Steve took a breath and raised the pickax again,
over his shoulder so his grandfather could see, and brought it down with a
crash into the ground. But Steve was thrown back, and landed with a crash on
the ground. There was a low moan above him. Steve rolled to the side as a heavy
object smashed the ground beside him.
“Steve!” he heard a far off voice cry. But he wasn’t listening; he was focused on the figure towering in front of him. It was green skinned with many holes in its body. It held a shovel in its decrepit, bloody hands. The thing raised its shovel for another strike, Steve stumbled backwards and the shovel came crashing down.
The zombie slammed the shovel down, there was a white flash and Steve attempted to shield himself with his arms. Suddenly a loud bang echoed across the strip mine, not the sound of the shovel penetrating his flesh. Steve opened his eyes to see his grandfather’s stone pickax an inch from his head; his grandfather was struggling with the zombie. Steve stumbled back as the zombie slammed the shovel down a third time. He wondered briefly how his grandfather had gotten the pick so quickly but he shoved the thought aside. His grandfather was in front of him, his pick raised and aimed at the zombie.
“Stay back Steve!” his grandfather yelled in a scared voice as the zombie stumbled. The thing was evidently surprised at the appearance of another human. The zombie evidently detected its target’s fear and reached for his grandfather, moaning loudly. Horace stepped back and then moved to the side. Steve watched in fright as the zombie stumbled towards his grandfather.
“Grandfather! No!” Steve yelled.
“Steve- get away!” Horace bellowed, taking another step back. Steve reluctantly obeyed him. Steve watched for a moment as Horace led the zombie into one of the mined out chunks and stopped.
“Watch out!” he screamed. Horace seemed to be ignoring him. Was his grandfather going to die for him like that? Steve watched, mouth agape as the zombie stumbled forwards- right into the miniature pit. How could it be so stupid? Steve was rooted to the spot, staring as the zombie struggled to get out of the pit for another go at his grandfather.
Then without warning, the zombie burst into flames. The thing moaned loudly as it tried to stab Horace with the shovel but it missed. It flailed for several seconds in desperation, trying to get at its human prey. Horace glared at the thing and struck it to the side of the head with the pickaxe in one full swing. The burning head of the zombie flew across the ground and landed with a sickening thud, extinguishing itself in the process. The burning corpse, deprived of its head collapsed into ashes, and the shovel fell to the ground with a loud clang. Steve stared in disbelief- unable to comprehend what he had just witnessed. But then he refocused and saw his grandfather, doubled over near the smoldering zombie. Every part of Steve’s body was in panic mode. Before he knew it he was bolting for his grandfather, he couldn’t be dying. Steve sent a hurried prayer to Notch that his grandfather was okay.
“Grandfather!” Steve yelled as he ran across the mine, “Grandfather, are you okay?”
Thankfully his worst fears were not confirmed, his grandfather wasn’t dead. By the time Steve reached him, Horace was panting. His arms rested on the pickax, which was stained black and red from the zombie’s blood. Several moments passed, he did not look at Steve. Steve called his name several more times and his grandfather seemed to finally awaken, as if from the dead. Horace looked tired, and his beard was more haggard than it had been minutes before. Horace’s skin was pale, far different than its usual ruddy color; it gave him a wispy appearance. The old man was in shock to some degree, not to Steve’s surprise he was shocked and scared too.
“Grandfather? Grandfather answer me! Please!” Steve begged at last. Horace turned his head and looked at him,
“Steve…” his grandfather started. “I’m glad you’re alive.”
“Yeah I’m glad I’m alive too- you’re not hurt either? Grandfather?” Steve asked, worriedly reaching out towards him.
Once again Horace did not respond.
“Grandfather! Are you hurt?” Steve asked, slightly panicked.
“No…” Horace sighed, “No, no I’m afraid it would have to take a bit more than that to take me out. Although it did give me quite a fright.”
Steve’s concerned expression broke out in a wide smile and in spite of himself he hugged his grandfather.
“You’re really okay?”
“Steve – I – yes I am not injured.” Horace said “But… I will be if you keep hugging me like that.”
“Sorry…” Steve mumbled, as he released his grandfather from his embrace. “I – I just wasn’t sure you know… kind of had me a bit nervous I guess.”
Horace gave a weak chuckle at this, “Now you know. How about yourself my dear boy, are you well?”
“Yeah, yeah well enough I guess. It-it scared me though…” Steve said “There aren’t more of them are there?” he asked, glancing around him in worry. He hadn’t even seen the zombie approach them. Even at that very moment there could be two or even three more lurking in the mine. Horace coughed,
“No- well perhaps but they are no threat.”
“No threat?! No threat? How do you even know that?” Steve asked incredulously. In spite of himself he felt his anger rising. “That almost killed you, and for your information it almost took me out as well!”
“My dear boy, I am perfectly aware of that since it was I who saved you! However I really must ask you to calm down. Your questions are good and it only makes sense that you would want to make sense of the situation- as do I. Now…” Horace paused holding up his hand “I will try to explain… to the best of my knowledge. But please let an old man rest first.” He finished with a heavy cough.
“Well for starters was that thing?” Steve interjected, glancing at the pile of ashes next to the battered shovel.
Horace glanced at him, and pulled a small pink vial from his pocket and drank it in one gulp. “Ahh, that’s better!” he said, as some of the color returned to his face. He pocketed the bottle and glanced back at Steve. “Now as to your question- that thing you saw is a zombie Steven. It is a foul creature, an undead human. I believe you know a bit about giant spiders?”
“Yeah.” Steve replied. His grandfather had once told him of giant mythical spiders known as Arachnomorphs that had infested the lands ages ago. Those stories made Steve very glad that he had not been born at a time when those things were around.
“Good now be quiet and allow me to continue.” Horace said firmly. Steve sat down next to his grandfather as the old man launched into his tale,
“Yes well, a long time ago…before there were records or even an established civilization the world was very different Steve- the land was infested with creatures so foul historians fear to mention them in the old texts.” Horace paused and took a deep breath before continuing “It is said that the word was formed by three gods, Notch who we worship, Jeb, and a third named Baez’aamon. Now as you know Notch created the Sun, the Sky, and the Moon, the seas, the trees and humans. We were long considered his prized creation. His disciple Jeb gave us the gift of fire, how to make tools, and our intelligence. Jeb also created many of the animals. You know this part of the legend Steve.” Steve nodded.
“Yeah, this is about the twentieth time you’ve told it to me.”
“Yes, but there is a much larger part you haven’t heard before so listen closely.”
“Does it have to do with Baez’aamon?” Steve asked.
“Ah! Yes, very good Steven very good. You’re completely right. It is about Baez’aamon. Now for the sake of simplicity and because I don’t want to have to say his full name a hundred times we will call him Baez. Baez was a tricky fellow; he was different than either Jeb or Notch. While Jeb and Notch rejoiced in each other’s creations Baez did not. It made him jealous to see the greatness of Jeb’s and Notch’s creations. You see Steve, Baez created darker things. Baez created the Netherworld, many of the monsters in it, and obsidian. However long before he created the monsters Baez developed a strong hatred of humans. Humans rejected Baez and out-poured their love to Notch and Jeb for the gifts they had given them. So perhaps you could say that Baez hated humans out of jealously- although I suspect there was more to it than that. Over many years his hatred of our kind grew much like a tumor. One day Notch offered a chance to Baez by creating the first Nether portal. Naturally Baez eagerly accepted this opportunity to show off his creations and finally receive the kindness of Notch and Jeb’s cherished humans. However what Baez didn’t know was that Notch had planned to dispose of him from the start. The Nether was an evil place Steve, Notch sensed Baez’s disguised hatred and felt pressed to do something about it. Notch decided to imprison Baez in his own realm. When Baez learned of this- and it was not for some time mind you, he withdrew himself into the farthest corner of the Nether and worked on the creation of an army to exterminate Notch’s precious creations and to take over the overworld.
