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The Festival

“The Festival”

Fredrick

October 31^st^ 2070

Reykjavík, Iceland.

Recoiling back from the sharpening stone, Fredrick puts his finger in his mouth, a droplet of crimson thick blood drips from his finger onto his black motorhead t-shirt as he lifts his left hand to his face. A sigh of fatigued frustration escapes his nose as his shoulders sag with the weight of all his problems continuing to mount upon him. His heart was not in it this hallows eve. It is merely three hours until the ritual siren is sounded, and then after that, an hour until Halloween festival officially begins. He hasn’t even got his blades sharpened. This year was to be a year of broken records. He had planned out his route and his tactics the morning after the festival last year. Printed on A3 card, pinned to the cork board in his workshop. The planned route through the streets were in blue, plotting the most concentrated points, he could circle from behind, taking out as many rotters as he could without drawing attention. The red plot was the backup or alternative route. There were more red lines on the map than blue, because he had taken almost every scenario for variation and anomaly’s in the plan into consideration. He knew that any shift in the numbers could throw a plan off kilter, so planning for the worst was the best sort of strategy. he decided to go for blades this year instead of firearms for more points! He had lost out last year in his regional group scoreboard because of lack of proximity. Fredrick was convinced that bunkering from the vantage point of height would give him more visibility, and therefore allow him to make much more kills, without the threat of moving or attack. Unfortunately, the amount of kills did not outweigh the penalties he incurred, thus averaging his score to much less than predicted. He incurred penalties and handicaps for using firearms, for killing from under the distance considered “sniping.” Other penalties were the lack of movement, lack of risk factor, use of “safe zone” and lack of originality. He was not going to make the same mistake this year. He had been training hard, every evening and most of each weekend. In hand to hand combat, Jujitsu, aikido, boxing and mixed martial arts. He had practiced with polearms, staves, swords and even axes. He had devoted himself to the festival, so much so that he had neglected the other important part of his life.

Marta.

They were supposed to celebrate their three-year anniversary after the festival. They met while part of a murder bus tour. Both of them sat on the back seat, using the assault rifles, taking turns to dispose of the things that moved after the festival had ended. It was love at first sight. Both were avid campaigners for the festival, championing its effectiveness for the Icelandic culture, helping to keep crime to its lowest level in history. Boosting the economy with the thanks of tourism, weapon sales and the advantages towards the rehabilitation laws, by allowing prisoner involvement.

Fredrick had based the plan on a two-man strategy, they would tackle the festival as a couple, side by side! What could be more romantic that slaying zombies together, side by side, on the country’s greatest evening? The plan was now altered to a solo one. His obsession had overtaken his life. Marta called his desire to win “an illness” Fredrick knew she was wrong so continued on with his plan. As much as he loved her, choosing between Marta and the Festival was an easy decision. Maybe he was sick? Maybe this was an unhealthy obsession? Who knows, who fucking cares! This was the greatest thing to happen to him, he was the 2nd generation of survivors, the generation of recovery they called it, the second baby boomer wave.

Fifty years ago an altered and mutated infection spread. Global population plummeted by 60% in the first week, by various sources. Even more the week after. War against each other was put aside and a united front was established against the enemy. The mainland was wiped clean first, overpopulation and lack of resources and defences were the fuel to the fire. Island countries managed to survive without effect for a long while. Iceland being the best case.

After the war of the dead had been declared a victory the rebuild began. Countries banded together to help each other, a united nation was in effect. Public holidays were no long a thing however. People no longer felt the need to celebrate public holidays that reminded them of the world that no longer existed. Even more so religious holidays were discarded. Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Easter, all were done away with. Except Halloween. A holiday that was reimagined as a celebration, a day of victory. The war was officially declared over on October 31st. So each year Iceland, who have emerged as the global super power, celebrate Halloween and Z-Day with “The ritual and The festival.”

The ritual is a time of reflection. Both for mourning and celebrating the lives of those about to give their last gift. When the body dies, it re-animates, no matter the cause of death, unless decapitation incurs. Therefore, when someone dies, instead of organ donation, which is no longer possible, people sign over body donations to the festival. The newly raised corpse is kept in storage until the festival when they are released into the streets of a fortified Reykjavik on Halloween evening. The Ritual is the time the competitors and the families thank the deceased for their sacrifice and gift. The people’s lives are celebrated. The deceased are fondly remembered before they are slaughtered for public amusement. During the ritual family’s share fond memories of their deceased loved ones, pictures, videos, stories, artwork whatever. People come together and give the dead a final send off. Before the ultimate, permanent send off.

After the Icelandic prime minister gives her speech the festival horn is sounded and the competitors leave the church on the hill and make their way down into the city itself. Most people enjoy the sprint from the top of the hill to the safe zone at the bottom, where highlights are shown on projector screens, along with food stalls, entertainers and a final firework show to signal the end of the festival. The other participants compete in a point scoring system. All things are allowed to dispose of the dead, apart from explosives or intentional damage to buildings in the area. Drones record the entire event for spectators all around the world, and for the lucky few who have tickets to attend the fan zone stands. A series of glass bottomed zeppelins that circle the city at a low altitude.

