Really, it is only when one comes to write ones memoirs that one finds oneself in remembrance of things that previously were forgotten. Perhaps ‘forgotten’ is too strong a word. Perchance, I had chosen not to relive the memory of those terrible days. Perchance, subconsciously I had chosen to push them back into the rear of my mind, to cover them over with memories of happier times: Garden parties and long firelight discussions with good friends, fine port and cigars: British summers and the resonant crack of leather on willow in a good game of cricket with which I used to occupy my life. Now, as I sit here in my London townhouse, recounting tales of excitement and derring-do on which I have occasionally embarked, I find I must tell this tale to complete my story. Although my hands tire easily now and I occasionally forget the spelling of words as old age seeps through my body, my memoirs will not be complete without the retelling of this ghastly tale. So I give you, (with more than a little reluctance for fear you think I should be sent to Bedlam), ‘The Island of the Ungodly Dead’.
It was the summer of 1870, and Queen Victoria reigned supreme, although not a young man any more I was still within my prime. I had worked for a number of years as a reporter for The Times, a newspaper, I am sure you are aware, of great standing within the Empire.
Unfortunately, at that time, I was a bullish gentleman with more than a little ambition. Therefore I had made an enemy of my employer, a Mr Simpson, who drew the title of Under Editor to the Editor of The Times, (a position I wished to hold myself one day). Hence, when we received a missive from a Gentleman Scientist in the Caribbean who called himself Dr Baker, which talked about ‘The greatest scientific discovery of the age’ and ‘an experiment to cure the woes of the world’, Simpson had me in mind.
It was vague and meandering letter, scruffily if not hurriedly written and yet it was malodorous, smelling faintly of mould. As I read it I distinctly remember a slick, oily feeling pervading my skin and coalescing into a feeling of dread that made me compelled to place it lightly on the desk and only look at it from a distance. That feeling of dread stayed with me for the remainder of the day, as I remember. Mr Simpson decided to despatch me forthwith to meet with this man and interview him for an article for The Times. Truth be told, I had made Mr Simpson look like a dullard the week before in the office and no doubt he wished for me to be out of his sight for a time.
This letter may have normally been ignored as the work of a charlatan or madman, however Mr Simpson took it as an opportunity to be rid of me. Not being well travelled within the world at that time, I took it as an opportunity to see some more of the Great British Empire and perhaps make myself more interesting at fashionable London dinner parties. Such parties were frequented by fashionable London ladies in who I took great interest at the time. Yet as I read the letter again that evening, in the comfort of my own home, the oily horror of it returned and I found myself in a drunken state at the effort of trying to remove it from my minds eye.
So it was that I was despatched on the morning of June 12th with a small, nay tiny, allowance from The Times to join, by arrangement, the HMS Endeavour on a voyage to the Caribbean. I would be set off at the port of Montserrat to find my own way to the even smaller Island of St Johns where, according to his letter, Dr Baker resided. A missive had been despatched on an earlier ship to inform the governor of Montserrat of my arrival and beg him provide me with the means to complete Mr Simpson’s task.
Arriving by coach at Plymouth docks I was stunned by the sheer level of activity, of the humanity that swarmed around that great ship. After the French had made the first Ironclad in 1862 the might of British Industry had swung into full motion in the creation of equal or better ships so as to counter the French in their ambitions. The HMS Endeavour was part of a growing fleet of metal monstrosities that now keep the sea-lanes around the globe free of vicious piracy and those vile French.
The docks themselves writhed like a sea of humanity and stank of molten steel and that slightly rotten, brackish air, associated with all ports. Workers busied around like ants carrying ironworks and wood from carts and narrow boats to the place of fitment on the large ships in dock. The air was thick with steam and smoke from the variety of engines and machineries used to construct and bend the heavy steel used in the manufacture of Her Majesty’s fleet.
The carriage could take me no further due to the morass of activity in front but the coachman kindly agreed to carry my travelling trunk to the Endeavour for a small fee. I regret to say that I was not one to travel light and feel I had the better of the deal as I paid the sweating, red-faced coachman his dues. I stood in awe at the huge steel monolith that was the Ironclad before me and for no reason I could fathom, I was compelled to run in panic from the scene, the letter heavy in my pocket as in my mind the ship took on the appearance of a monstrous gravestone. At the time I had never seen such a construction, surely it must have been as large as St Paul’s cathedral. I stood in the shadow of the ship its huge black hull looming like a wall in front of me and there, barely in view above that, the masts and elongated funnel that spewed steam high up towards the Lord himself. I mused that perhaps that God Himself must be in awe of such achievements of The Empire. Blasphemous perhaps but I was a younger man and prone to such flights of fancy. As I gazed I saw the huge rotating blades at the rear of the ship, taller than several men stood atop each other and wondered, as I gaped, what possible machinery could have constructed such items. Truth be known, I was a man more of the arts rather than a scientist or engineer; such things were unfathomable to me.
