Welcome back, Constant Reader, and welcome as well to the Casual. Things are starting to move for me on the writing front with the continued great reviews and buzz going for “Area 187; Almost Hell”, and if you haven’t read it yet, well, you really should. I’ve also got more exciting news that is just now breaking about upcoming projects, but you’ll learn all about that on an upcoming post. This time, I’m here to welcome returning guest author Ken Harrelson of Angry Puppy Films. Most of you will remember Ken’s last guest spot, “Clownpocalypse”, right here on my little blog. If you don’t remember it, just click and enjoy. It’s a hoot. This time, Ken stretches his alternate history legs in one of my favorite ways. And, if you’re anything at all like me, not only does your mother weep herself to sleep each night but you’ll also enjoy “The Revolution”.
Note; this work of fiction is provided by and is displayed here with the express consent of the author and is shown here exactly as written by the author. All copyrights and ownership are with the author, Ken Harrelson, following standard copyright laws.
Standing in the arena, the gladiator was almost deafened by the roar of the crowd. Capua was not as large as the Coliseum in Rome, but it dwarfed anything in his home of Thrace far away. Hot and sweaty before the fighting had even started, the man wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his sword hand.
His opponents stood trembling before him in the sand near a large bloody patch where several others had met their end a short time earlier. Crixus had barely started to breathe hard dispatching that cluster of criminals. Now it was his turn. There were five of them, standing huddled like sheep come to slaughter before a wolf. This gladiator would slay them all. Taking no pleasure in his efforts, he would still give the crowd a show before ending them all.
Afterwards, as the last one fell to the ground with blood spraying from his neck where it barely remained attached to his torso, the gladiator turned his back on the sheep in man’s flesh. He raised his sword and shield triumphantly to the crowd and demanded their adoration. They did not disappoint.
“Spartacus! Spartacus!” they chanted.
Spartacus looked to the place where his master Batiatus sat watching in a comfortable seat, fanned by topless slaves. Spartacus pulled his sword to his chest and then brought it straight out in a salute to Batiatus. Batiatus smiled broadly at the display of fealty from the slave that he had been told could never be broken. Batiatus understood that it was a matter of finding what the man had wanted above all other things and dangling it within reach. Spartacus wanted freedom above all other things, but he also had grown to love the adoration of the people. Batiatus played on these desires, and Spartacus had become his greatest gladiator, rivaling even the fearsome Crixus in his savagery.
Afterwards at the ludus, the men were naked and covered in oil as they wiped away the dirt and stench of the day. The men that had fought would have a night of wine and debauchery to enjoy. Crixus and Spartacus stood near each other and a bit apart from the others. In truth, the others were a little afraid of the pair. None wanted to face either of them in the arena since it would be certain bloody death.
“You fought well today,” Crixus said.
“As did you, brother,” Spartacus replied.
The other men all laughed and slapped each other on the shoulder and back but not the two champions. They were as concise in their speech as they were in the arena. Neither wore the smiles that the others had plastered on their faces.
Crixus finished and walked away, his skin glistening with a thin coat of oil in the torchlight. If Spartacus was a wolf, the Gaul Crixus was a lion. He moved with a powerful grace and confidence, naked through a crowd of men that parted without a word for his passage. All of the men were trained killers. Crixus and Spartacus were natural predators.
As the morning sun began to brighten the sand in the training are of the ludus, Spartacus walked away from the two naked women sleeping in his bed. As champions he and Crixus had the privilege of private bedrooms and their choice of women or men if either had been so inclined. The champion before them had been so inclined and had enjoyed many nights with young men. He had fallen to a pale giant with an axe that seemed unstoppable. The crowd in the arena had roared when the champion had fallen in honorable combat.
The hot sun was blazing down on the sand as the men trained throughout the day, under the watchful eye of their trainer. He was a tall stern man with a whip and harsh demeanor. All feared and respected him. Today he shouted words of encouragement and instruction to the men.
“Harder you bastards!” His whip cracked to punctuate his sentences;
“Do not show any weakness. Weakness is death. Death without fighting is dishonor. You will not dishonor this ludus or the men beside you! You will fight until the blood in your veins boils or you crush your opponents!” The whip sounded like thunder to the men nursing hangovers.
