Poets, Verses, Zombies!
By Greg Gwyther
Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, England.
La Parte Une:
George Gordon Byron’s eyes snapped open and he stared at the canopy of his fourposter bed above him, realising he was being rudely awakened. The banging was only somewhat in his head and mainly on his door. Rolling his head he saw and remembered he was not alone and that the door was possibly the only place in the room where banging had not taken place last night. Saturday night, now Sunday morning?
Yes, with Maud… Martha… M…M…M… Marion. The new maid. Making a mental note to make a written note of the names in future, he rose and yanked open his bedroom door to reveal his servant, stocky and dependable.
‘Fletcher! Heavens man d’you want to wake the dead ?!’
‘No, m’lord but something seems to have done and your guests are a bit perplexed. Took the liberty of assembling them with your visitors in the Great Hall.’
Byron regarded his man; a little older than his own twenty-seven years. Together they’d seen it all and anything that spooked Fletcher was seriously weird.
His guests! It all came back to him, shoving last evening’s shenanigans aside. Wait – the awoken? No, first things first. After another blazing row with Annabella he’d quit London telling the missus he’d be up at Newstead curating his recently formed Live Poets Society until further notice. Then, of course, he’d had to swiftly arrange the actuality of the fabricated excuse that had rolled off his tongue. So he’d rattled off the names to Fletcher to contact and invite. Then they’d headed up country.
Sir Walter Scott and that silly sod Southey had arrived yesterday and Coleridge and Keats were on their way, as were…
Wait – visitors?
Byron threw on some clobber and gently woke Marion with a cup of water sloshed in her face, a slap on her bum and a shrill ‘Off with you please, Maud!’
His lordship found his Great Hall full. He blinked. Sir Walter Scott, a broad and brawny middle-aged gent with cropped iron grey hair was resplendent in gaudy tartan finery and was standing with sulky Southey. He was slightly younger and infinitely more conventionally dressed. So far so good. But the others?
A seargent of the local militia and some thirty of his red-coated troopers were intermingled with the village people; those men numbered around twenty-five and carried about their persons various hammers, axes, scythes along with a few old firearms. A couple winked at him.
‘Morning m’lord, thank you for accommodating us and Ned Ludd’s lads here.’
‘Luddites?’ said Byron, avoiding more frantic winking, ‘if there’s a plot here, please explain it very, very briefly!’
‘Right-ho m’lord. Well, last night, our militia patrol found Cap’n Swing’s boys framebreaking and we chased ‘em out and squared up to ‘em in the village churchyard. Just as it were all about to crack off, there’s an unholy moaning and groaning from the Pegg Family vault and, well, concisely put m’lord, the long-term and more recently deceased ‘pon my honour, emerged then shuffled, lurched or ran at all of us and tried to eat us. M’lord.’
A murmur of agreement came from the gathered potential combatants. Southey raised an eyebrow and Sir Walter Scott dashed off, fast.
Seargent Baker continued his report:
‘Lieutenant Pidgeon bravely advanced on one cadaverous assailant, drew his sword and lopped an arm off, but it kept coming and it bit his throat out! At this, the vicar, Reverand Cooper emerged from the church and threw holy water at an emaciated matriarch, but to no avail and he went down too: as her supper.’
At this point one of the troopers stepped forward saluting:
‘Beggin’ your pardon, sirs –‘
‘Private Rhodes, m’lord,’ said Baker.
‘Well it was like this, y’see, sirs. On seeing Lieutenant Pidgeon and the parson all munched up like they woz a Sunday roast, it fair got me dander up an’ I opened fire at the armless bloke – ‘coz he wasn’t ‘armless, woz he? Anyway I shot through the heart, but he kept on chewing at the Lieutenant. So I put another right in ‘is noggin and down ‘e went like a ninepin! Tried it on another one – same! Seems like these folks what’s returning from their not so final rest go back to it thataways.’
Byron nodded his thanks to the young trooper and said:
‘It’s a grave situation, right enough. The officer and the clergy gone…’
The old sweat interrupted:
‘That ain’t the half of it sir! During the ensuing melée, some of the Luddites got brought down - we were fighting back to back, but what with the darkness and the confusion, well…’
Southey piped up:
‘Brevity please, man!’
You can talk, thought Byron, but listened as the militiaman concluded his tale of terror.
Byron took a deep breath and addressed Southey, the returned Sir Walter Scott, and his staff:
‘So, the dead are rising and are after the flesh of the living to feast on, and they can only be despatched by a shot to the head…’
‘Or a right good skull-crackin’ whack on the nut with a mallet or some such cudgel m’lord!’ interjected one of the framebreakers, brandishing a large hammer encrusted with brains, to evidence his point.