“She’s a beauty isn’t she” said someone close, making me start.
“Quite wonderful” I replied as I composed myself and turned to see a man about my age, but beardless, dressed in full Admiralty Regalia.
“You must be the reporter,” said the Gentleman.
“And I presume, you sir, are the Captain of this vessel?”
“You are correct Sir, Captain William Burrington at your service”
“Phineas Smith,” I said “reporter for The Times at yours, Sir”
We shook hands. He was altogether not what I imagined from a Naval Captain, in fact he seemed quite personable.
“I do hope you are not writing about Her Majesty’s Navy during your voyage?” he smiled.
“If I do Sir, it will only be complimentary, this is quite a wonder.” said I, glossing over the way my skin crawled and perspired at the thought of the journey ahead.
“Lets see if you say that after several weeks aboard her.” He chuckled.
I smiled politely slightly bemused by the comment.
“I will have a boy come and collect your baggage, you are welcome to join me on the bridge if you like Mr Smith, for you are our only passenger on this voyage, and the tide turns within the hour.”
I thanked him for his hospitality and climbed the long gangplank to the deck of the Ironclad.
The voyage was uneventful except for the constant rumbling of the massive engine and even after all this years I swear my hearing was never the same after that journey. Below decks, bouts of fearful panic overcame me whenever I considered the journeys end. Yet my rational mind could find no cause for this fear and I set it aside as travellers’ nerves. I found myself bored and wishing I had brought more books. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the company of Captain Burrington and his deck of cards, I may have flung myself to the mercy of the sea.
The Captain and I spent many a pleasant hour in discussion and we quickly discovered that we had a like mind in nearly all matters both political, (Disraeli was a cad of the highest order), religious (God save the queen) and in matters of the heart. (Our ‘dance’ cards were closely matched in terms of ‘conquests’, if you take my meaning). Truth be told, we formed a fine friendship and both commented on a desire to stay friends after this voyage. He had a house in London where he chose to reside when not at sea and by pure chance we both had knowledge of an Ale House of fine repute where we both had occasion to drink but on separate occasions.
After several weeks and a distinct change in the weather for the better, we arrived in the Caribbean. The HMS Endeavour, it turned out, was merely there to show the might of the Empire to our colonial cousins and the colonial cousins of our enemies who inhabited surrounding islands along the Caribbean. This meant that the ship would be returning to England in two weeks. I hoped that my business on St Johns would be concluded within that time and so the good Captain offered to return to Montserrat, or indeed St Johns if no transport could be found, to pick me up for the return journey. I was happy at this thought for a number of reasons: Firstly, I enjoyed his company immensely and secondly, the romance of travelling perhaps outweighed the practicality of it; I longed to return to England with its fine alehouses and busty women. I would also perhaps be rid of the sweaty dreams and irrational panics, for there is nothing more lonely to an English Gentleman than a ship full of sailors. Unless, of course, one was a sodomite. I am happy to say that a succession of beautifully pleased women would testify that I am not.
I bid my farewells to the good Captain and was taken by steam launch to the port of Montserrat. From a distance it looked a beautiful place, the sea a shining graduated green and blue, golden sandy beaches and luscious green palms. In the misty distance rose the mountainous volcano from which the island itself had been formed. The port town itself a rambling site of white wooden housing, truly colonial in appearance. As we approached I could clearly see a busy market and the juxtaposition of the Negro natives and the white colonials, those brave souls who left Queen and Country for this gorgeous but Godforsaken land.
I spent an uneventful evening with the governor, who was a most frightful bore, demanding news of London society and talk of people I had never heard of and never met. The only light relief from his tedium was the vista of his beautiful wife, a vision if I may say so but unfortunately she was smitten with the fellow and barely cast a glance in my direction. Consequently I made my excuses and went to bed, feigning some form of sickness caused by so many weeks at sea. The only curious event was when I questioned the governor about the Island of St Johns and the good Dr Baker. He would not linger on the subject and gave the shortest, curtest answer available to him. Tired and a little drunk at this point I did not press him on it.
