Please see Verse 1 of The Minister
The Minster: Verse 2
Against the gentle whump, whump, whump, of the helicopter blades, Paul Jollie listened to the last thirty seconds of the mp3 over and over again. He’d put the earpieces of his ipod underneath the bulky headphones to try and drown out the noise of the ancient Huey he was now sat in. He was studying the photographs of the living room of the old croft where the attack had happened. He tried to visualise the knock at the door, the surprise of the occupants, that final desperate struggle and what had happened after the tape stopped, after the bloody violence ended. He had listened to the MP3 over and over again, studying to every nuance of Joe Wyndhams voice as he described the Minister and that final line, the voice of the Minister himself; that drawn out Scottish brogue dripping with menace. No matter how many times he listened, he couldn’t gather any further information from it and yet every time he listened to the recording the hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention.
The pilot leaned round from the front and pointed towards his headphones. Paul lifted each side of the helicopter headphones gently and removed the Ipod earpieces. He moved the mic into position.
“Twenty minutes until we hit the Edinburgh drop zone, Sir” called the pilot
“Alert me at five minutes to drop”
“Yes Sir” said the pilot.
Paul relaxed and closed his eyes, his privacy invaded by the grating whine of the chopper as it sped over the desolate British countryside, and the cold misty morning looked almost sepia toned as the sun struggled to fight its way through the wet gloom. His mind wandered back to the meeting with the Minister of Special Circumstances, barely eighteen hours before.
Paul was one of the new breed of Special Forces employed by the British Military. He had just turned seven years old when the Fall had happened and in it he had lost his entire family. At nine years old he had fired his first pistol and dropped his first Z. At sixteen he had found himself on the front line at the Battle of Tower Bridge. The army had tried to reclaim North London by using the bridge as a choke point only to find that the mass of Z’s in that half of London was too great for the bridge and they had risen from the Thames, a mass tide of Z’s that flanked their position, rising up through the water to surround them, decimating the ragged British Army in the process. He was one of barely a thousand survivors of that great battle, who had fought a running retreat through the streets. Ten thousand people who had survived for twelve years swapped sides that day, making the retaking of London all that much harder.
His skills at knowing how the Z would behave, when to fight and when to hide had served him well and got him noticed by the newly formed Ministry of Special Circumstances. He joined the unit at eighteen and was trained in the use of weapons, both military and martial. He was taught the newly developed Japanese Z kata, a martial art specifically designed to keep as many of the dead at arms length or further whilst they were systemically and efficiently despatched by the best weaponry British sword smiths had developed. The ‘Union Jack’ was a high quality stainless steel blade with strengthening ribs criss-crossed along it, like the old flag. It was just long enough to sever a head at arms length and sharp enough to chop logs. It looked like an ancient broadsword but was considerably lighter and gunmetal grey in colour.
Paul had helped developed the Special Forces Z proof armour, lightweight black polypropylene recycled from waste plastic: Flexible, strong, yet slippery to hold, with bite proof Kevlar at the neck, knee and elbow joints. It looked like skinny American football gear crossed with a medieval suit of armour but was considerably lighter and easier to manoeuvre in. He had participated in the live testing where it was discovered that the facial recognition skills of the Z’s brain was partially how the fresher Z’s homed in on humans, so now a lightweight Motocross mask was used to hide the soldiers features. Paul had taken to using a stylised white skull painted on the front which confused the Z’s into thinking he may be a Z himself, this hesitation in their actions was all he needed and he was trained to take advantage of it.
He was now used by the Ministry to scout cities, towns, sewers and small isolated communities and to generally clean up where a single man could. Sometimes pre-Fall items were required: Laptops with military or scientific data, culturally significant items from museums or libraries needed to be saved, but most of the time but it was to help the disparate communities of survivors clear a local threat, or protect them whilst their community was expanded. After all it made sense that Special Forces worked alone. It was easier to hide, easier to run and it meant that you were not tied to the bonds of friendship which could make you put yourself in a deadly situation to save a comrade, risking you both in the process. It was you alone against the Z. Pre-Fall there were sixty seven million people living in the UK in a landmass less than half the size of Texas. Fifteen years after the Fall there were less than a million people left and it was estimated almost ten times the population in Z’s. Only Japan still had as many Z’s per live citizen, some of the more densely populated countries had no citizens left at all. Clearance was a morale term, a term to let people know that things were returning to pre-Fall normality. The reality was that this was far from the truth, and operatives like Paul Jollie were merely playing a numbers game, eventually his time would come and when it did he hoped that his kill figure was up in the five figures, it needed to be so that there were still humans left when the last zombie was killed, and not the other way around.
Most UK cities were still ‘out of play’ to use the military term. Only really London due to its cultural and historic significance, and Edinburgh because of the easily defendable castle, had significant populations. Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, all these and many, many more were out of bounds to humans and still roamed day and night by their former inhabitants.
Paul had been summoned by the Minister of Special Circumstances and had arrived through the ruined London streets by Rickshaw cabbie. Civilian petrol shortages meant cabbies had cut the rear end off their taxis, and attached bikes to the front, most of them were happier that way as it kept them fit into the bargain and now there was virtually no traffic in the deserted streets, there was nothing to get frustrated at. He had been cleared by the dogs at the entrance to Westminster and entered the Minister of Special Circumstances private office. He stood in front of the desk and, although still wearing civilian gear, saluted stiffly.
Jim Bramer, Minister of Special Circumstances, had been an Operations Manager and engineer in a factory prior to the Fall; this training had given him a unique perspective on rebuilding the capital. He commissioned wind farms and solar panelling to provide some electricity. He had set up apprenticeship training programs for blacksmiths, motor mechanics, builders, pilots, and farmers. Virtually everyone in the London safe zone had two or three different trades and his idea to resurrect the wartime spirit of the British had given hope where previously there had only been despair. Posters, and adverts on the BBC were everywhere urging citizens to recycle, be vigilant, build not destroy, farm not consume, help not hinder. Crime was virtually non-existent.
