Livier backed up, allowing Sisily to back up further. The two undead – zombies? – was that what they were? – dragged their feet like they wore leaden slippers. But Sisily, although she glanced down, failed to register what manner of footwear they’d chosen for their nightime walk.
Zombies. Dead. Undead. Whatever they might be, they were real. And suddenly the mat at the entrance made horrible sense.
They were coming to ungreet the uninvited guests. Coming to say their dead hellos. An unwelcome.
“Get back! Back, I say!” commanded Livier like a nervous priest.
“I am!” Sisily told him. But every time she retreated she bumped up against Livier’s midriff. And the two undead advanced, reaching, clutching, grasping. Like rotten, mouldering grandparents seeking to draw her in for an embrace. Or a foul-stenched, slippery-lipped kiss.
“Not you! Them! Those – things!”
Livier couldn’t say the word.
“Zombies!” Sisily hollered. Forcing the word out in a trembling scream. Making it more real for her. Real for everybody.
“What – what do we do?” Derby Brown whimpered.
A zombie lunged, swiping at Sisily’s face with an emaciated claw. Livier backed up several paces at once, snatching Sisily and pulling her back with him.
“Somebody get up those stairs!” Benevolence Wisheart strode forward, swinging one of her capacious carpet bags.
She let go at the end of a third, hefty swing and sent it flying at the lead zombie. The luggage struck it in its hollowed abdomen. It hissed through a set of teeth like lichen-clad stones in old-meat gums. And staggered under the baggage blow. Knocked its fellow creature into a backward stumble. Both somehow remained upright.
Dead things really ought to be more inclined to lie down.
“Run up those stairs and grab one of those holy symbols!”
Benevolence was right. “I’ll go,” volunteered Sisily.
The zombies steadied themselves and recommenced their advance.
“You’ll never be able to pull that down. It’s on chains,” Wallis Fringe pointed out. “Grievance! You should go.”
Grievance shot looks around the troupe. He stomped away, around the base of the bone tree – then broke off towards the left of the hall.
“What are you doing, man?” protested Wallis.
A zombie lurched forward again, arms outstretched and reaching for that fateful hug with Sisily. The other zombie, just a few paces behind, tripped over the carpet bag. It toppled, arms flailing, and dominoed into its unfriend.
The lead zombie staggered, pitching straight at Sisily. She screamed and darted aside. Its wizened hands latched onto the frilled front of Livier’s blouse. One or two rotten fingernails popped loose, but the remainder dug into the fabric.
Livier backed away and away, swatting at the hanger-on but without wanting to make any actual physical contact. Attached by its claws, the zombie was towed along by Livier’s quiversome stomach.
The second zombie steered itself towards Sisily.
Benevolence thundered in to intercept, now armed with one of the umbrellas, battered and broken by the storm, but still serviceable as a weapon. She beat at the creature with this ragged, flapping object. It appeared unbothered but the assault disrupted its plans to feast on Sisily.
It turned its arms towards its attacker. And gnashed its teeth.
A deafening clatter all but stopped Sisily’s heart. Lightning flared through the hall, but the noise was not the work of the storm. Grievance marched from the left of the hall, leaving a fallen suit of armour in his wake. But carrying the empty knight’s battleaxe.
The blade was dull and rusted. But the sight of it – the sight of Grievance – raised a cheer in Sisily’s heart.
The big man swung the axe high and, covering the distance in a few brisk strides, brought it down on Benevolence’s foe. Then he turned and headed for the one still being tugged around the hall by Livier.
Sidily screamed. Again.
She knew it wasn’t strong or independent or doing her gender proud, but she couldn’t help it. One of the few things more horrible than an undead person was the sight of a dead undead person, freshly hacked with a battleaxe. If relative shrillness of screams was any gauge, then Derby Brown was doing his gender even less proud.
Sisily shouldn’t have felt better for that. But she did. A bit.
She reined in her breathing and did her best to look anywhere but the gorier directions.
Grievance, the axe hanging in his hand, blade dripping, wandered past on a mission to the stairs.
“Grievance? Where are you going?”
As much as she didn’t wish to see the axe, she wanted Greivance close.
“Symbol,” he said. And gestured to the landing. “In case there’s any more.”
Damn. Damn. Damn.
Cadaverus Helskur was now doomed to face the intruders alone. Until three of the clock.
And the biggest of the unwanted guests was coming his way.
[To Be Concluded…]