Zombies. Flesh-eating, crazed monsters. Bloodthirsty, vicious cannibals. Your worst nightmare. Right? Well actually…no. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly want one living next door, but the truth is very different to what you probably believe.
Ok, let’s start at the beginning. I am guessing that you picked up this book because your mum and dad said you were spending too much time on your X-Box or Playstation and not enough time reading. And I’m also guessing that you’ve played a lot of Nazi Zombies. Right so far? Well, if that’s the case you should prepare to forget everything you’ve learnt about those particular zombies, and listen to a lesson that might just save your life.
So, who am I to be able to provide this lesson? I’m Zak, 12 years old, and an expert on FIFA and Minecraft. I used to be an expert on zombies, but after the last few days…I don’t think I could ever play that game again. My brother, Ollie, still plays it, but he’s a dumb kid who won’t listen. And then there’s my best friend Jimmy Gibson. Jimmy loves zombies. I mean really loves them. Zombies playing cricket, zombies playing baseball, zombies with guns, everything. And I guess that helped when we first met a genuine, real life, scary zombie.
Jimmy’s mum just loves her sayings. ‘You’ll be stuck like that if the wind changes’, ‘Better to have no shoes than to have no feet’ duh, and ‘A thousand miles from home can still be home’. I never really got that last one, until we stumbled across the crypt in the graveyard, but that is for later.
So let’s go back a few weeks. It was May, two days after Jimmy’s birthday, and we were at Jimmy’s house planning our school trip to Windy Ridge. Three days of no parents, no school, no rules, well actually there are rules, but no important ones, and no one checking if you’ve eaten your peas and carrots. Ollie went to Windy Ridge four years ago and said it was the best trip he ever went on. Now, I don’t usually listen to what my brother says, but I remembered that, and we couldn’t wait. Jimmy was writing a list of who we should allow in our room. Six to a dormitory, and if you were in a gang of six they would almost certainly put you together. Less than that, and you could end up spending three days with a cry-baby or a teacher’s pet. We had Alex, who always had loads of chocolate, Daniel and Robert, identical twins who used their appearance for lots of jokes, and Nathan, the only person I ever met who was better than me on FIFA, though I would never tell him that!
Jimmy’s mum was worried that Jimmy would get homesick. ‘A thousand miles from home can still be home,’ she said about twenty times. And Windy Ridge was about five miles away, not a thousand. Well maybe a bit more, but we could still walk there from school in less than a morning.
We’d had biscuits and crisps whilst Barcelona were playing Bayern Munich on Jimmy’s X-Box, but then Mrs. Gibson started getting heavy; talking about my mum and dad, asking how I was doing at school, and all that kind of stuff. She even made me miss a penalty. As soon as she left I suggested we went to St Michael’s graveyard, a favourite hang-out of ours.
We turned out of Beech Lane, where Jimmy lived, onto the wide St. Michael’s Avenue. It was lined with huge trees, a great place to play Hide And Seek, and at the far end it led to the ancient St. Michael’s church with its spooky graveyard. We walked in front of the old wooden church door and closed our eyes. We always did this, me on the left and Jimmy on the right, as we walked two steps at a time and shouted out the names on the graves that we passed. At first, it was just the names, but then we started to make up little stories.
I began. ‘Old Martin Sykes, murdered in his bed,’ then I stopped and it was Jimmy’s turn.
‘Sarah Jennings, drowned in her own bath.’
I took another two steps, ‘William Turner, riddled with measles.’
We continued with four graves each which took us to the place where the path split to the left and right. This is where we opened our eyes, as straight ahead was the scariest grave of them all. It was a huge angel on a plinth, with green and blue marble chippings surrounding the statue. It looked as though it used to be white, but it was now a faded grey, and the marble chippings were a vivid contrast. On still days it loomed with menace above us, and when the wind blew it seemed to call our names.
‘Zak, Zak, Zak,’ it whispered in staccato, or ‘Jimmeeee,’ as it swirled around the bushes and long grass.
