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There are those who run, while others hide.And then, there are the Cleaners.The living dead have staggered straight out of hell, and all that keeps humanity from crumbling is a small team of men who catch the rotters, before cleaning up the mess left behind.Catherine Woods might not be a man, but no sexist, out-dated nonsense is going to stop her from following her dreams and joining the war against the undead.The only problem is—even the best dreams can become nightmares in an instant.“Filled with the perfect mix of crazy, jaw-snapping zombies, heart-stopping horror, Burn the Dead: Purge is a 5-star read for any zombie fan who is looking for something that isn't your typical rotter story.”A.J. LEAVENS – Author of Death’s Twilight
Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi lub dowolnej aplikacji obsługującej format:
Liczba stron: 259
I. Big Bad World
II. Dead Dreams
III. Paved With Rot
IV. Marbleview Street
Also Available - Burn The Dead: Riot
Also Available - Burn The Dead: Quarantine
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Also Available - Thea II: A Vampire Story
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Also Available - Spine: A Collection of Twisted Tales
Also Available - Rotten Bodies: A Zombie Short Story Collection
About the Author
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Can’t sleep again.Toocold.
Dad won’t switch on the central heating, says it’s too expensive. He tells me to use the spare blanket. But I hate using that. It’s so itchy, and there’re spiders in the cupboard. Dad tries to teach me to face my fears, says I’m a silly little girl for being afraid of a furry bug. But he just doesn’t get it. I’m thirteen years old, and I’ll be fourteen in a month—so if I haven’t got over my arachnophobia by now, then I guess I’m stuck with it. Forlife.
I switch the TV on. Sometimes watching some shitty film manages to knock me out, but the volume has to be low. Can’t disturb Mum and Dad—Dad will kill me. He’s already threatened to take the TV away if I wake him again. He tells me that I’ll understand when I finally go out into the real world, working, earning a living. The usual grown-upcrap.
At least I wouldn’t scrimp on the heating.
Another hour passes and I switch the TV off. There’s nothing on apart from shopping channels and weird reality shows. Not my cup of tea. Mum loves that kind of rubbish, but I can’t see the attraction. Most of the girls in my class watch them. But I guess I’ve always been a little different. I’d rather be watching action movies, or shows about police arresting drunks. The kind of junk Dad watches.
Almost four in the morning and I’m still wide-awake. Got school tomorrow. Can’t see me being too alert for maths first thing. I’ll have to sit in the back, try to avoid eye contact with Mr Morgan. I should be all right. He usually picks on the boys. Plus, he has a soft spot for me and Chrissie. He always smiles at us in the corridor. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. He used to live next door to Uncle Pete. It’s weird seeing teachers outside of school. Not sure why. It justis.
Need a pee. Not desperate but once the thought pops into my head, I’ll never get to sleep. Best get it done now rather than lying here thinking about it for another two hours, so I get up and tiptoe onto the landing. Mum and Dad’s bedroom door is half-open, so I move even slower, holding my breath as I get to the bathroom. Once inside, I lock it and sit on the toilet. So glad it finally has a lock on it. It took Dad ages to finally get one. He’s always been against locks in the house. Don’t know how many times I’ve asked him for one for my room. Can’t see that happening any time soon. Maybe when I’m twenty-five and married, with kids of myown.
I finish up, flush and start to wash my hands. The sink is directly under the window, which looks onto the garden. Most people have frosted glass in the bathroom, but of course Dad has to be awkward. Just pathetic, flimsy blinds that get tangled if you pull too hard. Dad says that there’s a knack to it, that I’m doing it wrong. Most of the time I just roll my eyes, (after he’s gone, obviously). Drying my hands with the towel, I look down at the pitch-black garden. Can’t see a thing apart from the thick oak trees and the outline of the shed. But the more I stare, the more my eyes adjust, the more I’m certain that I see a person standing next to thetree.
