Such a truly stupid idea and yet the rumour caught on like wild-fire; there was going to be an evacuation, the trains would leave from Ellicott Place Railway Station in Owsleybank, they would leave on June 1st, if you weren't there you would be left behind. It didn't help that we pointed out, time and again, that no one would organise an evacuation like this, that no one would let the news be spread by word of mouth alone, and why one particular railway station? and one particular date? The number of people camping out, in and around Ellicott Place swelled. Simply shipping in the water they consumed was a logistical nightmare. The Dunell Hills Police Department was internally divided. These people couldn't die, so we could just leave them to it, on the other hand there were families there, people from the `Green' suburbs where zombie activity was limited to the odd horde sweeping through. Even if they couldn't really die permanently, they could die of thirst and the children did cry with hunger and it was hard to simply turn your back.
And then of course the hordes came and the death cultists and the random murderers, because the rumours were not confined to the survivor population. First it was the odd death, opportunistic murders, then the Philosophe Knights arrived in their blank white face masks, proclaiming their purge of the uneducated and simple-minded. They were followed by Lord Curton's Gentleman's Hunting Club, killing in the name of the aristocratic right to hunt. On their heels came the hordes; the Militant Order of Barhah and the Ridleybank Resistance Front with feral zombies trailing in their wake. It was carnage. I had never seen anything like it and that is saying a lot for Malton. Ellicott Railway Station was littered with bodies, they piled up high before the victims had a chance to stand and move away. Zombies continually clawed their way out of the piles of bodies and onto the station platforms, swelling the ranks of the undead. We simply could not brew revivification serum fast enough and our labs and safehouses were broken into ever more frequently. The ammunition ran out and, in the end, Brass sounded the retreat. Since the rest of Malton was, presumably, currently empty of zombies, we would move out, restock, lick our wounds and then return.
I broke my leg in the scramble to retreat as the final barricades came down and the Ridleybank Resistance Front roared their triumph to the summer skies, I fell through the damaged floor in a second story room and my leg fractured beneath me. So I was left behind. The harsh reality is that around here the dead can walk. They can certainly walk a lot faster than a member of the living with a broken leg. Either I'd make it out alive or I'd make it out dead. If the DHPD had waited, I'd have slowed them up and more would have died, more precious syringes full of serum would have been wasted.
Thus it was I found myself alone, in the ruins of Dunell Hills, as dawn approached, hobbling along on a makeshift crutch with my leg in a splint.
I ended up in Club Meade, the social hub of the suburb in those rare quiet moments when the hordes were elsewhere. It was ruined. The bar was broken. The many bottles that had once held an impressive range of vodka and tequila cracked and ground under foot. Broken chairs and tables littered the dance floor. I groped through the dark. Club Meade's windows had been boarded up long ago, before the zombies even, long before the rise of the RRF, the Ridleybank Resistance Front, who had invaded the suburb lured by the promise of easy meat at Ellicott Place. I could hardly see a thing but I could hear shuffles and groans. There were zombies in here, but if I found somewhere out of the way, wedged between an upturned table and the wall, perhaps. I might get lucky and remain unobserved until it was comparatively safe to walk the streets again.
That was the plan anyway.
I woke up from an uncomfortable sleep to find a man sitting next to me. A hurricane lamp had been placed on a righted chair and that allowed me to see him. He had greying hair which had maybe once been brown and a lined and weathered face. He wasn't young, but he wasn't old either. Like everyone in Malton he was lean and fit and he inhabited his body with the ease and confidence of a man who had grown easy with his own physicality. He sat calmly watching me, a pistol resting lightly across his knees.
I raised my head. In the half-light I could see the club doors standing open but no zombies were flooding in. This couldn't be good.
"Hello," he said. His accent was a gentle lilt, the faintest hint of Scottish in his tones.
"Hello," I responded cautiously and sat up, reaching for my crutch. It wasn't much of a weapon to use against a pistol, but it was better than nothing and had the benefit that he might let me pick it up.
No such luck. He cocked the pistol and pointed it at me. "Leave it where it is," he said.
I shrugged. "What do you want?"
"Do you always respond with questions?"
I shrugged again. "Not many other options available to me at the moment. I've got a bust leg and you're going to have your pals come and eat me soon."
I looked at the open door and the glowing hurricane lamp. "A light in a building, with the doors open, and the RRF on the prowl?"
He smiled. "The intelligence said you were bright."
I think I may have rolled my eyes. There's something about the use of the word intelligence, and it's implications of spies and conspiracies which I find inherently funny. As if we weren't all simply struggling to survive. That said, news in Malton travels slowly and unreliably, I'm not unaware that facts that would be common knowledge elsewhere have a value in Malton. It's just I wouldn't dignify them with the name intelligence.
"I'm Mark Wright." He said it like it should mean something but I've never been good at keeping up with the politics of Malton, even now when it could mean life or death. Or maybe even less now when there is no death - why waste the brain cycles keeping track of every two-bit would-be dictator round here?
He sighed. "Lord Moloch? I'm the leader of Gore Corps, I assume you've heard of them."
I had. They're the human wing of the RRF. They were as dedicated as the zombies to the elimination of the living and the Gore Corps could climb up drain pipes and squeeze in through windows, which the zombies could not. They also had guns where the zombies only had teeth and claws. If anything they were more feared than the zombies were, which made it even more surprising that I was still alive. I'd also heard of Lord Moloch and the rumours weren't pretty. Mind you no one had mentioned how good-looking he was.
"Are you going to kill me then?" I asked.
"Not just now."
I considered that. In fact I mostly considered provoking him into killing me anyway. It had worked for me before and I didn't suppose he really had my best interests at heart. It was really a question of whether I was interested in hearing what he had to say and whether he was likely to get to the point any time soon.
"We're going to talk then," I said in the end.
"But not here." He tucked his pistol into a holster at his hip. He had a thigh strap.
I gestured at my splinted leg. "I'm not going anywhere."
He looked down at it dispassionately. "You'll manage with help."
He flashed me a smile and then blew a sharp whistle through his fingers. Two men hurried in and he walked over to them. I took the time to make a quick inventory of my assets. This revealed that someone had been through my pockets as I slept and removed pretty much everything. Someone was very good. I'm not a heavy sleeper at the best of times, and sleeping under a table in a ruined, zombie-infested pub with a broken leg, doesn't constitute the best of times. Mark Wright handed over his pistol to one of the men and then walked back towards me, holding out a hand.
"You'll have to lean on me," he said.
I stared stubbornly at the hand, but refused to take it.
"It's that or I'll have one of the zombies carry you in a fireman's lift. With your leg, I don't suppose that will be comfortable."
He had a point. Reluctantly I took his hand. His grasp was firm and dry. He pulled me to my feet and steadied me, one arm about my waist.
"You could let me use my crutch," I pointed out.
"I couldn't let you get hold of a lethal weapon."
"Why not? Even assuming I could brain you to death with it, I'm not going anywhere fast and you'll be up again in minutes, no doubt."
"Syringes are difficult to come by."
That gave something to think about, although it made sense. Making syringes required power and the kind of lab machinery you only got in Necrotech buildings. From everything I'd heard, Gore Corps was small, probably too small to hold such a building and prevent anyone else around making use of the facilities as well. The RRF probably didn't much like other people getting hold of syringes, so that no doubt meant that the Gore Corp had to watch their supplies.
"There, that's not so bad is it?" he asked as we hobbled towards the door.
I grunted. The leg was pretty painful.
"The leg hurting?" he asked.
"What do you think?" I snapped.
"I'd offer you morphine if I thought you'd accept it."
I shook my head. "I'll manage."
"That's what I thought you'd say. I'll be as gentle as I can."
"So where are we going?" I asked moved out into the street.
I was leaning on him more than I'd have liked, but the leg really wasn't taking any weight. He smelled clean, which is unusual in Malton.
