As the Earth wheels through space, the vast majority of its inhabitants are oblivious to the eternal war that is about to be reignited.
Equinox. Equilibrium - a deadly alignment. The enemy is massing. Not here in our world but in another place, another side that's not parallel, nor a shadow world, although it is
dark. It's just… separate, misaligned; two worlds inhabiting the same location but oblivious of each other. Except for the special days of perfect symmetry, when night and day become equal and the Earth slips into phase with its toxic twin.
Cultural memories warn of what happens when the membrane between these two realities softens; in places they weaken to the point where they become permeable. As darkness falls, things
slip through. Things not of this Earth. Hungry things, looking to feast.
Harvest Festival was not always what it is today: Harvest Festival was a joyous celebration by the Equinox’s survivors. Those who had hidden themselves well; those who had fought off the Army of Darkness; those who had not been taken; those who had not been harvested.
Through the centuries the Fables became confused by mistranslations and forgotten meanings. ‘Harvest Festival’ was corrupted, its true meaning adapted and adopted for something else.
On this night of equals, the hunters became the hunted. Oh, there was feasting alright...
Only a thin veneer held back the darkness. They alone protected the Earth, allowed it to resist the rising tide of death and destruction. They were the chosen few. Some were warriors, some were sacrifices; some were more willing than others. This is their tale…o-O-o
Rocks are never comfortable. Even when you alter the molecular structure of a rock to mould it to the exact shape of your backside, there is the matter of the hardness and the cold to consider. Especially when you are expected to sit watch all night in the middle of a peat bog.
"What an inconvenient place to locate a reality door," Angharath muttered. "Couldn't they have just put it at the end of the bar in the Rope & Anchor?" An idea formed in the wizard's head. No, the Grand Wizard would not
approve of shifting an entire pub into the middle of this blasted heathland just to keep him comfortable for the duration of the night. Angharath had memorised the entry from his magic manual regarding ‘Overt / Excessive magic: the use thereof’ after the incident involving the squirrels. It wasn’t just frowned upon these days, it was a punishable offense.
Instead, Angharath persuaded all the molecules in the rock on which he had parked his sizeable backside to assume the pattern of the cushion in the rocking chair reserved for elderly wizards by the fire at the end of the bar in the Rope & Anchor. "That's much better," he sighed, as he wriggled his buttocks into the familiar feathers and wool. Unfortunately, as with the actual rocking chair, significant quantities of Angharath’s bottom were spilling over the edge. "I need to find a bigger rock," he muttered.
As Angharath looked around for a suitable rock/cushion, he realised that he was no longer alone. And as time went on, he rapidly became less and less alone.
"Hello?" he said uncertainly to the dark shapes moving purposefully within the mist. The dark shapes paused and gathered together before moving with malevolent purpose into the area within which Angharath was sheltering from the rain and mist. Their horrible faces were lit from beneath by the magically-rendered fire which Angharath was using to keep his tootsies warm. Angharath didn't countenance being cold and wet, even when on guard duty out in the middle of a moor on a wet and windy night.
From the empty flagons and the way he was swaying, it was equally obvious that Angharath didn't hold with being sober either.
"You a virgin?" the horrible face sneered.
"That's none of your business," Angharath answered huffily, although all wizards were necessarily untarnished in the sexual department. Orgasms did terrible things to a man’s yang.
"I'll take that as a 'yes', although I can't say that I’m surprised, you being hairier than my granny's armpit. Hur, hur hur." Angharath smeared his beard down into something more deliberate as the lead imp looked around the disfigured faces of his companions. "You ain't even a woman, judging by the smell o’ yer," the imp said.
"I most certainly am not,” Angharath replied indignantly, drawing his cloak around himself as the imp eyed his chest support. It looked
like a bra but wizards didn’t use that
wore bras. Wizards
. It was accepted that supportive undergarments were a necessity when a wizard reached a certain level of avoirdupois. “I'm a wizard," Angharath added triumphantly.
"What you are mate, is dead meat." Other bodies crowded in behind the imp. Their faces danced in the illumination from the guttering flame. Angharath pondered those faces, wondering if they might be being distorted in some way. A magic word made the fire flare to such an extent that the lead imp’s facial hair began smoking and then ignited.
