The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 34: Blind Faith
Victor Ivanov couldn't move. Couldn't speak. Couldn't do anything but stare at the perversion of faith before him.
A zombie, nailed to a cross like the Son of God Himself, and displayed at the head of the church, an undead savior, here to listen to their prayers and spread the word of our Lord.
Just replace "listen to their prayers" with "eat their faces," and "spread the word" with "spread the plague" and you're pretty close.
His squadmates were likewise paralyzed by the sight before them. The ghoul wriggled against the spikes that held him to the cross, an old oaken one, snarling and growling at the smorgasboard before it. Victor watched as its skin split near the shoulders as the zombie twisted to get free, apparently willing to sacrifice its own limbs to satiate its hunger.
Around them, the gathered parishioners, men, women and children wearing their Sunday best, held out their hands to the undead, whispering fervent prayers. Some began to sing an old hymn about the rebirth of Christ.
A part of Victor's mind, the part not having a full-blown panic attack, wondered if the zombie was aware of how it was being worshipped, of the words coming from the people around it, how they were praising this rotting corpse as the Lord Jesus.
If it was, he hope it appreciated the irony.
"Bless you, Lord, for giving us this beautiful day, and for the crops growing in our fields," said the old minister, his voice booming across the old church. "Bless you for the food that fills our stomachs, and the faith that fills our hearts."
"Bless you," answered the parish, smiles on their faces. A few of them were even crying.
"And bless you for the gift of new friends," said the priest, waving his hands to the soldiers in the front row. "May they always know your love."
Victor finally broke out of the creature's trance to look at the other soldiers. They all wore expressions of shock and disbelief. But beneath that, there was something else. A desire to bring this sacrilege to an end. All were churchgoing men, or had been before the Great Exhumation reached their shores. Victor offered a prayer every night for those still alive, that they would outlast the dead. It wasn't much, and after what he had seen he didn't think it was a prayer that would be answered, but he figured it didn't hurt to try.
The priest raised his hands for quiet, and one by one, the people ceased their prayers and hymns and settled into the pews, the ancient wood creaking as they sat down. He looked out amongst his flock, a serene smile on his face.
"This is truly a blessed day," he said. "Oh, all days are blessed, from the dawning of the first rays of the dawn to the light of the stars, but today is special. Today, we join our Lord in the sacred communion."
He looked out to Victor and the others. "Dear friends, you are welcome to join us in this ceremony. You have undergone horrific trials, and I can see you carry heavy burdens, but you need only give yourselves to the Lord, and your shoulders will be lightened, the weight of battle lifted."
Victor rose, still speechless, but determined to say something, to learn the reason for this madness. He opened his mouth, thinking to sway the crowd with a speech of logic and reason, but all that came out was a stuttered, "You worship a zombie?"
The old priest blinked for a moment, then smiled again. "That's right my son, but listen well for the gospel as we have come to understand it," he said. "Recall when Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, his own resurrection, and his words to the people, 'He who gives unto me will not die, but will have everlasting life.' We believe that this," he said, pointing to the undead on the cross, "was what he meant, that this was his resurrection."
"You believe the Great Exhumation, all the death and suffering, are the work of God?" Victor asked, really wishing he had his gun right now.
"I know it is hard to accept. I too thought the Dark One had his victory at first," the priest said. "But then I saw the wonderful transformation that had occurred. Those blessed with the Touch of God. All their cares, worries, fears and pains, gone, replaced by a single devotion."
"To eat the living!" Victor shouted. "To kill us all!"
The priest shook his head as if the soldier were a child unable to grasp a simple lesson. "To free us, my son. Think about it-what concerns dominate us in this age? The accumulation of power, wealth and status. It's never enough, we always want more. And why? Because these things that we lust after with such passion are empty gifts that fill our bellies, but leave us with hollow souls."
Victor pointed to the creature before them. "And you think this monstrosity will save us? I lost my family to them!"
"I sympathize with your loss, but you needn't feel grief. Your loved ones have moved on to a better place, and await you. You only need the courage to join them."
Victor heard the rustling of clothing behind him, but before he could move, the parishioners were upon him, tackling him to the floor, binding his hands and feet. He screamed and cursed, but they were too many. He looked around, and saw his fellow soldiers were likewise restrained. He looked back to the priest, who stood over them, hands folder, a dark sneer across his face.
"And join them you shall," said the priest as a savage blow sent Victor to a brief but sweet oblivion.
