Tag Archives: infected

Do Infected And Zombies Symbolise Different Things?

20 Jan

When it comes to the zombie genre, there are two quite different types of monsters. These are the true zombies and the infected. True zombies are re-animated corpses and are usually taken to symbolise a fear of death and all the rotting and decaying that it entails. In contrast, the infected are still-living humans who have been turned into zombie-like creatures by a disease or some other agent.

Rather than symbolising a fear of death, I suspect that infected represent a fear of losing our identity. As humans, we are used to being aware of our own existence and of having a sense of self, yet in the modern world, it can be easy to feel like this individuality is being sapped from us. In particular, since the financial crisis started a few years ago, many people in western countries have found that the sense of control they had over their own lives has been gradually eroded. This, in turn, and can lead to the feeling that you are being swallowed up by life and that you are becoming lost within the crowd.

It is this feeling of losing your identity, and indeed any control over your life, which is represented by the infected. They’re not dead, rather they are you with everything that makes you an individual removed. If you become an infected, there’s nothing to differentiate you from anyone else: no personality, no individuality, no self-restraint. Your consciousness and your sense of self is gone, but yet your body carries on without you.

This is, I think, an innate human fear. While our conscious self cannot exist without our bodies, our bodies can exist without our conscious self. It’s as if the bit of us which we value most, our sense of self and who we are, has been bolted on to our physical being, almost as an after thought, and this gives us a certain fragility as we live in fear of the two becoming disconnected.

This is where the infected come in, they represent that innermost fear, one we face every night when our conscious self switches off as we sleep, but our body carries on doing what it has to do without us. And it’s not just a fear of losing ourselves, but losing those we love and care for, not physically, because they’ll still exist, but mentally. There can be nothing worse than being faced with someone you love, of seeing their face, of recognising them, but there being no hint remaining of what makes them them within the body you know so well.

We are, perhaps, able to accept this when it happens as part of the ageing process, but what if this were to happen to someone who was otherwise young and healthy? And not just to one person, but everyone we know. This is an altogether more frightening prospect. To suddenly find yourself in a world where everyone you know is still present, but yet at the same time not there, is surely as terrifying as being faced with the dead coming back to life.

While the infected remain alive, you cannot argue with them, you cannot reason with them, you cannot negotiate, or plead with them, or tug at their heart strings. All you can do is fight them or run, and this is what gives them the upper hand. While we dither, trying to decide what is the right thing to do in any given situation, they simply act. While we would hesitate when faced with an infected which was all that was left of a young child, it would not do the same and it would attack with no remorse. This, therefore, is at the heart of making the still-living infected such a horrifying prospect.



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

The Rules For The Post-Apocalyptic World Of ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’

24 Jul

I read a blog post by another author (Kaine Andrews) recently where he specifically posted the rules for the fictional world of his book, and I liked the idea so I thought I’d do the same for the post-apocalyptic world of For Those In Peril On The Sea. So without further ado, these are the basic rules under which it operates:

1. In general, the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea is the real world, only with a mutant virus in it that creates the infected (zombie-like humans infected with the virus). As a result, all usual rule of the real world apply. This means if somethings is physically impossible in the real world, it’s also impossible in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea, so no leaping tall buildings in a single bound or being able to pop off perfect head shots when you’ve never even held a gun before. Really the main differences are the specific rules for the virus and the infected. These dictate important issues relating to how the virus spreads, the course of the infection, what the infected are and are not capable of, and how they can be killed, and are provided below.

2. The mutated rabies virus which creates the infected is passed from person to person through bodily fluids. This includes things like blood and saliva. It can only be passed if the skin is broken and some bodily fluid from an infected get onto it. It cannot be passed on by swallowing bodily fluids (it would be destroyed by stomach acid – unless a person had something like an ulcer which could let it into the bloodstream before this happened), nor can be passed on through contact with mucosal linings of the body (this means things like breathing it in, or it getting in your eyes), unless this is already damaged (such as might be the case for the nasal passages of regular users of drugs such as cocaine). While the most usual route of infection is from a bite, there are other possibilities. If the infected have bodily fluids on their hands or under their nails, something as simple as a scratch which breaks the skin would be enough. Similarly, if a person has an existing open wound and bodily fluids from an infected get into it, this would be enough to pass the infection on. Finally, like many viruses, the Haitian rabies virus (HRV) is capable of surviving for some time outside of the body. Therefore, it is possible that the infection could be passed on if a person cuts themselves on something that has dried bodily fluids on it, such as a machete that has been used to kill an infected.

3. Unlike the real rabies virus, the HRV version in this world only affects humans. It cannot infect any other animals, and cannot be passed on by them.

4. When someone is infected, there is a period between then and when they will turn. This period can vary in length from a few seconds to up to twenty-four hours. There is no survival, unturned, after infection for more than this time. Most people infected will turn within the first few minutes. This latency rate (the gap between becoming infected and showing symptoms – or in this case turning into an infected) is determined by an interplay between three factors: how much of the virus a person was exposed to; where on the body the person was infected; the strength of the person’s own immune response. A person exposed to a large viral load (i.e. through a lot of body fluid getting into a wound), that is wounded on the head, neck or torso and that has a poor immune response (e.g. a child or an elderly person) will turn almost immediately. A person exposed to a small viral load (e.g. just a few drops of bodily fluids), on a peripheral part of their body (e.g. fingers or toes) and that has a good immune response (e.g. a young, healthy adult) would have the best chance of surviving the full twenty-four hours.

5. Once someone is dead, they remain dead. This means there’s no re-animation of corpses in this world. In this sense, the infected are not true zombies, just zombie-like creatures; this means that if a person is injured badly enough by infected attacking them, they will die through the usual processes of shock and blood loss and most people attacked by infected will die rather than become infected. There are exceptions to this though. If someone is attacked by a single infected, they have a chance of fighting it off. Similarly, if there are infected attacking a large crowd, they may go into an attack frenzy, meaning that they get distracted by all the people running around them. This can mean that attacks on individual people are short and non-fatal as the infected is drawn to other people running away before it finishes any one attack. This attack frenzy is the main way that a lot of people can become infected at once, and can create hordes or swarms of infected in a very short space of time which can over-run all before them.

6. The infected are just humans with a disease. This means that they can only be capable of what the human body is capable of. However, since they are single-minded in their pursuit of the uninfected and don’t feel pain or empathy they can operate at the maximum capacity of the human body. This means that they can run faster and appear stronger than you might think a human might be capable of, much in the way that an athlete on steroids would, but these abilities are not super-human.

7. As stated in rule 6, the infected are just humans with a disease. This means that they will be killed by anything that would kill a human (a shot to the head, being stabbed in the heart, being run over by a car, drowning in water etc). However, since they don’t feel any pain, they might not be slowed by less lethal injuries that would have normal people rolling around screaming (so don’t try kicking a male infected in the groin in a bid to get away, he won’t notice – even if you do it hard enough to do certain things serious damage!).

8. With rabies comes a fear of water, that’s why one of its other names is hydrophobia. In the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea, this is less of a fear and more of a reluctance to enter water unless they know it is shallow enough to easily get through (i.e. nothing deeper than a couple of feet at the very most) and if they can sense that some uninfected human are near that they are compelled to attack.

9. The infected retain no consciousness, they are simply operating on innate instincts. This means they can’t work out how to get round any obstacle which requires any kind of thought. For example, to get through a door, they can push it open (if it swings that way) or break through it, but they can’t work out how to turn a handle to open it, or indeed work out if they need to pull rather than push. They can scramble over things, but they can’t climb. Similarly, while they can run (an innate human instinct), they can’t swim (a learned behaviour).

10. If infected fall into the water, they will usually drown because they cannot swim (see rule 9). This makes the water much safer than land. However, this is not always the case. If an infected falls into the water but finds something that floats that it can grab onto, it can survive for long periods of time. Similarly, if they are in a life raft or on a floating object, they can survive. The same applies if they are wearing a flotation device of some kind, like a buoyancy aid. Such infected as known as drifters and form a major threat to those living on water in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea.