"East," he said.
East we went, an eerie procession. Zombies crowded in on either side of us. I didn't flinch. I had become used to the horror of the walking dead long ago. I even had a certain sympathy with those who wished to remain in that state. But the alliance with the living had a certain freakish quality to it. Those parts of me that relished death, revolted at that thought of letting the living walk among you unmolested.
If I'd been in that horde I'd have ripped the throats out of the pair of us.
Mark was as good as his word and the pace we kept was slow. He didn't talk much. The only sounds accompanying us were the faint groans of the undead. Even so I tired rapidly, clearly sooner than he had planned for, and we struggled for the last hour or two with Mark murmuring encouragement to me as we went.
Eventually we stopped at Somerville Cinema in Lukinswood. I was tired and my leg was painful. Zombies don't get tired. They could have continued travelling into the night but Mark decided I didn't have to be carried and would be allowed to rest. I sat down amid the remains of the seating. Piles of hard cushions surrounded me, their stuffing ripped out and spread around the empty auditorium.
I didn't think Mark was going to do anything much to me. As far as I could make out I was a hostage, which did mean the most sensible thing I could probably do was throw myself out of the nearest window, but the walk had tired me out. I would have to get past the men and zombies in the room and up some stairs if I could find them and, in my condition, I had the the sense to see that wasn't going to happen.
"I had better check those dressings on your leg," he said as he lowered me to the cushions. "I don't like the smell of them."
He was right, there was a faint but distinct smell which probably meant an infection of some sort.
I winced as Mark removed the bandages. It was a nasty jagged cut. I had fallen on glass and was probably lucky not to have bled to death in short order. Or possibly I was unlucky. If I'd been dead, I wouldn't be in this mess.
"You sure you don't want some morphine?" he asked. "You need to get some rest and I can see you're in pain."
"No thank you." Least I could do was keep a clear head, if I had the option.
"Thought you might say that. Don't worry the worst will be over soon but brace yourself, this is going to hurt."
I gasped as what was clearly disinfectant was splashed on my leg. Then Mark produced clean dressings and began to bind it up again.
"Don't you have some kind of lackey who can do this?"
His gaze was level and thoughtful. "Maybe, but I'd rather do it myself."
His hands were firm but gentle. I'd had worse people bandage me up; less competent ones anyway. The leg felt firmer once he'd finished. I tried standing, holding onto his arm, and putting my weight on it. It was still pretty painful but in the right circumstances it might get me to a window. I craned my neck, looking around the cinema, counting the men and the zombies. As I was doing this Mark suddenly hit me, open-handed, across the face.
"What was that for!" I protested.
He hit me again. "That one was for talking back. The first was for thinking about running away. Don't try it. I admire the spirit but I'm afraid I have a job to do and that takes precedence."
I stared at him, shaken. While I had understood that I was a hostage, I hadn't factored in this kind of treatment.
He regarded me a moment and then smiled gently and squeezed my shoulder. "Don't worry, I'll look after you. Just don't make my life difficult, OK?"
I nodded and he helped me sit down again.
"You wouldn't make it in your state anyway," he pointed out.
"Can't blame a girl for trying," I pointed out.
He laughed quietly and shook his head. "Maybe not, can't blame me for stopping you either though."
The laughter was infectious and I found myself smiling. The slaps already seemed to be fading into insignificance. I shook my head. "Well that's me done for tonight. I won't be trying to escape again until the morning."
"I'll tell the guards to take it easy in that case." He raised a hand to wave and then he left.
A few minutes later another man walked over with a bowl. Steam rose from it, warm and richly flavoured. The man placed the bowl a short way from me and then retreated to sit on an upturned box. He pulled out a pistol. As I watched he began to methodically strip it down and clean it.
I eyed the soup doubtfully.
"It's not poisoned," the man said after a minute or two. "We've got quicker ways of killing you."
"Could be drugged."
"Could be," he agreed and turned his attention back to the gun.
I ate the soup. I didn't think I had a lot of choice.
"So you're doing as Mark wants?" he asked suddenly, while I was eating.
I glanced up at him and shrugged. I couldn't see much reason to respond either way. He stared back at me thoughtfully.
"Have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome?"
"Yes," I'd heard of it. The limit of my knowledge was the name Patty Hearst and something about people falling in love with their kidnappers.
"You know how it works?"
"What's your name?" I countered. That gave me time to consider whether I wanted to answer his question.
Jayden Nichols was tall and lean. His skin was black and his head was bald. He wore a clean shirt and grey trousers, they almost looked as though they might be a part of a suit. I felt grubby, and unwashed and unsophisticated.
"Do you know how Stockholm Syndrome works?" he repeated.
"What is this? Good cop and bad cop?"
"Possibly. Are you going to answer the question."
"No, I don't know how it works."
"Well I only know what Mark has told me. He's the man with the degree in Psychology. The kidnapper makes small acts of kindness. He gives the hostage hope that the situation can be negotiated as long as the kidnapper is kept happy. He alternates that with, sometimes almost arbitrary, threats and acts of violence. The victim must invest more and more mental effort into predicting what will please and what will anger the kidnapper. To do so successfully, they need to identify with the kidnapper. Once they identify with him strongly enough, they stop trying to please him simply as a means to an end, a way to survive and escape their situation, but as an end in itself."
I thought briefly about the soup I was eating and then decided to play dumb. "What's this got to do with me?"
"Mark wants a mole in the DHPD."
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I have my reasons."
"What if I tell on you?"
"I guess, in that case, there will be some random acts of violence from me as well."
I finished my soup in silence. At least I now knew they were playing mind games, though precisely who was playing games with whom was a little obscure. However if Mark Wright really was a psychologist then he definitely had the upper hand here.
I slept fitfully, aware of the groans of the dead around me.
Buttery Row school stood in the heart of Ridleybank. Wrought iron railings surrounded a tarmaced playground. Heavy panelled wooden doors hung off their hinges. We reached it in the late afternoon. The RRF and the Gore Corp had set a fast pace and my breath was coming in ragged gasps once we arrived. My leg hurt terribly and I felt hot. I had a nasty feeling the infection in the wound was spreading.
"Come on, Purple Cat!" said Mark. "Not far now."
"Where are we going?"
"Caretaker's flat on the top floor."
"You'll make it! Brave heart!"
Somehow we got up the three flights of stairs, although I had to cling onto Mark's waist and he almost carried me for the final stretch. By now I was familiar with the shape of his body and the strength of his arms. I resisted the temptation to rest against him. The flat itself was dim and smelled of dust and wood smoke. Heavy planks had been nailed over the windows, most of the doors were missing, but in the faint glow of Mark's hurricane lamp I could see that there was furniture there. Furniture that was still intact.
Mark set the lamp down on the table. "Lie on the bed!" I must have stiffened in his arms because he said. "I want to look at that wound on your leg again."
Cautiously I lay down on the bed. There was a scratchy blanket covering it, but underneath I could feel a real mattress. Involuntarily I closed my eyes, but once they were closed the temptation was to stay like that.
"Tell me about the DHPD." The question came out of nowhere just as he finished securing the dressing.
"Tell me about the RRF," I countered.
I was suddenly hauled upright and off the bed, my face held inches from his own.
"This is not a game," he snarled. "I've told you once already. Do not talk back."
I stared at him speechless for a moment.
"Well?" he demanded.
"What makes you think I'm going to tell you anything?"
He laughed harshly at that and pushed me backwards so I stumbled and fell back on the bed again.
"Either you tell me or I kill you. Then, when you wake up as a zombie, I'll have you put in a cage and used for target practice and we'll go on shooting you again and again until your soul leaves your body. In between times we might revive you occasionally and ask a few questions. Then we'll kill you once more. Make no mistake, you are ours now."
