Shep and Babe came bounding out of the house running from the semi-clutches of Mrs Farmer and noticed that the Master was still swinging his wife’s hand wildly, although to be fair it looked like he’d also had a bit of a nibble from the wet end as he made his way over to the main gate. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you, Shep thought, fully aware of the irony having been warned against just that action by the Master’s wife when he was a mere pup. One rule for one…
Babe had been right with his warning about the approaching people. A group of half a dozen or so had walked up the road mumbling to themselves and each other, and now their progress had been halted by the closed gate. They appeared to be having problems with the latch mechanism as their dexterity looked somewhat limited; they had so far failed to realise that the footpath gate right next to them was, in fact, wide open. Small wonder that humans weren’t at the top of the food chain, Babe thought somewhat arrogantly especially considering his own IQ, and he walked over to the gate to help them. With his teeth he easily tugged at the rope with the knot in its end that the Master had made especially for him.
“Noooo,” a call came from behind. Shep ran over and nuzzled the pig away from his saliva-covered rope but it was too late, and they watched helplessly as the gate swung noisily open. The horde, or small group of zombified humans as it actually was, lurched forward, their way now unimpeded. Splitting up they began chasing the poor chickens around, the human’s stiff limbs and awkward gait assuring the chickens and their families that they were perfectly safe as long as they kept moving. Seeing their way clear to freedom through the opened gate, the chooks took their long-awaited chance and made a break for it; the bastard farmer may have clipped their wings but unless he was willing to take their legs off at the knees they were going to get clear of captivity once and for all. The green fields and wilds of the nearby woodlands beckoned.
Shep breathed a sigh of relief as he watched the flock of Gallus gallus domesticus make its slow, erratic and pecking way up the road.
“Jeez,” Shep thought, irritated at the fleeing group as they stopped to peck at something only they might identify as food. “If that’s making a break for freedom, I’d hate to see a leisurely stroll. At this rate the little buggers will never get clear of the clutches of these strange humans.”
With no small amount of irritation building up inside him he ran up the road and chased the chickens away and into the fields where their little pea brains would be better suited to staying hidden among the crops. Babe had followed him and was barking, well, snort-barking at them as if this was some sort of game. His strange utterances were attracting the attention of the humans, some of whom had turned around and were staring strangely in their direction.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Shep asked, his irritation in no way abated.
“I’m doing what you’re doing?” Babe said uncertainly.
“And just what is that?”
“Rounding up the chickens.”
Shep sighed. “It’s all about rounding up with you isn’t it. I thought you were pretty intelligent when I first saw you doing what I do, after all it isn’t easy. But you just mimic, don’t you?”
“Mimic?” he repeated in the same tone of voice. “I don’t know what you mean,” Babe replied, a little dejected and very uncertain.
“Come on, then. Let’s get our friends and get the flock outa here!”
“Why are we taking the sheep?”
“It’s a good thing you got a cute ass, Babe,” Shep retorted running back into the yard, closely followed by the galloping porcine nitwit.
Goliath had made his lumbering way into the yard and was looking around in apprehension at the strange humans.
“What’s going on?” he asked Shep, his Australian accent coming out as his terror at the unfolding scene increased.
“You’re an Aussie?” Shep asked incredulously, applying the brakes so he skidded to a halt next to the huge beast. “I’d have never guessed.”
“I’ve had elocution lessons,” he explained. “My Mother, bless her dark, old heart, the crazy mare thought I wouldn’t get on unless I had this crazy Cornish, Merry-Jack accent. She was right, now I’m a successful, soon-to-retired dray horse. I hate to think what would have happened to me otherwise, I’d probably be pulling a rag-and-bone cart instead of a cart load of shit on a farm.”
Shep peered at him to see if he was being ironic or even sarcastic but there was nothing, only a vacant stare.
“Right,” Shep muttered uncertainly. He shook himself in an effort to slough off the effects of the crazy pills someone must have slipped him for the world to look suddenly so bizarre. “We have to get out of here,” Shep continued. “I think everyone’s gone mad. Where’s Qwackers?”
At that moment Selma landed on the dumb beast’s back and squawked in alarm. Her eyelashes were flapping like semaphore flags. “They’ve got Qwackers!” she screeched. “You have to help him!”
Babe, still full of enthusiasm in spite of Shep’s cutting words decided it was time to go on the offensive. “Let’s go help him!” he squealed and ran off towards the barn.
“Where’s he going?” Salma asked, a little confused.
“No-one really knows,” Shep replied, a little shame-faced; he knew what they were all thinking. Changing the subject he asked where the poor captive duck was.
“He’s in the wood-cutting shed out back,” she replied quickly, taking off to lead the way. So far the zombies had taken almost no notice of the animals apart from the odd feeble attempt to capture a chicken. Now they were homing in on the small group of animals with their arms, or arm in Mrs Farmer’s case, outstretched, their salivating mouths making their intentions crystal clear.