‘Or a jab through the eye or lug-hole,’ offered another, waving his weapon around.
‘I used me bayonet up one’s nose, your lordship,’ volunteered a militiaman.
‘Quite. Thank you.’ Byron steepled his fingers, ‘anyone these hellish miscreants don’t yaffle up, anyone they bite into, transforms into a similarly flesh-craving corpse over a period of time – possibly minutes. Sergeant Baker was cool, he was clear, he was always in command. He rallied his surviving men and their surviving previous enemies, the… er … Luddites and retreating in good order correctly saw his duty as rousing the village and escorting the folk to safety. Here.’
‘S’right, m’lord. We got clear of the churchyard. What a mess. Just the sound of moaning and munching – those original creatures’ number swelled by our bitten and risen! We got most of the villagers out of their beds and homes, but the tavern was a disaster…landlady was having an illegal lock-in and thought we’d come to break it up and we got pelted with stools and tankards. By then the ghoulish things had caught up and were in round the back way as we got out the front way. Could say they got a few bar snacks. Saw the two serving wenches hitch up their skirts and make a break for it- this rammel is not in our job descriptions! I heard one cry, I’m sure. But it was ‘time gentlemen please’, finally, for Roaring Meg and her regulars at The Last Drop Inn.’
Fletcher stepped forward to round off the grim account saying-
‘These squaddies and ne’er-do-wells roused me at silly o’clock, m’lord, with a good hundred and fifty villagers in tow and told me the tale. I got the staff to lock and bolt everyone in, so the civvies are all over the Long Gallery and crammed into the bedrooms like sradines.’
Byron said: ‘Then you got round to me, Fletcher?’
‘I was busy and so were you, m’lord.’
Byron leaned close and hissed into Fletcher’s ear, ‘So you were ensconcing most of Newstead Village in my country pile and securing it with the previously scrapping militia and framebreakers against the intentions of a pursuing horde of the flesh-eating undead, whilst I was screwing the albeit cute new maid all around my room?!’
‘Very succinctly put m’lord.’
‘Now we are surrounded by a ravenous mob of undead militiamen, Luddites, villagers and barflies?!’
‘Again, spot on, m’lord.’
Sir Walter Scott strode forward, his kilt and sporran swinging eratically the pheasant feathers in his tea-tray sized tam o’shanter bristling.
‘We’ll no starve, yer ken?!’
‘Who is Ken?’ queried Southey.
‘I brought several trunks doon wi’me, all full o’ ma bonny new shortbread biscuits, tae try oot on the sassenachs here prior tae opening ma wee gift shops back haem.’
In spite of himself, Byron was curious.
‘You’re going into catering, or retail?’
‘Naw the noo, George! Just a sideline! Ma writings gwan well enou’! But I’ve also brought these!’
He produced and brandished two huge claymore swords, moved to swing them overhead, but paused due to the proximity of the portly Sergeant Baker.
Lord Byron cast his gaze at the assembled motley crew and raised his voice.
‘It is my noblesse oblige…’
‘Why’s he talkin’ all frenchified, then?’ queried a trooper, who had only a matter of months ago speant an unpleasant, harrowing and downright dangerous tour of duty on the battlefield at Waterloo.
‘My duty is to protect these citizens in my home – to repel the invaders! We must recognise that these…’ Byron, the wordsmith, scribe, searched for inspiration to describe the enemy, mentally thumbing through the alphabet, for once at a loss, until…
‘…these – zombies are drawn here by the lure of our flesh! If they overcome us here at Newstead they will surely turn their rotting eyes to the nearby populous and seething city. Can we imagine fair Nottingham overrun with shambling, nefarious cretins? Its streets choked with stumbling, crazed morons? Its public places rammed with frenzied, demented dolts and dunderheads hell-bent only on seeking out flesh and slaking their thirst for –‘
‘You been into town of a Saturday night recently, yer lordship?’ shouted one of the tooled-up civvies.
Byron retorted, ‘I tell you it is a question of today Newstead, tomorrow Nottingham and… the… day after tomorrow all England and then some weeks after that…’
‘Shit! Me Aunty Betty lives in Derby! They could get there after munching me Mam!’ cried a militiaman.
Fletcher raised his fist, ‘His lordship’s right, boys. This ends here. Today. We see off those undead boggers. It’s, it’s…poetic justice!!!’
There was a jock poet named Scott
Whose verse was particularly hot
He provided short-bread
And fought the undead
Saying: ‘Eat us alive ye shall not!’
