Four years before the events of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the Bennet sisters are enjoying a peaceful life in the English countryside, reading, gardening, and daydreaming about future husbands—until a funeral at the local parish goes strangely and horribly awry. Suddenly, corpses are springing from the soft earth—and only one family can stop them. As the bodies pile up, Elizabeth Bennet grows from a naive young teenager into a savage slayer of the undead. Along the way, two men vie for her affections: Master Hawksworth is the powerful warrior who trains her to kill, while thoughtful Dr. Keckilpenny seeks to conquer the walking dead using science instead of strength. Will either man win the prize of Elizabeth’s heart? Or will their hearts be feasted upon by hordes of marauding zombies?
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Dawn of the Dreadfuls
By STEVE HOCKENSMITH
QUIRK BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Quirk Books
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWALKING OUT in the middle of a funeral would be, of course, bad form. So attempting to walk out on one's own was beyond the pale.
When the service began, Mr. Ford was as well behaved as any corpse could be expected to be. In fact, he lay stretched out on the bier looking almost as stiff and expressionless in death as he had in life, and Oscar Bennet, gazing upon his not-so-dearly departed neighbor, could but think to himself. You lucky sod.
It was Mr. Bennet who longed to escape the church then, and the black oblivion of death seemed infinitely preferable to the torments he was suffering. At the pulpit, the Reverend Mr. Cummings was reading (and reading and reading and reading) from the Book of Common Prayer with all the verve and passion of a man mumbling in his sleep, while the pews were filled with statues-the good people of Meryton, Hertfordshire, competing to see who could remain motionless the longest while wearing the most somber look of solemnity.
This contest had long since been forfeited by one party in particular: Mr. Bennet's. Mrs. Bennet couldn't resist sharing her (insufficiently) whispered appraisal of the casket's handles and plaque. ("Brass? For shame! Why, Mrs. Morrison had gold last week, and her people don't have two guineas to rub together.") Lydia and Kitty, the youngest of the Bennets' five daughters, were ever erupting into titters for reasons known only to themselves. Meanwhile, the middle daughter, fourteen-year-old Mary, resisted on loudly shushing her giggling sisters no matter how many times her reproaches were ignored, for she considered herself second only to the Reverend Mr. Cummings-and perhaps Christ Himself-as Meryton's foremost arbiter of virtue.
At least the Bennets' eldest, Jane, was as serene and sweet countenanced as ever, even if her dress was a trifle heavy on décolletage for a funeral. ("Display my dear, display!" Mrs. Bennet had harped at her that morning. "Lord Lumpley might be there!") And, of course, Mr. Bennet knew he need fear no embarrassment from Elizabeth, second to Jane in age and beauty but first in spirit and wit. He leaned forward to look down the pew at her, his favorite-and found her gaping at the front of the church, a look of horror on her face.
Mr. Bennet followed her line of sight. What he saw was a luxury, hard won and now so easily taken for granted: a man about to be buried with his head still on his shoulders.
That head, though-wasn't there more of a loll to the left to it now? Weren't the lips drawn more taut, and the eyelids less so? In fact, weren't those eyes even now beginning to-
Yes. Yes, they were.
Mr. Bennet felt an icy cold reside him where there should have been fire, and his tingling fingers fumbled for the hilt of a sword that wasn't there.
Mr. Ford sat up and opened his eyes.
The first person to leap into action was Mrs. Bennet. Unfortunately, the action she leapt to was shrieking loud enough to wake the dead (presuming any in the vicinity were still sleeping) and wrapping herself around her husband with force sufficient to snap a man with less backbone in two.
"Get a hold of yourself, woman!" Mr. Bennet said.
She merely maintained her hold on him, though, her redoubled bowls sparking Kitty and Lydia to similar hysterics.
At the front of the church, Mrs. Ford staggered to her feet and started toward the bier.
"Martin!" she cried. "Martin, my beloved, you're alive!"
