By: J. C. Eickelberg
Second part of an exciting 3-part story inspired by and in remembrance of the great George Romero.
Emily and Barb conferred with their friends. They quickly agreed. Everyone found room in the cars. Finding enough parking close to the party was tricky. They found an open gate near the cemetery’s maintenance shed and equipment buildings. One of Brando’s friends was an assistant manager to the groundskeeper there and knew about a faulty lock on the gate and how to make it look secure. The walk to the renovated fire station was half a block from the gate.
“Harry, is your boss working a crew tonight digging a grave?” Harvey asked.
“No. Why?” Harry asked.
“Sounds like something’s going on over there.” Harvey pointed up a rise in the landscape.
“Harvey, you need to get your ears checked,” Harry said. “Maybe a hearing aid to go with those Coke bottle glasses.”
“Shut up. At least I don’t sleep in a coffin,” Harvey stated.
“Don’t knock it till you try. They’re actually pretty comfortable.”
“He’s right, Harry. Something’s going on,” Emily said. “Sounds like a party.”
Harry sighed, exaggerated. “I’m tired of picking up after those parties.”
“Free booze if we bust it up,” Harvey declared. “We could break up the party and take their stuff. Party here in the shed until the start of the party at The Fire Alarm.”
“Wouldn’t that mean you’re as sick as them for partying in a cemetery?” Brando asked.
“We’d be in a building, not a mausoleum. Right?” Harvey said.
“Fair enough,” Brando said. He looked around the group, silently posing the idea. Everyone had reservations about going into a graveyard at night.
“I can’t pass up free drinks,” Harry said. “What about you, Carl?”
“No cover charge here. And free alcohol,” Carl piped up cheerily. “I’m in.”
“As long as you clean up after yourself,” Harry said. “The party at The Fire Alarm doesn’t start for half an hour. We could have a little pre-party.”
Brando looked at Emily and Barb. “You mind hanging out in the shed for a bit? It actually has a decent breakroom.” Their friends nodded in agreement.
“Sure,” Barb said. “My feet are aching from our run this afternoon.”
“Don’t play that card. You’ve had harder dance practices,” Emily said. She remembered hearing about Barb’s hours long practice for her performances.
“At least I can dance,” Barb quipped. She smiled and pirouetted. Emily silently mouthed a mimicry of Barb and smirked. The smirk quickly changed to a smile.
They proceeded along the path into the cemetery. A flashlight was found in Harry’s car and used it to light their way. Music could be heard clearly after walking fifty yards. Dancing figures came in to view. Lights were placed on headstones and hung on mausoleum doors. Dancing figures disappeared into shadows, some staggered to a tree to be sick, or relieve themselves.
“Oh, man. Do you know who’s buried here?” Brando said, excitedly.
“Who?” Emily said.
“George Romero. I love his movies.”
“Who’s that?” Barb asked. Everyone looked at her in disbelief. “What?” She looked at them innocently. Emily named off some of his movies. Her eyes widened as she realized what movies she liked he was involved with.
Cresting a rise, they heard clear sounds of people talking. Other sounds mixed into a garbled murmur. Shadows lessened and details emerged. Forms on the ground turned into lost shoes, discarded beverage containers and clumps of soil. Some headstones had large gopher holes on one side or another.
“For shit’s sake. They’re making for a long day of cleaning up,” Harry declared.
Larger forms laying behind headstone were left alone. No one wanted to disturb two lovers getting busy. The scene was left untouched as the search went on toward the noise of a gathering.
“Harry. Has anyone been painting headstones?” Brando asked. He pointed to one smeared and streaked with a dark color.
“Not that I’m aware of,” he said, disgustedly. “It sounds like the party moved.” He led them toward the group huddled around writhing forms.
“Hands off, creep,” Barb declared. She swatted a hand away. Emily turned toward her sister.
“Barb, walk ahead of me,” she said. The figure gave them a drunken stare. Emily nudged him away as they walked.
“What was that about?” Harry asked. He watched Barb carefully.
“Some drunk copping a feel,” Emily said. Barb shivered at the memory.
Behind a cluster of mausoleums was the party. Figures meandered around a plot full of granite headstones. Music played on an old radio. No one moved with any rhythm to the music. Less interest was given to dancing, or talking.
“Where’s the booze?” Carl asked. A couple of heads turned. Vacant eyes swept over Harry’s group. No emotions registered in the faces. Silence answered.
“This isn’t a party, guys,” Harry pointed out. “No one’s drinking.”
No bottles or cans littered the ground. No one held a container of any kind. More empty gazes turned toward the new arrivals. Some with Goth paleness, some with grimy, worked-all-day grunge on their faces.
“I said hands off,” Barb yelled. She turned and swung. Her fist connected with the drunk. The sound was like a twig breaking. The drunk turned back to face her, jaw hanging off to one side of his face. Barb screamed. The drunk stared at her with vacant eyes.
“Get away from her,” Emily said. She stepped toward the drunk and shoved him. He fell back, landing with a thud. As an afterthought he reached up slowly to grab at something.
“Let’s get out of here,” Brando said.
The drunk acted like nothing happened to him. Emily dragged Barb after the group. They wound through the headstones in full retreat. Dead staring eyes watched them go.
“You’ve got a hell of a swing, Barb,” Harry said after walking for a few minutes. She didn’t respond. “Brando, do you know what’s going on?”