I climb onto the bathtub and pull open the top window. Poking my head out into the cold air, I take a closer look. It still seems like a person, dressed in white, with a slim body, and not that tall; but it’s too dark to be sure. Maybe I should call Dad? In case it’s a burglar? No, he’d kill me; he’d tell me it’s just the trees and my lack of sleep playing tricks onme.
But what if he’s wrong? What if it is a burglar? And I didn’t say something?
Best be certain before I wake him. If I can get the garden light sensor to come on, then I’ll be sure. Bending down, I pick up one of Mum’s fancy soaps, the ones she never uses, then push my head and shoulders out into the cold night air. I see the figure again. It creeps me out. It’s not moving so it might be some branches, or some rubbish that’s blown into the garden. The light sensor is to the left of me, so I launch the soap near it, praying that I don’t hit Mum and Dad’s window by mistake. The soap hits the wall and then drops down onto the grass below, with virtually no noise at all. But the sensor doesn’t catch it, and the garden is still in darkness.
Still leaning against the frame of the open window, I glare at the so-called figure. But the more I look at it, and the more it sways slightly from side to side, the more certain I am that it is a person. Still not sure enough to wake Dad. Not yet, anyway. I need more evidence.
I leave the bathroom and tiptoe downstairs. The last few steps are really creaky so I avoid them, lunging my leg past them to reach the bottom. Creeping into the living room, I automatically flick the light switch, but then immediately turn it off. I’ll see better into the garden without it. Over at the glass patio doors, I push a few blinds over to the side to see outside.
My heart judders as I stare into the pale face of a woman.
I let go of the blinds and dash out of the living room, heart racing, and scramble up the stairs to wake Dad. Opening the bedroom door, I poke my head through. They’re both still fast asleep, so I reach down and prod Dad on his shoulder. “Dad,” I whisper. “Wake up. There’s a woman outside.”
Dad begins to stir and then his eyes half-open. “Go back to bed,” he mumbles. “It’s just a nightmare, sweetheart.”
He shuts his eyes, so I prod him again. “Dad. Wake up. There is someone outside. I think it’s a burglar.”
Dad opens his eyes again, sits up in bed, and switches his bedside lamp on. “What are you talking about?”
“There’s a woman standing in our garden.”
“Yes, Dad. I’m positive. I saw her standing by the patio doors.”
He climbs out of bed, puts his slippers on and follows me out onto the landing. “Stay here,” he says firmly, and I watch him as he walks downstairs. From the landing, I can see him enter the living room. Can’t help but feel nervous. Dad could easily defend himself against anyone, especially a woman. But you never know. She might have a knife. Or agun!
I’d better go helphim.
Moving fast but quietly down the stairs, my mind fills with visions of Dad being shot by the burglar. Can’t think like that. Dad’s strong and he’s not an idiot. He’d never let it come tothat.
Inside the dark living room, I see him pressed against the wall, with his head peering through the blinds. I creep over to him. “Can you seeher?”
“Bloody hell!” Dad blurts out in fright as he turns to face me. “I told you to wait upstairs! Why don’t you ever listen tome?”
Shaking his head, he returns his attention to the window.
“Can you see her?” I repeat. “Is she still out there?”
“I can’t see anyone. Are you sure you saw someone? It’s pretty dark out there.”
“Yes, Dad. I’m sure. She was standing by the tree, and when I came down to the living room she was by the glass, looking right at me. I swearit.”
Moving away from the window, Dad walks past me and out through the doorway.
“Where are you going?”
He doesn’t answer, so I follow. He walks down the hallway and into the dark kitchen.
“Stay back now,” he orders. “I’m going outside to check. Maybe it’s just some drunk from town, wandered into the garden.”
“Shouldn’t we just call the police?”
“Not yet. And keep that lightoff.”
I nod as Dad opens the door. A sudden gust of cold air hits us both in the face. “Be careful,” I say, my stomach full of butterflies. Then he steps outside and closes the door behindhim.
Standing in the kitchen, in silence, for what seems like an eternity, I listen out for something, anything. I can feel my hands shaking as I stare at the door handle. Please be okay, Dad.