The imp didn’t move, but Angharath had a feeling that he wasn’t best pleased. He looked like a pubescent boy who had just lost his first moustache in a freak waxing incident.
Angharath looked at the other, less singed faces in the group.
It hadn’t been the light. They really were that
Whether they were taking advantage of the sphere of warm, dry air being protected by Angharath was doubtful. It had been the mention of ‘meat’ that had made them gather round. They were jostling into line to ensure that they got a fair share. By ‘fair share’, an imp meant as much as possible. An arm would be a good start. Even better would be one of Angharath ’s legs. That might be enough to satisfy the need
for another six months, until the Spring Equinox.
Drool dripped from hundreds of triangular yellow teeth. If Angharath had ever been to the Alps, it might have reminded him of a sunset over the Matterhorn.
"Only your body don't know it yet." The imp’s horrible features turned away, looking round at his colleagues’ faces expectantly. Imps have very short attention spans at the best of times – at lunch time they’d be unlikely to notice an arrow shearing off their own gonads. Not one of them had the faintest clue what their leader was talking about. Whatever the imp had been expecting didn’t materialise and the expression on his de-haired face became murderous.
"I'll have you know that I'm a champion wizard," Angharath volunteered. The lead imp turned back.
"Champion?" the imp sniggered. "Champion at what? Pie eating?"
Angharath swelled with pride. "You've heard of me?"
"No," the imp retorted with ultimate finality. The sarcasm was sharp and obvious, even to the dulled senses of an inebriated wizard.
"I'll have you know that the pie-eating championship is very well regarded within the wizarding fraternity. There is an enormous amount of competition."
The imp looked Angharath up and down. It was an exercise underpinned by inter-dimensional hunger but still resulted in the imp feeling nauseous. There lay indigestion and no mistake. The imp’s digestive tract put in a request for something a bit younger for starters. And female. "Enormous is about right, fatty. Now step aside."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
"Why's that then?" The imp cast a sidelong glance at his colleagues to alert them to the fact he was expecting a reaction to the line of dexterous wit he was about to deliver. The pressure drop within the bubble of warm and light made Angharath’s ears pop as the cohort took in a synchronous breath in readiness for the forced laughter which would follow. "Too fat to get up? Hur hur hur."
The sound wasn't laughter as a human would understand it but echoed from body to body in the same way that humour traverses any group. They might have been imps from another reality but it was still recognisable. It ebbed and flowed in waves as each individual contributed an amused murmur so as not to draw attention to themselves, assessing their neighbours and laughing enough to join in, but not enough to stand out.
It might not have been laughter in the strictest definition, but what it definitely was, was humiliation. A creature that was bullying and abusing another, playing to an appreciative crowd.
"I'm defending this... realm," Angharath stated definitively. The air chilled. Senses sharpened to match the flexing claws.
"Defending it against who, exactly?" the imp asked with a glint in his eye. A turn of his head was a cue for more guffaws. A bass note of hur-hur-hurs drifted reluctantly into the night.
"You need to use the objective case. ‘Who’ is always subject to a verb, whereas “whom” works only as an object in a sentence. Therefore your sentence should be constructed thus: defending it against whom
, exactly." The imp had no idea what the old man had just said but his instincts told him that he'd just been insulted. His cohort had also sensed it; they took the opportunity to subtly step in the direction of away so as not to get caught up in the impending violence. The lead imp’s blade had a wide sweep when its owner was angry. And nothing made him angrier than having his grammar corrected in front of his mates.
The imp's face stopped. Not just laughing. It became an isolated mask of unfeeling. Completely neutral.
As lips drew back, jagged teeth became visible. Not in a smile. Even Evil doesn't smile like that.
It was well practised. A look of which the imp was rather proud. It was a look that had made brave men void their bowels. Angharath adjusted his glasses and peered up into that non-smile as might a private dentist assessing the cost to 'put it right'.
It was obvious that he was taking a professional interest. There was not the slightest hint of fear or even respect.
"OK old man, time to die."
"Already?" Angharath asked, pulling back his filthy robe to expose a timepiece so ancient that it appeared to have been crafted when the sundial was a technology still way, way in the distant future. "I was rather under the impression that I had at least another couple of centuries left to..."