“Baez had withdrawn for ten full years as legend tells us, and his revenge was terrible. He attacked the human settlers with waves of pigmen, a cross between a zombie-fied man and a pig. Baez had created other monstrosities, enormous flying wraiths known as Ghasts who could shoot blazing fire out of their mouths. He also created Blazes, or fire wraiths that were similar in nature to Ghasts and strange cub-like creatures nearly twenty feet high that spewed lava everywhere they went. As legend tells us Steve, thousands of people died and the world was scorched with red flame. However Baez had a problem, many of his creations depended on the environment of the Nether- where they had been created for life. Many of his monstrosities died soon after entering the over world and this made him furious. Baez then extended his influence into the over world, creating monstrosities there like giant man eating spiders, skeletons and creepers- things that could survive for long periods in the over world. Many of the humans he killed were turned into zombies, and could turn anyone into a zombie by a single bite. It is also said…” Horace continued in a darker tone “That Baez created deep within his fortress another thing, monster or man it is not known but the thing was known once as ‘White Eyes’. White Eyes was the crown of his many dark creations; it was powerful, fast, and very deadly. As legend tells us Baez did not hesitate to use his useful new puppet to capture Jeb. Baez then held Jeb in the Nether, and took his revenge by doing unspeakable things to him.
“When Notch learned of his he was furious but could not kill Baez without risking harm to Jeb- a thing he desperately wanted to avoid. As a result Notch did what he set out to do- he sealed Baez in the Nether but was also forced to seal Jeb in with him. Notch wept for a time over the loss of Jeb but then proceeded to exterminate Baez’s creations on the surface. For a long time it was assumed that they had been destroyed, and humanity rebuilt and created the great cities and nations that exist today.” Horace sighed and slumped on the boulder. “But it appears that it was not the case…”
“The zombie- why did it catch fire like that?” Steve asked, feeling entirely unsatisfied by this mythological explanation.
“The curse of Notch upon the creatures of Baez. The sunlight is purifying.” He said gesturing to the blazing sun with his palm “There is no sunlight in the Nether- or that is what the legends tell us. And naturally, that is where the most fiendish of Baez’s creations live. The light is thus a defense against the creations of Baez.”
“Hang on,” Steve paused “The zombies – they couldn’t have all been killed or there wouldn’t be any more would there? I mean, if they only reproduce by biting living people then they’ve been here all this time!” he exclaimed.
“That Steve, we do not know.”
“THERE COULD BE HUNDREDS OF THESE THINGS OUT THERE!” he yelled.
“It’s understandable for you to be angry Steve-“
“Yeah well I am okay?” Steve ran a hand through his hair “Where could it have come from? I mean I was just mining right there,” he gestured to the mined out spot near the corpse, “and I got attacked by a zombie that wants to eat me! And before that I had this weird vision about some Etihw Seye!”
“I do not know Steven. Like I said I thought these…creatures were exterminated a long time ago, thousands of years ago.”
“Well that’s very helpful.” Steve said sarcastically. Horace sighed and tugged at his beard. “So we’re not in any danger because they’ll just burn up in the sunlight like that zombie did.”
“Precisely…as far as I know that is the case.” Horace said affirmatively. His grandfather was sitting in what seemed to be deep thought. He was staring at the corpse of the zombie. The smell of burned flesh rose from the thing’s remains. “Although we must always be vigilant from now on…”
“Grandfather? Shouldn’t we tell someone about the zombie?” Steve asked. His grandfather did not respond for several seconds.
“Yes, not that it would do any good boy…” Horace growled “no one would believe me or you for that matter. Imagine if I had seen a horde of these foul creatures as opposed to just one, and told everyone about it. People would think I’d have lost my mind! I’d be sent to a nut farm before they’d believe a word that came out of my mouth. Think about it Steven. Everyone including me thought these fiends were destroyed thousands of years ago and now we’ve just seen one. No one would look at me with a straight face if I told them about our encounter with the zombie.”
Steve sighed in anguish “You have a point but – it’s real! There must be someone who can believe you. Or who can see it for themselves!”
“There is no one Steve. You must understand this. Perhaps we could bring people out here but it would make no difference. There may have only been one zombie – the one you witnessed- but not any others and then we’ll both end up looking like fools.” Horace sighed deeply and pulled out another loaf of bread, tore it in half and handed one to Steve. Steve took the half-loaf, gave thanks and ate it.
“So what do we do?” he asked with irritation “Do nothing? Say nothing about a man-eating zombie that tried to bludgeon me with a shovel? People should know!”
“I’m not saying we should say nothing Steven. There is a great distinction between saying that a warning would be useless and not actually warning anyone. Of course we will warn them. It would be a travesty not to if in fact, the villagers of the town are in mortal danger. We will talk to Nate about it, and the mayor.” Horace explained, taking a bite out of his bread. “The mayor should at least be warned. In fact telling Madame Isae about it might not be a bad idea either…”
“Maybe we could go looking for others?”
“Steven, you really ought to understand by now that you cannot find something when you do not know where to look for it. I’ve told you this before and you would do well to remember it.”
“Yes grandfather.” Steve grumbled. Horace was right, and it was sickening to him. He really didn’t have any idea where they could be coming from, or even if it was more than one zombie. Steve felt even more sickened by the fact that it was almost futile to warn the mayor. The mayor was elected by a council of six many of who were old and very opinionated and had strong control of everything the mayor did. And none of the oldsters on the council would be likely to take any action, as even if the mayor believed them the council certainly wouldn’t.
Steve looked warily across the strip mine, unable to shake the feeling that there were hundreds of zombies in there. Steve hated to see his worst fears about the mines confirmed.
“Are we still getting that pickax?” Steve asked.
“Of course.” Horace said “Although after this…we may have to put your mining on hold for a little while.”
“Yeah the ‘nothing in the mines can hurt you’ thing is a bit of a past saying isn’t it?” Steve asked sarcastically.
“I don’t know…” Horace replied “I wish I did Steve I really wish I did…now it is noon.” He said observing the sun’s position high up in the sky. “We ought to get back to town. I’ve got a grocery list longer than the dinner table and you need a pickax.”
“What about old moany?” Steve asked, gesturing to the pile of ashes that used to be the zombie.
“As we have discussed the mayor, Muriel and Nate will be told.” Horace said in such a way that indicated that the discussion was at an end.
With that Steve and his grandfather made their way out of the strip mine. Horace led the way along a gravel trail not far from where Steve had fallen, that led to a pleasant grassy field. The field bristled with dewdrops from last-night’s rainfall. It was a deceptively calm scene. Steve was still much shaken from his encounter with the zombie. Steve had only heard of the creatures a few times but he had in no way, been prepared for that up close and personal experience with it.
The whole experience unnerved Steve even more because he did not know how to fight. He knew how to punch; he had once punched a bully so hard he knocked him out for several minutes. But he had never used a sword, and that was what worried him the most. What if there were more zombies? How could he fight them off? And most importantly of all where had the thing come from? Who was the poor soul that had been bitten and transformed into such a horrid creature? And where had the zombie that had bit that person came from? Horace had explained that the monsters were creations of an ancient demon- Baez’aamon but had left to question why they had come back after thousands of years.
Steve balled his fists in anger at all of these unknowns. What was worse was that Horace was right; no one was likely to believe their encounter with the zombie. Steve didn’t think that he would believe it either if he was a villager and monsters had been a thing of myth for thousands of years.
They didn’t talk for the entirety of their journey back to the village. Steve thought for a moment on everything that had happened that morning, he had seen a vision of something called Etihw Seye, fainted, and nearly got killed by a zombie. Did that all mean something? Horace had mentioned something about a creature called ‘White Eyes’ what did that mean? Steve had seen hundreds of pairs of white eyes staring at him in his vision. And then there was that name Etihw Seye. Etihw Seye…Steve repeated the name again and again in his head. Was there a connection? He thought to himself. And then it dawned on him like the sun’s rays on a snowy hillside. Etihw Seye was ‘White Eyes’ spelled backwards.
“Etihw Seye…White Eyes…” Steve said softly. It all added up, the pairs of glowing white eyes in his vision, the voices chanting Etihw Seye, and the ‘White Eyes’ Horace had told him about. Besides it would explain why Nate’s face had darkened when he mentioned Etihw Seye. But then there was another question, why was it even spelt backwards in the first place? Was there something to that? Steve sighed, he felt like he had been played for a fool.
“Steve?” his grandfather’s grumpy voice called. Steve shook his head and looked up at his grandfather and shot him a quizzical look. “You stopped moving. Is something the matter?” Horace asked.
“Yeah- I just realized something really important. Grandfather I just figured something out- it’s really important.” Steve said excitedly.
“You did? Then get a move on and we’ll talk about it.” Horace replied. Steve hurried forwards and launched into his discovery.
