Authors: Ben Brown
After all had eaten, talk turned to the creatures outside, and to Jonathan’s plans of how to rid themselves of them.
Jon pushed his plate away and relit his pipe. After two deep puffs, he turned his attention to old man Marsh.
“Tell me,” Jon asked as he absentmindedly examined his pipe. “Is there a way of stopping the wheel?”
Alfred placed his elbows on the table and leaned towards his guest. “Well yes, but what good would that do?”
“I’ll come to that, but first I need to know how much lamp oil you have.”
Puzzled, Alfred just looked at him. Finally, he said, “I don’t rightly know, but at least a barrel.”
“Good—good. I have an idea of how to deal with those abominations outside, but it’ll be ugly. By morning, their numbers will have swelled even further, so we can’t just shoot them. If I simply start picking them off from above, then a great pile of bodies would mount below. If I could confirm all were dead, then this wouldn’t be an issue.
“The trouble is things are never that simple. What if I don’t end all of them with a shot to the head. What if I merely injure one just enough to fell it. What if I injure not one, but many. We’d have ourselves a pile of bodies, some of which may still be dangerous. We might start clearing the corpses only to find a gnashing ghoul buried beneath a mound of bodies. No, we must thin the herd before the real killing starts, and this is where we come to the crux of my idea.”
Alfred, Callum, and Sally huddled closer. Even Hector seemed to be paying complete attention to every word his master uttered. For more than an hour, Jonathan outlined his idea. Here and there, one or other of them would ask a question. Mostly, they simply listened. When Jonathan finished recounting his plan, his three avid listeners seemed a little dazed.
Alfred took several long pulls on his pipe, and then let out a long slow exhalation of smoke. He squinted one eye against the veil of bluish vapor now floating between them.
“It might work.” The old man said as he tapped the mouthpiece of his pipe against his chin. “If it does, well, I might just slap you on the back and call you our savior.”
Jonathan smiled wryly. “Let’s not be getting carried away. I’m not proposing to turn water into wine; rather I am aiming to turn the undead into the dead.”
“Is that what you think they are … the undead?” Sally asked tremulously.
Jonathan turned his gaze to the girl sat beside his son. She looked pale, and more than a little afraid. He saw Callum looking at her with concern, and his heart lifted as he watched his son take the girl’s hand. Sally’s face flushed at the boy’s touch, but she did not pull away.
“Yes, Sally,” Jonathan said as he looked back towards Alfred. “I think those things are undead, and as such, we must rid them from the earth.”
“But they were once God’s children. Shouldn’t we still treat them with the respect we would show any of God’s gifts?”
Jonathan’s gaze remained fixed on the old man, but he coldly replied, “No, we shouldn’t. They’ve fallen from God’s grace, and it is our duty as God-fearing individuals to remove them from a world created by his hand. They belong in hell with all the other ungodly abominations.”
“But they were once family and friends. Surely, they deserve compassion. What if Emily or Tilly has fallen foul of them?”
Jonathan Wentworth’s head snapped back in the girl’s direction, and there was both anger and dread in his eyes. “Firstly, my kin is safe! I know this deep down in my heart, but if they’ve fallen, then I would mourn them, and then I would do what had to be done.”
Sensing things were about to get out of hand, Alfred struggled to his feet and eyed them all. “We have much to do before daybreak, and if we ever plan to sleep again, then I suggest we start on our preparations.”
Without a word, but with tension hanging in the air, all followed the old man’s lead, and started the task of readying themselves for the morning’s slaughter.
Four hours later, a little after one in the morning, their preparations were complete. All headed for bed, though none of them slept much. Between the noise coming from the undead outside, and the prospects of the foul deeds they would have to commit in the morning, even the sternest of souls would have found sleep difficult. However, as the hours stretched towards dawn, sleep took each of them. Each drifted into a shallow, fitful slumber, plagued by images of ghouls and half-eaten corpses.
As the sun rose, Jon and his son stood looking down at the waterwheel. The creatures still threw themselves at it futilely. Consequently, a steady flow of ghouls floated downriver, and away from their location.
To Jonathan’s relief, the numbers of creatures below had not grown as much as he had feared. Whether the fewer numbers were the result of the steady stream of the creatures’ falling foul of the wheel, or whether simply less creatures’ made for their location, he did not know. Either way, it lightened his heart to know their day’s work might be somewhat easier than expected.
“Son, run downstairs and tell old man Marsh to shut down the wheel, and then listen for my whistle. Also, send Sally up to keep an eye on the door.”
