David K Roberts – self-published author sci-fi thriller horror novels

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12 – Bridging The Gap

Pius unceremoniously skewered the helmsman standing in the wheelhouse from behind, thrusting up into the brain and taking whatever life it possessed, after which we threw the flaccid corpse unceremoniously overboard. I looked at where he had been standing and saw that the key was still in the ignition, a small, yellow plastic Homer Simpson hung blue-trousered and fat from the key – I guess they were getting ready to ply their trade up and down the river when the day went less well.
Today was turning into the ultimate ‘shit happens’ scenario for millions, perhaps even billions of people around the world and I was beginning to wonder why I and Becky were resistant to the populist trend of becoming a zombie. I guess there were exceptions to every rule. Maybe we were lucky, maybe not. That day began an increasing chasm of ambiguity over the definition of being lucky.
I looked at the shore, from which we had drifted some thirty feet. We had been just in time; thousands of zombies had amassed, pouring down the ramp onto the pontoon to which we had been tethered only moments ago. Their noise and stench was formidable, their groaning intensifying as I fancied their disappointment at our escape. Some began falling into the water as others came from behind, their weight of numbers forcing those at the edge into the Thames. They floated like logs.
I remember smiling as I felt safe for the first time that morning. Unfortunately that was a short-lived emotion as I noticed that their huge number was locking together like a floating logjam onto which others were clambering to try and get to us. The writhing flotsam was moving apace with our drifting vessel.
I heard Becky squeal in fear as she realised the implications of what was happening.
“Let’s see if we can get this boat going,” I said, speaking to myself mostly in my fear.
I turned the key, gave the glow plugs a moment and then pressed the starter button. The engine turned over several times before I took my finger off the button. Nothing.
“Shit!” I exclaimed angrily. “Start you son of a bitch!”
I pressed the button again and it turned over, the engine catching on one of the upstrokes. I tried again and suddenly the engine burst into life and a plume of diesel smoke belched out from behind the boat.
“Thank God,” Pius mumbled, fingering the cross that hung around his neck.
“Yes!” I exclaimed and moved the gear lever into the position marked by an ‘F’, presumably forward. There was a throttle next to it and I gently pushed it to its limit and we started to leave the lethal logjam behind.
A small cheer sounded from the cabin area and I smiled at Becky who smiled and gave me the thumbs up.
Looking out ahead of us at the great expanse of the Thames I suddenly realised just how far we had to travel by boat.
“Keep a look out ahead,” I warned our group. “If they can float they can get to us!”
At that warning they gathered at the bow to make sure they could watch out for obstructions. From where I stood in the wheelhouse I had a good view ahead so I was more interested in our people being able to repel boarders. This wasn’t the fastest boat in the world and I imagined a determined, floating zombie could potentially haul itself onto the decks. After all, they were completely indefatigable as far as I could tell.
“Are there any boathooks?” Pius asked, clearly seeing the same risk as I had done.
I look around the wheelhouse and saw a varnished wooden door. I opened it and was pleased to see it was a closet in which were the various tools of a boat, including half a dozen brass hooked staves.
“Here, pass these out to the troops,” I said to Pius and he smiled, taking them as I passed them over. In a moment our people were armed, at least minimally. Better than nothing, I reckoned. The brass ends would be good for stabbing.
Looking ahead I saw we were approaching the bridge over which trains travelled to and from Charing Cross. I was grateful we no longer had to fight our way to Waterloo, bypassing streets I could now see were crammed with zombies. On the shore roads I could see many zombies seemingly following us as we made our way seaward. I knew there would be obstructions that would stop them in their tracks so I stopped worrying about our shadows and gave them no further thought.
As we drew nearer to the bridge I gasped. The Golden Jubilee Bridges, walkways that ran alongside the trains as they crossed the river, were crammed with zombies. And we had to pass underneath them. I shivered as my hackles rose.
Looking along its entire length I could see no way of avoiding passing under dozens of the bastards – and their enthusiasm for our flesh would almost certainly make them fall onto the boat in their natural pursuit. Even if our people hid under the boat’s eaves, invisible to those on the footbridge above, I couldn’t be sure the vessel would not be swamped as they played lemmings as we came within their grasp. I used some rope I found in the wheelhouse to secure the wheel and ran to the lower decks where my gallant fellow survivors waited.
“Listen, guys,” I began. “We’re about to go under that bridge and those bloody things might jump or fall down onto the boat.”
“Can’t we avoid them, Emile?” Indre asked, almost pleasing. She stared at the bridge trying to find an answer I hadn’t been able to discover.
“I can’t see how,” I replied. I looked at Becky, I was only too happy that she was a strong swimmer, as was I. “If worse comes to the worst then jump overboard. They might be able to float but I haven’t seen any of them swimming.”
“I can’t swim very well,” Joshua piped up.
“Put on a lifejacket,” I told him, and it gave me an idea. “In fact we should all do that; the padding might offer us some protection if any do get onto the boat.”
We scurried around looking for the jackets. We found them in a padlocked central locker. One hit with a rifle butt and the padlock broke. Suitably attired I returned to the wheelhouse. If these zombies could be lured to the place on the bridge above where we passed, then perhaps I could draw them to a particular part of the bridge, thinning their number either side of the target area. Then a sudden turn to the left or right might allow us to slip under the bridge with many fewer zombies to worry about. At this moment it was pure guesswork because we still didn’t know if they would even try and get onto the boat. Whatever happened, I wanted to make sure we had the best possible chance of survival – after all there were quite a few bridges between us and Woolwich.
As we neared the bridge I tried to work out the best place to aim for. There wasn’t much in it so I aimed for one of the grey supports. Becky came up to stand by me in the boathouse.
