!
Zombie Aid received over a thousand submissions before, suddenly, disappearing.
In it's absence I felt that it would be good to put in on my myspace site for some people to read.
I'm not a professional writer, and will have taken some liberties with grammar. I still need to get my head around tenses.
The story is graphic in nature, so those easily offended please hit the back button.
all the best!
There is no pub called The Bell in the Sea, in or around Aylesbury. Whilst there are plenty of pubs with the name The Bell, I have found no evidence of a pub called The Bell in the Sea. The characters contained in the story are not based on anybody living, deceased or undead. Any similarities to the living or the dead are completely coincidental.
No-one would have believed in the early part of the twenty-first century that the dead would walk the Earth, but they did.
It was a beautiful clear day, not a cloud in the sky, when I first heard of the outbreak. This was how the 24hr news channel described it, like it was a virus. I had been sitting in The Bell in the Sea, a homely 16th century British country pub, glad that the summer break for teachers had begun. The
I was enjoying a traditional pint of ale, a pint of Youngs Best. Id been waiting for a call from my friend, Mike, but he appeared to be incommunicado. All I had been getting that morning was an engaged signal. I wondered what on earth he had been doing. He wasnt normally this difficult to get hold of. It never occurred to me that he might have been in trouble.
Leaning on the dark brown oak bar, I had been mulling over the lunchtime menu in a haze of indecision caused by tiredness and the buzz of my first drink. The specials were artistically scrawled on a blackboard with a liquid chalk pen a generous list of alternatives to the main menu, including Gazpacho, cold soup. Id never had it. I thought of trying it, but I was really contemplating the game pie, as it was always very good - out of this world, in fact. It was a decision that soon became unnecessary to ponder on. One viewing of the news and I soon lost my appetite.
The news reports were surreal and I felt as if I was watching the television, which hung on the wall, from a hospital bedconfused and delirious. I had sat with my jaw hanging, as if dead myself, staring at the incredulous scenes of carnage. Seemingly, from a distance, ordinary men and women stumbled towards their victims, taking chunks out of them with their teeth. The worst aspects of the filmed footage were pixelated for the squeamish, as if the moral standards brigade would complain in the hundreds. It was, yet another This horror was happening outside and inside our homes, so it was necessary to shock, to make people realise the extent of the threat. Children's mums and dads could, at this moment be preparing to chow down on their little ones. It was a sickening thought. When Mum's coming toward you with her arms out, its difficult to kill her with the nearest kitchen implement. Strangely, a rogue thought entered my mind - what would happen to the remaining people in the Big Brother house? Presumably, the producers would let them out. God, what would it be like to die in the Big Brother house? It was goodbye to all that. I found myself grinning. There was no real humour in it, but I caught a black look from Ron, waiting at the bar. I was amused at Ron's calm ordering of a drink, like the world wasnt ending. But, then, what else was there left for us to do, but to get drunk? example of Political Correctness versus common sense.
I stared down at the circular pools of liquid left by pints of beer; a collection of which reminded me of the Olympics logo. What was happening to the world? I caught sight of Jennifer, sitting in the lounge bar, staring at a vodka and coke. The ice cracked in the glass as if a portent of the future. I'd had my eye on her for sometime. She was a pretty, slim blonde. Like many women in their twenties she was slim but curvy. Her hair hung, lustrously, over her shoulders and she always looked after herself, as if she'd stepped out of a magazine photo shoot to have a quiet drink. Her eyes were a pale blue that reminded me of clear Mediterranean waters. I imagined what it would be like to kiss her full, red lips, and lose myself in those eyes. She might've have been an incubus sent to torture me and take my mind off my work. I should cover my eyes when she's near, or turn away and just not look at her.
I'd never been able to start a conversation with Jennifer. I tried, feebly, once, but my voice cracked. My throat had been too dry; ok, it was nerves mainly. By the time I gathered the courage to go over and, assertively, talk to her, she'd gone. I'd be punching above my weight, anyway, I had thought. Why she always drank alone, I hadnt found out, but she was dressed in a little black dress that always made a certain part of my body twitch when I saw her in it. Her perfume radiated out, intoxicating me in her pheromones. Even the sight of her couldn't take away the morbid fascination I had with the news.
Watching that hideous footage, sitting under the seventeenth century beams of the pub didn't seem right to me, because everything around me had still seemed the same. Old Bert had been sitting in the corner, his tongue wrestling with something stuck in his teeth. Marjorie had been perched on a stool at the bar, already half cut. Her mascara looked as if it had been on all night, not flattering her age of fifty-five years. Jennifer, the complete opposite, immaculately made up, without looking like a tart. Gerry, the big, bald landlord (we called him The Big Wedge) had been pulling a pint of Best, stopping midway to listen to a posh, glamorous brunette in her early thirties describe people eating each other. Somehow, she still retained that trained, almost emotionless composure so many news presenters maintained unlike local news presenters.
