By Carl R. Merritt
Moore's Lake Police Captain Roscoe Long stood at the podium looking over the sleepy faces of his hastily organized attack team. Three men and one woman, all dressed in armored combat gear, sat patiently awaiting as they played around with their newly acquired equipment.
One man, Jake Anderson. a traffic cop who normally didn't even carry a weapon on his beat had just accidentally dropped the magazine out of his M-16. It clattered to the floor noisily and soon had everyone laughing. Everyone, of course, except the captain.
What a joke, Long thought! The City Council demands that I take care of the "Abe" problem, and I don't even have a damned SWAT team! I've asked for such a team of experts for three years, and now that I need them . . . look what I have to work with! Captain Long sighed in disgust. These toy soldiers couldn't take on a slap-happy group of disgruntled boy scouts!
Still, Captain Long knew all these people were hand picked, by himself, for being the best in their fields. In a small town like Moore's Lake, Virginia, the skills this mission required were not easy to come by. For instance, Jake Anderson for all his ineptitude with small arms, was a genius with explosives - a skill he had picked up while working for a mining company years before in Colorado.
Sitting next to Jake was Sergeant Sam Baker, a tough old bird who had served three tours in Vietnam as infantry platoon leader before giving up the military life in favor of living a peaceful existence as a police officer in Moore's Lake. Up until this morning, that dream of peaceful existence had been a reality.
Next was Marcia Lewis, a meter maid. However, at the moment the young Gulf War veteran was the team's sharpshooter. While in the Army, Lewis had held the classification of weapons' expert and had used that expertise in Iraq to eliminate three Iraqi officers from over a half mile away . . . firing only three rounds from her sniper's rifle.
The last member of the team was Marc Lamas, fireman and the only paramedic in the city with military experience. For years after returning from Vietnam, the overweight man had saved hundreds of people from everything from strokes and heart attacks to performing small miracles at the scenes of car accidents. With any luck, today his medical services would not be needed.
"It's 4:00 AM!" Captain Long shouted above the clamor in the large room. "Daylight is in two more hours and I plan on attacking at that time. Now I know all of you are tired and aren't used to getting up this early, but we've got just two hours to get you all acquainted with your weapons and be at the site! We've got to... "
"Captain! We haven't done any fighting, or even trained in military operations in years!" Sam Baker announced as he stood to make his point. "Why don't we get the National Guard, or at least the State Police to handle this?"
"Sergeant, I truly wish we could. But the moment the papers hit the streets last night, the mayor began getting phone calls from outraged citizens demanding action. The whole city is scared to death after reading what that 'Abe' character did to that old woman. And since the mayor is up for re-election in a few months . . . well, you can see why I got a phone call from him at ten o'clock last night. He wants Abe's tomb closed for business no later than 6:00 AM and he was very adamant about it. At 7:00 AM, there's going to be a press conference at the cemetery and the mayor is going to tell the townspeople that they are all safe! Now! We've got to go over this plan I've made for closing off the mouth of that cave! Jake, I want to do it with explosives. If we can bring down enough rubble over the entrance to that cave, no one will be able to visit the ghoul again! Thus . . . problem solved! Marc, you're going to be our medic in case something goes wrong. The... "
"Not with just this little bit of crap!" he said, holding up a small medical bag, obviously not large enough to hold more than a few bandages and a bottle of aspirin. "At the very minimum, I want two fully equipped ambulances standing by! If somebody shoots himself in the foot by accident, what am I supposed to do . . . put a damned band-aid on it?"
"And I want a little something better than three sticks of dynamite!" Jake Anderson added. This stuff is about as stable as a gust of wind! C-4 would be nice if we could round some up."
"Yeah, I see your point. Okay, a friend of mine is a bigshot in the CIA. I'll wake him up and see if... "
"While you're at it, how about more ammo for these 16s?"
"This riot gear has got to go too, Cap! Too bulky for what we're gonna do!"
"Have you given any thought to any reserve forces? How about a backup plan? This idea of yours to just go in there and dump half a mountain on a ghost could all go wrong! We've got to have a plan in case everything falls apart!"
"I'll need a scope for this rifle you got me, Cap! Sights are okay for short distances, but who knows what I'll have to shoot at when dealing with Abe?"
As his people began falling back on their military training, Captain Long became acutely aware of the time. He knew it would be a stroke of luck if they could hit their target at daybreak. Quickly, he began making arrangements.
It was 5:45 AM and the small force was just arriving at the cemetery. Most of the equipment the officers had asked for had been found before they departed the station. The exception to this being the sniper's scope Marcia Lewis had requested. The 30-06 hunting rifle she was using now had a ten power scope, that was all. There was no time to look for something better.
Instead of C-4 explosive, Long's friend in the CIA had delivered small, expendable Light Anti-tank Weapons, known in the military as LAWs. He claimed they were all he could get his hands on with such short notice. Jake Anderson took one look at these and laughed. "I'll stick with the dynamite, thank you. I'll leave the hard stuff to you military types!" And so the two rocket launchers were given to Sam Baker and Captain Long. Both men were very familiar with how to use them.