With wooden practice swords Spartacus and Crixus sparred with some of the newer gladiators. Sweat poured from their muscular bodies as they instructed the newcomers and prepared for the next games. Sometimes there would be a glimmer of promise in the new gladiators, and other times the champions would shake their heads and accept the fact that death would come for the new men. Some would try to cover their fear with rage and charge into the champions only to find themselves flat in the sand with a sword point at their throats.
“You must remain in control at all times. Rushing into an opponent only hastens your death,” Crixus told a fellow Gaul in the dirt.
“My name is Altus,” the man said.
“I do not care. If you do not learn better, you will not be here long enough for me to learn your name,” Crixus said as he turned away from the man.
Days passed and the next games approached. Spartacus would face another group of opponents that were said to be impossible to kill. Spartacus didn’t care. If it walked, he could kill it, and he would kill them.
They marched to the arena as usual in a column of twos with Crixus at the front of one line and Spartacus at the front of the other. Batiatus strutted ahead of them in his finest clothes. He loved the attention he received at the front of his gladiators. People lined the streets and cheered their favorites and tried to touch the men they admired. Women flashed their breasts to the men in lewd displays of passion. The gladiators marched a little straighter and appreciated some of the displays.
The fights went as expected. Altus somehow managed to survive his fight and won a lackluster victory over a soft looking man unfortunate enough to be trying to work off his gambling debts by fighting. Crixus fought a visiting gladiator from Pompeii that used the net and trident like they had been born in his hands. Crixus picked up a cut on his ribs and the visitor ended up a head shorter.
Spartacus walked past Crixus into the arena.
“Die well brother,” Crixus said.
“I shall try hard not to,” Spartacus replied.
Standing in the arena Spartacus watched as his opponents were brought into the arena. Silence fell across the crowd. The rumors had been true; each was at the end of a choke pole. Their handlers released them and ran from the arena, closely pursued by the men. Slamming the door behind them trapped the hissing slaves in with Spartacus. Spartacus faced his master and the crowd and saluted.
“We who are about to die, salute you!,” Spartacus said. The crowd exploded into cheers.
His opponents noticed him for the first time. They turned and hissed at Spartacus. Spartacus slapped his shield with his sword and nodded at them. At that instant, Spartacus could no longer hear the crowd. All he could see were the three men coming to try to kill him. The first staggered toward Spartacus and the stench hit before the thing arrived. Spartacus stabbed straight through the stomach as the fool rushed him. Sinking deep into the man’s stomach Spartacus quickly stepped away to allow room for the body to fall. As he did he noticed that his opponent had his sword lashed to his hand.
Next thing he noticed his opponent didn’t fall dying to the sand, even thought his guts began to fall out. That was definitely not normal. Spinning, he swung his sword in a horizontal swipe that removed the man’s head. Unburdened from his head, the body fell to the sand. Somehow, the smell got worse.
The other two slaves ignored their comrade and approached Spartacus apart. Spartacus attacked the one on his left while the one on his right attacked at the same time. Stabbing his target in the throat Spartacus spun to strike his attacker with his shield edge. Spartacus overestimated his foe’s speed and his shield passed in front of him and missed. The man grabbed Spartacus’ arm.
Spartacus tugged his sword free of the one man’s throat and tried to turn and fight the other man. The other man had latched onto Spartacus’ arm with a surprising strength. Again, Spartacus noticed the sword lashed to the man’s hand. It was ignored as the man endeavored to bite Spartacus on the arm. Spartacus stabbed into the man’s neck and wrenching his sword to the side severed the man’s spine. Releasing Spartacus, the man fell to the sand and lay still.
Spartacus lowered his sword and stood panting until he felt teeth sink into his ankle. The second man had survived the stabbing long enough to crawl over and bite Spartacus.
“Bastard!” Spartacus sliced the man’s head off and he finally lay still.