11. When uninfected humans are not near, infected people enter a form of stasis which uses very little energy. This means that they can survive for very long periods on very little food. Like a cold-blooded animal, one meal might be enough to see them through many months. However, they cannot survive on no food and will eventually starve to death if they don’t eat. Infected primarily like to eat non-infected humans, even if they have been long dead. They will also catch and kill animals like cats, dogs and birds if they are really in need of food. Whether they will attack and eat each other rather than die from starvation is not clear (i.e. I haven’t decided on this yet!), and it might be that some infected become cannibalistic on their own kind to survive times when there is nothing else to eat.

12. Infected sense uninfected humans through their usual senses, however the range of these is somewhat diminished. Eye sight seems limited to detecting movements and distances of up to 500 yards, but no further. Noise it detectable over a similar range. Smell would operate over a few tens of feet and means that they can tell if uninfected people are within structures such as buildings or cars. This means that you can avoid encounters with infected by keeping sufficiently far away from them. Of course, this isn’t always possible.

So these are the basic rules for the post-apocalyptic world of For Those In Peril On The Sea, and how my particular ‘zombies’ operate within it. They are a relatively simple set of rules but, taken together, I think they make an interesting world to set tales of human survival after the collapse of civilisation, and particularly one based around survival on boats because of the reluctance of the infected to enter water, their inability to swim and the existence of drifters.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

What Will Happen To The Zombies When All The Humans Are Gone?

29 Apr

Imagine the zombie apocalypse has come and the last living person (or uninfected human depending on your preferred zombie scenario) has just been consumed; humanity has gone, or at least that’s how it seems. This is where most tales of the undead would end. However, I’d like you to take a moment to think about what would happen next. That is, what would happen on planet Earth after all those we’d recognise as humans are gone and all that’s left is the zombie horde? There’s two possibilities, one is obvious while the second, more interesting one, is not.

The obvious possibility is that the zombies will simply disappear once the last of their preferred human prey have been consumed. This may happen quickly if the zombies are living people infected by some sort of disease that makes them act like zombies as they starve to death, or slowly if they are the more traditional, risen-from-the-dead zombies that will gradually rot away and turn to dust. Once this happens, the Earth will undoubtedly pick itself up, shake itself off and set to work recovering both from the effects of the zombies and, indeed, the brief blip (geologically-speaking) that was human civilisation.

The world might one day see intelligent life again, but this will have to wait until a new species evolves to fill the void left by the end of humanity and because of the way evolution works, it’s far from certain that this will ever happen. If it does, these new intelligence beings may one day find traces of humanity and wonder who or what created them just as Europeans did when they first discovered the ruins of ancient Mesoamerican cultures deep within what they assumed were pristine rain forests. Where would these new intelligent beings come from? Well, that’s hard to predict. It could once again come from our own great ape lineage, maybe the bonobos or the orangutans, but it could also come from our more distant cousins the baboons, monkeys or even lemurs. However, it could just as easily come from a completely different lineage, such as the cats (remember Red Dwarf?), the weasels, the dolphins or maybe even one of the more intelligent bird groups such as the parrots or the crows. It could even come from some much more unexpected group, for that is the unpredictability of evolution.

The less obvious but more interesting possibility could only occur if we’re talking about a zombie apocalypse caused by a virus or some sort of contagious disease that infects the living rather than raising the dead. If the disease doesn’t completely take over the brain, as was the case of the rage virus in 28 Days Later, some primitive urges or lower brain functions could survive intact. I’m not talking about any intelligent consciousness here but rather the sub-conscious and the innate – those things our bodies do without us having to tell them to do it. While these infected will act like zombies, they could still be stirred by primal urges such as hunger. Once they have munched their way through humanity, these infected will likely turn their attention to other animals in order to feed themselves but these will be both much less numerous and more difficult to catch. Again there will be a mass die-offs, taking with it 95 to 99% of the infected humans but crucially some small fraction will find enough sustenance to survive meaning they won’t die out completely.

Instead, the number of infected will eventually level out as they reach a balance with whichever ecosystem they find themselves in (known to ecologists as the carrying capacity). This will allow some infected persist for years, probably decades, becoming just another predator and/or scavenger which other animals have to deal with. If this happens, another rather interesting question raises its head: will these infected reproduce? If they still retain the primitive urges associated with hunger, it is feasible that they might also retain what might be euphemistically referred to as ‘reproductive’ urges.

So what will happen if an infected becomes pregnant? Well, this will depend on how the disease can be transmitted. If the disease can only be passed from person to person through contact (known as horizontal transmission), whenever an infected gives birth, it’s likely to attack and kill the baby (since the mother will recognise it as an uninfected human and respond accordingly). If this is the case, the infected will eventually die out and the world will carry on without us. If, however, there is vertical transmission, something much more interesting could occur. Vertical transmission means the passing of the disease directly from mother to unborn child. This occurs in many human diseases (think of things like HIV) and would mean that any babies would be born infected and would not automatically be attacked by their mothers. If there’s any of the basic human nurturing instinct left unharmed by the disease, infected mothers might care enough for their children for them to survive into adulthood and a breeding population of infected will come into existence, creating a new lineage of infected humans.

Yet, it might not end there. Given enough time, these new Homo sapiens may eventually evolve some level of immunity to whatever disease it is that’s infecting them and they could eventually regain some of the human qualities not seen since the disease took over the bodies of their distant ancestors. They might even reach the point where they could start to rebuild civilisation. However, the humans will not be the only ones evolving over time; the disease will change too, and the outcome in this evolutionary arms race between the disease and the human immune system will swing first one way and then the other, creating ever-repeating cycles of civilisation and destruction depending on which has the upper hand at any particular point in time. How human societies would cope knowing that at any moment the disease that lies dormant within all of them could re-emerge and destroy everything they have strived to achieve is unclear, but it’s likely this would have highly destabilising effect and it’s unlikely humanity would ever reach it’s current pinnacle of technical development again. This means they’d never reach the point where they could potentially develop a definitive cure.

So what does all this mean? Well, once the humans have gone, the zombies will most likely follow after leaving the Earth to recover and carry on as if we’d never even existed. However, there’s a slight possibility that in the case of zombie-like infected, some will survive, forming a new type of human being that might one day shake off the shackles of the zombie disease, at least temporarily, and re-establish something we might recognise as human civilisation. It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

Last Flight Out – A Short Story Set In A Post-apocalyptic World

21 Jan

You can download a PDF version of this story for reading on your computer or an ebook reader by clicking here.

Last Flight Out

I tapped the fuel gauge for the third time in five minutes. It made no difference, all it did was bounce on empty; I was running on fumes. One way or another I was going to end up back on the ground and it would be soon. I circled round, desperately looking for somewhere I could set the plane down. At least it meant that if I crashed, or more likely when, I wouldn’t have to worry about there being a fire. Then again, given how the world now was, fire was the least of my worries.

When I’d taken off a few hours before, I’d done it in a rush and checking to see how much fuel was on board had hardly been my top priority; instead, it was getting out alive. I’d watched the horde of infected sweep up the road from the town, drawn by the hum of the generators and decided it was finally time to bug out. It wasn’t like there was any one left to evacuate, well not anyone who really mattered. The last of them had come through the day before and all the chatter over the radio suggested there’d be no more airlifts. Not now; Not ever. Both the refugees and the infected had been working their way northwards from Glasgow and the central belt for the last few days, ever since the outbreak started, and now it seemed they were here.