Even so, as time went on more and more of the reporters on location looked highly perturbed at having to report that the recently deceased had come back to life and were, not only feeding on the living, but spreading the condition to their victims.
No one knew the exact cause of the reanimation. Pundits on the news channel put forward all sorts of reasons from al-Qaeda terrorist cells, to experiments in anti-aging creams, and even mad cow disease leading to cannibalism. Many viewers had text in their views, borne from watching
I witnessed, what looked like, the grisly end of a cameraman. A living dead boy, that moved quicker than the other dead things, shot towards the lens, attacking the cameramans neck. The screen went lopsided, a squirt of bright blood and then blackness, with the hiss of empty static. The attractive brunette apologised for the interruption to the report and carried on giving us stats about the phenomenon. Then, I did laugh. A big throaty, nervous chuckle issued from my mouth. I just couldn't help it! No one could say anything; shock had cast a spell of silence throughout the pub. Old Bert got up and left. The rest of us looked at each other. Silently, we were wondering what each of us should do. I glanced at the term papers I had been preparing to mark, thinking that there probably wouldnt be much point in doing them now. The world was at some kind of end, for the human race. Id seen the movies. At least these buggers didnt seem to be able to run; apart from the kiddies. I hoped I never came across my class. Theyd make short work of me. A revenge for some of the essays I had set them, maybe.
The local newspaper that lay open in front of me, at page 19, suddenly made more sense; a short article, lacking in detail about riots in country towns. It had begun much earlier than I had thought. We';d ignored the warnings. Maybe it had been mad cows disease after all. No, I corrected myself. That would be silly. Articles like the headline about Youth binge drinkers in Aylesbury seemed so pointless now; Market Square Asbos indeed!
I suddenly felt the need to visit the Gents. It was clean facility with a marble effect toilet, with an ornate mirror; a mirror that showed me my current haunted face. I was six foot, with a mop of untidy brown hair. Kids often had a laugh at my expense about my large roman nose, but I didn't mind. I wouldnt have been in the teaching profession if I couldn't put up with childrens taunts.
I stood splashing into the urinal, hoping no splash-back hit my trousers. A couple of notices were on the wall, fixed by blu-tack. Some local band was playing at the civic centre. They were, once, very famous. What happened? Time, and the lack of a corporate money making machine behind them, maybe. Still, they seemed to be doing all right with the loyal fanbase behind them.
Walking back into the public bar, I said, I see you've not given up promoting that band you like Gerry. Didnt they have a hit with Ka...?
Shut it! Gerry interrupted, feigning anger at my little joke. I often wound him up over his favourite band's previous success.
I was going to leave the pub and go about my business; that was, until the crowd formed at the front of the place. At first, it looked like any crowd of elderly visitors having stopped for lunch. Upon closer inspection I noticed a number of horrifying irregularities. As the shuffling figures came into full view of The Bells windows, I could see the amount of blood covering their clothes. One elderly lady wearing a floral print dress had a long shard of glass sticking from her face which wavered as she moved. The neck of one man had been broken and his head lolled to one side; his eyes, blank and almost expressionless, but fixated on us, as if with intent. A trio of women, like witches from Macbeth staggered into view, gaping wounds dripping with black blood. A very old looking dead man walked, with his arms hanging listless by his sides, his eyes glassy and milky. When some of the dead saw us watching, long stringy drool issued from their gaping, moaning, mouths.
"Most likely a coach accident" Gerry had said, stating the obvious. I mumbled an agreement. I hated that blind curve a mile down the road. My fingers nervously twitched the curtain closed a little more, as if worried the corpses would see me. They sensed us. They wanted our warm flesh. They may not have even known why, just a primordial reflex to eat and kill what used to be them.
The coach driver, dressed in a dark green pullover, slick with dark red marks, had been hit in the face with the steering wheel; a large gouge was prominently displayed enlarging his mouth, making him look freakish. Another man had been partially set on fire. His face looked tarred by the heat; one single eye was on display among the charred flesh smoke still whisped from the wounded part of his body. A younger woman, possibly in her forties, dragged one twisted leg behind her; I noticed a white feather sticking out from a wound on her face, incongruously.