The following morning the weather had not changed and I purchased myself a wide brimmed hat, fashioned from leaves, to protect myself from the bright sunshine. I was transported through the town to a waiting sail ship to take me the 10 nautical miles to St Johns. The hat looked faintly ridiculous I feel but needs must when the Devil drives and I thought the protection would outweigh my mild embarrassment. Besides, I was in a rum mood, as a night in a real bed on land had lifted my spirits somewhat.
At the far end of the beach there was a small sloop, a swarthy Negro standing by it. They were both as scruffy as each other, the man dressed in little more than rags and a contrast to some of the other well tended fishing boats and sloops in the bay. I was not best pleased by this turn of events and asked the coach driver why I must use this boat. Curtly I was told that this was the only boat that would go to St Johns and looking back I feel it was the tone in the drivers voice that began the feelings of foreboding that came to dominate the remainder of the journey. The boat itself needed a lick of paint to say the least and the sails where a patchwork of differing cloths, stitched together at random.
The coach driver loaded my items onto the boat and I approached the ‘Captain’ of the ‘ship’ with my hand out to shake his. Well, the fellow just looked me in the eye and spat on the floor before turning and climbing aboard. I was shocked but before I made an issue of it I reminded myself that foreigners had different customs and perhaps I had misinterpreted his gesture. However, I am ashamed to say that it crossed my mind that if was what the repeal of slavery resulted in, perhaps it had not been the right thing to do. As I have stated previously, I was a younger man then and prone to such idiotic fancies.
The journey took some considerable hours so I read a little and played solitaire to pass the time. Eventually I saw a small island in the distance, no more perhaps than a mile in diameter. As we approached I could pick out a series of huts dotted amongst the trees that made the verdant paradise of the island look scruffy, the owners seemingly cared little for civic pride.
As we approached I could see that the settlement looked sparsely populated, several old men and women sat in groups and I was unsettled by the rotting carcass of a cow that seemed to have been dumped not too far from the village. As I gazed I thought I saw figures in the trees behind moving away. I tried to use my book to shield my eyes and thought just for a second that one of the figures moved with a deportment different to the others but then they had gone. At this point I distinctly remember having butterflies in my stomach and the urge to jump overboard and swim for my life was nigh overwhelming. Perchance it was the heat and lack of sustenance for the voyage but I remember feeling nothing but foreboding as we landed the sloop on the beach.
The captain jumped off the ship and bade me follow him. I considered asking him to take my trunk, however pride meant that I merely hefted it onto the beach and proceeded to drag it behind me. I made slow progress up the beach but rather than offer to help he merely stopped every few feet and waited. This was quite intolerable and I muttered so under my breath. It occurred to me then that the Negroes of this island looked different to those of Montserrat. Their skin was darker they themselves seemed skinnier and wiry perhaps. From photographs I had seen, I surmised that they could be African in origin. With a great show of effort I dragged my trunk through the village lest the locals felt compelled to help me but none of them did and eventually I came upon a large wooden hut some way along a small track outside the main settlement. It had a western construction and I deduced that this was the house of Dr Baker. My erstwhile Captain wandered off without a word and being an Englishman I felt obliged to thank him. However the combination of his surliness and rudeness meant that, to my shame, I merely poked my tongue out at him when he turned his back. When in Rome and all that.
I dropped the trunk and removed my sodden kerchief from my trousers, discovering it was possibly wetter than the perspiration of my face. Exasperated I left my baggage where it lay and proceeded inside. The shack, if you could grace it with such a title, was dark inside and the floorboards creaked as I entered the door. A musky chemical smell was omnipresent in the room, despite being open to the elements by means of shuttered windows. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, for the shack was deep within the palm trees of the island, I saw that it was simply furnished with two dining chairs, bedecked with antimacassars and a small table that looked unused but was set with a grace unbefitting of the scene. On the wall hung a portrait of a couple, dusty and lightened by age. Small paraffin lamps could be seen dotted about. I was about to call out when, through sheet on the other side of the room, stepped a small man who simply stopped and stared at me for an inordinate time. He was perhaps a foot shorter than I, with long black hair tied back with jungle twine. A skinny fellow his clothes hung from him. I could see it would once have been a respectable suit of tweed, yet now was threadbare with age and use. I pondered if he had other clothing at all.
