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A Vague of Zombies

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Jimmy kept running. He had stumbled a dozen times, but terror brought him back to his feet. “Good ol' Jimmy,” they'd say back at the Union bar, “Can't keep a good man down.” Jimmy would have laughed grimly, if his lungs could spare the oxygen to pump to his tired limbs. He heard fabric tearing on brambles behind him. The distraction made him miss his footing for the last time. Too exhausted to stand up, he rolled on to his back to face his pursuer. He wished he hadn't. A woman was standing over him, her chest did not heave with exhaustion like his. She had been pretty once. People couldn't help complimenting her bone structure and the skin peeling off her cheekbones showed it off to fine effect. Her blonde hair was a mess and her face and body were covered in scratches that she paid no heed to. Leaning down, she grasped Jimmy's wrist with her bony fingers. Her torn skirt revealed a full petticoat underneath. So different to what young women wore today. Jimmy had seen pictures of his mother in her youth dressed similarly. His mother had been so proud. The first in the family to go to university and not any old college, but Harvard. He'd had a promising future in front of him. He could still have a future; he had seen that deep in the woods. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, as if he could blot out what was to come.

**

Adam was standing at the edge of a cliff. It overlooked the coastal village of Pied Point. The village was a chocolate box of a place with its small, whitewashed, fisherman's cottages lining narrow streets. Fishing remained the main source of income for the villagers, but lately the locals were cottoning on to their village's looks and were branching out into tourism.

Adam's eyes roved from the village to linger on the woods that covered the surrounding hills. In the woods, out of sight was a centuries old quarry. Adam used to know the son of the eighth Duke of Calliwell, but had never visited his ancestral home. Adam was standing on the flattest field in the area known as Mandrake’s field.

Adam inhaled, deeply. “Ah, Simms, the air is quite bracing.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Simms, with little enthusiasm. He was too busy struggling with a picnic hamper and a long, leather bag of tools to care about the air quality. As Adam looked like he wasn't going to move from his vantage point anytime soon, Simms gave up. He dropped what he was carrying and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “I wasn't aware being an archaeologist’s secretary would involve cross country rambles.”

“If I am to play a convincing Doctor of archaeology, I need to familiarise myself with the local geography before commencing the annual excavations for visiting students from Harvard University.”

“Indeed, sir.”

“However, I will not require you to join me in the field. You can stay in the village and deal with any correspondence as well as listening for any information that may aid us.”

A look of relief passed over Simms' face. He hadn't wanted to accompany Adam to investigate the mysterious disappearance of students from the last two annual digs. Staying at the hotel was almost as good as staying well out the way in Adam's London flat. “Last night, the landlady was telling me the old legend of the Duke of Death. Perhaps the youths got lost in his quarry.”

Adam turned away from the cliff. “I am surprised you have been taken in by those tales from the lips of ignorant villagers. In the late eighteenth century, they mistook the incomers who came to work in the then newly opened quarry as the living dead. The reality was that they were covered head to toe in dust after a day's work. They were not dead at all. Last year the police searched the quarry and did not find any missing persons, alive or dead.”

“What about undead?” muttered Simms, under his breath.

Adam bent over the long bag and fished out a trowel and a notebook. The notebook contained detailed instructions written by a genuine archaeologist. He took several paces towards the centre of the field, where the remains of earthworks merged into the field's natural lumps and bumps.

**

“Hey, prof! You've done digs here before, right? Where else is worth digging round here?” asked Andy, a second year student from Illinois. He clapped Adam on the back as he and the students wended their way down the cliffs, back to the hotel, after a hard day digging trenches.

“Digging?”

“You know, the night life? The village looks pretty, pretty dull, but I've heard there have been crazy happenings here way back when.”

“Yeah, the landlady told me about the army of zombies. Bound to be some Devil worshippers dancing naked round the fire trying to raise the undead again. That'd sure liven things up,” said Lou, another student. Her main passion in life, apart from her studies, was trashy horror films.