However, Jim was most proud of his military achievements, the new Special Forces were seen as Knights of the New Monarchy, something for young minds to aspire too, and something to be feared in their black armour reminiscent of the medieval warriors on which Britain had been founded. To the outside the UK looked like a mix between medieval England and George Orwell’s’ 1984, with all the positives of stern governance, a strong King in William and a job for everyone to rebuild the shattered Kingdom. Yes, Jim’s job was much better than being a faceless drone in a factory. He was over sixty now, with short grey hair and a lined face that showed a history of starvation and struggle under its stern features.
“At ease, Paul.” Said Bramer
“Sir.” Said Paul, relaxing.
Bramer motioned towards a chair.
“No thank you, Sir.” said Paul taking a seat in the red leather high back in front of the old mahogany desk.
“The reason I have called you here is, unfortunately, not a social one” Said Bramer
“It never is Sir.” Said Paul, smiling
“No… No.” chuckled Bramer.
“I want you to listen to this recording and tell me what you think”
Bramer clicked play on the battered old Sony Vaio and the office filled with the sound of a recording of a mans voice. Paul listened intensely to the file and both men baulked at the end of the recording.
“But I thought the Minister was just a legend, a fairy tale to scare your kids” said Paul, visibly shaken.
“Apparently not… Paul, we have lost contact with several of the smaller Scottish communities north of Edinburgh and now we have lost contact with Edinburgh itself.”
Paul looked surprised.
“I want you to investigate and report back. This is a 24-hour recon and destroy mission. If you find The Minister your orders are to capture or kill him. If he is resistant to the disease then he can infiltrate communities destroy them and escape with impunity. We cannot allow that to continue.” said Bramer gravely.
“Of course not Sir” Said Paul
“This enemy is human Paul, capable of all the dirty tricks, lies and betrayals specific to humankind. You need to forget everything you know about fighting the Z and recalibrate to fighting someone who is immune to the Z. Someone who has survived the Fall and believes himself to be some sort of Priest doing Gods work. That is all we know but even that is enough to make him a danger to the State. We are rebuilding something wonderful here Paul and I won’t let this son of a bitch ruin it. I want him found and dealt with, nipped in the bud before the populace realise he is more than a legend. Panic, is our biggest enemy in this city Paul, did you know that?” Bramer was red faced now.
“Panic breeds Death, Sir” said Paul, quoting one of Bramers’ favourite propaganda posters.
“Yes, Paul. Exactly”
“One final thing.” continued Bramer “A question, actually”
“Why now? Why has it taken him all this time to start this crusade? Why not in the first few years after the Fall when we were weakest? You need to consider this, Paul, considerate it carefully before you go up against him, not because I don’t think you are capable, but because he is a different enemy to the one you are used to.” Bramer took a sip of whiskey. Paul merely nodded in thought.
“I’m in the process of arranging a chopper to take you north, other than that it’s your mission”
“As always sir” said Paul, darkly.
Bramer slid the thick file across the table to face Paul; on its cover it read:
‘The Minister: Top-level clearance only’.
The helicopter pilot turned and looked at Paul.
“Five minutes, Sir”
Paul retrieved the kit bag from underneath his bench on the Huey and opened it. He grabbed his black armour and pulled it over his head, tightening the clips, and securing it firmly. He grabbed the greaves and pulled them on each leg securing them as he went. He pulled the skull mask, with black tinted goggles over his head and finally secured the black, plastic ribbed, gloves over his hands. The small pack he shouldered had water and food, a couple of flash bangs, ammo, a maglite, some rolling tobacco (his only vice) and his radio. He took out his automatic pistol and tucked it in the back of his armoured suit. He removed the AS50 sniper rifle with telescopic sight, checked and loaded it before holstering it on his back. The P90 sub machine was also loaded and checked before slotting into the thigh holster. Finally, reverently, he removed the Union Jack sword and scabbard and strapped it to his back, crossed against the sniper rifle.
Paul opened the door of the Huey and noise exploded around him, the cold Scots air rushed through the ancient chopper chilling him through his armour. He held onto the rail above and gazed down as the green countryside rushing below him. They passed a small group of Z’s walking north; they looked up acknowledging the passing chopper. They were obviously ‘originals’. Z’s from the Fall, now naked, clothes fallen off after years of wandering and shrivelled, like grey tree bark moistened by the misty dew of the morning. In a way they were easier to deal with as they looked about as far away from human as you could get, and moved more slowly than the freshly turned. The only thing less human were the bloaters, those that had rotted in underwater for a long time and had swelled as the gases in their bodies expanded and the water separated their cell membranes. You could usually smell bloaters a long, long time before you saw them.
They passed several burnt out farmhouses and overgrown car parks littered with rusted cars, whitening skeletons, and dominating weeds. Nature itself was taking over; most roads except for the motorways were impassable due to wreckage and the encroaching hedgerows and flora were slowly breaking up the concrete road surfaces.
Ahead, Paul could see the twin hills of Holyrood Park. It was a perfect drop zone away from the urban area of Edinburgh itself. The Huey dropped between the two hills, the sound of the chopper muffled from the surrounding area by the imposing cliffs on either side. The pilot dropped to about fifty feet scanning for movement below. There was none, and no cover so when Paul indicated he would use the rope to rappel down, the pilot shook his head and dropped the chopper to the ground. Fuel constraints meant the pilot couldn’t afford the fly by of Edinburgh he requested but this didn’t matter.
“See you in 24 hours boss” said the pilot, cheerily.
“You will,” replied Paul.
Paul crouched and trotted away from the Huey as it rose with a rumble into the cold morning sky. The buffeting of the down draft subsided and Paul jogged northwest towards the crest of the hill. He wanted to get a vantage point to view the Edinburgh community from afar. He also knew that even with the secluded drop off point it would attract some unwanted attention. He stopped just shy of the crest maybe thirty feet higher and unslung the AS50. He would give it ten minutes in this safe spot and despatch the few inquisitive Z’s that would inevitably arrive. He rolled a cigarette and smoked it, savouring the flavour of the imported tobacco after the long flight, while scanning the area. Dead quiet, he wryly thought to himself.
