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DARKSIDE: Waking the Dead

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          Don't you just hate it when people won't stay dead? I know that must make me sound like somewhat of a hypocrite, me being deceased and all, but at least I'm not one of those rotting, moldy corpse, fresh-from-the-grave-and-out-of-the-coffin, stumble-around-sucking-the-life-force-out-of-the-living type dead guys. Let's face it, zombies are a dime a dozen, and rock bottom of the social hierarchy, even among the Other Realm folk.

I, on the other hand, am an Eternal, one of only seven in existence. Of course you'd never know it to look at me. I'm just an average looking Joe, although I am pretty buff, and have minty fresh breath.

It's not like I'm a racist, either. Most of my friends are living-impaired. My girlfriend is a vampire-slash-faerie, and is possessed by the spirit of my dead fiancée--don't ask--and my dad and grandpa are both ghosts, and drop by occasionally to chat. Even my dog is dead, and is more of a nuisance than he was when he was alive. He just smells better now.

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, things not staying dead.

It was a cold, clear November evening, and Leanne and I strolled down Princess Street, window-shopping. Neither of us really minded the cold much, but we bundled up in our coats and scarves anyway just to keep up appearances. There wasn't any snow yet, but then that's Kingston for you. It might be January before we saw snowfall, or there could be two feet of the stuff blanketing the city before morning.

We were looking for a wedding gift for Drat and Tirade. Believe me, that's not as easy as it sounds. I stopped in front of the window at Ikea. There was some kind of funky looking bed on display. At least I think it was a bed. Whatever it was, I'm sure it would have taken a team of NASA engineers to assemble it. Then again, given the kind of trouble they've been having lately they might have had a hard time, too.

I glanced over at Leanne for her opinion on the bed. She made a face and shook her head. My shoulders slumped in defeat--again. "What kind of wedding present do you give a troll chieftain and his bride to be?"

Leanne shrugged, and tucked a strand of her long, black hair back behind the mink earmuffs she didn't need. "The only thing I've ever seen Drat get all worked up over is food. That and a good fight. If we could come up with some way to feed him while he's fighting, I think he'd be in heaven."

I slipped my arm about Leanne's slender waist as we continued on down the street. "He's already got two of those beer hats," I told her.

"How about a small child?" Leanne suggested as we passed a day-care center. "Trolls consider them a delicacy."

She was kidding, of course. Not about trolls considering children a delicacy, but about offering one to Drat and Tirade. At least I'm pretty sure she was kidding. She is part vampire, after all.

A little old lady gave me a dirty look as she passed us by. I get that a lot when I'm with Leanne. She may be over a thousand years old, but she could pass for sixteen. She's got those huge, cobalt-blue eyes, and that porcelain-white skin, and full, pouty, crimson-red lips, even without lipstick. Leanne moves with the grace of a ballerina, and could probably get work as a cover model, if you could photograph her. She looks so helpless and vulnerable, but I've seen her toss Charlie on his ass. Charlie's an eight foot tall ogre, and weighs over seven hundred pounds.

I, on the other hand, am thirty-two years old, but I could pass for twenty-six. Too young to be her dad, and too old to be her boyfriend. I suppose I could make myself look younger--I've gotten pretty good at manipulating my own appearance--but I'm used to my face. Other than bulking up a bit, and growing back some of that hair that abandoned me, I still look pretty much the same as the day I died. Short dark hair, brown eyes, high cheekbones, thick lips, and an unintentionally stern look that only lets up when I smile.

"Do you smell something?" Leanne asked suddenly.

I took a big sniff and immediately gave myself the equivalent of an ice-cream headache. I clutched at my right eye as Leanne laughed, snorting in a rather unlady-like manner. She was right, though. There was something in the air. Something foul and rancid. Leanne pointed across the street and down a few stores to the Antique and Collectible Shoppe. A crowd seemed to have gathered out front.

I heard the wail of police sirens in the distance. "What do you think? Should we go stick our noses in where they don't belong?" I asked.

She grinned impishly. "Race ya," she said, and was gone. She waved at me from in front of the antique shop.

Vampires is speedy little suckers. Not that I'm pokey or anything--a split second later I stood beside her. "What's going on?" I asked some kid with green hair and wearing a leather Queen's University jacket.

"Some big biker's tearing the place apart," he said. "Apparently he walked in and just started tossing stuff around. Didn't even talk to the owner or nothing."