“Sure, Pa. should we start shifting the sacks of flour blocking the door straight away?”
Jon pondered his son’s question, and then answered, “Once you hear my whistle, start un-barricading the door, but don’t open it until Sally sounds the all clear.”
Callum nodded, and then ran off leaving his father to ready himself. A minute or so passed, but finally the wheel stopped its slow rotation through the water, and the creatures’ efforts to mount it met with success. On seeing the first of the ungodly things clambering up the wheel, Jon placed two fingers in his mouth and let out an earsplitting whistle. The whistle signaled things were about to get very messy and intense.
He checked the rope secured to his waist, and then double-checked the other end. Jon tugged on the rope to make sure the tether would not loosen from the beam to which he had knotted it. After his checks were complete, he took a deep breath and headed back to the window. As he began to climb out, he heard Sally entering the room behind him.
Jon quickly looked in her direction. “Remember; don’t give the all clear until every last one of those monsters has left the door.”
Before Sally could reply, he started clambering down the side of the building, and towards the waterwheel below. It took only seconds to reach as far as the rope would allow, at which point he started singing at the top of his lungs.
“A Yankee boy is trim and tall,
And never over fat, sir;
At dance, or frolic, hop and ball,
As nimble as a rat, sir.”
As he hung from the rope singing, he began to stamp his boots against the stone of the wall. On and on he sang, and with each stirring chorus, the number of creatures’ assailing the wheel grew. In no time at all, the throng had grown, and those climbing the wheel had reached nearly to his feet. Loud groaning and creaking sounds started to emanate from both the wheel and its housing. Jonathan began to fear the wheels drive shaft would fracture under the weight of its load. If that happened, then they would not be able to restart the wheel, which would be disastrous for their plans.
If the wheel remained stationary, then the creatures would eventually pile up so high that they would threaten to breach the windows above. Suddenly, a clawing hand on his boot ripped him from his concerns. He looked down and saw a badly decayed creature reaching for him. Luckily, its lower jaw hung loose, obviously busted in some previous fight. If not for this small mercy, the thing would have already latched onto him with its teeth.
Jon pulled his tomahawk and swung down at the ghoul, and split its head asunder. Almost at the same time, he heard Sally shouting to his son and Alfred below.
His ploy had worked. All the creatures had abandoned the door in favor of the loudmouth above the wheel. Time to move. He quickly belted his weapon, and began pulling himself back up into the room. Countless years of hard work had turned his arms into toned and sinewy machines, and he ascended the rope with ease.
Callum dashed down the stairs and saw Sally stood with Alfred. She held one of the horses by its reins.
“Pa’s ready for you upstairs.”
Sally looked to the old man, and he nodded for her to go. She headed for the stairs, and as she passed the boy, she kissed him on the cheek.
“Be careful,” she said as she continued on her way.
Callum placed a hand on the cheek she had kissed, and then followed her ascent with his eyes. He then turned to look at Alfred, and saw the old man grinning back at him.
“I think you got an admirer,” Alfred said with a chuckle.
“Seems I do,” Callum replied as he joined the old man at the door.
Callum stroked the horse, but not for long. Within moments of reaching the old man, his father’s whistle filled his ears.
“This is it,” Callum said as he started to pull at the barricade of flour-filled sacks. “Let’s get to it.”
Both the old man and the young boy started dismantling the barricade with an almost unbelievable speed. Though decades separated them in age, they both worked with equal vigor and determination. It took barely a minute to clear enough of the sacks from the door to allow the horse through. Callum returned to the horse and checked its payload.
Carefully arranged to cause as much noise as possible, the horse now carried every pot and pan Alfred owned. Using many yards of twine, each of the well-used cooking utensils now hung just a few inches apart. As soon as they released the horse, the pots and pans would start clanging together. They hoped the cacophony would be loud enough to wake the dead, and to attract the undead.
Callum nuzzled the horse’s neck as he waited for the signal. Deep down, he hated the thought of sacrificing the noble beast to the creatures, but he knew the horse’s sacrifice might help in their salvation.
Suddenly, he heard Sally shouting the all clear, closely followed by her footsteps as she dashed back down the stairs. He looked towards Alfred, and the old man nodded.
