Here’s another flash fiction story I wrote as part of a one-hour contest. This dark urban fantasy tale is called “Killing the Dead,” and like the story from last week, “The Writing on the Wall,” it has lingered on my hard drive for quite a while. I’ve dusted it off and given it a quick polish, but it’s essentially the story I scribbled out in an hour three or four years ago. If you’d like to read the first story or learn more about these one-hour contests I’m so fond of, check out the link above.
Okay, here’s “Killing the Dead.”
Killing the Dead
Johns watched the sun dip low on the horizon, thankful for the warmth radiating though his legs from the hood of his pickup. He drew in a deep breath and ran a hand over the badge on his shirt. The stylized skull and hammer said he was a graver, an agent of the church, and one of the few people dumb enough to be outside after dark since the event of ‘18. It was crazy, dangerous work, but somebody had to deal with the dead, and it sure beat flipping burgers or working construction.
Nightfall was near and he hopped off the hood of the truck, stretched, and took stock of his surroundings. The graveyard was an old one, the headstones weathered and crumbling. The most recent date he could find was 1976, which meant the folks interred here had been dead for a minimum of fifty years. The chances one of the corpses would contain a roamer was thin, but, like usual, he’d claimed this particular graveyard on a hunch. Most gravers liked the newer cemeteries, where roamers were all but guaranteed. The problem there was you got paid the same for cleansing a cemetery of one roamer or fifty. Lot of young gravers didn’t survive their inaugural cleansing.
Johns went around to the bed of his truck and did a quick equipment check. He had a gallon of holy water—blessed by Father Daniels this very morning—some of which he had already poured into his super soaker. He had the axe, the maul, and the sledgehammer, plus the chainsaw if things got really out of hand.
He picked up the super-soaker. As absurd as it seemed, the giant squirt gun was the most important weapon in his arsenal. It could fire a concentrated blast of holy water up to sixty feet, and within that range it was nearly impossible to miss.
He glanced out over the graveyard, looking for a likely spot. There were plenty of headstones, but granite was tough to manipulate, and even an old roamer would have a hell of a time animating one of those. There was the ground, of course, and the newly dead usually went there. He’d faced down more than his share of dirt monsters. This cemetery was old enough that if it had a roamer, it would be experienced. If he were a betting man—and he was—a small stand of oak trees on the edge of graveyard was where he’d lay his wager.
Johns slung the super-soaker over his shoulder, grabbed the wood-axe from the bed of his truck, and started toward the trees. He pulled up just within the maximum range for the soaker and propped the axe on a nearby headstone.
Night fell completely in a few minutes, and Johns flicked on the LED light attached to his vest. He shivered in the sudden cold. Ever since the event, the temperature dropped a good twenty degrees at nightfall. Even in the middle of a Texas summer, the cold came on as soon as the stars came out. He guessed the dead liked it that way, or maybe they needed it that way. Who knew?
Minutes passed and silence settled over the graveyard. That was a good sign. Night critters that put up a racket at night—crickets, frogs, that kind of thing—went quiet when there were roamers around. He listened and was rewarded with a faint whistling that rose from the direction of the trees, a low winding keen that made the hairs on his arms and neck stand up. The telltale moan of a roamer. He’d never understood why they made so much noise, but it sure made them easier to find.
Johns moved toward the trees, soaker held up to his shoulder. The roamer appeared soon after, a faint shadow, slightly luminescent against the dark backdrop of the tree trunks. He could make out a male outline but not much else. Roamers became more indistinct as they aged, losing details until they were little more than shadows. He guessed he was looking at a century-old roamer at the least.
The roamer was lingering around the trunk of a big oak—it had chosen its medium for the night. Johns rushed forward, yelling, letting his target see and hear him. The apparition hissed in anger then disappeared into the tree. The oak shook and trembled, its branches swaying with ominous and unnatural life.
He stopped, aimed the soaker and waited. This was the dangerous part. Until the roamer completely inhabited its medium, it couldn’t be trapped, although it still controlled enough of whatever animate it had chosen to crush, gouge, or smash any unfortunate gravers nearby. Roamers, more than anything, wanted to be real again, to taste some semblance of life, and most didn’t fuck around once they’d found something to animate. This one was no different.
The trunk of the oak suddenly took on horrid life, the bark twisting and bulging as the roamer absorbed organic material and began crafting a body for itself. In this transitive state it was vulnerable, and Johns depressed the trigger on the soaker. A stream of blessed water struck the tree trunk, and the roamer within it loosed an ear-splitting howl. Its partially formed limbs reached out, wooden talons clawing at the air, then froze as the holy water did its work, locking the roamer in its transitive state and rendering it harmless until the next night fall.
Johns hefted the axe. All he had to do now was chop up the roamers body and keep a piece big enough to prove what he had. Father Daniels would say the last rights tonight at Saint Michaels, sending the roamer’s spirit on to the afterlife. Then he’d get paid.
He smiled as his first blow with the axe sent wood chips flying. Any night you helped stave off the apocalypse a little longer and put some cash in your pocket was a good one.
I had fun with this one, and if I remember correctly it was well received by the other authors in the contest (my notes say it came in third). I don’t remember the prompt, unfortunately, but it was likely a cemetery or something of that nature. The issue with this one (other than a pretty meh title) is it’s really the beginning of something longer, and I had to spend a fair amount of my 1,000 words telling the reader how this urban fantasy world worked. That didn’t leave much time for anything else, so the action is a bit rushed, and there’s not much to the main character. I do like some of the concepts I came up with, though–the gravers, the roamers, and the pseudo-post-apocalyptic urban fantasy thing–and it may be something I return to in the future for a longer story or even a novelette.