Pumpkin King

Chapter 6

Erk, Julio, and Dante sat huddled together in the corner of a train's cargo hold. There were bags of flour stacked everywhere, blocking most of the car from view. They originally had seats in the passenger compartment but they got moved there after Dante had…angered one of the workers.

Julio sneezed. It was getting increasingly colder in the compartment. "You just had to pull a prank on the conductor, didn't you?" He said shivering. He shot a glare at Dante. "We could be sitting comfortably in our nice and warm passenger seats, but no. You ticked off the one guy who could make this trip hell." The compartment rattled and a small gust of freezing wind crept in. Julio shivered again. "Make that a freezing hell."

Erk and Dante rolled their eyes. He had been complaining about the cold ever since they were put in there. It didn't really bother either of them. After a few winters of working on trains in the cold, Erk had gotten used to it. And Dante didn't even seem to notice it. He just lay back against the wall with his arms crossed behind his head.

"How was I supposed to know that?" Dante shot back. "Shouldn't the conductor be at the front of the train?"

"Not always." Erk said absentmindedly. "Some like to double-check all the compartments to make sure everything's ready."

Julio looked triumphantly at Dante. "See? You should have known better."

Dante didn't even respond. Instead, he just kicked up his bare feet onto a small stack of flour bags and stretched. "Wake me up when we get there."

Julio looked at him, baffled. "How does he just fall asleep like that in this cold?"

Erk shrugged and yawned. "The same way I'm about to." He stretched out and used his arms as a pillow. "Keep an eye open for us." And with that he fell asleep.

Later, the trio stood at the front gates of a graveyard that was on the outskirts of a mountain town called Avac. It was cold, but luckily it wasn't snowing.

Erk was practically shaking, but not from the cold. Dante noticed and grinned at him. "Excited? It's your first real job. You up for it?" He asked, his messy black hair covering his eyes.

"You know it." Erk replied confidently. The notice was about bodies that had been disappearing from the graveyard. It was their job to figure out what happened and to stop whoever or whatever was causing it. Their client was the groundskeeper who owned the cemetery.

Julio was eyeing some white birds that were roosting in a tree near some tombstones. "What are we waiting for?" He asked, still shivering slightly.

He took a step forward, but the moment he stepped down in the cemetery, a voice shouted, "What do you kids think you're doing here!?"

The three turned to see an old man bent over with age. He held a shovel in one hand and used it like a cane. His bald head gleamed in the sunlight and his clothes were muddy and stained. "This is no place for kids!" He shouted, hobbling towards them. With each step, the shovel tore a patch of dirt from the ground. "Haven't you heard of them body snatchers? You want to be the next one's to go missing?"

Erk studied the man, his eyes lingering on the shovel. "Are you the groundskeeper here?" He asked bluntly.

"Of course I am!" The man said with a scowl. He raised his shovel and dug it deep into the ground. "Ain't that obvious?" He glanced at each of them. "Now what do you want?"

Erk made himself stand a little straighter. "Were from Pumpkin King. We're here about your request."

The old man looked surprised. "A group of young whippersnappers like you? Ha!" He scoffed. "Show me your marks then. And then maybe we'll talk?"

Julio raised his right hand, showing the orange symbol, while Erk and Dante took off their shirts, exposing the yellow mark on Erk's chest and the black one on Dante's right shoulder. The old man didn't look impressed. "Fine. That just shows that you ain't lying. But what can a group of little kid's like you do?" He huffed and walked passed them to a small house in the middle of the cemetery. "Might as well come in. If you're who they sent me, I'll have to take you."

They followed the man into the house and he lit a few lamps to lighten the place up. It was a simple place. A small kitchen that was connected to the main room and a bathroom. There was one closed door that they could only assume was the man's bedroom. The living room had only an armchair and a couch that stood facing one another.

The old man settled himself slowly into the armchair and gestured for the three to take the couch, his face deadly serious. "Now I'm expecting that you'll want to know the details then."

Dante nodded his, usually joking face serious for once. "Yes sir. We know that it has something to do with some disappearing corpses, but not much else."

The old man nodded. "Well to start off, my name's Rivet. I've been the groundskeeper here for almost fifty years now." He shook his head sadly. "But I've never seen anything like this. I wake up in the mornings to find graves ransacked. But there's not sign of anyone who might have done it, no footprints or nothing."

"So the graves are open, but there aren't any signs of human tampering." Erk said, mostly to himself. He looked at Rivet. "Any idea at what could lift up that much dirt without waking you up? I mean, to do something like that it would cause a lot of noise."

Rivet shook his head again. "There's nothing. I didn't hear a thing…well, that is until two nights ago." His face went stark white and he started shaking. "Two nights ago, I started hearing moans coming from the cemetery. Moans that make an old man's blood go ice cold. And there are footsteps. I can hear them, limping and dragging as if the dead are walking out of their graves. But that ain't the worst of it."

Erk, Julio, and Dante were all listening to the old man's story and they were pale as ghosts. Julio gulped. "Please tell me we aren't dealing with zombies." He whispered to himself.

Rivet went on without noticing Julio. "I'm too scared to look outside my window, but I hear laughter sometimes. Wicked laughter as sweet as a bell but as hard as stone." There was sweat on the man's brow. He stood up wobbly and managed a small bow. "You're young, but you've proven yourself as wizards if you managed to join a guild. I'm placing what little faith I have left in you. I beg you find out what's happening. If the dead be walking at night, you must stop them." He raised his head. "Will you please help an old man?"

Erk and Dante looked at each other in shock. They weren't expecting anything like this. They had expected some novice necromancer or grave robber. But from what Rivet said, it was much worse than that.

Julio was still pale faced and he was trying not to panic. "Not zombies, not zombies, not zombies." He kept muttering to himself.

Erk looked at him with a raised eyebrow, but he pushed that out of his thoughts for a moment. He focused on Rivet, who was looking at them beseechingly. "Old man," he said slowly, "leave it to us!"

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