As the seconds turn into minutes, I find myself edging closer and closer to the back door. Curiosity has always been my weakness, (or strength, depending on how you look at it). Maybe I should just open the door and pop my head out, just to check if he’s all right. Surely he won’t get mad. I won’t actually be following him—just having anose.
Another minute or so passes and I’ve reached the handle, grasped it and started to turn it. Don’t know how much help I can be if Dad’s really in trouble, but I have to at least try. Chest tight, I slowly open the door, one inch at atime.
Suddenly, the outside light comes on and the back door burstsopen.
I’m flung backwards onto the floor, hitting my head on the fridge.
I see Dad, rushing to get the door shut and locked, his face white, his eyes wide, like he’s just seen a ghost. But before he can pull the bolt across to lock it, the door flies open, knocking him to the floor, his body landing on top of mine. The blonde woman is standing in the doorway, snarling like a dog; her eyes grey. The moment she spots us on the floor, she lunges towards us. Dad lifts both his legs up and manages to catch her body with the soles of his feet, and then pushes her back towards the opening. She lands hard onto her back, howling as she scrambles to her feet. Dad quickly gets up off the floor, his hands stretched out in front, ready for a second attack. I try to follow him, but I’m frozen. All I can do is cower further back against the fridge, behind his legs. The woman darts towards Dad again, black spit oozing from her mouth, her arms reaching forward. Dad secures both her wrists and wrestles her backwards towards the door. I watch in horror as the woman tries to pull Dad’s arm towards her open mouth.
“Leave him alone!” I scream as I get up off the floor.
I see Dad’s golf clubs, propped up in their bag against the table. Hauling out one of his putts, I hold it up like a shotgun, aim the metal end forwards, and then drive it into the woman’s face, splitting her nose like a peach. The distraction is enough for Dad to push her outside into the garden. But she still has a firm hold of his wrists, pulling him out with her. Just as I’m about to take another stab with the putt, I hear athud.
Suddenly the woman lets go of Dad’s wrists and drops to her knees, eyes still wideopen.
She collapses onto herback.
From the darkness of the garden, someone steps out. A man. He’s wearing a white padded overall, white gloves, black boots, and has a helmet over his head. In his hand is a strange gun, pointed down at the woman. Dad steps back into the kitchen, pulling me behindhim.
“Who is that?” I ask Dad in disbelief, as the fear starts to fade—much faster than I thought it would.
“It’s a Cleaner.”
“Not that type of a cleaner, sweetheart. A differentone.”
“What’s wrong with that woman?”
Dad pushes me further back into the kitchen. “She’s infected. She’s notwell.”
I look up at Dad. “Is she a zombie?”
Dad nods, his eyes still gigantic.
“Get back!” the man orders as he straps something over the woman’s mouth. “And lock that door! Now!”
That was amazing! Wait ‘til Chrissie hears aboutthis!
“I know what I want to be when I grow up,” I say as Dad starts to close the backdoor.
“What’s that, sweetheart?”
“I want to be a Cleaner.”
Dad locks the door, and the dead woman disappears fromview.
“A Cleaner?” Dad asks, as he rushes to the kitchen window.
He pulls the blind over to one side, looks outside, and then turns to me. “Not a bloody chance.”
Nerves start to slither over me as I reach the steel gates. I can’t see any signs on the building, which looks to me like a small warehouse, or a factory. Strange. Pulling out the piece of paper from my jeans pocket, I double-check the address.
This is the right place. Don’t panic.
I push the gate open; it creaks noisily as the bottom scrapes against the concrete.
Inside the car park I see a large white van and two cars. I walk over to what seems to be the entrance. As I reach for the door handle, I can’t help but wonder if all this is just a cruel prank and there is no actual job. I mean, who the hell would want me as a Cleaner, anyway? It’s not like I have any real experience in security. I should have lied on my CV. Everyone does it. I should have told them that I’d worked as a bouncer for a year or two. Made up some pub, maybe; one that’s already closed down, in case they check up onme.