I could hardly be accused of dereliction of duty for leaving when I did. I’d done my job; I’d kept the airport open, allowing as many of the soldiers and marines as possible to get out as they pulled back time and time again. The word on the ground was that Scotland was finished and all efforts were being concentrated on defending the hastily-erected blockade at Hadrian’s Wall. That was their grand plan for protecting the rest of the country. Despite the fact that there were still several million people there, all desperate for salvation, the north was being abandoned and the ancient Roman fortification revived more than 1500 years after it last served any useful purpose. If the strategy was to have any chance of halting the advance of the infection, and the infected, they’d need everyone they could get and it had been my job to see that as many of those who’d been responsible for the failed containment in the north made it there in one piece. It was Dunkirk in reverse, with everyone trying to get south rather than north. But this evacuation wasn’t by boats, it was by air, and the enemy was so much worse.

When the last transporter left the day before, I was promised they’d come back for me but when I’d put the call in, all I was told was to hold my position, just in case. Just in case of what, I didn’t know, but that was when I realised I was being sacrified for the greater good along with everyone else north of the border. Right there and then I started looking round for other options. It was only a small airport so I had a choice of just three planes. The fact that I could only find the keys to one of them meant the decision was made for me. It was a little four-seater Cessna, the kind where the wings were fixed above the windows.

I’d just starting to inspect the plane when I became aware of a noise in the distance. At first it sounded like insects scurrying over fallen leaves, but as it grew louder it resolved itself into the sound of a multitude of feet pounding on tarmac. It took me a few minutes to get the plane going; by then the infected were at the gates. There were thousands of them all pushing and tearing at the chain link fence surrounding the airport. It was the first time I’d seen them in person rather than just on the news but I’d heard the soldiers, the ones who had been on the front lines, talking about their wild eyes that seemed to burn with hatred and anger; about how they could be on you in seconds, tearing into you, ripping you apart, spilling your guts across the ground while you screamed in agony. They wouldn’t stop until you were dead. This is what the virus did to you, the one that started in Haiti and that was now spreading around the world. It was worst when it was someone you knew, so the soldiers said. I heard them talk about it; about how they’d made pacts to finish each other off if they became infected and couldn’t do it for themselves. They’d rather die than become one of them. Yet, some of them had. I could see them in amongst those that were now surrounding me, easily visible in khaki uniforms that were stained with blood. The fence swayed and shuddered; it wouldn’t hold, not for long at any rate. I revved the engine as the first section fell and they started to surge through. As I raced along the runway, the infected pursued me, the nearest almost reaching me just as I lifted off. I was safe and now all I had to do was make it far enough south to cross the barricade. Then and only then would I be beyond their reach.

***

As I circled, I tried to work out exactly where I was. Off in the distance, I could just make out the newly resurrected fortifications of Hadrian’s Wall. I wondered if I could make it but it seemed too far. Instead, I turned my attention to the road directly below me, the one I’d been following for the last 30 minutes. It was the M74, the main artery that, until a day or so ago, connected Scotland and England. The one carriageway was jammed with the cars of people who’d tried to flee south to escape the outbreak but the north-bound one looked pretty clear. It was wide enough that I’d be able to set the plane down but then what would I do? In amongst the cars I could see figures moving back and forth. From this height, they could have been mistaken for normal people but while I couldn’t quite work out what it was, there was something about the way they moved that told me they were infected. I’d just decided to try for the wall after all when the engine spluttered for the first time. A minute later it spluttered again and I was certain I wasn’t going to make it. I was going down on the wrong side of the wall whether I liked it or not.

With a final cough the engine died and I was left gliding towards the ground. The silence was disconcerting as I looked around, trying to pick out a landing zone. I settled for a point on the road about a quarter of a mile ahead and tried to prepare myself for the impact. That was when I noticed them; a group of about twenty tracking my movements as my altitude dropped. I watched as more and more of them emerged from amongst the jammed cars on the other side of the road. I hoped I could out-pace them and land with enough grace that I could make it out of the plane. If that happened, I was probably fit enough to make it to the wall before they got to me. I believed it. I had to, it was my only chance.

Sooner than I expected, I felt the ground effect lift the plane ever so slightly. It told me I would be on the ground in seconds. I squirmed in my seat, trying to judge how far behind me the infected were. I figured it was about 300 yards. The wall was about a mile ahead; so close and yet so far away. I wondered how I was going to make it. I was fit, but I had little idea whether I really could out-run them over any sort of distance. Yet I had no choice. I pulled back on the stick and felt the rear wheels touch followed by the front one. The plane bounced once and then again. As it settled down I saw a pothole ahead of me. I twisted the stick to the left, but with no power I had little hope of avoiding it. I missed the hole with the front wheel but the one on the left hand side at the back struck it, sending the plane spinning towards the central reservation, and the steel crash barriers that lined it. I slammed on the brakes but it was too little too late. There was a sickening crunch as the front wheel buckled, sending the nose crashing into the ground. My head smashed into the dashboard and I blacked out for a second. When I came to, I could feel blood dripping down the side of my face. It took me a moment to work out where I was. Then I remembered the infected. I glanced out of the left-hand window and saw them appearing over the brow of a small hill to my north. I tried to open the right-hand door, but it was jammed. I put my shoulder to it and found it wouldn’t budge. I tried the other one. It swung open easily but that was when I realised I couldn’t move: my legs were trapped.

I turned back to the infected. They were closer now and I could hear them. The noise was something between a roar and a growl that sank deep into my soul. I looked at my legs. While the right one wasn’t badly trapped, there was no way I was getting the left one free; a large piece of metal had pierced my thigh and blood poured from the wound. Even if I could pull it out, I’d bleed to death before I got more than anywhere near the wall, and I’d never be able to move faster than the infected.

I pulled the door shut again and flipped the latch. I closed my eyes and listened. Over the sound of my heart pounding in my ears I could head the infected as the raced towards me. With panic bubbling up in my stomach, I tried to work out how many there were. I couldn’t get an exact number, just the impression that there were a lot. I opened my eyes and stared down at my legs again; then an idea came to me. It was a trick an old medic had once told me about. I looked around for something I could use. The only suitable thing was the seatbelt. I felt around for my penknife and then used it to cut the seatbelt into a long, thick strap. I wrapped it round my leg, higher up than the metal and tied it as tight as I could get it. Next, I took a screwdriver from amongst the tools that had spilled into the floor of the plane in the crash and pushed it between the strap and my leg before twisting it to tighten the makeshift tourniquet as far as it would go. I gripped the metal and took a deep breath. The pain as I pulled it free was so blinding I almost passed out but some how I kept it together. I looked at the gaping hole it had left behind as it slowly filled with blood. No gushing. No spurting. Just seeping. That was about as good as I could hope for. It looked like the tourniquet was doing its job, at least for the moment.

There was a sudden bang on the side of the Cessna, somewhere back near the tail. I glanced up. The first of the infected had reached me and there was no longer any chance of escape. I felt the plane start to rock as others arrived. Then the first one drew level with the window. He stared at me for a moment. He was tall and thin, and dressed in a light grey suit that was now little more than rags. He’d lost a shoe somewhere and his face and hair were caked with dirt. He looked human but there was no hint of humanity behind his eyes; instead they burned with rage. He screamed and threw himself at the glass, pummelling it until his knuckles were bleeding. More and more appeared with every passing second until I was surrounded. Some climbed onto the nose and started banging on the windscreen. It had already cracked in the crash and they would be through it in no time.

I felt for the holster that was strapped to my side. Finding it, I pulled out the pistol a departing soldiers had given me as a thank you for my help. It felt heavy in my hand. I lined it up with the first of them; a young woman, maybe in her early 20s. She showed no fear, or hint of recognition that a gun pointed at her head, she just kept pounding on the windscreen. I’d never fired a gun before but at this range I could barely miss. I paused for a moment, trying not to think about what I was about to do, and then slowly tightened my finger on the trigger. The noise inside the confines of the cockpit was deafening and the gun almost jerked from my hand. As if in slow motion, the girl’s head exploded as she fell backwards off the plane and crumpled to the ground. I felt sickened by what I’d done but knew I had no choice. None of the others seemed to care or even notice. Gripping the gun more firmly, I lined up the next shot and fired again, and then again. For a moment the windscreen was clear, and it fleetingly crossed my mind to try to scramble out, but before I could move another clambered up, followed by a second and a third. My ears were ringing from the shots but I could still hear the infected as they hammered on the fuselage all around me, making it jump and shudder.

