“Are any of you good with a bow?” asked Ginx.
“I’m not too shabby,” said the giant.
“I have a spare one over there by the book shelf,” Ginx said. “We might as well have two of us shooting.”
The shapes below made slow progress toward the tower. There were now hundreds, if not thousands of them. They silently slinked out from the lake, many headed toward them, but scores more merely spread out from the beach in every direction.
“Okay, here’s what I do: I take an arrow, dip,” Ginx put the cloth-tipped head in a jar of clear liquid, “Draw,” he pulled the arrow back, “Light,” he passed the tip of the drawn arrow over a nearby torch, “And fire.” He hits the zombie closest to the tower in one of its thighs. The flame slowly grows and eventually engulfs the zombie.
“Lucky shot,” he said. “I usually have to put a few into them. You’ll see. Either the fire goes out because it hits a particularly wet spot, or the arrow doesn’t stick, or I just miss completely. If we wait a bit, they’ll be so thick that you can hardly miss if you try.”
Hugh stood next to Ginx, looking out. “How long have you been here doing this?”
“Almost a week now,” he replied. “I sort of came upon this place accidentally. I had heard about it before, but I didn’t mean to find it. I was on my way back home from the Siege of Quadrifortica. You know… I helped break through the fourth wall.”
“I don’t know what that means,” said Hugh.
“That’s okay. We have more important matters to attend to. Maybe with your help, I can clear up this lake, we can put up some signs, and we don’t have to worry about this anymore.” Ginx fired another arrow at a zombie a few meters away from the tower, glancing off its skull.
“Bah, I hate when it bounces off their head. Anyway, I was kind of worried I would feel obliged to stay here forever, killing these things until the day I died, but I like your sign idea. I want to believe I would have come up with it on my own, but… I don’t know. Maybe not.”
The giant fired an arrow, hitting the very same zombie in the groin. The fire slowly began licking at the lower torso, and soon spread.
“Nice crotch shot,” said Ginx.
“To be honest, I was aiming for the heart area.”
Ginx smirked. “I blame my home-made arrows. I don’t have much to work with out here. I need to come up with another way to kill more of them faster.”
Hugh bent down to look at the liquid. “What is this?”
“It’s alcohol,” said Ginx. “There’s a distillery with barrels of the stuff in the basement.”
Hugh looked out over the whole scene. “Why don’t you set up the alcohol along the ground somehow to burn them all?”
Ginx fired another arrow into the growing crowd beneath them, which caused a fire that spread to other zombies, eventually leaving a gap that was gradually filled by the slow, trudging mass trampling upon the smoldering embers. “There isn’t enough to cover all the space from here to the beach where they surface, let alone all that out there,” he said, motioning to those scattered about in the distance.
Once all the arrows had been exhausted, which wasn’t very long at all, they retired to the basement to assess the situation.
“Maybe we could fill bottles with the stuff and throw it down on them, then light it,” said the dwarf.
“Where are we going to get bottles?” asked Ginx.
“Perhaps we can get the distillery running again and make more alcohol,” said the giant.
“Unless one of you knows how to repair it, run it, and farm something to put in it… I don’t think that’s an option,” replied Ginx.
Hugh remained largely silent, thinking, as they debated the possibilities of somehow spreading it on the ground or leaving the barrels at intervals and lighting it as the zombies walked by. Eventually, they just went to sleep.
When they woke up, the sun was almost peaking out from above the horizon and all the zombies were disappearing into the lake, all except one, whose foot was caught in a tree root. It slowly tried to press onward, but remained firmly in place. They slowly approached it, and just as the sun’s rays pierced the morning darkness, the zombie began to crumble apart. It then fell into a puff of dust.
“I have an idea,” said Hugh. “Clearly, we don’t need to burn them all, we just need to stop them from going back into the lake. So, we should set up a firewall around the beach. Then, when they turn around in the morning to head back, we can light it ablaze. Any of the zombies who aren’t burned up by the wall will be destroyed by the sun.”
“Brilliant,” said Ginx.
So, they set to work. Hugh began uprooting trees and laying their trunks along the beach, while the other three began moving the barrels to the beach from the tower’s basement. Once it was all set up, Ginx showed them how to make arrows from tree saplings. They killed a goose-lizard for dinner and used the feathers to fletch the arrows.
As the first zombies began appearing in the fading light of the setting sun, they began dousing the tree trunks in alcohol. As zombies began pouring through the thin gaps between the trunks along the beach, they retreated to the tower and sat in the basement.