Then he turned on his heel and left the room. The door slammed shut behind him.
I almost asked myself `what happened there?' but Jayden's little pep talk made it pretty clear what happened there. Mark was demonstrated that talking back wasn't encouraged. However his elaborate threat did reveal a flaw in the plan. He couldn't exactly threaten to kill me. I'd been killed enough times in the past few years that it wasn't a particularly scary prospect. I hoped that would help me resist whatever it was he was doing. On the other hand I had jumped when he shouted at me and was left feeling shocked and a little scared and glad that he hadn't hit me again. Some things you just react to anyway, no matter what the situation.
"How are you doing?"
I opened my eyes. It was Jayden again. It disturbed me that I hadn't heard him come in.
"As well as can be expected. How are you doing?"
He grinned at that. "Pretty much the same. Mark says you're to take these. He wants to keep your temperature down."
He handed me some pills and a cup of water.
"What are they?" I asked.
"Paracetamol, we're out of anti-biotics. This is just temperature control."
I stared at them suspiciously.
Jayden sighed. "If you don't take them, Mark says he'll come back in here and make you."
I wasn't up to that tonight, so I took the pills and washed them down with the water.
"You wouldn't have told me what Mark was up to if you didn't want it to fail, right?" I observed.
"You're making a lot of assumptions there."
"I've got nothing else to go on." Broadly speaking, though, either he was working against the Gore Corp or he and Mark were working together to some obscure end out of a psychology text book. I was simply hoping it was the former because if the latter was true I was pretty much doomed.
"Rather than warning me, why not help me escape?"
"On the assumption I want Mark to fail."
"On that assumption yes. Doesn't have to be obvious. Let me find a gun somewhere or even just an open window. I can handle the rest."
"I could tell Mark that you warned me. Might even convince him I was coming round to his way of thinking which would work in my favour."
He regarded me levelly. "I would rather you didn't do that."
"I would rather escape than sit around here hoping whatever psychological tricks Mark is playing won't work."
He turned his back on me and walked out.
"Right, let's try talking again."
This time everything had been set up formally. I'd woken with a raging temperature, feeling sick as a dog, but they'd dosed me up with more Paracaetomol. I still felt miserable, but I no longer simply wanted to curl up and die. A rough wooden table had been placed in the centre of the room. Mark Wright sat on one side and I sat on the other.
"My name is Kate Clark. DHPD Officer. Badge number 2702."
"Name and number? Cute!" He didn't look amused.
Truth to tell I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Getting captured and being questioned wasn't really something we'd ever considered. If Jayden was right and the questioning wasn't actually the point, I thought it probably didn't really matter what I said anyway. The point was just to avoid getting into the habit of doing what was asked.
"Who is the leader of the DHPD?" Mark asked.
I could have said it wasn't a secret. I could have handed out Bob's name. But the principle of the thing was more important than any intrinsic value in the information.
"My name is Kate Clark. DHPD Officer. Badge number 2702." I repeated.
He sighed in an exaggerated fashion. "It looks like I am going to have to ask more forcefully."
He nodded and the goons standing either side of me grabbed my arms, placing my hands flat on the table. I struggled, but there were two of them and a both were bigger and stronger than I was.
Mark Wright lifted a heavy iron bar. I don't know why I didn't speak then and there, except that I was caught in a mixture of horrified fascination and disbelief.
My hand were pressed flat on the top of the table, fingers outstretched. He slammed the iron bar down right across the backs of my knuckles. Pain exploded through both hands even as the blood flowed onto the table.
It's true what they say about forgetting pain. I recall vividly that it hurt, but the memory of the pain itself, is long gone.
Mark pressed the end of the iron bar under my chin, tilting my head back even as I strained to curl up into a small ball around my damaged hands.
"Who is the leader of the DHPD?"
I answered his questions. There weren't that many. The point, of course, was that I answered them, not that Mark Wright learned any useful information.
"That wasn't so hard was it?" he asked afterwards as he splinted and bound my fingers with those gentle hands of his.
"I hate you," I said through the tears. There had been a lot of tears and a lot of screaming. Even after I started talking, they hadn't been gentle.
He just tutted quietly and finished what he was doing.
"Now," he said. "because you've been a good girl we've got something for you to eat."
Stew was brought in. It smelled good. There was meat in there somewhere. There was obviously something to be said for the luxury of cooking uninterrupted by zombie incursions. A bowl and spoon were placed in front of me. I tried to pick up the spoon but, with my hands splinted the way they were, it was impossible. Mark sat opposite me patiently. I sniffled a bit but I was fighting to regain some self control so in the end I just placed both my hands in my lap and sat staring right back at him.
"Would you like me to help?" he asked.
I really didn't want to be fed by him, on the other hand, the hungrier I got the less likely I was to be of any use to anyone. I nodded slowly.
"Good girl," he said approvingly.
Then I sat there and let him spoon feed me like a baby.
The stew was good. Real food, actually cooked, something that required space and time.
"What did you do before the zombie outbreak?" he asked as he fed me.
"Is this more interrogation?"
"No, I'm just asking." He smiled at me. I would have said it was a kind smile except somehow I doubt it.
"Does it matter what I did before the outbreak?"
"I don't know. I'd like to know more about you."
"I thought you had intelligence."
He laughed. "It's not much. Kate Clark, sister of Andrew `Bulldog' Clark. Member of the DHPD for at least four years. Rumoured to be bright but difficult."
"I'm not that difficult," I said defensively.
"I'm not saying difficult is a bad thing. I like bright but difficult, so long as you respect boundaries." He smiled again. It was definitely a nice smile.
"What did you do before the outbreak?" I asked, since we were making conversation.
"Criminal psychiatrist, I worked in police profiling."
"So why are you working with Gore Corps now?"
"Look about you. Have you got this kind of stability in Dunell Hills? We're perfectly safe in here. The zombies aren't going to break in."
"It's all right for you, but not for all the regular people you kill."
"They can always join up. We're not that picky. You just have to accept that it is the zombies who are in charge, not the humans."
I closed my eyes. There was something wrong with the argument, but I was too tired to work it out and there was that invitingly comfy bed to collapse into.
"Your hair needs a brush," Mark remarked. He tucked some behind my ears. It had only ever been held up in a scraggy pony tail anyway. At some point the band had come loose.
"It'll be OK. I'll put it back up in a pony tail," I mumbled and cast about for the band.
"Not with those hands you won't."
Mark fished a comb out of a breast pocket and walked round behind me. Very gently he combed out my hair, teasing out several days worth of tangles. The soft strokes were relaxing and my head began to nod. I also felt hot, the Paracaetomol was probably wearing off.
"Nichols!" Mark summoned his lieutenant. "Take her to the bathroom and then let her sleep."
Jayden took my arm and dragged me to my feet. I let him lead me down the narrow corridor to the toilet at the end.
"There's a gun on top of the cistern," he whispered in my ear as he pushed me through the door.
Normally they left the door open, presumably to make sure I didn't try to strangle myself with the toilet paper or something. This time Jayden gave it a slight push so it swung to, obscuring me from his sight. All very well but I had both hands trussed up like a pair of mittens. I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes, trying to will up the energy to act and to convince myself that the risk was worth the potential consequences.
I was sick, dog-tired, and my hands and legs were bust. All I wanted to do was sleep quietly, but I couldn't be sure the gun would still be there next time I was here. I forced myself to open my eyes. With my teeth I managed to remove the splint from my right hand and even managed to wiggle my fingers a little without screaming. They were bruised and swollen but they appeared to be semi-functional. I groped about on top of the cistern until I found the gun, a small hand-gun with a single clip. With difficulty I managed to get one of my fingers between the trigger and guard and just about hold the grip. I walked round the door, raised the gun and shot Jayden through the head. I thought it would probably help his story later. The recoil made me gasp in pain.