With no further hesitation the motley group of animals fled the scene, running around and behind the house. Babe had at last caught up with them having realised he didn’t know where Qwackers was actually being held. Now he felt sheepish, which was a little strange for him.
Together they arrived at the shed and could hear the master’s electric saw running at full speed. His hobby of carpentry seemed to have taken on a more visceral aspect, more specifically Qwackers’ viscera. Selma was flapping around like a headless chicken, only not quite so.
“Help him, please!” she shrieked, beside herself with fear. She had wanted to be with him unto death, only hoping that their time together would be a little longer than this.
“I’ll go!” Babe trumpeted, his bravado coming from his desire to rectify his asinine charge into the barn a few minutes previously. Rising onto his hind quarters, he almost whinnied as he threw himself at the slightly open door. Shep’s paw tripped him before he managed to go more than a few feet and he collapsed in a cloud of dust. His embarrassment returned and his face went red with the surprise.
“Don’t be soft, sweetie-pie,” Shep began. “You’ll only get yourself killed if you charge in there like a bull at a gate. We have to plan this.”
Goliath interrupted the lover’s tiff. “I can easily go in and save Qwackers.”
“You have to go in quietly, without them knowing you’re coming,” Shep stated, a little afraid that Goliath had been using his massive intellect again. “Explain to me how.”
“Like this,” he said simply, his baritone voice booming at full volume. Shep flinched as he realised Goliath was scared out of his wits, but like all good horses would none-the-less face the maddened horde that had Qwackers in their grasp and were, for some inexplicable reason, using a complex woodworking tool to either frighten him or, well, something.
Before Shep or anyone else could object Goliath threw himself at the building, more or less in the direction of the small entrance that would never have been wide enough to fit him through a moment ago. He disappeared in a cloud of dust and everyone waited with baited breath as to the outcome of this somewhat unsubtle approach to rescuing the duck.
With a load creaking noise and a sudden crack as the roof support failed, the building fell in upon itself and the friends gasped in horror of it all.
“Oh, the humanity!” Babe cried, seeing the turmoil his enormous friend had created. Could anyone survive this Armageddon, he wondered silently.
The dust slowly settled and at last they could see the outcome of the rescue attempt. Two humans, quite unrecognisable in the dust, lay writhing bloodily on the floor with solid oak beams pinning them to the ground. From the flatness of most of their bodies, Shep guessed they ought to be a lot more still than this. Peering more closely, on the saw table they could see Qwackers, lying quite still and smeared in bright red blood. He was groaning quietly. With a despairing screech Selma flew like a shapely dart to his side and began to weep.
“What have they done to you?” she bawled rhetorically. Her eyes wandered over the bloody mess that was his body. Hearing the voice that he loved more than life itself, his head turned sideways and looked up into her staring eyes.
“I know your face,” he muttered, a feathered wing brushing her tears away. She gave one mighty sob and looked down at her dying partner.
“Oh, my darling, darling baby,” she whispered. “I had hoped we would have longer together.”
“Why shouldn’t we?” he asked, confused. “Are you flying south?”
“You’re dying,” she whispered, astounded at his strength and denial of the obvious.
“Yes, well. Everyone dies at some time or another,” he agreed. With what appeared to be a great effort, he stood on his webbed feet, the slippery blood covering him accounting for part of the struggle.
Salma stopped crying, stunned at his strength of character, his last ditch effort to stand up.
“Oh, my brave hero. You don’t have to get up, I’ll stay by your side until the end,” she protested, using her wings to force him back down onto his back.
“Yes, but don’t we have to get out of here?” he argued, sounding a little petulant.
Salma was beginning to get irritated at his dogmatic desire to stand up when he was dying; all she wanted to do was nurse him until the end; that was the dignified thing to do, and she certainly didn’t want to argue about it. As a result she pinned him down, her wings getting bloody from the gore which covered her unfortunate avian lover. Qwackers finally gave up the unequal struggle; Salma was always on top, her prodigious duck strength brooking no argument.
Shep came over and finally delivered the tie-breaker. He licked the blood on Qwackers’ feathers and thought for a moment. He sniggered at a joke he dimly remembered about a ‘lab’ test and was rewarded by a wet slap from Salma’s wing.
“A little respect, if you please,” she commanded.
“Yeah, whatever,” Shep replied. “Babe, come over here and tell me what’s wrong with this picture.”
Babe came over and jumping from obstacle to obstacle, he finally managed to get high enough up to cast his eagle eye over the scene. He thought for a moment and suddenly a light bulb went off behind his eyes.
“Qwackers isn’t dying!” he exclaimed with more than a little relief.
“And how do you know that?” Shep pursued.
“Qwackers has that sarcastic look on his face like when he thinks I’m being not very clever.” The poor pig could never bring himself to accurately describe his brain power.
“Yes, that and it’s not his blood.”
Babe gasped in surprise. “I didn’t know you had medical training!”
Zombie books by David K Roberts:
The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle
The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle – Cabin Fever (Sequel)
Return Of A King: A Zombie Chronicle
Return Of A King: A Zombie Chronicle – Z Factor