Adam's initial high opinion of the landlady dropped again. “Quarries are dangerous places, you should not trespass there. I would not listen to stories told to draw in the innocent and credulous. Our group will be entirely occupied with cataloguing findings. There will be no time to indulge in frivolous revelry. If you do wish to relax, the hotel bar is open until ten o'clock, I believe.”

“OK, we get the message, all work and no fun,” said Andy.

**

And so the first week passed uneventfully.

And the second.

And the third.

The four and final week, however…

One fine morning, Adam rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and surveyed with pride the neat trenches that criss-crossed Mandrake's field. Archaeology was not as satisfying as running an enemy of the nation through, but it was not far off. Having Simms back at the hotel had proved useful. Simms spent his days on the telephone to an archaeologist to find answers to difficult questions from the students for Adam.

“Hey, Mr Adamant!” Adam whirled around in surprise to see a young, blonde woman, in a short skirt, running towards him along the coastal path. It was Judy Toll, the hotel maid. She was waving a sheet of paper at him.

“What is it, Miss Toll?” said Adam.

“Some of your students are missing.”

Adam was rooted to the spot by a creeping sense of dread. He had been sent to prevent this happening again and failed.

Judy took note of his stance. “It's nothing terrible: they've run off with a bunch of hippies. They kept sniggering about dancing in the woods naked and I reckon that's what they'll be up to. The fresh sea air tends to take the foreign folk like that. It'll do them good to let their hair down after years of study.”

Adam read the brief message. Three of his students, including Andy and Lou, had signed the note explaining they had decided to “drop out”.

“They'll be back in a week or two,” said Judy.

“Do missing students return to Pied Point?”

“No, but when the novelty of living in a camper van wears off, they'll jump on a plane home.”

Adam frowned. If the absconding students did come back, he would be long gone. Being female and having an open, honest face meant Adam did not suspect Judy of hiding anything. “I hope you are correct, Miss Toll.”

Judy gave him a nod in reply. Message delivered, she went back down the path. Adam tapped the paper and looked over at his remaining charges. A little light questioning revealed the students knew little more than Judy did. Adam was taken aback by their lack of concern, indeed, they found the idea of running away romantic.

Having dismissed the students, Adam stayed behind to do the backbreaking work of filling the trenches. He had been caught up in this kind of situation before; sleepy, isolated villages despite their attractive locale invited trouble, usually of the occult kind. What else could dancing in the woods lead to other than perversion and Devil worship?

**

When it was close to teatime, Adam took the path down to the beach to mull over his next move. He crossed the beach, where a clutch of holidaymakers threw a beach ball to each other and fisher folk mended their nets. He climbed the concrete steps up to the village and passed an ice cream van. He was too absorbed in his thoughts to notice a young woman with a 99 in one hand waving at him. When her gesticulations failed to attract his attention, she hurried up to him.

“Hey, Mr Adamant!” said Georgie and nearly threw her ice cream over him.

“Miss Jones! What are you doing here?”

“What anyone does at the seaside; eat ice cream and have fun. As you were going away for a jaunt, I decided it was safe for me to have a holiday. When you're gone, danger takes a holiday and I decided I would too. Do you like my new bikini?” added Georgie, with a twinkle in her eye.

“I had not noticed your scandalous lack of attire while you were waving your ice cream come at me.” Adam was almost glad Miss Jones had given him an excuse to avoid her inevitable enquiry into what he was doing in Pied Point. No doubt she would find out he was undercover as an archaeologist, but he had hopes of locating the students before then.

“It's what trendy women wear at the beach, even ladies. The swirls are groovy don't you think?” Georgie posed with a hand behind her head to show off her gear.

“Madam Cowan would decline to serve you in the hotel dining room dressed in that, ahem, outfit.”

“Dining room? I'm not staying anywhere posh. I've got a little tent pitched in the field of the pub next to the woods.”

“The woods? I forbid you to go there!”

“Don't worry; I'm not interested in getting pines needles stuck in me, not when there's a cosy pub with decent food. The hippy driver who gave me a lift told me the grub was fab.”

