Midnight Quatermass 004
It’s gone 1am and I’m drinking coffee. Let’s go. Short story time.
WE’RE LOOKING down a small lane. An old tall wall runs its length, a little green grass and then the road itself. A helicopter off in the far distance can be heard for a few seconds then nothing.
From the tree-line opposite the wall, a young man bursts out onto the road. Out of breath he pauses, hands on his knees, head lowered. Let’s call him Trevor and say he’s 22. It doesn’t really matter. He’s having a bad time. Everyone is.
He looks behind him and then both ways up the road before focussing on the wall in front of him. It’s obviously too tall to scale, but he makes a half-hearted attempt anyway. Shaking his head he spits in disgust and begins to jog along side the wall, until he comes to a huge iron gate. Looking up he sees the name of the place spelled out in curved wrought-iron lettering that also provides a title for this little story.
Despite being real, we can actually do a lot of things that Trevor can’t which is odd when you think about it. Being fictional, in theory, he can do anything, but sadly for him we need to keep him in this particular pickle while you and I have the freedom to simply shift our perspective to the other side of those gates and that’s where we’ll now stay for a while.
From here we can watch him first attempt to squeeze through - it's not going to happen, but he gives it a good go before stepping back. With flecks of paint and rust crushed into the side of his angry face he kicks out at the large padlock, which moves slightly and that’s that. But it’s given him an idea and he lifts his foot again, this time to use the lock as a foothold in an attempt to climb the gate. I have no idea if he’d have successfully climbed over this way because the large BOOM of a shotgun blast causes him to fall backwards off the gate and onto his arse.
We’re in England by the way. Arse not ass.
The sound was both loud and terrifying, but he’s fine.
The weapon that caused it is old, but functional. Trevor is very focussed on the smoke curling up from the barrel and it takes him a second to realise he’s still alive. And now he finally has somewhere to focus his anger. The old man.
Alan Benson is 65, stocky, white haired and full bearded. He breaks the shotgun and reloads it as Trevor gets to his feet and starts shouting.
“What the hell?”
“Keep off my damn gate.”
“You cannot be serious. Do you know what's going on out here?”
Benson snaps the gun shut.
“I'd move on if I were you. Quick, mind. A gun shot will bring 'em. They're not deaf.”
“Fucking let me in.”
Trevor grabs the gate and rattles it. Benson says nothing.
“You've got to--”
His mouth snaps shut. Behind Benson, further up the path, is a young girl. Trevor squints as she comes into focus and then he automatically takes a step back.
“Watch out! There's one behind--”
Trevor is distracted enough by what's going on behind the old man that he's as shocked as we are when from the left of the gate comes a sudden rush of tattered denim and teeth. Trevor goes down quickly. His neck is opened and a rush of bright red arterial spray fountains upwards, as the thing that is eating him lets out a guttural howl of triumph.
From all sides now come more shuffling dead people.
They pile onto what's left of Trevor, but he's beyond caring now.
So is Benson.
He turns his back on the mess outside his gate and puts out an old hand to the young girl who is now stood next to him. Clare is 9. She's wearing a little blue dress and is still cute as a button despite the sunken eye sockets and hollow cheeks. Clare is very dead. She’ll always be 9.
“Don’t worry, we'll get you some breakfast once we've seen to the Taylors.”
Clare takes one last look at the buffet that only a moment ago had a name and then takes Benson’s hand.
They reach a small building with an arch that goes over the path. Atop the arch is a huge cross. We follow as the two pass through it to reveal that we're in a graveyard. That big old wall that foiled Trevor runs all the way around the place, and by the time we’ve turned 360 degrees looking at it Benson and Clare have walked on a little and stopped in front of a gravestone not quite as weathered as some of its companions.
IN LOVING REMEMBRANCE OF FRANK TAYLOR WHO DIED ON THE 3RD OF MAY 2021 AGED 42 YEARS AND 9 MONTHS. ALSO HIS WIFE MARGARET TAYLOR WHO DIED ON THE 17TH OF SEPTEMBER 2021 AGED 50 YEARS AND 6 MONTHS. 'IN GOD'S CARE'
Benson unceremoniously plants a shovel into the soil and begins to dig at the grave singing to himself as he works.
“Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear...”
Clare sits down on the grass to listen and watch him dig.
“And it shows them pearly white...”
This will take a while. Graves are deep and Benson isn’t as young as he used to be so let’s take a quick look at what’s happening just down the road from here.