"The smell's coming from inside," Leanne told me. "Like something crawled in there and died."

I could just make out the biker through the plate glass window. The guy was huge. They say black is slimming, but all that leather just made him look hefty. His back was turned to me so I couldn't get a good look at his face. Patches of his scalp showed through his greasy brown hair as if it had been torn out in clumps.

The owner of the shop was an older, balding gentleman in a gray tweed jacket, who kept shoving at his wire-rimmed glasses as he pleaded with the biker to stop. I got a really close look at him when the biker absently tossed the owner through the storefront window and out onto the sidewalk. I shielded Leanne with my body as the shattered glass rained down around us. The biker turned toward us, and put to rest all questions of where the smell was coming from.

"Zombie," Leanne said. "And a home-made one at that."

I don't know how long this guy had been dead, but it couldn't have been too long. There was still enough flesh on his face to sew his eyes and lips shut. I could make out the heavy black thread stitching together the pallid, rotting tissue. His mouth and eye sockets looked to have been stuffed with something too. Of course Leanne and I were the only ones in the crowd who saw him this way. You have to be Sensitive to see the Other Realm denizens as they really are.

"What do you mean by home-made?" I asked Leanne as a few of the onlookers helped the old man to his feet. Other than a few shallow cuts, he seemed to have come through the ordeal, and the window, in one piece.

"He's been raised by a necromancer," she said. “That's why his eyes and mouth are sewn shut, and why he's rotting like that. He was dead to start with."

It's a little known fact that vampires create about ninety percent of the zombies stalking the earth. It's kind of a vampiric practical joke. See, real vampirism is like demonic possession. When a vampire drains you just to the point of death, a demon is summoned to possess the flesh. However, if they turn you within the confines of a pentagram or some other warded place, the demon can't get in to animate the body, and sooner or later the flesh rots. The soul is trapped and can't escape either, and the corpse, because it still has a soul, doesn't die. Voila--instant zombie. Zombies are brain-dead, literally, and vampires use them as slave labor to do all the dirty work they can't manage when the sun is up.

This zombie was different. He was a true zombie in the classic mode. Someone had reanimated his corpse, and since he'd been dead to start with, he had no soul. Any hack vampire can create a walking corpse from a living being, but to fashion a true zombie took real power.

Two cop cars screeched to a halt on the street behind us. They didn't bother looking for parking, but blocked off the left lane. Princess Street is a one-way street, and four lanes at that, but that didn't stop curious drivers from backing up traffic as they slowed to see what was going on.

The first cop on the scene was the smaller of the two, maybe only five foot ten, but solidly built. The second cop was a real bruiser and stood at least six foot five.

"I want everyone out of here, now," the smaller cop ordered. He removed his sunglasses and glared at the crowd to show he meant business. "If you don't clear this sidewalk immediately you'll be charged with obstruction."

Someone in the crowd muttered and grumbled the usual nonsense about police harassment and how Canada was still a free country the last time they checked.

"Hey, hon. Why don't we watch from across the street before the shooting starts?" I said, just loud enough that the rest of the gathering could hear me.

That seemed to quiet most of the dissenters, and they joined Leanne and me as we made our way across the street to a relatively safe vantage point. I could still make out the sounds of glass breaking and furniture being smashed to kindling from where I stood.

The larger cop adjusted his Kevlar vest, then approached the broken plate glass window. "Okay, buddy. Don't make me come in after you. Come on out quietly with your hands behind your head and your fingers interlocked."

Neither officer had called for backup. I guess they thought they could handle the biker on their own without much trouble. They were wrong.

The big cop tried to side-step the heavy oak chest that rocketed through the window at him, but it caught him cleanly and drove him back ten feet until he slammed up against the police cruiser. That chest had to weigh at least a hundred pounds, empty, and the impact rocked the cruiser violently. The cop slumped to the ground, unconscious, and with a mass of broken ribs at the very least.

To his credit, the smaller cop kept his cool. He rushed to his comrade's side and checked for a pulse, all the while radioing for backup and an ambulance. Once he had confirmed that help was on the way, he drew his gun and cautiously approached the window. Another loud crash came from inside the shop.

"Lay down, flat on the floor with your hands behind your head. Now!" the cop shouted above the din.

A brass coat rack sailed through the window at the officer in reply. The smaller cop was a little quicker than his partner, and managed to dodge the projectile. The coat rack embedded itself about two feet into the side panel of the cruiser, and set off the siren.

