Qwackers wailed in dismay as he watched his beloved partner slowly change before his very eyes. Salma appeared to be increasingly distressed. Her eyes were bloodshot – not that that was easy to see, her little button eyes were always dark, and a tear rolled slowly down her beak. She began to quiver as if in the grip of some terrible ague, and her wings extended fully and then went stiff. Slowly she began rocking to and fro in agitation and appeared to be in peril of falling off Goliath’s back. Qwackers grabbed her with his sodden wings and held on tight, even more upset that she didn’t seem to realise he was even there; gradually the rocking became more pronounced and slowly a little blood dribbled from her nasal passages.
“Oh, my. Oh my!” Babe exclaimed. “Is she becoming like Mrs Farmer?”
“What, fat?” Shep replied. “At least now the old girl’s almost ’armless.” There was a disapproving silence from his friends. “Too soon?”
Goliath shook his head disgustedly but said nothing. Salma was looking really terrible now, with a trail of bloody drool escaping from her mouth.
“Noooo…” Qwackers wailed again, his heart almost audibly breaking. With a final violent spasm Salma hawked up an enormous, unholy bolus of bloody snot which landed on the ground next to Shep who only just managed to jump out of the way in time to avoid being splattered.
“What the…” Shep began.
Salma looked blearily up into Qwackers’ teary eyes and smiled weakly. “Sorry about that, most unladylike of me, I think there must be something yucky in the human blood I was cleaning off you. It didn’t half make me feel like death warmed up.”
Qwackers hugged her tightly in his relief at her recovery, causing her to squirm a little in discomfort.
“At least it’s not nasal leeches,” Qwackers said after a moment spent looking her over. “Remember that time? They were right little bastards to get rid of. Remember the one that made me look like I had Hitler’s moustache?” Qwackers sniggered at the memory.
There was a general moan of disgust from the friends, all apart from Shep who was eyeing the small pile of vomit hungrily.
“Would anyone mind?” he asked, not finishing the sentence.
“That’s gross!” Goliath exclaimed.
“Oh, yeah,” Shep retorted. “That’s rich coming from an animal that eats grass that’s been shat on. Bloody perissodactyls, they never understand the blood lust of a digitigrade.”
“Reader’s Digest?” Babe asked quietly.
“Nope, beer mat,” Shep replied sotto voce.
“Mum’s the word,” Babe replied out of the corner of his mouth.
Shep nudged him in appreciation and then scoffed the pile of vomit quickly down, licking the dregs from his lips with a satisfied smack. A moment later he looked panic stricken as his insides rejected the offering and he, too, heaved violently and returned the bloody mess to the grass.
“Well, that’s embarrassing,” Shep admitted meekly.
“Which bit?” Goliath asked, incredulous at the dog’s appetites. “The part where you wolfed down Salma’s vomit, or the strange fact that your stomach seems to have better taste than you?”
“Wasn’t to be,” he muttered philosophically yet wistfully, ignoring the perissodactyl’s dry sarcasm.
“Told you the blood wasn’t right,” Salma crowed, having recovered from her Technicolor yawn.
“Come on guys,” Goliath pleaded. “Stop going at each other, we’re all in this together.”
“Except the cat,” Qwackers interjected.
“Except the cat,” the big horse agreed sagely. “We have to get moving. I think we will be safe from these strange humans once we get over that hill,” he announced, pointing his muzzle in the direction of their onward journey, although why he thought that he did not clarify. Horse logic probably – run away from threats and everything will be okay, after all these were creatures that could be calmed merely by putting on blinkers.
In spite of the false hope of safety Babe drew a deep breath in awe of the moment. He was actually going to see where the sun set. Every night the sun disappeared beyond the brow of this particular hill and he really wanted to see what it did back there. The only thing he worried about was whether it would be as disappointing as finding out what actually lay at the end of a rainbow.
“Come on then, chaps,” Shep called. “The humans are catching us up.”
And off they marched, Babe full of excitement at the new adventure, the rest with a certain amount of doubt as to the future. Their feelings of concern mainly stemmed from the fact that the humans seemed about to take some significant time off from their feeding duties around the farm. Goliath was already missing his cob nuts with added yeast. At his age grass just didn’t cut the mustard as far as regularity was concerned.
“There’s a great pond over there with some tasty weed in it so we should all be okay,” Salma informed them authoritatively, her rumbling stomach turning her thoughts to food as well.
Shep just looked at Babe. These simple animals obviously had no idea about feeding themselves in the Apocalypse; he would just have to show them the way.
They followed the winding, dusty path up the hill, Qwackers and Salma wing in wing on the horse’s back, grateful that they had escaped the hooded guy with the sickle for the second time in less than half an hour.
“I’ve never been up here before,” Babe told Shep.