Points are awarded for originality, proximity and brutality. Fredrick’s brother Hans was once awarded the brutality medal after he accumulated a personal best of 25 kills with modified electric sledgehammers. Wielded one in each hand, crushing the skulls of a small berserks pack he was cornered by, early on in the evening. Fredrick desired nothing more than winning the holy trinity, a special award for showing outstanding skill in each of the three category’s.

Snori

October 31^st^ 2070

Keflavik, Iceland.

Snori wrapped his gloved fingers around the icy and frozen door of the armoured, reinforced Ford transit van. The rear door cracked open and creaked as the old rusted hinges slid against an equally eroded door. The sound awoke the cattle inside the inner cage. The moans and splutters grew loud and acted in a form of call and response as the fresh and new deadstock moaned and called in guttural chokes. The Ketch all pole that Snori gripped tight with his other hand, slid into a lock on the doors interior. Securing the recently deceased in place. Pulling another shorter baton from the toolbox in front of the interior iron grating, Snori pressed on the middle button and watched the blue sparks zap and crack from the tip. He knocked the side of the cage, getting the attention of the once human cattle inside, once they had locked eyes on him he gave the button another squeeze, the blue sparks cracked and snapped in front of his face for a short time then he pressed them into a coil of wire.

The coil conducted the electric spike through the line, causing an immediate yell from the vans current unhappy, yet now docile occupants. An eerie silence fell as Snori reached the end of the cattle prod to the wire once more. The deadstock all fell silent before the spark touched. Snore nodded his head with pride and power, acknowledging to the infected that this was the correct response and that they had behaved, meaning no shock would be administered. Like trained rats of dogs. The newly acquired infected woman still stood, attached to the Ketch-All pole. The wire tight around her neck holding her in position as the pole itself was locked in place. She was once an eighty-five-year-old woman. Mother of five, Grandmother of twelve children and great grandmother to another eleven. Her husband had passed away the year before, and like him, she had signed her body to the festival upon her death. The sum received in return would cover both a funeral cost and help substantially toward other financial requirements of her family. The Icelandic government had signed a trade agreement with “Skogarcorp,” giving all control of the festival to them. This included preparation, acquisition, sponsorship, and clean-up. Aiding the Icelandic tourism trade from the other major cities left in the new world and also generating extra revenue for Iceland. Without any cost to the people. Snori was one of the original Skogarcorp employees. His pest control business was bought over by them nearly ten years ago. The pay-out was substantial enough to retire in his 60s but Snori enjoyed his work. Even more so since the infection had spread. The pandemic was big business for him. Before Skogarcorp had risen to power and helped develop vaccines and anti-venoms for the virus, people did not understand why those who died from infection were reanimating and walking again. The fear was that the virus was spread by vermin, similar to the black death plague hundreds of years before. This, of course was Snori’s meal ticket, his open doorway to fortune, wealth and value. No longer a low paid exterminator, now a leader in his field. Called upon for advice, services, and contracted every day of the week. Once the infection had spread, the virus reached the shores of Iceland. Thanks to pre-emptive measures, it was quickly quelled. Snori’s Company was leading the charge in safeguarding the citizens. Once the dead began to rise however, the game had changed. Skogarcorp bought Snori’s company and Snori went into the people business. Implementing at first, methods used to kill rabid and feral animals this successfully cleared building s and outbreak zones effectively, but after a Skogarcorp board meeting and “The festival” was pitched and accepted to and by the Icelandic government, Snori’s tactics had to change. No longer was the aim and goal to kill and dispose of the undead, but now to capture them instead.

The first few years was difficult, reacting to quick response calls from a designated emergency line, Snori used to joke that he felt like the ghostbusters, he just needed silly uniforms and Bill Murry.

The daily grind got a lot easier as time went on. Another government sponsored initiative was introduced, “The Death Contract.”

Acting like an organ or blood donor card, the body of the deceased would be taken by Skogarcorp and contained until the annual festival season. The donor’s family would receive a large financial pay out on the delivery of the body. Measures were taken and once the donor neared the end of their life, they were placed into a strait jacket like apparatus and euthanasia was administered. A cocktail of fatal drugs and tranquilisers to aid the capture and removal of the body after reanimation. Snori liked to stay on the front lines. He was good at his job, very good. So much so that he had been training new recruits in the art of acquisition. Today was a call out like any other but he would let the apprentice take a shot at the caging.

Fredrick

Reykyvick

31^st^ October

His personal best only stood at 12 so far, but he was aiming for 50 this evening. He had all his gear sorted, his armour was modified Kevlar with arm, shin, thigh and shoulder guards. His mask was fashioned to resemble a fencing guard from the Olympics, the mesh grill on the front had been spray-painted with the Icelandic flag. His weapon design was something of beauty he thought. He had dismantled a circular saw, and modified the blade to be a serrated disk. The motor for the saw was mounted on a backpack that held a battery generator with 6 hours of turning power. He had created a frame that wrapped around his right arm, wires and coils wrapped on the inside of the skeletal structure out of harm’s way. The trigger was a simple squeeze trigger. Once he tightened his fist the circular blade would turn and blistering speed.