“A hippy...”

“Don't disapprove, they're all right,” interrupted Georgie. “If they were bad they would have chopped me into little bits when I hitched a ride with them.”

“Hitched?”

Georgie mimed hitching. “You know, thumbing a lift. My moped needs fixing and I can't afford to fix it and take a holiday, so I left where I ended up to the power of my thumb.”

Adam was horrified. “I will escort you home, immediately, although my presence is sorely needed here. I hope the journey back to London will give you time to take in the severity of the danger you could have found yourself in.”

“I like the idea of a free ride, but not a lecture. It's the sixties; women can go out unaccompanied.”

“Despite your poor attitude to my time, a gentleman would never expect a woman to have her freedom restricted in that way.”

“OK, will you take an ice cream as an apology? Mine's nearly melted away.”

Georgie returned to the ice cream van. Adam let out a sigh of relief. Georgie's choice of campsite and travelling companions worried him, but she had shown no signs of wanting to meddle in his affairs for a change.

**

The next day, Adam went to the woods, even though he did not expect to find anything during daylight hours. When he emerged from the trees, he had not expected to see Georgie either, thinking she would be on the beach.

“Afternoon,” said Georgie, cheerfully. She was wearing a yellow mini-dress and long matching boots to protect her legs from nettles, brambles and other unruly plants in the undergrowth. “Looking for treasure? I've heard you've been working as an archaeologist. Is it because you qualify as an antique or is the truth you're undercover?” Georgie gave him a shrewd look.

“I confess, I have not changed profession. I was meant to discover why archaeology students have gone missing in Pied Point. Not only have I not found any clues, but three of my charges have disappeared.”

“Zoinks!”

“If I could question the people who gave you a lift it would aid my enquiries.”

“The driver said they regularly drove up and down the coast in the summer and would come back before the start of September.”

“I wonder, perhaps,” said Adam, haltingly. “If the people in the van return you could talk to them, without endangering yourself, of course. It is plausible they would reveal more to you than I.”

Georgie was quiet for a moment. Adam asking for help unnerved her, particularly as he had been warning her off the hippies. She stared at him. He was Adam wasn't he? She remembered the bloke that was the spit of Adam. He had been The Face’s pawn. She guessed failing to protect people had effected Adam's judgement. “I can do that. Holidays are fun, but they lack excitement. I could join them on their travels, I was invited before.”

“That will not be necessary. Do not become over enthusiastic. I may send Simms down to keep an eye on you.”

Yes, he was definitely her Adam.

“I, in the meantime, will visit Calliwell Hall. I went to school with the eighth duke's second son. I did not have the chance to visit his family residence back then. I shall inform the latest duke of the continuing rumours of dark deeds in his estate's woods.”

“And have a good nosy at the same time.”

“Miss Jones! Although, I do feel it is high time I widened my search beyond Pied Point.”

**

“Mr Adamant, my grand-uncle was quite taken with you,” said Duke Calliwell, after his footman had announced his presence to the Duke and Duchess.

The Duke was a dark haired man in his late thirties. The Duchess was dark haired like her husband, but slightly younger in years. Her micro-dress was made of black leather. Ordinarily, Adam would disapprove, but her poise made the garment perfectly elegant and not at all tawdry to his mind. The three of them were standing in a grand living room. The original Elizabethan windows allowed light to spill into the room and gave a good view of the formal gardens with carefully clipped box hedges. Inside, the furniture was a mix of items from the Georgian era to the 1920s. The Duke and Duchess had risen from their armchairs when Adam had come in, while a butler, with a pallid complexion, put drinks and glasses on to a tray to take to the coffee table.

“I cannot say I knew your grand-uncle well at school, but he was an exceptionally talented cricketer. It was a shame he did not play for the nation,” said Adam.

“My grand-uncle would have been pleased to hear you remembered him. He kept a scrapbook of your exploits and used to tell us stories based on newspaper clippings. He said fictional heroes paled in comparison to real ones. It was thrilling stuff,” said the Duke.