Then I headed for the stairs.
There was a guard on the front door. I used my second shot putting him down. One shot to the back around chest height. I didn't trust myself to make another head shot, especially not in a hurry and from a distance. He was still cursing and bleeding as I stepped over him and into the crowd of zombies. I felt them turn and stare at me.
I told myself that most of them were probably dormant. It was just one or two who were moving, most weren't. I just had to move fast. Which isn't so easy with a broken leg. I limped through the crowd and I felt them wake and their interest grow like a ripple on a pond. There was absolutely no way I was getting very far and nothing I could do about it with only 8 shots left in the gun. I looked around for somewhere a little concealed. I spotted the burned out remains of a smart car. I shoved my way into the front seat, clambering awkwardly through the half open door. Once inside, I lay flat, rammed the gun up underneath my chin and pulled the trigger.
It takes longest to recover from a bullet in the brain than any other part of the body, but anywhere else and it could have taken me hours to bleed to death. As it was cognition returned slowly and the voices of the horde called to me. I lay where I was for a while, listening to their gentle song. Then I sat up and stumbled out into the crowd, happy to be swept up among the shuffling feet. I was dimly aware of shouting and I vaguely searched around for the harmanz and the brainz. Someone was up in front of me, shotgun in hand, shouting something incomprehensible and the idea formed itself that I should maybe be heading in the other direction and away from the comfort of the horde. Then there was a prick at the back of my neck and a searing white light of pain in my mind.
When I woke up I was upright, leaning against a wall with my arms stretched outwards. I tried to move them in the first few moments of consciousness and couldn't. I was restrained at the wrists. I kept my eyes closed and did a stock take. My leg and hands were healed, though how long that was going to last was anyone's guess. The infection was presumably cleared up too, I certainly didn't have the slightly muzzy, detached sensation of a low temperature. The gun, presumably, was long gone. It had not been the most successful escape attempt in the world, but I had judged speed to be of the essence and the situation had been against me. However, if I could avoid getting any more limbs broken I was up on points... probably.
Then someone threw a bucket of cold water over me, forcing me to splutter and open my eyes. Mark Wright was standing in front of me, two thugs either side of him. Jayden was nowhere to be seen. Mark followed up the water with a slap across the face, open-handed. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.
"You have made me extremely angry," he said. He didn't shout but there was undisguised menace in the words.
Then he hit me again. This time his hand was curled into a fist and I felt blood in my mouth and realised I had split a lip.
The beating went on for a while. He didn't break any bones, but I added a black eye to the split lip and I can't say I was optimistic about my internal organs. Then he walked out, leaving me wet, cold, bloody and chained to the wall to contemplate my crimes.
So, it would fair to say at this point that I felt pretty sorry for myself. I couldn't even wipe the tears away nor, when my nose inevitably began to run as well, could I wipe that. It wasn't the worst of my situation but it's the detail I particularly recall at this distance, standing alone in the cold with the snot running down my face.
Eventually, I don't know how long I'd been left there, but some time later, Mark came back in. He had a small bowl of water and he proceeded to clean my face wiping away the mixture of blood and snot and tears, as well as the grime of Malton.
"You really were a very bad girl," he said reprovingly as he cleaned me up.
"Apology accepted." He smiled and placed a finger under my chin, lifting my face up towards him.
I think I must have stiffened because he paused and then leaned in close. His face touched mine and his lips whispered in my ear.
"You're worried about what happens next, aren't you."
I closed my eyes. How to find my way out of this one? or whether even to bother. It might be easier at this point just to submit, at least it wouldn't involve any more pain.
"A little," I said.
He stepped forwards, so now his whole body was pressed against mine. I was sandwiched between him and the wall. There was a dull ache everywhere from the beating but at the same time I felt my body reacting to his presence because, heaven help me, it had been a long time. I think I whimpered though I'm not sure if it was from fear or desire or a mixture of both.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to rape you. If we fuck, it'll be because you asked for it."
He kissed me gently on the lips and I felt his breath ghosting across my skin. He lingered like that for a moment, maybe waiting for me to give some sign of reciprocation and believe me I was close to it. Confused thoughts about how sleeping with him might be a situation I could turn to my advantage, or at least be used as a let out from any beatings or further violence, but I hadn't quite reached breaking point.
Then he stepped back. My hands were released from the chains and I staggered. Cramping pains shot through my arms, followed by intense pins and needles in my wrists and fingers. Mark picked me up bodily and carried me to the bed. He removed my shoes, tucked me in, and stroked my hair away from my face.
"Sweet dreams," he said. He turned out the light, and left the room.
I think I was asleep before he got down the stairs. The bed was blissfully comfortable and I was too tired to keep myself awake even with worrying.
When I woke up Mark was sitting at the foot of the bed reading a book. "Hello sleepy head," he said as I stirred.
"What time is it?"
"Early evening, you've been asleep almost a whole day."
I sat up and looked around. Everything was much the same.
"Do you want some breakfast?" asked Mark.
He stood up and left the room, locking the door behind him.
Seconds later the door was unlocked. A woman came in. She was tiny, possibly smaller than I am, and dressed in a tail coat with a scarlet waistcoat. Her hair was swept back in long dreadlocks with a top hat somehow perched on top. Her face was painted black with a white skull laid over the top. She moved with the confident grace of authority as she crossed the room and sat down in a chair by the table. Either side of her walked two zombies and they stationed themselves behind her.
I heard the sound of feet running up the stairs and Mark appeared in the doorway. "What is going on?" he demanded.
"Out!" she said. Her accent was cut-glass. Centuries of giving orders and having them obeyed were personified in that word.
"Marinette," he began.
"Out!" she repeated more forcefully and her eyes blazed. Mark scowled and retreated. I was suddenly scared. I wanted his presence there.
"Sit," she said, gesturing to the chair opposite her.
"We felt your thoughts yesterday," she started.
"You felt my zombie thoughts. They're hardly coherent."
She leaned forward. "They understand."
"All zombies think like that."
"Eventually, but most of you meat-bags, it's just fear and horror and a desire to return to life."
"Most people would say that's natural."
She smiled slowly. "I don't know about most. There are a lot of zombies in this town. I like to think that some people are just slower to catch on than others. But you do understand so I'm asking, why don't you join us? Why do you persist in being alive?"
"When you're dead there is nothing, only brains. What will you do when everyone is a zombie? There will be nothing."
"When you're alive you feel pain, you have to eat to survive. You get sick. Puke and bile and shit are endlessly coming out of your body. It's horrible and degrading and disgusting and entirely unnecessary. Join us."
"Isn't that the point of this whole little game? I must say this is the first time I've seen the good cop dress as a skeleton."
"I'm Marinette Bwa Chech, Voodoo Loa, I free my people from bondage. I am fierce and unforgiving and my enemies tremble at my approach. But I can free you, if you will let me."
I glanced at her hands which were as pinky white as my own and wondered where she had picked up all the Voodoo business.
"Who are you really?"
"Does it matter? I'm now Marinette, the RRF Papa."
"I prefer Papa. Join us." She drew out the syllables of the words, like a call.
I shook my head.
"It would take you out of the hands of the Gore Corps," she said.
Now that was both attractive and frightening. It would save me from the violence, the fear that any moment I might be beaten or my limbs might be broken. More than that it would take me to a state where it wouldn't actually matter if they did. The zombies of the RRF were more powerful than the Gore Corps. I'd seen that in the powerplay a moment before. They could protect me from Mark Wright where others couldn't.
On the other hand, I knew where I was with the Gore Corps and Mark Wright and Mark would certainly not be happy at all if I went with the RRF. He had other plans. He wanted to fuck me as soon as I asked for it and my mind was already wandering down byways. What, exactly, might he consider to be `asking for it' and did I actually want to ask for it or not. I wanted to find out and I wouldn't if I was dead.