The biker stepped out through the broken window and dropped two and a half feet to the sidewalk. He held a cheap, East Indian-made broadsword in his right hand, and dragged it point first along the pavement. It was one of those ornamental, chrome-plated jobs, with a wire-wound grip and loose-fitting cross hilt that rattled when he swung it. He must have scrounged it from inside the store.

Poorly made or not, it still looked like a formidable weapon. At least the cop must have thought so, because he shouted a final warning, then fired. Several bystanders screamed and made a beeline for cover. The round caught the zombie in the chest, dead center, but didn't stop his advance. The officer fired three more shots, all within a few inches of the first.

"Nice grouping," the kid next to me commented.

"He must be wearing a vest or something," his buddy said. "He didn't yell or nothing."

"That's 'cause they sewed his mouth shut," Leanne whispered.

Translucent, sap-like fluid leaked from the zombie's wounds--probably embalming fluid--as he lurched forward. He raised the sword to strike as the cop scrambled back a few steps. The officer came up against the police cruiser, then scurried over the hood of the car. The sword tore through the metal fender of the cruiser until it punctured the left, front tire. The tire exploded with a loud bang and a hiss of rapidly escaping air, and the siren died.

Two more cruisers screamed to a halt opposite the first police cars, blocking off all four lanes of traffic now. The arriving officers deployed quickly and drew their weapons. One of the cops went to the trunk of the car and retrieved a shotgun.

The zombie yanked at the sword, trying to free it from where it had embedded itself in the car frame. He wrenched upwards on it, and the grip snapped off. The zombie stared at the broken grip in his hand for a moment--though how he managed to see anything with his eyes sewn shut was beyond me--then tossed it aside. He bent at the knees and grabbed at the car frame just under the driver's door, then heaved as he slowly came back to a standing position. The cruiser tilted up on its side, then rolled completely over as the zombie gave it a final shove. The car slid three feet on its hood and crashed into the cop car on the other side.

I'd hate to be the one filling out the paperwork on that report, not to mention the insurance claim.

"Do you think maybe we should help?" Leanne asked.

I shrugged, not certain if it was a good idea. I was still trying to keep a low profile after the incident at the street dance. The cops hadn't closed the books on that one, and I'd spent more than a few hours answering questions down at the station. I wasn't exactly their favorite person right now (although they did try to sell me tickets to the policemen's ball.) Duking it out with a zombie drew only slightly less attention than battling a forty-foot demon, in my opinion.

Two officers fired several more rounds into the biker. When that proved ineffectual, a third cop opened up with the shotgun. It was starting to get messy now. The zombie's features had taken on a ground hamburger-like appearance. The shotgun blast had torn most of the skin away from the right side of its face. Even those who weren't Sensitive had to be seeing something creepy by now.

The biker pushed against the hood of a second cruiser and shoved the car back several feet and out of his way. The two cops who suddenly found themselves out in the open emptied their clips into him, then tried to escape when that proved futile. The zombie managed to grab hold of one of the fleeing officers, lifted the struggling cop overhead, and tossed him across the street and through the window of the store just behind us. We actually had to duck to avoid being hit.

"Who said pigs can't fly?" the Queen's student said as he straightened up.

I shook my head, and looked at Leanne.

"Zombie, two; cops, zero," she said, but what she really meant was that I should get my act in gear and help out.

I sighed. Somehow, this wasn't going to work out well for me. "Just how do you kill a zombie?" I asked.

"You take out their eyes," the Queen's student said, eavesdropping on our conversation.

"No, you idiot. That's demons," his friend answered. "You have to take off a zombies head. Splatter his brains out."

"The kid's right," Leanne said. She grinned up at me. "What do they teach them in university nowadays, anyway?"

The officer with the shotgun pumped off three more rounds and blew the zombie's left arm off at the elbow. That really pissed it off. The cop went pale as the arm crawled along the ground toward him. He was so mesmerized by the sight that he didn't realize the zombie was upon him until it was too late. The zombie grabbed the officer by the throat with his good right hand and lifted. The cop dropped the shotgun and tore at the dead fingers with both hands as the zombie slowly tried to crush the life out of him.

