Phillip trudged through the thick fog without bothering to hide his limp. He could barely see five feet ahead of him and no one would be out in this to take advantage of his weakness. Blood oozed out of the gash in his leg with every step and he knew he needed to stop and tend to it.
Only another…fifteen blocks and he’d be home. Of course, then he’d have all new problems. If Lady Blackburn caught him like this, she’d throw him out in disgrace and he’d lose the shielding power of his family name.
Muffled laughter and shouting filled the air from the left. The warmth of a tavern and an ale would be welcome right now, but he couldn’t really afford it. His coin purse held a grand total of four copper pieces, all he had left after paying an extortionists’ rate for what his employer wanted. Tomorrow, he could trade the package for his pay. Tonight, he had to get home to have a bed to sleep on.
Five blocks from home, he noticed the scent of rotting meat on the wind. In this part of town, he shouldn’t run across such a thing. He’d already left the less savory parts of Cork behind. This area ought to have only unremarkable housing for those able to afford a servant or two. No one here left garbage out, lest it attract beggars.
As the stench became heavier instead of lighter, he gripped the hilt of his sword and slowed. Someone had to deal with this, whatever it might be, and he doubted the local guardsmen would be able to. Even if they could, they’d never see it coming. All the guardsmen he knew were competent enough at handling bar brawls and straightforward assaults, but easy prey against anything else, especially on a night like this.
The rush of anticipation pushed away the pain in his leg. He picked out the light rasp of something scraping on the ground with every other step, as if his slow pursuer had a problem lifting one foot high enough. The evidence pointed to a shambling bag of rotting flesh, yet it moved with too much stealth. A true zombie should have revealed itself with shuffling and snuffling.
Hoping to take it by surprise, he turned the next corner and stopped. The stench and scraping drew closer. He leaned against the wall and breathed through his mouth.
“I smell you.” The quiet, raspy voice sent shivers down his spine.
He wanted to echo the sentiment. Restraining himself, he stayed still. He knew bait when he heard it. This thing would have to work to catch him off-guard.
A grasping hand reached through the fog and past the corner. “You smell delicious.”
Unnerved, Phillip slashed his sword up. The hand darted back, narrowly escaping his strike. Phillip took a step away, expecting a counterattack and watched the owner of the hand lunge at him. She seemed almost human. Almost. Though the light let him see little of color or detail, he could tell her eyes had no whites.
He backpedaled and dodged to the side. She screeched and dove at his leg. Many of the undead fed on blood, or so he’d heard. Pulling his injured leg as far from her as possible, he purposely left himself open to attacks on the other side. Instead of doing what he expected, she lowered her head and plowed into him. Without the injury, he could have stood his ground. His leg buckled under the strain and he fell to the ground.
The impact drove the air out of his lungs and knocked his sword out of his hand. His blade clattered on the ground and slid out of reach. Bony hands gripped his shoulders and slammed his head to the ground. As she wrenched him up to do it again, he managed to roll with it and knock them both to their sides.
He hadn’t spent two years building a successful double-life in this forsaken city only to be killed by some walking dead thing.
The creature-thing had surprising strength. They wrestled back and forth until it jammed its fingers into the shallow slash on his leg. Pain ripped a scream from him and he bucked under the creature’s weight. His uncontrollable spasming threw it off his body. Panting with relief, he scrambled for his sword and grunted when a solid weight hit his legs.
“Sweet, sweet blood.”
He looked over his shoulder to see it sitting on his knees. Face lit with ecstasy, it closed its eyes and stuck a finger in its mouth. On a very different woman three nights ago, he’d found the gesture arousing. This sight inspired only terror and disgust.
With no other options, he planted his hands on the ground and flung himself up. His fist connected with the creature’s head and it sprawled to the side, letting him go. He scrambled to his feet and grabbed his sword in time to turn and see it charging him. Sticking the sword in front, he shifted it so the thing impaled itself with wet, meaty ripping sounds.
Despite the length of steel in its belly, it kept driving toward him. He wrenched the blade to the side, cutting through the thing before it could grab him again. When it still refused to stop, he hacked at it again and kept slashing until it collapsed. Even on the ground with one leg chopped off and an arm nearly severed, it kept trying to reach him.
“Where’s your master?” His voice came out shaky and breathy, more than he’d expected it to.
“Blood,” it mewled.
He plunged his sword through its neck and separated its head from its body. Even that didn’t stop it. All the parts still tried to reach him. Fire would solve this problem, he thought. More important than dealing with animated corpse parts, though, he had a new mission: figuring out where this thing came from and stopping the lunatic responsible from making more.
Lee French has published several fantasy and superhero novels, and is a member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.