Jack brushed slowly, stiffly at a patch of dirt upon his hand, only to discover more upon his sleeve. He grunted dryly, as if dust had gathered in his throat, lifting an unusually weighted brow, which gave more cause for the perk. Undaunted, he resumed the trimming of his clothes. However, with each awkward removal, more of the same grime plague could be found, until, with a cumbersome shift of his gaze downwards, Jack understood that he had been caked in a layer of aged dirt.
Baffled, he gave another grunt, one that caught in his diaphragm and came up with a dusty cough, bringing him to place an instinctual hand upon the gravestone beside him. Gravestone?! His hand soared from the sudden cold of stone; movement too quick for his sore limbs, which moaned with effort. And, as his senses awakened, a horrid smell wafted to his nose, a smell cantankerous and malicious by nature that brought his aching head to swoon and arose in his mind images of rotting, oozing, putrid things.
No more, he thought, taking an ungainly step forward, desperate to escape the stench. It followed, provoking a dismal groan from Jack’s gut, and several more clumsy steps taken in haste. No relief, no rest... Rest, he mused vaguely, having stopped to rest his weight upon a statue.
“There’s a fresh sprout!”
“Good! Go check his limbs; see if he’s got all of’em.”
Despite the odd greeting, Jack’s heart rose to hear the voices of fellow men. He rested his head upon his supporting arm in a relieved sigh, awaiting the approach of his salvation. At last, he thought, gathering what composure he felt he still possessed, escape, home, warmth, a bath. The heavy footsteps neared, their weight crushing earth and plant beneath them. Strength, Jack anticipated eagerly, with which to guide me when my legs cannot... What *have* I been through?
Jack’s head was thrust around roughly, his body following painfully thereafter, bringing him to bite into the coarse skin of his lip.
“Ah, you’re young.”
A face of sorts met Jack’s own, the skin grey and decaying, bereft of moisture or any smooth comforts a human visage possessed. And yet, this entity was oddly human, the expression upon its lips causing the skin there to crack and flake in a gruesome impression of a smile. The surrounding cheeks wrinkled and folded, its hairless eyebrows lifted as if to console him, and a final macabre wink caused Jack’s stomach to churn and double over.
“It’s not so bad.” He gave Jack a brisk pat to the back, directing him from the grave.
The creature began to explicate the situation. Jack, however, could not bring himself to look upon it for fear of losing his stomach itself, giving him time to ponder the most beguiling things.
This monstrosity, an ancient, dead thing, aligned itself with him. Was he similar in appearance? Was that why, when he moved, his bones shifted and creaked for neglect, why the taste in his mouth was no taste at all, but more a texture like cotton upon Velcro? Was this the existence he had been banished to? Was he destined to wander in a skin that itched and peeled, or would he deteriorate? Would he witness his own decay?
“Not in the mood to speak yet?” It grumbled, his story at its end, only to catch Jack’s absence. It waited a moment, having retrieved his attention, along with a blank expression. “Well, some of us take longer than others.”
A strong hand grasped Jack’s shoulder, tearing him from his host’s countenance to a startling new atrocity. This one had evidently seen more time underground than its predecessor, for a beard encased the lower portion of its face, and hair, matted and wild, hung to the bridge of its nose so that it had to be parted specifically to allow sight. Jack wasn’t sure if it realized that an eye was missing, an impression left in its place, hollow and cavernous, the dark a suitable substitution for what Jack’s imagination could have produced.
“Not dead too long, was he?” When it spoke, the beard so concealed its lips that the only testimony to motion was the slight rustling of coarse hairs.
Jack gawked a moment, giving a brief glance to its enormity as compared to his former escort, to its arms and the torn skin there, wounds acquired after death, he assumed, for it seemed more like a tear in paper than of skin, and bullets lodged within carrion flesh were still visibly present.
The creature eyed him a moment, observing, its eyebrows furrowing gradually, causing a shift in the wall of hair. “He’s fully aware, isn’t he? .. Don’t tell me we have another vegetable on our hands.”
Each monstrosity watched him now, their collective of three eyes contemplating, scrutinizing, invading Jack’s peace of mind. Jack, who feared the term “vegetable,” grew quite suddenly frantic; he began to clear his throat, but found that he could not remember the rest, that the process of speech was lost to him.
Desperately, his lips contorted to shape the form of words, and yet no sound came to greet them. It was as if his vocal cords had vanished, abandoning him to this wretched struggle, to the anxious stare of two monsters, the larger of which gave him a rough pat to the back.
“Spit it out, man.”
Jack’s misery abruptly became physical as something in his throat dislodged, and he began to choke. It throttled him, sending him into a violent spell of hacking that brought him to his knees. The two stood back, clearly startled, hesitating before the larger once more reached out to Jack, slapping him twice upon the back, two firm blows.
Jack’s coughing paused momentarily as something traveled from his throat, entering his mouth, something so horrific of texture that he spat it out quickly thereafter, and resumed his fit temporarily. As he was calmed, the foe quelled, the three neared that which had come from Jack’s throat, Jack being the first to withdraw from the sight. Upon the grass lay what appeared to be a mass of sorts, its true content indistinguishable, though the men could be sure they had identified remnants of coagulated blood, dirt, and a single belligerent worm.
