I doubt I will be posting anything from my zombie story for quite a while, if at all. It’s ticking along quite nicely and is presently around 7000 words, roughly 1/3 of the expected total length. I want to return now to my as yet untitled Romans vs Aliens novel, something that has sat on the shelf for a couple of months while I work on my zomcom. The development of foul-mouthed hot-head Nero has been the most interesting for me. This is his moment where he sees a spectre of the past.
He moved further down the slope and into a patch of tall, dense ferns. So far they had limited their search to the approach to and the interior of the fort, nobody had yet thought to search the immediate hinterland for survivors or other evidence that might reveal the fate of its inhabitants. The ground underfoot was soft, betraying the general autumnal climate of this region of Germania and the pine needles crunched pleasingly beneath his booted feet, the swish of the ferns pushing forward and swinging back, colliding with each other was like a sea of green and it disoriented him slightly – he wasn’t used to greenery like this and the motion was making him a little queasy.
There was an old partially fallen tree just fifty feet away. Nero examined it, deciding that it was stable and climbable – he might even get a good view of the surrounding forest from the higher branches. To test its stability, Nero threw his body against it. It didn’t move. Next he hung from the leaning trunk and, lifting his feet off of the floor, let the tree take his entire weight. He hung there for about thirty seconds and still the tree did not budge.
‘Let’s see if these old legs still have it,’ he declared and began carefully clambering up the tree. The bark was damp and mossy and he almost slipped from the trunk several times but he managed to hold on. There came a point though where the tree started to protest at his weight and he stopped, stretched as far as he could, and looked down into the camp.
From his position, the destruction was pretty extensive. Not a single building had a complete roof and most of them had at least one collapsed wall. The main activity seemed to be around the walls though – enormous gaps in the fortifications meant that any invading army could overrun the place in minutes. All that remained of the watchtowers were the bases – not a single one rose above the level of the walls.
From his vantage point he could see only Seneca, who still seemed to be writing on his wax tablet, and Valens who was tending to the horse. He could not see Methodius, Joseph or Saturninus but the other two seemed unfazed by this just as they seemed unfazed by his own disappearance.
He slid back down the trunk, taking care not to slip. Going up head first was one thing but sliding down backwards when you couldn’t see what you were doing was quite another. Soon his feet touched soft ground and he steadied himself, satisfied that he hadn’t done himself an injury.
‘All I want to hear from you is “Yes Optio”.’ The voice sent a shiver down his spine and the hairs on his arms stand up. Despite the mild afternoon warmth, Nero suddenly went cold – his pulse racing, doubling in rate in that split second between touching the ground and hearing the voice. But it wasn’t just the words, it was the voice too – unmistakably that voice – the voice that he would hear in his dreams until the day he died, haunting him and mocking him with those short ten words: ‘All I want to hear from you is “Yes Optio”.’ He wasn’t sure if he’d heard it that time or whether his mind was playing tricks on him, part of the adrenaline rush reminding him of the horror that those words meant to him.
He turned to face the voice – it had come from behind him and already Nero could feel the hot breath on his neck and the distinct smell of rotten meat.
And there he was – the ghoul from the past, just six feet away, knee deep in the ferns and he was grinning and evil smile as his gaze bore into Nero. He clutched his hands to his stomach, trying to hold in the blood and intestines as they spilled out over his fingers.
‘All I want to hear from you is “Yes Optio”,’ came the voice a third time and he moved slowly towards Nero who instinctively drew his gladius.
‘Get away from me,’ Nero growled but the figure continued to move forward. ‘Get AWAY!’ Nero swung his gladius towards the figure but the blade clanged against metal.
‘Nero, what are you doing?!’
The Optio had gone and a terrified Joseph Ben Solomon cowered before him, reaching for his own gladius. But it wasn’t Joseph that had halted his strike, it was Saturninus. The older man shoved Nero against the tree he had just climbed down, sheathed his gladius and grabbed Nero by the throat.
Yes, I am away that Saturninus is still a male character here, it’s one of the scenes that needs editing.