His right arm had a similar structure, an exoskeleton encased his arm up to his wrist. Instead of a saw on his hand however he had simply a metal spike. Taken from a jackhammer, used for cracking concrete. Like the saw, he had attached the motor to the backpack he carried. This was an invention Fredrick was particularly proud of. The motor had been modified and overclocked to work at three times its speed. The piston coils had been stretched and extended so instead of vibrating forward and back a matter of inches, it now extended fully, a total of two feet when the trigger was pulled. It was this that he was just finishing on the sharpening stone when he cut himself.

Lifting the backpack up he shuffled it onto his shoulder, slipped his arm into the armoured cage and reached towards the trigger. It was heavier than he had planned but he could still move around without too much trouble. He would not be running anywhere but he could still move, which is important.

Moving over to the practice dummy manikin, Fredrick held his fist out towards the dummy’s head, about two feet away from it and pressed down on the red button. The chisel style pointed blade shot out in front of him, the force of a shotgun kicked his shoulder back but he remained on his feet. The metallic stake had not only exploded the head but had imbedded itself into the wall behind it.

Taking his finger of the button the spike did not return until he put on foot on the wall, pushed back and finally freed it. It had worked! Fredrick screamed with joy! Dancing and jumping with pure excitement and glee, he called to Marta over and over before the reality returned. She was gone. She had left him weeks ago. Without a word, just a note. The air of ecstasy was quickly drowned by a feeling of loss. He still set two places at the table, lifted out two mugs for coffee in the morning, made sure the toilet seat was down and no hair was in the shower plug hole. Force of habit.

Marta had simply tired of his obsessing he thought. He had felt her distant for a few months before she left. She was always an upbeat, eccentric. Singing and laughing and joking and cuddling and kissing. In the last month or so before she was gone, all of that had stopped, except the kissing and snuggling oddly. She no longer sang, ever. She wore her make up less and less. She had no apatite or energy, in hindsight now, Fredrick put it down to a depression she never spoke about. In his mind’s eye he saw her stepping backwards while he continued to move forwards. He continued to bring her flowers every Monday, a tradition ha has kept up since they first made it official that they were a couple all those years ago. Most of all Fredrick blamed himself for her departure, not just the neglect he knew now he was forcing on her. The way he involved her in all of the preparation. He thought she enjoyed it, liked being part of it, even wanted to spend evenings planning and attending self-defence classes with him. Maybe she didn’t? Perhaps she wanted out for a long time and he had just missed the signs? Furthermore, Fredrick knew, in a dark part of his heart that he never accessed. Like knowing someone is watching you but refusing to look back. It was because of the baby. Marta had always spoken about starting a family, Fredrick was excited by the prospect and did not want to delay, they had been trying, unsuccessfully for a year. Marta had gone to see her doctor one afternoon, Fredrick remembered now. She kissed him goodbye as he lay on in bed, she was singing as she left, even tapping her keys to the song in her head. She had gone, he assumed, to the fertility doctor. That evening she returned dejected, heavy, low and quiet. She sang no more after that, then eventually she left. He knew it was because he could not have children now. She had been tested months ago and all was well. Fredrick’s heart broke over and over, realising Marta had left to have a child with another. It was the only explanation, he hated her to the core sometimes, but still, and always will, love her and understand why.

Snori

Keflavik

31^st^ October

The door at the driver’s side of the van creaked open and slammed shut again. Ivan made his way to the rear of the transit, blowing on his hands and rubbing warmth into them as he slipped on his thermal and armoured gloves.

Ivan was a relatively new recruit. He had worked with Snori for a year now, and in the pickup crew with Snori for three months. It was no surprise around the workroom that these two did not like each other. Snori thought Ivan to be no cocky, wreck less, undisciplined, whereas the other workers and staff enjoyed Ivan’s stories, his banter, his sense of humour and were drawn to his charismatic personality. No one could really understand why Snori was so hard on Ivan, always giving him the worst jobs and silly tasks below Ivan’s paygrade.

Ivan was obsessed with the festival and had entered this year’s competition, preparing for months, everyone in the workplace knew. The surprise came when Snori changed the rota last minute to put Ivan on a late shift, the final collection route before the festival. Insuring that Ivan would be late, and even miss the tournament all together. Snori cemented the insult more by insisting that he came along with Ivan, insuring they no one could swap a shift with him, as he was sure any of the staff would. Ivan gave little resistance when he was informed but Snori had heard talk from the staff room of Ivan’s hope to clear up quick and still make it to the festival in time. He was even going to incorporate his uniform into his battle gear, his armour gloves were a vital part of his defensive gear now.

The gloves fingers were thick iron and did not move like normal gloves. This reason was evident once Ivan sprang into action. He nodded to Snori as he walked around the new acquisition.

“She is an old one eh?” He joked.

“Aye, not too much strength left in the old body, but numbers are numbers, she is the last one of the evening so don’t be taking any chances, follow the rules, do as I showed you and all will be fine. Are you ready?” Snori asked, all form of humour out of his voice, Ivan knew he was serious when this happened. “There is no room for joking when the lifting needs done.” Snori always said this, Ivan lip synced along with the motto as he used his teeth to pull the second glove onto his hand.

“Ok, here goes” Ivan said as he moved towards the corpse. He had watched Snori do this over one hundred times over the last few months but this was his first time handling the undead by himself. His heart raced and pounded in his chest, his breath was visible in the cold night air, his breathing was getting faster and shallower. Snori tapped his hand on Ivan’s back. “Take it easy, one deep breath then go.” He advised.

