There was no reason for alarm.
The mass of zombies didn’t even turn in our tumultuous direction.
“What in the actual fuck?” I asked, letting the gun drop to my side.
“No idea.” Penny snapped his fingers, a loud insistent click, but was not acknowledged by the zombies.
There was no question they were undead. If the smell of rotting flesh wasn’t enough, their skin was grey, sloughing from the bones in gruesome folds; a few had empty sockets where their eyes should’ve been, or gaping holes in their cheeks where tongues and teeth showed through. The clothes they were buried in were modern, but dirty and tattered.
Penny watched the undead with wary alertness, knees bent, shoulders hunched forward, ready to attack if needed.
“Penny,” I said, “what do you know about zombies?” The answer was easy: nothing. At least, nothing besides what he’d learned from Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon.
“They’re mindless, flesh-eating assholes. They’ll attack anything alive in seconds—like piranhas.”
“And unlike what we have in front of us.”
“So?” he asked.
“These are voodoo zombies,” I replied.
The blue of Penny’s eyes rolled. “And?”
“Zombies, like the kind currently shambling all over pop culture, are created by a virus—or whatever—to make those infected come back to life and hunger for brains.” I pointed to a reanimated man shuffling in front of us, “These were created by magic, brought back from the grave to do the bidding of the one who called them.”
“If they don’t want to eat us, what do they want?”
I shrugged. “That’s up to the person controlling them.”
“This was your theory?” he asked, pointing at the corralled undead.
“I thought it was a possibility,” I shrugged, “since no one had been attacked.”
Chance of danger gone, Penny lost interest, pulling out his phone and madly clicking. With him distracted, I circled the zombies.
There were at least thirty of them, male and female, ranging in age from late teens to early forties. Whoever called them up, while not a novice at magic (they wouldn’t have been able to call them up at all), hadn’t mastered the art of the zombie. The link between master and subject was weak, which had forced the failed conjurer to magic up an extra barrier to contain them.
I unsheathed the machete, the freshly sharpened blade glinting bright silver in the moonlight
“Ready for some slaying?” I asked the phone engrossed Penny.
“Heh?” he said, looking from the screen with unfocused eyes.
“Undead need killing,” I waved the machete at the zombies. “We need to chop off the heads.”
“What happened to destroying the brain?” he asked.
“Won’t work with them. We’ll severe the heads and then burn the bodies.”
“I better get paid extra for this,” he said, giving his axe a practice swing.
I stepped over the invisible boundary, a pulse of magic tickling my skin. The machete arced through the air and bit into the neck of a twenty-something zombie. Her head separated from her neck easier than I expected, the extra force sending it spiraling through the air to splat at the roots of a nearby tree.
The zombies were slightly alarmed at our presence, pushing against one another to get away from us, but they didn’t attack. Did their master abandon them as a failed experiment—or were they biding their time? But for what?
An hour later, Penny and I were surrounded by corpses and heads, splattered in blood, associated gore, and sweat.
“I don’t think there’s enough money to re-pay me for this,” he said, swiping his axe blade in the grass to clean it.
Instead of bothering with a reply, I pulled a Bic lighter from my pocket, touching it to the shirt of the zombie at my feet. It went up like dry kindling, spreading from body to body until the entire clearing was ablaze.
I walked over to Penny and we watched the flames do their work. There had to be nothing left of the bodies to break the magic.
We watched the fire in silence, me stealing glances at Penny as his gaze remained transfixed on the burning undead. In the flickering light, I noticed the dark circles under Penny’s eyes and the deeper cut of his cheeks. He was exhausted; unwell. Maybe he hadn’t been exaggerating.
The flames sputtered and died in record time; the fire feeding off the magic until nothing—not bones, not metal fillings, nothing—remained.
“There’s no trace of any living person,” I said, once the fire had sputtered out.
“No,” Penny answered, even though I hadn’t asked a question.
“We won’t find anything,” I said. “Whoever very inexpertly conjured them, did it all from a distance. But we’ll look.”
And we did, traipsing through the woods in the dark; the light from my phone failing to illuminate evidence of others.
“What now?” Penny asked, as we stowed our weapons in the trunk.
“We find where they originated from. Check the news for any stories about recent grave robberies or cemetery vandalism. See if there’s any sign of the culprit.”
“That’s a lot of missing people from one cemetery,” he said.
“I’m banking on the inexperience of the practitioner,” I said. “They didn’t take into account how a mass exodus of cemetery dwellers would look.”
“I wonder what bullshit story they came up with to explain it away?”
He snorted. “That’s pretty tame compared to what we’ve heard lately.”
“I think they’re running out of chemical spills to blame.”
“Yeah, but nothing really compares to the good ol’ standby of ‘animal attack’,” he said.
“You would think someone from the town council would look into our bear and wolf problems. Those animals aren’t particularly prevalent to this part of the U.S.”
We went on in this vein until we pulled up to the office.
“That was some good zombie killing,” I said.
“You should put that on your business card,” he winked.
“Psh, it’s already there.”
He shook his head in mock disdain. “Okay, Great Zombie Killer, it’s time for sleep,” he said, climbing out of the car.
“Ha,” I replied, “you mean time for video games.”
He shrugged and smiled before jogging to his car and disappearing into the driver’s seat.
I had every intention of heading up to the office and starting to look into the grave robberies, but after stifling a yawn that lasted for about five minutes, I put the car into gear and headed home. I’d have plenty of time for research in the morning.