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    All The Dead Are Here - Pete Bevan's zombie tales collection


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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    ICEWOMAN AND THE SISTERS OF LAZARUS By Craig Young
    May 14, 2013  Short stories   Tags:   

    On the third day, Sister Evangelina was shot through the head. She was the third Sister of Lazarus to be struck down, following Sister Zoe and Sister Susannah. On a distant hill, watching her quarry through her binoculars, Mary Travis regarded her handiwork and smiled grimly.

     

    Mother Martha Ignatius stared levelly at the figure below her. The gore, blood and grey matter masked the loss of a good woman. Since embarking on this holy duty, she was their latest casualty. Now they were down to three. Correction, make that two. She was increasingly doubtful about Sister Rachel’s loyalty to their  sacred cause. Still, despite her naivete and youth, Rachel did have her uses, and there was no denying that she had excellent pastoral skills when it came to dealing with their intellectually disabled charges.

     

    Thank goodness for her right hand woman, Sister Naomi, who did what had to be done, Mother Martha thought to herself. Leaving Sister Rachel to tend to their charges, Sister Naomi grimaced with the weight of Sister Evangelina’s dead body, then reached for the shovel, while Mother Martha wrapped the dead holy sister’s body in one of the tarpaulins from their picnicking.

     

    Fortunately for the surviving Sisters of Lazarus, the teenagers were now securely all back in the bus, masked from view by the desolate skeletal trees.  And the teenagers had  been fed the…special…lemonade to deter any awkward inquiries or behavioural problems from them. Fortunately, having made good progress, they’d be in Onehunga tomorrow, Mother Martha reflected. She wondered why there hadn’t been any air surveillance or helicopter interception of their journey. Still, at least that meant their information about the current condition of the armed forces was accurate.

    Unseen by Sister Rachel, who was tucking in the other teenagers in the bus and kissing them goodnight after their meal, fifteen year-old Tilda Matthews dumped the lemonade that she’d been given to drink and replaced it with water from the cooler inside their bus, next to her. Tilda knew something strange was happening, but she couldn’t work out what. For one thing, Miss Davies back at Special School in Wellington had told the Newtown Downs Syndrome Orphanage teenagers and children that the town that they’d just passed, Hamilton, was one of the Lost Territories, not that far from the City of Auckland that had been taken over by the zombies. Even if it had been years and years ago, they shouldn’t be here. People weren’t supposed to go there unless there was army protection.

     

    And another thing. Why did all these nuns wear red habits? And their bibles were bigger than usual.  Still, she kept quiet and then caught sight of Mother Martha Ignatius and Sister Zoe returning to the bus. Where was Sister Evangelina? She was the third one to go missing during this trip. And she knew the difference between what gunshot and thunder sounded like. That had definitely been gunshot that time, and all those times before that. She wondered how she could avoid drinking the ‘special’ lemonade and not give away what she was doing to the nuns.

    Several miles away, Mary Travis, their pursuer and adversary, put down her binoculars and cursed her bad luck. Those bitches had made sure that their bus was positioned between her and her quarry and she wasn’t going to risk hitting any of the kids. She’d managed to shoot one of them in the head, another in the heart and another through her lungs, but there wasn’t going to be another easy chance like that. Unfortunately, there was a wide river gulf between her and the road and it was in flood. She’d have to spend valuable time finding a relatively intact bridge, which wasn’t easy in the Wildlands. And given their proximity to Hamilton, deserted and crawling with corpseheads, she’d have to be careful to avoid further zed nuisance at the same time.

     

    Damn HQ anyway. They’d fucked up on a simple matter of surveillance and the Sisters of Lazarus had taken advantage of the SNAFU to pull a prompt evacuation from their Newtown orphanage. They had half a day on her. She’d gone ballistic and threatened and harangued command when her supervisor told her. Technically, that was insubordination, but Mary had her reasons for her fury and command respected those.  She kept an eye out for any further stenches, but so far, the corpseheads were keeping out of her way.