“Ah. Mr Smith is it?” his eyes cleared as he drew the logical conclusion.
“And you must be Dr Baker” I said with all the heartiness I could muster.
“I am. I am. I am.” He said wiping his hands on his trousers and stepping forward to shake my hands vigorously. I distinctly remember how slick he felt, like freshly caught Trout or such like. His eyes were dark with lack of sleep and he seemed restless, the tone of his voice monotone and dour, but filled with gusto.
“Pray Sir, was your journey a pleasant one?” he said enthusiastically, still shaking my hand.
Distracted by his slickness I replied
“Well no. Not really.”
“Oh” He stopped shaking my hand.
Regaining my composure I answered.
“Actually some water would cure all my ails”
“Of course. Of course.” He darted out of the room.
I flopped onto one of the chairs as he returned bearing a pitcher of water. I drank long and deeply as he sat opposite, just staring at me.
“The fact you have arrived today fills me with joy Mr Smith” he said.
I looked quizzically at him whilst drawing more water from the pitcher.
“Yes. Yes. For this very evening I come to the zenith of my experimentation”
“It was not clear from your letter what the nature of your studies are,” said I.
“Ah well. I am a Chemist by training and an anthropologist by chance. I did not want to enter into too much detail for fear my letter was intercepted by my rivals.”
I struggled to see that this little man would have any rivals but I let this point pass.
“I suggest that we eat and then perhaps I can show you what it is that I have been doing with my time here”
I smiled, though my heart was dreaming of nice ale and perhaps some roasted venison.
Baker left the shack for several minutes while he fetched a meal from the villagers and I took this time to take in my luggage. I changed clothes and for reasons I still do not understand to this day, tucked my loaded service revolver into the inside of my jacket. I could not shake a feeling of horror that seeped into my soul, in the same way London fog soaks through the sturdiest wool clothing, even though the evening was warm and pleasant.
It was then I noticed that the portrait of the couple on the wall showed Dr Baker and I surmised, his wife. She was a fine beauty, taller than Baker perhaps, with blond hair and piercing blue eyes. I realised then that this small shack had indeed at one time showed the touch of a lady. The placement of the furniture, the antimacassars, the china oddities on a shelf. The touch of a woman of taste trying to make the best of a poor lot. Yet, the grubby shack had not been cleaned in some considerable time. As I pondered this Baker returned with a wooden platter of fish and vegetables and we dined whilst he caught up on news of the Empire. The vegetables were nothing to speak of but I must admit I enjoyed the fish; it was moist and succulent, with a fresh flavour and must have been grilled over an open fire. I don’t know why I remember this so clearly; even now many years later in London I can still taste it. Memory is a strange thing. With a full stomach I plucked up the courage to ask about his wife.
“I’m afraid she died of a fever a few weeks after coming to the Island” was all he would say on the matter before hurriedly changing the subject and looking away.
Over a glass of Rum I asked Baker to expand on the reason for my visit.
“Well” he said, “Several years ago, my wife and I were travelling around Africa, it was our Honeymoon truth be told and I found myself stricken with the most dreadful sickness. I could not eat and keep my stomach contents. Our guide, concerned for my welfare, recommended I consult a local ‘Bokor’, or sorcerer for a cure. Good Christian teaching warned me against this but I must confess that the pains in my stomach were such that I acquiesced and saw the man. After a ritual of some length and complexity I was handed a small bag of powder to consume with water over the following few days. This I did and to my amazement, the following day I ate a hearty meal and felt fully recovered. In awe of this powder I completed a chemical analysis of it and found the most amazing interplay of chemicals and compounds I had ever seen. In order to learn more about the origin of this remarkable chemistry I stayed in Africa for several months until I learned that the most accomplished Bokor in Vodou, the religion of the area, actually lived here on this island.”
“So this remarkable discovery is a cure for illness of the digestive system?” I enquired.
“No, no. Not at all. I was interested in the chemistry of the cures, not the mumbo jumbo they associate with Vodou.” he sighed.
“Tell me have you ever considered what will happen to the Empire now that we have to rely on European workers and not slaves”
“No, not really” I said for truth be told, I failed to see how anything could affect the Empire.