I heard glass breaking and turned to see the window on the left had given out. The man in the tattered suit was desperately trying to clamber in, his grasping arms reaching towards me. I fired twice, missing him both times. The third time I finally hit him and he slumped where he lay half in and half out of the window. I left his body hanging there in the hope it might stop others following him in. The windscreen shattered and two infected tumbling into the cockpit. I stared at them, frozen with fear as they scrambled to get to me. Then a realisation washed over me: there was only one option left. As I pressed the barrel against my head, I felt their hands tearing at my torso and their teeth biting into my flesh; I was surprised about how little it hurt. My hand shook and I hesitated, but I knew it was the only way out. I took deep breath, knowing it would be over the instant I did it, and pulled the trigger.

***

This short story is set in the world of For Those In Peril On The Sea by Colin M. Drysdale. If you liked it, you may like to read the book too.

There is a sequel to this story called The Wall, which tells the story of a soldier who’s standing guard on the re-constructed Hadrian’s Wall. You can find it here.

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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

For Those In Peril On The Sea (Pictish Beast Publications) – Now Available In The UK.

3 Jan

New From Pictish Beast Publications:

For Those In Peril On The Sea by Colin M. Drysdale

For Those In Peril On The Sea.

For Those In Peril On The Sea.

Primarily set in the northern Bahamas, this book weaves its story of post-apocalyptic survival into the local sub-tropical seascape and the sailing culture that can be found there. With its evocative use of real locations haunted by zombie-like infected and atmospheric depictions of the trials of life at sea drawn from the author’s own experiences, For Those In Peril On The Sea provides a new and unique take on the traditional post-apocalyptic genre.

Released by Pictish Beast Publications in the UK on the 3rd January 2013, it is now available from all good bookshops, including Amazon.co.uk.


From the back of the book:

After a six week voyage across the Atlantic, they couldn’t wait to get to shore. When they got there, they found the land would never be safe again…

There was nothing to suggest it would be anything other than a routine delivery. Four people thrown together by chance, sailing a newly-built catamaran from South Africa to Miami. But while they were away, something happened, something none of them could ever have imagined. When they get back to civilisation, they find it no longer exists. The land is no longer safe. Their only option is to stay on the boat and try to survive.

Join Bill, Rob, Jon and CJ as they travel around their frightening new world. One where they must struggle against the infected that now rule the land, the elements and each other.

Extracts from the first three chapters can be found on the author’s blog.

About The Author: As a marine biologist, Colin M. Drysdale has spent plenty of time at sea with no land in sight but he is always glad when he finally gets back to shore. This novel is inspired by a thought that often plagues him during his voyages. What would he do if something happened while he was away and he could never go back?

For More Information Contact: Publicity@PictishBeastPublications.com.



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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

For Those In Peril On The Sea – Preview, Part 3

30 Dec

This is the final posting in the series which feature extracts from my book For Those In Peril On The Sea that will be available from Pictish Beast Publications in the UK from the 3rd of January 2013. You can find the first two postings by clicking here and here. It’s a tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic world where the land is no longer safe, leaving the few remaining people struggling to survive at sea. If you like what you read here, you can find out more about it by clicking here. If you wish to read this extract offline, you can download a PDF version of it from here.

Chapter Two

We sat off Hole-in-the-Wall for the next few hours, watching the lighthouse flash its signal into the darkness as it had done for more than 150 years. I counted off in my head, one flash every ten seconds. Not many people realise that each lighthouse has its own signature; a unique pattern of flashes and pauses that allows seafarers to know where they are as soon as they see it. The system had been designed in the age of sail, before electronic navigation and the global positioning system. Now, with all our electrics out of action, I could see why it worked so well. The signal was reassuring, it told us exactly where we were, reminding us that there was other human life out there, that despite all we’d been through, everything back on shore was still as we’d left it: cold beers, strangers to talk to, hamburgers, cigarettes, newspapers, a toilet that stayed still while you sat on it … all the little trinkets of civilisation we never even thought about until we were deprived of them. And in a few days, I’d be enjoying them all.

As the sun rose behind us, we trimmed the sails and headed round the point at Hole-in-the-Wall, sailing past the arch and into the lee on the other side. The rain had cleared and we could see the octagonal houses of the lighthouse keepers squatting at the base of the massive red tower. My heart leapt at our first real sign of land and civilisation. Bill pulled the boat as close to the rocky shore as he dared and Jon blew on the hand-held foghorn. We waited. No one stirred in the buildings up on the hill. Jon blew the horn again, but still there was no response. This was unusual. There should always be someone at the lighthouse. Sure, it wasn’t as important since the lighthouse had been automated, the recently-added solar panels disrupting its once smooth, almost sleek, profile, but still, someone should be there.

‘D’you think it’s just a bit too early for them?’ Jon looked at Bill.

‘Possibly.’ Bill picked up the binoculars and examined the cluster of buildings. ‘There’s a truck there so it looks like somebody’s home.’

‘Should we wait or just carry on?’ I was keen to keep moving towards Miami and I didn’t want to spend too long waiting for people to get up.

‘We really need to get a message to the owners. We’re already a week overdue, and they will be worrying about what’s happened to us. We need to let them know we’re okay and when we’ll finally get into Miami.’ Bill scanned the buildings again, then turned to Jon and me. ‘You two up for a trip ashore?’

‘Yeah.’ Jon sounded as keen as I was to spend some time off the boat, even if it was just a walk up to the lighthouse and back.

We inflated the small rubber dinghy, fitted the little outboard and lowered it over the side. Jon and I clambered in and started the engine. The dinghy bumped over the choppy waves and within a few minutes, we were tying it to a heavy iron ring set into rocks below the lighthouse. Once the dinghy was secured, we climbed up steps carved directly into the rock. At the top we found a natural stone platform with a narrow concrete path snaking up the hill towards the lighthouse. We walked slowly and unsteadily, our bodies unused to being on solid ground after six weeks on an ever-moving surface. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the smell of earth after rain. It was the kind of smell you didn’t miss, that you didn’t even notice until it was no longer there. I drank in the calls of birds and the chirps of insects that flowed from the trees surrounding the path. Neither Jon or I spoke; we were too busy relishing these novel sounds after weeks of little more than the slap, slap, slap of waves against the side of the boat and the clinking and clanking of the rigging.

We were at the first building all too soon and I knocked on the solid wooden door. As we waited for a response, we surveyed the property.

‘This is quite some place.’ Jon shaded his eyes with his hand as he stared out at the land beyond the lighthouse, ’Imagine living all the way out here, you’d go mad with boredom. There’d be nothing to do.’

Being young, Jon didn’t yet appreciate how wonderful it could be to be alone, far from any other living person. He looked at the lighthouse and saw it as isolated and lonely. I looked at it and saw a sanctuary from the confusion of the modern world.

After a few minutes, we started to wander around, calling out a greeting to anyone who might be there, but no one replied. We tried the second house, but no one answered. The buildings themselves were weathered but well-kept, and they weren’t shuttered or boarded up, meaning someone must still be living there, despite the fact the lighthouse had been automated. The presence of the truck seemed to confirm this. It sat on the hill facing towards a road so old it was little more than a rutted track. I could see that it weaved a path through the bushes for about half a mile to where it disappeared round a corner.

‘I’m going to take a look at the truck.’

I didn’t know what it would tell us but I followed Jon as he walked over to it. The truck was an ancient pickup, the red paint faded and speckled with rust. There was a large dent in its tailgate and one of the rear lights was broken. Apart from that, it looked in reasonable condition for its age. As we neared, I saw that the driver’s door lay open, the glass from its broken window scattered amongst the stones on the ground. There was something that looked very much like blood smeared across the vinyl seats, as if someone had been dragged out by force, and the keys were still in the ignition.