“Grandfather, you remember a few minutes ago how you were talking about ‘White Eyes’ and all that mythology stuff?”
“Yes, although it is legend and assumed to be true Steven.” Horace corrected him.
“Er- right.” Steve said “I just realized – something really important,”
“Then out with it boy.” Horace said impatiently, his face turning a ruddy color “I haven’t got all day to play the ruddy pronoun game.” Steve rolled his eyes and continued,
“Etihw Seye is ‘White Eyes’ spelled backwards.” He explained “I just figured it out. It explains why the voices- in my vision- were chanting it. Grandfather it could be connected to the ‘White Eyes’ in that legend.”
Horace looked at him thoughtfully for several moments. Then a spark of amusement touched his ruddy cheeks.
“Very good Steven! Very good!” he chortled “Yes it is White Eyes spelled backwards and I figured it shortly after you told me. As for whether or not Etihw Seye is connected with White Eyes in the legends I do not know. But I must say something for your imagination boy - a hundred pairs of white eyes…burn me…”
“But it has to be! It would explain everything!” Steve exclaimed. “The zombie, the eerie chill I got when I heard the voices.” Horace sighed patiently.
“It’s all happened on the same day grandfather! It can’t just be a coincidence that this Etihw Seye or White Eyes shows up, we get attacked by an undead and then you tell me of a White Eyes in the legend! Also, why didn’t you tell me it was White Eyes spelled backwards when you figured it out earlier?” Steve demanded angrily.
“Steve I must remind you not to shout at me…”Horace said coldly “I thought you would have figured out the connection by yourself and regardless I did not deem it important to tell you. Now,” he raised a pudgy finger – signaling that he was about to go off into another long winded lecture “indeed, these events are most unusual. Do you think the sight of the zombie didn’t shock me as much as it did you? Of course it did, but there isn’t any rational explanation for it is there boy? In fact there’s no explanation for it at all. All I know about what is going on is from the legend of Baez’aamon and even that is questionable grounds to base a theory on.” Steve’s frustration only grew at his grandfather’s words.
“But…it can’t just be coincidence…it can’t!” he growled.
“Steve! Our manners!”
“I’m sorry grandfather.” Steve said bowing his head. He was frustrated but his grandfather was right, yelling was not going to help matters and aside from that he did deserve Steve’s respect.
“I do not believe these happenings are mere coincidence. I am not challenging your point there Steven. But White Eyes is a legend and the very fact that he exists is unknown and debatable.” Steve opened his mouth in protest but Horace continued “It is a great coincidence that you received a vision about ‘White Eyes’ and heard the tale of him and encountered a zombie all in one day. Regardless Steven, however great the connection, it does not necessarily prove causation.” Steve hadn’t heard that one before.
“Is that another mantra of yours?” Steve asked
“Perhaps.” Horace said brightening slightly “It has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? By the way how did you find your first foray into mining?”
Steve was almost floored by his grandfather’s brusqueness. One moment they were talking about the world being in potential peril and the next they were talking about something as trivial as his work potential.
“It was…hmm let’s see,” Steve said sarcastically, putting on his best thoughtful expression “not too good cause I almost died.”
“I do not suffer from short term memory loss Steven I am aware of what almost happened to you and I would prefer to forget it although I cannot…” Horace said raising the bloodied pickaxe. The blood had now dried on the stone leaving a horrible black and red stain on its tip. “In fact, come to think of it…it might be a better idea if this was kept under wraps for a little while, don’t want people getting the wrong ideas after all.” Horace said, stopping for a moment and pulling out a wool cloth which he tightly wrapped around the edge of the pickaxe. “I merely posed the question to see if mining suited you well or poorly regardless of our situation at the moment.”
“It-It was okay. I was getting a feel for it after a few blocks.” Steve admitted. Horace beamed, as he always did when Steve did something good, or took a fancy to one of the jobs he had cut out for him.
“Excellent, excellent. That’s good to hear Steven. Perhaps if things return to normal by tomorrow…we’ll have a chance to really get your training started!” Steve was not excited by this information but managed a dim smile in return.
Steve had been so immersed in their conversation that he hadn’t noticed the outline of farm ahead of them growing steadily larger. It was Terrance’s farm. Steve was able to tell this by the custom weathervane atop the roof of Terrance’s house, which was in the distinctive shape of a pig. The farm itself extended a kilometer or so in every direction by Steve’s reckoning and was walled off around the perimeter by sections of short wooden fencing – to keep out the vagabonds Horace had once told him.
“’Ey Horace! Good to ‘ee you again!” a friendly voice croaked. That voice belonged to Terrance himself who apparently had noticed their approach and had come out to meet them.
“And a good morning to you too Terrance!” Horace boomed. Terrance gave him a friendly wave. “And how is the farm coming?”
“Right poorly Horace, right poorly. Aye…one of my sows died last night…poor girl couldn’t do anythin’ for ‘er. Called the medicine man, ol’ Wickfield but he couldn’t do a thing.” Terrance said sadly, wiping his motley brown hair with a free hand. His expression had gone from pleased to slightly depressed in an instant. It was always hard for any farmer when their livestock died- normally it wasn’t their fault.
“I’m very sorry to hear that Terrance.” Horace said sympathetically. “We both feel for your loss. I hope it has not hurt your farm too badly?”
“No, no it hasn’t. She was an old lass, it ‘twas her time I reckon.” Terrance said. His voice was mournful. The farmer had undoubtedly felt the loss of his livestock very deeply.
“I’m sorry to hear it Terrance. How are the children keeping?” Horace asked politely.
“I’ve got them working.” Terrance said offering a toothy grin. “How about yeh Steve? Your grandfather been putting yeh to work a lot lately?”
“Uh I guess you could say that.” Steve muttered. Terrance looked at him for a moment,
“Somethin wrong? Feelin’ a bit under the weather eh?” he asked looking at Steve.
“It’s nothing…” Steve mumbled, scratching his head. His mind was still on his encounter with the zombie.
“He’s been mining. I took him out just a little earlier, over at the strip mine that way.” Horace said gesturing off into the distance.
“That so?” Terrance said with genuine interest “Good work mining. But not as good as farming!” he laughed. Steve was very inclined to agree with him on that point.
“Yes well we must be off Terrance. Things to do, to buy, you know.”
“Aye Horace. Well have a good day eh? And good luck with the mining Steve!”
“Thanks, I’ll need it!” Steve replied, forcing a smile. Terrance chuckled.
“Ah well, then I ‘ope it goes a bit better for yeh.”
“Yes well we really must be off.” Horace replied. “Good day to you Terrance!” Terrance waved a goodbye and trudged back to the farmhouse.
“You couldn’t have at least warned him?” Steve hissed once they were out of earshot.
“No. He wouldn’t believe me.” Horace said firmly “Besides, that poor man doesn’t need any more trouble on his mind than he’s already got. He says his children are fine but I know for a fact that his daughter is sick with colic.”
“Oh,” Steve said “is she okay?”
“She’s fine. You even had colic as a little kid Steven. You were a handful…” Horace murmured.
Steve smiled a little at this. He had been an active child. When he was three he farted at an almost indecent frequency and when he was seven he had a habit of jumping on the bed. Steve couldn’t focus on anything back then – one minute he would be working on one of his grandfather’s projects and the next he would be drawing unflattering portraits of Horace on the walls. Then Steve turned fourteen, the age when he was supposed to be a man and he was as immature as ever. Horace had finally managed to straighten Steve out by a rigorous regimen of work, exercise…and more work.
Several minutes later they were at the familiar doorstep of the Darton blacksmith. Bad memories resurfaced in Steve’s mind every time he looked at the place. The smithy’s shop was drab building made of dirt, mud and cobblestone. It looked very medieval and every bit as foreboding as Steve remembered it. The shop had a low hanging stone roof, exactly one window, which was so filthy it was impossible to see anything through it- and a red brick chimney.
Horace coughed and walked up to the door, rapping on it three times in quick succession. Then he stepped back and waited several moments. No one appeared at the door, there wasn’t even a sound save for the delighted squeals of several children playing down the street.
“Maybe he didn’t hear…” Horace muttered, rapping on the door even louder than before.
“Uh well if he’s not there-“ Steve started but his hopes were dashed as a muffled voice came from the smithy. Steve couldn’t hear what the voice was saying but it was definitely the blacksmith’s and it sounded very angry. Suddenly the door burst open and grizzled figure of the blacksmith appeared, a scowl on his face and several burns on his arms.
