Steve gazed at the shotgun resting in his lap, a nervous unease eating away at him. He had never cared very much for firearms of any kind. He saw himself as a thinker not a fighter. He ran a finger down the cold metal of the sawed-off barrel. There was no way out now, having come this far.
Dont let the waiting get to you, Chris said flatly, his large, rotund form perched on a nearby tombstone which barely supported his weight. He wore a horribly out of fashion shirt with colors so bright that they hurt Steves eyes. His black jeans were splattered with mud and his hair was black with a hint of gray, so oily it glistened in the rays of the setting sun. Steve looked around at the grave markers so worn by time that few still possessed any readable markings. Yeah, Steve answered, pushing his glasses back into place with a single thin finger. The things had a bad habit of sliding down his face but he didnt have the cash to get a new pair. His own hair was a disheveled mess of blond atop his head and wore an old ratty Alien Sex Fiend T-shirt. Always self-conscious, he tugged at its back uncomfortably.
The old Fairview cemetery was what people called this place. It had been filled beyond its limits and abandoned years ago. Still, even backwoods places like this needed to be guarded if the town was to avoid the plague claiming the world as its own.
How did you get into this line of work? Steve asked.
Chris shook his M-16 at Steve and asked, You mean this?
I founded Grave Watchers, son, three weeks ago with a friend of mine named John. Remember when the first reports of what was happening up north began to show up on every station and the shit really hit the fan? The local newscasters not really believing the reports they were reading?
Again Steve nodded, wishing Chris would get to the point.
Well, when John and I saw those reports, we were sitting on the couch in my living room, bullshitting and being pissed off about the Sunday game being interrupted. We got a drunk. Chris laughed, the mounds of his flesh rolling with the movement.
We started asking ourselves if what was happening up there could happen down here in the south too. At first, we were scared shitless, but then we started thinking. Maybe, just maybe, down here it could be stopped before it started... If someone were to watch the graveyards, the morgues, and put those bastards back down into Hell before they got loose. John and me, well, we were both ex-military, so we ran an ad in the papers to do just that. We got more responses from mayors and city officials than we knew what to do with so the company was born. Our fees were monstrous, but this is a monstrous job. We hired on extra help, had to, from job to job, and a few permanents.
Now were covering more than six counties, kid. Youre going to be real happy with your paycheck when we get out of here if you handle yourself well enough and dont get careless.
Has... Has anyone ever been killed doing this? Steve stammered, looking away from Chriss stare.
Sure. It happens in almost every job, kid, Chris chuckled when he saw Steves trembling hands, the knuckles growing white from the grip he had on his rifle. Only the stupid and unlucky get ate or infected, kid. Those who set up for the job in the wrong place where some of those things could flank em or bravado-filled punks with balls too big for their own good. Theyre the ones that die. Chris waved a hand through the air in a gesture of confidence. We aint got nothin to worry about here. Fairviews so old I doubt any of em will even be intact enough to wake up.
Chris stared at Steve who seemed to be fighting some kind of inner battle with himself, blinking when Steves 12-guage was thrust within a inch of his forehead. He looked up the barrel in disbelief as Steve stood above him.
Which kind of punk was my father? Steve asked his voice filled with a anger and hard determination.
Damn, I thought you looked kind of familiar kid. He was on that job up in Canton, wasnt he? We lost of a lot of good men up there.
Steve pumped a round into the chamber. What happened?
We werent prepared. It was one of our first big jobs, ya see? I dont think a lot of people took it seriously. Sometimes ya cant believe something like this without seeing it with your own eyes. Hundreds and hundreds of those things dug themselves up all around us, wave after wave. Everybody panicked. We all got separated in the chaos. If it hadnt been for Johns radio, none of us would have gotten out of there alive. As it was, we were barely able to hold the things long enough for the national guard to show and help out.
Good answer, Steve grinned, letting the gun drop a bit. But you still let it happen. He said, jerking the gun back up and squeezing the trigger. Chriss face was torn to shreds by the scattershot weapon, bits of blood and bone raining onto the ground around the tombstone he sat on. His almost headless corpse tottered of a second, then fell with a loud thump to the dirt.
Steve fell to his knees, smearing the blood that had spattered on his face with the back of his sweaty hand. Tears burned in his eyes. Bastard, Steve sobbed, You lousy bastard, you shouldnt have let it happen.
In that moment, he did not hear the low sound of muffled moaning around him. He paid no attention to the first hand as it tore through the dirt not five feet from where he sat, its decaying fingers grasping at the air. Still Steve never moved, he only wept. He cried and cried and screamed.
Copyright © 2003 by Eric S. Brown