Ivan did this, placed one hand on the Ketch-All pole, and pulled it from the side of the door. Moving the corpse backwards. Once he was a few feet back he un extended the pole bringing the infected only inches from his face, the body shot its neck forwards snapping its teeth in Ivan’s face. Unfazed Ivan placed his other hand, the glove with the metal plated fingers, and shoved them into the deceased’s mouth. The teeth clamped down and tried to bite into the metal, but to no avail.

“Good, you have a grip of her now, push her back to the cage and I will swivel her in.” Snori called. During the excitement and the movement, the dead in the van started to groan and moan again but were quickly silenced by a short snap of the cattle prod in Snori’s hand.

Ivan pushed the woman back to the side of the van’s cage, The Ketch-all pole still around her neck and his hand holding her in place with her mouth. This was Snori’s idea. He always told them that if you had your hand in their mouth then you always knew where it was. No chance of it biting you if you held and controlled its jaw.

Letting the pole go, Ivan reached to the side of the cage, wrapped another copper wire around the dead’s neck and tightened it like a cable tie. A quick flick of the pole and the first wire loosened and fell to the ground. Now the dead was held by both the wire choker and Ivan’s glove.

The sudden slack of the choker must have given the dead a sense of freedom, she lashed out with arms, both bound at the wrist with thick industrial cable ties. She managed to give Ivan a substantial blow to the chin, knocking him back slightly. As Ivan tried to place his feet in response to the blow, he foolishly tripped over his own legs. Falling back, his glove slipped from the jaws of the infected, cracking many of the old, rotten, yellow teeth free from the dark grey gums. He landed in a lump below the dead and the van, like a fallen tree, blown to the ground from root rot. The thump brought excitement to all of the vans occupants once more. Ivan struggled to get up from his back. His body armour and tool belt made this extremely awkward, like a turtle on its shell in the cold, with lip-licking predators staring down at their supper. With pure instinct Ivan lifted his free hand to stop the infected woman landing on him and locking her jaws on flesh instead of iron fingers. His hand pushed out onto her chest, holding her in position. Ivan may have been quite young but he was strong. You would guess by looking at him that he had a bit of strength behind his weight but he was surprisingly sturdy, durable and solid.

While holding the dead in place, he reached out with his free arm to the cable on the door. The managed to wrap the frayed ends of a red and blue rope around his wrist and pull with all his might. This was the end of the choker cable, yanking the dead up and back into position against the cage in the van. Using the tight rope as leverage Ivan got to his feet. He took one look at the dead who was now biting the air in his direction, obviously disappointed and angered by narrowly missing out on an evening meal, and punched the woman so hard in the face that he heard the crack of skull under his iron glove. The vibrations in the iron fingers tingled as the body went limp. Ivan spat on the moving corpse as he brushed the grit and salt from the freshly treated streets from his overalls. Snori, without a word, swung the gate open. Ivan simply lifted the feet of the deceased and threw the body back into the van. The rope still around her neck he pulled on the tug end once more, bringing her body to the side of the cage, then tying it onto the inside lock. Holding her in place. Snori did not even look at Ivan until the cage was locked and the rear door was secured shut. Before he had any time to discuss with Ivan what had happened, he was pinned up against the side of the van. Ivan had his forearm over his chest and neck, applying so much pressure upward that Snori’s feet were only just touching the ground. He felt pressed into the side of the van until the exterior metal bent under his weight. He could feel the heat of Ivan’s breath on his face as he screamed at him.

“What the fuck was that old man!” Ivan spat with pure anger, pushing the age difference once again in Snori’s face,

“You saw that she was coming down on me, you knew my fucking had slipped, and you did nothing, your old fool! Did you want her to get me?”

Snori felt his face going purple, the airways being even more restricted and Ivan continued his barrage of insults.

“This isn’t the first time; I’ve fucking had it with you Snori! Yesterday when you opened the cage without warning, then last week you called clear on the room which held the dead. I don’t know if you going fucking blind or senile, but you are too old for this shit now, and I am not going to suffer because of you and your stubbornness. We both know you should have retired a long time ago!”

That one hurt Snori more than most. He knew that everyone talked about when his last year would be. He had seen the secret bets in the workroom on the year he would be killed on the job. Retirement was his biggest fear, more than the dead, because he would no longer be useful. Snori’s fear, above most things, was being forgotten. Just as his head was becoming heavy and his body limp, he felt the tug of gravity as he fell, like a sack of potatoes onto the cold dirt.

“This is my last job with you Snori, I have had it, Once the festival is over, I have other plans, better plans, plans away from the old and decrepit.” Ivan opened the passenger door to the van, kicking Snori’s feet on his way past. Lighting a cigarette, he rolled the window down slightly and slammed the door shut behind him.

Snori took a few moments to catch his breath again. He coughed and choked as his airways began to expand once more. He knew there would be bruising on his neck in the morning. His wife would blame it on the festival and tell him it was his last one for sure, he could picture the fight now, the same one they had every year.

Snori made his way to his feet, the hum of the engine was now drowned out by the loud music Ivan had playing inside. A barrage of fast crunching noise, Snori could only imagine it was maybe guitars before it was altered and passed through a multitude of guitar pedals. The pounding beat was the only thing to be heard over the clinking of bells and ropes on the masts of the fishing boats in Keflavik harbour. Once rich in whaling trade.