Paul crested the hill and shouldered the sniper rifle, looking through the powerful scope. Edinburgh stood like a series of grey monoliths against the skyline. It was still too early in the day for the mist to clear and although he scanned the area of Edinburgh castle rising in the distance he couldn’t pick out any detail. No lights were visible.
He studied his route north towards Dukes Walk and the A1, again nothing except derelict cars and rubble; all colours washed away by time and the grey morning. He looked along Dukes Walk to Holyrood Road. He had memorised the route last night. No movement. By his reckoning he was a click away from the wall that ran along the A7, signifying the east side of the Edinburgh community boundary, with 500m of that across urban ground. Ideally he would need to find a route up to the rooftops, standard procedure for traversing a city due to the Z’s inability to climb. But it didn’t look good, he wasn’t into the city proper and the building density wasn’t great enough to allow rooftop travel. He shouldered the sniper rifle and checked the P90. Quietly he moved back into the valley.
The road had been cleared and broken rusting cars littered the verges, mostly empty, but he saw a people carrier with a family of rotting skeletons inside, including a tiny skeleton in the child seat. The drivers’ door was open but the driver had a large hole though his skull. Paul didn’t want to think about what had happened in that car and moved cautiously onwards. He cut north past a white permanent tent with glass sides, signposted ‘Dynamic Earth’; obviously an eco museum of some type. Didn’t feel too dynamic at the moment, he thought, as he padded silently through the windless grey like a stalking black cat. He passed Holyrood Palace and stopped for a second to look at its striking architecture of sweeping curves and glass frames; windows that were now smashed, rotting barricades that showed the battle that had been fought here to save Scotland’s fledgling democracy. Evidently it had failed.
Given that roof travel was impossible he decided to head north to Canongate and down the wide street to avoid side alleys and points where he could be ambushed from dark corners and Edinburgh myriad closes and alleys. Tall 18th century granite buildings rose on his left, now vine covered, with a small tree was growing out of an upper storey window. Ahead he could see the Barrier that used to be the A7 and across it there was a thirty-foot high wall of rubble with what appeared to be an aluminium gate at the end of Canongate road, with a guard tower either side atop the wall. The row of buildings had been demolished to make the wall which left a no-mans land about 100m wide all the way along the wall, north and south. Paul cut left and crouched behind a car.
Now there were two real dangers.
The first were unseen snipers in the guard tower, bored, stoned, or drunk they were known to take pot shots at any Z’s entering the no man’s land area. This was generally tolerated because after a few months the Z’s would learn not to go into that zone. Unfortunately for the Special Forces, these guards didn’t think that a lone human would stay in that area so they would usually take a pot shot at them too. Paul nearly lost an eye because of this a few years ago.
The second danger was crossing No-mans land itself, normally there would be a lot of Z activity just out of range of weaponry on the towers. Paul knew he was in that area now, but there was nothing, no movement, no moans, nothing. This, in itself, unsettled Paul. In fact he hadn’t seen a single Z on the way in. That was unheard of in a major population centre; where there were humans there were Z’s, simple as that.
Paul took the Maglite out of his pack and flashed it at the guard towers, using the series of signals agreed to show he was military and would be approaching the gate. He waited for a reply, after several minutes he tried again. No response. Maybe that’s why there were no Z’s: There were no humans. But it would still be dangerous to cross to the gate if there was no one there to let him in. It would leave him too exposed. He repacked the Maglite and looked at the wall again. To the right from the gate he saw a route where he could climb up some exposed concrete columns and granite blocks where they were poorly stacked and the steel reinforcement bars stuck out from the wall at a variety of angles. At about ten feet there was a small ledge he could use to stay out of reach if Z’s came. Hopefully, that would attract the attention of anyone inside to open the gate. He shouldered the P90 and got ready to move. Swiftly he left his cover and crossed the open ground towards the wall. Nimbly he scaled the wall up to the ledge and only then turned round. Nothing followed him. He scanned the buildings and dark corners where he came from. No movement, only silence and his own steady breathing.
He listened intently to see if he could hear anything from the guard towers above or the enclave beyond. He considered calling up there, but decided against it, for fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention to his exposed position. He spotted a route to climb up, so he took it and as he scrambled to the top of the wall he was in line with the crudely built guard towers. There was no one in them. He looked down at the rest of Canongate stretching out away from the gate. There were certainly signs of life and below him was a series of ramshackle tents and crude buildings, rusting caravans and MPV’s. Washing lines with drying clothes stretched across the road, as well as jury rigged electrical cables and chained extension leads. The population density was huge in Edinburgh; normally this would bustle with fifty thousand people crammed into a small walled city. There was only silence, complete and enveloping silence, the kind where your own breathing was all-encompassing. He looked at the building on either side of the street, boarded up windows to protect from the cold; some windows were still intact but there were no lights anywhere. He removed the sniper rifle and peered into its scope. He was close enough now to look along the high street, up towards the castle itself. It was like looking at an oil painting; nothing moved in the still air. Brightly coloured banners and tent covers lay static in the morning stillness in a long line right up to the castle, their colours washed out by the dull morning sun. Nothing moved. There was not even the sound of a bird or sight of an insect in the cold damp vista.
Paul shouldered the P90 and moved across to the guard tower ladder. He scrabbled quickly down it and onto street level, gun aimed along eye line constantly as he jogged. Checking corners and side streets as he moved up the middle of the road, he slid along the High Street through the granite canyon of the tall Victorian buildings. Pauls footsteps, light as they were, echoed gently from the old stone walls.
“I love you, I love you” said a cutesy voice echoing in the silent street. Startled, Paul jumped, aiming his gun as he left the ground. As he landed he saw he had kicked a child’s doll. Off key, it repeated its mantra.
