One after the next, after the next. Unholy men bellowing their musical recitations, throngs of cold blooded soldiers mobbing about to either side and dancing with renewed morale. Like an unstoppable parade of remorseless depravity. Occasional lightning strikes, drawn to their extended collectors, turbo charge their advance.
Even a single risen corpse turns the stomach. Why has God allowed such a flagrant violation of natural law? The dead finally spilled out onto the surface of the Earth as foretold, but so far there’s been no sign that anybody will come to save us. By this point, there’s precious little left to save.
Unthinkable, that a just and merciful God should sit idly by as we’re consumed by our own fallen comrades. But then, I’d seen a great many unthinkable things in recent years and their frequency was only increasing. Drowning us all in a rising tide of cold, pale flesh as God either sleeps or turns a blind eye.
Some take it as reason to abandon their faith. Others cling to it more strongly than ever, insisting that Christ will soon appear in the clouds with angels blaring their trumpets just as our darkest hour arrives. Still others believe we’re being punished. That the mountain of moral debt we’ve accrued over thousands of years of bloodshed is finally being collected.
I don’t know what I believe anymore. I’ve heard it all and none of it resonates. If you’d told me six years ago that a dead man can be restored to some semblance of life, that he could again walk, talk and operate a rifle, I’d have thought you mad. I’m not even sure I believed when I saw the first row of them approaching over the horizon. Stiff, ambling silhouettes I’d been told were in fact the recently departed.
Nor am I sure that I truly believed even as they began shooting at me. Even as I pinned one to the Earth with my bayonet, thick black sludge trickling from the wound as it writhed about, more frustrated than hurt. “Asinine. Demented. Obscene” I remember thinking as I aerated it with my bayonet, black goo splattering my boots. And yet it moves.
And yet it moves! Words mistakenly thought to have been uttered by Galileo, post-trial. Defiantly affirming that regardless of what we believe, it’s what we observe that’s real. “And yet it moves” I muttered, beginning to chuckle softly to myself. “And yet it moves. And yet it moves.” No, that’s no good. Keep it together.
An idling truck awaited us across an open field. Some of the men whooped. Only the Captain seemed troubled. It wasn’t clear why until, when we’d reached roughly the middle, filthy pale hands began erupting from the soil all around us. One shrieked. The others swore, and started shooting.
Must’ve buried themselves under a thin layer of dirt. No need to breathe of course, the coldblood version of a minefield. “Shoot for the eyes!” the Captain shouted. I nearly asked him why not the joints until the first of them fully emerged from the Earth, wearing armor designed especially to shield the knees, shoulders and elbows.
We could still blind them. Headshots were made difficult by unusually thick helmets designed to prevent it, but they remained open faced for ease of communication. I’d once seen a shot enter through the mouth, ricochet off the back and exit through the eye, bursting it like an overripe grape in the process.
Gunfire deafened me, for once louder than the shells and mortars. Bullet casings filled the air like a sort of glittering mist, the escorts circling their wagons around us, Lewis guns blazing in all directions. In the distance, the truck began rumbling towards us. Salvation! So close I could taste it. Until I noticed it was avoiding the dead.
Once close enough that I could see the pale fellows driving it, they started shooting. I hollered to the others, but there was no competing with the relentless report of their guns. They only noticed once it was nearly on top of us. I don’t remember clearly but it must’ve clipped me, as the next thing I recall after that was the dream.
Surprising that it should return after all this time. I had it on and off for the first two years of the war. I suppose because it’s my earliest happy memory. The one everybody retreats to when forced to bear the unbearable. For some, the colored lights and festive music of their first Christmas. For others, their first awkward experiments with love. For me, a birthday party.
Thomas and Harry were there. Also Gwyn, my first crush. Though I’d invited two other girls to disguise that fact. At the time, it made sense. Such laughter! All eyes expectantly trained on me as Mom pulled the cake from her trusty Sunbeam oven, twisting a gleaming chrome knob on its face as she did so. All for me, to make my special day as perfect as she knew how.
But then the dead man showed up. He looked perhaps thirty, though age no longer means much after your heart stops. Pale, disheveled and clothed in a tattered suit, banging on the window. We all tensed up but didn’t look. We weren’t meant to, and knew we’d be punished if we did. Mom closed the drapes, and soon the banging stopped. Everyone appeared relieved, so I took my first shot at blowing out the candles.
Trick candles! Still a novelty then. Everyone laughed, I blushed, but then redoubled my efforts to extinguish them. The dead man began banging on the door next. Thomas was sweating, fighting the urge to look. The urge to scream. But we’re meant to keep quiet. I blew the candles out, and again they re-lit. The fun had faded, and instead become mild frustration.
A second one joined him. We forced out stilted laughter, Mom handed out additional party favors as a distraction. Always the competent hostess. I blew as hard as I could. Some went out, but the rest re-lit so I simply snuffed the remainder one by one with my thumb and forefinger.
The two outside became four. Then six. Then ten. Don’t look. Don’t ever fucking look. So long as we don’t react, it isn’t really happening. Soon enough there were hundreds. Mobbing my little home on all sides, pounding and clawing at the siding. And the door, and the windows. Harry began losing it, giggling out of control until Mom calmed him down.
The kitchen door burst inward. One of them lurched towards us, but Mom threw herself into its path, seizing it by the wrists. Even from across the room, the stench of decomposition was overpowering. I motioned as if to get up but despite everything Mom cried “Don’t! It’s fine! Everything’s fine, cut the cake!” Step by step, she forced it back out through the door, then kicked it flat on its ass.
The door’s hinges were busted such that it wouldn’t just go back on. So I had to get the knife myself while Mom, sweat making her mascara run, held the door in place as what was behind it struggled to get back in. It wedged its head between the door and the frame, jaw snapping.
Hair in her face, makeup streaked down her cheeks, Mom shouted at me to “cut the cake already! Everything’s fine! Always has been, always will be! Cut the cake, it’s your special day!” I sank the knife into the soft, pliant cake. It bled the familiar black sludge.
Stay Tuned for Part 3!