An ornate rapier appeared in my right hand. I still don't know where the thing comes from, or where it goes to when I'm finished with it, but it's always there when I need it. I stood suddenly beside the zombie and the weakly struggling cop, and hacked the zombie's other arm off at the elbow. The same pale fluid that leaked from the bullet holes sprayed me from the raw stump as the officer fell to the ground, still straining as the dismembered limb tried to finish what it started. The cop succeeded in prying the fingers loose and tossed the arm aside. I stepped back and drove the rapier into the zombie's chest up to the hilt. Don't ask me why. I knew it wouldn't kill it. The zombie batted me with the stump of its left arm and I lost my grip on the sword as I fell to my knees.

He tried to stomp on me with those big biker boots of his while I was down, but I rolled to the side. I caught a glimpse of his severed arm, the fingers still clenching and unclenching, out of the corner of my eye, and grabbed it by the elbow. The zombie took another kick at me, but I sprang to my feet and beat him across the head with his own arm. That staggered him for a moment, and I rotated into a spinning wheel kick and caught him hard across the jaw with the heel of my left foot. Hey, no sense letting all that martial arts training go to waste.

The bones in his neck cracked loudly as the impact twisted his head around 180 degrees. The zombie swayed on his feet, head on backwards. He lurched about until he "faced" me again, and I jammed his severed arm at him so that the fingers grabbed him about the throat.

The cop I had rescued bent over and puked his guts out on the street. I could hardly blame him. The sight of the biker, looking like ground chuck from all the gunshot wounds, oozing embalming fluid as he stood in the street with his arms lopped off at the elbows, head on backwards, and slowly being strangled by his own severed limb, was enough to give anyone nightmares. Thank God I don't sleep any more, much less dream. From the odd splashing sounds behind me the cop wasn't the only one to toss his cookies.

I stepped around to the other side of the zombie and pulled my sword from his chest, then took a deep breath. Taking someone's head off isn't as easy as they make it out to be in the movies. And a rapier isn't exactly the ideal sword to do the job. Still, if you're strong enough, and fast enough, and the blade is sharp, it's manageable. Being an Eternal, I was more than up to the task.

I kicked the biker's feet out from under him and he went down to his knees. I grabbed him by the hair and forced him to bend over. It was a little disconcerting, because bent over, and with his head on backwards, he was still looking up at me. I was suddenly thankful that his eyes were sewn shut. I severed the head from the body in one clean stroke. It rolled a few feet until it thumped up against the hubcap of one of the police cars. The body toppled over, totally inanimate now. It didn't even twitch.

I sent the sword back to wherever it goes to just as the ambulance and an unmarked cop car arrived on the scene. The officer I'd rescued approached the body slowly, still uncertain, then kicked it to make sure it was dead. You know someone's world has been shaken when they have to kick a headless body for conformation of death.

A plain-clothes cop pushed his way through the gathering crowd and approached me. He was a stocky man with a barrel chest and broad shoulders, and about five feet ten inches tall. His light brown hair was cut short, little more than heavy razor stubble, and he wore one of those neatly trimmed beards--the kind that looks like he'd merely neglected to shave for a couple of days.

He wrapped his charcoal-black overcoat more tightly about him as the wind gusted suddenly. "James Decker," he said. "Why is it you always show up when the weird shit goes down?"

"Nice to see you too, Officer McMillan."

"That's Inspector," he said. He toed the headless corpse. "Don't even think about going anywhere."

I wasn't sure if he was talking to it, or me.

If the condition of the body bothered him, he didn't let on. He turned toward the two approaching constables. "Get the crowd back, and tape off this area," he ordered. "Get statements from anyone who saw anything, and I want the video tapes from the security cameras in those two stores across the street."

I looked to where he pointed, and sighed. The video cameras pointed out from the store windows adjacent to the street. I was royally screwed. I caught Leanne's eye and nodded towards the cameras. It only took her a second to figure out what I was trying to tell her, and she smiled and nodded.

Leanne would take care of the video evidence. That left only the eyewitness accounts, which are sketchy at best under normal circumstances. The cops weren't going to be happy. I found that when things got too strange, however, they tended to avoid questions where they knew they weren't going to like the answers. I was pretty sure I could ride this out.

Not that I was home free. I had the nagging suspicion that things were only going to get worse. Who had resurrected the biker? And what had he been looking for in the Antique and Collectible Shoppe? Somehow I doubted it was that perfect nick-knack to set off his family room. And of course the big question was, what did he plan to do with whatever it was he was looking for once he found it? Nothing good, I was sure.

I told you things weren't going to work out well for me, didn't I?

         

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