The road to Basin was extremely dark and quiet. The clouds had covered the moon and a wind was picking up. It was 14 km from the turn-off to the moat that surrounded it, and we let the horses fall back to walking pace shortly after we turned. instances where a ranger needs to take care of the dead on the road isn’t unheard of. Admittedly there were a lot more of them than I ever accustomed to see, but still, it’s not unheard of. And someone with Jeremy’s skills would be pretty capable of killing them all, and then repairing the fence. We couldn’t offer him much by staying. It is his job after all.
The sounds of the road become a bit hypnotic after a while. The hoses and their hoofs all make the same sound as they hit the dirt, but they never walk at the same pace because they aren’t exactly the same height. So as they walk their hoofs make a rhythm that slowly changes until it’s a constant sound like a drum roll, then it slowly changes again until they are all walking at exactly the same time again. When we were approaching the moat of Basin the horses’ hoofs were all in perfect rhythm, and sounded like one animal.
“Woah!” Boss said sharply and loudly enough for Bo to hear him and he pulled up his reigns too. A mist was coming down and my eyes were getting dry from tired. Basin had two huge towers in front of its gate, with the usual kind of draw bridge. But where most towns have a draw bridge that’s about five times the height of a normal person this one was three times taller than that even. The towers were so tall that we couldn’t clearly see their tops because of the night and its darkness and the mist. We stopped and waited for the draw bridge to lower; but it didn’t. Boss whistled with his two fingers in his mouth. It was a huge whistle. We saw a light in one of the tower windows, but then it went out and still nothing. Boss got down and walked to the closest part of the road where the moat edge was and stood there, but still; nothing. Then he turned and stood facing us for a short time, turned back to face Basin, turned back to us and unfolded his arms.
“Get some sleep,” he said in a voice just loud enough to be heard, and we all gladly got our things out.
I was just getting comfortable in my sling under the pole cart when Bo pulled into his sling.
“If the dead get onto the road,” I said to him, “and they’re coming up the road now as we lay here, will they get to us before morning?”
He went silent for a minute, then got out of his sling and walked away. I heard his voice. I heard him telling Boss the same thing I’d said. Then boss told him he was impressed with how clever he was and thanked him. I bet Bo was really pleased with himself too. But then I also heard Boss tell Bo to go and get the twine from the home cart and tie it to as many pots, pans and tin cans as we had on hand and make a trip line on the road about 500 paces away from Basin to make a noise if anyone trips it during the night. Stupid Bo. He got into his sling a while later but he didn’t say anything to me.
We all slept as best we could. Bo usually snores but he didn’t that night. It felt like I blinked, then opened my eyes and the sun was rising. As I lay in my sling I felt warm and cosy. I was really warm in it. The slings have a padded bottom to protect us from the cold, and I had all my clothes on with the thick wool blanket. It was mostly across my shoulders and upper body keeping me warm. The slings are made of a light brown canvas. I guess they were white once, but they need a wash. They have two ropes that meet at either end and are woven around a metal eye to put a hook through. Because I’m small the ropes pull together a bit and they almost close around me, keeping me even warmer in winter. In summer I put a bit of wood between the two ropes to keep the gap open a bit. As I lay in the sling I was laying on my side, and I could see the fabric of the canvas. I rubbed my eye, and then focussed to look through a hole in it. As I looked through it I could see down the Road to the the blue, crisp sky. The trees that lined the road made an arch all the way along it with the sky which winking through. As I stared for a few minutes, thinking how beautiful and peaceful it seemed, I could just make out two tiny figures running toward us from the further St part of the road. It took me a second to work out what I was looking at, but as soon as I realised they were people, and they were running as fast as they possibly could. I threw myself out of the sling. I scrambled out from under the wagon and grabbed the sword from where I left it on the pole cart the night before. The king was above me and he was beginning to moan a bit. I slapped the bars of his cage with the flat side of my sword. Mainly just because it made me feel tough. But also because I was scared. I figured he was hungry. He smelled disgusting. He didn’t even jump. Just looked at me. They give me the heebies. He was still naked because Boss hadn’t bothered re-dressing him after the fight. He’s so gross.
I got around to the other side of the pole cart and saw that it was Bo and Alexis running toward us.Ordinarily, seeing either of them run is alarming because they run for different reasons. Bo would only run because he’s afraid of something, and anything that’s able to make that lazy bastard run is probably pretty terrifying. Seeing Alexis run means that he’s running from something that he can’t beat in a fight, and that’s equally terrifying for different reasons. They were running as fast as they could. And then, as they got a bit closer it became clear what they were running from. The dead were cantering along behind them in the way they do when they are on the chase of living meat. The ones that haven’t been dead as long run faster, almost at full pace. They were up the front. Their muscles haven’t broken down as much and they can still move pretty well. Their clothes are also in better condition if they were wearing any when they died. But the ones who have been dead the longest look like nothing you can describe. Often they have their guts dragging along behind them, or out their ass. I saw one that had been attacked by the throat and it had its tongue dangling from the hole in its neck.