Something must have shown on my face. "I see," she said. "Well, if you change your mind, there's a place for you in the RRF."
Then she nodded at the zombies either side of her. One of them groaned loudly stretching its mouth to its teeth and then it lunged towards her throat which was exposed as she tilted back her head. The second simply grabbed hold of her arm and pulled. She made no sound and I sat in shocked silence as the blood and gore spattered across me.
Moments later Mark burst into the room. I felt his arms around me as I was pulled to my feet and dragged away from the scene. In the corridor he held me against the wall, arms still around me.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"They'll be gone in a minute," he said. "Then I'll get the place cleaned up for you. Don't worry. I'll protect you."
I sat in the corridor with Mark. He offered me cigarettes and I hesitated before turning them down. My lungs definitely weren't worth the cost of another beating but cigarettes make me cough and I didn't want to look stupid.
"You're allowed to say `no'," he said, noticing my hesitation and I shook my head.
"What did Marinette want?" he asked.
"She asked me to join the RRF, as a zombie."
"Something must have impressed her. Normally we let people come to us."
"She felt my thoughts, so she said."
"Well, you are full of surprises. What are you doing in the DHPD if you think enough like a zombie to attract Marinette's attention."
I laughed. "I'm just a drifter. I washed up in the DHPD."
"Why the loyalty then? Is it your brother?"
I laughed at that. "Have you met my brother?"
"No, I'm told he's even more difficult than you are."
"He's more useful though. He's much surer of his purpose."
"That is a matter of opinion. I think people underestimate you. Not many people would have thought to escape like that yesterday."
"It was a crappy escape attempt."
"A little shambolic maybe, but very few people would have even tried. I admire that. Don't sell yourself short."
I watched him as he sat smoking on the stairs. He looked relaxed and thoughtful.
"Anyway," I said. "I didn't escape and I didn't agree to join the RRF either."
"No, there's a lot more to you than meets the eye, Purple Cat. Keep on the right side of me and I think we'll get along famously."
It was dark when I got back in the room. They hadn't left me any lighting, but a pale moon shone outside. Through the bars of the window I could make out the crowd of zombies in the street outside.
Then the drums started. A deep thumping sound that echoed through my body. A slightly off-beat rhythm like the ba-dum of a heart-beat. In fact it was the ba-dum of a heart beat, the faint but distinctive sound of the warm-blooded hiding behind some barricade. Just so much food penned in, waiting to be devoured. I closed my eyes and let the sensation carry me. Down below the zombies groaned.
When I opened my eyes the zombies were all awake, swaying together, driven by the beat of the drums, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. I wanted to be down there with them and away from the pain and the dirt and the fear.
The heart-beat drumming speeded up and the zombies began to sway and shake more fiercely. The groans were almost coordinated now, an eerie ululation echoing out into Malton's dark night.
I jumped when the key turned in the lock. Jayden came in. He was carrying a plate of sandwiches. "Mark has sent food," he said. "He says not to worry about the drums."
"What are they doing?" I turned back to the window.
"Fucked if I know. One of the early RRF Papa's made it up. He'd seen too much James Bond, if you ask me and then he found some book on Voodoo in Boniface Library."
I looked back at the swaying zombies. It made sense of a sorts. Clearly the RRF had bound itself together with a made-up religion and I could see the attraction of borrowing bits from Voodoo to do so.
"Is it a real Voodoo ceremony?" I asked.
"Like I said, fucked if I know. What do you think?"
James Bond and a book from the library, in Malton, North Riding, Yorkshire. "OK, no."
The drums beat on.
I heard a falter in the rhythm. Actually I didn't so much hear the drums falter as hear the disturbance in the crowd. A ripple of silence, a change in the groans. Somewhere the rhythm was being interrupted. I strained to see through the bars. Then I heard the familiar sound of a shotgun and over it all a cry went up.
"Take that you capitalist brain-eating parasites!!"
That could only be one person. I heard more gun shots. There weren't a lot of people out there, but there was definitely more than one. It could have been coincidence, but I suspected that the rescue party had just arrived.
"I need to get out of here."
"You already tried that remember."
"It'll work this time. Give me your gun."
Jayden backed up. "No way! I'm already in the shit house for letting you get the drop on me once."
"And this time I can run. It'll work I promise."
"No. You are going to eat that food."
I grabbed a sandwich and stuffed it into my mouth. No point letting useful calories go to waste. Meanwhile I gestured at him impatiently to give me his gun.
"No. Good night Cat."
He turned and headed to the door. I didn't give myself time to think, because that would mean thinking about how angry Mark would be. I simply grabbed hold of the nearest chair and brought it down, as hard as I could, on the back of Jayden's head. He collapsed to the floor in a very satisfactory fashion.
I liberated his gun and headed out through the open door. There were guards at the foot of the stair, but they were distracted by the shouts from outside. I came down the staircase firing and both fell to the floor. I tucked the, now empty, handgun into the waistband of my trousers and then grabbed one of the guard's shotguns. Then I was out on the streets, surrounded by the beat of the drums and the crowds of the RRF.
I could feel more than see where the disturbance was in the crowd by the way the zombies were moving. I charged forwards, dodging the bodies of the dead, feeling their attention begin to focus upon me.
I could hear voices. "The horde's moving!", "Who's that coming towards us?" and then the report of a shotgun blast and the crowd began to thin ahead of me, even as hands grasped my shoulders from behind.
"BD!" I shouted.
"I got you covered. Drop your head!"
I tucked my head down as best I could and heard the roar of BD's shotgun, Black Betty, once more. I pulled free of the grasping hands and struggled forwards towards the two living men that I could see. They were standing behind a wire fence, firing through it into the crowd. I leaped at the fence and adrenaline drove me up the wire and over the top. I'd say BD and Gabby caught me, but it would be more accurate to admit I just sort of fell on them. We were in the yard of a warehouse. Already zombies were approaching. They had probably got in through an open gate somewhere.
"Is this a rescue?" I asked once I got my breath back. There were three of us, we were surrounded by the RRF. They were all awake.
BD fired a shot into the advancing crowd. "It's all you've got doll."
"No one else took it seriously when BD said you were captured." Gabby was frantically reloading Slasher, his big handgun.
There was a route to our right, along the edge of the warehouse and towards a smashed doorway. Out of options, we headed in that direction.
"How did you know I'd been captured?" I asked as I ran.
"I have contacts," said BD, shortly. He always says that.
We ducked through the door and plunged into darkness.
There was a bang behind me and then a crash. Gabby had tried shutting the door and it had fallen off it's hinges.
"Fuck!" he said.
A light flashed out and I realised BD had fixed a torch to the end of his gun. The beam swept over smashed tables and chairs and along a large, solid looking oak bar.
"We get behind that," said BD. "We can hold there for a bit and there should be a way through to the back."
We scrambled behind the bar. There was, indeed, a door there. I pushed against it, but it wouldn't budge. "It's locked, or barricaded."
"The fuck?" asked Gabby.
"Gabby concentrate will'ya? Slasher has a better range than Betty. Pick them off as they come in." BD shouted.
"I am concentrating!" Gabby let off two shots. "See?"
"And the third."
"There's another? Oops! sorry! didn't spot him."
"BD, can I have some light," I asked.
The light flashed round on the door.
"Well now I can't see the fuckers!" Gabby complained.
I could see planks nailed across the doorway. "It's been barred on this side. Do you have a crowbar?" I asked.
"I need light!" shouted Gabby. Groans floated into the room.
"There's a toolbox in my backpack Sis. You get it out while we hold off the horde." BD shrugged his backpack to the floor and turned back to shooting.
I groped in the backpack for the toolbox, unearthing a small armoury in the process. I dumped a pile of pistols and clips on the bar. I had a feeling we were going to need them. As I piled them up I could see the horde pushing through the door of the bar, illuminated in brief flashes by the beam of BD's torch.