"I think not, Madam!" Mr. Bennet called out (while placing a firm hand over his wife's mouth). "If someone would restrain the lady, please!"
Most of the congregation was busy screeching or fleeing or both at once, yet a few hardy souls managed to grab Mrs. Ford before she could shower her newly returned husband with kisses.
"Thank you!" Mr. Bennet said.
He spent the next moments trying to disentangle himself from his wife's clutches. When he found he couldn't, he simply stepped sideways into the aisle, dragging her with him.
"I will be walking that way, Mrs. Bonnet." He jerked his head at Mr. Ford, who was struggling to haul himself out of his casket. "If you choose to join me, so be it."
Mrs. Bennet let go and, after carefully checking to make sure Jane was still behind her, swooned backward into her eldest daughter's arms.
"Get her out of here," Mr. Bennet told Jane. "Lydia and Kitty, as well."
He turned his attention then to the next two girls down the pew: Elizabeth and Mary. The latter was deep in conversation with her younger sisters.
"The dreadfuls have returned!" Kitty screamed.
"Calm yourself, sister," Mary said, her voice dead. She was either keeping a cool head or had retreated into catatonia, it was hard to tell which. "We should not be hasty in our judgments."
"Hasty? Hasty?" Lydia pointed at the very undead Mr. Ford. "He's sitting up in his coffin!'"
Mary stared back at her blankly. "We don't know he's a dreadful, though."
But Elizabeth did know Mr. Bennet could see it in her eyes-because now she was staring at him.
She didn't grasp the whole truth of it. How could she, when he'd been forced to keep it from her for so long? Yet this much would be obvious to a clear-thinking, level-headed girl like her: The dreadfuls had returned, and there was more to be done about it than scream. More her father intended to do.
What she couldn't have guessed-couldn't have possibly dreamed-was that she herself would be part of the doing.
"Elizabeth," Mr. Bennet said. "Mary If you would come with me, please."
And he turned away and started toward the altar.
Toward the zombie.
Chapter TwoAT FIRST, it wasn't just difficult for Elizabeth to follow her father. It was impossible.
With her mother aswoon at one end of the pew and Kitty and Lydia shrieking hysterically at the other, both paths to the aisle were blocked. Elizabeth and Jane couldn't reduce them to any movement more gainful than mere flailing, and eventually Mary resorted to a sobering slap across Kitty's cheek. The gambit actually paid off to this extent: Kitty stopped screaming and tried to slap her back.
A moan from the front of the church broke up the tussle. It started low, almost literally so, as if bubbling up from the depths of the earth, a distant wail from Hell itself. Then it built to a high, piercing howl that rattled glass and emptied bladders all through the chapel. It was a cry that hadn't been heard in Hertfordshire for years, vet nearly everyone there knew what it was.
The zombie wail.
The mourners shot for the doors like a great black arrow, and with miraculous speed Mrs. Bennet regained her footing and found the strength to join them in flight. Jane went with her, but not before pausing for a doleful glance back at Elizabeth and Mary, who were holding their ground in the aisle even as Kitty and Lydia and a host of other parishioners poured around them.
Elizabeth could go after her father now. But would she? Should she, when reason surely said to flee, and fast?
The debate raged for all of a second.
Run! said Fear.
Obey, said Duty:
And then a third voice chimed in, one Elizabeth didn't even recognize at first, so well trained were proper young ladies in ignoring it. The voice of Self.
Oh, go on, it said. You know you've always wondered....
Elizabeth turned toward the front of the church, facing the throng rushing at and past her, and began walking against the flow. Each face flying by looked more terror stricken than the last. Yet when Elizabeth felt their panic worming its way inside her, threatening to infect her, she simply willed herself to stop seeing them. Everyone and everything merged into a great, dark blur, so much so that she didn't even notice when her Aunt Philips flashed past, crying, "Lizzy, what are you doing? This way! This way!"
Elizabeth didn't let herself truly see again until she was almost at the end of the aisle. She looked back, wondering if Mary had come, too, and found her younger sister right behind her, so close that her steps brushed the hem of Elizabeth's skirts.