Alfred hurriedly lifted the doors crossbar and pulled the door towards him. Callum led the horse to the open doorway, and then gave its rump a swift slap. The horse whickered wildly, and then bolted for the distant tree line. Callum wanted to increase the speed with which the creatures’ began their pursuit, so he started to yell, but the sound of the clanging pots and pans all but drowned him out. He dared a peek out of the door, and saw creatures’ appearing from the side of the mill. He watched as they tore off in pursuit of the horse.
Callum felt a strong hand grab his collar, and with a violence he could hardly believe, the hand yanked him unceremoniously back into the relative safety of the mill. The boy tumbled backwards, lost his footing, and landed hard on the stone floor.
Alfred slammed the door, reseated its crossbar, and then glared down at the boy. “Have you lost your mind!” the old man bellowed as he started restacking the sacks of flour. “Get off your ass, Boy! Your pa needs you. Sally, push that lever.” Alfred nodded towards a wooden lever near the waterwheel’s gears. “Then get over here and help me with the barricade.”
Both youngsters moved quickly. Callum was halfway up the stairs before the
old man finished barking his orders. Sally flung all her weight into the lever, and released the brake holding the wheel. She then ran to Alfred’s aid, and started madly moving the sacks of flour back in front of the door.
Jonathan pulled hims
elf back in through the window and crashed to the floor. He quickly jumped to his feet and started untying the rope from his waste. As his hands worked at the knot, he stuck his head out of the window and peered out at the wheel below. Maybe fifteen or twenty creatures still clambered about on the wheel; each trying desperately to reach him high above. The creatures from the jetty were gone, obviously off in chase of the horse.
As his hands undid the last of the knots, the waterwheel sprang to life below, thus spilling its load of undead into the river. Jon smiled, threw the rope to the floor, and then dashed for the window above the barricaded door. As he reached the window, Callum came bounding up the stairs to join him.
Jonathan turned and looked at his boy. “Did everything go well?”
“Yes, Pa. Old man Marsh and Sally are barricading the door now.”
Jon nodded, and as soon as his son reached him, he pulled him into an uncustomary hug. “Your ma would be proud of you; I know I am.”
Callum pulled free of his father, and with a flush of both embarrassment and overwhelming love, he started readying his father’s weapons. Jonathan took a second to free his mind of the love he felt for his boy.
What he had to do next had nothing to do with love, and everything to do with killing. Jonathan Wentworth closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. He then breathed out slowly, and along with the breath, he allowed all his emotions to flow out of him. He opened his eyes and as his gaze fell on his son once more, a cold calmness washed over him.
He turned to the window and set himself to the task of destroying as many of the creatures as he could. He looked out just in time to see a small portion of the horde descending on the horse. They overwhelmed the beast in seconds, and like a swarm of soldier ants picking clean a carcass, they began stripping the living animal of all its flesh. Jon winced as the horse’s terrified and pain filled brays reached his ears. Mercifully, thanks to the ghouls’ insatiable appetites, its anguish did not last long.
He then took in the full horror of the scene unfolding before his eyes. Stretched between the half-devoured horse and the mill, were close to a hundred creatures, all at various stages of decomposition. Some were missing arms, while others crawled along on broken legs. Only a few looked uninjured and almost human. Jonathan leaned out the window and looked down. The door, and indeed all the building, appeared clear of ghouls. Their ploy had worked, and now it was time to reap havoc on the undead. Jonathan looked towards his son, and his boy returned his gaze with equal coldhearted steel.
“Here we go, Boy, time to rid the world of some of these monsters.”
His son passed him his bow, and a single arrow, to which was lashed a stick of dynamite. Jonathan quickly placed the arrow against the string of the bow, and then held it out to his son. Callum lifted a lit candle to the fuse, and a moment later, the fuse crackled and sparked to life. Jon turned back to the window and aimed high into the sky. He let loose the arrow and it flew in a high arc towards the fallen horse on which a multitude of creatures still fed.
The arrow landed in the ground a few yards from the feasting pack, and there it stayed unheeded by the creatures. Three more times Jonathan loosed dynamite burdened arrows, placing them around ten yards apart. As soon as the last arrow had left his bow, he grabbed up the first of the four muskets and waited for the explosions to commence.
Thirty seconds passed and still the creatures stripped the horse down to its bones, but then a deafening explosion erupted into the sky. Another three detonations quickly followed. The first explosion decimated the monsters feeding on the horse. It ripped them apart with the same unfeeling ease they had shown the horse. The other three explosions sent creatures hurtling skyward in great geysers of blood and guts. The explosions had exactly the effect Jonathan wanted. Many of the creatures lost arms and legs, and in some cases, the blasts destroyed the creatures entirely.