Then there was the loud bang of a shotgun and one of the boarded windows gave way. A click and a hum and the beam of a large spotlight flooded through the the space revealing the inside of the club in all its ruined glory. Smashed wood, bare floor and the walking dead, shambling around the walls as BD and Gabby picked them off.
Instinctively all three of us dropped behind the bar. There was another loud shotgun blast and chips of wood rained down on us. Apparently the Gore Corps had arrived, to back up their zombie partners with light and ammunition.
BD popped up his head, let off a wild shot from Black Betty and then ducked down again, feeding shells rapidly into the chamber.
"Looks like a dozen breathers. Not good odds but not the worst if we move quickly. Cat, carry on working the door!"
I looked down at the bag. Now we had light I could see the toolbox plainly and hauled it out.
"Gabby, I'll cover, you aim!" said BD.
I could hear handgun fire and more chips of wood rained down on us.
"They're shooting!" whispered Gabby.
"Wait until they reload," BD hissed back.
I heard several clicks in quick succession. BD instantly stood up and fired Black Betty. Gabby popped up next to him, sighted down Slasher and started shooting. I seized the opportunity to stand and wedge a crowbar under the edge of the top plank on the door.
"Kate Clark! Freeze where you are!"
I recognised the voice of Mark Wright and did indeed freeze. Everything seemed to still around me. I turned to see him standing there, shotgun resting against one shoulder. I was vaguely aware that Gabby and BD had both ducked back down behind the bar.
"Stand absolutely still and I won't shoot." Mark took a step closer. The gun still level. I could see his finger curled about the trigger. "Let go of the crowbar. Put up your hands. Tell your friends it will be better for all of you, if you give up now."
"Yeah, right! So you can feed us to your zombie friends!" shouted Gabby. "Fucking moron," he muttered quietly.
"Cat, get down," hissed BD.
"Cat, if you don't do as you're told, right now, you will regret it," said Mark.
A weight suddenly landed on my chest and I found myself lying behind the bar with Gabby sitting on me. There was a loud bang and the wooden plank splinted, exactly where my head had been moments before. The crowbar fell to the floor as the plank fell apart.
"Shit Cat! Snap out of it!" Gabby said.
"They're going to get round the end of the bar," muttered BD.
The bar was thick and solid, made of oak. It formed a long L-shape, one end meeting the wall, off to the left of the barricaded door. To the right it was open though. BD scrambled on his belly to the open corner. He edged round at floor level and let off three shots in quick succession. Then he dropped back.
I pushed Gabby off me and grabbed the crowbar again. Two more planks to go. Gabby was pushing bullets into Slasher's cylinder.
I saw him look up and raise the gun. Following his gaze I realised someone had leaped up onto the end of the bar where it joined the wall, a woman in goth-chick clothing, hair in bunches and a pistol in either hand. Gabby shot her three times and she toppled backwards.
"They're creeping up on the left," he shouted, "using the bar as cover."
Gabby suddenly surged forward. He charged at the end of the bar, rolled over the top close to where it joined the wall and dropped out of sight on the far side. I heard shooting.
The second plank came free as I forced my weight against the crowbar.
"Gabby! Are you all right!" I shouted.
"Yeah! Got them! Now I just need to get the fuck back to you."
A shotgun shell hit the top of the bar between us. I could see zombies approaching near to where Gabby was hidden.
"Fucking bullets!" complained Gabby. "Go into the fucking cylinder!"
"Where's he gone?" asked BD, glancing back at us.
"Over the bar. We were being crept up on," I replied and wedged the end of the crowbar under the last plank.
I pulled at it and then glanced back towards where I'd last seen Gabby. The zombies looked awfully close. I abandoned the crowbar and grabbed two pistols off the top of the oak counter. I emptied both clips in the direction of the zombies and watched them stagger back.
"Who was that?" asked Gabby.
"Me!" I grabbed another pistol. "On five, come back over the bar. One, two..."
Gabby's head popped up. Unprepared I staggered to my feet and fired the pistol indiscriminately in into the crowds of zombies that pressed into the pub's interior. I could see the odd gun and tried to focus on the living Gore Corps members who carried them.
I heard loud shots above me. I glanced up and saw Gabby walking briskly down the top of the bar. He was firing as he went, using the height and the clear view to pick off the Gore Corps one by one.
A young wiry man jumped up onto the bar behind Gabby, his steel toe-caps ringing out as they contacted with the hardwood surface. Gabby turned and shot him through the eyes, before he even raised his gun. A zombie groped for Gabby's legs and he kicked it away. Some distance across the room a woman was raising what looked like an automatic. I emptied the remainder of my clip in her direction and watched her fall.
Above me Gabby continued to shoot: five clear shots, one for each bullet in his cylinder then he jumped down off the bar. I ducked and the shooting resumed.
"What happened to counting to five?" I hissed.
"Thought I'd surprise them. They can hear what we're saying you know!"
"You could have been killed?"
"So? BD has syringes."
"Cat! Door!" shouted BD. "Gabby, get your butt over here and help out!"
Gabby crawled over to where BD had been keeping up a steady fire from his shotgun. I wasn't sure how many of the Gore Corps were left in the crowd, but hopefully they were being cautious. Meanwhile zombies shuffled constantly into sight. I pulled at the final plank and it popped free. When I grabbed the door handle, it was still locked.
I picked the last of BD's handguns off the bar and aimed it at the lock, pulling the trigger. The wood splintered and the lock fell away. I pulled at the handle again and watched in satisfaction as the door heaved open.
"Purple Cat, if you go through that door, I will be very, very angry." Mark's voice echoed through the room.
"Like she cares," shouted BD. I found myself being bustled through the door.
I was facing backwards, still straining behind me to see Mark as Gabby came through the door. I saw Gabby's silhouette against the light that shone in through the pub's broken window and behind him, shotgun level at his shoulder, I could see Mark.
Without thinking, I shoved Gabby to one side. But I was too slow. There was a bang and I heard Gabby cry and saw him fall.
I briefly glimpsed Mark once more, his face dark and angry. Then the door banged shut.
"Ah fuck!" cried Gabby.
I groped for him in the dark. "Where are you hit?"
"Arm! I can walk, I think."
"Then let's move," said BD. "Cat help him!"
I grabbed hold of Gabby. I felt the wet blood over my fingers. "He's bleeding pretty badly."
"No time! We'll fix him up in a minute. Now we move."
Gabby staggered and I dragged his good arm around my shoulders. Then we followed the bobbing light of BD's torch down a narrow corridor.
We came out into an alleyway at the side of the railway arches that carried the now disused tracks north-south from Cribb Row station to Hubbard Boulevard. There weren't too many zombies in evidence as we took a sharp right, but the groans of the horde were loud to the south of us. Gabby began to lean heavily on me. I could see the blood now and it was flowing freely.
"I need to see to Gabby," I hissed.
"Almost there," said BD.
BD looked around. Three zombies were shuffling towards us down the road. He raised his gun and shot each one in turn, until they dropped.
"That was a waste of ammo wasn't it?" I asked.
"Didn't want them seeing where we go."
He headed into an old factory building ahead of us. Once inside BD threaded his way between rows of smashed machinery and into a small back room. I think it had once been an office. BD marched up to a safe set into one wall and started spinning the dial.
"What are you doing?"
The safe swung open. "Quick! Inside! You may need to help Gabby."
I could see a tunnel behind the safe door. I scrambled in, squirming round in the concealed space. BD had to more or less hoist Gabby in behind me while I pulled at his shoulders.
"I'm feeling a little faint," muttered Gabby.
"I'm not surprised, the amount of blood you've just lost!"
BD scrambled in after us and pulled the safe door shut behind him. I heard the dial spin in the pitch black.