Elizabeth felt such relief she actually smiled. It was a compliment Mary wasn't willing to accept.
"I was simply following you," she said.
When Elizabeth looked ahead again, she saw her father watching them from beside the bier. He wasn't smiling, though there was a curl to his lip and a gleam in his eye that suggested droll satisfaction, as when he and she shared a private joke at her mother's expense. Only three other people had dared gather with him near (but not too near) the casket: Mrs. Ford: her brother, Mr. Elliot; and the Reverend Mr. Cummings.
Of course, Mr. Ford was there, as well, but he didn't count as "other people" anymore.
"Come closer, girls. He won't bite," Mr. Bennet said. "Not so long as you stay out of range."
With slow, uncertain steps, Elizabeth and Mary, joined their father. Mr. Ford turned toward them as they approached, watching with empty eyes. It comforted Elizabeth somewhat that the expression seemed so familiar: Mr. Ford never had been the friendliest of her neighbors, hoarding his small store of cheer for those more likely to bring him business.
He'd been the village apothecary all Elizabeth's life, building up a reputation thereabouts for both humorless competence and a heavy thumb upon the scales. Two days before, he'd bent down to retrieve a stray ha'penny from the road and was promptly run over by a joy-riding Lord Lumpley, who'd been momentarily blinded by a smiling milkmaid. All might have been well if His Lordship hadn't circled his cabriolet to see what he'd hit (and get another look at the girl), compounding Mr. Ford's minor scrapes and bruises with a most unminor severing of the legs.
"Oh, Martin, my precious Martin!" Mrs. Ford sobbed, and Mr. Elliot had to hold tight to keep her from squeezing her husband to her heaving bosom. "To think we almost buried you alive!"
Her precious Martin merely turned his vacant gaze her way for a moment before returning to the task at hand: trying to heft his trunk up out of the casket. He would have met with immediate success had he simply loosened his pants, thus freeing himself of the literal deadweight of his amputated legs, but this was beyond his now nonexistent powers of reasoning.
"My dear Mrs. Ford," Mr. Bennet said, "I'm afraid the only thing premature about this particular burial is that it was almost conducted with your husband's head still attached."
"No!" Mrs. Ford cried. "He was just sleeping! Unconscious! Cataleptic! He's better now!"
Drawn by the sound of the woman's distress, the creature in the coffin began making lazy swipes at her with its long, stiff arms.
"Urrrrrrrrrrrr," it said.
"See! He recognizes me!" Mrs. Ford exclaimed. "Yes, darling, it's me! Your Sarah!"
"Oh, for heaven's sake," Mr. Bennet sighed. "All tie recognizes is an easy meal." He turned to Mr. Elliot. "Might it not be best if you were to remove the lady?'"
"Yes ... yes, certainly," Mr. Elliot muttered with a quick nod. He was obviously anxious to remove himself, first and foremost, yet he managed to tug his sister along as he made his eager escape up the aisle.
"Maaaaarrrrrrrrtiiiiiiiinnnnnnnn!" howled Mrs. Ford as she was dragged away.
"Urrrrrrrahrrrurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" replied what was left of her husband.
"How can she not see the obvious?" Mary asked. The bifurcated neighbor sitting up in his coffin had made a strong impression, yes, yet she seemed almost more disgusted by Mrs. Ford.
"Don't judge too harshly, for once, my dear," Mr. Bennet told her. "Wishful thinking is a sin all England stands guilty of today, your fool of a father included. We told ourselves our long nightmare was over, that a new day had dawned. Alas, that was the real dream. But, goodness-just listen to me chattering away when there's work to be done!" He turned back to the casket and began tapping a finger against his upper lip. "How ... to ... kill it?"
Elizabeth gave a little start. She wasn't sure, though, what it was that really shocked her. Was it hearing her dear Papa talk about killing an "it," when "it" was a man she'd known all her young life? ()r was it his cool, nonchalant tone as he did so?
