At the stroke of midnight, it was just as Nirvana said – every grave split open, allowing a zombie to crawl out. We could smell them before we could see them but see them, we did – zombies of every shape, creed, age, and color. Fresh corpses were just as common as seriously decayed ones.
They knew the safe path and did not fall into their fellow’s graves. In an orderly shambling gait, they made their way to the main path in the graveyard. Some moved forward several rows before turning, and others turned towards the path immediately. The dead were silent, not a moan or groan, just the sound of hundreds, nay, thousands of feet shuffling along the ground. They held no weapons, a small favor to us, though we knew they would take ours if they could.
They walked without looking where they were going; their sightless eyes focused on something behind us. I realized they looked past us – towards where we all knew the city’s main gate was, right behind it, the teleporter that would take them to Temple Island.
They did not hurry, even though some of them likely could run. They did not falter in their steps. They just kept walking towards the gate and us, and it was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. To be entirely dismissed by something that had an unwavering will and complete disregard for any obstacle in the way left me a little shaken. I had no experience to compare to that. Living creatures have motivations and drives limited by their conviction and desire. Zombies are the closest thing to a machine army I can envision. An unwavering, uncaring, unconcerned, unreasoning group of beings focused on a single goal. This wasn’t like the zombie monsters who tried to eat me the first time I was in the graveyard. By comparison, there’s only a hint of these traits in those fiends. Looking around me, I could see that the others were affected even more than I was by what we saw. I, at least, had hidden strengths to steady my nerves. The squad leaders knew of our rapidly declining morale and called out, almost as one, “STEADY IN THE RANKS!”
Billy ordered, “Mele Fighters advance to stand between the gate posts. Polearms between them. Ranged will hold their fire until my mark. Ranged HOLD!” Moments later, “Ranged READY! AIM! FIRE AT WILL!” And it began in earnest.
Arrows and crossbow bolts fired in a wave and then sporadically after that. Few were sufficient to take down a zombie on their own, but many were able to disable legs and knock zombies to the ground. Blood spattered and triggered the frenzy. After that, zombies began to trip and stumble over the fallen, rushing to punish those who drew their blood – struggling to right themselves before moving forward or crawling on the ground. Those crawling along the ground were soon trampled under the feet of their fellow zombies and crushed into the earth. At the same time, those who retained their feet continued pressing forward. When the closest zombie was within thirty feet of the gate, the squad leaders called out in unison, “HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAY!”
Unexpectedly, three lightning bolts came out of the sky, striking and leaving them surrounded in a soft glow. They leaped into the air and flew into the zombies, each branching off in a different direction; left, center and right. They plowed into the horde and began pummeling the zombies into meat paste. Each blow blasted a zombie into chunks of flesh, opening a hole in their ranks and pushing back the advancing line of the undead. Almost faster than our eyes could track, the three squad leaders punched, kicked, and blasted zombies into meat paste. It was disturbing on so many levels, one of those things from which you could not look away. By themselves, the squad leaders pushed the front of the horde back another fifty feet before the glow around them faded three minutes later. They quickly retreated a few feet and called out a new cantrip. Two of them used, “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!” while the one on the right hollered, “HULK SMASH!” The squad leaders physically transformed into copies of The Thing, rocks coming out of the earth and surrounding their bodies, while the one who used the Hulk’s phrase turned green and grew in every dimension. After their transformations, they charged back into the hoard, and zombies were flung up in the air, smashed into each other or the ground. Things became outrageous as bodies and gravestones became weapons in the fight against the undead.
By the end, they pushed the hoard back so that the front line was one hundred feet from the gate in all directions; but the squad leaders couldn’t press them any further. At this distance, the ground they each had to protect was too much, and they had to halt their advance into the hoard as zombies kept entering the kill zone. They stalled the horde for about five minutes before the cantrips began to wear off. While the two leaders who used The Thing’s phrase turned and ran back to our ranks, The Hulk continued to fight, even after beginning to transform back. Billy and his friend could not turn and rescue him before he was overrun by the horde and ripped to shreds, screaming in pain and terror, our first casualty. These blood-frenzied zombies acted just like the single ones I had fought earlier, and nothing was going to stop them. The two remaining leaders kited the frenzied zombies right into our waiting lines. Luckily they had the foresight to focus us and called out – “MAKE A HOLE” and “ONE PACE FORWARD AND PREPARE TO RECEIVE CHARGE!”
