By Michael Logan
When the Dark Lord called, the dead could not refuse him. Rotting fingers burst from the earth like saplings sprouting under a time-lapse lens. Crypt door hinges buckled under the pound of skeletal fists. Mortuary drawers slid open, frost crackling as limbs defied death to flex once more. Across the land, the dead rose to gorge upon the living. With one exception.
Kevin remained beneath an overgrown corner of Cleethorpes municipal graveyard, where his coffin had been plopped the previous day, and moaned. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to mill around and slurp down eyeballs. They would probably taste like oysters – a prohibitively expensive delicacy in life. He was just having a slight problem getting out.
Rise up, my putrid army, the Dark Lord demanded time and again. Destroy the living. Eat their brains. Unravel their intestines. Rip out their hearts. Bring darkness to the world.
And so on.
Well, that’s all very well, Kevin thought, but I can’t bloody well do it from here, can I?
“Hello?” he called, his bloated tongue thickening his voice. “Any thance of a little help? I theem to be thtuck.”
No response came.
Kevin knew the brethren could hear him. Their thoughts fizzed like static behind the Dark Lord’s summons. The coherence varied, presumably depending on how long decay had nibbled on brain matter, but there were plenty of zombies out there capable of picking up a spade and digging him out. Yet every time he called out, he was sure he heard chuckles ripple through the legion of the dead. The bastards were ignoring him. Kevin flopped around in his coffin, slapping ineffectually against the lid. The Dark Lord’s mantra looped on.
“Oh, thut the fuck up!” Kevin shouted as loud as his reanimated lungs could manage.
He punched the lid and heard a sharp crack. He blindly searched for a breach in the coffin until he discovered the source of the sound. His thumb flapped uselessly against his palm, snapped in two by the impact.
Bloody typical, he thought. I’m not even a good zombie.
Somehow Kevin’s tear ducts managed to squeeze out a tiny, sticky drop.
On the night he committed suicide, there had been no last-minute panic, no clumsy lunge for the telephone. With each pill came another memory that vindicated his decision. There was way too much dodging of wet towels that brawny schoolmates flicked at his skinny buttocks. There was some lurking on the stairs at parties, waiting for one of the girls – even Cindy, with her braces, spots and scraggy pigtails would have done – to take pity on him. There were long hours browsing chat forums pretending to be handsome, smart and well endowed.
Then there was the succession of jobs he had bungled: Carpenter – ended when he nailed a finger, not his own, to the workbench. Receptionist – until he mistook his boss’s wife for his mistress on the phone. Labourer – for a whole twenty minutes until his first attempt to lift a spadeful of concrete threw his back out.
The only thing he had done well in his whole life was organising his own funeral, blowing his savings on a glowing obituary in the Cleethorpes Chronicle and a Windsor Eternal oak coffin. Now he realised he had fucked up again. Had he settled for a cheaper option, he would have clawed his way out by now.
The Dark Lord fell silent for a time. When he spoke again, his voice resonated within the coffin.
“Why do you not do my bidding?”
“Becaush I can’t get out,” Kevin replied in a small voice.
“The others walk the earth.”
“They didn’t buy the Windthor Eternal, did they? Thith thing’th solid.”
“No, it is not.”
“The living cheated you, Kevin. They took your money and put you in a cheap pine box.”
Kevin opened his mouth to issue a denial, but then closed it. That was exactly the kind of thing that would happen to him. This time, instead of flapping at the lid, he pushed with both hands. It bent in a manner that was not at all oak-like.
“Bathtardth,” he moaned, and curled up as much as the coffin would allow him to.
“Stop being so pathetic,” the Dark Lord boomed. “Do you not wish revenge?”
“I thuppothe tho.”
“Then fight, Kevin. Tear those who have wronged you asunder!”
“Yeth,” Kevin whispered as Dark Lord’s voice reverberated within him, setting his bones thrumming with its power. “Yeth!”
Kevin pushed. Initially the lid refused to give way, but for the first time in his life and death, Kevin did not give up. He strained until nails creaked and soil dribbled in, pattering into his open mouth. Half an hour later, Kevin stood beside his rumpled grave and shook the earth from his burial suit. Something rustled in the bushes that backed onto the graveyard. Kevin caught a brief flash of a jawbone, not yet picked-clean, held aloft in dead fingers. His stomach rumbled, but he turned away. He had other business first.
Kevin staggered toward the town centre, where the screams of the dying filled the night air, and stopped outside the barricaded shop window of Renton’s Funeral Services. A floral curtain twitched on the first floor.
“Whhhhooooooaraaaaaaaaaaarrrghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!” Kevin groaned, pointing up at the window.
The brethren answered his call. Shoulder-to-shoulder, they smashed their way into the shop, leaving lumps of flesh dangling on the glittering shards of the shattered window. Upstairs, furniture scraped across the floorboards as a barricade was erected. Kevin looked at the lolling tongues, mangled faces and bloodstained teeth of his companions. They looked back, expectant. Kevin stumbled through the store, pushing display coffins from their stands, and started up the narrow wooden stairs, an approximation of a smile on his limp lips. He did not look back. He knew his brethren were behind him.