“Only one thing to do not,” said Ginx, rolling out a barrel he had hidden from a dark alcove. “We drink. If I drink enough, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night to piss, then I can wake you guys up, because they turn around and head back pretty late, or early, depending on how you look at it.”
He poured a glass for everyone.
“You know,” he said. “This used to be the seashore, just a hundred year ago or so, before the ocean receded a few miles away. The people who lived along the shore used to bury their bead at sea. They would fill a boat with their most prized possessions, and they would even put their loved ones and slaves on board. Then, the ship would be set off onto the water, and set ablaze.”
“That’s awful,” said the giant.
“Tell me about it,” said Ginx. “It’s another one of those traditions that make you wonder about the mental state of those who did it in the first place, let alone those who continue to do it.”
“What do you think happens after we die?” asked the dwarf.
“I can’t say for sure, but I imagine being dead will be a lot like it was for me before I was born,” Ginx said, smirking.
“What were you before you were born?” asked the giant.
Ginx chuckled, “What were you?”
“I don’t know,” said the giant.
“So if you don’t remember, why would I?”
“Well,” began the giant. “We met a man who said that we become reincarnated into something else after we die, and he remembered what he had been before.”
Ginx shook his head and took another drink. “I don’t want to call that man a liar, because he may genuinely believe what he told you, but imagination is more powerful than memory, and it’s certainly more powerful than reason.”
“So, what are you saying?” asked the giant. “What happens after we die?”
“Nothing, and everything,” said Ginx. “The world will still be here. Other living people will continue to live. However, you’ll be dead and you will cease to exist.”
“That’s depressing,” said the dwarf, staring into his glass.
“I think it’s optimistic and liberating,” said Ginx. “Sure, from a selfish perspective, it sucks that I won’t get to see my grandkids grow up, or my great grandkids being born, or whatever it is people are so desperate to witness. But at the same time, there have been some horrible people in the world. Really, really wretched people whose departure from existence is a huge boon for the universe as a whole. I’m glad people aren’t eternal, because it gives me hope that the ignorance and evil that persists today among us may also be mortal and finite, for it exists only through such fragile beings. The world isn’t a bad place, the problem is the people in it, but the world will persist, while the people come and go.”
“How is that optimistic?” asked the giant.
“Okay,” said Ginx. “Imagine the person you hate most in the world.”
“That would be my brother,” said the giant.
“Right back at you,” said the dwarf.
“Well, this won’t work,” said Ginx. “I mean really hate. Like, imagine a man who kills and tortures people, who makes the lives of all those around him worse off. Imagine him. Now, would you want that person to live even beyond when they’re alive?”
“Well… actually, that’s kind of why we’re here,” said the giant.
“What?” asked Ginx.
“That body we have with us… he was some sort of cruel king or something,” the giant said.
Ginx’s eyes went wide. “Holy shit,” he said. He got up and went upstairs to look at the body. When he removed the shroud, his jaw dropped. He gingerly placed it back and trudged back downstairs in a daze. He poured himself another glass.
“If we cease to exist after we die, why are those bodies coming out of the lake up there?” asked the dwarf.
Ginx just stared silently at the table edge in front of him. After a while, he said, :Maybe we should just call it a night.”
They all went to sleep, except Ginx, who lay awake staring at the ceiling. After a while, he walked upstairs, purposely avoiding the corpse with his eyes, and sat in the top of the lighthouse, waiting for the zombies to begin to turn back.
Hour later, they did abandon the tower and head towards the lake again, so Ginx ran downstairs to wake the others. They each took turns firing out at the tree trunks, but only Hugh was able to draw the bow far enough to reach, after breaking one bow accidentally on his first draw. With the beach ablaze, the zombies stopped dead in their tracks.
From the top of the lighthouse, they waited and watched as morning broke, and every last one of the undead below them were reduced to bonemeal. The bulk of their labor now done, they began the more amusing task of producing signs. They all had fun with the exercise, all except Ginx, who had completely lost any sign of cheer.
Once they had erected signs every twenty meters or so around the lake, Ginx explained to them where they would find a city on the shore where they could make funeral arrangements.
“You know, I never could have done this without you guys,” said Ginx.
“Only returning the favor for saving us,” said Hugh.
“Well, don’t trust anymore birds,” Ginx said, turning to head the other direction.
“I hope our paths cross again,” the giant said.
“It’s always possible,” Ginx said.
The dwarf nudged his sister and whispered to her, “Waiting for hug and kiss goodbye?” She smacked the back of his head with her open palm.
Hugh took hold of the wheelbarrow and turned it toward the city of Polity, his two companions following him.
After there was more distance between them, Ginx turned and yelled, “Take care of him. That’s my father’s body.”
To be continued…