I took a room for the night. I didnt fancy driving back home, not with what was outside. Earlier, I could have out run the bunch of living dead geriatrics, but theyd now been joined by more visitors. A couple in their twenties wandered into the pub grounds. Both were partially dressed. When they were joined by three men tripping along the path with their trousers open, I guessed they had been dogging in an off road lay-by; a strange sexual practice that had proven fatal. All had massive bites on their bodies. The womans breasts had been chewed off, along with most of her right side. As she got closer I saw an uncoiled intestine dragging along beside her. The man with her had a large portion of his left shoulder missing, the bones showing from a mangled mess of bloodied muscle tissue. Finger nail marks streaked his greying face.
At first, the creatures blundered about the three cars parked on the driveway, bashing into them as they clumsily made their way to the pub. Then, Bert arrived, for the second time that day. Except that this wasnt the Bert we knew. He'd been attacked and left in quite a mess. Most of his face was missing; one eye partially eaten, the other hung by a thread. Fingers from his left hand had been chewed away, leaving it claw-like.
The dead Bert came towards the pub entrance. I checked with Gerry that the door had been locked shut. It had. Sickeningly loud thuds warned of Berts intention to grab a lunchtime snack. We were definitely not on the list of specials. A low breathy moan issued from what left of Berts mouth, like a permanent death-rattle. Like a call for help, the actions drew the attention of the old age pensioners and the others. There was food in this pub and they all wanted to partake of the lunchtime buffet; all you can eat at no charge.
This was the last straw for Marjorie, who started to lose it, screaming at the top of her lungs like a switch had been pressed. She got up and ran for the back door. She threw the back door open and raced outside for her car. Gerry and I shouted for her to get back into the pub. She never replied. We locked the door behind her in a hurry. There were only a few of the things in the back, but shed have to get around to the front. It was a futile, fatal mission. We walked back to the front windows. They were quite high up and we had to clamber on to the plush seating to get a view. I felt soft hands placed on my shoulders and I caught a whiff of Jennifers perfume.
"We've got to help her" she breathed into my ear, causing a stirring in a totally inappropriate place.
"We, we cant" I stuttered. Slightly shocked by the events, I continued to stare at the gravel car park with the few cars that were left.
We'd managed to stay quiet, so as not to attract the dead. Soon, there were more thuds coming from the pubs double doors. Marjorie was wandering around the slow, shuffling things. She was terrified, but her confidence was returning. She was too confident. As she zigzagged around the living dead, through the gravel car park, one of the doggers caught her. The female managed to whip her good left arm around, at surprising speed and pull Marjorie toward her, giving her horrific sight of the dead womans face. It looked like a jigsaw puzzle that had lost a third of its pieces. The dead woman's chest wounds pressed against the living woman with a squelch. Her teeth were bared like a dogs and bit into Marjorie's neck, pulling at the flesh. Sinews stretched and snapped from her neck, blood from an artery pumped out and washed the partially naked corpse. The dead partner stumbled across, also grabbing at Marjorie; pulling her arm out of the socket, and then chewing the flabby flesh hanging from it. The female creature tore at Marjorie's clothing, plunging her hand under her ribcage, pulling at the flesh there scooping out the innards. As if making up for its own unravelled intestines, the female thing let Marjorie's guts slap the gravel; her dying body hit the ground, whilst another zombie closed in. An old dead man put its claw like fingers into Marjorie's neck and pulled. The remaining, undamaged neck sinews stretched until her dead head came off very little blood came from the wound after the rush of arterial spray. Another couple of elderly day-trippers converged on the still warm corpse tearing at kidneys and other offal. One old man attempted to bite into the corpse, but he had no teeth. Eventually, it managed to suck up some offal, partially placating its hunger. Lunch had definitely been served. To think, not long before I had been contemplating the Game pie. Suddenly, I felt I could become a vegetarian.
Although we watched in horror, I was transfixed. Jennifer had her arms around me, crying into my shoulder. Gerry was swearing quite loudly, cursing the ghouls parentage among other things. The sight of a dead person making a meal out of a severed hand wasnt pleasant. I had enough of the spectacle and slid back into the chair, head in hands. Jennifer joined me, and held me, softly weeping. Normally, I would have felt blessed by attention from this remarkably good looking woman. At that point all I could think about was the images I had just witnessed, flashing across my mind's eye on a loop. My head pounded with the stress.
My mobile was still acting up. I put it down to the emergency services, which were being given control of every network. This is the twenty-first century, I had thought, was there no contingency for this kind of thing; apparently not
More living dead had arrived to join the garden party. These were in worse condition than the others. They looked as if they had come from the ground. Three figures slowly wandered into the car park, their feet hardly moving the gravel as they shuffled. Earth covered their bodies, moist and dark. Decay had set in over time and their features were unrecognisable, the bone of the skulls visible. Tiny grey worms wriggled in the eye sockets, with maggots squirming in old wounds on the bodies. I wondered if these corpses had been subject to indecent burials nearby in the woods.