I push and pull the door handle but nothing happens. Locked! This is a wind-up. But how can it be? The Job Centre gave me the address. Must be a different place then; maybe it’s on the other side of Ammanford. I see a security keypad on the wall. I push the button with the bell symbol on it, half expecting it not to work. I can just about hear a faint buzzing sound echoing inside.
I’ve got the wrong place.
I’ve buggered up my only interview. Nice one, Cath—you’ve blown your dream job before it’s even begun. How dumb can you get? After all the letters you sent, all the complaints you filed that women could just as easily do the job—and you go and mess up the bloody address.
Walking away from the doors, I pull out my mobile phone from my handbag. Job Centre didn’t give a contact number, but I should be able to find it online, though. I remove my woollen gloves, slip them into my coat pocket and push the Internet button. Just as it connects, I hear the door opening. There’s a tall man standing in the doorway. He’s in his late-fifties, completely bald and wearing a shirt and tie; his top button is undone.
“Catherine? Catherine Woods?” the man asks, his voice deep and husky, his eyes telling me that I am expected, but not welcome.
At least I’m in the right place.
He shakes my hand, squeezing it way too tight. Not sure if it’s just a force of habit, or some macho thing. I expect he does that to most men he meets, just to showcase strength and authority. But what the hell would he get from doing it to a woman? I think it’s already established from his size that he’s stronger than me, that he could kick my ass in his sleep.
“Hi,” I say, prying my hand from his grip, “you must be Mr Davies.”
“Yeah, that’s me. Did you find the place all right?”
“I found it fine, thanks. Just wasn’t sure that I got the right address. Couldn’t see any signs outside.”
“I know, it’s confusing. We try to keep the place low-key. The Job Centre should’ve mentionedit.”
“It’s okay. No bigdeal.”
“Shall we get started then, Catherine?”
I smile politely, but I’m guessing he already hates my guts, thinks I’m not right for the job. But I’m here now, no turning back. All he can say is No, thank you. Better luck nexttime.
“So,” I say, trying to break the silence as we walk along the grey corridors; my voice and footsteps echoing, “do many people know what this building is usedfor?”
“No, not many. Well, apart from the government, the staff, families, and probably a few others. I mean, it’s not like Area 51or anything. It’s almost impossible to keep secrets these days. But it helps to stop the locals from freaking out. Last thing we want is complaints, or idiots snooping around at night. It’s way too dangerous.”
“Why’s that? I didn’t think you kept any inventory at your base. I thought they got sent for burning.”
Mr Davies stops at a door, grasps the handle and then turns to me. “Not all thetime.”
I follow him inside. He takes my coat and scarf and directs me to a chair next to a wooden desk. I sit down, my body rigid with anxiety, as he walks around to the other side of the desk and sinks into a leather chair. Leaning back, he looks me straight in the eye; his stare untrusting, like a cop trying to get information out of a suspect. “So, Catherine,” he says, putting both his hands behind his head, “we’ve got five hardworking Cleaners in our branch, so what’s the fascination about becoming our sixth member? I mean, it’s dangerous, underpaid, and quite frankly very unappealing for anyone—let alone a woman. There must be hundreds of jobs out there for a pretty young girl likeyou.”
“Well, Mr Davies—”
“Call me Roger, sweetie,” he corrects me, his patronising tone causing my clammy fists to clench as they rest on my thighs.
I force a good-mannered smile. “Okay. Well…Roger, all my life I’ve wanted to be a Cleaner. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to protect people. And what better way than to work in this field. I mean, there’s nothing like it. It’s the frontline. The most important part of the fight.”
He nods along. I can tell he thinks I’m full of shit, that I’m just talking the talk. He picks up a sheet of paper from the desk, glances at it and then squints his eyes. “Says here that you’re twenty-three years old. Is that correct?”
I nod. “Yes, that’s right Mr—I mean, Roger. Twenty-three last month.”
“Aren’t you a little bit young to be out on the frontline? Risking yourlife?”