“You are most kind, especially as I have come to talk to you about other tales.”

“Oh?” said the Duchess.

“The stories centering around the quarry,” began Adam, slowly. Tales of the undead could upset ladies' delicate nerves.

“Dusty workers being mistaken for zombies?” said the Duchess.

“The woods have lost none of their allure. Three archaeology students have gone missing from the dig at Pied Point.”

“I'm sorry to hear that,” said the Duke. His voice was full of concern. “The police searched the woods last year for missing students, but found nothing. I am sad that the tradition of the annual dig, started by my father, has been effected again.”

Adam acknowledged the interruption with a nod of his head in sympathy and continued. “I was told the three had probably left with some of the young people known as hippies, who were spotted near the woods. I am uneasy about what could have happened next. Are you aware of any recent disturbances in the trees?”

“Apart from the noise of quarrying, no. We did have devil worshippers in the 1910s. Aleister Crowley and all that sort of nonsense,” said the Duchess.

Adam's eyebrows shot up in alarm.

“It was all dealt with. The woods lost their charm when my late father-in-law brought large guard dogs and larger men to patrol the grounds and then the fad died out.”

“I assure you in some areas of the country it hasn't.”

“This isn't one of them.” The Duchess lifted out a crucifix on a chain above her dress.

“I pray I haven’t offended you.”

“There's nothing to apologise for,” said the Duchess, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Youngsters don't need the devil to get up to mischief. If you're worried about hippies, we're having a festival tonight. It's more a night of music than a real festival. Some of the travellers came to us a month ago and asked if they could stage a concert here and we agreed.”

“The upkeep of the hall is steep and if the night goes well it could become a regular event. We're starting small this year,” added the Duke.

“Why don't you come along tonight and see?” The Duchess smiled at him. She picked up a cigar box and took out two tickets. She held them out to Adam. “With our compliments and bring a friend too.”

If Adam had any doubts about going, the Duchess's smile would have won him over. “Thank you.”

“Please do come, I would feel much safer with your expert eye to keep an eye on the crowd. We don't have any experience in putting on a show and it's nerve wracking, as well as exciting.”

“My lady, I am at your service,” said Adam and made a small bow. A lady in need of aid was not to be refused.

**

Adam handed his ticket over to the unsmiling footman, who had announced him earlier, and walked up the drive of Calliwell Hall. He was alone. He had passed Georgie in his mini, earlier in the evening. She was sitting outside her tent cooking sausages over a fire and Adam had decided not to bring her. She appeared happy enough cooking and he had the matter in hand. There was no need to involve her any further than he, regrettably, had. The only other person he could invite was Simms. His valet had said he would be better employed by going to the local tavern and keeping an eye on Miss Jones, at a discreet distance, while Adam attended the festival.

Adam paused to watch a small group of young women dancing round a bonfire. He was enjoying their graceful movements until he realised they weren't wearing tight blue tops, but were semi-naked under a layer of brightly coloured body paint.

“Groovy, isn't it?” said a voice in his ear. It was Georgie.

“Good evening, Miss Jones,” said Adam, wearily. Georgie not being where she should be was becoming an unfortunate fact of life. “I thought you were enjoying cooking on the camp fire.”

“I was. I wasn't going to spend hours at a festival without eating first. I'm more sensible than you give me credit for. You asked me to question the hippies in the camper van and what better place to find them? In fact, there are several van owning hippies.” Georgie pointed past Adam.

Adam squinted over to where gleaming headlights betrayed where the vans were parked. “I suppose their influence led to the perverse spectacle of ladies abandoning their clothes in public. I am not surprised the Duchess was concerned about what could be unleashed at this event.”

“She was the one egging the girls on, telling them they're only young once. Ooh!” squealed Georgie, suddenly. “Is that feedback? It must be the first band. I wonder if they'll be any good.” In her excitement, she took Adam's hand and led him towards the outdoor stage. There was plenty of room at the front. Adam didn't object to being near the speakers blaring out rock music; he wasn't there to have a good time and promised himself a day of Mozart when he returned home.