     

    As she loaded her rifle with more ammunition, Mary felt a strong breeze at her side and caught sight of her treasured, faded and much-creased photograph of happier times flying away. She caught it in her hand, shoving it back in her pocket. For a moment, her intent was replaced with more tenderness than one would suspect from a hardened sniper and tracker like DRAPE’s “Icewoman.” But there was a reason that her protective ice had formed.  Ahead of Hamilton, the highway opened and according to satnav, most of it was still intact.  She texted the following DRAPE surveillance team and then caught sight of a vial in the grass. She bent over and unscrewed it. It said a simple word-  Onehunga. Auckland. Those bitches were heading up to the outskirts of Auckland.

     

     

    Several hours later, Sister Rachel sat and read from her Revised Inclusive Version Bible, which incorporated the new Gospel of Lazarus. As ever, she prayed for understanding and an end to her nagging doubts. Was she wrong to feel like this? Were they right to pursue this holy task, this sacred obligation? And was she as sure about it as she was when she had taken holy orders? She wished she was as sure about herself as Mother Martha and Sister Naomi seemed. But she must be. She watched their charges in the van, wondering about dear Tilda. She was bright, that one, and had quickly established herself as Sister Rachel’s personnel favourite when the Sisters had won the contract for orphanage care.

    She wondered if their pursuer was open to reason, or whether she or he was simply a psychopath, stray and loose in the Wildlands. No. She had to trust in the Lord and hope that she was doing the right thing. She had no way of knowing that she was being watched, as an almost imperceptible laser sight appeared just above her heart.

    Through a telescopic lens, the other saw her writing and read what was in the letter that she jammed in a vial. She levelled her rifle and silently, it did its deadly work.

     

    Sister Rachel collapsed, blood pumping through the hole in her heart. In death, her face was one of surprise and shock, but not as much as she expected. She had been right after all.

     

    Thirty seconds later, Mother Martha and Sister Naomi came crashing through the undergrowth at the sound. Mother Martha carefully scanned the van to see if any of their Down’s Syndrome teenage charges were likely to have heard it. Fortunately, not. They were all sleeping soundly. Just as well, because they were running out of tarpaulins. Still, they would be at their destination by nightfall.

    The lowering sky cracked like thunder, but several klicks back, Mary was bewildered. It had sounded like a gunshot. But her own rifle was soundly holstered on her back. She uncorked her flask of rare, precious whiskey and took a swig, then powered up her motorcycle. One solution presented itself to her about the gunshot and it wasn’t a particularly attractive one. It meant her ally was gone, which would make her task all that much harder. As they drew near the Auckland suburbs, she dispatched several overcurious zeds with her rifle, amidst the ruined charnel housing, the broken streets and the skeletons and desolate, howling wind. This was hell, no doubt about it.

     

    But she would be damned herself if she let the Sisters plans come to fruition.

    At evening, from the deserted and desolate outlying suburbs, Auckland’s ruins loomed like another time’s fantasy of what the fabled apocalypse would be like. Beneath the broken buildings, skeletal rusting steel and broken mirror glass howled a wind of desolation, across which a pack of zombies shambled, now eerily thin and almost “bewildered” at why there was no quarry for them to fall upon and consume. They were now far fewer in number than they had been, but all this was lost on them, for they lived only on instinct and ravenous hunger and the information gleaned by their sharpened but primal senses.

     

    On the far shore, one of the zombies caught sight of something that might imply food. It grunted and indicated the distant flash of a car across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The surrounding pack of animated grisly cadavers turned in its course and began to lurch and stagger across the rusting, groaning structure, which swayed as they inexorably moved toward the distant source of light and noise.

    The pursuer had had a rare stroke of luck in her mission. She gunned her motorcycle and grinned beneath her black helmet, and her trusty steed leapt the narrow gap between the two halves of collapsed highway above the debris and shattered remnants of suburban housing. As she neared her target, she accelerated and gripped her rifle in her hand. There were more zombies now, which was ominous. This sort of concentration meant that the early intel had been right about these bitches. She’d soon put a stop to this.

    Several kilometres away, the Sisters of Lazarus had finally arrived at their chosen site for the Holy Meal. Mother Martha Ignatius reflected that they had been indeed fortunate in their choice, selected from a hacked satnav scan of the area. Although this church was derelict and deserted, enough of its infrastructure remained intact. There was an almost intact and serviceable lectern and pews, even if the chancel entry and foyer were torn and ruined. As Sister Naomi fed their adolescent charges one last sip of lemonade, Mother Martha spread her bible and began to read from the ‘newly discovered’ Gospel of Lazarus. This was their raison d’etre and the reason for the Holy Meal that would soon ensue.

