Edwin hated the smell of incense, it was too potent and the nagging voice in the back of his brain told him that it was only there to hide something from him. Something like the stench of slowly decaying bodies.
Or one slowly decaying body to be exact. One slowly decaying body that had been stuck in the basement of a church for the last eight hundred years.
‘So you’re not dead,’ croaked Syms. ‘That’s a surprise and a half. Thought you and your halfwit might have tripped over your own feet into a grave months back, but look at us now, together again, all in the same room.’
Sammy shifted at the halfwit comment but didn’t speak. He wanted to be in the room even less than Edwin and Edwin was about ready to kill to get out.
He’d cocked up Edwin decided. Syms had been a bad, bad idea and now he remembered why.
The zombie kept looking between them, his one good eye bulging in its socket while what was left of the other swung from the remains of his optic nerve. Gummy as a newborn, Syms smiled with an open mouth, showing the frayed insides of his cheek and how the light from the bare bulb above them could be seen through it. In the corner a black and white TV hissed loudly, the shopping channel flickering in and out of focus on the fuzzy screen. It was the old sort, so old that they didn’t even make them anymore.
The rest of the room was taken up by packing crates of impulse purchases charged on other people’s credit cards.
Syms loved buying things, but he rarely liked them once they were in his hands.
‘Still alive,’ said Edwin, swallowing his nausea. ‘We’re here to take up the offer you made back in Nebraska.’
‘Nebraska?’ Syms frowned. ‘I’ve never been to Nebraska, what are you talking about?’
‘Nebraska,’ Edwin repeated. ‘I’m talking about Nebraska?’
Syms’ frown deepened and he sucked in a breath that hollowed out his cheeks, the skin threatening to split.
‘Ah,’ he said at last. ‘Nebraska. Now I remember.’ He nodded to himself. ‘Sorry chaps, offer expired I’m afraid. First come first served and all that jazz. I will let you know if there’s another opening though.’
Sammy swore and jumped from his seat. ‘Told you. Told you he’d screw us around.’
His elbow caught the nearest stack of boxes and they tumbled into the next.
‘I was going to return some of those.’
‘No you weren’t,’ said Edwin. ‘You never return anything. You leave it until it starts to rot alongside you.’
He put a hand on Sammy’s arm and pulled him back into the low seat of one the deck chairs that they’d been offered on their arrival.
‘Looks Syms, we came a long way-‘
‘Barely thirty miles,’ interrupted the Zombie. ‘If you think that’s a long way you should try a crossing the north pole.’
‘I might some day,’ said Edwin, ‘but for now I think I’m fine and that’s besides the point. You asked us to help you with your little peacekeeper initiative, the way I see it, we can help you and kill monsters or ignore you and kill more monsters. Either way, I’m getting to put down the bad guys.’
‘Is that supposed to convince me to hire you?’
‘You don’t pay so you can’t be hiring us to begin with,’ Edwin pointed out.
Syms’ face broke into a smile.
‘I know why you’re here now,’ he chuckled. ‘Trying to convince her you’re not all bad are we?’ He trailed off into a dry wheeze.
‘Kara’s dead. I’m not trying to prove anything,’ said Edwin. ‘Life just happened to be getting a little dull and I fancied a change.’
‘Wouldn’t be much of a change,’ coughed Syms. ‘You’ll still be sticking monsters and trying to keep out of trouble with the so-called authorities.’
‘True. But I got a feeling that the monsters you’ll be sending us after are a few shades darker than the average variety, am I right?’
‘Aye, you could say that, or you could say I’d be sending you after the deepest shit scrapings from the most forsaken pits of hell. Either way it won’t be a pretty job and you’re likely to see your insides on the outside before too long.’
Syms scratched at his chin with a finger that was mostly bone.
‘You sure you want in? Once you say yes there won’t be any saying no. It’s a blood deal type of job, no other way about it.’
‘I’m in,’ said Edwin. ‘Sammy too.’
‘Of course, where one goes the other follows,’ nodded Syms. ‘Like a dog and a bad smell.’
He paused and mulled the idea over in his head.
‘I might have a job for you, if you’re not too keen on surviving the week?
Something has been stirring up the ancient ones. Nothing dramatic, but it has the promise to become something if we don’t take care of it in time.’
Sammy’s head picked up. ‘What makes it so dangerous that you doubt we’ll survive the week?’
‘Well apart from your general uselessness and a tendency to ignore the needs of your own arcane abilities, it has killed every other agent that I sent out after it. We found their hollowed out bodies mere hours after they set off to track the creature down. It appears to sense when someone is coming for it and more frustratingly, it has proven impossible to trace using the ordinary means.’
‘The ordinary means?’ The hairs on the back of Edwin’s neck lifted as the bead curtain at the top of the stairs stirred. The wooden steps sighed beneath her weight until she hit the concrete floor, heels clicking against the cold surface.
‘The ordinary means being myself,’ said Ivory, her red eyes streaked with black in the artificial light.
She was a spiderweb of runes, her scalp shaved to show the words inked there and her fingers ringed with chapters from books long since lost.
Edwin shuddered as she moved past him.
‘Ivory,’ he greeted. ‘Such a horror, like always.’
She smiled, snapped her fingers and fire bloomed on her fingertips.
‘Burn in hell Edwin,’ she sneered and snuffed the flames.
She took her place behind Syms, folding her arms across her chest.
‘As I said,’ continued the Zombie. ‘Ivory here has been unable to locate this thing’s exact location which suggests that it’s far more powerful than your everyday run of the mill artefact.’
‘Which begs the question, why has it not woken any of the ancients.’ Sammy’s grip on his armrests had tightened and the wood was starting to splinter. ‘It’s a trap and you want to throw us into it.’
‘Of course!’ grinned Syms. ‘It took you long enough to work it out.’ He folded forward so his elbows rested on his knees and he was almost nose to nose with Edwin. ‘It’s a trap and I want you to beat it. What do you say?’
‘We say no,’ said Sammy. ‘Right Edwin? We say no and we haul arse out of here and hope to hell that we never see your stinking face again.’
He turned to look at Edwin who remained silent, his face turning green as he tried not to breath through his nose and found that breathing through his mouth was just as bad, if not worse.
‘No Edwin! We say no!’
‘Yes,’ choked Edwin, his eyes watering. Syms moved back and he managed to suck in a breath that didn’t reek of death. ‘We say yes and we show this bastard that he needs us.’
He faced Sammy’s thunderous look.
‘We beat this thing because that is what we do and then we lay its mangled, dead corpse at this bastard’s feet.’
‘I don’t see how that helps us,’ said Sammy. ‘All I see is how we end up dead.’
‘You won’t,’ said Ivory. ‘You’ve got time yet, I’ve seen it.’
Sammy snarled in her direction. ‘I don’t want to know what you’ve seen.’
‘Then we’re in agreement,’ smiled Syms. ‘You will take the mission, swear the blood oath, kill the monster or die, and my darling Ivory will restrain from revealing any more about the future.’ He interlaced his fingers, the flesh and the bone. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘That does work out rather nicely after all.’
Edwin pulled himself to his feet, ignoring the way Ivory watched him.
‘I suppose so,’ he agreed. Sammy stood beside him. ‘We’ll see you in a week.’
‘Three days,’ said Syms.
‘Three days? What the hell!’
‘Three days,’ said Syms. ‘If you can manage that then you can work for me.’
Part Three: Monsters Love A Church
This was part two of Solitary Creatures. It’s a new series and I’m not sure where I will take it so do let me know what you think in the comments below.
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