Snori gave the back doors another last check as he walked around the long way to the driver’s seat. Getting in, he strapped his seatbelt, leaned forward and took a cigarette of his own. He didn’t lift Ivan’s lighter, instead he waited for the interior lighter of the ford transit to heat up. This usually look a while in the old van. Snori gave his signal ahead on the CB radio that they would be joining the rear of the cattle convoy now. Would meet on the motorway just past the exit to the blue lagoon. After five minutes or so they were onto the main motorway towards Reykjavik, passing the “Bonús” and the “10-11” both of which were closed now, the festival would be in full swing, everyone would be gearing up for the finale, the festival blood run. Ivan wore a Blood run t-shirt under his overalls. Last year’s one, with the names of the winners and high scorers on it. Snori was sure he would go looking for the newest shirt once they arrived.

It was only a 40-minute drive from Keflavik to Reykjavik, after 35 minutes, the lighter clicked out, indicating it was now hot enough to light of the three glowing rings. Snori lifted it out with his forefinger and thumb, brought it to his lips, and dropped it just before it met the cigarette. Ivan was unaware, he had not so much as looked at Snori once they had started driving. He had his head against the window, watching the green and purple lights snake and dance overhead on the clear October evening. This was almost prime time to see the lights, just as the snows were beginning to appear.

Snori franticly patted at his crotch in search of the lighter, not knowing where it was he was scared he would grab the warm end of the lighter unknowingly. After a short while of frantic tapping he saw the lighter fall onto his boot, he gave a cry and leant down forward to grab it as it began to burn into his black work boots. At this point Ivan had noticed the large rear of a cattle truck getting closer. Snori was pushing his foot down on the accelerator as he scrambled for the lighter, taking both hands of the wheel.

Fredrick

Reykjavik

31^st^ October

She left him a note that day.

My Love,

The flowers will continue to blossom; the water will continue to nourish them.

Like my love for you, it shall not leave, ever, but I must.

Your petal,

Marta.

The note is on the refrigerator, stuck on with a Las Vegas magnet, a trinket from their last holiday. She wanted the sign, and he the dice, her decision was to flip for it, she won.

Fredrick closed the cabinet above the refrigerator after reading the note again. He tore the plastic from the back of the adhesive strip and wrapped the Band-Aid plaster around his finger. Stopping the last trickles of blood from dripping.

Perhaps a rest was all he needed, he needed to reboot his mind, it was in a form of standby and needed to be working overtime if he were to not only smash his personal best, but survive the festival tonight. Clicking the on button and flicking to the news channel on the touch screen remote, he slumped back into his lazy boy retro chair. Just like the one his grandfather used to have. His armour was sitting up now on the table in the dining area of the apartment. Like a sleeping monster on the table. Like that monster Fredrick let his eyelids slide over the now watering eyes. He prayed before the nap took him that he would not dream of Marta, Seeing and thinking of her all day was enough, he longed for a release in his slumber.

Snori

Keflavik to Reykjavik motorway

October 31^st^

“SNORI, YOU OLD FUCK!” Ivan yelled as he grabbed the wheel, forcing the truck to the hard shoulder. Snori managed to grab the lighter, sit up and with a calm ease he lit his cigarette in his teeth and smiled a toothy grin at Ivan.

“I think you should get out here, don’t you?” Snori said behind eerily calm gritted teeth, pressing down harder than needs be on the butt.

“Yea, I’ve had it with you, old timer.” Ivan said while unbuckling and climbing down from the cab. “I will be seeing you real soon, you suicidal old fuck” Ivan said, he waved with his middle finger as the truck indicated and moved slowly of onto the road again.

Ivan knew it was only a thirty-minute walk to the main event but he powerwalked it none the less, his skogarcorp pass should make it a lot easier navigating the streets and security checkpoints to get where he needed to go. It wasn’t the festival he was determined to get to know, it was something else.

Snori followed the convoy into the city centre. The trucks were almost bumper to bumper as they made their way through the windy tight streets. AS they reached the festival heights near the top of the hill, just outside Hallgrímskirkja church, the front lorry slammed the breaks and sounded the horn. A man in an exoskeleton combat suit stumbles from the front of the convoy, continuing to run towards the assembly point of the Blood run. Snori chuckled, that one had no hope or chance he laughed to himself, but he had been wrong about winners before.

Fredrick

Reykjavik

31^st^ October

The sound of a siren broke the pleasant sleep that had for so long, eluded Fredrick. Rolling from side to side on the chair, his cheek sticking to the faux leather seat, he slowly opened his eyes. A frown was worn heavy on his face as he looks both ways trying to make sense of the siren breaking his slumber.

Could it be?

Fredrick’s heart beat in his chest like a sledgehammer through a supporting, load bearing wall. As the ceiling fell so did the gravity of the situation. He was late, fucking late, for the biggest night of his life so far! He clicked the leg support down on his chair with such force he fell forward onto the carpeted living room floor. Half crawling, half scrambling, he made his way to the table, still on his knees and grabbed the armour and weapons of the table, pulling them to the ground. He twisted his way into his suit and darted to the door, holding the two weapons by his side. He had heard the year before, that many competitors had forgotten their entrance cards and Id, therefore not allowing them to enter the festival at all! He took no chances and had them already in the slots he fashioned on his chest. Hallgrímskirkja church was within walking distance of their…. his apartment. Running down the road it was almost empty of traffic, only four large articulate lorries passed him, almost knocking him down. The cattle trucks were putrid smelling as they passed. Only once he had moved onwards did he realise what they contained.