“I love you, I love you”
“Jesus Christ” whispered Paul, bringing his boot heel down on the chest of the doll, silencing it forever. Quickly he swept a 360°, checking to see if anything had heard. Again there was nothing. His heart thundered in his chest.
“Jesus” he repeated, relaxing his aim a second. He kicked the doll and it skidded loudly across the road. He pursed his lips and exhaled, breathing heavily, assuming his stance with the stubby gun at his shoulder he moved of again toward Edinburgh Castle. Silence enveloped him once more.
Quickly, and quietly, he moved up Castlehill and through the inner blockade. It was as if the entire population had vanished. He entered the main castle itself past a building with a faded gift shop sign, his black figure outlined in the glass reflection of the door. A wide concrete area inside was well tended and neat, no signs of struggle. This was the highest point in the safe zone so he moved up to the north battlement, shouldered the sniper rifle, and looked north across the safe zone to the outer wall beyond. There was no movement; the vista was the same one he had moved through to get to this point, grey buildings, temporary structures, static mist but no life, or death, for that matter. Nothing. Through the gloom, the distant sun struggled to light the city around him, even though it was now mid morning.
Paul leant the rifle against the battlement, removed his mask, and took out his bottle of water, drinking deeply he considered what he had seen so far.
Normally after a Z attack where there were no survivors, the area of the attack would be rife with the dead. They would just mill about aimlessly, it would take days for them to wander and disperse, possibly years before they left the area entirely in search of the living. Here there was nothing. It was if the Hand of God had picked up everyone from Edinburgh and removed them. He considered Jim Bramers’ words once more. How could the Minister do this? Where the Hell was everyone?
He had checked East and North, he decided to roll a cigarette and check South and West. The yard was big that he felt he could see things coming so he relaxed as he strolled across the compound, smoked his cigarette and looked out across the South battlement. The view through the sniper rifle was desolate, no movement within the confines of the distant wall and the grey mist made dark silhouettes of the city beyond.
Finally he checked the West battlement, once again the city was empty, and he felt as if he was trapped in a Polaroid: A static scene where once there was bustling life. As he scanned across the horizon, he stopped. Was that movement in the distance? He tracked the scope slowly back, unsure as to what he had seen, or was it his mind playing tricks on him? He could just about make out a large structure in the distance, he thought about the landmarks he had studied last night in the dossier. That must be Murrayfield Football stadium. It looked the right shape and was in the right direction. He was sure he had seen something move at the base of it. Then he heard it, like a distant buzz. No, more like a background noise. Then it was gone. Paul decided it was the closest thing to a lead he had had all morning so he finished his cigarette, tossed it over the side. Grabbed the P90 and moved off back down Castlehill before doubling back west along Johnston Terrace and towards the west wall that ran along Lothian Road and the stadium beyond.
He made his way through the streets, growing accustomed to the silence, with increasingly more speed and less caution. This wasn’t carelessness but a realisation that the city was really as he saw it, devoid of anything. The west gate moved into view. It was wide open, as far as it could go; this was a cardinal sin in a community of this type. It was clear that whatever had happened had happened around here, yet there were no signs of a fight or struggle, no blood, nothing.
He moved past ruined buildings and overgrown parks at a cautious trot. He paused occasionally, sure that he could hear a distant rumble, perhaps even cheering or singing? He wasn’t certain but he was beginning to realise where all the people were. They must be in the stadium ahead. The A8 curved off to the right and to his left was a field or park between him and the stadium. It meant moving through long grass, an idea that didn’t fill him with joy. Anything could hide there, the perfect place for a starving, broken Z, to ambush him. He considered setting light to the field, but that would alert his position to anything around or in the stadium. He would just have to move carefully and be confident. He moved through the grass keeping a line of trees to his right, just far enough away so he couldn’t be jumped from behind a trunk. As he safely reached a line of trees between him and the stadium he could see across the wide concrete plaza that there were two Z’s stood by the main ticket stall entrance. There was maybe a hundred feet between them of open car park. Clearly now he could hear the faint drone of a man shouting from within the stadium. In the background he was sure he could hear something else, a crowd perhaps?
The two Z’s stood by the entrance shuffled from foot to foot but remained in position. Surely they could hear the human voices in the football ground, why didn’t they move towards the sound? The one on the left was fully clothed, but scruffy. Its pale skin matched the morning grey perfectly, ‘he’ looked like an average Joe: Jeans and trainers, black jacket and blue T-shirt; only a bloody leg gave away his status. The other was a tall girl, she had been turned longer than her companion; her black dress was torn and shredded revealing the shrivelled flesh of her legs and arms. She had suffered a blow to the skull at some point and a patch of hair was missing on the side of her head where there appeared to be a dent. This made her look strange and lopsided.
He had left his mask off since the last cigarette on top of the castle. He now replaced it, his face now a brilliant white skull against the black of his armour. He shouldered the sniper rifle. Removing the attachment from the side he fitted the silencer. He adjusted the scope for the distance involved and got ready. He would need to move in quickly.
He stood and strode purposefully towards the entrance; the two Z’s spotted him and shambled towards him, and as they both turned to face him he dropped to one knee and steadied his aim. The girl opened her mouth as if to moan and call others to them, with a ‘Pfft, Pfft’, they both dropped almost simultaneously, a small neat hole in each temple. Paul rose and strode towards the entrance quickly swapping rifle for P90 as he went, his movements practised and fluid. As he reached the entrance he flattened against the corner and peered inside. Nothing except for the sound of a man’s voice, clearer now, but he still couldn’t make it out. Other noises too; a definite sobbing and behind that a something else, he wasn’t sure. The interior was dim with no lighting but not in darkness due to the various tunnel and openings into the stadium beyond.