“What in the name of Notch’s shiny, bald, bloody fat head do you think- oh it’s you.” He growled, glaring at the pair. The blacksmith was a man of middling height, was muscular and evenly built with a round head. He had beady eyes and a great mane of grizzled dark brown hair which was burnt at several ends. The blacksmith was exactly as Steve remembered him except his hair was a little grayer and he looked a little meaner. Some people never changed Steve thought.
“And a good morning to you Robert.” Horace said cordially.
“It’s Bob.” The blacksmith grunted. “What do you want? I’m busy.”
“An iron pickaxe.”
“An iron pickaxe he says…” Bob grumbled “Alright, alright. Mining are we Steven?”
“Yeah.” Steve replied, a little shakily. Bob smirked.
“So that’s what you’ve got him up too this time Horace. Well, I hope he turns out to be a better miner than a blacksmith…” Steve felt the blood rush to his cheeks at this remark. He opened his mouth in retort but couldn’t articulate a response. Bob ignored Steve stepped back towards the interior of his shop “Don’t worry Horace; I’ve got a few picks in stock. I’ve run a little low on iron since the mining activity’s died down so it will cost you a bit extra…”
“That’s fine.” Horace replied as the door slammed shut and the blacksmith disappeared inside the dark of the smithy. They waited for several moments in silence before Bob reappeared, an gleaming iron pickaxe in hand.
“This what you want?” he asked gruffly. Horace peered at it for a moment,
“Yes! Yes this is perfect. How much for it Bob?” he asked enthusiastically.
“Seven gold Horace.”
“Seven gold! Bob, surely you can go a bit lower for that? Steve is only learning how to mine- maybe you have something cheaper?” Horace asked weakly. The blacksmith’s face curved into a small smile.
“Good point Horace…perhaps you’d like the cheapest pickaxe? Accidents happen after all especially in…unskilled hands.” He said, eying Steve maliciously.
“He will learn, in time.” Horace said defensively “Do you have one for perhaps four or five gold?”
“Yes.” Bob grunted as he headed back into the smithy. A minute or two later he reappeared with another iron pick. This one was not unlike the first one except it looked older and had a tarnished look about it.
“Will this do for you Horace?”
“How much for this one Bob?” Horace asked.
“This one’s five gold.” Horace sighed and laid the stone pick beside the wall and began to fish through his pockets for the required gold. After several moments of jingling and low cursing Horace removed five gleaming gold ingots and shoved them into Bob’s outstretched palm.
“There you are Bob. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you Horace.” Bob replied, handing him the pickaxe. Horace took it, and handed the other one to Steve. Steve grabbed the handle tightly while keeping one hand on the wrap, the last thing he needed was to have the blacksmith get the wrong idea.
“I hope you’re keeping a close eye on your grandson Horace.” Bob said gruffly.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Horace asked indignantly.
“Well by the look of your pickaxe it seems he’s been mishandling your tools. Burn me if I ever saw a tool more beat up than that.”
“No he has not. It has simply mined one too many blocks Bob. And I’ll thank you to remember your manners. It is a family heirloom!”
“Yes well perhaps you want me to fix it for you?” Bob offered.
“No thank you, but the offer is appreciated.”
“Will that be all then?” Bob asked, brushing off his pants “I had some important work I was getting too before I was disturbed.”
“No that will be all.” Horace said brusquely “Farewell Robert.”
The blacksmith grunted in response and looked at Steve for a moment. Steve glared back at him. Bob raised an eyebrow before turning away and disappearing back into the smithy, his immense mane of hair trailing behind hm. Every time Steve visited the smithy it was always a reminder of his failures. Bob never seemed to forget Steve’s disastrous tenure as his apprentice and always gave him little reminders about it every single time he visited the smithy. The blacksmith was a man of very limited patience and a very unpleasant personality. Steve snorted, first he got attacked by a zombie and then insulted by the blacksmith, the day was not working out in his favor one bit.
Steve followed Horace through the cobblestone streets of Darton. The children that had been playing in the streets had disappeared. The sun beamed down upon them, offering waves of warmth to combat the slightly chilly spring breeze.
“I’m proud of the way you handled yourself back there Steven. I know how you had it when you were Bob’s apprentice.” Horace said.
“Uh right.” Steve replied “Well I’ve gotten used to it by now.”
“Well I want you to remember that Steve. Never be the first to offer the low blow- even if you’re tempted.” Horace said with a small smile.
“It doesn’t bother
me a whole lot.” Steve said “That was nothing compared to getting attacked by a
zombie.” Horace froze up at this,
“Keep your voice down. Good lord boy do you want half the town to think you’re crazy?” Steve glanced around him,
“There’s no one around us, nobody heard. Don’t worry I’m pretty sane.”
“Well at least you’re seeing the humor in it…” Horace grumbled “Ah! Good afternoon Everard!”
“Hello Horace.” a tall thin man replied from a nearby building, he had been looking at them. Everard was the local tailor and he was readjusting his sign in front of his shop. Steve had gone to him many times before to have his clothes enlarged or to be fitted for new ones. Steve did not have very fond memories of the place. When he was thirteen he had a massive growth spurt where he had taken some fourteen trips to the tailor because he kept growing out of all his current clothes.
“Just don’t mention it right now.” Horace said lowly.
“Don’t mention what?” Steve asked.
“The…you know the thing.” Horace said frustratedly.
“Oh the zombie?” Steve said somewhat loudly. Horace nearly jumped at this. He paused briefly, whirling around checking to see if anyone heard before he swore and turned back to Steve.
“Yes! That! Just keep quiet about it in public!” Steve almost smiled at this. Sometimes, his grandfather’s reactions were completely priceless.
They continued down the road to a bland colored building with a thatched roof and an old wooden porch out in front of it. It was the butcher’s shop, and coincidentally also his house. As Steve approached the place the smell of raw meat became overpowering and Steve had to hold his breath for several seconds before he managed to adapt to it. In past trips he had wondered whether or not the butcher had a muted sense of smell after living next to piles of fresh and rotted meat for so long.
Horace led the way onto the porch and rapped lightly on the door. Next to the door was what appeared to be a display rack behind a case of glass. Steve could see pork chops and what appeared to be disembodied pigs feet on the polished stone surface.
“Biggins? Biggins are you in there?” Horace asked, knocking on the door with one hand and covering his nose with the other. Suddenly a large face appeared behind the glass, followed by a click and the whole panel suddenly disappeared. Steve nearly fell over as an even more powerful blast of stale meat overwhelmed his senses.
“Hello Horace! And Steve! Good to see you.” the man said with a wide smile. He was a young man with a round, bald head. He had beady eyes and was very large. The man ironically reminded him of a unusually large pig. Steve had a faint memory of him; the man was the Butcher’s assistant, Butch.
“Where’s Biggins?” Horace asked in a muffled voice. He had not taken the handkerchief from his nose.
“Out.” Butch shrugged “Said he’d be back by nightfall. Apparently he had a bit of business to attend too- something regarding a sow…”
“Is that Terrance’s?” Steve asked, remembering the old farmer and how he had told them about the death of his pig.
“As a matter of fact it would be. Yes he only about half an hour ago, ‘fraid you just missed him.” Butch explained “Do you need his help or are you buying?”
“Buying.” Horace replied. “I need two pork-chops, a bit of bacon and five ham. And – er- please wrap them very heavily if you don’t mind.”
“Right you are Horace.” Butch replied, momentarily disappearing under the counter. He seemed to not have taken notice that both Steve and Horace were holding their shirts up to their noses. Not having a sense of smell must be a pre-requisite for being a butcher Steve thought to himself.
“Alright, let’s see two pork, here’s three bacon and five ham. That’ll be one silver Horace.” Butch said cheerfully, as he quickly wrapped up the meat in some wrapping paper and set them on the counter. “By the way Horace, you got a cold or something? You’ve been holding that tissue up to your nose the whole time.”
“Oh this? Yes a bit of a cold, but it’s gotten a bit better lately.” Horace lied.
Horace bent over and scrutinized the packaged meat for a moment as if to check to see if they were heavily wrapped as requested. After a moment he gave a brief nod and handed Butch a single silver piece. With a quick motion Horace stuffed the meat into his pouch and bit Butch goodbye.
“Thanks.” Steve called offering a small wave.
