In Vino, Mortis (A Dead Britannia short story)

Dead BrittaniaAnd now, for a taste of things to come! Ouch, shades of Mortal Combat aside, I've written a short story, more or less a prelude to the Kickstarter novel about Dead Britannia, a new serial about Britain just after its abandoned by Rome - the days when the legend that became King Arthur was born. But this Arthur must deal with a plague of the living dead, instead of Saxons!

The Kickstarter is over, but the stories will be coming soon!

Here, we see the plague just before it reaches Rome. It's in the outlying towns, and sweeping across the Empire with stunning speed. The story proceeds as one man has found a refuge from the revenants now stalking him.

WARNING! Like most living dead stories, this one is a little dark, and features imagery which may be disturbing for some readers.

Enjoy! And if you like this story, you can sign up for our newsletter to hear about more story releases here!

In Vino, Mortis

 

Heretus stood, panting, behind the solid oak door. The iron bars holding thick planks of oak together felt cool under his sweaty palms. The door was barred, and crafted well. Nothing short of a battering ram or a catapult would breach it now.

He turned a deaf ear to the frantic cries from the other side, begging him to open the door, let them in. That way led death, and God wanted Heretus to live. Someone had to live through this, to keep the Word of God alive. Who better than him?

The cries became screams as those things arrived. He tried to ignore those, too. Tried hard to not imagine the scene taking place outside, his flock torn to shreds and eaten. Revenants, a new scourge, had reached the village. Only a day from Rome itself now, so Heretus knew mankind was well and truly damned. What better place to hide from the end of the world than a church?

He heard little Paula crying and crying outside his door. Then he heard her scream, cut mercifully short.

Tears poured down his face. But he left the door barred through it all.

That had been three days ago. Three long days locked inside. The few small windows were too tiny and too high to give him much of a view, but he'd climbed the bell tower every day to take a look outside.

The things still stalked him, surrounded him, penned him in. They'd been joined by others, even. Horribly, he saw people he'd known, their faces gaunt and devoid of life, scratching at the walls of his prison.

Little Paula was there. She still held a doll in one hand, a toy the child had treasured in life, now hanging all but forgotten like some grotesque extension of her arm. The thing she had become beat its head against the stone wall of the church, leaving a reddish patch glistening there.

Heretus had already drunk all the water in the building. Even the holy water had gone to quench his thirst. He was not perturbed, though. The dirt cellar of the church had large urns of wine, enough to keep him alive for some time. There was bread stored below as well, and some vegetables kept fresh in the coolness of the earth. If he rationed his supplies, he had plenty for a week or more. Surely these devils would move on before then, or God would find a new way to supply him.

 

He was drunk. Who could blame him? He's been trapped in this chapel for a fortnight now. His food had been gone for days, and he'd eaten every bug he could easily dig out of the earthen walls of the basement.

Now he slumped on the floor, next to the half empty cask of wine that was his last provision. He brought the goblet to his lips, found it empty, and poured himself another glass. That was the ninth? Tenth? He found himself unsure. He didn't care much to recall, either.

If only the infernal scratching would go away! He could hear the revenants, scratching away at the stone walls, still trying to get in. At first it frightened him, especially when tricks of the stone made it sound much closer. But now it just annoyed him. Maddened him. Scratch, scratch. Scritch, scratch. Over and over, day and night. That scratching had become his world, as much as the glass in his hand.

 

He must have dozed for a few minutes. It could not have been for long, because he still felt very much as drunk as he had before his eyelids closed. Perhaps even more so now, as the world spun before his eyes. He'd managed not to spill his wine cup at least. That was something.

"To us, then," he raised the cup, toasting little Paula, who was crouched next to him, holding his other hand. He drank deep from the cup.

The niggling feeling that something was wrong struck him only a moment before pain lanced up his arm, jarring him from his drunken stupor. The cup dropped and he stared down his arm. Little Paula was there, true enough. She was eating his fingers. She'd gnawed one off already, and was worrying at a second. The vision etched itself in Heterus's mind: her pallid flesh, red where his blood marked it. The broken claws of her fingers, caked with dirt and slime, grasping his living flesh. The teeth, stripping another chunk of flesh and greedily chewing the morsel down.

Heterus screamed, leaping to his feet. The world spun crazily around him. The creature still clung to his hand like a burr, gnawing away with single-minded persistence. He screamed again, and grabbed his wounded arm with his other. Using both arms thus, he swung Paula through the air, smashing her head against the cask.

The old oak planks held. Her head broke instead, the skull cracking under the impact. All life went out of the creature then, and it released him.

He retched. All the wine he'd recently had came back up, spattering the dirt floor. Carefully, then, he cradled his wounded hand. He'd need to clean the wound. And dress it. He had some skill with medicines, and he knew he would need to take care that rot not set into a wound this severe. Keeping the wound tucked safely against his chest, he climbed the stairs.

Back in the main chapel, he shook his head, trying to clear it. Curse him for a fool, to become a drunkard at such a time! It was a struggle to remember where he had kept some clean rags, and a few bottles of herbs he could use for a poultice. Ah, but he would need to wash the wound. The wine would do for that. He gathered the rest of his supplies and prepared to go back down to his cask.

At the top of the stairs, he paused a moment, unable to shake the thought that he had forgotten something. He pushed his wine soaked mind, trying to remember. But for the life of him, he could not recall whatever it was.

When he reached the cellar again, he found the cask with ease. In fact, the entire place seemed brighter than usual. He cast his gaze around the small space, and what he saw froze him in his boots.

A hole, in the wall, near the ceiling. That was what he had been forgetting - the troubling question of how Paula had gotten into the cellar at all! A tunnel through the dirt, that she had used to get down to him. But if she could get in that way...

Even as he he had the thought, another of the revenants scrabbled through the roots and grime, and landed with a thump onto the cellar floor. It looked up, moaned once, and began stalking toward him. Behind it came another. And then another. And more, still more, but Heretus was no longer counting the new adversaries pouring into his warren.

He was screaming.

And then he was not.

 

I hope you loved this story! Remember, the Kickstarter for the novel is counting on your help - check it out here! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/412423568/ride-along-writing-dead-britannia