He moved in gun at the ready, sweeping corners as he went. If the citizens of Edinburgh were in the main stadium he needed a vantage point to survey the scene, ahead there was a wide set of stairs. At the bottom a cracked and broken sign showed four floors, at the top it said ‘Director Box’.
“Perfect.” whispered Paul to himself.
Covering the way forward with his gun, he rose deftly up the stairs to the second floor. Carefully, he poked his head up so that his eye line was level with the next floor. To the left he saw a long corridor curving round the edge of the stadium, every few metres he could see a tunnel leading though to the main stadium and at the entrance to each tunnel stood two or three Z’s. To the right the tunnel curved more dramatically around the short side of the stadium but again, at each tunnel entrance, more Z’s stood watch. None of them faced him and they all stood motionless looking into the stadium ground itself.
Paul moved silently but swiftly on up to the next level. As he poked his head up again, the scene was repeated, at every entrance the Dead stood, guarding every exit. He listened and realised that the murmur he could hear was a prayer: Thousands of voices speaking in hushed tones.
He moved up quickly to the third floor then finally the top level, unseen as he went. To the right were the wide mahogany double doors of the Directors Box, fortunately with no Z’s near it, however the entrance to the main stadium to the left had three Z’s in position. Again they looked fairly ‘fresh’. Although they stared impassively towards the ground Paul didn’t think he could get into the Directors box without them seeing him open the door to slip through. He needed a distraction. There was nothing around to use, no rubble or detritus, so, whilst ducking out of sight, he slipped the pistol out that was tucked in his belt, quietly removed the magazine, and took out a single bullet,. He replaced the magazine and the pistol as quietly as he could, and then tossed the bullet behind the heads of the three Z’s. It sailed threw the air and hit a plastic bench with a loud crack. The Z’s turned as one towards the noise and as they did so he slipped up to the door, opened it a fraction and slipped through silently.
Inside the opulent room the huge glass window to the stadium was shattered, glass littering the floor, the plush chairs had been knocked over and broken and the drinks cabinet raided. A large cracked and dusty LCD TV hung limply from the wall. Paul could clearly hear the singing now as fifty thousand voices, rang out, and tinged with terror, they sang:
“This is the feast of victory for our God, for the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign”
Paul shouldered the AS50 Sniper rifle and crept, on all fours, across the glass to the edge of the box. There was not enough sunlight to worry about reflections from the rifles telescopic sight. He peered over and was stunned.
Below him, the stadium was rammed with people; all the inhabitants of Edinburgh were crammed onto the pitch, most standing, with looks of abject terror on their faces, men huddled with their wives and children, holding them close. Some injured or dead lay on the ground. The smell of fear and rotting flesh rose like a cloud above them. Some of the citizens were sobbing uncontrollably whilst trying to sing and some appeared to be holding their arms aloft, eyes glazed in rapture staring at the figure that was leading the sermon, as if gazing at the face of God Himself. By the state of the grass they were stood on, now just a muddy stain, they had been here for some time, maybe days, without food or water.
Around the stadium stood a ring of impassive statue-like Z’s, maybe a few thousand of all types. They stared at the crowd, their faces a mix of passive death and abject hunger. They blocked every escape route and stood like grey mannequins, or patient shepherds around their flock. It was clear now. The Minister wasn’t just immune to the Z’s; he could control them and control a lot of them simultaneously. Paul couldn’t even begin to imagine how he did this, but it was clear this was what he was seeing below.
He tracked the guns sight to the end of the stadium to a small stage that appeared to have been there since before the fall. The skinny, black dressed figure, sung out, stamping the rhythm of the tune on the wooden stage. He was dressed as a man of God, his greying dog collar and black waistcoat were frayed and muddy; he raised his arms in exultation as the hymn reached a crescendo. The Minister looked starved and gaunt, grey stubble sprouted from his chin and his thinning grey hair was tinged with yellow stains. Spittle exploded from his mouth and dribbled down his chin as he sang, his eyes the most piercing sight in Edinburgh, burning with insanity as he sang.
“This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia. Sing with all the people of God and join in the hymn of all creation”
Paul could see a woman walking up the stairs to the stage, she was young and he could see her singing the hymn, arms raised, with the glazed expression of madness and horror in her eyes. She walked slowly up the stage and towards the Minister who regarded her with a gaze full of compassion. He smiled gently at her and placed his yellowed hand lightly upon her head. In the crowd where she had come from he saw a long haired boy shouting and struggling against the restraint of others who were holding him back. Faintly he could hear him scream and rage for the girl to come back, what appeared to be friends and family held him from running up the stage to try and retrieve her.
“Julie. NO!” The boy yelled over and over but she knelt solemnly in front of the Minister. The old man nodded to one of the Zombies on the stage and it stepped forward towards her as the Minister smiled at her reassuringly. She rose and the Zombie embraced her gently. The boys struggling intensified and for a moment Paul thought he might break free, but then the Zombie bit hard into Julies neck and pulled back pulling flesh and ligaments from her, and as blood flowed onto the stage in rivers she fell to the floor. The Zombie stepped back, yet the Minister sang on, as did the crowd, more shakily with individuals in the crowd falling to their knees and weeping. The boy fell to the floor out of grief and out of sight of Paul, and the macabre scene carried on as before. Paul wondered how many times the scene had been acted out since they had been brought here, and how many times the scene would be acted out again until the only living thing left in the stadium was the Minister himself.
Paul settled against the rifle, and slowed his breathing as he did so. Compensating for the distance the cross hair levelled at The Ministers’ forehead. He paused. Doubt crept into his mind. If he shot now, the Z’s, now free of The Ministers’ control would fall upon the crowd, ripping them to shreds. He would have to think of another strategy.