He could hear the cheers now, and music from the ritual floating on the icy October evening air and he drew closer to the building. The large, sloped sides blocked the lights but he could see the reflections of the projections on the nights clouds as he approached. Showing his I.D to the security he was granted access to the main area. The Ritual was drawing to a close but the Prime minister had not yet made her speech. He had made it, Just. He wished Marta were here, maybe he would bump into her? Maybe she was competing? Maybe she was with someone else. He could not even think about it.

Fredrick spent the remainder of the speech tightening his straps and checking for holes or gaps in his armour. A small part of him was using his peripherals to look for signs of Marta. A smaller part was listening to the speech. Finally, the horn was sounded. The people had turned, facing down the hill now towards the bottom of Reykjavík. The first gunshot was sounded. The lorries and trucks that had passed would be in position now, the rear doors would be open and the dead would be flowing out. Wasting no time Fredrick set into a healthy jog, as fast as he could move comfortably in his suit. With hands raised he gave one last check of his weapons. The smile was wide on his face now, behind the Icelandic flag mesh helmet. The moment had arrived, his moment. The sprinters would be approaching the safe zone now; the fan zone zeppelins were lowering into visible positions. These were the best sign posts he knew. They hovered above large areas of the dead looking for the best brutal experiences.

Snori

Reykjavik

31^st^ October

Once the trucks pulled into place Snori reversed his transit to the side of the starting crates. The rest of the staff made their way to him to collect the remaining dead they needed for the festival.

“Cutting it close there Snori eh?” Joked Jon, nudging Snori with his elbow to the laughter and banter of the other drivers and crew.

“Yes, had a little slip up with Ivan, the boy will no longer be working with us, he just didn’t have what it takes.” Snori Lied. The rest of the crew looked concerned and confused. Until today Ivan had been one of the better recruits, a real natural at this line of work, Snori had never liked him, the crew knew this, but were never sure why.

The crew nodded and agreed, Snori gave the orders to where they were to be positioned and the signals to unleash the horde when the siren is sounded. Snori decided he would take it easy this year and open the slide grate at the side of the van from the rear, after the first wave had been unleashed. The undead very clearly have a herd mentality so if they see the horde of dead walking in one direction they will follow before they check surroundings.

Celebrations had begun for the build-up to the Blood run. All the crew and staff were in position, the competitors were ready and the president was giving her speech before the gates open, honouring the dead and the rest. Snori smoked his way through the boredom, he had done enough festivals to not care now. He just waited for the siren, would pull the leaver on the roof of the van, opening the side of the cage into a sort of walkway and releasing the tension behind the chokers, then would lock up, wait, smoke some more then coordinate the clear up. Then home to have an argument with his wife about him working too much at his age. He would just rest his eyes for a short while now, as it was the only opportunity he would have for a while.

Fredrick

The Festival,

31^st^ October.

Veering left Fredrick turned down one of the side streets available tonight. Usually a week before the festival or mid-October large steel walls are erected bordering the centre of the city for this evening. All residential areas were closed and locked the day before but the larger streets were still open season.

The first group was in front of him, he gave a war cry and charged into the Frey. The saw worked better than he had ever imagined, like a warm knife, slicing through a freshly fried egg, the body parts came apart from their base. Red mist covered Fredrick’s mask. He kept his mouth shut to avoid anything getting into it, just on the off chance. Using the pike to launch the dead back he disposed of them with the saw. 5,6 then 13, 14! All in a matter of minutes.

Once the group was dispersed he had well and truly smashed his record already. The kill count stood at 25 already. The festival climax is only an hour long. He had 45 minutes to find another 25. Continuing down the streets he managed to come across a few stragglers, bring him to 30. The road swept round to the left, joining to the main street. There he found a group dining on an unfortunate participant. He was face down, meaning he was caught unaware or running away. Either way he deserved it, Fredrick thought.

Up the hill again slightly, there was a group of three surrounded by overwhelming odds, they were firing franticly but two were reloading, given time they would fall surly. Using all his energy Fredrick charged up the hill, he exploded the head of the closest rotter with his piston powered chisel gun, then with a roundhouse swipe of the blade decapitated the five at the back.

The rotters were five deep now easily, hacking and slashing he screamed as he dove deeper in. That was when the dead turned to face him. The three previous targets were of no concern and they ran at the first available moment, leaving Fredrick alone and overrun. He kept his balance but felt the pressure of the rotter closing in on him, teeth and nails scratching his armour and trying to finds holes in the joints to sink their teeth into. They would find none however. Just then, the blade stopped spinning. Fredrick squeezed the trigger over and over but there was no power.

One of the rotters behind him had torn the linking cable from its base in the backpack. It was useless now. He un-linked the blade from the exoskeleton and pushed his gloved hand out the wrist slot. Punching hard, he pushed some back to give himself a little more room. Swarmed now like a blonde teenager in a piranha movie, he swung and thrashed until he had forced enough of the infected to the ground to give himself a chance to step over and clearly pick the slower ones as his next prizes. 34, 35, 36! Using both hands now, his right hand grabbing and his left firing the pike through the skull of the dead ones.