Jon’s eyes widened as his eyes shifted from the truck to me and back again. ‘What d’you think happened here?’

‘I don’t know.’ As I spoke I felt a sense of unease rising within me.

‘What now?’ Jon was staring down the road as if expecting someone to appear suddenly.

‘I guess we find somewhere to leave a note.’

I headed back to the first house with Jon following behind. Once there, we ambled along the veranda that surrounded it, searching for any clues that would tell us where the lighthouse keepers were. On the far side of the building there was another door. I knocked, but again there was no response. I leant on the wooden balustrade that surrounded the veranda and looked out across the landscape, wondering what to do next. The land dropped away immediately below the building and a set of concrete steps led down to an outhouse. Along its roof, little brown lizards scuttled as they displayed to each other. Beyond that, the land disappeared off towards the horizon in a series of low, rolling hills covered with scrubby bushes. The green expanse of land made a pleasant change after weeks of nothing but featureless sea.

I heard the door creak open behind me and turned to see Jon with his hand on the latch.

‘You can’t just go wandering into someone’s home, especially when they’re not there.’

‘It wasn’t like it was locked.’ Jon was about to step inside when he hesitated, ‘What the hell?’

I looked past him into a kitchen that had been turned upside down. Pots and pans were scattered across the floor, interspersed with fragments of broken crockery. A door to a store cupboard lay open, revealing that its contents had been pulled hurriedly from the shelves. A table and chairs were stacked against a second door on the far side of the room and the cooker was pushed up against them as if someone had tried to make a barricade. The walls were covered with red smears, while several pools of what looked like congealing blood lay on the floor. Whatever the people had been trying to keep out must have found another way in.

‘Rob, is that what I think it is?’ Jon was nervous.

‘Yeah, I think so.’

‘Where d’you think it came from?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘Should we check the rest of the house? See if anyone’s injured?’

‘I guess so.’

Despite this, we remained in the doorway, neither of us wanting to be the first to step inside. Rather than enter, I decided to walk round the outside, pausing at each window to cup my hands against the glass and peer inside. I found no one but I could see the contents of each room were strewn across the floor, and furniture piled up near the doors. The only difference was that in these rooms the makeshift barriers had been pushed away as if someone, or something, had forced its way in. In all of them, there was red spattered on whitewashed walls, and dark pools on the floor. Once back at the kitchen door, I stopped and scanned the surrounding landscape again. Other than the lighthouse buildings, there wasn’t a single trace of human habitation in sight. The solitude that had seemed so appealing when we first arrived now felt oppressive.

‘Jesus, Rob, that’s a lot of blood.’

‘Yeah.’ I didn’t know what else to say.

‘Do you think it’s … you know, human?’

‘I don’t know. Even if it’s from an animal, it’s creepy.’

‘Fucking creepy. Did you see the way the doors had been barricaded?’

‘Yeah.’ I was only half-listening to him. Instead, my brain was racing, trying to find some sort of explanation for what we’d discovered.

‘So what do we do now?’

‘Huh?’ This question brought me back to reality. I thought about it for a few second, ‘I guess we should check the other buildings. You know, just in case.’

‘D’you think it’s safe?’

‘I don’t know, but we should do it anyway. It’s the right thing to do.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

I looked over at Jon and saw he was biting his lower lip nervously. ‘You can stay here if you want, but I’m going to check them out.’

‘No way. I’m coming with you. This place is really starting to scare the shit out of me. You’re not leaving me on my own.’

Jon followed as I walked slowly over to the other house. As I did so, I cast my eyes around, alert to possible signs of danger, but I saw nothing that seemed out of place. I crept around its veranda, peering in the windows. This one looked unoccupied and there were no signs of life … or of death. Next, I checked the outbuildings, but they were locked. I banged on the doors and called, but no one answered. Finally, I turned my attention to the lighthouse. From where we stood, I could see the door was slightly ajar.

I was half-way there when Jon suddenly stopped. ‘I thought I saw something move.’

‘Where?’

‘In the lighthouse.’ Jon grabbed my shoulder as he spoke.

Irritated, I shook him off. ‘What was it?’

‘I don’t know. I just thought I saw a movement.’

I searched the shadows. ‘I don’t see anything now.’

We moved forward again. Once at the lighthouse, I slowly pushed the door open. Jon jumped as it creaked loudly, the sound echoing around the stone tower. I stepped inside.

‘Hello?’ My voice sounded odd as it reverberated off the curved stone walls, ‘Anyone there?’

There was no reply. I looked round the room. It was dark but enough light came through the door for me to see a set of stairs spiralling upwards. There was nothing else; no sign of anyone; no sign of anything that might be alive.

‘Should we go up?’

I looked over a Jon. ‘Do you want to?’

‘No way.’

‘Me neither.’

Suddenly, there was a shriek outside. We ran through the door just in time to see a small flock of parrots burst into the air.

‘I think we should go back to the boat.’ Jon’s voice wavered as he spoke and I could tell he was starting to get jittery.

I didn’t blame him. The place was really starting to get to me too. ‘Yeah, let’s go.’

Jon looked relieved and headed back down the path. I followed after him, noticing he was moving much faster than he had on the way up. As I walked, I looked back over my shoulder and wondered about what we’d found. Other than the blood all over the house and the broken window in the truck, nothing seemed out of place. Something had happened here, but I couldn’t think what. I couldn’t help but be reminded of an old poem about another lighthouse, one back home on Flannan Isle. It had been found unmanned in 1900, the table still laid for dinner with food untouched on the plates. All three lighthouse keepers had vanished, and no one had ever found out what had happened to them.

We were about three-quarters of the way down the narrow path when a silhouette appeared on the skyline behind the lighthouse, a large machete clutched in its right hand. Instantly, we were both running, moving as fast as we could over the cracked and uneven surface. Glancing back, I saw the figure pursuing us, screaming indecipherably at the top of its voice.

We reached the stone steps and scrambled down to the dinghy. I fumbled with the rope that held it to the rock, trying desperately to undo it.

‘Come on, Rob.’ There was a sense of urgency in Jon’s voice I’d never heard before, not even at the height of the storm.

‘I can’t. The knot’s pulled too tight.’

‘Here, try this,’ Jon held out his Leatherman, the small knife already open. I grabbed it and started sawing frantically at the rope.

‘Come on! Whoever that is will be here any second.’ Jon eyes were darting nervously between where I was struggling with the rope and the top of steps.

‘I’m going as fast as I can. Just get the engine started so we’re ready to go as soon as I’m done.’

I was about half-way through the rope already and I redoubled my efforts. I heard Jon yank on the starter chord. The engine shuddered, but that was all. He adjusted the throttle and tried again. Again it turned over, but it still didn’t catch.

‘Careful, you’ll flood it.’

‘I know what I’m doing, Rob.’ Jon never liked it when I gave him advice, but there was a hint of panic in his voice.

I felt the rope separate and I pushed us away from the rocks. Jon was pulling repeatedly on the chord but the engine still refused to start. My eyes flicked upwards. While I couldn’t see the path, I knew the figure could appear at any moment and we were still within range of a machete. As Jon continued to fiddle with the engine, I grabbed an oar and started paddling, making short, sharp strokes on alternating sides of the bow.

We were twenty yards out when the engine finally spluttered into life and a look of relief spread cross Jon’s face. Back on the shore, I could see the figure standing on the rocks just above the steps. He was a tall, black man, his white t-shirt soaked in blood. As we motored towards to the waiting boat, he waved the machete and screamed something I couldn’t quite make out. Without warning, he stopped and sank to his knees, his shoulders heaving as he sobbed. Jon shifted the engine into neutral; the man no longer seemed insane and dangerous, just broken and desperate.

‘Should we go back?’ Jon asked hesitantly.