“The way it appears to me is that the Europeans will require a fair wage, that will require more expense for the simple tasks one requires which will inflate the economy, which in turn will bankrupt us all. What we need is a way of creating a labour force that requires no wages and little or no costs to maintain”
“Well surely that would be slaves, and I don’t think your grasp of economics is quite accurate,”
“Nevertheless, a free labour source would allow the Empire to flourish would it not?”
I nodded, now thoroughly lost to the mans point.
“Come with me” he said.
We went outside and walked through an overgrown path, deeper into the undergrowth of the jungle. The light was fading into darkness and I was already struggling to keep my footing in the dense underbrush. Eventually we came to a reed hut built in a small clearing. Outside there were a variety of glass bottles and canisters, smashed and broken and an ungodly smell of rotting meat. I was also shocked to see a crudely made coffin lying on the ground by the entrance to the hut. Resting one foot on the coffin stood a black man of tiny stature, he was dressed in rags that once may have resembled a black suit and smelt of fish as he smoked a tiny hand rolled cigarette. Around his neck was a garland of what appeared to be bones, hair, ribbons and carved wooden effigies. His rheumy eyes looked me up and down and he smiled at me with rotten teeth. I realised the fish smell was most probably his breath.
Baker and this man had a short conversation in a language I didn’t recognise where my name was mentioned and ‘The Times’ newspaper. The gentleman raised his eyes and shook my hand.
“This is Papa Badalou, the Bokor I mentioned previously.” said Baker.
“Charmed, Sir” I said, perhaps a little ungraciously. I tried to smile but I’m afraid it would have been false for the sense of foreboding in my soul had risen to a crescendo of fear at this point. I did not like this gentleman one bit.
They had a further conversation before Baker turned to me and said,
“Bear in mind that what I am about to show you is an automaton, nothing more than a shell, equipped to do ones bidding: Lifting, carrying and such like but without complaint nor rest. It is to all intensive purposes the perfect employee.”
As Baker lit a rough torch that had been left on the ground at his feet, Papa Badalou shouted something at the hut. From inside I heard a terrible low moan. A huge hulking figure stooped through the doorway before emerging into the evening gloom. Unconsciously I stepped back in fright and as Baker raised the torch I saw the full countenance of the creature that emerged. It was a man. ‘Was’ being the operative word. It was a corpse. Its eyes were grey as its skin, no blood coloured his lips and he appeared to have a hole in his chest. It. He had been buried a time for there was mould on his suit which had the shirt unbuttoned. It must have been his burial suit.
“Good God” I exclaimed.
“God has nothing to do with it dear boy. This is pure science, with perhaps a little touch of Voodou,” said Baker, apparently rather pleased with himself.
“But its inhuman” I continued, barely able to form the words.
“No, Mr Smith. It was human. Now it is merely a collection of actuators and structures as lifeless as a fairground mechanical device.”
“Did you kill him?” I asked.
“No. No. No. Nothing unnatural happened. He was in an accident, a boat oar puncturing his thorax.” With this he put his fist into the hole in the creatures chest. I felt the humours rise in my stomach.
“He was buried a good Christian burial, I am merely using the chemical components of his body before the are absorbed into the earth. Can you imagine Sir, cleaned up and perhaps with some sort of mask to make their countenance more pleasing, one in every house in the Empire, a servant for every home” He looked the creature up and down.
I stood agog. The full horror seemed to reflect off me, I couldn’t speak; I just stared at this thing.
“Let me demonstrate.” He continued, now clearly excited.
“Jacob!” He said in a loud clear voice. The thing turned and gazed at him.
“Take the body from the coffin and place it on the workbench please.” The creature stared at him for a second then bent and opened the coffin. The smell was horrendous as the creature reached inside and hoisted the black suited corpse onto his shoulder. Baker wrinkled his nose.
“Fresh, Papa Badalou, they must always be fresh, how many times must I tell you.” The tiny Negro shrugged his shoulders and muttered something.
“Yes. Yes.” said Baker. “Its always the heat isn’t it.”
“See how obedient he is Mr Smith, quite pliable to all but the most complex requests.”
I did not answer but just stared as Jacob entered the hut and placed the corpse on the workbench. Baker lit several more torches inside the hut and I could see flasks and rubber tubing, oil burners and a small cooking stove, it looked like a small laboratory or pharmacists. Baker busied himself lighting oil burners and checking chemicals. As he worked he ushered me in. Morbid curiosity carried my legs forward but my mind reeled.