“Thank you!” Butch called as he disappeared behind the glass.
Once they were a suitable distance from the shop Horace removed his handkerchief and Steve lowered the shirt from his nose. Thankful to be away from the odor of the butcher’s he gladly breathed in the fresh clean air. Horace chuckled at this,
“I really wish they’d give that place a good cleaning don’t you?”
“Definitely!” Steve said. He hadn’t been there in a while but after their visit he was really appreciating the clean air outside the place. “It must get really bad when it’s windy.” Horace smiled,
“In that case I’d hope I was downwind of it!”
“Or a few miles away.” Steve added.
“That too!” Horace
said with a laugh. “Now let’s see…what was that inn Nate said he was staying
at? The Inn of the White Dragon? No that’s not the one…”
“Lonely Dragon.” Steve interjected.
“Yes that’s the one. Thank you Steve. Right…” Horace paused checking his watch “What’s the time..” he muttered, squinting at the thing “Should be around four…”
“What?” Steve asked.
“Steve I want you to take this meat back to the house, and put it in the freezer. I have some business to attend to.”
“Oh, alright then. Do you want me to come back?”
“No, I think it’d be better not to risk it.” Horace said with a light smile “You know because of the-“
“Zombies.” Steve said flatly.
“Shh!” Horace said angrily, putting a finger up to his lips “Don’t you remember anything? Not so loudly boy for Notches sake!”
“Alright then zombies.” Steve said in a slightly lower octave. Horace glared at Steve and handed him the meat. Steve recoiled slightly from the bad smell of the raw food.
“Bring it to the house and store it otherwise it’ll go bad and I’ll have to make another trip. Don’t leave the house once you reach it. Is that understood?”
“Sure. Do you think there’s more out there though?” Steve asked largely out of his grandfather’s sudden concern.
“I doubt it Steven. In either case take care of yourself. I know you know how to do that but…just don’t be a fool.” He grumbled.
“I won’t.” Steve said, with a weak smile as he held the food under one arm and the pick in the other. “When are you getting back?”
“In three hours Steven or at least before nightfall.” Horace said, glancing around him warily to make sure no one could hear what he was saying. “In fact you’d better give me that pickaxe.” He said gesturing to the stone relic Steve was holding.
“Here.” Steve said, handing him the pick. He was glad to get the thing off his shoulder at least. But his happiness at this vanished once Horace handed him the iron one which Steve quickly found was every bit as heavy as the stone pick.
“I thought you said these things were lighter than stone ones!” Steve exclaimed.
“I didn’t say how much.” Horace said with a veiled smile. “Now go on, there’s some business I have to attend to.”
“Well, you stay okay too grandfather.” Steve said. Horace smiled and clapped Steve on the shoulder.
“You’d better get going boy.” He said as he turned and walked away. Steve watched his grandfather for a few minutes before he turned and walked down the cobblestone road towards his home.
For the first time since he was a little kid Steve felt afraid of some mysterious force. There was something Steve reasoned that was out there, there was a reason for that strange vision, and something must have triggered that zombie. Steve walked down the trail that led through the sparse woods towards his house. The wind blew harder and the light a little dimmer. The woods had rarely looked so intimidating to Steve.
“Nothing will happen to you…you’re fine. Just keep walking. Keep walking.” Steve repeated to himself as he gradually left the outskirts of Darton. As he entered the woods he began to hum an old tune his grandfather had taught him and began the short journey home.
Unknown to Steve, something was watching him as he entered the forest. It was a form, without shape, a thing without a face. It had lurked in the hidden places of the world for many years and now it was free. It had waited so long for this opportunity, this moment to show its power and now it was here, with this weak willed mortal. There was a low whistle, the spring breeze blew harder, and the light gradually faded from the forest. The thing could feel the human’s heartbeat increasing, his fear mounting. Yes, the being thought, now it was the time to strike.
Steve hurried along the wooded trail as fast as he could manage. He cursed the hefty pickaxe that was slowing him down and the packaged pork that was making him nauseous. The wind rushed through his hair and plastered his shirt against his skin. He was having trouble moving his legs against the wind. Steve desperately hoped that the wind wouldn’t knock him down as he gripped the pork a little tighter and struggled ahead.
Steve had no idea why the wind was blowing so hard, after all the air had been virtually still just a few moments earlier. Steve glanced around him, at least on the plus side it wasn’t getting any darker.
“Well at least I’m not having another vision.” He said. There was no sign of the ‘white eyes’ that had so frightened him back in the cart. But what was it then? Why was the wind blowing so hard? Steve was tempted to just go to the rational explanation that the weather was changing and that a storm front was probably approaching. However the day’s events had made him more superstitious. Not to mention the fact that Steve’s nerves were still shattered by his encounter with the undead back at the strip mine.
Steve struggled ahead along the dirt path. Suddenly a cloud of dust blew up and into his face obscuring his vision. Steve coughed and nearly dropped his items to rub his eyes. Steve grumbled for a moment and stopped, set the pick and the food down and wiped the dust out of his eyes. However, there was a sudden gust of wind and Steve felt a package dully bounce against his leg and crash off into the distance. Steve whirled around just in time to notice that a package of the pork had been blown away into the woods and some of the other packaged meat threatened to do the same. Steve groaned and picked up the meat he had left, he couldn’t go get the runaway pork without risking the loss of the rest.
Steve glanced behind him for a moment. There was a strange white light following him. Steve stared at it for a moment before taking a step back. The thing seemed to get closer, it was following him, heedless to the power of the wind that would have blown it back had it been a solid. The thing unnerved Steve, finally losing his nerve he broke and ran – whatever the thing was he wanted no part of it. But his reaction wasn’t fast enough.
Suddenly Steve felt a low wind rush through him. He gasped and doubled over as it passed. He felt like he had been touched by something exceedingly cold. It seemed to suck the life out of him. Then he watched with a mixture of awe and fear as the shining white orb appeared from inside his chest cavity. Steve cried out in pain as the thing exited his body. He felt like he was being torn apart from the inside. It was a sensation that he had never before experienced. Steve’s insides were on fire, his limbs had been rendered useless and his mind was like jelly- he had never felt so helpless or in so much pain. But like that, it was over, the orb had finally made its exit and slowly floated away from him.
“Aaaah!” he cried, clutching at his chest. He felt smaller somehow. What he had just experienced was like nothing Steve had experienced before. He felt like a hand had reached into his chest and pulled something out of it- something of great value.
Steve felt exceedingly tired, as if he had done a full day’s work in the garden or the like. He couldn’t imagine why but he felt slower somehow after that last blast of wind. Steve slowly looked up; everything had gone quiet. Steve didn’t even feel the wind blowing against his body anymore.
Steve lay on the ground for a full minute, his chest heaving. His heart was pounding against his chest. His heart was beating so loudly that Steve could hear every beat. Sweat dripped from his forehead, it was as if Steve had just run a ten kilometer race. Steve slowly looked around the woodlands, fully expecting a zombie or some other horrible creature to come out and finish him off. He watched and waited, nothing was forthcoming.
Steve slowly sat up. His nerves were shot. His chest hurt. His arms hurt. His head hurt. His mind was fuzzy. Fear consumed him. Steve looked at his hands; they were shaking even though he wasn’t moving them. What was going on? Steve thought fearfully. What was that white light? Why had he felt so much pain? The endless questions rebounded over and over in his mind. It was all a mess. Yesterday life was normal, and today he had almost been killed twice once by an undead and now by some ball of white light.
Steve was afraid to move, he felt like something was watching him in the woods. Slowly Steve stood up and grabbed the iron pick his grandfather had bought for him. If anything was going to attack him, he would fight it just as his grandfather had fought the zombie.
“A-a-anyone there?” he asked nervously, glancing around at the surrounding woodlands. There was no response. There wasn’t a breeze or any hint of anything malicious. This soothed Steve’s nerves slightly. Steve took a deep breath and slowly began to collect himself.
Suddenly a wave of nausea overcame him. Steve felt sick to his stomach. His nerves were tingling and his stomach was churning. Steve abruptly dropped the pickaxe and put a hand to his mouth. He was going to be sick. Steve stumbled over towards a nearby bush and heaved three times. He stopped and panted for several moments before throwing a stray branch over the disgusting spectacle and trekked back and picked up his items.