La Parte Deux:
Lord Byron bit into a lovely, sugary piece of Sir Walter Scott’s shortbread and watched, crumbs on his chin, helpless, as a zombie (in fact one of the regulars from The Last Drop Inn) bit into one of his footmen, gobbits of flesh dribbling down its chin. Innards began to adorn the lawn. The man had been locked out unbeknownst to the garrison and had slithered down from the roof of an out-building and run for the abbey. He’d been grabbed from behind a bush which was trimmed to resemble a pheasant.
‘Topiary,’ thought Byron, his thoughts idly wandering to the new maid. Again.
‘There’s more of them now, m’lord,’ observed Fletcher.
‘Must be about three hundred all told,’ proclaimed Southey, brandishing one of Byron’s duelling pistols in one hand and a meat-cleaver in the other.
‘They’re like mad beasties clammering at the doors and windows, right enou’. But they cannae get in,’ said Scott.
‘Something tells me they’ll get in - they always get in!’ opined Southey.
Still at the window, Byron craned his neck,
‘Well, Southey, someone’s decided to get in. Look!’
A small carriage was clattering pell-mell up the drive towards the main door. Undead heads turned as one as it screeched to a halt, the caped driver leapt down and opened the door for two gentlemen to alight while simultaneously shooting a zombie militiaman approaching eagerly at a run, through the eye, with his drawn pistol.
‘Give ‘em covering fire!’ yelled Byron, as a section of the besieging horde trudged or sprinted towards the new arrivals, away from the door and nearby windows.
Sergeant Baker’s troopers threw those windows open and opened up, trying to clear a path through. Several shots split zombie heads apart as the main doors opened. Lord Byron emerged accompanied by Scott, Southey and several armed Luddites. One of them brought an axe down sharply cleaving a zombie through its head down to its chest, shouting at the peer -
‘Just like knockin’ a bobbin out – just like old times!’
Byron grinned sheepishly at him and used an ornamental but deadly sword to lop the top of another ghoul’s head off. He actually recognised it as Meg, the landlady from The Last Drop Inn, where he had himself once enjoyed one of her lock-ins, and found her ‘customer service’ to be excellent. No time for sentiment now, he reminded himself, she is definitely not the woman she was!
‘Gentlemen – a-comin’ through if yer please!’ shouted the driver, who Byron now saw was a tall, wiry black man of about thirty-five.
‘Coleridge! Damn! And Keats! Welcome to Newstead Alive Poets’ Society’s first meet!’
Something leapt onto John Keats from the roof of the carriage as it sped off empty, the horses bolting. He fell. It was on top of him, a crazed child?! No! A man, but with legs ripped out form the hips, shattered bone and sinews trailing bloodily. One arm was gnawed to the elbow, but the thing used the stump and its whole arm to grip Keats around the head, intending to sink its teeth into his face. But as it raised its head to strike, Southey’s boot smashed it aside and a Luddite defender’s mallet crushed the skull. Scott spiked another through the ear, twisting his claymore and renting the head asunder, brains splashing. The driver and the mallet-swinger exchanged a high-five as rescuers and rescued tumbled inside and the door slammed shut.
All were panting with exertion as the staff brought refreshments. Byron helped himself to a shortbread biscuit and clapped Keats on his back.
‘Welcome also to the siege of my abbey.’
Keats nodded. He was a slim and handsome twenty year-old in dark clothing.
‘We travelled via the village to pop into The Last Drop Inn for a snifter – everywhere was deserted, but we found the remains of vile slaughter. Then Robert here spied some crumpet.’
The driver removed the hat he’d been wearing, which Byron noticed was actually a French military shako, but with all insignia removed, and gave a half-salute, whilst reloading his pistol. His hair appeared to have been twisted into longish knots and freed it now fell to his shoulders. His accent indicated an American.
‘Too gals headin’ outta town, all loaded with weeponry. I hail’d ‘em an’ they told us alla what’d gone down – this mess of undead shit. Gave ‘em a lift to the crossroads, then we headed here.’
Southey indicated Coleridge, who was staring transfixed at the slavering horde beyond the windows.
‘Poor Samuel – such things to have seen and his is such a sensitive soul.’
‘It’s not that,’ retorted Keats, ‘he’s off his head. He was pretty whacked when I picked him up; he popped something on the journey and he’s been tripping his tits off ever since. You name it, he’s necked it.’
Samuel Coleridge grinned inanely and burbled at the zombies, nodding. His eyes flashed and his lengthy hair swished.