‘I don’t know. I don’t think we should risk it. What if it’s a trap? I mean, he’s covered in blood.’ While he no longer looked threatening, the man still frightened me.

All of a sudden, with a speed that was unsettling, the man leapt to his feet and sprang round to face the path. A new shape was outlined on the crest of the hill. I couldn’t tell if it was human or animal, or even if there was more than one, and almost as soon as I’d seen it, it was gone. The man looked desperately left and right, as if trying to decide which way he should run but, before he made his choice, two shapes shot out of the bushes. He flailed the machete wildly as they flew towards him but it made little difference. When they reached him, they attacked and, within seconds, the man was on the ground. Even from that distance, we could hear his screams of pain and the guttural growls of the creatures. He struggled frantically, trying to throw them off, but despite his size they were too much for him. His movements slowed and eventually ceased as the life drained out of him, but the creatures kept up their assault, tearing at his body, ripping him limb from limb.

‘What the fuck are those things?’ There was a look of abject horror on Jon’s face.

‘I don’t know. Let’s just get the hell out of here. Now!’

Jon slammed the engine into gear and we skimmed over the water at full speed, trying to resist the urge to look back. We tied off the dinghy and scrambled onto the catamaran. Bill was standing in the cockpit staring towards the shore with the binoculars,

‘For a minute there I thought you were going to go back. Just as well you didn’t.’

‘Could you see what those animals were; the ones that attacked him?’ I wanted to know. I wanted to understand how close we’d come to being attacked ourselves.

Bill looked at me and said nothing as he handed me the binoculars. I aimed them towards the shore and could see two huddled shapes crouching over what was left of the man. As I watched, one of them stood up and I could see what it was. It was a young boy, no more than thirteen. Blood dripped from his face as he stared straight at me. His eyes bored into mine, unblinking, so wild, so animalistic, and yet so human. He knelt back down and started tearing at the carcass again. I watched as he clawed at the man’s stomach, opening up his abdomen and pulling out his intestines. He plunged his head into the man’s body, reappearing a second later with a large piece of liver in his mouth. I lowered the binoculars and stared at Bill, not believing what I’d just seen. As I did so, CJ came out onto the deck.

‘What’s going on?’

‘Don’t know,’ Jon shot back at her as his eyes shifted from Bill to me and back again. ‘Can I get the binoculars?’

I passed them to him and watched as he raised them to his eyes.

‘They’re eating him.’ Jon was appalled.

‘What d’you mean they’re eating him? Who’s eating who? Give me the binoculars,’ CJ held out her hand but Jon didn’t give them to her.

‘Trust me. You don’t want to see.’

CJ scowled at him but there was something in Jon’s voice that suggested he was right and she didn’t push it.

As we pulled the dinghy out of the water and hauled up the anchor, Jon told Bill and CJ what we’d found up at the lighthouse. He sounded almost excited but it was probably just the after-effects of the adrenaline from his body’s fight or flight reaction. I was certainly feeling a little shaky for the same reason.

Jon was just finishing. ‘Jesus, there was blood everywhere … I mean, a lot of it.’

I felt the need to say something. CJ had a terrified look on her face and Jon needed calming down.

‘There wasn’t that much really. I mean maybe it was all from one person …’ Even as I said it, I knew in my heart it wasn’t true.

Once we were underway and had put some distance between ourselves and the lighthouse, we gathered in the cockpit. We were all been badly shaken by what we’d witnessed and for a while none of us spoke, each lost in our own thoughts. It was CJ who eventually broke the silence.

‘What now?’

‘Very good question.’ Bill sat there thinking for a few seconds before continuing. ‘No matter what happened back there, there’s nothing we can do about it. In fact, I think you guys were very lucky to get back to the dinghy when you did, otherwise … ’ I didn’t want to think what the otherwise might have been.

After a moment Bill carried on. ‘We’ll need to report it, The only question is where. As far as I can see, we’ve got four choices.’ He counted each of them off on his fingers as he spoke, ‘There’s a small village marked on the chart just up the coast, but there’s no guarantee it’ll have a police station. Even if it does, it’s going to be a small one and I’m not too sure they’d be able to deal with this sort of thing on their own.’

Given what we’d just seen, I was amazed at how calm Bill was, at how clearly he was thinking. My own mind had frozen, able to do little more than replay the same shocking sights over and over again, yet Bill was able to think logically about what we needed to do next, just as he’d done in the storm. These were the times I was so glad it was Bill who was in charge and not me.

‘Two, we can sail south and report it in Nassau. Or three, we can continue west and report it in Freeport on Grand Bahama. They’re both pretty big cities, at least as far as the Bahamas are concerned, and both will have sizeable police forces. But it’ll take time for them to get themselves together and get over to Hole-in-the-Wall.

‘Four, we can carry on to Miami, and report it from there. The important thing to remember is that, no matter where we report it, it’s going to raise a lot of questions.’

Bill was silent for a second or two. ’Frankly, I’m not too sure people will believe us. We could get tied up in the investigation for days, even weeks. There’s nothing we can do for that poor sod back there, so if the rest of you agree, I’d rather report it in Miami than in the Bahamas. That way we won’t be stuck in a foreign country while this thing is looked into.’

‘It mightn’t be a foreign country to you …’ I was a concerned Bill had forgotten we weren’t all Americans.

‘Good point. But I think you and CJ would still be better off in the US than in the Bahamas. Whatever went on back there, it’s going to cause a big stir when it comes out. At least in the US you’ll have less of a chance of getting dragged into it. We all will. What do you think?’

Bill looked around at the rest of us.

Jon nodded his agreement, as did I, but with more hesitation. My mind was finally starting to work again and while I could see Bill’s point, I still didn’t like the fact I might get stuck in an unfamiliar country, far from my boat, while any investigation took place.

‘CJ?’

‘Erm …’

‘Oh come on, Cammy, make a decision for once; not that it really matters what you think.’ Jon sounded irritated.

‘Shut up, Jon, that’s not helpful.’ I couldn’t stop myself snapping at him. It annoyed me that, despite what we’d just witnessed, Jon still couldn’t resist needling CJ. It incensed me just as much that CJ made it so easy for him. Glancing over at her, I saw the resentment and anger that had been building up within her towards Jon throughout the voyage start to bubble to the surface.

Bill must have seen this too because he sat down and put a reassuring arm around her.

‘CJ, it’s important that we all agree on what we’re going to do.’ Bill’s voice was calm and comforting, ‘What do you think? Are you happy with us carrying on to Miami?’

‘I guess Miami would be okay.’

Jon opened his mouth to speak, but Bill held up his hand and Jon thought better of it.

Bill looked round at each of us again, ‘Right, Miami it is then.’

***

‘What d’you think happened back there?’ I was keen to hear Bill’s thoughts. Night had fallen and we were over the shallow waters of Great Bahama Bank, passing between the islands of Great Isaacs and the Bimimis. We’d covered half the distance to Miami and we would be there by daybreak at the very latest. Bill and I were alone in the cockpit and we’d soon be crossing the Gulf Stream, an unpredictable stretch of water that could be whipped up into rough pyramids of water at a moment’s notice, if the wind started pushing against the northward-flowing current. We were lucky, the wind had been strong enough to keep us moving along at a decent pace, while gentle enough not to stir the waters up too much. It would be an easy passage, the skies were clear and the stars were laid out above us, the silver ribbon of the Milky Way shining brightly in the heavens. This was the type of crossing I usually relished, but I couldn’t enjoy it because the events from that morning were still replaying themselves in my head.

It took Bill a while to reply. ‘I really don’t know.’

I tried again, ‘Why would they do that to another person?’ I wanted an answer, any kind of answer, something that might explain what we’d seen.

‘I don’t know. Why do people do any of the cruel things that they do to each other?’ Bill stared out into the darkness.