But as he walked back to his spot he heard a loud crackling sound in the woods ahead of him. Steve nearly jumped out of his shoes at this and ran for his pickaxe. Was it another zombie? Right as Steve put his fingers around the handle a familiar face appeared nearby with a wide smile on his face.
“Hey.” The man said. He was walking towards him now. “You okay?” he asked, cocking his head at Steve. Steve stared at him for a moment. The man was wearing thoroughly beat up clothes of brown and blue, a hat of messy black hair obscured part of his face and he had an iron axe strapped to his back. It was his old friend, Nick. The sight of his friend recalled something that Horace had told Steve earlier- that any zombie would burn to death in the daytime.
“I- what do you want?” Steve demanded, holding the pickaxe in a defensive posture. Nick rolled his eyes at this.
“What do you think I’m doing here smart one? I just got back from cutting wood in that forest. Today I get half the day off- boss was in an extra good mood apparently. Really, what are you doing here? Did you go into town or something?”
Steve stared at him for a full minute, holding the pick at Nick’s chest. It took several moments for him to calm down and lower the pickaxe.
“Uh – yeah me and grandfather, we um- yeah we did some mining near Darton. He sent me back here to store some stuff we bought.”
“Oh you mean this?” Nick asked, bending over and picking one of the wrapped parcels of pork. “You should take better care of this. Smells fresh.”
“I-I was.” Steve replied.
“Well duh.” Nick replied “Alright then, what’s the problem? Obviously something’s bothering you. You look pale as ashes, you’ve got sick on your chin, not to mention the fact that you’re stuttering like a two year old.”
“R-really?” Steve asked, picking up a meat parcel before Nick stopped him.
“Yeah you do. What’s wrong?”
“I- it’s hard to explain…” Steve admitted.
“You’re going home right?”
“I’m coming with
you.” Nick replied.
“Thanks.” Steve said gratefully.
“Not at all, you look like you’re scared out of your mind. Whatever it was it must’ve been pretty spooky.”
“Y-you could say that again.” Steve replied as Nick took the rest of the meat, put some of it in his pack and carried the rest of it in his arms. Steve shouldered the pickaxe.
“Alright, what happened to you?” Nick asked.
“I…” Steve paused. This was going to be hard to explain, even to Nick. As Horace had said, he had a feeling that Nick wasn’t going to believe him. “I got attacked.”
“By what? Not one of Ms. Dooms-Patterson’s wolves again? She says she has those things trained but I swear they’re vicious…” Nick smiled briefly, but gave up the act when met with Steve’s flat gaze. “Sorry, just trying to lighten the tension a little…”
“You want to know what happened or not? In fact, you want to really know something? I almost died!”
“What!” Nick exclaimed. “Steve, mate…”
“Yes I did. I got some creepy vision of white eyes, got attacked by a zombie, and oh yeah I almost got killed by some white orb! That’s what happened to me.” Nick stared at him for a few moments. There was no doubting the seriousness in Steve’s voice, or the fear in his voice.
“A zombat? What?”
“Zombie.” Steve corrected him. As he said it Steve imagined his grandfather groaning at his recklessness. “Yeah, me and my grandfather went out to a mine this morning. He’s teaching me…” Steve explained, hoisting the pickaxe “and after mining a few blocks I got attacked by a zombie! It was horrible. It was a man, but dead and full of holes and blood everywhere.” Steve fell silent for a moment “It almost killed me but my grandfather stopped it and the thing died after exploding into flames.” Nick was silent. Steve went on with his story “Before that I had a vision in Nate’s wagon. I saw a hundred pairs of white eyes staring at me – it was freaky…they kept chanting Etihw Seye or White Eyes over and over again. Then I fainted, and I was out for twenty minutes!”
Nick stared at him for a moment, “What happened, just now?”
Steve took a breath, not a deep one for the risk of being sick again and continued.
“I was just walking- home you know with all this stuff and I felt the wind blowing harder and harder. The forest was getting darker, like the woods – it was getting colder…and colder. Then I felt that something was off- aside from that, like something was following me. I looked back and this white orb…I can’t describe it any other way was floating at me. I tried to get away but it passed right through me.” Steve paused “It felt like something was sucked out of my chest. I- it hurt badly…I couldn’t move. I was terrified, like the way you found me. And then you were there- I thought you were a zombie at first…” Steve trailed off and fell silent. There was a quiet pause for several seconds.
“I- I don’t know mate…” Nick said “This all happened today?”
“And I thought I had a bad day…” Nick murmured “You mentioned that you saw white eyes. My older brothers used to tell me the story about White Eyes when I misbehaved. If you don’t behave old White Eyes is going come get you while you’re asleep! One night I swore I saw a pair of white eyes looking at me from the window- it scared the Nether out of me. Mum came and found my brothers flashing round shaped iron ingots through the window. Haven’t trusted them ever since.”
“Yeah right- well I actually saw it. I swear. I was riding in Nate’s cart- he’s back from Auckland or somewhere apparently,” Nick whistled at this, “and then I went into this trance. My ears were ringing and there were hundreds of pairs of white eyes- well you know the rest of it…”
“Sounds like you were seeing things.” Nick observed.
“Really?” Steve said with heavy sarcasm.
“Alright, yeah I know. Okay I believe you Steve.” He said putting an arm around him.
“No you don’t.” Steve mumbled.
“Yeah well I’m trying too.” Nick replied “You looked scared out of your mind and from what I remember you were never a very good actor so something bad must have happened. Like that- uh- the zombie?”
“You can say that again.” Steve replied “My grandfather told me not to tell anyone about it. But its real I swear. In fact, I should show you the place where it came from.”
“No way!” Nick exclaimed, “I’ll take your word for it.”
“You should see it.” Steve replied. He felt his frustration rising, would no one ever believe him? Couldn’t his friend at least take him seriously?
“What? The zombat’s-“
“The zombie’s…that’s still there?” Nick asked. “I thought you said it burned up.”
“Parts of it did.” Steve said cryptically. “We can drop the stuff off here.” He said with a repulsed face from the smell of the meat “And I can show you the site where it happened.”
“Alright. Sure.” Nick replied “Why not? I need a little adventure in my life anyway.”
“Too much of this adventure could kill you.” Steve said warningly. Nick chuckled, and finally the dark mood upon the conversation finally began to lift.
“You said you nearly died back there. Are you sure you’re not hurt or anything? Not turning into a zombie or something?” Nick asked as the pair reached the gate of Horace’s house.
“How would you feel after nearly dying?” Steve said flatly. Nick gave a weak laugh,
“Not too good I guess. I haven’t had many of those experiences so you’re the expert there.” He said, following behind Steve who had opened the gate for him.
“Don’t remind me.” Steve said darkly.
Quickly the two bounded up to the porch and entered the house.
“Where’s the icebox?” Nick asked looking around the incredibly cluttered kitchen.
Horace was not known for his organizational skills and neither was Steve. This fact was made very apparent by the fact that towels were littered around the kitchen and various cooking ingredients were stored anywhere they would fit. Even so, Steve had mastered his way around the kitchen, and thankfully large things like the icebox almost never moved mainly because it took a lot of effort to put them somewhere else.
“Let’s see…this way.” Steve said, navigating through the tangled kitchen to landing, which led to the basement. “It’s down there,” Steve said, pausing to light a torch “small gray box, really cold. Can’t miss it.”
“Not with that description.” Nick said as he descended the short landing and returned a moment later having deposited all the meat packages in the right place. “Give me a moment, got to wash the smell out.” He said, hurrying upstairs where the loo was. Steve paused and sniffed his own clothes, as far as he could tell the smell hadn’t rubbed off on him.
Steve glanced around the house for a moment. He had the strong temptation just to stay inside it for a few months; after all he was safe inside. But after what had just happened in the woods Steve had a feeling that there was more to the story, just as he did after the encounter with the zombie.
He felt his chest in the spot where the orb had run him through. Everything was normal, his heart was beating, maybe a little too quickly but there wasn’t anything missing. He didn’t feel any pain. Steve sighed and leaned against the wall. What would Horace say when he told him about the latest events? He would obviously be concerned, but what else? Would they have to move? Or would things return to normal as they had been for eighteen years?
Suddenly Steve heard Nick bounding down the staircase.
“Ready to go?” Steve asked once Nick had reappeared.
“Whenever you are.” Nick replied.
“Let’s go.” Steve said, determination entering his voice. Not only did Steve want to see the site to show Nick what had happened but also to find out for himself if there were any more of the zombies lurking around. “How good are you with that axe?” he asked.