"B-but, s-sir," Mr. Cummings said, "are you absolutely sh-sh-sure he's a ... a ... a ... 3"
Mr. Bennet finished the vicar's thought for him.
"A dreadful? There can be no doubt. Our Dr. Long is no Hippocrates, to be certain, but even he's not so incompetent as to misdiagnose death when a man's been cut in half."
The vicar acknowledged the logic of it with a jittery nod. "I s-suppose you're right. All the same, must you ... dispose of" him here? P-p-practically on the altar? As you say, poor Mr. Ford has no legs ... a-t-t-t-tached, I mean. Surely, he p-poses no danger in such a state."
"Mr. Cummings, I have seen nothing more than a head, a neck, and a pair of shoulders devour a highland warrior, kilt and all."
Elizabeth noticed her father's gaze flick, for just an instant, to her. If he was looking for any sign of surprise, he surely saw it, for Elizabeth was unaware that he'd ever laid eyes on an unmentionable at all.
"Yes," Mr. Bennet went on, eves on the vicar again. "It's dangerous. Once it gets out of that box, it'll be slithering across your stone floors quick as a snake. It must be dealt with posthaste."
Mr. Ford chose that moment (and a fine one it was) to jerk toward Mr. Cummings simultaneously roaring and snapping his teeth. In doing so, he managed to bite off most of his own tongue. It fell, gray and flaccid as an old kipper, into his lap, where it remained until he noticed it, snatched it up, and greedily gobbled it down, moaning happily as he feasted upon his own rancid flesh.
Mr. Cummings cleared his throat. "All right, then. I shall b-b-b-bow to your superior experience in these matters. B-but," he dropped his voice and nodded at Elizabeth and Mary, "surely they, needn't b-be present."
"On the contrary," Mr. Bennet said, "surely they should. Now, tell me, Sir: You have a shed around back, do you not? Where the groundskeepers and gravediggers keep their equipage?"
"Is it locked?"
"It shouldn't b-be. Not at the moment. Haines and Rainey are waiting just outside to b-b-b-bury Mr. Ford."
She didn't hear him, nor did Elizabeth. They were both totally absorbed by the sight of Mr. Ford gnawing uncertainly on his own left hand. The taste of death seemed to displease him, for he'd quickly spat up his half-masticated tongue, and his fingers went down with no more relish.
He looked up then, fixing upon Elizabeth's face with the dark, blank eyes of a mounted animal, and growled.
"Mary," Mr. Bennet said again.
"Run out to the tool shed and fetch along the biggest pair of shears you can."
Mary started up the aisle.
"Oh, and daughter?" her father called after her, "I mean as big as you can handle. Do you understand?"
Mary was a rather pale, wan-looking thing, so one couldn't say she went white as a sheet: She'd already been so since birth. Now, however, she went nearly transparent. Yet she nodded and started off again at a smooth, steady pace.
Mr. Bennet smiled. "There's a good girl."
"Y-y-you mean to have her-?You would a-a-ask your own-? Sir! She's but a child!"
"Childhood is a luxury we can no longer afford," Mr. Bennet said. "But fear not, Mr. Cummings. I don't expect young Mary there to do what need be done." He turned to Elizabeth. "Not unless her sister fails."
Elizabeth gawked at her father. He was a man of keen wit, of jests and winks and sly asides. But he wasn't joking now. For some unfathomable reason, he wanted her to-
It was too awful even to contemplate.
"Papa ... I can't."
"Tut tut, child. You can. This one is newly born to darkness. Still weak. Those to come won't be nearly so easy to deal with."
Mr. Ford swatted at the vicar hard enough to rock his coffin, sliding it a little closer to the edge of the bier. His rigor-stiffened muscles were relaxing, becoming more limber, gaining strength.
Elizabeth took a step back. "Why me?"
Excerpted from Dawn of the Dreadfuls by STEVE HOCKENSMITH Copyright © 2010 by Quirk Books. Excerpted by permission.
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