This Week’s Prompt: 16. The walking dead—seemingly alive, but—.
The Research: Here We Are Again
William Wilbur waited outside the alabaster wall. A rare sight, on a New England night, such a luxury. Wilbur’s form, between obese and gaunt, neither one of the numerous ascetics with stern glares nor an over indulgent maw waiting to be filled if only it was outside of the Church’s grasp. No, Wilbur was a middling man in the mist, squinting into the aged burial ground.
The earth was freshly turned, with gravestone’s sprouting like mushrooms out of the ground. The minister Elijah had been buried just this morning. A man made for his post, he was a tall and terrible figure, his voice filled with fire. To Wilbur, Elijah’s sermons bore some of that sulfur from below as well as any angel. That God had recalled his servant so soon was no strange affair.
William would have let it rest there and then, but this moonless night, something stirred him. The strange motions would come every now and then, moving him like a lone star was pulling him along. And this was one such night. William waited with baited breath for whatever it was that yonder star would display.
After a time, which in the mist choked night was either an eternity or an instant, there was something scratching in the distance. Clawing, burrowing up from the ground. Persistent, it was, probably more so than your average rabbit or rodent that infested such places. Something strange, a wilting wind, wafted through the cemetery. Figures rose, silhouettes in the fog that shook and shambled for a second. In the next instant, they were upon the iron gate, hands reaching out toward him, working at the multitude of locks and bolts.
“Oh, William is that you?” came a voice from the cloud, a woman about William’s age staring back. For a moment he did not recognize her, so long had she been dead. Since he was a lad, his mother had been laid to rest. But now she stood before him, locked behind iron bars. Her eyes, William thought, her eyes looked very much how they did when she was alive. Only, squinting, they seemd paler. Dimmer, as if some flame had abandoned them in the grave. Rats and vermin had gnawed at her clothes, and her skin was as white as gypsum. As white as the walls.
“Mother?” William let slip taking a step back form the apparition.
“Focus, Mariam, we can reach your son in a moment. The lock, the lock is still shut with silver. Get the coffin nails,” another voice said, a man near naked with a long sturdy face, full of grey stubble. The remains fo a black cloak hung loosely on his emancipated limbs as his fingers shook at the lock. He had the tall hat of respectable farmer, but he must predate the time of William. It slowly dawned on William, however, as the metal on metal clanged, that this was no simple apparition, no ghostly visage or unsettled spirit. These things, these semblances of the living, had physicality to them. Strength and corporeal form.
Blood moving quick, William turned and ran, the mist closing behind him. As he ran, there was broken laughter from the broken yard. Locking his own door behind him as well as he could, he paused in a sweat, and lay down to rest. A nightmare, a vision from gates of ivory and horn, that was all this was. Terrible, terrible indeed, but the mind makes such monsters when it wanders. His heart rests, and in time he drifts down into slumber.
When dawn comes, the king of the stars, magnificent and solitary sun scorches away the mist and fog, a day as clear as any. The coming warmth and light stir William from his terror filled rest. Woozy from sleep, he rose and said a dutiful prayer and went to the town to buy food. As he walked, William noticed something strange. No one was around.
The market was empty. Not even a wind blowing through. Concerned and confused, William paced around, through field and farm, but there was no sign of his fellows. Until at last he came upon the church.
The humble wooden church of crisp straight lines was now surrounded by makeshift barricades. Men and women with pitchforks stood watch, gripping them like hunting spears. A dozen or so had muskets. With a quizical look, William approached, a basket of food in his hand.
“Stand back there, brother William!” One of the men bellowed, Jonathan raising his barrel. William blinked, taken a back, and raising his hand.
“What ho, goodly John. Is something a miss in God’s green country?”
“Stand back I say again. Not until we know you are right in mind!” Johnathan said, holding his gun aloft once more. William stood stock still, tilting his head only slightly.
“Looks right as rain to me, John,” one of the other men said, squinting, “Clothes all orderly and his skin nice and full of color.”
“Still, could be fresh. Could be clever too,” Johnathan muttered.