‘But this is different. Even in comparison to most human atrocities, what happened back there was vicious. I’ve never seen anything like it. They were like wild animals.’ I stopped and thought for a second, ‘No, they were worse than that. They didn’t just kill him, they ripped him apart.’ Just thinking about it made me feel sick.

‘I know.’ Bill turned and look at me, there was a pained expression on his face. ‘I know. I’ve seen a lot in my life, but I’ve never seen anything like that.’

Even if I’d wanted to I don’t think I could have slept that night. I couldn’t get the image of the young boy with his wild, staring eyes, out of my head, or the terrified screaming of the man as he was torn apart. I felt there was something deeply wrong with a world where such things could happen. I couldn’t wait to get back to civilisation and get so drunk that those images would be erased from my mind, at least for a few hours.

Chapter Three

Sometime in the night the wind shifted around to the west, and with it came a strange smell. It was barely discernible at first, but it grew stronger the closer we got to the Florida coast. Mostly, it smelt of smoke; not wood smoke but something thicker, more acrid, with an undertone of singed flesh. Bill had gone down to his bunk a couple of hours before, and Jon had replaced him on watch. As we discussed what the smell might be, CJ brought out a coffee for Jon and a tea for me.

CJ looked towards the front of the boat, standing on tiptoes to get a better view over the cabin.

‘Hey, is that the sun coming up?’

‘Don’t be daft, Cammy.’ Jon took a sip of his coffee, ‘We’re heading west. The sun rises in the east, doesn’t it?’

‘Well, there’s something going on over there,’ CJ retorted. ‘It definitely looks like a sunrise.’

She sounded so certain that Jon and I stood up to see what she was talking about. Sure enough there was an orange glow on the horizon.

‘Must be some kind of brush fire.’ Jon didn’t sound convinced, but it seemed logical.

We watched for the next hour. By then, we could make out flames leaping high into the darkness. The fire explained the strange smell, or at least it seemed to, but the smoke didn’t smell like a brush fire, it smelt more industrial. I scanned the horizon. The flames were strung out in loose clusters along a stretch of coast about half a mile long, and directly ahead of us. On either side there was …


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.

For Those In Peril On The Sea – Preview, Part 2

28 Dec

This is the second of a series of postings which will feature extracts from my book For Those In Peril On The Sea that will be available from Pictish Beast Publications in the UK from the 3rd of January 2013. You can find the first posting (the prologue) by clicking here. It’s a tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic world where the land is no longer safe, leaving the few remaining people struggling to survive at sea. If you like what you read here, you can find out more about it by clicking here. If you wish to read this extract offline, you can download a PDF version of it from here.

Chapter One

I huddled in the night, trying to keep myself out of the wind and the rain. We’d been outside for six hours, searching desperately for a sign of life in the darkness, looking for the signal that would tell us everything was alright, that we’d soon be safe.

‘There. At one o’clock.’ Bill pointed ahead of us, ‘Did you see it?’

It was another five minutes before any of us saw it again. A flash of light in the blackness, glimpsed only once but definitely there. The rain eased slightly and we were able to see it each time it blinked on and off. That was the signal we’d been seeking. In good weather, it would’ve been visible from more than twenty miles away, but with all the rain we could’ve been as close as five miles when we first saw it.

‘We’ll head towards it, but we don’t know what might be out there, so keep your eyes peeled.’ Bill’s tone was authoritative. ‘We’ve got this far, so let’s not screw it up now.’

Bill always seemed to know what to do, and this was probably the only thing that had got us here in one piece. Even then it had been a close call; too close for my liking.

‘What’s that?’ CJ was pointing over the bow, ‘Directly ahead. Something’s out there, something moved.’

CJ was always seeing things that weren’t really there, but tonight I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. I stared into the darkness, straining my eyes, looking for anything that might indicate danger. Suddenly, there was an explosion of air just a few feet away. I jumped, as did Jon. CJ let out a startled yelp. Jon snorted derisively and clicked on the hand-held spotlight before playing it across the sea. A massive creature had broken the surface just off our right-hand bow. Jon swept the light along the animal’s body. As it lay on the surface, floating in the water like the trunk of a gigantic tree, its single blowhole opened again and another powerful breath shot into the night, water droplets glistening in the spotlight’s beam.

‘It’s okay,’ Jon called back to Bill. ‘It’s a sperm whale, just a baby. I think it’s checking us out.’

I calmed myself and continued to search for the pale line on the horizon that would be waves breaking against the low finger of rock that stretched into the ocean somewhere ahead of us. This was home to the Hole-in-the-Wall lighthouse, named after the arch cut through the peninsula by the ever-pounding waves. Having made it all the way from South Africa on our way to Miami, the southern tip of Great Abaco, marked by the lighthouse, was our first sight of land since passing Saint Helena almost five weeks before. Given the weather, we wouldn’t see the breakers until they were only a mile or so away, which would be too close for comfort.

‘We should heave to and wait for daylight.’ I turned to find that Bill, as usual, was one step ahead of me. He was already adjusting the sails and changing the course, bringing us to a halt even in the heavy seas.

I considered the others one by one, the people I had spent the last seven weeks with, six of them at sea with no one else for company. I couldn’t wait to get to Miami where I could step off the boat and never see any of them again. That wasn’t quite true. I’d probably keep in touch with Bill, but I doubted I’d ever hear from Jon again, and probably not from CJ either. We were just too different, in age, in outlook, in everything.

I’d been sailing around the world for the past three years having set out shortly after I’d left the only real job I’d ever had, working as a teaching assistant at a university. I’d never intended to go into teaching. It was only meant to be a temporary job over one winter, to help pay off some bills. I’d gone into archaeology thinking it would be all about exploring ancient ruins and Indiana Jones-style adventures. The first few weeks as an undergraduate dispelled that illusion but, unlike a number of my classmates, I had liked it enough to carry on.

My first dig was a Celtic hill fort in southern Ireland. It didn’t pay but it’d been fascinating, and enough to convince me that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. By the time I completed my Ph.D., I was getting sick of the sparse living conditions and the low or, more often than not, no pay. Digs were also seasonal, especially back home in Scotland, and after September, the few meagre jobs that were available dried up until the following spring. Three years after that, I was worse than broke. Up to my eyeballs in debt, I took the teaching job purely for the money, but I quickly got used to having a regular income and the temporary job stretched into eight years of drudgery.

While the students were a pain, the faculty members were worse. Every staff meeting seemed to consist of little more than an exhibition of one-upmanship, cutting put-downs and quibbles over who deserved the office with the most windows. Before I knew it, I was thirty-six and stuck in a job I hated. I hadn’t done any fieldwork in years, and the closest I ever came to any real archaeology was piecing together shards of pottery for a man who openly despised me, in a tiny office with no windows. I worked long hours for little thanks, and the pay, although good at first, hadn’t kept pace with inflation, while the cost of everything else had rocketed, and I was back to being broke most of the time.

Since it was only meant to be a temporary job, I hadn’t bothered to get to know anyone properly, I hadn’t put down any roots, I hadn’t started any relationships. Yet, as others had come and gone, I’d remained. My only escape was sailing. When my parents died in a car accident, I took the little money they left me and bought a thirty-five foot sail boat that had seen better days. I couldn’t afford to pay anyone else to do it for me, so I spent every scrap of spare time doing it up myself. As I did, I dreamed of cruising exotic coasts and exploring the world. When the economy went south and the university started laying people off, I took the redundancy money, cashed in my pension, sold up pretty much everything I owned and, for the first time in a long time, I followed my dreams.

In three years, I had sailed 20,000 miles, visiting archaeological sites throughout the world. I’d started in the Mediterranean then headed for the Yucatan peninsula and Central America. From there, I‘d passed through the Panama Canal to Easter Island and the archipelagos of the South Pacific before moving on to the Indian Ocean. I’d rediscovered my love for archaeology but my money was pretty much gone and I knew at some point I’d need to go home and get a proper job once more. Then my boat was damaged in rough seas while travelling around the southern tip of Africa and I had put in at Cape Town to make repairs. I’d have still been there if the delivery job hadn’t come along when it did.