“I want to be near you,” she said, her face bullish. I was not going to be given a chance to argue. I smiled and pulled her close to me in a hug.
“Love you,” I said, I think for the first time in our relationship. She looked at me and gently kissed me on the cheek.
“I have always loved you,” she replied.
We lapsed back into silence and I concentrated on keeping a straight line to telegraph our intentions to the brain-deads above. We were less than half a mile from the bridge at this point.
As we closed in I could see that my ideas actually held water, there was definitely a perceptible movement of the horde, ambling to where I looked likely to pass under the bridge. The bastards, I thought, they really do want to get to the boat. I looked down and couldn’t see our people, which meant the zombies on the bridge were likely to have the same empty deck in view. Clearly anything big or small that moved were targets to these creatures.
I was getting excited, my plan was working; either side of my target the numbers were thinning nicely. At about one hundred yards off I spun the wheel forcing the boat to take a sharp turn to the left. I heard a squeal as Indre fought to hold on against the manoeuvre. Some zombies saw the move and tried to change their direction of travel but they were moving too slowly to make a difference at this point.
As we drew under the bridge, the boat moving as fast as I could make it go, half a dozen or so bodies fell onto the cover of the deck, two or three of them sliding harmlessly into the water. The remainder fell to the deck and we pounced onto them stabbing our hooks at their heads, trying to dispatch them before they had a chance to attack. We were doing pretty well when another couple fell from the second bridge on the far side of the railway platform. They landed squarely on Joshua who had ventured out from under the deck cover to kill one of the first intruders.
I ran to his side but before I could help him one of them had taken a chunk out of his hand. He screamed in pain and terror as he saw bright red blood squirt from an artery in his wrist. I stabbed both zombies in the head with my bayonetted rifle – their focus was on Joshua and were an easy kill for me.
I dragged him over to a bench seat and lay him down on its white faux leather surface. The others came over to help.
“Stay focused!” I cried. “We might get more.”
They turned back to the main deck clearly dreading the arrival of more lemming zombies. Another couple of zombies fell into the water behind us as they misjudged their fall, one hitting its head on the fantail leaving a smear of black blood and brains on the white paintwork.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Joshua incanted, writhing in pain from his wound. His wrist was already turning dark, the blood vessels becoming noticeably dark under his translucent skin as they traced their path up his arm. I looked around for something to bandage the wound when I remembered I had seen a green-crossed white tin with the life jackets. I fished it out of the locker and ran back to Joshua. I wrapped the wound after pouring some sort of sterilising fluid onto the wound. He screamed as it seared his flesh. There was no point in pussy-footing around dabbing it on gently. If there was the slightest chance of stopping the infection I was going to do everything I could to do just that.
“Come on,” I encouraged when I had finished my work. “Sit up, you’ll feel better.”
Joshua struggled as he obeyed. Under his eyes there was already a growing shadow of death, veins and arteries becoming clearly visible under the skin as they darkened. I remembered that Brad Pitt had chopped some soldier’s hand off to save her from the infection, but this thing had travelled so fast up his arm it had taken me by surprise. Anyway, I didn’t have a machete to hand.
I looked up at the wheelhouse and saw Pius had taken the helm. He just looked sad and shook his head ever so slightly. I knew exactly what he was saying, I just didn’t know how much time before Joshua became the enemy.
Looking ahead I could see Waterloo Bridge looming. I thought about it and realised there were eight more bridges to get past. This was going to be the longest short journey in history.
“Do you want to try the same thing again, Pius?” I called to him.
He just nodded and focused on steering the boat. Making sure Joshua was comfortable I went over to Becky and Indre. Our little band was shrinking; I wondered if any of us would survive to get to Woolwich.
“Hopefully the next bridge won’t be as packed with the goddam things, but at least we do have a way of minimising their numbers above us. Waterloo Bridge has a bigger set of railings for them to get over so we might not have the same problem, but…” I shrugged my shoulders and held up the rifle. “We will be more prepared this time.”
“Why is that?” Indre asked.
“Because we survived the last attack and know what to expect. Stay under the awnings so they can’t land on you. Quick stabs to the head and move onto the next one. Okay?”
Both girls nodded and gripped their boathook staves more tightly.
I put my rifle down and began dragging the bodies to the side of the boat and rolling them overboard. The girls joined in. The last thing I wanted was for any of us to trip over a cadaver. That would be game over.
We were approaching Waterloo Bridge. I could already see the numbers of zombies on this bridge were fewer than last time. I heaved a sigh of relief as I could see that the same trick was working on this bridge as before. At the last moment Pius veered the boat to port and we dove under the bridge. This time only three flailing bodies landed on the decks and were easily dispatched.
“Emile!” Pius shouted from the wheelhouse. I turned to see Joshua coming at me, arms outstretched and fingers claw-like. His whole countenance had changed from gentle and decent person to blood-drooling creature with lifeless, nacreous eyes. Without hesitation I raised the rifle over my head and thrust down into his brain successfully flicking the off switch. Poor old Joshua dropped like a stone to the deck. Indre let out a small cry of grief and she clung to Becky, her second close associate cum friend’s departure too much to bear. Becky spoke gently to her, stroking the distraught girl’s hair while leading her to a bench. I left them and went to Pius.
“Only seven more bridges to go,” I informed him.
“Jesus,” he sighed.
“We really need another plan,” I decided.
*

Copyright © 2016 David Kingsley Roberts

If you want to read a completed Zombie series, The Common Cold: A Zombie Chronicle, click here.

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