The plans called for the small team to split into two groups. Captain Long would lead the explosive team consisting of himself, Jake Anderson and Marc Lamas while Marcia Lewis and Sam Baker went off to provide cover fire if needed. The idea now was not to place the explosives in the mouth of the cave as originally intended, but rather place them a hundred yards above the entrance and cause an avalanche instead. Anderson claimed that would seal up the cave much better with less room for error.
"Okay, the two ambulances are arriving now," Long said, trying to hurry things along. "Marc, direct them somewhere out of the way, but still close enough in case they're needed!" The moment Lamas was finished, Captain Long ordered everyone to start making their way through the graveyard. They would split up later, at the edge of the woods.
The time was 5:55 AM.
The one thing no one considered was . . . Abe was not about to let anyone seal off the entrance to his cave. The ghoul had no fear of dying at the hands of these ex-soldiers . . . hell, he was already dead. But he did have a perverse need for mortals to enter his domain if he wanted to continue roaming the Earth. He had to protect his interests. Abe decided to call upon some of his own army buddies. He was thinking they might enjoy this type of work...
The moment the four cops and one paramedic entered the graveyard, Abe left his cave to awaken some old friends.
As the small team ran past the old grave markers, Captain Long was looking forward to sunrise. The damned place was creepy! There was no wind to speak of and a dense fog seemed to be coming out of nowhere. He had to slow the team down just to keep from tripping over gravestones.
"I've never seen a fog this thick!" he said, unable to focus on anything more than a few yards away. "And it came on so quick!"
"Yeah . . . it's like it's trying to stop us! Like someone's hands reaching out to hold us in place!" This came from Marcia as she suddenly stopped and looked around. Fear was evident in her movements.
"That's nonsense!" Long shouted, trying not to let anyone's imagination run away with them. "This job's going to be hairy enough without... " Then he felt it too. It was as if the fog itself had turned into a living entity . . . a thick, unyielding being that refused to let anyone pass.
All five of the team stopped in their tracks and each of them began having second thoughts about the whole idea. They knew. They knew that ABE knew of their plans!!!
"We've got to get the hell outta here!" Sergeant Baker said, his voice barely a whisper. "The hell with the mayor and his re-election!"
"NO!" Captain Long shouted. "We can't give up! If the mayor's re-election was all I was worried about, hell, I'd call it quits right now! With the exception of Marc here, we're all cops! We have the responsibility of safeguarding the people of this town! We MUST go on! Marc, you can leave if you want, but I'd like you to stay."
"I'm not going anywhere, Captain. As a fireman and paramedic, it's my duty to save lives also. I'm staying."
"Thanks, Marc. I knew I could count on... " Then, Long heard the strange noise. A flapping sound from just a few feet away. "WHAT WAS THAT?"
"A b-bird?" Marcia stammered out.
Suddenly, one of Abe's gigantic, brown bats came swooping down. Others followed. Within moments, all five of the team found themselves swinging wildly with their weapons while trying to protect their faces at the same time.
"Bats! BIG bastards!" Baker said, readying his M-16. When he had his sights lined up, he fired point blank into one of the gruesome creatures that seemed to just hover, awaiting execution.
The huge bat took the entire clip of ammo and still hovered there in front of Sergeant Baker. Not a drop of blood was seen on the animal, not even a scratch.
But How? I couldn't have missed! Baker thought, ramming in another clip.
Suddenly, Marcia screamed. It was a high pitched scream, the kind that tears your heart to shreds.
Down by her feet, a grotesque hand had forced itself out of the muddy ground and was grabbing her ankle. The skin and flesh had mostly decomposed and the hand was more or less just bones. But it definitely had Marcia by the boot . . . and it was not letting go!
As Marc and Sam tried to free Marcia, more half-rotted and decomposed hands and arms began working their way to the surface all around the team. Within ten terrifying seconds, the mortals were surrounded by the bodies of people who had died long ago.
All the creatures were wearing old and ragged Civil War uniforms . . . a few from the Confederate States, but most from the Union. Some still wore bandages over their dilapidated and insect infested flesh. Almost all the zombies had large patches of bare bone showing. With all the dried blood and empty eye sockets, it was quite a sight.
Captain Long let one have it with a full clip from his M-16, but the bullets went right through the foul smelling zombie. Bits of rotten flesh, dust and bone flew away from its body, but it still didn't slow the hideous thing down. It slowly hobbled and limped its way towards him, arms outstretched.
Using his weapon as a club, Captain Long smashed the zombie in the head. His gratification seeing the zombie's head fly off the torso lasted only an instant. As the zombie fell, he heard Marcia scream again.
Spinning, Long saw her being mauled by four other zombies. They were tearing away her body armor and forcing her to the muddy ground. Like the others, Captain Long attempted to go to her rescue but was stopped when dozens of other zombies suddenly attacked.
They were all in for the fight of their lives, perhaps FOR their lives.