I looked around and I saw Boss pulling his trousers on. I guess he’d just relieved himself. He looked back the other way at the moat and then back at the hoard of dead running our way. There was so many that there were no gaps between them to see the road behind them. Raf and May appeared, but this time they weren’t naked. In fact, they were wearing their full Patrio uniforms. When people from Pan turn 16 they have to do a year of Patrio service where they join the Panerets Army and they go out into the woods and live in a training camp for six months then they have to kill five dead and bury them. Their armour was the same kind of look as Jeremy’s, but no metal bits. It was all canvas and leather. Just enough to stop them getting bitten I guess. I looked back along the road and could see the looks on Alexis’ and Bo’s faces. Alexis looked mean. Bo looked like he’d soiled himself. But then I saw also running toward us, much closer to the dead, was another figure. It was Jeremy. I only noticed him because he stopped running and slashed at the dead that were getting too close to him and then started running again. I guess he was slowing a bit because he would have run the better part of 10km without a horse. And then I realised he didn’t have his horse. Which is a shame. Because I liked that horse. I reckon that Raf and May saw too because they started running toward him with their swords in hand. Pan swords are about the same length as a broad sword, but thinner. They’re lighter and have a solid steel handle so they’re easier to manoeuvre in a tight space.
“Stop right there!!” Boss yelled at them. Raf and May stopped, but their bodies looked like they weren’t obeying their heads completely. “He’s a Ranger and he’s still in front of them. Help me get the wagons in a line to block off the road!”
Loss of Life
We got the horses unhitched as quickly as we could and tied them to the spot closest to the moat edge. Then we heaved the pole cart to a better position and Boss started untying everything and then pushed the planks down to make a barrier that would stop the dead from crawling under the cart. We lined the other carts up so that there was only one gap in the middle because the road was wider than the three carts all lined up end to end. Alexis and Bo got back to us just as we were lining up the small cart at the fence line. Jeremy made some good distance and got to us with a bit of a gap between him and the dead.
“How many are there?” Boss said with urgency in his voice.
“Too many,” Jeremy said. He was only wearing part of his armour now, His trousers, belt, shoes and shoulder straps to hold his sword to his back. One of the best tricks to pull on the dead is to throw your clothes at them and they think they’ve caught something for a second. His face was contorted from the agony of running at full pace for such a long distance. “I spent most of the night killing them and they just kept pouring through the hole in the fence and climbing over their own dead. I filled the road to head height with their corpses for about half a mile, and then I knew that I wasn’t going to win so I ran to join you. I tripped your trip wire at the turn off and Alexis and Bo came. Why haven’t they lowered the bridge?’
“We tried to get attention all night but they won’t respond.” Boss answered.
“I sacrificed my horse. It stalled them for a short time,” Jeremy added as he doubled over to catch his breath.
Then he pulled a whistle out of his belt pouch. It looked like it was once a seed pod and had a small hole cut in one end and one on the top. He got to his feet and blew it with all his might. It let out a shrill sound, then he stopped and started in a pattern that was quite distinctive.
“Here they come!” Said Raf, and Alexis pushed his way past us.
“We need to block this hole between the carts with the bodies of their own dead to buy us some time and secure our position!” He went through the gap in the wagons and stood, waiting, with his sword ready. May and Raf went too, pushing me out the way. Jeremy kept blowing his whistle, and I watched as the dead in their hundreds clambered past one another to get at us. The first to reach us was a woman. About 20 years in age, with blonde hair. Her face was fresh and she couldn’t have been dead for longer than a week. She was only wearing a belt and part of a top. Her arms were stretched out and her teeth were snarling. She ran straight at Alexis. He just stood, strongly, with his sword positioned exactly where her mouth was and she ran straight into it, falling limp as she collided with it. He yanked it free and spun it to slash into the neck of another directly behind her; but the teeth of the first lady seemed to still be attached to the sword and they flew off to the side in a white flash. The man he hit was a fat man with a beard who had been dead a lot longer. May and Raf also slashed away with extremely accurate slices, falling three within seconds.
“There!” Jeremy said in an urgent tone, as he pointed up the tower on the other side of the moat. I turned and saw a man looking out the same window where we’d seen the light the night before. He yelled out something, but we couldn’t hear what it was over the moaning and growling of the dead.
“I can’t hear you!!” Boss yelled back to the man.