‘Far out, man, heavy scene.’
Byron tapped his sword on a vase and all turned towards him except Coleridge.
‘Well, now we’re all up to speed.’
Coleridge turned and grinned.
Lord Byron eyed the zombies, for the present without.
‘We need a plan.’
Sir Walter Scott raised his claymores, crossing them in the air.
‘Aye! Hoots mon, och aye the noo.’
‘Did he really just say –’
‘Humour him, John,’ Southey entreated of Keats, ‘he’s on a roll. And he’s brought loads of biscuits.’
‘It’s really verra simple. We have tae turn the tables on these duvils and surround them. Outflank them – they cannae bite in more than one direction, so one way or another, we hack ‘em tae pieces an’ blow their brains oot.’
‘Dammit, he’s right! A task force is needed!’ enthused Lord Byron, ‘Scotty, you marvel! This is a great enterprise you suggest – you really are the real McCoy. We shall break through their ranks and counter-attack! We have the means, now as to the method…?’
A voice carried through from the gallery of the Great Hall. Everyone peered in and looked up.
‘Wheels, man. We need some bad-ass muthafuckin’ wheels,’ came the stentorian tones of Keats’ coachman, Robert. Fletcher appeared behind the driver on the gallery.
‘Just gave Mr Marley a bit of a look-see around the pile m’lord. We reckon we can, er, modify your coach m’lord.’
The driver leaned over the rail, addressing the expentant faces of the militiamen, Luddites, Newstead staff and distinguished Romantic poets – all now seasoned zombiekillers. His stern black face was half in shadow.
‘Here me now. Gotta tell ya, ah’m here inna Englan’ after gettin’ took prisoner at the bloodbath over the channel fightin’ for Napoleon as a freedman yankeh.’
A gasp rose from his audience. Napoleon!
‘But the fate of Europe ain’t the only shit got decided at ‘loo, man. No one’s gonna write it down in no regimental record, no history, but there was a time…’
His eyes were faraway and there was silence, except for the moaning from the zombies.
‘…Hoojiemont. Ah never seen so much blood an’ deestruction. That farmhouse jes’ kept changin’ hands fer days. An’ then all at once critters like these was movin’ outta the woods behind the Limeys attackin’ through ‘em! All bitey an’ such. Truth is our frenchy officer Cap’n Romero acted fast. He seen the scene like he knew the score an’ ordered an’ rallied both sides in a hoffence – defenders an’ attackers roundin’ on the… zombies, an’ we used swords and bayonets to ree-move their heads, then as a piper skirled, we stomped ‘em. Like a dance of death.’
There was a pause. Fletcher spoke:
‘So that’s the shit that’s gotta go down here…I, er, mean, er, we tie blades to the wheels of your carriage m’lord and a party within carves through our attackers then rounds on them from behind, the rest attack from the house. Two fronts,’ Fletcher beamed, ‘Notts County one, zombies nil.’
A bawdy bar-keep, Roaring Meg
She joined with the living dead
One tried to eat Keats
But as one of his feats
Laureate Southey kicked in his head.
Sir Walter Scott
Parte La Troisième:
The courtyard gates were thrown open and Lord Byron’s carriage flew outwards! It hurtled headlong towards a clump of flailing zombies attracted by the servants, footmen and scullery maids banging pots and pans frantically from open upstairs windows and yelling.
‘C’mon yer boggers! Over ‘ere!’
Wide-bladed swords from Byron’s collection had been lashed to the axels and Keats had painted the name Boadicea on one of the doors. He was within, as were Coleridge, Southey, Sergeant Baker and Robert Marley; each with swords, except Coleridge who was methodically and repetitively firing and loading a large fowling-piece. A beatific smile played on his lips and he murmured, ‘Wow… check it out, dudes!’ as he sent zombie after zombie to oblivion in a shower of exploding crania. The swordsmen leaned out of the windows hacking, slashing, sending heads this way and that and more zombies were scythed down by the axels! Fletcher, driving, urged the team of horses into a sharp turn, his eyes steeled, his jaw set, whispering ‘The four horses of the apocalypse,’ and at that moment a gnashing head arced and dropped onto his seat, between his legs. His voice rose:
‘Christ in heaven! Not me tackle!’
He sharply closed his knees and held the snapping apparition there, its eyes rolling wildly.
‘What would the wife say?!
Inside the house Lord George Byron disentangled himself from Marion, his new maid. She popped herself back into her apron and handed him a cup of tea and a shortbread biscuit, smiling.