The lesser of his two companions was the second to step back with a lightly amused expression. “Well, that could have been your problem, kid. How are your vocal cords working now?”
“F-fine.” Jack was surprised to hear his own voice again, raspy though it was.
“Ryan,” The greater beast finally turned from the prize as well, his tone brusquely laconic, one bred specifically for delivering commands. “I thank you for finding this sprout, but a scout smelled human not far away. I want you to gather the headless and have them head the front; damned things are still good for bullet fodder. And while you’re heading that way, throw this one in the ranks. I assume you gave him the usual spiel?”
The last bit was directed more at Jack, whose vacant expression conveyed a “no.” The creature sighed, and gestured Ryan away, moving on as he took the time to offer an explanation.
“Well, kid, as far as we know, men have been rising from the dead lately. Luckily, if you see it that way, we’re fully aware, despite the slight decay, and once you’re dead, there’s not much of a chance of dying again. They can tear you apart and you’ll just keep trucking on. However, the true paradox is that we have a bit of a flesh-eating habit.. You’ll understand when you catch your first whiff of human.
“To make a long story short, needless to say, swarms of flesh-eating undead seem to threaten the human population, and they’ve taken to attacking us. Since they can’t actually kill us, their goal is usually to incapacitate, so I’d watch for my head if I were you. Other than that, there’s not much else useful I can tell you. Your orders will be clear. In the meantime, relax within your rank; you shouldn’t have to wait too long before the action begins. And just remember that the better warrior gets more to eat.”
It offered a strangely comforting wink, drawing Jack’s attention briefly from the array of undead they had approached. Atrophied cadavers bustled about, congregating in obvious masses, some more imposing than others, a few as bewildered as him. He was led to a small group of unusually quiet creatures before his guide gave a warm good bye and disappeared within the quickly calming flurry, the undead appearing to organize themselves, though a light hum of chatter remained.
Jack’s attention turned to a small female beside him, with hair that had grown long in death, and a petite, benign frame. Likewise, her gaze met his, her eyes large and brown, their curve and the gentle slope of the brow above them expressing the same turmoil as his, a fright begat of confusion, and the loss of that which they did not know they could lose. She seemed frail, and yet the warmth of their insight brought confidence, and, without warning, a new light flashed in her eyes.
Brusquely, she took his hand, her gaze drawing from his to look upon the throng ahead which seemed to suddenly squirm and prepare. Jack’s stomach rose to his throat, and yet the softest squeeze of her grasp soothed him, and he looked upon her with the most enchanted of smiles.
She had only time to return it before the oddest sensation overcame them. A sudden pressure filled his mind, attune to a faint, rhythmic murmur the distance. Strange, he thought, looking upon his friend to see if she felt the same. Unfortunately, a pained expression contorted her soft features as she glanced to him. He shrugged, the cries of the undead sounding without warning, and their grip tightened.
The anguish grew palpable, their shrieks approaching, as if wave upon wave was falling, the former buzz gaining definition. A piano, violin perhaps, and then voices, female intonations above the rest, but still a whisper. Meanwhile, his headache grew, the pressure assembling into the back of his skull.
Then, gradually, the music became more discernible. “Anybody could be that guy...” Their gaze met once more in slow, puzzled recognition of the song. “...You’re in the mood for a dance.” His head began to pound, the pain spreading from its origin, invading the rest of his mind, “and when you get the chance,” blocking out the noise of his fellow undead.
“You are the Dancing Queen!”
No! He cried with the final understanding, the sensation of her hand lost to him, the strain of his mind mounting.
“Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tambourine!”
Feverish, he sought to draw his friend near, but he could not find her. Give her back! He shrieked, falling to his knees, the music filling his head, ultimately leaving no room for thought.
“...Having the time of your life. See that girl, watch that scene, dig in the Dancing Queen!”
With sick realization, he watched the cadaver before him writhe, holding its head in sobs of misery, and then its sudden, disturbing peace before bursting. It burst!
Horrified and frightened, Jack gave one last stretch for the only comfort he’d found since he’d awakened. The girl.. Her beautiful innocence.. My friend.. Give her back. She was not there. GIVE HER BA-
The silence of peace ended Jack’s sentence. Release, he mused.
|27 Aug 2004|| Stephan Calloway|
Interesting piece. I may have to return to read it again some time, there are pieces that I didn't follow completely. At any rate - my compliments on a rather intriguing storyline. And - because I can...
[First Comment Dance] J. Dunfield
replies: "I thank you Mr. Calloway. ^.^ I wasn't sure anyone had read it here... And yes, the story has its holes.. The end particularly, but it's still very dear to my heart."
|14 Mar 2006|| Victoria.R|
Ahha! I read it all, I am proud,
Ahha, and you have giaonline too, >w<
|20 Dec 2006|| Piki 'Fenrir' Serpa|
Ok, the story was really good, but I couldn´t understand the ending, no matter how hard I tried O.o