Spartacus stepped away from the bodies and watched them closely for a moment. As if a gate had been opened, Spartacus could hear the crowd screaming his name as one would invoke a god in a fit of religious fervor. He turned and saluted his master and then acknowledged the crowd. The bite on his ankle had stung but had barely broken the skin. Through the gate he could see the owner of the men he had just slain leave smiling.
“Fuck you, Capua,” the man muttered.
That night Spartacus was feeling particularly fit and selected three women to join him. Each was more eager than the other to please the champion, and he was pleased at their enthusiasm. They left the group and retired to his room and the night with a large bottle of wine.
Later, Spartacus was awakened by a burning in his ankle and a pounding in his head. Shaking his head he slid out of bed and looked at his companions. They had all shared repeatedly of themselves this night. Each woman shuddered in their sleep as if a specter caressed them softly. Spartacus left the room and walked naked into the training area.
His head pounding, Spartacus looked at the racks of training weapons and wooden practice posts. Sections of the post had been worn away by millions of blows over the decades. Sand crunched between his toes as he stood thinking. The villa was silent except for someone snoring in the common sleeping area. Spartacus shook his head and thought about the time before he became a slave. It seemed like a dream now of someone else’s life.
The next day everyone trained hard in the sun. Sweat stinking of stale wine, the men forced themselves to strike hard and often. Crixus sparred like a man possessed with one of the new men. Every blow was controlled but powerful. A flurry of strikes left his opponent on his knees as Crixus roared in fury. Crixus raised his sword to deliver a killing stroke when a hand grasped his arm.
“What?!,” Crixus screamed as he whirled to face the fool that interfered and found himself facing Spartacus.
“He is beaten,” Spartacus said.
Crixus yanked his hand away from the other champion and kicked sand at the man on the ground.
“Get out of my sight,” Crixus said.
Wisely the man crawled away. Crixus turned to face Spartacus and saw his friend looking pale and sweaty.
“You look like death has kissed you.”
“I have felt better,” Spartacus said.
Crixus patted his friend on the shoulder and the two went to get a drink of water. Spartacus drank from the ladle and handed it to Crixus. Crixus also drank from the same water before putting the ladle back. This communal ladle would be used by everyone that drank that day.
“Want to spar?” Crixus asked.
Spartacus nodded and the two walked back onto the sand. Soon the pair were hard at it fighting with each other. The other gladiators stopped and turned to watch their two champions displaying their fighting prowess. It was primal and thrilling to see the best fighters of the day cutting loose with each other. One would press only to have the other take it back. Spartacus finally seized advantage of having the sun at his back and began to wear down Crixus until the other man was hard pressed to deflect any of the blows raining on him.
Suddenly the blows stopped. Crixus looked into the sun and found his friend on one knee in the sand, breathing hard and paler than ever. Crixus walked to Spartacus as the man crumpled to the sand. Spartacus faintly heard someone call for the medicus when the roaring in his ears drowned out the world.
The ludus was in turmoil as everyone realized that their champion was out of commission. Batiatus himself came to check on Spartacus. The man lay on the cot and shivered in the heat. Sweat poured from his body and his flesh had taken on a greenish tint. The medicus was less than optimistic about the chances that he would ever arise again.
Crixus lay on his cot and had nightmares. He dreamed of falling in the arena to a group of weaklings unworthy to face him. Then a demon rose from the sand to devour his soul. Crixus awoke with a pounding head and a weakness in his limbs that left him unable to rise. Death had come to the house of Batiatus.
The slaves that had lain with Spartacus had since lain with others, both gladiator and guards. Others that fallen ill as well. Disease spread through the ludus like fire through straw. Soon nearly all of the slaves had fallen ill. Worse news reached Batiatus that both his champions had fallen and would never rise.
“The gods themselves have turned their backs and shit upon me,” Batiatus said.
Batiatus began gathering clothes, jewels, and gold to leave this house of death. His wife was ready to flee with him. They walked to the gate, realizing that when they left there was no one able to close and bar the gate behind them. Neither desired to remain locked inside with the growing number of dying people.
“Perhaps someone poisoned the well,” Lucretia said.
“Perhaps. It is good that we didn’t drink the water then, isn’t it?” Batiatus said.