“Steve, mate I’m a lumberjack. I’m the best there is! By the way are you going to leave that pickaxe here?”
“No it might come in handy. Besides grandfather wanted me to practice some more…” Steve trailed off.
With that the two companions went back the way they came. Steve went the same way Horace had earlier that day towards the strip mine. But this time, Steve was careful to look out for the edge from the last time where he had made an abrupt crash landing in the mine. Steve walked around the perimeter for a moment before finding a dirt trail which led smoothly downwards into the strip mine. Nick whistled.
“I didn’t know this mine was here.” He said with a laugh “And this close by! Alright- so where’s the rest of this zombie you were talking about?”
“It’s not here…” Steve muttered. The pile of ashes that marked the remains from the zombie had disappeared, the odor of burned flesh was long gone, and even the streak of blood that had marked the stone had disappeared. It made sense that the smell had faded away but the blood, and the ashes that couldn’t have disappeared by itself. Besides, it hadn’t rained since the previous night. Had the site been tampered with?
“It was right here.” Steve said gesturing to the ground “I swear, there was a streak of blood and everything!”
“Maybe the ashes got blown away or something.” Nate suggested.
“Blood doesn’t blow away.” Steve said darkly. Nate just looked at him helplessly.
“I don’t know Steve. What do you want me to do?”
“We have to mine it. There’s got to be more of them somewhere.” Steve said.
“Mine it? Wait hang on, are you saying that we have to look around to find more zombies?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s exactly what I’m saying.” Steve said, looking Nick right in the eye.
“I’ve received better offers…” Nick grumbled “Alright what do you want me to do then?”
“Guard. You’ve got the axe and like you said you know how to use it.” Steve replied.
“So let me get this straight, we’re looking for man eating zombies that existed thousands of years ago because you encountered one today.” Nick said.
“Yeah, and if you don’t believe me then you can leave.” Steve said heatedly. Nick sighed,
“Alright I’ll stand guard.” He said pulling out his axe and holding it in one hand. “Where were you going to look though?”
“Around.” Steve replied, taking off for the darkest end of the strip mine with Nick behind him.
Steve searched everywhere that he could think of. He looked in the nearby fields, in the darkest places of the strip mine and even a little in the nearby woodlands. He had been looking for two full hours and had yet to find a single zombie or anything else unusual save for a musty pink hat which they speedily disposed of. The sun was beginning to sink into the hillside as Steve dropped his pick and panted after finishing off the stone block he was mining. Steve had mined out blocks all over the strip mine in search of some dark cave or something where the horrible things might have come from but to no avail.
“Didn’t find anything?” Nick asked, stepping next to Steve.
“Nothing.” Steve said. “I don’t know where it came from.”
“That’s alright with me.” Nick said. This made Steve laugh a little. He was a little glad he didn’t find anything too.
“Grandfather said they didn’t like the light…”
“What?” Nick asked. “Look Steve, it’s late, it’ll be night in a little bit.” He said gesturing to the sky which had turned a dull pink.
“Oh yeah- right.” Steve said, grabbing his pick and trudging through the dirt path and out of the mine. They don’t like the light huh… He cursed softly. It was around eight thirty by his reckoning and far too late to go back into the woods. Steve wished he hadn’t disobeyed his grandfather’s instructions- if he had just stayed inside the house like a good boy then he wouldn’t have the problem of going through the woods at night. Strange things had always happened in the woodlands near their house but Steve never thought he would almost die there in daytime! It made him even more frightened of what could happen to him at night.
Steve glanced towards the woods. The trees swayed in the wind, and beckoned with sinister shapes from the lack of lighting. Steve shuddered and decided to see if his grandfather was still in town. At least there was decent lighting there, not to mention other people.
“Where are you going?” Nick asked.
“Town.” Steve replied.
“Don’t want to go through the woods again huh? I don’t blame you.” Nick replied “Creepy place. But if it wasn’t there I’d be out of a job.”
This statement piqued Steve’s interest.
“Did you ever see anything strange in the woods before?” he asked.
“You mean did I ever see a bunch of floating balls of white light coming to kill me? Or a hundred pairs of white eyes? No I haven’t.” Nick replied. They were getting closer to the town now. Steve could see hundreds of torches flaring up as the townspeople prepared for the night. “Speaking of which, where are you going?”
“The Inn of the Lonely Dragon.” Steve replied. “My grandfather- he said he’s visiting a friend there, it’s about the zombie thing.”
“Ohh…” Nick said “Well stay safe okay? I’ve got get home…they’re probably all wondering where in the name of Notch I am anyway.”
“I’ll try to.” Steve said with a weak smile.
“Listen, Steve.” Nick said. They were almost in the town limits now. A stray torch lit the ground near them giving Nick’s face an orange glow. “I believe you, I do. As hard as it is to believe what you told me I don’t think you’re lying.”
“You don’t huh?” Steve asked, not entirely convinced. “You don’t think I’m crazy?”
“Nah.” Nick smiled “Listen, I’ve never seen anyone as scared as you were just then in the forest. My brothers haven’t scared me that bad- and they’ve played some nasty pranks before… But yeah, let’s just say I’ll be on the lookout tonight.”
“Thanks.” Steve replied. “I just don’t know what’s going on…”
“Believe me mate, neither do I.” Nick said. “Take care of yourself Steve.” Steve gave him a small wave as they parted ways, Nick heading over to his small residence on the outskirts of town and Steve to the tall dark building of the Lonely Dragon Inn.
Horace had said that he would be in town quite late to talk to Nate and the mayor about the incident at the cave. Perhaps his grandfather was still around. Steve hoped so; otherwise he’d be spending the night at Nick’s rather than chance another trip into the woods. However, sleeping on the hard floor or on a bale of hay at Nick’s place was one of the last thing’s Steve wanted to do especially when his home was crowded enough with seven family members.
Steve walked onto the main road in Darton. The sun had finally sunk beneath the sky. It was nine o’clock and the torches all around the town had been lit. There was hardly a sound save for the occasional crackling of a torch or the howl of a wolf.
Steve scanned the buildings for a moment. There it was, the Lonely Dragon Inn, painted in white letters on a board that swung lightly in the wind. Suddenly there was a low boom, followed by a distant rumble of thunder. Steve looked up and felt something wet splat against his nose. This was promptly followed by several more and multiple dark spots appearing on his teal blue shirt. It took him several moments to realize it was raining.
He cursed and hurried over to the patio of the inn where he paused, caught his breath and stepped inside. At first the warm atmosphere, the murky air, and the strong smell of ale nearly overwhelmed Steve as he walked inside. Steve paused for a moment, blinked and glanced around the inn. There were several people sitting at one table, playing dice, and another two in the corner drinking quietly. Steve didn’t recognize any of these faces but he didn’t have to look much farther to see one he did, that of the innkeeper Enoch. Enoch was drying several glasses before he looked up to see Steve at the entrance, and his face broke out into a wide smile.
“Steve!” Enoch boomed. Several people at the table glanced at him for a moment before turning away and returning to their business. Steve glanced at the floor for a moment before looking back at the innkeeper.
“It’s good to see you Enoch.” Steve said. The innkeeper was a hefty, muscular man who also happened to be Horace’s cousin. He was the kind of man who held two personalities, one extremely bouncy and kind and the other grumpy and short tempered. Steve was fortunate to be on his good side, and he took measures to stay there as he did enjoy Enoch’s company.
“Well Steve what’ll it be?” Enoch asked as Steve came up to the counter.
“To drink my dear boy!”
“Oh –er I’m here for a different reason actually.” Steve explained.
“Ah, you wouldn’t be looking for my cousin now would you?”
“Yeah I’m looking for him. Is he here? He said he was visiting a friend…”
“He’s here, in the eleventh room with that traveler. Queer folk; don’t trust them as far as you could throw a boulder. They’re full of ideas; cause nothing but trouble in my opinion.”
“Yeah… he just got back from Auckland apparently.” Steve paused.
“Interesting. Mining are we?” Enoch asked, glancing at the pickax Steve was holding in his right hand.
“Oh yeah, uh it’s a bit heavy. Do you mind if I leave it here?” Steve asked, hoisting up the pick and setting it down as gently as possible on the bar’s surface.