He heard a crack of broken glass behind him and quickly looked round, above him stood a huge Z, dressed in a stadium security jacket. The sound of the singing had masked the sound of it entering the room and now Paul lay prone beneath it. He swung his legs and caught the back of the zombies’ knee. It fell heavily but recovered quickly and they both rose together. The Z lashed out before Paul could react and knocked the sniper rifle out of his hand; it fell out of the window and clattered to the stands below. Stubby hands clawed at Paul’s armour but could find no purchase on the slippery plastic. Paul hitched his leg under the side of the Z and pushed hard. The Z fell over his leg, and scrabbled for the ledge as it also fell out of the window. He stood there now, his white skull mask contrasted against the darkness of the room around him, he realised that every being in the stadium was staring up at him. The humans had hope on their faces, but he was glad they couldn’t see his own, now devoid of hope as he gazed at The Minister.
The Minister addressed the Z’s now.
“Fall on them my brothers. Turn them all!” He raged.
The noise was deafening as fifty thousand people screamed in terror. Paul watched as the Minister jumped from the small stage and disappeared up the stands and down a tunnel into the rear of the stadium. He didn’t want to watch the rest, but knew he had one chance to end this. He took the P90 in his left hand and unsheathed the sword in his right, it sang as it cleared the scabbard. He would have to fight his way round the stadium and intercept The Minister before he could get away.
He kicked open the door of the Directors Box to see five Z’s moving towards him. They weren’t quite close enough yet for melee. Raising the P90 he shot two through the head, in single shot mode, and kicked a third in the chest as he ran at them, knocking it to the ground. Spinning, he raised the sword and extended his arm and as he completed the circle, two heads crumpled to the floor and the bodies sagged in front of him. He drove the sword vertically down into the eye socket of the remaining stricken Z and it twitched as the nerves were severed.
Running now, he passed one of the entrances to the stadium. He glanced in to see crowded faces of fear being pushed by the throng behind. The people at the front up against the Z were pushing back while the dead were picking victims like cherries from a tree. The Z’s themselves shone wet red, totally covered in blood and dripping with gore, their milky white eyes and flashing, broken teeth, piercing the façade. Paul saw the floor bathed in blood and organs, arms and heads, but passed too quickly to define movement from the scene and yet he already knew that brief vista would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Still running, he followed the curve of the tunnel. Small groups of two or three impeded his progress but the curve was not sharp enough so that they could get the jump on him. He barely paused, but quickly knelt and dropped the two groups with his P90 as they approached and moved on.
He passed another entrance to the stadium and saw a vision of Hell, straight from a Bosch painting. Their were no survivors at this entrance just an abattoir of body parts, blood covering all four walls, and Z’s feasting like starving sharks, as he continued on the sound ripping of muscle and flesh made him briefly want to puke. He pressed on, as the screams and sounds of the butchery echoed around him like knives.
As he reached the next stairwell, he saw Z’s pouring out through the tunnel ahead. Heart pumping he moved down a level and carried on round. He was closer now towards the carnage in the stadium, the roar of screams echoed towards him. If the Minister had stayed near the tunnel entrance then Paul would have to drop down another level and he should see him. He couldn’t afford to lose him now, as Paul would have had enough difficulty against a thousand Z’s, if all the dead in the stadium came after him it would be game over. He had to end this now; it might give the remaining people a chance, however slim.
As he passed another entrance he tried not to glance but couldn’t resist and his vision flicked to the ground beyond. In a flash he saw groups huddled together in raw panic, waiting to be picked off as Z’s ate lustily of their loved ones. The Minister had unleashed his wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they were hungry. Paul ran faster, each entrance he passed shown him a vignette of horror as he glanced down it, each a fresco of gore on his minds eye, each scene indelibly scorched on the paper of his memory like bright sunlight through a lens of terror, blood and screams.
He could see the last stairwell ahead but a group of about ten Z’s were moving toward him. Behind the stairwell he could see even more moving to block his access down the stairs. Paul flicked the gun onto auto as he ran and with one arm, raised the gun to head height. He barely slowed as he fired and swept the gun across the tunnel, the roar of the gun muffled by the sounds in the stadium. He dropped a few, too many to count at this speed, including a couple in the group behind. Z kata kicked in and he simultaneously dropped two with a roundhouse kick and decapitated two others with the sword, one grabbed at him from behind, its teeth gouging lines in his shoulder pad. Paul dropped to one knee, grabbed its ankle and pulled it over backwards. He was just going to finish it and deal with the last ones when he noticed the rear group was nearly at the stairs. No time. Paul sprinted, barging the lead one over who grabbed feebly at him, and jumped down the stairs three at a time as two dived at him and toppled down the stairs.
He reached the bottom and scanned the tunnel ahead, there were no Z’s but he could see a skinny black suited figure ahead at the furthest point you could see before the tunnel curved out of sight, he could hear the zombies descending the stairs behind him, and the sounds of slaughter in the stadium beyond. He stopped, raised his weapon, and burst fired at the figure. He thought he saw a shot connect, a small plume of blood explode from him but the figure darted left into a tunnel away from the centre of the stadium.
Paul raced down the tunnel and skidded, then he bolted left where the Minister had gone. The double doors ahead swung gently and he ran down and pushed through, fully aware of the mass of zombies behind him. Ahead there was another short corridor that lead to another door marked ‘Kitchen – Authorised personnel only’. To his left was a steel hostess trolley full of plates and dishes, after all this time the rotten food was odourless and reduced to black stains against the white crockery. He yanked it over and wedged it against the door handle hoping it would hold, and that there were no other exits for The Minister to escape through.
He moved down the corridor and slowly pushed open the door. Inside was a large industrial kitchen, dusty stainless steel appliances, with pots hanging above and the remains of unwashed plates in the sink. Paul moved in and instantly heard a shuffle to the left, in another doorway stood the skinny black frame of the minister, only it wasn’t. This was a Z in black suit and dog collar; its hair was black but had been crudely spray painted white. Paul paused and realised too late it was a trap; realised too late it was a simple human deception; realised too late that he hadn’t heeded Bramers’ words and the heavy steel frying pan was brought down with a clang on his skull.