‘Hoots, Rabbie B, Nessie an’ Ballamory! D’ye never stop, mon?’ queried Sir Walter Scott.
‘Have you ever actually read any of my stuff, Scotty? No!’
His Lordship was wearing a metal suit – a fantastical hotch potch of protective pieces of armour taken from the suits that dotted the alcoves, to fit closely. He placed the plumed helmet on his head, picked up his sword,
‘Right then, boys and girls. The stage is set, right on cue, let’s fuck ‘em up!’
He snapped the visor shut.
The main doors to Newstead Abbey were unbolted and opened and in that instant the Luddite and militiaman doing so were plucked forth and torn to pieces by ravenous undead jaws.
Byron charged. He came upon the crowds of zombies moving towards the carriage. The things seemed to have either a greyish pallour or a green tinge; their dead but animated faces framed with lank hair, their bulging, glassy vacant eyes fixing on their intended victims. There was the all pervading decaying stench of the grave as black, cracked dead lips curled back and their teeth snapped. They moved relentlessly, supported by their twisted spines and stiff legs, dragging their feet. The original arisen, slower and foetidly decaying the more recently revived eager and quick.
Byron’s sword rose and fell, Sir Walter Scott’s claymores too. They cut a bloody swathe through the rotting throng and Byron, ever the performer, recalled his youthful amdram and cried at the top of his voice to his audience, within the house and around him:
‘I am the Knight of the Living Dead!!’
Militiaman and Luddites poured after them swinging their scythes and hammers, loosing off rapid fire and utilising skilful bayonette work. Men were brought down by dismembered, but still deadly living corpses, and the blood and gore of undead, dying and reanimating rose to ankle-depth. Possibly as many as thirty zombies got into the building before the staff could slam the door shut! One of them dribbled entrails from its mouth and grabbed at Marion, eyeing her heaving bosom hungrily. She screamed shrilly and backed away looking around- two of the footmen and another maid had been overwhelmed; the girl was already dead and rising, her arms encircled another terrified maid, even as internal organs drooped from her open stomach. The jaws moved to close over the girl’s face…
‘What the flip?!’ shouted Marion, ‘Lesbian zombies? No, that is just too frigging much! I do not think so!’
She reached for the hairpin, holding her mobcap on (in defiance of his lordship’s preferences, thank Gawd!) and plunged its length into the eye of the cadaver clawing at her and it fell away as she moved towards the potential undead girl-on-girl action.
Marion wrenched the zombie maid’s head through 180 degrees and repeated the hairpin manoeuvre, sending pulped eyeball squirting upwards. She grabbed the other living maid:
‘Beth! C’mon duck! We ain’t standing around here getting eaten – we’ve got work to do in this household!’
So five maids and ten footmen, using kitchen knives and hairpins laid into the hungry intruders with vim and vigour, and the entrance hall and stairway of Newstead was soon awash with blood and brains.
The estate balcksmith was busily driving his tool into the gaping mouth of an undead militiaman, the thing moaned:
‘Corporal Clegg, ain’t it? Now you’re just ‘pokerface’!’
Beth trounced the last groaning monstrosity: jumping onto its back and forcing its head onto the cold, painted ironwork of one of the fireplaces. Crunch!
She murmured, ‘Great stuff,’ as she got up to see all the other staff, gore-streaked but alive and smiling grimly.
(So that just shows what ordinary working people can achieve if they put their minds to it and work together, doesn’t it? I reckon those folk deserve a payrise. Backdated to the start of the zombie outbreak, of course.)
The cook, Jean, beckoned the staff to the windows. It was a scene from the depths of Hades: a watercolour in scarlet, a tapestry of terror, a painting in putrification.
‘Look me dears, his lordship and his ‘Alive Poets Society’ rondyviewed with the soldier boys and the framebreakers.’
It was true. The coach party had driven a route through to the advancing defenders and all those left standing were around, atop, or aboard the vehicle, surrounded by zombies.
‘They must have carved up a good couple of hundred all told, wouldn’t you say, Mrs Thorpe?’ asked Thompson, one of the stablehands.
‘Easily, easily. Those romantic poets really know how to kick ass when the chips are down. Those are cuts I’m all for.’
Mrs Thorpe raised her eyes and murmured under her breath, ‘but it’s not enough… there’s too many of them… we need a miracle from the skies above, so we do.’
Byron tossed his helmet. It was caked with slime and he could no longer see through the visor. As he did so, a taloned claw reached for his throat and a slavering jaw lunged to bite, but Sir Walter Scott chopped his claymore into its maw and the strangling arm was pulled away by the one of the brawny, sweating Luddite survivors. The young man turned to Byron, who had slumped against Boadicea’s paintwork.