“Better than that, I’ll safeguard it for you.” Enoch said, grabbing the handle of the pick and taking it over to a nearby chest and placing it there. “Your grandfather told me you were doing mining. Good work mining; it’ll make you really appreciate raw, hard work.”
definitely done that.” Steve said, rubbing his arm, Enoch chuckled at this.
Steve hadn’t been paying attention to it but the weight of the pick had greatly
strained his arm. Steve made a mental note to not carry the thing in one hand
for too long. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure Steve, my pleasure.” Enoch said, returning to his tasks. As Steve headed upstairs he could have sworn he heard him mutter “Auckland…burn me, the ideas those people get in their heads…”
There were four levels in the Lonely Dragon. One was where the bar, the tables and the dining area were- Steve had just left that part. The second and third levels were the rooms, with ten rooms on each level. And the fourth level was the balcony, which also served as room for extra tables when the barroom was full. Therefore, by Steve’s reckoning the eleventh room was the first one on the third floor.
Steve bounded up the winding staircase, past the second level and shortly reached the third level. Steve could hear muffled fragments of conversation coming from inside.
“I told you what I saw Nate-“
“Do you think- wise to tell him-“
“Of course it – is!”
Were they talking about the zombie? Steve wondered. It was what Horace said he had planned to talk with him about. Do you think – wise to tell him… Steve repeated the words in his mind. Did they discover something important about what was going on and didn’t plan to tell him about it? There was only one way to find out.
“That’s impossible Nate!” Horace exclaimed. But before Nate could respond the door flew open and Steve walked into the room. “Steve! What in the name of – what the devil are you doing here boy?! I told you to stay at home!” Horace hissed. Steve just looked at him nonchalantly.
“If you’re talking about the zombie that’s every bit as much my business as it is yours.” Horace glared at him, infuriated. His cheeks had turned a violet color and his eyes had a dangerous twinkle in them.
“Horace- Steve, I…” Nate started. The old man appeared equally startled by Steve’s sudden appearance but unlike Horace he was not angry.
“Nate- leave it please!” Horace closed his eyes and mopped his hair with his hand for a moment before turning back to Steve. “You’re absolutely right Steven. However I must admit I am shocked that you disobeyed my specific instructions!” Steve ignored him.
“I almost died.” He said.
“Steven I am perfectly aware that you almost died. First you see a vision, and then a zombie attacks you out of nowhere. And then you talk back to me- your grandfather, who raised you to be kind, responsible, and obedient. Did none of those lessons get through that head of yours? Good heavens boy I must say something for your attitude. If anyone ought to know that you almost died it would be me wouldn’t it? And then I tell you to go straight home, simply out of concern for your safety and then you come all the way back here, at nine twenty at night acting like an entitled teenager! And,” Horace said raising a pudgy finger. His cheeks were completely purple and even his nose had turned a deep red.
“And to add to that,”
“Nate, I must ask you to please not interrupt me while I am talking to Steve. He is my grandson and,”
“Horace! I don’t think Steve means what you think!” Nate exclaimed.
“Oh does he now? All right then, out with it boy. Why are you here?” Horace asked. Steve sighed for a moment. He completely understood his grandfather’s frustration, especially after what had just happened.
“I’m sorry grandfather, I know I shouldn’t have left.” He started, “But I had to come back.” His grandfather arched an eyebrow at this “I guess I should start from when I left. I was walking down the road when I saw this strange orb of white light coming towards me. I didn’t know what it was but I was afraid. It was eerie. I tried to run away but it followed me- and ran through my body.” Steve explained “It hurt really badly. I felt like something was being sucked out of my chest, although…I don’t know what it was. I felt a scorching pain everywhere. I couldn’t move, talk or even think. But just like that, it was over and I was okay- after being a little sick. Then Nick found me by chance and I told him about what happened on the way back, where we put the meat in the icebox. After that we went to the strip mine again and I showed him where you fought the zombie grandfather, but nothing was left, not even a trace. I thought it was strange, you know because the zombie’s blood had disappeared, although it would have taken a strong rain to wash it away. So, Nick and I searched the surrounding area but we didn’t find anything. By that time it was dusk and I had two choices, to head back through the forest or to come here, and that’s what happened.” Steve finished.
Horace stared at him for a moment. After a few minutes his nose began to deflate, and his cheeks regained their normal reddish hue. Nate cocked his head at Steve, a concerned look on his face.
“Steve I- I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have sent you out there like that…I didn’t know,” Horace said before breaking into a short fit of coughing.
“You said you saw a ball of white light Steve?” Nate asked his voice grave.
“Yeah I did.” Steve replied.
“Clearly a hallucination!” Horace snorted.
“It was real!”
“Real? It’s a ball
of light Steven!”
“Horace please…” Nat pleaded, “The situation is worse than I thought…” he murmured, putting a finger to his lips. The sound of laughter echoed from the ground floor, clearly someone down there was having a good time.
“What? The situation is worse? Nate?” Horace asked. “There’s undead roaming about, for the first time in thousands of years and you mean to say that the situation is worse than that?!”
“Yes Horace I do. One time during my travels I encountered a destitute family. They were of course one of many in the world. That fact about them did not interest me.” Nate said, as he began pacing around the room. He walked over to the window and looked out onto the road below. “They were once a rich family, very powerful and very wealthy people. But they came under a curse, as they had told me. One day the father- he was absent when I talked to them but he was riding through a lonely road near the town. As he was riding he had a feeling someone was following him. It was, like Steve described a strange white orb that no matter how hard he urged his horse to go he could not get away from. Hallucination or not, as the family told me he experienced very similar pain to what Steve went through.”
“But what does that mean?” Steve found himself ask.
“It means you are in danger Steve.” Nate said darkly “I do not doubt that you already have an idea of this from your encounter with the zombie…” he tapped the handle of the bloodstained pickax “but you must understand that this is much worse.”
“I did some research about the white orb the unfortunate family I encountered. It took me many years of travel but I eventually uncovered what I believe to be the truth. When you originally told me of your strange vision of Etihw Seye I was confused as you likely deduced.”
Steve nodded remembering Nate’s bemused expression when he had originally told him about the vision in the cart.
“Yes Steve when you asked me about it I thought it unwise to trouble you with such things as I thought the vision was most likely a trick of the light or something of the like. I was a fool Steve, Horace. I must apologize to both of you before I tell you everything that I know.”
“It’s okay.” Steve said.
“Hmph. I’d like to know more about this legend.” Horace added. Nate smiled grimly.
“As you have already figured out Etihw Seye is White Eyes. And as you already know Steve, White Eyes was a demon, created by Baezaamon to plague humanity as long as it existed.”
“But that was a legend.” Steve interjected.
“Indeed Steve. Yes, Horace told you all about it just earlier today. I can imagine that you were not satisfied by this mythological explanation. Now,” Nate continued, pacing back to the window a second time. “The truth is the legend is not true. White Eyes, the demon that you heard about in a legend and the same that is used to frighten children is real Steve, Horace. I found it hard to believe at first but the texts do not lie. You see, the white orb is the symbol of White Eyes. Whenever a target is chosen as its prey the floating white orb is the warning signal before an attack… and from my research they have only been seen every eighteen years…”
“Wait,” Horace interrupted “Are you suggesting that the town is about to be attacked?”
“Yes I am.” Nate said. “You see, just two days after that poor man had the unpleasant experience with the white orb, his house and all of his servants were killed and he was severely burned. It had happened thirteen days before I arrived.”
“You mean that we could be attacked in two days then?” Steve asked, hardly able to believe what he was hearing. Nate turned and sat down on the bed. If it was possible, the old man seemed to have aged even further.
“What do you suggest we do then?” Horace asked blithely.
“Run, of course.”
Unknown to any of the occupants a pair of white eyes was watching the inn. He had seen that pathetic mortal enter the inn in search of the fat man who was his grandfather. The white eyed creature scowled. And now there was that old meddling fool, telling Steve everything he knew, about him! They had to die, the white eyed figure decided.
Suddenly a small pillar of fire sprouted from his right hand. But just as soon as it had stared the rain put it out. The white eyed figure sneered and snapped his fingers. Abruptly the rain stopped.
“What was that?” Horace asked, cocking his ears. The pounding on the roof had ceased. It had stopped raining. Nate paused and walked over to the window. Suddenly the old man jumped back as a loud roaring sound consumed Steve’s ears and he was blown off his feet and slammed into the door. Steve barely had time to scramble to his feet before a wall of fire descended upon him.