The pair slipped away into the dark. Silence filled the villa behind them. Capua was asleep as they fled into the hills. Death stalked the streets behind them.
A day later Spartacus sat up on his cot. Hunger wracked his mighty frame. Insatiable, gut wrenching hunger. He sniffed and looked around the room. Bodies lay everywhere he looked. They were not moving so they weren’t food.
Rising to his feet, the mighty champion struggled to walk out of the room. His limbs were stiff and unresponsive, so his stride where once powerful and graceful became a lurching struggle. Outside in the training area of the ludus, he stood swaying in the moonlight. No breath filled his lungs. His great heart beat no more. Hunger filled the remnants of his mind.
Crixus sat up in his bed stiffly. He was starving. Flesh called to him. Rising to his feet he lurched from the room in the same fashion as Spartacus. Joining his friend in the open they stood swaying. Their eyes met and an unspoken message was shared. They must feed.
The other gladiators and household slaves rose to join their champions in death. En masse they shuffled from the villa into the street as the morning sun rose above Capua and the dead walked the Earth.
“Brains,” Spartacus wheezed. Other voices joined him.
The horde shambled through the streets toward the market. An unfortunate man was caught unaware by them and died screaming under the hands and teeth of his hero gladiators. Soon, he would rise and join them.
In Rome, Praetor Gaius Claudius Glaber was told to take his Legion and put down the problems in Capua. Glaber hated Capua but hated slave revolts even more. He and his Legion marched immediately. Glaber didn’t expect this to take any amount of time since gladiators were brutes and slaves. They couldn’t possibly present any difficulty to a force as sophisticated as his legion.
Soon he faced an army unlike any he had ever faced before. Wounds that would slay anyone were ignored as they fell on his men like beasts. Worse, the ones that were bitten would sicken and die, but then would rise and fall upon their fellows like animals. Weeks became months as they fought across the peninsula.
Glaber and his Legion had no choice but the flee in the face of the things in front of them. This rabble that had no fear and seemed only driven to eat the living. The stench from the slaves was enough to make the strongest man vomit. Numbering in the thousands this army was enough that they might even be able to bring mighty Rome itself down.
Rome sent another legion to support Glaber in the battle. In a valley the legions held the high ground while the horde shambled below. Only the moaning of the slaves reached the ears of the Romans. That and the stench.
Glaber had his men gather logs and bind them into a large round bundle. These they coated in oil for use against the undead army of slaves below. Glaber had suffered much at the hands of these slaves, but the most hurtful was the damage to his pride. (It was known throughout the empire that an army of slaves had managed to defeat his legion repeatedly.) Runaway slaves across the land ran to join the rebels in hopes of gaining their freedom. To their surprise they were quickly liberated from their lives. The rebellious slaves shambled in aimless circles and milled about below. After losing sight of the legion they had forgotten what they were chasing.
Now Glaber faced a horde of the undead that outnumbered his Legion two to one. Glaber understood now that these were no ordinary runaway slaves. They were an undead army of monsters that conventional weapons didn’t work against. Trapped on the side of a mountain they faced the choice of fight and win or die and join the undead things below. As silently as possible they built the weapons that they would use against the dead. Crassus was coming with a legion to support but had not arrived yet.
By early afternoon everything was ready. Fires were lit and battle armor tightened. The armor had been changed to cover most of the arms and hands to protect from the teeth below. Archers made ready their arrows. The legions formed their ranks and girded their courage. If they didn’t stop the things below, who could say they would ever be stopped?
On a signal from Glaber, the order was given and each soldier slapped his sword against his shield. The noise echoed through the valley. The archers notched their arrows.
The creature that had once been Spartacus in life was on the other side of the undead things from the army. They had forgotten about the men they were pursuing. Now something in their brains triggered that noise meant food. As one they turned toward the sound.
On the side of the mountain the centurions and legionnaires watched as the things began to shamble toward them. Some of the things had missing parts and most looked rotted. Some were only a few weeks old and looked more intact. Spartacus was trapped behind them and unable to get through as they shambled uphill.