“Well, if I may, Roger, a lot of soldiers risking their lives on the frontline are younger than me. Some as young as eighteen.”
“Yes, but you’re not a soldier, Catherine.” He squints again at the sheet of paper, which is clearly a copy of my CV. “Says here that you dropped out of the Territorial Army after just two years of service.” He locks his eyes on mine again. “Why was that Catherine?”
“I injured my knee playing hockey,” I say, rubbing my left knee. “Twisted it pretty badly. Had to have surgery. So I spent the next few years getting my strength back. But it’s fine now. Good asnew.”
“So why didn’t you just re-join? I’m sure they would have been more than happy to take youback.”
“I wanted to, but I got a full-time job in the restaurant, which meant working most weekends, so there was just no way to commit to re-joining.”
“Okay, that’s understandable, Catherine, we all need to work. However, you may have to carry heavy equipment. Is that going to be a problem with a dodgyknee?”
“Absolutely not. As I said, it’s as good as new. But I’ll be fine with any heavy inventory. I’ve been training hard for the past few years; strength training, lots of uphill running, cycling.”
“Some of the inventory might be extremely heavy. Are my guys going to be stuck carrying your workload?”
“No, Roger. I can carry my own inventory. I promise.”
He groans, and then takes another look at my CV. “Says here that you’re born and raised in Ammanford. Will it be a problem for you travelling all around South and West Wales? Some days we’re not back until the early hours of the morning.”
“Not at all. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. I know it’s a tough job, but that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to me. I love a challenge. And I’m not scared of anything.”
“Well you should be. This job is not what the papers say. They make out that it’s all glamorous, that it’s going in all guns blazing. But I can assure you, Catherine, that it’s most definitely not. I’ve lost three good men over the past five years, and every one of those men had families, friends. But one tiny mistake, one unpredictable situation they couldn’t control, and that’s it. Gone,” he clicks his fingers, “just likethat.”
“I promise you, applying for this job was not something I took lightly.”
“Well, you did a little more than just apply for the job, Catherine. Thanks to your many letters of complaint to the government, which were handed directly to me, we’ve had to change our policy on employing women. Now I know it may seem sexist to you, and probably to all women out there. But Catherine, let me tell you that nothing is ever black and white. If our department feels that it’s necessary that only men are employed, then that is for the safety of the public and my team. I don’t give a shit if that comes across negative, or sexist, or whatever. My only concern is the lives around me. Do you understand?”
“Yes I do, Roger. And I completely trust that every decision you make is for the good of the team. But I’m a very proactive woman. I saw an opportunity to make a change, to follow a dream, to make a difference, and I tookit.”
“Either way you look at it, thanks to equality, I have no choice now but to open the doors to female applicants. And seeing as you were the only woman who’s applied to this branch,” he puts the CV down and gets up from his chair, reaching across the desk, “welcome aboard.”
I smile and shake his hand. “Thank you, Roger. You won’t regret it. I promise.”
He sits back down, groans again, and then runs his hands over his smooth head. “I hope not, Catherine. For your sake, as well asmine.”
“So when does the training start?” Dad asks me, slurping his tea from across the breakfast table.
“I already said, Dad,” I reply, unable to disguise the impatience in my voice. “This weekend. Thursday is a run through—meet the guys, kind of an intro. Plus, a fitness test. If that goes well, the real training will start on Friday.”
“Until Sunday?” he blurts out, almost spitting out his tea. “That’sit?”
“Well, yeah. But it’s very intense. And most of the important training is done out on the field. I’ll be shadowing someone first. Then, maybe after a few weeks, maybe even a few months, I’ll be having to deal with things alone.”
“One bloody weekend. That’s scandalous. You’d swear you were training to work in a supermarket—not working as a bloody Cleaner.” He takes a giant—almost aggressive swig of his tea—and puts his cup down a little too hard on the table, spilling a little. “All I hear on the News is how little money they get from the government, putting up with shitty equipment, understaffing, and dangerous working conditions. It’s just not worth therisk.”
