Written for Chuck Wendig’s Random Title challenge. The randomly-generated title of this story is, of course, “Grave Robber’s Sea”.
Warning: This story may contain disturbing imagery of death, zombies, gore, and other horrific stuff, and is not suitable for anyone. Reader discretion is advised.
Though she knew he was coming, Aimee shrieked as the serial killer burst out from behind the half-rotted pine log. A blade slashed past her face. She turned away instinctively, knowing what came next. Jack plunged the hunting knife into his victim’s abdomen.
The grip on Aimee’s wrist weakened. She fell to the muddy earth, sobbing. She turned away from Jack and his latest kill, trying to ignore the sounds and smells of blood and viscera spilling out of what had recently been a policeman, onto the swampy ground.
“This is how you do it,” said Jack. “No hesitation, no mercy. Just nature.” She heard his knife strike bone; ribs, she knew. “Aimee Dyer, are you paying attention?”
Her back still turned to Jack and the gutted policeman, Aimee closed her eyes and nodded.
“No you’re not. If you’d paid attention back at the cemetery, this cop would never have nabbed you. And I wouldn’t have had to kill him.” Jack grabbed her shoulder, and spun her around to face him. “His death is your fault, really.”
Jack thrust the knife towards Aimee, hilt first. “No,” Aimee sobbed. “Don’t make me do it.”
“You know you have to.”
Aimee knelt next to the mangled corpse. His dead eyes stared accusingly at her.
“Do it,” Jack prodded. She raised the knife.
“In nomine Patris,” Aimee said weakly, plunging the knife through the eyes of the corpse. “Et Filii,” she continued, stabbing the knife through the rib cage into the heart. “Et Spiritus Sancti.” She slashed at the body’s shoulders, severing tendons and muscle, nearly severing its arms.
“Amen,” Jack concluded.
As the two trudged through the swamp by twilight, Aimee wondered how she had become associated with a serial murderer like Jack Foley.
“You cannot hesitate,” lectured Jack. “Ever since the Apocalypse, there are only three commandments: kill, kill, kill.”
She could have quoted his speech word-for-word. “Animal? Kill. Human? Kill. Zombie? Kill.” Animals were food, humans were competition, and zombies… Aimee shuddered.
No one understood why the dead had begun to rise. These zombies were not the mindless cannibals of the movies, but were no less dangerous. All of them suffered some level of brain damage. Most were violent. Many carried disease.
“Kill. And dismember! Nothing worse than letting a dead human become a live zombie.”
Aimee bit her fingernails out of habit, not thinking about the multitude of corpses she’d handled today. Grave-robbery was dangerous, ghoulish work, but in this post-Apocalyptic world, the gold jewelry jingling in her pocket would keep her fed, sheltered, and safe for several weeks.
In an upside-down world where civilization and electricity were alien concepts, but cholera and zombie were threats as serious as a knife to the throat, Aimee was constantly horrified at what she would do to survive.
“Let’s head southeast,” Aimee suggested.
“Toward the Sea? For heaven’s sake, why?”
“I thought you liked death.” In some places, the ocean now intruded a hundred miles inland. The Atlantic beaches were gone, the cities were deserted, and ten thousand acres of farmland were soggy swampland. “I grew up around there, and we’re so close to it anyway.”
After three days of following broken road signs and dining on squirrel, Aimee and Jack reached the Sea. The waters were swallowing a small Southern town. Wood-frame houses smashed against trees. Roadways were knee-deep streams. In the distance, a downtown skyscraper tilted at a dramatic angle from the vertical.
“Romantic, isn’t it?” Jack said dryly. “Not a soul in sight… Say, what are these?” He pointed out a row of wooden crosses planted in the mud of a nearby hillside. Peeling white paint clung stubbornly to the top half of each cross, down past the arms, whereas the bottom half of each had almost rotted away.
“It looks like a mass grave,” Aimee told him. “In the panic after the Apocalypse, the authorities just piled up the bodies. Families came later to place crude memorials.”
Jack smiled. “Time to get to work.”
By mid-afternoon, he had disinterred several bodies. Aimee sat on a grassy patch at the edge of an opened grave, watching Jack claim another wedding ring.
“What’s wrong?” asked Jack. “You don’t seem very motivated today.”
Aimee shrugged. “It just feels different somehow. These people were my friends and neighbors.”
“And now they’re worm food,” Jack told her. “That’s life. Here…” he reached into his pocket and withdrew one of his finds. “I found a present for you.”
Aimee held out her hand to receive a silver locket. It was heart-shaped, plain silver, dangling from a delicate silver chain. She gasped, then ran her finger over the engraved lettering on the front. How could it be?
“Where did you find this locket?” she asked.
“Right here.” He pointed to the opening in the ground in front of Aimee. “It was empty, other than that locket.”
She looked at the decaying wooden cross above the grave and read the name. It was true.
“Some damnable zombie must have clawed out and left it behind. Nothing worse than an empty grave.”
Without hesitation, Aimee grabbed the survival knife in Jack’s belt. Slash. Jack instinctively reached for his own throat, as though to catch the gushing arterial blood with his hands. Slash. She had witnessed Jack do it a dozen times, and he had trained her well.
Mortally wounded, Jack fell into the open grave. No sound emerged from his open mouth, but his eyes looked pleadingly to Aimee, as though to ask “why?”
“If you’d paid attention to that wooden cross,” Aimee said, “you might have noticed a familiar name on it.” She hovered over him and raised the knife. “I know how you feel about zombies. It was either you or me… this is your fault, really.”
Jack raised his arms in a futile attempt to fend off the inevitable.
“In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti,” Aimee prayed over the deceased. “Amen.”