Marcia was down on her back, her arms and legs being held apart by four zombies. Her body armor gone along with most of her blouse, the inhuman beasts were pounding her with their dusty arms along every inch of her body. Marcia opened her mouth to scream again, but gagged when one of the zombies got its hand inside her mouth.
She wanted to vomit. The decomposed flesh along with the insects that consumed it inside her mouth was too much for Marcia. Even as she gagged, she passed out.
Sergeant Sam Baker was also on the ground being beaten to death by the zombies, but unlike Marcia, he was faring a little better. He had managed to get one arm free to smash one of the beasts in the face. At first, Baker was horrified when his fist drove completely through the zombie's skull. But after the creature fell as a result, a smile came to the sergeant's lips.
His elation was short-lived, however. Moments later he was knocked into unconsciousness by another zombie using a section of his own body armor.
Within five minutes after arriving in the cemetery, all five members of the team were lying beaten and broken on the muddy ground. Captain Long, barely conscious, managed to utter the words that he felt would put an end to the conflict. "Abe! We surrender!" As he passed out, he could only pray that he was right in thinking that since Abe was once a soldier, he would be bound by duty and not kill his prisoners. The captain knew if he was wrong, they were all as good as dead.
It was 7:00 AM and the press conference was just getting started at the cemetery's entrance. The mayor, standing behind a makeshift podium, was a little concerned that he hadn't heard from Captain Long and his team. If he had had a choice, the mayor would have postponed the press conference, but to do so meant admitting that Abe's tomb was still intact. And doing that would cost him the election, the mayor knew. No, with the election coming up, he could not deny all these reporters their interview.
"And so, I assure you that your problems with Abe's tomb are at an end!" the mayor announced, about ready to wind up his short speech. "As your mayor, I have always believed in the safety of our community. That is why... "
The mayor was interrupted by a rumbling noise and a vibration of the Earth. As with everyone else, he thought they were witnessing the beginning of an earthquake.
Everyone was wrong.
The ground between the mayor's podium and the audience began to bubble upward. Further and further the ground rose until it looked like it would explode like an over-inflated balloon. When the mound of Earth was eight foot in height, it ruptured, spitting out five wooden coffins. They fell horizontally in a nice straight line.
The reporters and the mayor were speechless. When Abe appeared in a swirl of mist a minute later, the group froze - partly from fear, but mostly as a result of Abe's work.
As Abe took solid form, the lids on the coffins began to open. One at a time, Captain Long and his small team slowly rose and made their way to the mayor to stand along beside him. All were severely bruised and beaten, their clothes torn and filthy. None were complaining, however, at least they were still alive.
Abe floated over towards the crowd of reporters, all of whom would have ran away if it weren't for the fact that Abe had them frozen in place. His brown robe rustled by the breeze, the ghoul casually looked over the group as if he were inspecting a side of beef.
"I WILL REMAIN AS I AM FOR ALL ETERNITY!" Abe announced in a voice that boomed over the crowd. "IF YOU ANNOY ME AGAIN, YOUR TOWN WILL BE DESTROYED! ANYONE ATTEMPTING TO FLEE TOWN, WILL DIE A SLOW DEATH! IF YOU WARN OTHERS AWAY, YOU WILL TAKE THEIR PLACE!"
Abe looked over the faces of the reporters and the mayor and knew his warning had been understood. Their expressions reflected total defeat. The ghoul was about to depart to his domain when the mayor spoke up.
"Will you allow us to live our lives in peace if we abide by your terms?" the human asked, realizing he was grasping at straws. "And if so, at what price? And what price are you claiming for the safe return of my team?"
It took Abe just a second to consider his reply.
"GRANTED! ABIDE BY MY TERMS AND YOUR TOWN MAY LIVE IN PEACE! THERE IS NO PRICE! NOR IS THERE A PRICE FOR THE RETURN OF YOUR SOLDIERS! THE CAPTAIN MADE NO REQUEST! INSTEAD, HE PERFORMED HONORABLY! HONOR HAS NO PRICE!
"NOW HEED MY WORDS, HUMANS! DO NOT AGAIN ANNOY ME! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LEAVE TOWN! DO NOT WARN AWAY THE FOOLISH!"
With those final words of warning, Abe slowly vanished in that same swirling mist. After his departure everyone was able to move freely again.
Marcia Lewis, cut, bruised and barely able to stand, looked up to the mayor standing on the podium and asked, "Sir, do you think he'll keep his word?"
The mayor was too shaken to answer. It was Captain Long that replied, a knowing smile on his face.
"Abe, for whatever else he may be, or may have once been, is an entity with honor. Otherwise, he would've killed us even after I called out our surrender. No, he won't bother us as long as we abide by his terms. I just pity the fools that come here in the future thinking they can outwit such an intelligent being as Abe. That 'grim reaper' has shown he's no one's fool. Surely anyone coming to Moore's Lake looking for an easy way out can expect the very worse kind of Abe's justice!"
E-Mail me at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com
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