Suddenly shouted from behind our lines, “DEPLOY THE FENCE TEAMS” and “RANGED WITHOUT AMMUNITION JOIN THE MELEE RANKS!” At the first command, the polearm wielders from the other grinder team split off along the fence and started stabbing zombies through the bars. After stabbing them, the attackers would fling the blood from their blades into the zombies deeper from the fence. Soon there were big snarls of zombies trying to attack them through the fence and preventing other zombies from getting by them to the gate. This slowed the rate at which the zombies regrouped on the main path to approach the gate, helping prevent us from being overrun.
Our melee line called out, “I’M STRONG TO THE FINISH ‘CAUSE I EATS ME SPINACH!” Then they swallowed their mug of spinach. At the same time they were doing that, the polearm team, including me, braced for the raging zombies charging our line. The waves of power from the melee fighters didn’t deter the zombies, and our clash was brutal. We pinned as many as possible with our various polearms and pushed them into other zombies to tangle them up. The melee fighters hacked, slashed, and bashed zombies as fast as they could. The enhanced strength of the warriors allowed them to quickly chop limbs off or crush bones and skulls, putting the zombies down. The ranged fighters that had run out of arrows joined them in the melee and helped put the zombies down almost as fast as they came, but even as the bodies began to pile up at our feet, we were pushed back step by step by the sheer volume of the horde. It was only moments before the first fighter was pulled down by grasping hands and the weight of the partially disabled zombies. Her screams as we fought off the horde only caused us more terror as we began to understand what our fate could and would be at the hands of the single-minded flesh automatons.
Other fighters jumped into our lines as we lost individuals – soon, the reserve was fully committed, and the resting party was promoted to being the reserve. There would be no switching out as our lines had to expand the further we were pushed from the gate. Less than five minutes later, I was the only one left from the first squad, and only because I had managed to keep to my feet. I’m sure that even though the zombies couldn’t penetrate my skin or break my bones, enough of them would be able to pin me down and bury me under their weight, potentially suffocating me if I couldn’t get free and the press lasted long enough. That was a horrifying thought that I was glad I couldn’t spend much time thinking about while fighting off the horde.
Just as we were about to push back once more, Justin called out, “HERE I COME TO SAVE THE DAY!” Then he leaped into the horde and began a campaign of destruction. Heads, arms, legs, and whole bodies flew into the air as he plowed between the pillars for the gate into the horde. Shortly after him, the other leader, whose name I never learned, shouted out the same cantrip and raced into the horde behind Justin. Together they smashed through the zombies and began opening up a hole in the horde, giving us a much-needed respite. As quickly as we could, we killed those outside the gate and pushed up to the gate pillars, sacrificing our stable footing to concentrate our lines. The grinder leaders pulled back and called out the cantrip again, their reign of destruction starting anew. Three minutes later, they withdrew as fast as they could to gain space before calling out, “FLAME ON!” A blast of hot air accompanied their flame-enshrouded bodies as they began blasting the zombies with fire and attempting to light any within their range on fire, even if it wasn’t immediately fatal to them. They rose into the air to prevent the zombies from attacking back – only to have the zombies start to build a body pyramid to reach up and grab them. The zombies’ strategy failed as their flaming tormentors’ flying ability let them easily escape the slowly building formations. It became evident that letting the zombies build pyramids was an excellent strategy to entangle them and slow their advance by getting them to try and move against the horde to attach the flying leaders raining fire down upon their numbers. The ‘Johnny Storm’ impersonations lasted about three minutes. The leaders must have counted their time because they both managed to get to safe ground before the flames snuffed out.
We kept mopping up the undead stragglers who made it to the gate and welcomed the other polearm fighters into our ranks as they gave up on the fences and helped us keep the choke point closed. We held our ground for another five minutes before a mighty roar took our attention away from the fight. A giant round abomination of flesh welded together in the most disturbing ways rushed through the horde, ignoring the zombies in its path. As it got closer, we could see why it didn’t care as it absorbed all the zombies it touched and continued to grow – we were about to be overrun by a Katamari of Flesh! I called out to my remaining comrades on the line, “RUN! Don’t let it roll over you!” Our line immediately broke and scattered, and zombies poured past us, only for most of them to be swallowed into the towering Katamari of Flesh.
How in the hell are we supposed to fight this? This fight was over for Pretty Kitty; it was time for Jebediah Walker to appear.