A venomous look took hold of the imp. He wasn't sure what the old man was doing but it was time it came to an end. The imp unsheathed his sword with a surety of purpose. It was a smooth transaction which transformed the curved blade from inanimate object into a deadly implement. The sword split the air like a silent thunderclap as it cleaved its way down into the wizard's head.
It hit Angharath 's hat, where it halted.
"Swordplay is your game then, eh?" Angharath asked, dragging himself to his feet. The imp stepped back, then realised what he'd done, realised that it would be seen as a sign of weakness. He had never stepped back in his life and was sure that he never would again – if only because one of the cohort would stab him in the back and take his position as leader. Loyalty was hard earned and brief in the other place. As was respect.
The imp simultaneously roared and charged to disguise the weakness of his situation, as though he’d been merely shifting his balance before his attack. Angharath sidestepped with weighty elegance and as the imp staggered to a halt, the wizard's hand appeared from within his cider-stained robes clutching a blade.
The imp's gaze was drawn to the twin dragons whose eyes gleamed with terrifying menace. What passed for the imp’s colon tightened. Even for one comfortable in the tortured dungeon of the other place, where dragons were two-a-penny, those eyes were worrying. And then there was the golden snake etched into the blade’s unblemished surface. It writhed with wicked malevolence, promising swift, poisonous death. Etchings didn’t move. Not like that.
The imp felt something he’d never felt before. Fear.
He looked at the confusion clouding the faces of his colleagues. He saw the doubt hardening. He wouldn’t survive this even if he did kill the wizard. Whatever else happened, he was about to die.
Anger flared as he feinted and swung a deadly blow from the hip. Angharath’s sword ignored the feint, only briefly slicking across the wide, sweeping path of the imp’s attack. There was a sound as of ripping foil as the imp's blade cleaved itself apart around Angharath 's sword, followed a fraction of a second later by a much wetter, crunchier sound.
"So," Angharath said, assuming what might have been a fighting stance, but was actually the only method of supporting such an ungainly mass after drinking a pail of scrumpy, "who's next?"***** Earlier that day…
Holly watched as her father carefully stencilled ‘Ye Olde Virgyn Sacriface’ onto a piece of slate.
“Erm, Dad. That’s not how you spell ‘sacrifice’.”
“Oh, that’s right – you taking the piss out of your olde dad right up until the last minute. It’s not my fault I’m illegitimate.” Gilbert turned on his daughter as she snorted with laughter. Anger had reddened his face before he thrust it close to Holly’s. “My father never sent me off to do all that schooling and all that fancy edumication. And your mother should never have sent you
. It’s not right,” he snapped.
“Fat lot of good my fancy ‘edu-mication’ is going to do me,” Holly said, sarcastically. “I’ll bet your dad didn’t tie you to a rock outside the village so that you could be eaten during the Harvest Festival.”
“Well no, he didn’t. But I bet he would have done if I’d been a girl
.” Holly bit back the words which came to mind and tried to find others. There had to be an angle, a way to escape.
“What would Mum have said if she was still here?” Holly enquired in soft, conciliatory tones.
“She’d know what needs to be done. It’s for the best,” Gilbert said grimly, as he checked the ropes wrapped around Holly’s wrists.
“You’re really going to leave me here? There’s no-one here Dad, they’re all inside the barricades, preparing for the festival. No-one would know if you just let me go.”
“I’d know.” Gilbert tried to ignore the spittle which landed on his face but the anger and resentment flared once again. She had never showed him the respect he deserved. His clenched fist drove hard into Holly’s body again and again before he chose to hold it back. The power of the impacts had forced all of the air from his daughter’s lungs. Her eyes bulged but she held her head proudly off her chest and didn’t show the pain that he knew she was feeling. Holly had always been prickly, but she’d been born tough. Just like her mother.
Gilbert stepped back and turned away before Holly saw the tears.
As her father moved slowly out of sight, Holly whispered, “Goodbye, Dad,” and sagging against her bonds, let the grief and pain flood out. *****
Up amongst the heather, shapes formed and moved cautiously into the murk. At first they were drawn towards the sound of snoring and the smell of smoke and roasting flesh. They passed a very worried horse, pulling desperately against the post to which it had been tethered. The bog lost its grip of the post with a sickening, sucking noise and the horse took flight, leaving behind it a bubble of brightness and warmth. The shapes gathered and explored.
