Staying alongside the van was effortless, Hugh just kept a hand on the side view mirror and let his intent carry him along at thirty-five miles an hour while he kept a visual of the cemetery gates going in his mind. The zombie behind the wheel seemed wholly agreeable. Two bags of Double Chicken Parlays with bacon sat steaming in the console between the front seats. The passenger zombies seemed to be frozen in their seats, their eyes staring blankly down at the floor as random stomach rumbles gave away their semi-carnivorous responses. Hugh would have snorted in amusement had he been able. Death definitely had its drawbacks.
Century Cemetery began as a single spot on the driver’s horizon then panned majestically across the scene as the van closed in on the gate. Holding his position Hugh visualized passing through the gate and rolling to a stop in the crossroad near his grave marker. The driver barely slowed to make the turn. Hugh saw several of his death mates turn to look as the van sailed into the graveyard and all four tires locked up. It halted right in the center of the crossroad. Jeremiah strode calmly toward the vehicle as the driver shoved open the door. Hugh didn’t spare a glance for the big guy. Holding patiently to his mental image he lead the zombie along the path.
“This is the place,” the driver declared. “Who’s got a cellphone that takes decent pictures?” The side doors of the van opened and several zombies climbed out, patting at their pockets. Holding the sandwich bags in both hands the driver turned to face his compadres. “C’mon! Somebody’s got to have a phone?” Finally one of them shuffled forward holding an outdated flip phone in his rotting his hand. The driver looked blankly at it for a few seconds. “Really?” The zombie shrugged uncomfortably and lowered his hand. “Nobody has a smartphone? All we need is a decent photo of this so we can caption it.” Looking exasperated he reached for the flip phone. “Fine, I’ll work with what we’ve got.” With long, un-zombie-like strides he headed for the nearest headstone. Feeling victory within his grasp Hugh chuckled softly. Beside his grave, perched casually on top of her head stone, Brianna spread her bony hands apart as if to clap then stopped, her chin lifting just slightly with curiosity. The zombie paced to the back of Hugh’s headstone and studied the ground.
“We need to use the back of the stone so I can fake some words into the photo later.” The other zombies made noises of agreement and began to spread out, skulking through the stones as if they were each looking for the right one. Hugh stared at them in surprise. No. They needed to drop a single sandwich at the front of his head stone. That was the rule. Nothing else was acceptable. Brianna lowered her hands as Jeremiah took a seat on a poured concrete stump, painted to look semi-realistic and crossed his arms. Having passed its zenith the moon was already dropping again which meant time was no longer on his side. Clicking his teeth together in determination Hugh scanned the cemetery for options. Moonlight filtered through the tree branches, highlighting patches of earth and decorations. Everything looked stationary. Not a single flower pot or bucket was in sight. Evidently All Hallow’s Eve was a night for caution among mortals.
Stepping close to the head stone the head zombie tipped the contents of both bags onto the ground. Twenty-one Double Chicken Parlays with bacon rolled out onto the ground. Hugh watched them settle as he cast about for a single crow. All he needed was one. The zombie pawed the pile of sandwiches, unwrapping a few and settling them carefully askew. The other zombies shifted closer and offered a few suggestions like, sticking them to the headstone itself or smashing the meat to a pulp on the blank face of the marker. Destructive, Hugh thought and felt a moment of thanks that he had not been raised as a mortal who hated things. He risked moving a little away from the costumed men to search farther out for a crow. Brianna’s skull rotated slowly as she followed his progress. He tried to ignore her. After a final adjustment the zombie stepped back to assess his work.
“I think that will do,” he said and reached for the phone he had shoved into his back pocket. Hugh turned back toward him and felt a moment of real panic. He didn’t want to do this again next year. Three years was enough. He wanted to move on. The zombie held out the phone and snapped a picture. “There. Good enough.” He handed the phone back to its owner and headed toward the van. Two of the lesser zombies stared at the sandwiches left on the ground.
“You’re just going to leave them there?” the owner of the phone asked. “That’s littering. And it’s rude. Somebody is buried there.”
“If you’re that worried about it then pick them up,” the driver growled. “I don’t care what you do with them.” The two zombies began scooping up the sandwiches and stuffing them back into the discarded bags. The phone’s owner held onto a single sandwich as he walked toward the van, looking down at it as though it wanted nothing more than to take huge bite of it. Hugh stepped toward him and focused his thoughts as tightly as he could. With a giant push of energy he did the one thing he could do in the graveyard that he couldn’t do anywhere else. He materialized.
“Hey, over here,” Hugh whispered. The zombie turned his head. “Boo!” Hugh said. Eyes bulging in their sockets a scream ripped out of the zombie’s throat. The other zombies whirled in surprise and saw Hugh spread his arms as if to hug the man. Panic ensued as the men, yelling and screaming in all octaves, scrambled into the van and slammed the doors, leaving the lone zombie to his fate. The mortal used the only weapon he had, he hurled the bag of sandwiches at Hugh followed by the one sandwich he had been studying. The bag sailed through Hugh’s chest as he let himself return to mist and struck the front of his headstone with a satisfying whack! The van roared to life and skidded backward toward the gate spraying gravel as it went. The zombie raced after it.
Jumping like a jack rabbit Hugh bounced around his grave in elation. Brianna clapped slowly as Jeremiah walked over to extend his congratulations.
“A bit dramatic,” the big skeleton commented. “But effective.” Hugh wiggled all his bones with such fierce pleasure that his spinal column threatened to collapse. The moon was barely visible on the horizon as it set. The sun was on its way.
With sunrise so close the others began returning. All around Hugh skeletons settled onto their graves and talked quietly among themselves as they waited for sleep to come. Several extended their congratulations to Hugh on his victory as the story spread about his materialization. One of the last to return was Kameron, skull drooping in defeat. She muttered congratulations to Hugh and walked slowly to her grave where she threw herself down so harshly that her bones flew apart.
“Next year for sure, Kameron!” Hugh tried to sound encouraging. Bones rattled as Kameron pulled a single hand back together and extended her middle phalange as the sun began to rise. Hugh chuckled as he sank into the ground.