     

    She cleared her throat and momentarily reflected on how sick and fallen society had become, to actually ban this holy scripture, this word of the Almighty, this good news of solidarity with what non-believers called the detested and despised:

    “And as the Apostle John had also told, Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. And when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he was determined that Lazarus should not perish from this illness that afflicted him. But his cares and duties were many, and this kept him from the sick one.

    And despite this intention, Lazarus sickened further and passed from the first life and lay in his tomb. And he said to his disciples: “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I will raise him up.”

    The disciples were bewildered at this, saying: “Lord, if he sleeps, will he not get better? Will you then heal him, as you have done so many others?”

    So then he told them more bluntly: “Lazarus is gone from this first life and yet I will accomplish a miracle here. So be silent and watch.”
    On his arrival, Lazarus had been dormant in his tomb for four days since.

    When Martha heard he had come, she came to meet him. They embraced and she said: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But if this is God’s will, then so be it.”
    Jesus said to her: “Lo, Martha, your brother will rise again.”

    Faithful Martha said: “I know this Lord, for you are talking of the resurrection of all flesh at the end of time. Mary and I will see him again at the latter day.”

    “Your faith is great, Martha, but I do not talk of this alone. Where have you laid your sleeping brother?” And Martha went with Jesus and the Disciples and showed him her brother’s tomb.
    “Roll away the stone,” Jesus said,”and do not be surprised at what you will now see. Then, in a loud voice, he cried “Lazarus, come forth!”

    And in the tomb, Lazarus arose from his pallet and stumbled out into the morning light, but the odour was offensive to some of the others assembled at the funeral party and they gasped at his demeanour, for some of his flesh had rotted and his skin had fallen from his bones and muscles.

    And Lazarus cried aloud. And Mary sister of Martha said: “Lord, what means this? Our brother does walk but his reason is gone and he is disfigured. Yet I see he is our brother still and I will not disown him. What do you wish of us, Martha and I?”

    And Jesus then said: “Lo, Lazarus is a person as you are. He may be different, as birds are from animals and no longer of the same flesh as you are. And lo, many wicked men and women will say this is not the case, call him an abomination and persecute him. But as you are his sisters, this holy task I charge you. Preserve him, and if I raise others like this, them also.”

    And-
    Mother Martha got no further. In a blinding instant, the hanging and fragile  church doors disintegrated altogether as a black motorcyle and its leather-clad rider rode into the church, and screeched to a halt. The rider levelled her rifle at Mother Martha Ignatius and Sister Naomi in cold fury, and barked:
    “Enough of this sick bullshit.”

    “Have you no sense of decency? This is a house of God and we are engaged in a sacred service of faith. Leave us at once.” Mother Martha said, imperceptibly signalling to Sister Naomi, who gave a hidden finger sign that she understood.

    “Yeah, right,” said the newcomer. From her place in the pews, Tilda was surprised that it was a lady. She looked like she’d been suffering, but she was a lot like her mummy had been- blonde, with grey highlights in her hair and faint lines that indicated the onset of middle age, with blue eyes.

     

    Unseen, the Sisters of Lazarus distracted and their attention focused on the intruder, Tilda tipped out the plastic cup of lemonade that Sister Naomi had handed to her, crept behind  the pews and listened as the drama unfolded.

    “Persecutor! Murderer!” Sister Naomi snarled from the left hand of the lectern.

    “Oh, that’s rich, lady. And please, don’t you dare call what you’re doing here anything even remotely godly. Since when do normal, decent, ordinary people of faith drug innocent teenagers with Down’s Syndrome and bring them out into the wilderness as human sacrifice for those corpsehead fuckers outside? Because you bitches are cultists. You’re not nuns, even in those fake red habits of yours. You believe they should be able to feed on those kids-” Mary snarled, tightening her finger on the trigger, itching to fire on the two predators before her if they dared resist her.

    In her passion and determination, Mary had left her eyes off Sister Naomi for an almost fatal instant. The burly ersatz nun raised a pistol and fired at the soldier, but was herself felled as Mary fell to her knees, blood pumping from the wound in her shoulder, dropping her rifle as her hand spasmed. Sister Naomi was slammed across the hall and through a stained glass window, her face in a rictus of death and ungodly rage.