He keeled forward spinning round as he fell, his mask slipped from his face and landed on a nearby work surface. In an effort to catch his fall he dropped the P90, which skittered under an oven and the sword clattered to the floor. Paul landed on his back, his vision swam, and he tried to scramble backwards as he faded in and out of blackness. He banged his head on the steel unit behind him, and scrabbled to lean against it. His vision cleared slightly but all he could see were myriad figures in front of him, spinning round and round. In a moment of clarity he realised he was sitting on his pistol, which had come loose, but just as he realised this, one of the figures in front of him bent down and reached what looked like an immense grey finger towards him. As it entered his body he realised it was his own sword, used against him.
Paul screamed and adrenalin surged though his body, he reached under and grabbed the loose pistol he was sitting on, raised it and fired eight shots at the figures in front of him. His training ensured, even in this weakened state, that he always left a bullet for himself. A wave of darkness enveloped him and the pistol clattered to the floor as he lost consciousness.
He awoke unsure of what had happened, the sword sticking out of his gut reminded him, and he guessed by the flow of blood, and the pool around him, that he hadn’t been out for long.
“You’re nae deid then son” rattled the prone figure in front of him.
Paul looked up; sat against the stainless steel unit opposite him was The Minister. Four bullet holes punctured his muddy black coat, and blood was running out of the wounds and pooling on the floor around him. Near the door he could see the fake minister lying dead on the ground, a gaping exit wound in the back of his head, the blood coated the pattern of the floor. Paul tried to move but he was weak, the wound in his belly stung as he shifted. He realised that the trap he had fallen for had been set by The Minister in such a way that the Z’s had lead him down the stairs to this place, hell; he may have even known Paul was there when he dropped the first two Z’s at the entrance.
“No I thought I would lie here and wait for the ambulance,” said Paul, with a thin smile.
The Minister broke into a chuckle, which turned into a hacking cough; a small trickle of blood ran out of the corner of his mouth.
“The ambulance, heh, Very good soldier boy. Very good” said The Minister finally.
“Well at least we’ll nae die alone eh?”
Paul looked down at the sword again and considered removing it, but he didn’t have the strength. He realised he could still hear screaming in the background, but it seemed to be less frequent, more sporadic.
“Whats yer name son” said the old man.
“Paul” Said Paul. “What’s yours?”
“Ted…Edward. They call me Ted” Said the Minister, raising a hand feebly.
“Nice to meet you Ted.” nodded Paul.
They studied each other for a moment. Then the Minister spoke.
“Its nice tae have someone to speak to. My flock here, are obedient, but are not known for their conversational abilities. Ken whit I mean?”
“So how do you control them then?” Enquired Paul. They were dying. No point in beating around the bush he thought.
“Ahh well, that’s a tale…” Said the Minister
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Paul, blackly.
The Minister shrugged.
“The fall happened frae me the same as everyone else I s’pose. I had a nice wee Parish, some good folk, in a nice wee town. Then the plague came and we barricaded oorselves away frae everyone. Same as most people. But we didnae hae the luck o’ some others I’ve met. We were isolated and far from a city. It made food hard tae come by and we didnae hae a Doctor. Each year more people died of disease and starvation, the bairns were born deid, or their mothers died. The fathers did theyselves in. I prayed but it was a Godless place; people stopped worshipping and I stopped praying. Winters took the weak ones, and the Zombies took the strong.”
The Minister paused and looked down at his wounds.
“So the last of us got on a bus and headed south. First place we came to we found one o’ they big outta town supermarkets and just drove the bus straight in. We piled oot and ravaged the place frae anything we could eat, gorging ourselves like heathens, on beans tinned salmon, that sorta thing, but we were stupid, and all the old staff were in the back. They poured out and ripped us apart. I just curled up and waited frae the bites. Ye ken?”
“I waited and waited until the silence returned and everyone was deid. But I didnae feel nae bites. I just lay there with my eyes closed, thanking my lucky stars at least I would die with a fully belly. Hunger’s funny like that. I dunnae think I even prayed. Then, after a long while I opened ma eyes and guess what?”
“What.” Paul said, impassively.
“They were all stood roond me, just staring. I closed ma eyes again and I’m nae ashamed tae say I wept son, wept like a bairn. Now again I opened ma eyes and they were still stood there, just peering at me with them soulless eyes.” He paused as if deep in thought.
“Eventually I just got up the courage tae run, and run I did son, run I did. Everywhere I went they just followed me until I couldnae run no more and I just walked, I’d become like them Paul, all deid inside, just wandering through the countryside wi my wee troupe o’ disciples. That’s when I had an epiphany son. You ken whit an epiphany is Paul?”
“Like a revelation.” said Paul
“A revelation, exactly!” exclaimed the Minister “In fact I had two. The first was to realise that all the close scrapes I’d had wi’ zombies across the years weren’t scrapes at all. Every time I thought they had gone frae me they had really gone frae someone else. I always thought it was luck, or the provenance o’ The Lord, but it wasnae, they weren’t interested in me. The second revelation was that every time I moved, every time I took a step, they moved at exactly the same moment I did.”
Paul looked confused.
“They were reading my mind Paul. They were doin whit subconsciously I wanted them tae dae. It was like they couldnae dae enough tae please me. Well, I’m no ashamed tae say son; I went a wee bit mad after that. I got them daeing things I shouldnae, things tae each other, things tae me.”
The Minister visibly shuddered.
“Anyway, as I wlked the land I pondered the reason for this frae a long time, and I decided that this apocalypse, these creatures weren’t man made at all. It was the Rapture, Paul. The End of Days and I had been chosen as Gods servant to stop the suffering o’ mankind and lead them oot o’ purgatory an intae the Kingdom o’ Heaven. Praise the Lord! I was tae use this power to lead the creatures to cleanse the Earth ready for the coming of the saviour!” exclaimed the Minister.
“You could have used the power to draw the Z’s out so we could kill them, Ted. You would have been a hero” interjected Paul, into the Ministers increasingly fervent rant.