He disappeared from the window. Jeremy looked at Boss with panic on his face. We were all hoping that the draw bridge would lower, but it wasn’t moving and there were no sounds of chains clinking inside either.
The dead were up against the wagons. I swung my sword at one that was trying to get at us from between the spokes of the wheel. It died. I felt pretty good. I looked up and Raf and May were slashing at the dead that were over on the side near the fence. May had a position behind the King’s cage and she was using it as a sort of shield, popping out to slash at them and then retreating again. We were all scared and all looking for ways to kill them as the first ones got to the wagons. But then we heard a sound that made all of our stomachs turn. Raf let out a scream of agony. One of the dead got stuck on the end of his sword. He couldn’t free it and another grabbed his arm and pulled him in. It bit deeply into Raf’s neck. May screamed out the word “NO!”’ and Boss said “Shit! Get her, NOW!” and Jeremy sprang to his feet. He jumped through the gap, standing on the head of one of the creatures as he reached through to yank her out and back behind the lines. Alexis systematically slashed and sliced with two hands, moving slowly into the gap between the carts. Jeremy threw May into Boss’ arms and then leapt back into the fight with Alexis. May screamed and thrashed about, trying to get back out there where Raf was still screaming.
“Look! Up there!!” Bo yelled at Boss, and we spun around to see the man from the tower lowering a rope down the wall and into the moat below. He was offering us a way up and into Basin. Boss’ face flashed a look of making a plan and he yelled, “GO! GO!”
We ran into the water of the moat. It was quite clean water because it flowed straight out of the Thanatos River behind the community via a channel that the Basin people had dug generations ago to fill their moat with. It was freezing but I didn’t care. I looked back and Boss was dragging, and then pushing, May. She punched him in the face, and then he punched her in the face and she fell. He picked her up, over his shoulder and put her on Ben’s shoulder. He waded into the water with her behind me. I was surprised that the water was only neck deep even at its deepest place. But I kept pushing toward the rope, which had a loop at the bottom. I looked back. Boss had the five baby pigs on their leads, and was leading them into the water, with the two caged chickens in his hands. He handed three of the pigs to Bo while Raf and Jeremy both flew through the gap in the wagons, but turned again to keep slashing at the dead for a moment until they’d killed enough to block the gap. Then they ran into the water after Boss and helped with the chickens and pigs. The pigs let out a squeal that was deafening, and echoed against the walls to double its horrible sound. I grabbed the rope and suddenly began being lifted up out of the water into the air, up along the wall to the top. It took only a short time, but I turned to look back along the road, to see how many dead there were. There were so many that I could only just see an end to them on the Basin Road. What’s more, they were starting to climb over one another to get on top of the carts.
There was an old man at the top of the wall. He was out of breath and clearly frail. But he had just pulled me up. He was wearing a long cotton shirt that went to his feet with a very high collar that folded back over itself in line with the bottom of his ears. I scrambled over the top and he threw the rope down again. Bo was about to come up, and together we pulled. It was hard work. We struggled a lot, but Bo seemed to help by putting his feet in the gaps in the stones of the wall and pushing himself up a bit. He didn’t have the three pigs anymore, so I assumed he’d dropped them. Once he was up it was a faster task, and we began helping Alexis up. He had the three pigs under his arm, squashed together, squealing wildly. As we heaved him up I heard a horrible noise. The dead had made their way over the pole cart and were starting to alarm the horses. The big one knew what was about to happen and she turned and started kicking and bucking like a wild horse. It connected with one and it fell backwards, but then it bucked a male creature and got him at full range right in the middle of its chest. He flew so high he hit the fence across the path and his arms flew out of their sockets! But then they started jumping off the pole cart, and landing on her back, and biting in. She screamed a horrible scream, as well as the other two horses. They were all still tied up together. All of them screaming like horses do when they’re afraid. Then they weren’t visible any more, as the dead covered their bodies completely, gorging on their entrails. Boss came up with the last baby pig under his arm and the chickens tied to his belt. He had taken his belt off, threaded the bars of the cage through it and then done it up again. The baby pig was still screaming it’s squeal and Boss was swearing wildly as it bit him in any place it could. He threw it on the ground as soon as he got to the top and it scrambled away like a little beast from hell, screaming as it went.
Jeremy was last up the rope. He flew up the wall with all of us pulling. The dead were just starting to splash into the moat when we got him out of the water. By the time he reached the top they were threshing about in it close to the wall.
We stood there, looking down at the thousands of dead, wading into the brown moat. The water around them was a lighter brown than the rest of it. We watched them as they milled around, falling in when they tripped on each other, or fell into a deeper parts.
“Can they drown?” Bo asked.
“No,” Boss answered grimly as he watched the two swarms of them that were mauling whatever was left of the horses.