“Me neither,” Shep confessed. “The sheep meadows are in the opposite direction.”
They continued on their way up the hill, their trepidation increasing as they neared the top.
“What is that disgusting smell?” Qwackers asked, trying to wrinkle his nose but failing dismally, instead ending up with a lopsided grin.
Babe began looking around, his little nose twitching as it drew in the odour. “It smells familiar,” he said, a little hopeful smile appearing on his face.
“That’s familiar?” Shep asked, bewildered. He’d never experienced such a stench before, but he was still relatively young so what did he know? They continued walking in spite of the increasing offensiveness of the smell.
“Smells like you after you ate that leftover curry,” Shep joked with Babe. “Remember?”
In spite of the fact he was just having a friendly jibe at the pig, somehow it felt like his analogy was right on the button.
“We’re nearly there,” Babe said with a level of excitement Shep had never before heard in his little friend. For that alone he felt a tad depressed.
As they reached the top they stared as the field opened out in front of them. Trees surrounded the fenced enclosure, while off to the left was a series of mini Nissen huts, in front of which was an area of heavily trodden mud. Further away the rest of the field was lush with grass. It looked a peaceful scene but that wasn’t what made Babe’s heart leap. The field was full of pigs!
“Oh my,” he sighed with surprised pleasure.
“Pigs, urgh!” a feline voice announced just out of slapping reach. “I thought this one was the only trotter in the valley but oh, no. There goes the neighbourhood.”
Babe turned around and confronted the cat. “I try to be a nice person, but you, Sid, are really pushing it with me.”
Sid shivered sarcastically. “Oh, see me quiver with fright; I’m so scared of the big, bad piggy-wiggy.”
Babe sighed and looked at Shep for guidance. Shep shook his head imperceptibly, suggesting he leave it alone; ignore the spiteful little bastard, he implored with his eyes.
Looking back at Sid, Babe felt a certain inner strength for the first time in his life.
“You can be, well, the way you are,” he said, speaking softly. It was strange to hear the underlying menace in the young pig’s voice. Shep blamed all those Clint Eastwood films they had watched at the farmer’s house. “You probably can’t help being a complete dick, but I don’t have to take that sort of crap from you anymore. I’ve got family now. Here they are.”
“Family? Don’t be a halfwit, those things are not your family; they’re just walking hog snacks. Your family became fodder for the farmer and his family a long time ago.”
Babe’s face went bright red as anger surged through his body, flooding his plump little hide with adrenalin. Lunging at the spiteful creature he caught it in its side bowling it end over end. Letting out a yowl of anger the cat landed on its feet and turned to face the aggressive little pig. Hissing threateningly Sid wiggled his arse as he calculated the best angle to strike back, then leapt into the air with a speed and ferocity Babe had only seen it use on poor defenceless birds. In fright, Babe hastily side-stepped and his attacker sailed harmlessly past him, an outstretched claw slightly grazing Babe’s haunch.
Shep launched himself into the fray in defence of his friend. “What the bloody hell do you think you are doing?” he barked angrily. “We have enough problems with the crazies without you squabbling.”
The cat’s eyes were glowing with blood-lust as he crouched ready to attack again. “Don’t get in the way, knob-end,” the cat hissed. “Isn’t it enough that you two are an item without looking even more ridiculous once I’ve scratched half your nose off?”
“Over my dead body!” Goliath whinnied and reared up, his forelegs sweeping the air with a rush of wind in his feathers and so adding to the drama of the situation. Selma and Qwackers fell unceremoniously to the ground and scurried out of the way. The dog and the pig would have been a piece of cake to tear apart, even fun, Sid thought, but it was that bloody semi-brained horse and those clod-hopping hooves he had to watch out for. Sid wasn’t one to push his luck, and seeing the lay of the land, he made a strategic withdrawal; well, that’s to say he bravely ran away. One glancing blow from Goliath’s hoof had been enough for him, and he was in no hurry to feel the pain again.
The air around the friends was heavily charged with the pent up violence of the moment. As they composed themselves the small sounder of pigs that had been living so peacefully in this field prior to their arrival began to make their way over to the newcomers, curious as to what was going on.
Babe watched their progress with anticipation.
A smaller pig separated from the herd and walked, hips swaying provocatively, directly over to Babe. With a coquettish smile and a flutter of her lovely eyelashes, she spoke to him in a breathy tone.
“Well hello there, my dear,” she began in a sexy yet sonorous voice, sounding like a cross between Eartha Kitt and Honor Blackman. Well, that’s unexpected, Babe thought, but somehow very sexy. His chest went tight.
“That was a very brave thing you did just now,” the porcine goddess continued, “standing up to that horrid cat. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Simone, Simone Pig. What’s yours?”
Babe’s heart began to beat hard and uncontrollably.
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 (Sequel)