**

“Whee,” said Georgie and collapsed into a heap next to the burning embers of the bonfire. The painted ladies had given her a dancing lesson. Adam was standing watching and refused the offer of a hand rolled cigarette. He didn't approve of the hippies' lifestyle, but, he had come to agree with Miss Jones, they were hardly likely to be snatching students off the streets for nefarious ends. It would require a degree of competence they lacked. No, what he was looking for was an organised mind and Miss Jones should be safely tucked up in bed - it was well past midnight. Even drop outs favoured an early bedtime. From the crowds earlier, there was roughly half a dozen left.

Adam started to walk over to Georgie to indicate he was leaving and that she should think of departing too. Then he halted with a quizzical look: a band of people was coming out of the woods. He thought there weren't any more revellers except for the ones around the fire. Were his students with them? Instead of a glimmer of hope, a sense of foreboding settled on him, followed by confusion, as the newcomers moved into the light. They were a motley bunch, dressed in clothes from several different eras that were tattered and torn. They stared blankly ahead, it was a wonder none of them tripped up. The group fanned out to form a loose circle around the festival goers.

“Hello,” called Georgie and waved at a ragged stranger. The smile on her face froze and she stood up.

“They ain't normal,” said one of the dancers. “I'm off - this is freaking me out.” Others added murmurs of agreement, there was something not quite right about the strangers. The dancer went to walk to the driveway to the gate. Her way was blocked as the newcomers closed their circle. The dancer pushed and struck the people blocking her way, but they did not flinch. Neither did any of the others the panicking hippies hit in an attempt to break the circle.

“Why don't they react, are they hypnotised?” Georgie asked Adam.

“Perhaps,” said Adam. He pushed at a man clad in rags. The man pushed back.

“They're herding us to the woods,” said Georgie, in alarm.

“The legend is true: they're the undead,” wailed a young man, who bumped into Georgie, as they made their progress across the grass.

“There is no such thing,” said Adam. He tried slapping one of their captors and then drew his sword from his stick. “Stop immediately if you wish to live,” warned Adam. He was ignored leaving him with no choice. Quick as a flash, Adam plunged his sword deep into the side of the man he had slapped. He should have fallen back stricken by the fatal wound, but he continued to walk with the sword embedded in his chest.

“What devilry is this?” Adam stumbled in astonishment and the group's march reached the first line of trees.

**

A slow two hours tramp later, the people from the woods pushed their captives out from under gnarled pine trees into a clearing. The area was taken up by a small, dilapidated barn. Inside could be heard the noise of a steam driven engine. The blank faced people started to moan and the doors of the barn opened to reveal the Duke. He was wearing a pair of long, black, rubber gloves.

“At last, new workers. I was beginning to think we would never replace the worn out ones in time to fulfil the emir's order.”

“The festival was a clever idea, m'dear,” called the Duchess from somewhere inside the barn.

“Slavery has been abolished, man. I ain't working for you,” said one of the hippies.

“We're not taking you into slavery,” said the Duke. He stepped aside to allow his workers to move everyone into the barn. A machine, that looked like it belonged to another age, filled the wall at the back of the building. Pistons pumped up and down, while the Duchess poked at coals burning inside a grate in the machine with a poker. In the centre of the machine was a coffin shaped cubicle. Straps hung down loosely inside the recess and there was a metal dome at the top with wires that ran into the machine. Dials flickered and twitched above the Duchess's head.

“We're making you into zombies - there's no law against it. And if we don't hurry up and convert you we'll have to wait for the next thunderstorm to charge the converter,” said the Duke.

“You won't get away with this!” shouted Georgie. “Adam will stop you.”

“Will he? Then why is one of our zombies walking around with a couple of feet of sharp steel stuck in him?” said the Duchess. “If this is the limit of Mr Adamant's powers, I fail to see how he will stop our family business. As we have to start with someone; I'll crush your hopes while I'm at it. Cal get one of the dummies to bring Adamant over here.”