‘M’lord, you’re staggering!’
‘You’re not so bad yourself, but this is hardly the time or the place!’
A hellish creature lunged at Byron who was shielding Scott from the onslaught with his armoured body. Its teeth clamped onto his encased arm and shattered; Coleridge managed a rare moment of lucidity, shouting over:
‘Now it can’t bite you, but beware of it gumming you George!’
The thing was slithering down him, its ruined face level with his crotch.
‘That sucks!’ murmured Byron, and his knee connected with its throat, crushing it.
He found he rather enjoyed employing his pugilistic skills thereafter, his gauntleted iron fists punching the lights out of several attacking zombies; their jaws splintered, their eyes minced.
‘Come on then! D’you want some?!’ he bellowed, laying into more of them.
Coleridge kept firing, occasionally scoring a hit. Groan! More zombies! John Keats was slashing this way and that with Marley, their weapons singing a symphony of destruction, although one that fell on dead ears. Fletcher was using the horsewhip to pluck out staring zombie eyes. There were scarcely more than a score of militiamen and framebreakers left alive, but these were stabbing, shooting and breaking heads.
But still they kept coming – crawling and slithering over the heap of dead bodies around the coach. A scream rent the air and Byron saw Southey pulled from the interior of the coach, each of his hands encased in a bloody zombie mouth! He and Sir Walter Scott each desiccated one of the zombies and knealt by the scribe.
‘I’m done for lads…I’ll… I’ll…never write another poem!’
He held his stumps aloft, spurting blood. Sir Walter Scott’s eyes were downcast.
‘Aye, wull, Mull O’Kintyre an’ Bonny Bonny Banks, Southey, there’s always dictation, yer ken?!’
Byron said ‘Southey… Robert… Bob…I know we’ve not always seen eye to eye on account of you being a sell-out, a nob, and writing too much dog shit and all that, but… dammit, underneath I…’
‘Spare me the kindly words Byron! You know what my epilogue will be!’
He nodded to a zombie crushed beneath one of Boadicea’s wheels and yet still groping for meat.
‘I do not want to be walking around…like that!’
A cry came from Sergeant Baker up on the luggage rack of Byron’s pimpmobile:
‘I fear we may all be done-for!’
He gestured with his sword, although there was a zombie head skewered on its point, through an eye socket. They saw the ring of milling, shambling corpses edging ever closer. Too close, too many.
‘Shit,’ said Byron.
‘Bollocks,’ said Keats.
‘Whist,’ said Sir Walter Scott.
‘It’s all too beautiful,’ said Coleridge.
‘No it bloody isn’t!’ said Fletcher.
‘Uuuurrrrrrrggghhhh!’ said Southey.
The remaining militiamen braced themselves, muskets empty, but bayonettes ready. The remaining Luddites readied themselves - a gesture of defiance.
A woman’s voice…
‘Lord Byron, sir! Look! Look! Up there! It’s a miracle!’
Everyone, dead or alive, turned to look first at the frantically pointing Mrs Thorpe, half in half out of the window, then upwards at what she saw.
Skimming over the nearby treetops aloft, impossible? Descending towards the grim tableaux was a balloon. A flying balloon, forty feet across, heading for Newstead Abbey! The sizeable basket strung beneath it held people, one of whom was now blowing a bugle very loudly, sounding a charge!
Byron squinted up at it as the contraption loomed nearer. Four people… men? A man leaned out as he was carried gracefully over them.
‘Hello mate! Need a bit of a hand then?’
The tall young man with black clothing and long auburn hair was none other than Percy Bysshe Shelley! How radical!
‘Shelley?! Nice timing…I hope!’ shouted Byron.
‘Too right it is George!’ came a deeper voice and he saw his old friend John Cam Hobhouse, bugle in hand, all dolled up in his old army uniform: a red coat with gold braid glinting in the late afternoon sunshine. He clambered to the outside of the basket brandishing his sabre.
‘Heads up, lowlife!’ bellowed he, and neatly lopped off a couple of heads from the zombie throng. Groping hands reached for basket but it was out of their reach. Shelley produced a set of pistols and began finding targets, obviously well-aware of the necessity of head-shots.
A figure dropped from the basket to join Baker and Fletcher on top of the coach.
‘What’s this lad?’ queried Sergeant Baker as the slight figure landed, slung with a huge canvas bag and holding a musket in one hand. The figure turned.
‘Mary?’ stammered a stunned Byron.