As he readied the process he continued,
“Now Jacob there was made with a mixture of chemicals, and Voodou. What I intend to do now is the same process but without the mumbo jumbo. If the Zombification can be easily achieved I intend to set up a factory in the North of England where the weather will be kinder to the materials involved until reanimation is complete. At that point Mr Smith their decomposition ceases and one can eliminate the smell. What do you think? I was toying with ‘Bakers Zombie Automatons Ltd’ as a name. What do you think? Eh?”
I wanted to call him a madman and run, flee this place and return to England forthwith but I just stood there, unable to process the macabre scene before me.
Papa Badalou obviously understood some English because he began to query Baker. I do not understand what was said but it quickly became an argument. Jacob and I stood there as they raged at each other, until Papa Badalou stormed out of the hut back towards the village.
“Oh dear.” He said as he continued to run around placing tubes into the corpse and removing stoppers from flasks.
“It appears the good Bokor is convinced that his ritual is as important as the chemical processes. I’ve tried to persuade him that it is just science but he is not convinced. Apparently the spirits must be appeased.”
Baker paused, and waved his hands in a mock expression of a magician doing a trick.
“We better get this done quickly so I can prove him wrong, before he returns with his colleagues.” This cryptic answer unnerved me further.
“Jacob be a dear and pass me the sulphur.” The corpse reached over and passed Baker a small dish.
“No Jacob. The sulphur. There. There!” exclaimed Baker, pointing, as Jacob replaced the dish and passed him another.
Finally, he stopped.
“Now Mr Smith, prepare to be amazed,” he exclaimed, more showman now than scientist.
Several stoppers were removed from flasks and taps turned in tubes. Coloured liquids drained into the corpse through tubes placed at various points in the body. Baker just stood there, a wild look in his eyes, with his hands on his hips. Presently he removed his pocket watch from his waistcoat and tapped it impatiently.
Minutes passed and he checked his watch repeatedly.
“Odd.” He murmured.
“How very odd.” he muttered again before leaning into the corpse to look at the face.
“It never normally takes this, errrk”.
The corpses hand had shot up and grabbed him around the throat. I jumped in shock and I am ashamed to say at that point I may have soiled my undergarments slightly. The corpse bit deep into Bakers neck and the little man screamed a gurgling scream. Blood gushed from his neck like a stream, covering the table and workbench as it flowed. Baker gazed incredulously at the amount of blood and removed his hand from his neck to inspect it, whereby the blood jetted from the open wound and Baker looked up pleading at me before gurgling something, bubbles of blood obscuring his words as it dripped from his mouth.
The corpse sat up and proceeded to feast on Dr Baker. In that moment I became painfully aware that I was the only living thing in that hut and feeling the weight of my service revolver, I removed it from my waistcoat and took aim at the head of the creature. The Zombie took the Doctor and laid the stricken man in its lap before tearing gobs of meat from Bakers neck and devouring them greedily. Through all this Jacob stood impassive, and Baker merely stared at me in panic. Slowly Bakers eyes grew dim and the blood ceased to flow from the wounds. The only sound remaining was the grisly chewing of the Zombies’ foetid jaw.
As the creature turned its attention away from its meal I fired and the noise rang out through the jungle. The blast briefly illuminated the hut and I saw blood and what not splatter the far side of the room. The creature barely reacted and sat up with its eyes locked firmly in mine. Then I saw the corpse of Baker twitch and rise from the workbench.
It turned and both creatures eyed me lustily.
Almost casually and without any emotion in my voice, (after all I am an Englishman), I said to the impassive giant,
“Jacob, be a good boy and stop these two creatures killing me would you?”
As he stepped between the creatures and me I turned tail and ran. As I sprinted through the dark bush I could hear the sounds of combat behind me and as I got further away from the hut I could also hear shouts in front of me. I looked and saw torches heading my way and the voice of Papa Badalou shouting in the distance. Unwilling to meet the villagers of the island, or the creatures behind, I cut directly left and stumbled through the undergrowth in the growing dark.
I dived over a log and peered back towards the path whence I came. I saw the two Zombies lurch from Bakers hut and stumble towards the din of the party of villagers who were coming the other way with torches and spears, shouting with bravado. Baker and his ally fell upon the villagers grabbing one each like wolves and using their hands and teeth to gouge the hapless victims as they screamed. Badalou and the other villagers pierced the bodies of the Zombies with spears to no effect and as the panic rose they moved from villager to villager tearing eyes and throats, biting legs and torsos until all that remained were the dead and the moans of the dying as the two gorged themselves on the last two villagers they had encountered.