    As they crossed the street several kilometres or so away, still shambling through the ruins of Central Auckland and its vanished gaudy shopfronts and derelict luxury stores for the rich and vacuous, one of the zombies growled as it saw the drama in the deserted, ruined church. It turned and then staggered in an alternate direction and soon, its pack companions followed in its course. The distant but spreading faint fragrance of blood and meat was savour to their undead nostrils.

    In the church, a cold and snarling Mother Martha Ignatius stood with her own pistol, staring down hatefully at the intruder. Her immaculate facade made her words all the more chilling. As she loaded the bullets into her gun, she hissed:
    “You will soon perish, unbeliever. This is a Holy Feast, a sacred task and great responsibility and I will not tolerate your sacreligious interference in it a moment longer. I will not spare you and allow you the dignity of participation in this great benediction for the Brothers and Sisters of Lazarus outside.”

    Glaring up at her nemesis, despite the searing pain in her shoulder, Mary snapped:

     

    “Bullshit euphemism for murder, much, lady? Hell, are you really that much of a psychopath? Where do you get off, doing this? You were entrusted with the responsibility of looking after those vulnerable kiddies and you’re betraying them, whatever scumball, twisted, self-justifying, self-righteous-sanctity-of-the-undead Person Zero cultist human sacrifice rhetoric you’re spouting.”

    “Enough. Die-”

     

    But when a moment later, a gunshot echoed through the church, it wasn’t the newcomer whose life was lost. In startled surprise, Mother Martha looked down at the wound, pumping blood, gore and shattered bone from her own stilled, blackened heart. From the pews, a teenage girl with red hair and the features of Down’s Syndrome stood, and held the still smoking pistol of her own, snatched up from the ground where it had been flung in Sister Naomi’s death throes.

    Hesitantly, Tilda stepped closer to the newcomer, who smiled at her, despite the pain:
    “Thank you, honey. You’re a smart girl to be able to know how to do that. You saved my life. Where’d you learn to shoot that well?”

    “My mummy. Before the zombies ate her one night when she was out getting food for us. You’re hurt. I know how to use bandages and they had some. I’ll go and get them. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to get the bullet out. I’m Tilda.” Tilda liked this lady. She had come out here to save them and had not given up. She was so like her Mummy. And she was crying. But why? She had been so brave.

    “I’m Mary. Do you know, Tilda, before the war and those corpsehead bastards came, I had a special little girl of my own. I lost her. But she was so much like you. Smart and brave and caring. Except she didn’t have your lovely red hair.”

    And then, exhausted by the ordeal of the last few days and her own haunted past, Mary Travis, hardwoman, elite sniper, zombie assassin, hammer of the unjust and oppressive in this charnel house world, hero and saviour, wept. Tilda noticed a photograph in her pocket, flecked by her rescuer’s blood. She reached down and wiped some of it off.  The photograph showed what seemed to be a much younger Mary, in the good times before the Zombie War, hugging a little girl on a swing. She was laughing and happy and at peace with the world.

     

    Lucy Travis had had Downs Syndrome too. When Mary had had her, her husband couldn’t take the effort and responsibility and care that their daughter needed. But Mary didn’t care. She was more than enough for her daughter and she bore the sacrifices, arduous responsibilities and cares gladly, for she loved her daughter more than life itself. Which made what happened all the more devastating when it did.

     

    Lucy Travis had been five years old when her mother screeched her car to a halt in front of the Special School in Auckland’s Mangere. Around Mary, the chaos and fury of a disintegrating city escalated. By a cruel twist of fate that day, her little girl had sneaked her cell phone out of the house and was playing in the back, unwary of what was happening around her. Mary ran toward her daughter, screaming, as the zombie blocked her way. One of its companions tore out the oblivious child’s throat. At least she died instantly, but her tormented mother screamed the cry of the bereft and utterly desolate at what no parent should ever have to witness. Mary grabbed a loose pole and started to batter at the animated cadaver, and its brain, blood, gore and bone shattered under her onslaught. She grabbed a gun and started blazing away at the intruders in the schoolyard.