Ron decided that this was a good time to cut and run. With a shout of "I'll get help! They're feeding; they'll be too busy to get me!" he ran out of the pub, using the back door. He hadn't learnt from Marjorie's horrible death.
It was a big mistake. A group of dead rushed at him, pulling him to the ground, ripping and tearing in frenzy. Mercifully, we couldnt see what they were doing. There were too many of them. Once they'd finished, individual dead folk wandered off with various prizes; arms, legs. Some dragged Ron's insides around the car park, drizzling blood over the decorative plant pot bordering the site. Some of the fresher ghouls sat chewing off the man's bones. I was reminded of a ghoulish fried chicken fast food place. It looks like chicken, it tastes like chicken, let's just call it chicken.
I liked this particular pub because of its history. It was still an old country pub, and hadn't lost its identity by becoming a fun pub, like so many do in this age. It was out of the way, and often had a lock in. Ironically, we were well and truly locked in. More and more of the living dead had congregated outside; word had got around that there was food and it was holed up in the pub. We didn't care; we had beer and plenty of food in the freezer. There was only myself, Gerry and Jennifer stuck in there anyway, with Gerry's wife Lucy upstairs. We hadn't seen her for a while. Gerry had told us that she'd been unwell. We assumed that the authorities would get a grip on the problem and sort it out; after all, they were only walking corpses. The military would be able to stop the already walking dead, and measures could be put in place to stop anymore from walking about. Coldly, I remembered that many police officers from other area, like Aylesbury, had been sent to
"I should check on Lucy" Jennifer muttered, trying to get a grip on herself. She was understandably terrified. I wasn't far short of the same feelings.
"I'll come with you" I replied, putting my arm around her, comforted by our newfound closeness. I thought that we might come out of this mess able to start a proper relationship.
"There's no need. She's all right, just a fever" Gerry stated, nervously rubbing his hands together.
She's had that fever for a day now he said, listlessly.
Well check on her, make sure shes comfortable. We dont know how long it'll be before the authorities take control and we can safely get Lucy some anti-biotics. I replied, giving Gerry's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
Carefully, we climbed the stairs, slightly warped with age. The corridor was dark and had a slight damp smell at least thats what I thought it was. The carpet was a plush, expensive kind, deep pile that appeared to have absorbed the stench of age. The bedroom door was shut. Jennifer and I exchanged glances and I carefully opened the door, which complained as if it was in a horror movie. The stench of decay hit us straightaway and before I could register what was happening, a very dead Lucy had taken a chunk out of Jennifers shoulder. Blood shot up into my eyes. I was blinded.
I awoke with a start! Tears were in my eyes blurring my vision. I thought it was the blood, but that had been a dream; a stupid dream. Thatd teach me to stay up late and watch The Horror Channel. The bedclothes were piled up at the end of the bed, as if I had been battling the undead during the night. I got up, stretching, happier that I was awake in a fairly normal world. I wouldn't complain about teaching a bunch of unruly kids that day. Except that something didn't feel right. I couldn't put my finger on it, immediately. It was something in the air, an instinct. I put it down to the dream I had just experienced; a horrible and vivid dream.
The weather looked lovely out, not a cloud in the sky. No one can spoil this day, I thought, not even my nightmares. Just for the record, the day was mapped out for me: Go to the school, pick up some term papers and mark them in my favourite pub, the pub Id dreamt about. There, I would meet my friend Mike.
The school was deserted when I got there, so I was able to go to the staff room and retrieve the papers. The messy room still smelled of stale tobacco, a throw back to the days when smoking was allowed in public buildings.
I sped off in my Mondeo toward The Bell in the Sea, hoping Jennifer would be there. Maybe this time, I'd have more of a conversation with her, learn a little about her. Finally, I felt the personal strength I needed to strike up a conversation with her. It gave me an extra spring in my step.
As I turned into the pubs gravel driveway, I noticed only a few cars. As it was eleven-thirty, I wasnt surprised.
I sat nursing a fine pint of ale, as the landlord, Gerry, switched on the television.
I heard the news report and it made my blood clot in my veins.
I repeat. The bodies of the dead are returning to life and attacking people. We have been told they are eating the bodies of their victims
I felt my gorge rise and a taste of the breakfast I'd had earlier came to my mouth. I flipped the lid of my clamshell mobile and hit speed dial number 5; Mikes number. It was engaged.
I wondered where Gerrys wife Lucy was. I looked over, at the other customers in the pub; there was Old Bert, Marjorie andJennifer.
At least there was a possibility of being with her, briefly, before the end. I'd rather get a taste of love before my death, like the smell of a radiant flower before the autumn takes it away...