It was time for Jonathan to go to work. A serenity crept over him as he brought the gun to his shoulder, then, as if he were simply hunting deer, he picked his first target and fired. Even before the head of his target had exploded, his son passed him a freshly loaded musket and Jonathan began again. His aim never failed him, nor did his son.
Callum worked just as accurately and methodically as his father. Each time his father passed him a gun, he set about the task of reloading it. While he could not keep up the same pace as his father, he did reload the muskets faster than he ever had before. His hands, like the beat of his heart, were steady. He never fumbled the powder, nor the shot; he simply did what he had to do. Callum was his father’s son, and at that moment, nothing could fluster him.
Creature after creature fell, yet Jonathan did not relent in his slaughter. When no musket found his hand, he would grab up the bow and arrow, and in this way, his killing went on ceaselessly. There would be no rest bite for the monsters below, at least not while the ammo held.
Jon loosed the last of his arrows and watched as it tore through the eye of what had once been a young woman. He watched her fall, and he felt neither pity for her, nor shame for his actions. He was beginning to ache, so he took a moment to stretch out a knot forming in his shoulders. He could feel the tension in his muscles easing, and after one more stretch, he placed the now useless bow at his feet.
He looked to his son and marveled at the speed with which the boy worked. With growing admiration, he watched on as Callum poured powder down the barrel of one of the muskets. He knew this signified the boy had only just begun the reload, which meant he had close to a minute before the next weapon would be ready. Patiently, he waited for his son to pass him a gun.
It was then Jon realized the killing would now slow markedly, restricted by the speed at which his son could reload. At best, this meant only one kill per minute. A quick look out the window told him they had only cut the creatures’ numbers by a third … half at most. He needed the guns quicker than his son could supply them, so he moved to the head of the stairs and called for Alfred to join them. Soon the old man began reloading the muskets alongside Callum, thus doubling not only the reload speed, but hopefully the kill rate too. Now with two people reloading, he would be able to drop a creature at a rate of roughly one every thirty seconds. He then wondered if Sally could reload a musket. He guessed not, but thought it best to call her upstairs anyway. It was better to keep their tiny group together in one spot.
Soon all four of them were upstairs, and while Sally could not reload muskets, she proved useful in other ways. Her sharp young eyes proved invaluable for spotting wounded creatures. She would then direct Jonathan’s attention to the wounded ghoul, and he would put them out of their unholy misery. And so the killing went on.
Though Jonathan had hoped to keep a steady pace up, fatigue started to affect his aim. Instead of achieving a clean kill every shot, he started to miss, or simply clip his targets. Now, it took two to three shots to fell a single creature.
Jon lifted the musket with his tired arms, and once again leveled it at the head of a ghoul. However, before he had a chance to pull the trigger, a gentle hand found his shoulder.
“Pa, you’re beat, let me take over for a while.”
Jonathan lowered his weapon and looked into his son’s concerned face. “Maybe a five minute break would help.” He passed his son the gun and moved away from the window.
Callum took up his father’s position and eyed the carnage.
Bodies lay everywhere. Some were unmoving, but others grabbed at the earth and tried to drag themselves towards the mill. He looked down and saw at least twenty creatures’ bashing at the door. With a low sigh, he picked his first target and fired.
His aim was true, and he reached for another gun. Alfred dutifully placed one in his hand, and then began the task of reloading the spent weapon. As the old man worked, he examined the bag of shot from which he pulled the next round. At the beginning of the day, they had two hundred rounds from his store, and a further sixty of the Wentworth’s. They were now down to maybe seventy or eighty rounds, barely enough to finish their task.
“Callum,” the old man said quietly.
The boy lowered his gun and looked towards him. “What?”
“Make every shot count. We’re starting to run low on shot. If you’re to leave here with any ammunition for your journey, then every round must find its target.”
The boy nodded solemnly, and then raised his gun again. He would not allow the knowledge of the failing ammunition to affect his aim. He decided to simply take his time and make every shot count.
After half an hour, his father relieved him at the window. His son had taken down twenty creatures, missing only two.
All that remained of the creatures’ vanguard were a handful banging at the door, and maybe another ten or so too badly maimed to move. Jonathan concentrated on the ones molesting the door. He eliminated the things below with ease. They were only about ten feet below, and it was like shooting fish in a barrel. He then looked out onto the field of death. He could shoot the maimed creatures, but it would be a waste of valuable ammunition. No, those creatures would need dealing with by hand.