     

    When the detachment of soldiers found her, she was still clutching Lucy’s lifeless body, sobbing in bitter grief and self-recrimination. After that, she had emotionally shut down, the only person in the world that she had cared for ripped from her grasp when she should have protected her, should have saved her.

     

    Tilda held her and smoothed her hair and then spotted the DRAPE pursuit team as it finally arrived outside. She yelled: “In here. Mary’s hurt. Bad. Please, please help her.”

     

    Later, the zeds finally arrived in the outlying suburb, but it was too late for them, for once. As the sounds of a firefight erupted outside, tearing fragments of dead skin, bone chips, ichor and gore away from the foolhardy oncoming zombies, Lieutenant Whetu Simmons, RNZAF nurse, looked through the debris of the shattered church door. Around her was the predictable scene of carnage and mayhem that she’d come to associate with her best mate and drinking partner, Mary Travis. Fortunately, the Downs Syndrome teenager- Tilda- had done her work well and managed to stop Mary bleeding out until she could get there and stabilise matters. That was no surprise- Whetu was always picking the younger woman out of one skirmish or another. But this was something altogether new. Her old mate was gently rocking backward and forward,  holding a young, redhaired girl with Down’s Syndrome in her arms.

     

    And there was a first time for everything. Mary- “Icewoman”, stone cold huntress, deadly assassin, woman of steel and flint- was crying.

    It came as no surprise half an hour later, as they were preparing to leave, and Tilda was laughing, happy and  playing hackysack with a group of soldiers, as the others were loaded into the car. Mary cleared her throat:

    “I want to adopt Tilda, Whe. Can you help arrange the paperwork?”
    “Are you sure about this, love? She’s not Lucy.”

    Tenderly, with a gentleness and warmth that Mary had never displayed in the whole time they’d been in the services together, she looked at the happy, laughing teenage girl:
    “I’ve never been more certain about anything else in my entire life, Whe. Except shooting corpseheads, course. Well?”

    “We’ll be sorry to lose you. But I was wondering when Icewoman would melt. Go on. Tell her the good news.”

    On crutches, Mary hobbled toward Tilda to tell her the good news. There was a scream of happiness from the redheaded teenager and she hugged Mary.

    Once again, for the second time that day, tears fell from Mary Travis’ eyes.

     

    And later, as they prepared to leave, she silently gripped her little gold crucifix and said a grateful prayer of thanks to the battered and smoke-blackened but otherwise intact statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

    12 Comments

    1. Shit, I hate it when I start to cry at work.

      Comment by zombob on May 14, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    2. zombob. I second that!

      Comment by Andy on May 14, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

    3. Nothing is more like God to a child than mum.

      Comment by Lightheart on May 14, 2013 @ 3:23 pm

    4. Absolutely loved this Craig, your descriptions of post apocalyptic Auckland are so accurate I can see the neighborhoods you write about.

      Comment by Craig on May 15, 2013 @ 1:53 am

    5. good one

      Comment by Gunldesnapper on May 15, 2013 @ 6:37 am

    6. The writing on this site has always been good but it has gotten even better lately. Several outstanding stories have been posted in the last month or two and this one ranks among the best on the website. Thank you for a well written and heartfelt tale.

      Comment by abe on May 15, 2013 @ 10:17 am

    7. Aw shucks 🙂 Pete B should take some of the credit. He got me to hone the story and is an excellent editor

      Comment by Craig Y on May 15, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    8. Craig, if I don’t get harder with you then we could end up with every story on here being by Craig Young. I think for every submission we get from someone else we get one from you. (Massive hint to other writers there)

      Comment by Pete Bevan on May 16, 2013 @ 3:40 am

    9. Is the hint to find and sabotage Craig Young? He sets the bar pretty high….
      Good work AGAIN Craig.

      Comment by Justin Dunne on May 16, 2013 @ 5:12 am

    10. Great read, and a happy ending, don’t see too many of those in this genre.

      Comment by Doc on May 17, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

    11. I second that, Doc. Glad to see the good guys win. Excellent writing. I was drawn in very quickly by all of the characters.

      Comment by JamesAbel on May 23, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    12. Really well done – what can I say that the others haven’t? Not much!

      Comment by JohnT on August 1, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

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