37, 38, all the dead on their feet were now dead, the fallen were struggling on their backs like turtles in the sun on a dry sandy beach. Fredrick’s heart was pounding with exhaustion and excitement, pushing through the fatigue he was becoming angry, this drove him on, giving him strength and power. Stomping on head after head his total kept rising. He could feel camera drones hovering overhead now as he stepped on the skulls, like cracking eggshells on the street.

Looking up at the rooftop screens Fredrick could see his festival pass photo id flashing with a giant 49 beside his name. He couldn’t believe it! He was so close! This could be the year he was hoping for, everything else could come around again. Maybe Marta was watching him now! He knew that being at the top of the board will assure his place on the vision screen in every house in Iceland, if not the world! All eyes were on him, he needed that final point now.

The rooftops all housed advertisement boards and moving posters. From the sky a giant blimp with a four sided clock face flew low over the street arena. The numbers were just visible to Fredrick now. A fog horn started and rhythmically boomed every second. The giant 58 was now a 57, then a 56. Under one minute. Panic set in as Fredrick’s eyes darted up and down the streets. Where were they all? Cheers and chants could be heard now from the fan zone zeppelins over the hum of the engines. Feet stomping on the glass floors and claps to a rhythmic chant.

Snori

The Festival

31^st^ October

The siren sounded and Snori almost jumped out of his skin. How could it have happened to soon? He had loads of time left, after the silence, the second part of the speech, the ritual, the reciting then the cheers before the siren. Had he slept through this? He checked his watch, yes, he had, a solid 35 minutes of sleep. The slam of the cattle trucks on either side of the church usually was booming and echoing down the cold Icelandic streets, not this time, he had slept through it. Snori did not want to be too far behind as he could see the dead shuffling aimlessly now, joining together to head down the main street after the competitors ran to the safe zone. He pulled the release switch, nothing happened.

Again he pulled the switch, again nothing. He reset the fuses from his control panel, still nothing. He would have to do it manually.

The blimps were overhead and heading down towards the safe zone and main street. He could hear fans cheering from the airships as they passed.

He climbed down the ladder, missing the last four rungs, swung around to the side of the van and pulled at the door. The old van had seen better days, the lever was both stuck with cold and wedged behind the side panel after a bump from the motorway earlier. Snori put both hands on the handle and pulled as hard as he could, slowly the door scraped to the side, revealing the inner cage and the dead staring out at him with red and yellow eyes. Snori was shocked, he felt vulnerable now, away from the safety of height, weapon less and armour less, only a cigarette in his mouth and a fist in his right hand. Just as he reached to manually open the lock release mechanism he heard a whistle, He looked up, just in time to see Ivan throwing a small hand axe toward him. The burning sharp pain forced Snori to the ground. The axe was deep into Snori’s leg. Ivan said nothing but stared with a grin of vengeful satisfaction, more worryingly however, he stared with a grin of enjoyment, pride, happiness, a bloodthirsty face of excitement.

“End of the Road Snori, End of the road.” Ivan said as he pushed the release button, the iron cage front fell forward, landing on Snori’s legs, the weight snapping his shins instantly and pinning him under the grate walkway. The last thing Snori saw was Ivan fixing his competitor number to the chest on his vest, the night’s sky overhead, the green northern lights dancing above him and then a circle of red and yellow eyes, drawing closer until the biting began and everything disappeared.

Ivan did not win this festival but he was placed on the scoreboard under the record breaking high score of this year’s winner. The fire was ignited in Ivan’s belly that evening however, not just for the festival and dealing with the dead, but for murder. Knowing that there was one night a year He could get away with it, like he did with Snori. Ivan’s bloodlust grew. He wore the charismatic, lovable rogue persona like a mask. Disguising who he really was underneath, living in his secrets and his shame, his trophies and rewards, running from the truth and evading the consequences. Ivan was sure his name would be spoken of in lore and legend in years to come. It was.

Fredrick

The festival

31^st^ October

That’s when he saw it. Just turning the corner into the side street he had just come from. He turned on his heels and sprinted, the suit slowed him down so he unclipped the armour from the clip at the front and it fell from his shoulders like a shell crashing on the ground behind him as he ran onwards. From his thigh sheaf he pulled the curved climbing pick he carried as a last defence. It hooked round and he had modified the entire length of it from the light carbon fibre pole it once had into a razor sharp doubled edged blade. His foot slipped on fresh blood as he turned the corner, sliding slightly he used his left hand to steady himself on the ground. Kicking forward trying to get traction again. The countdown chant had begun now, 28, 27, 26. He ran with all his energy, using muscles in his legs he did not know he had, propelling himself forward until he was almost in reaching distance. With his left foot he leaped forward, landing on his right while turning his body to get the full power he could muster behind his swing. With his arm extended the blade sliced through the air, making impact with smooth precision, not a fraction of resistance was felt as the razor slid through the skin and muscle in the neck. Slowing with a crunch for only a millisecond as the spine was severed with such severe pressure that the head seemed to pop from the body. Launching it backwards over Fredrick’s shoulder and rolled down the sloping side street. The cheers were deafening now as one of the zeppelins were directly overhead. Looking up he could see his I.D Card on all of the billboards, the words “New Record” were flashing with a confetti animation falling down. From every screen down the hill in Reykjavik city from Hallgrímskirkja church to the old harbour. A feeling of relief was bubbling from his toes and moving upwards, from his legs and stomach to his chest then to his throat and like Eyjafjallajökull it erupted in a bellowing roar of elation. Falling to his knees Fredrick heard the countdown beginning.