Memories flickered. Home
The incongruous environment was surrounded by casually discarded imp bones and at its centre a large blubbery mass rocked back-and-forth contentedly in a chair floating beside a disembodied hearth. The blubbery mass was the source of the snoring. And the high concentration of methane and other noxious fumes.
The bodies shuddered and turned away. There were better meals to be had. *****
The rain had stopped. That was the first thing Holly noticed as she came round, and the wind had dropped. Then she noticed them standing in the moonlight.
Not so much standing as swaying.
Holly watched as the bodies shuffled towards her. She pulled hard on the ropes but they resisted even though she could see a spray of weave from where she’d frayed them on the rock. Her strength had gone. At least she had stopped shivering. That was a good thing, right?
A sweet stench filled her nostrils as the first of the creatures approached. The smell of death. “Dad?” she groaned, deliriously. All she wanted to do was sleep. Or die.
The creature was upon her.
Its lips were on her skin; its teeth on her neck, closing. A flash of understanding penetrated Holly’s dozing brain and she laughed as the teeth bit into her. This was it – she was being eaten alive. A flood of warmth coated her bare breast - her own blood squirting free, escaping the confines of her body. *****
Memories shimmered of another time, of another girl. A girl who also laughed; whose soft body felt so good against his. Memories of gentle warmth that spread and made him feel… just feel
. As another tried to join the feast, something welled up inside the desiccated body. Feelings
. Feelings were new. Feelings were good.
He felt a need to possess, to protect.
“Mine.” The single word was like dry gravel. It had an odd flavour. The owner of the voice that had uttered it looked as surprised as the word’s recipient.
Perhaps because it was the first word uttered by its throat in years.
But it had been a necessary word, full of importance. The second figure ignored the communication and lurched in closer but was blocked by an outstretched hand around its neck. “Mine!” The word had added emphasis. “Not eat!” It wasn’t clear if the second figure had understood the statement but it shuffled off in search of something else, something easier.
Inhuman hands grasped Holly’s bonds and snapped the remaining fibres. Holly sagged and fell against the cold body in front of her. It caught her and held her. More memories penetrated from a past long since separated.
Holly’s lifeless body hung from ghoulish arms and her bare feet dragged across wet grass as her liberator shuffled uncertainly to unheard music. Holly’s head fell back, exposing her throat and a mouth instinctively closed on her jugular.
The pulse was slow and weak. A flicker of understanding glowed and the uncertain movement took on new purpose. The jagged circle of the dance straightened into a wavy line; a line that was heading towards the barricade. Towards the living. *****
Dappled sunlight playing across Holly’s face teased her back to consciousness. There was the same sweet smell of death that she remembered but it was more intense, more real. Every part of her body complained as she tried to move. Her legs felt confined as did her arms when she tried to shift them.
She couldn’t move. It was as though there was a weight pressing down on every part of her. A dead weight. She ached everywhere but especially her stomach from where her father had…
Holly’s eyes shot open. Today was tomorrow. She wasn’t tied to the rock. She wasn’t dead, or at least she didn’t feel
dead – but she was
buried. What was surrounding her was earth. Oh God, they’ve buried me alive!
Holly could feel the weight of the dirt pressing down on her. Had they placed her in her grave and filled it in?
She fought: arms and legs scrambling to free her from the nightmare. She swam up until her head broke the surface. She could hear the sound of cow bells and smell the cowpats. And the rotting vegetables.
She knew where she was.
They hadn’t buried her.
They’d dumped her on the compost heap like so much trash.
“Those bastards,” she growled.
Then she saw him. Or it. The thing from her nightmares, sitting quietly in the shade, watching her with pale grey eyes. It wasn’t just his eyes which were grey: his skin had an equally dreadful pallor.
“You,” she said, shrinking away. The zombie watched her.
“You,” it said. “Not dead.” Holly laughed and remembered the ghost of the last time she had laughed. Her hand rubbed her neck but found the skin unbroken.
