They did not come in, but seemed to sense the life’s blood pulsing in his veins, for they crowded around outside. The stench was horrendous, the sound of their wheezing, sorrow-filled sighs almost more than he could stand. Knowing these used to be people, perhaps former friends, filled him with regret. He could not, in good conscience, allow them to continue. He felt responsible, as they had come from his own beloved ship. Even had they not, he was uniquely equipped to deal with them, where mere humans could not.
Taking a deep breath, he rose and walked out the back door, coming out into the fenced yard. As if they sensed his movement, the creatures had started ambling sideways. One or two had made the corner of the building, but seemed uncertain how to proceed. There was a low wall, less than four feet tall, but it provided a boundary, of sorts. The half dozen undead crowded forward, each trying to reach him. Limp hands dangled from stiff arms, groping for him.
Uttering a prayer, Raven swung at the reaching hands, lopping them off, one by one. When separated from the body, they shriveled and lay still. The stumps of the arms hissed and smoked. The dead didn’t seem to feel it, but he could see tendrils of black snake up their arms. He took another swing, this time at necks.
One head, another, fell to the ground. The bodies dropped, trampled by the others who came forward to take their place. Dancing and whirling, Raven whittled away at the dead. There seemed to be no end to them. He lost count at a dozen. More came, the longer he worked. Drawn by his scent, the movement or the noise, he didn’t know. Tiring, even with his increased stamina, he decided retreat was advisable.
Dawn neared. He’d been fighting death for hours. Taking refuge inside the office, he barred the back door, watching out the window as the dead glanced at the sky. The first pale rays of the sun peeped over the water. Flinching from the sight, they flung up bony arms, beating their own retreat. Tempted to follow, he decided against it. He was tired. If they surrounded him in the open, he’d be done for. Instead, he washed the sweat of his activities from his body, and lay down on the cot in the back.
Some time later, he heard movement in the office. Springing up, he grabbed his daggers, dashing to the adjoining door. Uriah smiled at him.
“You look a disaster, sir. Care for that coffee?” He flashed a toothy grin.
“You spent a better night than I,” Raven said, slumping against the wall.
“Any night is better than fighting the undead. I see you made progress. There’s a heap of stinking bones and rotting flesh outside.”
“I wasn’t in the frame of mind to sweep it into the dustbin. My apologies,” Raven declared in a sarcastic tone.
Uriah chuckled. “My Lord Willoughby, I feel sure that it will be taken care of soon. Folk will see it, though likely smell it first. It will be sorted.”
“If you see them, tell them to burn it.”
“I had already thought of that. So, how many, do you think?”
“I accounted for at least twenty. I lost count. If the skulls are still in the garden, it’s a fair count.”
Uriah handed him a cup of strong coffee, thick with cream and sweet with sugar. Taking a sip, Raven sighed, closing his eyes.
“Ah, that’s good. Thank you.” He took another sip. “What’s her name?”
“The lass who’s put that disgustingly satisfied grin on your face.”
“Lilly. She’s not one of the professionals. She works in the kitchen. Though a Lilly, she’s not considered fair.” He looked at his feet. “I think she’s beautiful, but she has a strawberry mark.” He touched his right cheek. “Nearly the size of her hand. Men don’t like that.”
“More fools they.”
The men sat at a small table in the quarters, drinking coffee.
“And this is how you are able to stay there?”
“Yes. Lilly is the daughter of the proprietress, who is delighted that her daughter has a suitor. We hope to wed soon.” He paused, staring at his cup. “My wages, Mr. Willoughby, have not been paid since the head clerk left. He was afraid of the undead.”
Raven’s head popped up. “Did he leave my money?”
“I don’t know. He drew cash for wages, but I have no idea of anything else.”
“We’ll go by and see. The bastard better not have stolen from me. I’ll hunt him down, and he’ll meet as bad an end as the undead,” he snarled.
Uriah recoiled slightly. Too late, Raven realized he’d almost let his true nature show.
“How is it you were able to end them, when others couldn’t?” Uriah asked quietly.
Raven sat with his head bowed, making a decision. “I’m not quite human anymore. The ship I came over one, was in a storm. But before that, it met with disaster. An evil man was aboard, and he attacked, killing every man, woman and child on board—save for me. How I came to survive, I don’t know. Was it by chance or design?” He shrugged. “When I came back to myself, I was the only person left, with this beast. It tried to kill me, but instead, I killed it. The dead went over the side and I made my way to the coast north of here, where I healed.”
©2021 Dellani Oakes