The Minister stared at him and blinked. He smiled.
“You know, that never even occurred to me. You’re a clever lad Paul, but no. It wouldnae hae been right, it wasnae whit God wanted.” The Minister broke into a hacking cough, blood flowed freely from his mouth and he carried on coughing for several minutes, spraying blood over the kitchen floor. In the meantime Paul was feeling weak and fuzzy round the edges. The pool of blood was larger, mingling with that of the Minister, all around him now. His legs tingled even though felt less pain, and the background roar in the stadium seemed to have stopped.
The Minister recovered a little and spoke once again.
“So I took my little troupe and roamed the countryside, converting righteous souls where I could until I came here. But Paul, I want you tae know this. I didnae want to take them by force, I wanted them tae believe. That’s why I brought them here, so I could tell them. So I could convince them. So they could feel the power of the Lord and believe. Do you see? Do you understand?” The Minister asked, almost meekly.
“You’re insane, that all I see, mate.” said Paul defiantly.
“And you’re a prick” said The Minister, smiling. Paul smiled then, two dying men having a gallows joke.
“Anyway.” said The Minister “Do you think we’ll survive? As a species I mean. I havnae heard the news recently so I dunnae ken.”
“The Americans are doing well I hear, pretty much cleared the whole country was the last I read.” said Paul.
“Really?” The Minister sounded surprised. “I always thought it was a Godless place, I always thought they would be first tae go…..Ah well. I’m tired now Paul. I’m gonna hae mysel a wee sleep.”
They sat in silence for a while until The Ministers head sagged down onto his chest. Paul noticed the blood was slowing from his wounds. The Minister was dying. Paul himself felt exhausted, there was no pain, and he just felt dog-tired. He looked across at the grey haired old man and saw his chest fall for the last time. The Minister was dead. Mission accomplished, thought Paul. At least there was that. He was just another victim in the end, and Paul’s Z count? He thought maybe he had done enough.
Paul waited. He’d expected to hear the dead thumping against his makeshift barricade but there was only silence in the kitchen and silence in the stadium beyond. He might just have a little nap himself. His eyelids were heavy, so he though he would close them, just for a minute.
“Hur, hur ,hur.”
Paul snapped to full consciousness, across from him The Minster, was shaking gently as he laughed. Paul saw the flow of blood from his wounds had turned into a trickle of black ichor. His skin was white with black veins traced underneath. His hair now deathly white, no traces of yellow remained and his dirty, gaunt hands were now skeletal in appearance.
“Hur, hur, hur.” laughed the Minister and when he spoke his voice was lower; hollower.
“So it seems Soldier boy that God won’t even set me free from this place” croaked The Minister, as he slowly raised his head.
“It seems that God, still has a role fer me even now”
Paul reeled in shock at what he saw. The disease didn’t work like this, he thought. It took hours to turn people, this wasn’t right; this wasn’t the way it worked. The Minister stared at him and Paul knew he was dead. The Ministers eyes were obsidian black and Paul saw his prone refection in them, the sword sticking out of his gut. The Minister shifted slowly onto all fours as he spoke.
“I’m gonna do the Lords work my boy, I’m gonna take this world to Rapture, I’m gonna save this world by ripping it to shreds wi’ my bare hands, and you’ve just old me where tae start. I’ll take this island, then the good ole’ US of A.” The Minster was crawling towards Paul. Black ichor exploded from his mouth and dribbled down his chin as he spat the words, his knees and hands leaving trails through the pools of blood as he shuffled closer.
“And do ye ken what?” The Minister was in his face now. Paul could smell the death on his breath, and the stale stink of his dirty clothes.
“I’m gonna need men Paul. Good men like you tae be ma generals, ma disciples, and you are gonna be my first, ma right hand man, because I like you boy.”
“No Ted. Don’t do this please, please just let me die” Said Paul, his voice shaking with terror, his eyes wide as he gawped at the demon in front of him. He remembered using the pistol bullet as a decoy earlier and starkly realised there wasn’t one left for him even if he’d had the strength to lift the pistol once again.
“But I have to Paul, because this is what the Lord wants, this is whit I want, and do you know why else?”
Paul shook his head, trying to turn away, but was transfixed in horror.
“Because I. AM. THE ZOMBIE MESSIAAAAAH!” The Minister screamed, the last word turning to a gurgle as he bit down on Pauls neck. He felt the warmth of the blood running down his chest and felt the rip of skin, tendons, and sinews. The last thing he heard was the triumphant roar of the new zombie army in the Stadium beyond and the last thing Paul realised – before the blackness enveloped him – was that The Minister, The Zombie Messiah, was now unstoppable.
Pete Bevan currently lives in Worcester, UK with his beautiful wife and baby daughter, writing occasional works of fiction and comedy for friends and relatives. Pete was shown ‘Dawn of the Dead’ at 7, an experience that has lived with him ever since and means that trips to shopping malls and church fetes in graveyards make him excessively twitchy, and prone to eyeing scruffy people with suspicion. Zombiphile doesn’t go far enough in the opinion of friends and work colleagues.
Guide to Reading Scottish:
Frae = From or for
Fer = for
Ken = Know (Do you ken/know?)
ma = my
Hae = Have
Roond = Round
Assume that n’t words are replaced with nae, hence,
Couldn’t = Couldnae
Wouldn’t = Wouldnae
Can’t = Canae
Also some letters may be missed off the end of words.
Mysel = Myself
In addition a ‘close’, as mentioned in the text, in Edinburgh is like a very small covered alleyway. Edinburgh is riddled with them due to the way the city developed around the castle.
Thanks the ‘The Broons’ and ‘Oor Wullie’ from the Post, and Irvine Welsh’ ‘Trainspotting’ for this method of bastardising English to create Scots as used in the final sections.
Big thanks to my wife unwavering support when I don’t do the things I’m supposed to be doing because I’m upstairs writing. Big thanks also to Phil Walsh for proof reading skills and encouragement.