There’s a small town. Some of it is burning. A car is being tipped onto its side easily by a small mob of dead people. We can see huddles of people who are still breathing here and there on the roof tops. Not a lot of guns readily available in England, so it’s all a bit of a mess. Not that America, drowning in weapons, fared any better according to George Romero. Anyway, you get the idea. Let’s get back to the story.
Benson's shovel hits wood. He bends down and pushes away the last of the soil covering the top of a coffin. He leans in close and puts an ear to the wood. We hear what he hears: a feeble scratching sound. He drops the shovel and pulls a large screwdriver from his belt. He forces it between the lid and the coffin proper and then uses his foot to force the handle down. The lid gives and almost immediately a dead white hand flops into view, fingers grasping.
“That's the spirit, Mrs. T.”
He moves the screwdriver down the length of the coffin and repeats the process. The lid eventually comes off completely which allows the dried emaciated form of Margaret Taylor, Madge to her friends, to sit upright. Benson smiles at her and she immediately makes a grab for his leg.
Benson does nothing as Margaret opens her jaw, seemingly impossibly wide, and looks up at him. Her teeth stop just inches away from his shin.
“Sooner you stop messing with my leg sooner we can get your husband out. Don't you want to see Mr. T again?”
A look of puzzlement comes over Margaret's face as a fat spider exits her ear and crawls across her face. Her hand, faster than you’d think, shoves it into her mouth. She chews happily as Benson helps her to stand in the coffin. It’s awkward for both of them but he manages to boost her up and out of her grave with both their dignity pretty much intact.
Clare watches Margaret get pushed back into the world. The dead woman crawls towards the dead girl, gets clumsily to her feet, attempts to take a step forward and falls flat on her face.
Behind them, up on the wall, we can just make out the shadow of a figure watching from the shade of an overhanging tree.
Back in the grave, Benson is heaving the empty coffin up and out of his way. Directly underneath is another one. He repeats the same process and reveals the late dearly departed, but now back with us, Frank Taylor. He's in worse shape than his wife. His head is moving but that's about all.
“Bollocks. Groundwater got in. If its any consolation the funeral director that sold your wife a cheap coffin for a probably extortionate amount of money will have seen the error of his ways by now.”
Frank tries to speak, but it’s more of a wet hiss.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Taylor. I've got you.”
With care Benson lifts the corpse and delicately raises the bag of bones above his head and out onto the grass. He pulls himself up and sits on the edge of the grave.
As Margaret pulls her own remains towards what’s left of her husband, Benson pulls out a packet of smokes, careful to avoid the horror show packaging. Who needs to look at that shit?
When he speaks he doesn't look up.
“Something on your mind?”
Up on the wall a young woman walks into view and then sits cross-legged looking down at the three dead things and Benson.
This is Nina.
“Why don't they bite you?”
Benson shrugs, lights the cigarette.
“Too tough for them I guess.”
“Why dig them up? We don't have enough problems out here?”
He pulls hard on the cigarette and looks up at her.
“How old are you?”
“Well, miss twenty-one, when you eventually get yourself bit or some idiot on the road hits you with his car trying to get away from bring bit I guarantee that you'll have no problem getting yourself up and seeing what your new life has to offer.”
He motions at the grounds around him. Gravestones. Lots and lots of gravestones.
“These people weren't so lucky. When they woke up they were trapped in a box and six feet underground.”
“You're helping them. Is that what you think you’re doing?”
Benson nods towards the couple he's just excavated. Margaret is sat up cradling her husband's head in her lap. Clare, running around behind them, chases a butterfly. Teeth chomping.
“It was me who put these people down there. It's my responsibility to get them up. The rest is up to them.”
Nina shakes her head. Unlike us and Benson, she doesn't see the shuffling corpse of a man walking under and along the wall towards her.
“You're a crazy old man.”
Benson drops his smoke into the grave, keeping one eye on the dead guy.
“Maybe. But I can't sleep knowing they’re down there. Promised a heaven only to end up scratching away in the dark. All alone. That’s not right.”
“I saw what happened at the gate. You prefer them killing people?”
“He should have moved on. Warned him. And none of those that attacked him came from here.”
She laughs. The first time in a long long time.
“So yours are tame. Is that it?”
The corpse, right below her now, suddenly leaps up and makes a grab for Nina's dangling foot. Despite the bird’s nest in his rib cage he makes a better effort of it than Trevor. He scrapes at her boot and then falls backwards on to the grass as she pulls her leg back in panic.
“Not exactly tame. No.”
She’s furious with relief.