"Bandages!" I said, "and light."
BD's torch switched on. We were packed into a small tunnel, but I could see that it continued for some distance. If I squeezed, I could just about sit. Gabby was lying flat on his back, his eyes closed. BD was lying on his front, his backpack in front of him. He rummaged through it, and tossed me a couple of bandages.
"What is this place?" I asked.
"Fuck knows. One of the MPD guys knew about it, I think he worked security here before the outbreak. He passed the information on to me, because he owed me a favour. The tunnel takes us up to a rooftop apartment, if we can get Gabby up there."
I was already binding up Gabby's arm. He groaned a bit and his eyes flickered.
"I think he's fainted," I said.
"I don't faint," whispered Gabby. "I'm very manly."
"Right then! Oh manly one!" said BD. "Let's see you get off your backside and up a ladder."
"Cat!" whined Gabby. "Tell him I need to conserve my strength. You might need rescuing again."
BD and I exchanged glances. Then we both hit him.
"Ow! Is that what you guys call gratitude?"
"Come on! Get up the ladder and you can lie down again and I'll soothe your troubled brow in an adoring fashion," I said.
"Will you feed me grapes."
"No but there are tins in BD's pack. I can feed you cold whatever's in them."
Gabby groaned. "It's corned beef. I suppose I'll just have to imagine it's grapes."
"Head on up Cat!" said BD. "I'll get this waster to follow you."
I turned and crawled to the end of the tunnel. I felt the rungs of a ladder and began to climb upwards. Behind me I could hear Gabby whining some more and BD chivying him.
The apartment was more a storage room, although mattresses and a small camping stove had been put there by someone. There was also an exciting armoury of weapons and ammunition, even a rocket launcher. Someone had put a lot of effort into this place.
"Who did all this? I asked.
There was a small generator in one corner and BD switched it on. A single light bulb lit up in the centre of the room.
"Ghost Squad have been setting it up for a while," he said. "I figured we might need a supply dump in Ridleybank one of these days. This place was too good to pass up."
Gabby slumped down on one of the mattresses. I checked the dressing on his arm. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. I tucked the blankets around him to keep him warm. "He'll be fine in a couple of hours, assuming he rides out the shock." Our half-zombie bodies recover rapidly from trauma.
"He doesn't deserve to be, after that stunt he pulled on the bar."
"That's not how he got injured."
"Karmic revenge, I expect. You OK Sis? Did the RRF hurt you? You've got quite a shiner over your eye."
I touched my face in surprise. The adrenaline of the escape had taken my mind off the beating I had taken earlier. Then it all came out of course, Mark and Jayden and Mark's plan to switch my allegiance, the broken fingers...
"Which one was Mark Wright?" BD demanded. "We've got some talking to do. Ghost are going to round that one up for sure."
I had a horrible vision of Mark Wright sitting there, while BD pounded his fingers with an iron bar. "No, don't!" I said compulsively.
"What the fuck?"
"Don't, just leave it."
"Sis did he get to you? Did he already start getting into your head?"
"Then what's with the concern. The man's a louse. He deserves what's coming."
I knew Ghost did this. I pretended I didn't. Lots of us pretended we didn't. We didn't ask where BD got his information from. We didn't ask what he meant when he said someone had been paid back for the trouble they caused. But I couldn't face the idea of it happening in my name. I couldn't face the idea of it happening to Mark.
"No, BD please!"
"He's got into your head, Cat. He's got to learn he can't play games with us and ours. We let him get away with this and he'll try it on someone else, on Brittney or Jada. Fuck, looking at your face, he'll probably come round and pick you up again just to finish what he started. Do you want that?"
"So I'm teaching him a lesson. I'm going to send a little message that he doesn't get to play mind games with us."
"There are other ways," I began.
"There are no other ways Cat. There's no law in this town apart from what me make ourselves. There's no cell that will hold a zombie. We can't fine them or take out injunctions or confiscate their property. We can't even kill them. All we have is pain and if we're going to send a message then it has to written in pain. Pain is all we've got Cat."
"BD..." but I had no arguments. I felt sick and frightened and, frankly, scared of my brother, but I couldn't think my way out of the situation.
Then the drums started up again. A deep pounding beat that echoed through the streets of Ridleybank.
"What's with the drums?" grumbled BD.
"Not sure, they've come up with some kind of cod-voodoo religion."
BD made a disgusted noise.
"Can we see out of the windows?" I asked.
"Turn out the light first and remember to put the blackout back afterwards."
I switched off the light and then peeled back the corner on the thick blanket that was taped across the window. The drums continued to beat. In the street outside I could see burning torches and a small procession of zombies shuffling past.
"They must know we're around somewhere," muttered BD. "They're putting on a show for us."
Then I gasped. "That's Jayden!"
"The guy who helped me. They've got him chained up."
Jayden was alive, but he was bare-foot and stripped to the waist. His hands and feet were chained, forcing him to shuffle along in the centre of the crowd.
"Gotta hand it to them," said BD. "They've figured out he helped you and now they're trying to lure you out."
"What are they going to do to him."
"Hurt him, I imagine. He looks tough. He'll survive."
"BD! We have to help him!"
BD sat back thoughtfully on his haunches. Then he pulled the blanket back down and taped it across the window.
"It's a trap," he said.
"Well of course it's a trap. We just have to think our way round it."
"No, I mean, what if the point was never to break you, but to plant their own man in the DHPD?"
"Yes Jayden, what do you know about him? Why is he with the RRF? Why did he help you?"
"Well, he's..." I tailed away. I had made some assumptions, but I knew nothing.
"Cat's right," murmured Gabby from the bed. "We can't just leave him. We'll just have to be careful."
"Aw fuck!" muttered BD. "Here was I thinking we'd hole up here until you were moving again and then we could bug out quietly."
"More fun this way?" I suggested.
BD grunted. "Gabby, can you drive?"
"Of course he can't drive!" I objected. "He's never learned."
"Cat I hardly need to know the fucking highway code around here," complained Gabby. "How difficult can it be?"
"It'll have to be an automatic," I said.
"Don't worry, it is," said BD.
"You have a car?"
"Ghost have a vehicle, yes. This is Ridleybank, you can't just tango in here and make do with government issue pea-shooters. We've been preparing!"
I left the issue of why Ghost had been preparing for an assault on Ridleybank. BD would have dropped hints and I'd have been no wiser about whether the DHPD, or some wider alliance of Malton survivors, had some plan to attack the place, or whether BD was simply operating in some fantasy land where he would get to teach zombie a lesson.
The drums didn't get any quieter. The procession stopped in the street, not far from the factory. The whole show was clearly for our benefit. They knew were were here somewhere. BD made us converse in whispers. The factory was probably awash with zombies, swaying quietly in the dark, waiting for us to show up.
There was a second ladder from the safe room that took us up onto the roof. BD loaded us up with an infeasible amount of weaponry and we climbed up there. In the street below a rough framework had been erected and Jayden had been tied to it, arms akimbo. A figure stood in front of him waving a knife. It was a caricature of the devil, drenched in blood from its shoulders to it's waist, naked apart from leather trousers and a horned headdress.
"We have to hurry!" I hissed.
"No we don't. We can rescue him whether he's dead or alive. I'm more concerned that we get out of here once the rescue is over."
BD anchored one end of a zip wire to several struts and then looked at me. "You sure about this Cat? It's going to make our lives a lot more complicated."
He shrugged and fired the other end of the wire from a small crossbow. It thudded into the side of a building across the street.
"Now or never, Cat," he said.
I'm not sure I've ever been quite as loaded down with weaponry as I was when I slid down that zip wire. BD had strapped a makeshift holster for a fire axe to my back. I had two pistols in shoulder holsters and two at my hip, four more in a small backpack which BD had made me wear on my front `for easy access' and a knife in a small holster bound to each ankle. When I walked I moved a bit like a sumo wrestler, arms and legs held wide.