It was then, as I watched the grizzly scene unfold, when the first two victims rose from death and fell upon the injured, that I realised that Bakers vision had been wrong in its entirety: Rather than the pastoral scene of dutiful, bemasked Zombie servants attending the great stately homes of London that he envisaged, or the vision of the chaotic, noisy mills of Lancashire in their never-ending toil. I saw waves of these monsters sweeping first through the slums of the East End, the poor too weak to defend themselves as the dead feasted in the maze like back alleys and tenements until the sewers ran red with blood, before this new army did what no nation could do: To stand triumphant at the gates of Buckingham Palace, the British army impotent to defend the beloved Monarchy. Then across the empire and the world they would spread, until the Empire was no more and nothing living remained: Both the highest Lord and lowliest thief standing together, in death, against the survivors of this End of Days.
As the last of the corpses rose, more villagers, intrigued by the screams could be heard coming from the village and as the group shambled of towards their fresh victims I ran as fast and as hard as I could, all the time thinking that I must survive and prevent this apocalypse.
Driven by pure fear I carried on for an indeterminate time, until as I saw a hut in front of me. My foot caught on something unseen in the night and I fell heavily onto some rocks hidden by a large bush of some description. I must have hit my head for I was enveloped by blackness.
When I came to, I was aware that it was day. I had no clue as to how long I had been unconscious but I was sure I was being watched. As my vision cleared I saw, sat no more than a few feet away from me, a woman. She was not a Negro like the others but a white woman, her dress was tattered, her hair matted and her skin unwashed for many weeks. Barefoot and covered in bruises as she was I realised this was the figure I had seen being taken into the jungle upon my arrival. In her eyes a wildness hid behind the striking blue. Around her leg a locked iron band had caused red sores around her brazenly naked ankle and the chain it was attached to lead to another band locked around a sturdy palm tree. More aware of my surroundings now I could hear distant crashing in the undergrowth. Suddenly I was hit by recognition.
“Mrs Baker?” I said incredulously. She nodded glumly.
“He told me you died of a fever.” I said.
“More lies to assuage his guilt at trading me like common cattle.” she said, her voice cracked and ragged.
“Yes, he gave me to Papa Badalou for the secrets of the Dead.”
“Well it has been his undoing ma’am, I’m afraid your husband is dead.” I regretted immediately speaking so bluntly, after all this was his wife. Her reaction showed no emotion.
“Good. He deserves nothing less for messing in the black arts,” she said.
“Well his experiments have gone wrong and we are in danger. For the Dead he has raised are murderous in their intent.” I spoke quickly of the nights events realising the crashes in the jungle were nearing our position. With rising desperation we pulled and tugged at the chain to no effect. I looked round for tools to perhaps jemmy the irons free but found nothing. As the cacophony, now accompanied by low moans, came closer we became increasingly more fervent in our effort. I bade her cover her eyes and without thinking used my service revolver to shoot at the lock on the palm to no effect. As the ringing of the gunshots faded I realised we had unwittingly given away our position and the sound of the dead closing on us increased in frequency. Try as we might I could not free the lady and as panic gripped us I stopped. I realised there was but one course of action remaining. She looked up at me, in wonderment as to why I had ceased to free her. Recognition slid across her face and the wildness I had first seen faded into calm resignation.
“Sir. I realise I do not even know your name, yet you must do for me a service. As an Englishman and as I can see, a Gentlemen.” Her voice was placid now. We both knew what was required. She stood tall, taller than I and flattened her dress against her body and returned the strap of the dress to her shoulder. I bowed low to her, as the sounds of the Dead grew closer and more frantic.
“Madam Baker. You are a woman of bravery and grace unbefitting of your husband and this island. It would be an honour to do this last service for you.” Then she smiled the most radiant smile. I remember it to this day and it was if the sun itself illuminated the dark undergrowth of this hell. She closed her eyes. I raised the revolver and shot her squarely through the heart. She fell to the ground and I was filled with remorse as I realised I did not know her full name, nor the names of her family and I could not inform those who loved her of her demise. Since that day I have prayed, every day, that when I stand before the Lord on Judgement Day he will see this act as mercy and not murder.
The undergrowth exploded behind me as numerous dead shambled towards me, I raised the revolver which clicked, empty as I fired. I turned and ran as more of the figures entered the clearing, it seemed whole village had also succumbed to the raging experimentation of Dr Baker.