When I arrived at the shed that served as an office for the boatyard, four people were already there: my three new crewmates and the yard’s owner. The first three were strangers but I’d known the last one for almost a month as my boat was in his yard. We got on well enough and since he knew I was broke, he’d offered me the job when it came up. I’d only taken it because I needed the money to make repairs, but it also delayed the inevitable return to gainful employment for a little bit longer. As I entered the office, the yard owner looked up and smiled.

‘Hi, Rob. These are the others.’ He gestured towards the three strangers. Pointing to the first one, he said, ‘This is Bill, he’ll be the one in charge.’

Bill was in his late fifties, his face tanned and weathered from a life at sea. He was well-built without being stocky and had a firm handshake. Bill had started life as a commercial fisherman in Maine. When the local fish stocks collapsed, he’d sold up and become a crewman on a charter boat in the Caribbean, leaving behind an ex-wife he’d married too young, then divorced when they’d grown up and realised they’d become very different people. Thirty years later, he was one of the most-respected charter-boat captains in the Indian Ocean, working in places as far apart as South Africa, the Seychelles, Australia and New Zealand. His services were always in demand, but he was now ready to retire and had taken the delivery job to get him to Florida. Once there, he was planning on buying a boat and heading south to reacquaint himself with the islands where he’d started his chartering career.

‘Jon will be the second mate.’

Jon sprang to his feet and grabbed my outstretched hand, greeting me with an over-familiar ‘Hey’.

If you hadn’t known it from his accent, you’d have guessed he was American just by looking at him. Jon was tall and tanned, with shoulder-length blond hair, and was dressed in that effortlessly smart-casual manner only Americans seem to be able to carry off. Jon had grown up in a wealthy family, playing around on expensive boats at his father’s yacht club, and had been expected to go into the family law business, just like his older brother and sister before him. Jon, however, had other plans, dropping out of college after two years when he’d been offered the opportunity to take part in a round-the-world yacht race, his family money allowing him to easily pay the costs that everyone else had to scrimp and save to be able to afford. While his family didn’t approve, they put up with it, figuring he’d go back to college after he got the whole sailing thing out of his system. That had been four years before I met him and Jon still showed no sign of having got anything out of his system.

‘Finally, this is Camilla.’ The owner pointed towards a young, well-dressed girl perched on the edge of a desk.

‘It’s CJ,’ she corrected him quickly.

‘Sorry. This is CJ.’ The owner scowled at her before continuing. ‘She’ll do all the galley stuff and be an extra pair of hands if you need it.’

Camilla Jamieson, or CJ as she preferred to be called, was British, blonde, pretty and posh. She was nineteen and in the middle of a gap year that was being spent having, as she put it, ‘epic adventures’. She had little real sailing experience, having finished her exams at an exclusive all-girls school in the home counties only the summer before, but she’d worked as the cook on Bill’s last charter trip just to see ‘what having a real job would be like’. Bill had grown to like her and, more importantly, her cooking skills; enough to put in a good word and get her the position of cook on the delivery job. She wouldn’t need to know much about sailing, just do whatever she was told, and try not to throw to up in the soup she was making if the seas got a bit rough.

Bill proved himself to be as good a captain as his reputation suggested. He knew his stuff, knew how to get us to work together and do what needed to be done. Jon got on my nerves. He always thought he knew best and was insufferably pompous on the few occasions he was actually right. How Bill was so patient with him, I didn’t know, but I think it helped that Jon looked up to him, almost idolised him. Bill had lived the life Jon wanted so much, and Jon hung on his every word. With me it was different; to Jon I was just some middle-aged guy who could do nothing to help him get where he wanted to go. While Bill offered him the opportunity to learn his chosen trade, he resented the fact that, as first mate, I ranked above him in the on-board pecking order. Maybe it was his youthful enthusiasm, or the way he thought he had the answer to everything, or how he thought he could solve all the world’s problems if only people would listen to him, but something about Jon just rubbed me up the wrong way. I’d probably been just the same when I was his age but now, almost a decade and a half later, I was more jaded, more world-weary, and more realistic about how much one person could actually do to change the world for the better.

CJ was okay, and the meals she created were amongst the best I’d ever had while at sea, but she had a tendency towards the melodramatic, and she was oversensitive to criticism when she got something wrong. She got offended on the few occasions we didn’t like her cooking and frequently accused us of taking her for granted, which both Jon and I almost certainly did most of the time.

After six weeks of being cooped up on a forty-four by twenty-foot piece of fibreglass and plastic, I longed to reach Miami, to get away from the others, to get back to the solitude of my own boat. There was nothing like the feeling of being alone at sea and only so long I could spend on a small boat with people I didn’t really get on with without wanting to kill them, pitch them over the side or, at the very least, never set eyes on them again.

When he was bored, Jon’s favourite sport was needling CJ, calling her ‘Cammy’ just to annoy her as he’d seen how much she’d hated it the first time he’d done it. He’d make fun of the fact she was a rich girl who was only there to play at being poor but, given his own background, he didn’t appear to notice the irony. At one point, I blew my top and pointed this out in no uncertain terms. While I’d apologised the next day, a certain frostiness remained.

At least there was more room than on most boats with a crew of four. The catamaran was designed to sleep eight, ten at a push, meaning we each had cabin to ourselves, somewhere to hole up and hide when being around each other got too much. I think this was the only thing that kept me from throttling Jon, particularly since we’d run into a storm and lost all of our electronics. Without them, not only was it much more difficult to sail, since we had no auto-helm, no radar and no GPS receiver to tell us where we were, but we also had no satellite television or radios, and so no contact with the outside world. If we had, it would have at least given us something new to talk about rather than having the same conversations, hearing the same stories and having the same arguments over and over again.

The storm had been unexpected and intense: a white squall, a wall of rain, spray and 100-mile-an-hour winds that sprang out of nowhere. The vicious winds tore at the sails and waves crashed over us. The cockpit filled in seconds, and would have carried Bill and CJ over the side if it weren’t for their safety harnesses. The storm hit so suddenly we’d had no time to close the hatches and water poured into the cabin from all directions. Once inside, it rained down into the hulls, filling the bilges and the engine compartments, shorting out the electrical system and, with it, the electric bilge pumps. With all the water on board, we lost much of our buoyancy and sank so low that we were almost beneath the waves.

Just as it seemed the boat would flounder and we would all drown, Bill found a course where the waves no longer swept over us quite so frequently. He ordered CJ below to close the hatches and set me and Jon to work on the manual bilge pumps. Soon we were riding high enough again that the immediate danger of being swamped had passed and we could concentrate on fighting the storm. After two hours, it finally blew itself out, leaving us battered and bruised.

As calm descended once more, we inspected the damage. The rigging was loose and most of the sails were split. Both engines had been drenched and neither would start. The batteries had been submerged long enough to have lost their charge, and without the engines we had no way to recharge them. The electrical system had had such a dousing that none of our electronic equipment would work again until it had been given a thorough drying out; something we couldn’t do while rolling around in the middle of the ocean. In my cabin in the left-hand hull, I found all my clothes were soaked. Neither my little FM radio nor my mobile phone had survived their unexpected immersion, and the pages of all my books were pasted together.

We were cut off from the outside world and all we could do was limp onwards. Bill tightened up the rigging and sewed the damaged sails back together. He brought out his ancient sextant so he could work out where we were and in what direction we needed to be heading. After a few days, we had most of the basics sorted … but only the basics. We still had no engines, no electrical system and no electronic equipment. Bill aimed us for Hole-in-the-Wall as it was the first land we’d encounter on our direct route to Miami and, despite the battering the catamaran had received, we still needed to complete the delivery. At the lighthouse, we could make contact with the keepers and get a message passed to the boat’s owners to let them know what had happened.

The preview of Chapter two can be found here.


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From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in the UK. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more.