‘Too right L.B.!’ squealed Mary Shelley. Baker gaped at the girl, estimating her to be about seventeen years of age. Her hair was drawn up into a tight bun and appeared to be hennaed with other coloured streaks in it and a long section dangled over her right eye, so she flicked her head back, beaming.
‘Let’s fucking party! C’mon Caro!’
The fourth figure, Lady Caroline Lamb, dropped from the basket, similarly equipped. Byron groaned, noting how Mary and his previous paramore were both dressed in breeches and tight boys’ shirts, Caroline’s hair cropped short and spiky, her eyes narrowed.
Both girls plonked their bags onto the roof of the coach, extracting ammunition and throwing it to the militiamen and armed Luddites. The Sergeant saw that both bags had words embroidered onto them. The legend stated:
‘This is the bag I use when I am despatching reanimated corpses’
‘Fair enough,’ said Baker, shrugging.
Raising their own muskets both girls began firing: taking out several of the undead and the men on the ground joined in, now smiling.
Robert Marley looked up out of the interior of the carriage as the suspended Hobhouse slashed and Shelley fired. He turned to Keats,
‘Man, it’s the goddam Airbourne. Coulda done with those muthas at ‘Loo.’
The next hour at the country house was a blur. The balloon swept repeatedly scross the main crowd of zombies and as they clawed upwards Shelley and Hobhouse alternately slashed downwards hacking off hands, arms and heads, stabbing and gouging into eyeballs and slack mouths. Their pistols felled others.
‘Well done Shelley, that’s showin’ ‘em! Send ‘em to Hell!’ shouted Hobhouse.
‘Can’t do that Cap’n, I’m an atheist – it’s not real! But you could say I’m a dead shot!’
The battle elsewhere became a series of smaller skirmishes as the militiamen and Luddites surrounded groups of the undead and shot, stabbed, smashed and sliced them. Keats and Marley emerged from the coach, swords swinging, leaving Coleridge happily swinging on the door, still out of his box but loosing off one or two accurate head-shots and grinning.
Sergeant Baker and the girls used their higher firing position to great advantage and Mary Shelley nudged him with her elbow every time she popped a zombie’s brains out, giggling:
Lady Caroline Lamb grinned a lop-sided grin, using her musket as a club to stop a zombie clambering up the side of the carriage towards them; renting its head apart. Fletcher found that the head he’d got trapped was biting into his high leather boots, the jaws locked, so he prioritised his time and lashed out with the whip shredding heads and removing faces. Lady Caroline Lamb gave a shrieking whoop and somersaulted off the top of Byron’s coach, straight into a group of zombies and performed a dervish whirl with her musket, breaking heads and now cackling with glee as she went down beneath them.
Then all at once, Lord Byron raised his bloodied swordand realised that all the zombies were still and that only a couple of dozen gnashing heads were still moving. The militia and Luddites stomped and split them – they were trampled underfoot.
Mrs Thorpe ran out of Newstead Abbey with the stablehand and they began distributing tea and shortbread biscuits.
‘We’re down to our last three trunks of these, sir,’ she said to Byron. Then to Fletcher, descending precariously from the coach, ‘Thompson will sort out the problem between your legs, William!’
Thompson ran forward, his long hair flying behind him and with a cheeky grin, grabbed the biting head, his hands protected by the stiff leather gloves he wore, ran with it and booted it rugby-style until it plopped into the lake and sank, bubbling.
Lord Byron addressed his fellow poets, militia, Luddites, friends, household staff and the villagers, who had emerged safely from their places of refuge upstairs. The women were simultaneously weeping and laughing with relief, the children wide-eyed clutching at their skirts.
‘We have prevailed! You are all honorary members of my Alive Poets Society!’
The crowd looked on in silence, agape, clearly expecting more. Byron continued,
‘And… er… sword is an anagram of words…’
Shelley called down from the balloon,
‘That’s a fuckin’ winner, mate!’
The crowd went batshit and Byron turned and snogged the tasty Luddite who’d rescued him earlier. Mary Shelley punched the air and called out-
‘That was a monster mash! We’re a graveyard smash! Paaaarrrty!’
From hassle within my marriage
To my zombie-slaying carriage
With my poets of doom
And breakers of loom
We did those ghouls some damage.
The Last Bit?
‘Well that wasn’t a boring Sunday,’ said Hobhouse to Byron, his boots up on a chair in Newstead Abbey’s packed Great Hall, late that evening.
‘But back to normal tomorrow, m’lord,’ said Fletcher.
Mary Shelley laughed around a mouthful of lemonade,
‘Good job we ran into those two girls from The Last Drop Inn on our way here, and got the lowdown.’