As I ran I could see light blue through the underbrush, I headed for it at full pelt and exploded onto the beach, shielding my eyes from the bright sunshine. My eyes adjusted slowly for I was still groggy from my fall and yet I could hear my relentless pursuers behind. Frantically I looked for a boat, a means off this wretched place but could find none. As I ran up and down the surf I looked back to see many figures emerging front the jungle, eyes affixed on me, their next meal.
Perhaps a hundred yards or so up the beach I saw some flotsam and jetsam brought in by the low tide. In particular a log jutted from the rubbish. I ran to it as more of the shambling figures emerged from the jungle. With the last of my strength I hauled it into the sea, pushing it out into the breaking surf. As I got out of my depth I clambered aboard my impromptu raft and paddled for my life. As luck would have it the tide was retreating lest I would have been pulled back to the shore. I paddled until my strength faltered and only then did I look back to see the whole village and its lifeless inhabitants crowded at the shore. They did not seem willing to enter the surf but just shuffled listlessly around.
Now I feel I must go fetch myself a whiskey, for it is late but I know I will not sleep until this tale is written. I am perturbed at the memory but driven on to finish this story
I recall little of what happened next. I floated aimlessly in the sea. Starved and hungry I dreamt of fine wines and roasted dinners but the dinners turned to cannibalised human flesh and the wine to congealed blood as my long time dread coalesced in my nightmares. I could not drink the seawater and was not enough of a seaman to know which direction to go. Eventually, convinced I would slip from the tree and drown. I faded into blackness.
When I awoke my throat burned and my eyes stung, yet I could feel a soft coolness envelop my body. I was naked and felt awful.
“There now Mr Smith, you are quite safe, rest awhile,” said a thick London brogue. With relief I realised I was back in my cabin aboard the Endeavour. The sailor tending to me brought water, which he advised I sipped slowly, and some simple bread and meats, which I also was to eat slowly. As I recalled my experience on the island I bade the sailor summon the Captain. As I waited I rested my head but did not close my eyes for fear of what images the minds eye may draw.
I must have slept again and when I awoke Captain Burrington sat upon a chair near the door. I drank some more water then told my tale to Burrington, for even in my weakened state only one course of action became clear. When I finished the tale Burrington accused me of drinking, or hallucinating the whole thing in a fever. I informed him I was not anything but sane and lucid. We discussed what could be done and although he was reticent he agreed to return to the island. For I was retrieved from my raft by the Endeavour on her way to pick me up. Yes, I had floated for many days and nights adrift on the sea.
I was informed of our arrival and against the advice of the ships Doctor I insisted two burly seamen carried me up to the deck. Once there a spyglass was used to view the Island and in viewing Burrington was heard to very loudly utter:
“My God in Heaven.” He forbade any of the Seamen to view the island through their own spyglasses but announced, after affirming my story as the truth, that the island was deigned by the Admiralty to be a place for target practice and they had all been complacent in their duties and not sharp. Instantly the crew leapt into action and for the next eight hours the Island was shelled by every piece of artillery on the Ironclad until not a tree stood standing and the waves took the wretched place back within the bosom of the sea.
Each shell that pounded the shore was a nail in the island of the Dead and a tonic for my soul.
As the waves lapped over the island I realised I still had Bakers letter in my pocket, Shakily, I stood and let the cool breeze waft it into the sea so nothing could remain of Bakers work, nothing that could be copied or repeated. The damn fool should be erased from existence for his madness and ambition, I thought. Yet, as the paper dropped from my hand, the feeling of dread finally lifted and that night I slept dreamless as a babe.
I returned to London but not The Times, for I could not retell the tale again. Sadly I had not the heart to strike up a friendship with Burrington for when he contacted me for a meal or drink I declined, for I could not think of him without the nightmares returning. Eventually I took a post at a provincial paper and met a fine woman who bore me two beautiful girls and we lived for many years in Herefordshire, far from the sea. I still take the papers regularly scouring for news of my dread Apocalypse but the Empire thrives as I near the end of my life, and still wonder what became of Jacob, a creature that was no more than matter yet still saved me life.
Now I must fetch more strong liquor as the telling of the tale has left me wan and fearful. I will not sleep tonight, so a bottle of whiskey must I finish. Tomorrow I may tear this paper to shreds lest I think of Dr Baker again, or then again, I may not.