The wire ride carried me down from the top of the building, the night air rushing past me and almost straight into the path of the devil figure. It turned towards me and snarled and I realised, with a shock, that it was Mark Wright.
He lunged. BD had aimed the wire so my descent would come close to Jayden. Mark grabbed me round the waist, pulling my hands free of the wire and wrestling me to the ground.
"Back in the arms of Lord Moloch!" he whispered in my ear and he dragged me to my feet. "Stay with me, Cat," he said.
I grabbed one of the knives from my ankles and slashed. He cried out and let go of me. I ditched the knife and pulled the fire axe from its holster. I ran over to Jayden and brought the axe down as hard as I could on the handcuffs that tied him to the wooden posts.
The first one gave to my second blow.
"You won't escape from me. We belong together." It was Moloch. I drew one of the pistols and aimed it at him.
"Don't count on me staying."
"Your soul is mine, you just don't know it yet. Lord Moloch will triumph." I hardly recognised him. It wasn't just the blood red facepaint but his whole persona seemed different.
He took a step towards me. I could see the bleeding gash in his side where I had struck him with the knife. He flexed his arms and the muscles across his chest rippled. The drums beat inside my head.
"It's me, Mark," he whispered. "Stay with me. I can keep you safe." He took another step closer.
"Rrn rh," growled a zombie. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Marinette. She was hunched and approaching cautiously from my other side. It should just have been noise but I understood her meaning well enough. "Join us!" she called to me. I could fall into the arms of Lord Moloch or I could join her in death but either way I belonged to the RRF.
"Give me the gun! I can hold them off while you free my other hand." It was Jayden. He reached out his one free hand towards me.
I stepped back smartly and handed him the gun, blinking back the fog of nightmare. Then I turned my back on Moloch and Marinette and swung the fire axe down on the second chain.
There was a loud explosion somewhere off to my right. BD had obviously broken out the rocket launcher. I shucked off my back pack and passed it to Jayden.
"More guns in there!" I said and then turned to face the horde. Moloch and Marinette stood at their head, man and woman, live and dead, side by side.
I dropped the fire axe and drew two pistols.
"Going to shoot me?" asked Moloch. "You must know I'm only going to rise and rise and rise and I'll keep coming for you."
He wasn't armed. I forced myself not to bother and instead shot Marinette through the head. She toppled backwards into the crowd. The swarm of the undead surged forwards.
I pressed my back up against Jayden's and we kept up a steady fire as the horde swayed towards us. Each zombie we put down was replaced by another. Explosions continued to rain down over our heads, thinning out the horde for us. Moloch had vanished somewhere into the crowd. No doubt off to fetch the rest of Gore Corps and some guns.
"Was this supposed to be a rescue?" asked Jayden.
"Just hang on. Help is on the way."
At that moment the doors of the factory burst open and Gabby arrived driving a vehicle that looked more like a tank than a car. The thing had once been a four by four, flatbed truck, but Ghost squad had clearly been having way too much fun with it. The Ghostmobile had armour plated sides, blades and spikes sticking out in a number of improbable directions and big headlights that illuminated the night sky. The sides of the flatbed had been raised to form defensive positions with holes cut in the metal at strategic places for firing through.
It obviously also had massive loud speakers somewhere. Guns N'Roses boomed out down the street as the vehicle careened haphazardly in our direction, knocking zombies down like skittles as it went.
"What's that?" asked Jayden.
I shrugged. "Apparently my little brother has been preparing an assault on Ridleybank. That's the transport."
The car shuddered to a halt near us. It then lurched forwards slightly and promptly stalled.
"Who's driving?" asked Jayden.
I dropped my empty pistols and drew the next two. Then I started fighting my way through the crowd towards the Ghostmobile. I heard Jayden's guns click empty behind me.
Gabby leaned out of the window. "It's broken, Cat!"
"You've just stalled it. Start it up again and drive forwards slowly."
"K." The Ghostmobile's engine coughed into life. It jumped forward and stalled again.
Gabby leaned out the window with a shotgun and started blasting at the zombies between us. "I think you had better drive Cat."
A large explosion blossomed directly between us and the Ghostmobile, clearing our way.
"Get going Sis," shouted BD's voice. "Meet up with you at the corner by St. Jude's."
I reached the door of the Ghostmobile and hauled it open. Gabby scrambled across to the passenger seat. Jayden hauled open one of the back doors and clambered in behind us. Then I started the engine, floored the accelerator and began to carve my way through the crowd.
It was very odd simply to drive through the zombies, treating bodies as skittles, even if they were rotting bodies. The car jumped and veered with the impacts and we were tossed around as we drove over the carcasses of the fallen. Gabby and Jayden hung out of the windows letting off shots.
Above us I could see BD running along the rooftops, jumping from building to building, where they were close. He made use of the network of ladders and planks that survivors tended to leave in their wake where he could.
I could see figures up on the roof behind him and more on the other side of the road. Someone dropped to one knee and I saw a rifle thrown up to a shoulder. I didn't hear the sound of the shot, but I saw BD duck suddenly behind a parapet.
"Watch out where you're going!" shouted Gabby. I swerved hurriedly to avoid a lamp post. "Bloody wimmenz!" he grumbled.
"Gore Corps are up on the roofs." I snapped back. "They're chasing BD!"
Gabby peered out of the window and shot. "We're going too fast to aim properly."
I steered the Ghostmobile up onto the pavement so that we were directly beneath BD.
"Jesus!" shouted Gabby.
I steered rapidly around a rubbish bin and knocked yet another zombie into the street.
"I'm going to die," said Gabby.
"You've died half a dozen times this month already. Quit moaning."
I slowed down once we reached BD and began pacing him. Zombies clawed at the sides of the truck. The door next to me swung open suddenly and arms reached in. I tried kicking sideways and the truck slowed to a standstill as my foot left the accelerator.
Gabby had one arm around me pulling me towards him. I ducked my head down into his chest as he blew the zombie away with the gun in his other hand. There was a tearing sound.
"So much for that door," said Jayden from the back seat. He leaned forwards and fired through the open space. "Let go of her. She needs to drive."
"I can't shoot if she's sitting up."
"Well I can!"
I struggled upright and eased the car forwards again. Gabby reached one arm behind me along the back of the seat and joined Jayden in firing out into the horde.
There was a sudden crash in the flatbed behind us. I glanced in the mirror. Jayden swivelled to look through the back window.
"That was BD," he reported. "Let's go!"
I floored the accelerator. Progress was initially slow because of the press of zombies on the front of the car, but Gabby and Jayden managed to clear a path. Arms still reached in through the missing door to grab at me, but I had my second knife free now and could steer with one hand, while slashing with the other. Someone bit into my leg at one point, but Jayden shot them when I screamed.
Gradually we began to move and, as we picked up speed, the zombies became less of an obstacle then, suddenly, we were free and on the move.
I got us to the border of Ridleybank by which time I was running a raging temperature and had to take some anti-virals and lie down in the back. Gabby insisted on driving, I could hear Jayden in the front trying to explain what the low gears were for. I'd checked the back. BD's head lay at a strange angle to his body, neck clearly snapped in two. There wasn't going to be much we could do for him until he sat up. We agreed to circle round Ridleybank and hole up a couple of suburbs away. Then we could cook up a syringe and bring BD back to life. After that, who knew?
I listened to Jayden's low tones in the front and wondered if BD had been right. Were we bringing a spy back into the DHPD? Then I closed my eyes and let myself drift asleep. For the time being, at least, I was as safe as I could get in Malton. Deciding what to do about Jayden was not my problem alone and, moreover, it was a problem for tomorrow. Tomorrow would be another day. I would cope with it's problems once the sun had risen once more.