“Clever? Come on John, you saw’em.They aren’t clever, they’re quick and crazy. Don’t talk as nice either and aren’t nearly as decent as he is,” the other man said.
That seemed enough and Johnathan lowered his weapon. Tentatively, William walked forward, toward the armed crowd. He looked about, examining faces struck by the sort of petty fear death and wilds provokes.
“What is going on, John? What’s happening?” William asked slowly.
“Something unholy, something wicked. The dead aren’t staying in their right place or right mind, not since last night. Seen a number of them, friends, family, even the minister, loping about town like nothing’s wrong. At first we thought it was the day of judgement, that the Lord sent’em.” John began, before a laugh interrupted him. Turning behind him, William saw a host of deceased waiting. His mother, his father, his friends, his neighbors, and a multitude he didn’t recognize. Laughing and cackling, barely clothed with slop dripping from their mouths. To William’s horror, some were so intertwined that where one stopped and the other started was impossible to tell. And at their head was the bulbous body of Minister Elijah.
Minister Elijah, his shirt ripped off so that the fat hung out like a barrel. Minister Elijah, with red blood dripping from his mouth, his cross shining in the sun against his pallid body, maggots worming between his teeth as he cackled. Minister Elijah, when he was done, slumped over as if exhausted and spoke.
“And who’s to say we aren’t, Johnny? Who’s to say we aren’t sent by God up in his uppity heaven, to feckless to get in?” the Minister asked, his eye’s flashing. The common mob were laughing and moaning at the speech.
“So much of the world is lost, can you really say your enjoying it wasting your time on your knees when you could be spending time on your knees? Its wonderful, being dead Johnny! Now put down that iron. We’re already dead. What are you going to do to us?” The Minister asked again, tumbling forward, glass clinking beneath his coat.
“Get back! Get back you! By God –” bellowed John, lifting his musket, his fellows lifting their forks and bracing themselves. William slipped behind them, shaking.
“Oh, come on Johnny, you can’t keep what passes for wine and women in this pathetic place? You’ve got to keep the fire going, Johnny! You’ve got to keep that candle burning, or it will catch up with the other side! Move it, or we’ll move you!” the Minister said, pulling himself up right and roaring like an enraged bull. William stumbled back as powder burst from muskets. He ran into the church, pressing the door shut as the mass mob of the dead came pouring down. He held it, eyes closed as moans and screams blended into a cacophony. When silence came again, he opened them wide to see women and children gathered behind pews. Breathing heavy, he nodded at a pew.
“If we have any chance, we best bar the door. Perhaps they will begone in time,” William said in hushed tones, with every bit of authority he could bare. A wet pounding came from the other side of the door.
“Oh, William, not you too. Listen, open up, and I promise to kill you before eating you.”
“Get me a pew now, and Miss Leman, please, some hymns would be appropriate,” William stammered out, pushing back still.
“What are you going to do, Will? I’ve got time forever, and plenty to distract myself with. I can wait as long as I want!” Minister, for even in this state he was still a man of god in Williams eyes. “I’ve got over a hundred men, you think some wood will stop us?”
William was quiet, nodding as the pews were pushed in front of the door. He helped raise the others over the windows. The beating at the door continued for a few hours, until the Minister seemed bored of it all. The moaning grew louder then. William tried to block it out, leading the survivors in prayer around the altar.
And then he felt the tug of that wandering star, pulling him upward like a marionette on invisible strings. His body rose and tumbled to and fro, until he was pressed against the window. The mist had come, the carrion birds gathering round the mass of bodies, snatching flesh between the growths, until only bones remained. Hundreds of decayed bodies, crows and vultures swarming like flies.
“Tis the will of the lord, to show us such things,” William muttered, “For this is the fate of the dead. And we, if we are true, will have eternal life.”
The strings pulled tighter however,and William let out a shriek as he felt his body smash into the glass, tumbling out into the wet grass. Rolling his head up, William saw that Morning Star hanging above him, lofty and bright. And then came eternal night.
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