‘Yeah, that’s how we knew to charter the balloon and get the ammo, George,’ offered Shelley.
Keats downed his pint and belched, nodding towards the framebreakers quaffing with the militiamen:
‘So, you going to be letting them off, then, given the circumstances?’ he asked of Sergeant Baker.
‘Yes,’ said he.
‘Nice one, Cyril the noo, mickle me muckle,’ said Sir Walter Scott.
Mrs Thorpe breezed by with a swish of her skirts dishing out shortbread and drinks:
‘Such a pity about Mr Southey what with Mr Marley having to break his head open with a spade and that.’
‘Yes, whatever,’ said Byron, ‘anyone seen Lady Caroline?’
Shelley helped himself to some lemonade,
‘She was spotted running about wildly, flailing her arms and gurgling possibly laughing, maniacally, down by the lake,’ he said.
Byron stared at his friend:
‘Good God! Was she bitten and transformed into a crazed creature of Satan then?’ he asked.
‘Hard to tell really, isn’t it? But she seems happy enough, leave her to it, yeah?’
There was a brief silence, everyone nodded.
‘You want to be Poet Laureate now that Southey’s… you know…?’ said Keats to Coleridge.
Robert Marley pointed at Coleridge:
‘You really should consider that prestigious role, man. What a marvellous opportunity to subvert Babylon from within whilst earning yourself a decent wage and critical acclaim.’
Byron kept his tongue down Marion’s throat and squeezed her bum tighter, but still shot a glance at Coleridge, as the psychedelic space-cadet drawled:
‘Poet Laureate…oh wow, man. Bring it on!’
So Caro’s going mad by the lake
Though we all deserve a break
The rhymers are back
And life’s such a craiq
But the Laureate is rather a flake.
Well, what caused the dead to arise?
Now that we can only surmise
Although Satan and God don’t exist
The tail of our tale has a twist
It’ll happen again no surprise.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Six Mile Bottom, Cambridgeshire, England.
Lord George Byron couldn’t believe it, really. Quite a feat, truly. Had he really got himself up this early in the morning?! Must be about seven a.m. He turned his head and regarded the breathless and perspiring woman next to him. Augusta. His sister…half sister!
‘Ooh Georgie, we could have woken the dead there,’ (at this Byron shuddered) ‘never mind the kids! Get us a cup of tea will you, duck?!’ she said.
So, up at seven a.m. out of bed at 7.05am.
Chez Scott, Secret Location, Scotland.
Sir Walter Scott’s carriage pulled into his driveway. His driver, Mr Harvey slowed to a halt on the gravel and then opened the door for him.
‘Thankye, Alex. I trust ye had a bonny time visiting your kinsfolk whilst I was… er… busy at Byron’s place?’
‘Sensational, thankyou, sir.’
The door to Scott’s abode opened and he smiled as he spied his maid rushing to greet him. Her enthusiasm was boundless and, he remembered, she had in fact visited Newstead herself. He called to her:
‘Miss McLean! It’s yerself! Hellooo! I have good news – the English have taken to ma shortbread bickies like Nessie to her loch! The tartan threads went doon a storm too, so they’ll be up here in their thousands quicker than ye can say… well, all that stuff I said to them!’
Miss McLean was clearly bursting to speak:
‘Sir Walter! Please! Listen! It’s the most dreadful news concerning Rabbie Burns!’
‘Calm doon, lassie! I know ye have your heed in the clouds most of the time with your accomplishments, so you do, but Burns died in 1796!! He has ceased to scribble! He is an ex-poet!’
Looking on, Mr Harvey groaned. Miss McLean seemed to be on the verge of having a fit of the vapours, exclaiming:
‘No-no-no the noo!!’
Mr Harvey rested his hand on her shoulder, ‘Pull yerself together, hen! Tell Sir Walter what shite’s gone brigadoon.’
The girl took a deep breath:
‘Okay, well, Robert Burns has risen from the grave. He’s been running aboot – gulp…biting folks and then those folks…’
Sir Walter Scott put a hand to his heed as Miss McLean’s words rang in his ears:
‘Alex, call your band roond, we’re gonnae need the ol’ Glasgae Kiss an’ plenty of it! It’s time to dish oot the laldy. Here we go again!!’
Written by Greg Gwyther from within the kabinet of the Disciples of Solid Sound:
Scroll for zombie sounds… and more!
Thank you to Christy Fearn for literary and historical pointers and typing, also to George A. Romero, the clientele of The Winchester et al for entertainment and inspiration.