Night had fallen by the time Victor had awoken. He and the rest of the squad were tied to chairs. The church was still full, the parish once more praying and chanting to the zombie nailed to the cross.
The old priest, a wicked-looking knife in his hand, turned to face the soldiers. "Ah, good, you've awoken. We're about begin the communion, and I wouldn't want you to miss it."
Without a word, the congregation lined up before the undead. A woman, roughly 40 years old, approached, two young children in tow. Victor was briefly reminded of his own family, now lost to the undead. The woman took out a knife, and without warning, slashed at the leg of the zombie. The ghoul took no heed of the wounds, struggling against its bonds to get at the morsels below.
Seems the parishioners had the same idea. The woman put her blade to the wound, holding it steady as the zombie's coagulated blood slowly seeped onto the knife. She held the blade aloft, before putting it in her mouth and licking off the crimson blood.
The effect was almost instantaneous. The woman fell to her knees, coughing and hacking, vomiting up the poisoned blood, along with the contents of her stomach. And an organ or two, not that she'd be needing them in a few minutes.
Two other parishioners grabbed the woman, holding her mouth shut and pinning her arms, and herded her to a pen where other infected people clawed, moaned and snarled at the humans. Guards forced the zombies back with long poles, opening the door and shutting just as quickly as the infected woman was thrown inside.
The rest of the parish watched this gruesome display with smiles and tears of joy. The old priest knelt before the woman's two children, who hadn't so much as whimpered as they watched their mother turn herself into one of the undead.
"The time has come, my lambs," he said. "Your beloved mother has joined the rest of the flock, has given herself over to our Savior. Are you ready to make the same sacrifice?"
The children, brother and sister, looked at each other, then back at the priest. "We are, Father Jacob," said the boy, taking his younger sister's hand.
"No!" screamed Victor. "They're just kids, damn it! Don't make them do this!"
The parish fell on the soldier, pinning him to the ground and gagging him. Victor continued to scream and struggle, though there was nothing he could do. He watched, helpless, as the two children were walked into the cage containing their newly-transformed mother. Parishioners held the ghoul at bay with hooked poles, keeping her from throwing herself at the cage as the doors were opened.
The two children walked in, no trace of fear on their faces as they approached the undead thing that once had been their mother. The creature snarled and growled at the youngsters, lips pulled back from her teeth, a look of crazed bloodlust in her eyes. Without warning, the men holding her let go, and in the space of a heartbeat, the infected woman had thrown herself across the distance of the cage, tearing into her children's throats like a starved dog, and in a matter of moments her beautiful children were strips of red meat.
They never made a sound.
"You see the ferocity of spirit, the single-minded devotion of the soul!" said the old priest. "Give yourselves to the Savior and be a part of a glorious new world!"
The old man motioned, and the soldiers were brought forward. The men struggled to free themselves every step of the way, but to no avail. They were placed before the crucified undead, which squired to free itself at the sight of a meal. The priest knelt before Victor and the others. "I know you think we're monsters," he said. "What you've seen, you want to stop it, to kill this creature and bring an end to the church. But I truly believe the Great Exhumation happened for a reason, to free us of our modern shackles and bring us to true and complete enlightenment."
He walked over to the corpse and drawing a knife, slashed at the creature's legs, catching the congealed blood in a small cup reserved for Communion wine. He turned back to the soldiers, a serene smile on his face as he strode toward them.
"Trust me, you'll thank me when this is all over."
The parishioners held Victor's head back and the priest slowly poured the infected blood down the soldier's throat. Victor tried to vomit it back up, but they held his mouth and nose closed, forcing him to swallow. He began to cough violently, gagging on the poisoned blood as it burned its way down his throat.
His vision began to swim, red spots dancing before his eyes. The sounds filling his ears were a piercing feedback, a high-pitched whine that threatened to split his skull. Given the situation, that may have been a mercy.
Victor turned to his troopmmates and watched as one by one, they were forced to drink the undead's blood. He looked back to the priest, who watched the horrific ordeal with a detached interest, like a scientist watching a chemical reaction. Victor felt his mind slowing down, growing more and more numb. In the corner of his consciousness, that small part that remained human, he thought how much it felt like the last time he had gotten drunk, lkaughing at how long it had been since hitting the bars had filled his nightly schedule.
The priest bent closer, whispering in Victor's ear. "Before you give yourself to the Savior, could you please tell me what the other side looks like?"
All Victor saw was red. A sea of blood. He mustered a smile as the infection claimed him, for it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.