It had been an incredibly long day at work and an even longer week. In the world of corporate accounting, time was a black hole. Regardless, the week was over and the weekend was charging to life. Well, charging to life wasn’t exactly right, especially since Jared was watching over the dead.
He had been out for over an hour, and the moon was high. Its silvery light shone on the headstones, giant gray teeth that poked out of the ground. A slight breeze blew, carrying the scent of cut grass and the river that flowed between the cemetery and the edge of town. All was quiet.
Usually Jared’s mind would be calm, and he would sit, a living statue in a marble garden. Tonight, however, he couldn’t focus, and the headstone he usually perched upon felt lumpy and foreign. Tomorrow he would get Cassie to cover for him. She owed him anyway, considering how he took four of her shifts when her boyfriend, the preppy, arrogant insurance agent, took her on a surprise getaway. That smug bastard. And what did she see in that jerk anyway? He wouldn’t be able to go five minutes on watch without wetting himself at the first snap of a twig. Okay, he admitted, maybe that was pushing it a little. Mr. Insurance Agent wouldn’t come out on watch to begin with. Too risky. Speaking of snapping twigs, what was that? Focus, he chided himself.
Thinking about Cassie and Mr. Insurance Agent wasn’t improving his mood or his concentration, and he pushed the thought aside as he tried to find a more comfortable perch above Gary Linerman, 1914-1976, Husband - Father - Watcher. Linerman had been one of the original Night Watchers, a group of men and women who protected themselves and their communities from "creatures of the night." Jared’s idol. A man who stepped up to take back the night from the ghouls, ghosts and ghastly creatures that made regular folks cower in fear at the onset of dusk. Linerman founded the Night Watch, and Jared grew up listening to stories of his exploits, and had signed up for the Night Watch as soon as he became of age.
With the moon full and the sky clear, there was just enough light to read by, and he fished around in his backpack until he found the battered and creased pad. He flipped the pages of Monster Mad Libs Volume 2 until he came to one that wasn’t filled in. It was the second to last. He reached into his inner jacket pocket and pulled out a black pen.
"I need an adjective," he called out to the empty graveyard. "Anybody...Anything? It’s just an adjective...Ok, how about ‘pickled’?"
He scribbled it in and moved on to the next blank. "Now I need an adverb."
The noise came from behind him, closer than he would have liked. It was a low, mournful groan that he knew well. A whiff of fetid corpse breath drifted to him on the breeze. It smelled of rot and wet earth. Despite all his years on Night Watch, the stench still bothered him.
"And just how do I spell that," he said as he dropped the pad into his bag and reached for the machete resting against the headstone.
The zombie groaned again, more forcefully, and this time its breath made his eyes water. It was too close for comfort. He could almost feel its cold hands on his shoulders.
"Now I need a verb," he said, his hand tightening on the blade’s well-worn handle. "I thought I’d use ‘chop’."
He pushed off the headstone and spun around. The blade glinted for an instant in the moonlight before it sunk into the zombies’ yielding flesh.
The machete had completely missed the head and neck of the towering creature. Instead it had sunken into the walking corpse’s chest, lodging in the breastbone. Jared’s eyes traveled up the mountain of undead flesh that stood before him. Instantly, he recognized the man it had once been. George Masterton, a former Shea Dale High linebacker who had gone on to become head bouncer at a club in the next town over.
The undead man-mountain looked down at the blade and pushed at it with gnarled fingers. Looks like he’s about as smart as he ever was, Jared thought.
"Hey Georgie, how’re things?"
The zombie moaned.
"That’s really interesting. How’s the whole undead thing treating you?"
It moaned again and resumed its shuffling. Jared stepped back, but reached out and gave the machete a tug. The zombie pitched forward a little, but the blade remained, caught on bone.
"Damn," he said, and retreated around another large headstone. Automatically, his right hand dropped to the Bowie knife at his belt. However, experience had taught him that it was hard to kill a zombie with a knife, especially one that had six inches and 75 pounds on him.
The zombie groaned again, louder and longer this time. To Jared’s shock and dread, another groan answered from the patch of forest about 200 feet to the south, followed by a third farther off, on the other side of the long field.
"Double damn," he said. "You just had to call your friends didn’t you Georgie?"
George kept coming, one dragging step at a time, and Jared was careful to keep a headstone between them. One of the other zombies called out and George answered. They were getting closer. Of course he could run. Outnumbered and vulnerable, the Night Watch manual demanded it. But Linerman never ran in any of the stories, and Jared wouldn’t either.
He looked around, seeking a weapon, inspiration or both. Two rows back was a chest-tall monolith of a headstone. He hurried over and waited behind it, keeping it between the zombie and himself.
George’s meaty corpse followed, intent on its first undead meal. With the headstone between them, Jared grabbed the handle of the machete and pulled, pushing with his feet against the towering marker. The hulking ghoul slumped forward against the cold marble and the blade came free with a wet sucking sound. Bloody, rotting hands groped at Jared’s arms, leaving trails of gore. The zombie’s mouth opened wide to receive living flesh.
Jared stumbled back, twisting his left ankle on a patch of uneven ground. Pain raced up his leg. He yelled, more from frustration than pain. The two zombies coming closer groaned again. "Shut up," he yelled. "I wasn’t talking to you."
George straightened slowly and groaned urgently. The other two groaned insistently. Jared rose just as slowly, trying not to put too much weight on his ankle. George’s animated corpse stumbled forward, hands out and mouth open, and Jared slashed in a downward arc, screaming as he did so. The machete cut deeply into George’s skull. The body dropped and Jared yanked the blade free again. Black blood and gray matter poured through the hole.
He stood panting heavily and watched the other two zombies stumbling toward him. His ankle throbbed and he was shaking from the adrenaline. The first zombie came within reach and his hand tightened on the machete’s handle.
Cassie owes me big time, he thought as aimed carefully and beheaded the first zombie and then the second. And if she’s so keen on spending time with Mr. Insurance Agent, then she can just bring him along. Wiping his blade on the grass, he suddenly stopped and grinned. He’ll be good for some added insurance.