“Sorry about Mr. Wilkes. He’d spend hours here birdwatching. He’s still more than a little patient. Stealthy too. I never knew he could jump though. It was a fair effort.”
Nina stands again shaking her head slowly at the old man.
The old man stands too. Shrugs again.
“Perhaps. But then again what’s not insane these days?”
He reaches down for his shovel and looks off to the right.
“You'd best be off. I’m late with their breakfast and they can get a little agitated around new folk.”
She looks past him. More shambling figures are heading their way. She steps backwards to the very edge of the wall and looks both ways down the empty road before one last look at him.
“Fuck. Ing. In. Sane.”
She drops from sight on the other side of the wall and we’ve lost her.
Benson turns and heads back towards the building, whistling that old Bobby Darin tune that Sinatra improved on.
Snap your fingers and a week has passed.
Alan Benson is lifting an old coffin atop a pile of them. Discarded lids have slid this way and that. Clare is watching him and chewing on a huge piece of raw meat. Cat? Dog? Let’s hope so.
Blood dribbles down her chin.
Benson pulls his arms out to stretch and straighten his back. Through his workshop doorway he has a good view of the arch and the gate beyond it. He narrows his eyes at the figure in silhouette stood there.
Picking up his shotgun he slowly walks over, one hand shielding his eyes from the noon-day sun.
“Ah... that’s a shame.”
It's Nina. Now dead Nina. A carving knife sits lodged in her throat. Dry blood has stained her shirt jacket. She’s lost a boot.
“A real shame.”
He leans the gun against the wall and stands in front of her. Nina tries to speak. All that comes out is an inhuman noise. Her face falls a little at the sound of it.
“It's okay, kid. Come here.”
She takes a step forward and he puts one arm out through the gate, taking a firm hold of the knife’s handle. She says something that only the blade, vibrating slightly in his grasp, can hear. He gently slides it out and tosses it away.
He takes a moment to move her hair away from her dead eyes.
She grabs at his hand. Holds it.
He waits as she brings it slowly to her mouth and then lets go. She cocks her head to one side. Almost smiling.
“Now you know why no one bites me.”
He pulls the cigarette packet from his pocket and pops out a smoke.
“Funny thing is that six months ago my GP gave me three months. I guess having work to do must have helped some.”
He pulls a ring of keys from his pocket and unlocks the padlock, swinging the gate open just enough for her to walk through.
“Join us for lunch?”
If we were to pull up at that moment, like a crane shot on a real movie or a drone shot on a Netflix one, we’d see the cemetery for one last time from above.
Most of the graves have been disturbed, but there are still a few to keep Benson busy for a while.
I’m glad we’re leaving him while he still has a little time.
He walks back towards the building with Nina. I swear she seems happier.
Clare, 9 today and tomorrow and forever, runs happily around them in the sunshine and birdsong fills the air.
God’s Acre is an old idea. When I first told it to Dave years ago and in a slightly different format he immediately started sketching.
Then we got busy with other stuff and it sat in the dark buried on a laptop for too long. I’m glad we got to finally pull it into the light together.
This week Dave and I are on a panel at LIBRARY CON entitled MYTHS & FOLKTALES. We’ll be talking about FETCH which is out in February. It’s the first thing I’ve written for kids (8 and up!) and I couldn’t be happier with how the Storm King team have brought it to life. I’ll talk about it a little more in the next newsletter but feel free to tune in if you have the time. I expect it’ll be archived somewhere at some point.
I do want to talk about ANDOR, but let’s wait until the season is done. I’m not a huge Star Wars fan, but this has been exceptional television. I do want to mention what was a lovely little tribute in the latest episode though. Tiny-not-really-spoiler ahead. I became Facebook friends with Colin Cantwell a few years ago and always found him to be funny and very generous with his time. He was the original concept artist on a little movie that came out in 1977 and its his work that Ralph McQuarrie would later develop into some of the most famous spacecraft in the Star Wars universe. X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers and the Death Star itself all started out on Colin’s desk.
Sadly he passed away earlier this year. Then yesterday this happened:
“What’s out there?”
“Arrestor cruiser. Cantwell-class. Three klicks and closing.”
Nicely done, Andor. Nicely done.
And I’ve taken up enough of your time. Maybe the next one will be a shorter story and we can chat about some of the other stuff that’s been happening.
Oh and that’s the legendary John Saxon in BLOOD BEACH (1981) at the top of this one. No reason other than he’s awesome. You are too.
Love this. Glad you released into the wild. ￼