The Duke clapped his hands and picked up a lantern from the floor. He swung it to gain the zombies attention. He pointed at one of the zombies and then Adam. “Bring man to machine now,” he said slowly and clearly. The zombie moaned in reply, grabbed Adam’s arm and dragged him to the converter. Adam couldn't twist out of the man's grip. He was tightly buckled into the cubical and the metal dome was shoved on to his head by the Duke. “Poor Mr Adamant, you're an intelligent man, it's a shame you won't get to study the process from an observer's point of view. You could have helped us build a new machine - it was made by a mind from another age like yours: Mad Gustav the lost Duke of Calliwell. We found the blueprint for the converter in an old, auction catalogue last month. No longer will we have to rely on one machine to convert workers in dribs and drabs, we can go into mass production. First, we'll get this quarry up to speed and we'll buy up other quarries. Nobody will be able to match our prices as our competitors have to pay for labour.”

“But why stop at quarrying? Free labour means leisure for all,” said the Duchess.

Out of the corner of his eye, Adam saw Andy standing at the edge of the converter. Andy's skin was a waxy grey, like the rest of the zombies. “This is monstrous,” said Adam, responding to the sight of Andy, who had once been talkative and lively, as well as the Duchess's words.

The Duchess ignored Adam and continued, “Once we go global, people will get used to the idea of undead labour. And there are plenty of groups like tramps, hippies, foreigners and other undesirables who can be turned into useful members of society. People will thank us”

“How can a mindless zombie join in society? You're completely barmy,” said Georgie.

“You should have picked the mouthy girl first,” said the Duke to his wife.

“You know what group conversions are like,” said the Duchess, with a shrug “And insults are kinder to the ears than screaming.”

“True. Do the honours, darling.”

“Love to. Now, Mr Adamant, you have to die to be renewed. I believe you've had a similar experience. I hope you find the heat of the converter pleasanter than the chill of a block of ice.” The Duchess yanked down a lever.

“No!” screamed Georgie. She sprang at the zombie with Adam’s sword and pulled it out of him. Before the Duke could direct the zombies to grab her, she attacked the leather straps that held Adam.

“Thank you, Miss Jones,” said Adam. He took the dome from his head and his sword off her. “There shall be no more zombies from now on.”

“Smash the machine!” cried one of the hippies. The festival goers fell on the machine. It was as if the hippies had been transformed into savage animals and not passive zombies. Peace and love was all very well until someone tried to make them into zombie slaves.

“Stop them,” the Duke ordered the zombies, but it was too late: the panels had been ripped off the machine and the components inside were being pulled out.

Adam cornered the Duke and Duchess and pointed his sword at them. “As you are well aware, I am not afraid to use this sword, even on a lady, to prevent this abominable practice from continuing. Order your workers to unhand them.”

“Stop,” said the Duke, his voice ringing around the barn. “Put them down.”

The zombies obeyed. The hippies cheered and, freed from the zombies' clutches, went back to destroying the machine.

“Two hundred years of free labour down the drain. What do we do now?” Tears were streaming down the Duke's face.

“You shall face the full force of the law for you family's crimes against humanity,” said Adam.

Georgie was having fun smashing the converter. She had hold of the poker and was prizing cogs out of the belly of the machine. Behind one cog was a glowing, egg shaped, metallic object. Hundreds of wires ran into its core. It was a struggle to get the object free of the wires. Georgie, in frustration, threw caution to the wind and pulled it free with her hands. The force she used to pull the object out caused her to fall backwards. Then the machine collapsed in on itself with a shower of sparks. The converter was reduced to a harmless pile of metal and wires.

“Zoinks, I was lucky it didn't fall on my head. Hey, Mr Adamant, I think that's it for the zombies. Mr Adamant?” Georgie got to her feet and looked for Adam. Turning to the open door, she saw a flash of red. It was Adam's cloak lining disappearing into the trees. “Hey! Mr Adamant!” shouted Georgie and ran out of the chaos after him.

THE END.