“No. It’s creepy, whatever it is,” Brando said. He stayed near Emily and Barb.
They huddled near an outbuilding deep in the cemetery. Emily comforted Barb as they rested. Everyone was looking around.
“Where’s Carl?” Harry asked.
“Shit. He’s probably stuck on getting drunk and looking for booze,” Harvey said. “Let’s go find him before he gets into trouble.”
Harvey and Harry lead the way back the way they had come. Brando hung back with the group of ladies, more like a big brother than a romance seeker. He helped keep unnecessary hands away from Barb and her friends. Barb’s friends helped comfort her. Creeping through the silence made for a tense search. The radio still played in the distance as a beacon.
“Son of a bitch,” came a muffled protest. They homed in on a small building.
“There he is.” Harvey went to a prone figure. “Shit, man. Did you run into a headstone? Your head’s bleeding.”
“No. Someone threw a pillow at me,” he retorted. “Yeah, I ran into one.”
“Carl, we were walking,” Harvey said. “You walked your drunk ass into the side of a mausoleum.”
“I think that group is coming. I don’t want to meet them again,” Emily said.
“I second that,” Brando said. “How about checking out the party at The Fire Alarm now? Leave this party alone.” Everyone agreed.
They circumnavigated the partiers as they made their way back to the maintenance shed. More blank faced revelers had joined the crowd following them. Carl slowed their group down as they moved. Dizziness kept him walking slowly. Someone had to stay near him as a guide.
“What’s going on?” Carl asked dreamily.
A group moved toward them from the direction of their cars.
“Your slow ass is keeping us from having fun,” Harvey said.
They moved around the blank faced group. Moving was slowed more because of the darker route than Carl. Moving gradually toward the shed sounds moved in from more places as they went. An occasional groper made a grab for someone. One of them reached closer for one of the ladies. Emily turned and delivered a series of devastating blows. Something broke in the groper’s face.
“Damn, girl. Where’d you learn to fight?” Brando asked, clearly impressed.
“Two tours in the Sand Box with an artillery battalion. They can brawl like any MMA fight if need be. After one bad joke and rude gesture, I showed off a few things I’d learned from a boxer training for a cage fight.” Emily turned a warm smile to him. “I prefer you not call me girl. I think I’ve proven I’m not one.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I was with Force Recon. I did three tours in Afghanistan. Never met any ladies in combat units,” he said. “I’ll be on your team in any fight. That guy isn’t moving.” Brando looked at the downed figure.
“If we don’t move, we may need to fight more.” Emily scanned the area. Her intense look added more admiration to Brando’s impression of her. “I don’t think this is a party anymore. And I don’t feel sorry about that.” She pointed at the down groper and walked away.
Groups were moving out of the distant parts of the cemetery. Emily’s group settled to take the paved lane back to the shed. They stopped to give Carl a rest. He’d slowed to a shuffle.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” Carl said. He went to the side and lost his dinner.
“Numb nuts probably gave himself a concussion,” Harvey said. “When we get back to the cars I’ll take him to the hospital.”
Harry went to check on their friend. Carl sat against a headstone staring at nothing. Harry nudged him trying to get a response out of him.
“I’m calling an ambulance,” Harvey said, reaching for his cell phone. He dialed 911 and waited. “911 is backlogged with calls. I keep getting put on hold. I’m going to flag down a cop and see if he can get someone here.”
Two steps and Harvey stopped, suddenly quiet. His animated demeaner cooled to nothing. Everyone looked at him and followed his gaze. Emily and Brando went to high alert. Others in the group tuned in to the tension.
“That’s not possible,” Harvey said. His arm came up to point.
“No. It’s not. That’s why we’re leaving now,” Brando declared. Harvey pointed to Carl. “Leave him. We get to the street and flag down a cop. Call 911. Whatever. We’re not staying.”
“Why are we leaving so fast?” Barb asked. “We’re here to join a party.”
“That.” Emily pointed at the group moving in their direction. One person out ahead focused on them. “The one in front is George Romero.” He led the group like any good general would.
“You said he’s buried here. Right?” Barb stated. “As in dead and buried?”
“He’s supposed to be.” More people shambled toward their group. A foul odor wafted to them. Harry knew that as the smell of death.
“I’m not leaving Carl. He’s a dumbass, but he’s a friend,” Harvey said resolutely.
“Keep up,” Brando said. Doubt evident on his face. “He’s your burden.”
Harvey struggled to support and pull Carl along. Carl made a feeble attempt to walk. He took one step for every four Harvey took. Harry turned to say something to Harvey. He panicked to see Carl turn his head and clamp down on Harvey’s neck. Harvey’s scream stopped everyone. Blood sprayed from Harvey’s neck when Carl tore a chunk out of his friend.
Slow moving figures moved out of the acres of headstones on each side of the path. Some moved faster than others. Carl fell as Harvey let go and stepped away. He moved to the side, holding his neck. Blood flooded past his hand as the fastest graveyard walkers closed in. Harry’s flashlight swept the area. Every pale faced person moving toward them went to Harvey. Light reflected on pale complexions. Dirt and decay marked the slowest moving walkers. The light settled on the group on the path. Some weren’t as dirt covered as the others.
One face in the group focused on Harry’s group. George Romero watched them as his army of dead groupies slowly advanced.
“Let’s go,” Brando declared. “They’re dead. I don’t want to be.”
To be continued… Come back Wednesday for part three.