10

9

He looked down as the unfortunate should to make such a welcome sacrifice for him. He wished he could find the family of the deceased to thank them for what had come from the final cost.

8

Looking closer Fredrick recognised the shirt the deceased was wearing. A thick, fur lined, red and black button down cheque blouse, a “woodcutters special” as he used to call them when women began to wear them in the city. The jeans seemed familiar too.

7

Shuffling over on his knees Fredrick got closer to the body. His heard beating faster and faster, his stomach was turning and tying itself in knots now. His worst fear beginning to rise.

6

Could this be? How?

5

He rolled the body over and lifted up the left arm.

4

Turning the hand over it was clenched in a fist, taped closed by white electrical tape.

3

Fredrick snapped the tape and opened the hand.

2

A ring was on the engagement finger. A ring Exactly like the one he had given to Marta.

1

Inside the closed fist was a crumpled and folded note, stained with blood and sweat from being clasped by the deceased for so long. How could he say the deceased? He knew exactly who this was.

This was Marta….

0

A fog horn sounded to the reply of cheers and music! The zeppelins overhead were circling and an explosion of confetti and sparks descended over the entire city now! Claps, laughter, cheer and songs filled the cold night air.

Fredrick simply lay on top of Marta’s body. Crying now. His emotions were so mixed. He was to be celebrated as the highest scorer in the festival’s history soon. The prime minister would award him with the medal and after the performance he put on tonight, he felt a shoe in for the holy trinity. The time for celebration and happiness would come soon enough, he knew. Now was a time for heartache and loss all over again.

He held Marta’s hand with his left hand, intertwining his gloved fingers with her ice cold ones. Squeezing her tight, hoping, hopelessly, that she would return the gesture. Wishing that she would squeeze his freshly cut finger from the sharpening stone earlier. Praying for the pain that would give him courage. Unfolding the letter with his other hand he began to read. His tears fell on the page as the fireworks lit up the sky behind him. Illuminating the street enough for him to read for a few seconds after each explosion.

Dear Fredrick my love,

I hope this letter finds you, but more so I hope you find it.

I must start with an apology, my departure was never about you, or because of you.

It was for you.

I could never have told you all the things I wanted to in person so this note will have to suffice. I love you, more every day, since the moment we met you have been everything to me. I need not tell you this as I am sure that you know.

I am sorry I grew distant as the days leading up to now. I had news I could not possibly share. The morning I left for the doctor I was hoping to get answers to why we could not conceive. The answers were worse than I feared. The problem did not lie with you at all, it was the cancer in my blood. I am sick. Very sick. I was given a month at best but I feel in myself I will not have that long. I know you my dear, you would drop everything for me, nothing else would matter to you, but your success and happiness matter more to me than anything. I did not want you to lose focus, this festival will be your greatest yet. I know from the training we did together that you have greatness. You are better than your brother, better than this city. You will be on the world stage soon! You can go as far as representing the trolls in the “Tournament of the dead.” I know you can. I hope that your anger at my departure brought you drive and passion. I know it will have, you are a strong Icelandic giant! You will make me proud I know!

I signed over my body to the festival today. The payment was transferred to me this morning and I placed it all on a bet.

I bet you would get your goal, 50 points. If you have the prize money will go to you my dear. I hope this is a truly great gift I can give. Even more so, I hope I can help in another way. I hope I provide a point to you my dear. That way I will always be part of you.

Some people get a lifetime of love in their life, we may have only had three years but I would not trade them for anything in the world. These years have made me happier than I could ever have dreamt. I will be with you always my dear.

As I said, each flower that blooms is a reminder to you of how you made me feel each day. Each bloom brings hope to the world.

The flowers will continue to bloom.

As will you my love.

With everything I am, my heart and soul are yours.

Your petal,

Marta


The Festival

Fifty years ago an altered and mutated infection spread. Global population plummeted by 60% in the first week, by various sources. Even more the week after. War against each other was put aside and a united front was established against the enemy. The mainland was wiped clean first, overpopulation and lack of resources and defenses were the fuel to the fire. Island countries managed to survive without effect for a long while. Iceland being the best case. After the war of the dead had been declared a victory the rebuild began. Countries banded together to help each other, a united nation was in effect. Public holidays were no long a thing however. People no longer felt the need to celebrate public holidays that reminded them of the world that no longer existed. Even more so religious holidays were discarded. Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Easter, all were done away with. Except Halloween. A holiday that was re imagined as a celebration, a day of victory. The war was officially declared over on October 31st. So each year Iceland, who have emerged as the global super power, celebrate Halloween and Z-Day with “The ritual and The festival.”

  • ISBN: 9781370191581
  • Author: C. Mahood
  • Published: 2016-10-06 11:20:08
  • Words: 9253
The Festival The Festival