The words on the plinth were memorable. ’Mary Head. 1647-1675. Brought home in 1720. Mother of Sarah, James and Peter.’
Every word held its own puzzle. Mary Head; my mum said this was an Irish name, so why was she buried here in northern England? 1647-1675; just 28 years old. Jimmy thought that she must have been murdered, I think it was probably an incurable disease. My mum said that people died a lot earlier in those days, and most diseases had no cure. Brought home in 1720; this was the biggest puzzle. Brought home from where? The thought A thousand miles from home can still be home, seemed to shout at me. And why did it take 45 years to bring her home? And who brought her home?
Jimmy suggested that she might have died on holiday abroad, until I pointed out that people didn’t go on holiday abroad in the 1600s. Mother of Sarah, James and Peter; there was no mention of a husband, as there was on most of the other women’s graves, and this one had three kids. Was she a witch? Was she ever married? And what happened to the children? There was no sign of their deaths on the grave. She was buried alone, and it looked like she remained that way in her lonely grave. So, why such a grand monument for someone of such strange circumstances? It always sent shivers down my spine, and we usually hurried by it.
We carried on past gravestones and small memorials; tiny areas that we used to think were the burial places of children and babies until we found out that they were for cremated remains. After a while we came to an old yew tree, apparently they are very popular in graveyards, and to an open space that was waiting for more deaths, and more burials. The graveyard had plenty of room, both on the surface and down below!
We sat on the wall marking the boundary of the church. Beyond were farm fields, often filled with sheep, but not today. Today they were empty. Inside the wall the strange silence of the dead was everywhere. Jimmy picked up a wide piece of grass, pinched it between his thumbs and blew into his cupped hands. Phweeee, the sound broke the stillness and we laughed. We heard footsteps, and saw a figure walking past Martin Sykes and Sarah Jennings.
It was Adrian Smith, Schmitty, as we all called him. He was a year older than us, and he was a bit of a loner. He was tall, thin and geeky, but not in an X-Box kind of way. No, Schmitty loved computers, gadgets and other electronics. Not X-Boxes and Playstations. I don’t think he’d ever played a game in his life. He walked straight past the graves and didn’t even look up at Mary Head’s angel. He continued towards us without even noticing that we were there.
‘Hey Schmitty, what’s up?’ Jimmy called out to the startled kid.
‘Hi Jimmy. Hi Zak. Just heading to town. Need a new motherboard.’
He stood with his hands in his pockets, almost frozen, waiting for us to say something else so that he could continue on his way, but then a very strange thing happened. Schmitty looked directly at us. He was about 4 or 5 metres away, close enough for us to see every movement of his face. He blinked, and then he shuddered, as if he had suddenly gone very cold. His eyes closed for a moment, and when they opened they were totally red. I don’t mean bloodshot, I mean red. He didn’t have pupils, or any other colour. It was as though his eyeballs had turned completely around, and they were red.
I looked at Jimmy, both of us open-mouthed and unable to speak. A second or two later Schmitty closed his eyes again, and this time when he opened them they were back to normal. It seemed that the shudder and the red eye trick had broken into Schmitty’s trance and he was ready to move on. He took a step towards us, and we instinctively swung our legs up onto the wall, away from him, but he changed direction.
‘See ya,’ he said, and walked on towards the far end of the graveyard, beyond which was the road into town.
The silence returned as we stared at each other, and we both jumped to the ground and started running. Past Mary Head where we took a sharp right turn. Past our friends at the entrance to the cemetery, and out onto St Michael’s Avenue. We ran together, as fast as we could, until eventually we could run no more. We stooped, hands on knees, gasping for breath, with one of the huge trees between us and St Michael’s church, ensuring that whatever was in the graveyard could no longer see us.
‘Wh..wh..what the heck was that?’ I asked an equally breathless Jimmy.
His only reply was the sound of huge gulps of air filling his lungs. He slumped down with his back to the tree and looked up at me.
‘Dunno, but I’m not going back to St. Michael’s. C’mon. Let’s go to mine.’