Next to the archers young soldiers touched the arrows with torches and set them on fire. The archers were given the order and they unleashed a cleansing volley of arrows deep into the ranks below. Early on they had discovered that the dead flesh could be stopped in two ways, fire and decapitation. Fire from a distance was safer than close up decapitation.
Onward the horde came towards the waiting ranks of Romans. More arrows flew into the undead. Each struck one of the things and set it alight. It took several long minutes of burning for the things to fall to the ground and move no more.
A trumpet blast gave the order for the ranks to part. On the ground behind them were the logs soaked in oil. A lit torch was stuck into each of the logs handle-first then pushed down the hill towards the undead. In seconds the logs burst into intense flames and struck the front ranks. Decaying bodies all but exploded when the flames hit them. The effect of the fire on the undead was astonishing. Though they were being wiped out, they continued to attack the Romans above.
Some caught fire below the waist and continued onward until their legs were destroyed and then drug themselves by their hands with their lower bodies burning below. Eventually the flames destroyed enough of them that they stopped crawling. The stench of burning flesh was almost overpowering.
“I thought they smelled bad before,” one Centurion muttered.
Massive numbers of the undead perished in the first minutes of the battle. The archers continued to fire volleys of flaming arrows into the horde. Now the numbers were diminished to the point where many arrows fell on empty ground.
A centurion ordered the legion to lock shields and they immediately formed the nearly impenetrable wall of metal and blades that had built the empire and crushed the world beneath Rome’s heel. Soon enough the undead arrived and the most dangerous part of the battle commenced.
Swords struck undead necks and teeth gnashed at living flesh. Fear lent desperate strength to the soldiers and many heads left the undead shoulders. No blood sprayed. If a soldier was bitten his fellow Romans would slice off his head as soon as someone noticed the bite. Fear of becoming one of those things outweighed their sense of camaraderie.
Soon enough the shields separated and the battle became one of desperation. Even though the fire had wiped out massive numbers of the things there was still a lot of them left to fight. The undead only knew there was food ahead. Some of the things had decayed to the point where they no longer had stomachs but they still tried to eat.
When it seemed that even with their cunning weapons and strategy the Romans were about to be devoured, Crassus and his legions arrived behind the undead. They attacked from behind and began hacking their way through the undead slaves. Heads littered the ground like pine cones in winter.
Finally, there were only a hundred or so of the undead left. The Romans were nearly spent from their efforts to wipe these things out. Crassus himself gave the order for choke poles to be used to capture the remaining things. Spartacus found himself captured by the Romans again.
Across from Spartacus, Crixus snapped his teeth at the man he could see but somehow couldn’t reach. Wagons arrived and the things were forced inside giant cages. The choke poles were kept in place and the things were trapped inside. When they ran out of room they simply decapitated the things.
Glaber rode his horse to speak with Crassus.
“These things must be destroyed,” Glaber insisted.
Crassus looked at Glaber as one would look at a child.
“They will be, but this must happen where the people can see what happened to them. This revolt cannot be allowed to continue.”
Glaber looked shocked. Crassus was going to try to use this for political purposes.
“What do you mean to do with them?”
“I am going to nail every damned one of them up between Capua and Rome and let every slave that even thinks about revolting see what happens when they do!”
From the first wagon of things Spartacus managed to remember a word.
“Spartacus,” he wheezed.
Other undead voices joined in saying “Spartacus”.
That was exactly what he did. In most cases he had to have them tied to the crosses because the nails pulled through their rotted flesh. For every four that he had nailed up, one of his men was bit and had to be put down. Glaber spotted Spartacus and was happy to see that he was crucified last. Glaber had food brought out and pitched a tent and stayed until Spartacus was no longer moving and the weight of his body caused the wire holding his head in place to pull through his neck, finally ending the slave revolt. He returned to his home a much more sober and thoughtful man than when he left to squash a bunch of foolish slaves.
The undead things hanging from crosses from Capua to Rome didn’t stop moving for weeks. More chilling was the moaning of “Spartacus” from them until their bodies fell apart. For the rest of his life, Glaber was tormented with the nightmare of one of those things escaping and spreading across the empire.
Thanks for reading and, just write, damn it. - ERL