“Tell that to the armed forces then. They’ve always had to put up with budget cuts. And so has the NHS. But we still need nurses and soldiers.”
“Well, I think you’re mad, Catherine. I really do. And I don’t see what the big fascination is with all this. Why can’t you just get an ordinary job like everyoneelse?”
“I know it’s risky, but this is something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a little girl. You know that. So nothing’s changed. I still want to be out there, making a difference in the world. Not stuck dealing with stupid customers at a restaurant.”
“Yes, I understand all that, but why does it have to be you? There are plenty of men already doing this kind of thing. Let them take the risks.”
“That’s exactly the point: Men. It’s one of the only jobs left in this country that has a No Women Policy. It’s dated and sexist and now I’ve changed that. Me. Your daughter. All by myself. And you were the one who said that I should write to the government. You’re the one who taught me to fight for what I believe in. You.”
Dad shakes his head, clearly struggling to justify his actions. He reaches over to the centre of the table and takes the last slice of toast from the plate. “Look, Cath, I know what I said, but—”
“But nothing. It’s obvious to me that you only encouraged me to write those letters because you thought that I wouldn’t stand a chance. Well, now I’ve got through, and I’ve got the job and I plan on keeping it for as long as possible. And I plan on setting an example to all the other women out there who have to live in a world with sexist pigs likeyou.”
“Catherine!” Mum shouts from the sink. “Don’t speak to your father like that. He’s only saying what needs to besaid.”
“Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that—but that’s how it’s coming across.”
“Just because your dad thinks that something is dangerous,” Mum continues, “doesn’t make him sexist.”
“Look, Cath,” Dad says, his tone a little softer, “I just want you to be safe. Your mother and I both do. I just happen to think that some jobs are better suited for men and some better suited for women. That’s all. That’s not sexist, it’s just life. We’re not all the same. We have lots of differences. And if you can’t see that, well, then…more foolyou.”
Mum walks over to the table and stands behind Dad, her both hands on his shoulders, tea towel draped over her arm. “Look, I tell you what, Catherine, why don’t you apply for something a little less controversial?”
“Like?” I ask patronisingly, knowing full well that she’s just going to reel off a list of girlie jobs—like nursing.
Mum shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe hairdresser, you know, something like that. Or beautician. I mean there’s good money in that if you get in with the right salon.”
“I’ve got a job, thankyou.”
Dad takes a mouthful of toast and then speaks; his words muffled: “Being a Cleaner doesn’t even pay thatwell.”
“It’s not about the money,” I retort, “it’s about thejob.”
Dad swallows and then sighs. “Well, I think you’re crazy. I really do. And you’ll only end up changing your mind again.”
“What’s that supposed tomean?”
“Cath, you’ve gone through more career paths than I have—and I’m fifty-bloody-eight.”
“I haven’t had thatmany.”
“No? You sure about that? What about wanting to be an English teacher?”
“So what? I was fifteen. I was just a stupidkid.”
“Then it was a doctor.”
“Paramedic, actually, Dad.”
“Okay, paramedic then. Same thing.”
“It’s not the same thing, and I only abandoned that because they were only recruiting in London. Remember? And you were the one who talked me out of it. You said that I’d hate living in such a big, dangerouscity.”
“Can’t remember sayingthat.”
I clench my fists under the table, seething with frustration. “Typical—selective memory as usual.”
“Oh yeah, and then of course it was theNavy.”
“What, so you want me to go off and fight in some shit-hole countrythen?”
Dad shakes his head. “No, of course not. My point is: this Cleaner thing is just another one of your little ventures. In a month, you’ll get bored, move on to some other career path, and then you’ll be handing in your notice.”
I snort, struggling to contain the outburst that’s brewing inside. “You don’t have much faith in me, doyou?”
“It’s not that, Cath. I do have faith in you. I think you’re a smart girl, with a great future. I just don’t want you to risk it on some flash-in-the-pan job that you think is glamorous, and important.”
“It is important. Very
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