“What did you do to me?” Holly demanded. Her sacrificial nightdress was on the rocks by the zombie. It looked like it had been laid out to dry in the sunshine. Holly felt very exposed without that nightdress. She needed it to ward off that unblinking gaze which seemed to be drinking her in, penetrating her, violating her – although she would rather be naked than approach him
to recover her dress. Holly clutched her soiled breasts and shuffled her bare legs into a more discreet position.
“You, cold,” he said. “Needed warm.” Holly processed the words and her fractured memories filled in the blanks. She’d been standing unprotected in the driving rain for hours. Hypothermia. She’d been dying of hypothermia when this zombie had found her. He
had brought her here. He
had saved her life.
“Why did you save me?” Holly asked. “And who are you?”
“Don’t,” the zombie said. After a pregnant pause it added, “know.”
“Well, what’s your name?”
“Rob,” the zombie answered with unexpected certainly. After about 30 seconds it added, “Hurt.”
“Well, I think I’ll just call you ‘Rob’ – it’ll save time.” Holly smiled to herself. “Rob Zombie. You know what Rob, that’s got a bit of ring to it.” Holly sat and waited for something to happen but nothing did. Rob Zombie just sat there and watched her as she warmed herself in the sun. “Well,” she said, “I suppose the first thing I need to do is get cleaned up… and then I’d better go and let the village know that I’m not dead.” *****
Holly felt better after a bathe in the stream at the back of the Gemmel’s property. Her skin was soon as clean and dry as it was going to get, as was her sacrificial dress. She knew that she was making excuses before going to see her father. How would he take the news of her not being dead?
Holly knew that it’d be hard, but she could never have anticipated what happened when she presented herself in her own home. “What? How?” Gilbert exclaimed, hugging his daughter.
“They came for me, Dad. The dead came for me and there was this one zombie who helped me, protected me.”
“He saved me, Dad. His name’s Robert.”
“Zombie’s don’t have names,” Gilbert said with great certainty.
“Well, this one does and his name is Robert, well Rob.”
“And where is this… Robert?” There was a change in Gilbert’s voice. An edge which made Holly’s defences rise. She’d heard that tone before and knew what it meant.
“He’s down by the stream at the Gemmel’s place.”
“Is he now?” Gilbert said absently. “And did you see anyone else on the way up here?”
“Not really. I came straight here, along the stream. I wanted you to be the first one to…” Gilbert’s expression had hardened even more. Holly didn’t like the look on her father’s face.
“Good,” he said. Again that strange tone. Voices in Holly’s head were screaming at her. Get out. Get out now
. But it was too late. Gilbert had closed the door and slid the bolt home. The difficult part had been done. The machinery of the mill was running. No-one would hear what went on. At least nobody had before. “You’ve made things very… difficult for me, Holly.”
“What are you talking about, Dad?”
“We went to the stone this morning. We found the ropes, the blood. Your blood. We performed the ritual – gave thanks for your sacrifice. Only it turns out you weren’t sacrificed.” Gilbert was circling round towards Holly.
“Dad, you’re scaring me.”
“We gave thanks for your sacrifice, Holly. You died last night.”
“Dad! I’m not dead! Look at me!”
“But I need you to be dead, Holly. You understand? You must understand?” There was a calm certainty to her father’s words. A deadly logic. People didn’t come back from the dead. It was embarrassing.
Holly was in trouble. She screamed. “Save your energy. No-one can hear you scream in here.”
“No Dad! Please!” Holly backed away, tears streaming down her face. The fear was more intense than anything she had felt out at the rock. She backed past the heavy machinery of the mill, where the unrelenting power of the waterwheel was transferred into the milling stone. Holly’s eyes flicked up to the ceiling, to where the blades were stored which were used to cut open the hessian sacks. They were out of her reach.
But not out of his reach.
As if following his daughter’s instruction, Gilbert calmly reached up and took down a knife. It was as long as Holly’s forearm and glinted in the streams of morning sunlight.
Holly felt solid wood behind her back. There was nowhere left to go. Gilbert advanced slowly, cautiously, which gave Rob the chance he needed. Gilbert saw the shocked expression of hope on Holly’s face and turned as Rob shuffled towards her father.
Gilbert had never seen a zombie before but his natural reaction was fear. He backed away as Rob lumbered towards him, then quickly reassessed. The zombie was so slow it was almost inviting an attack. He stepped forward and plunged the knife deep into Rob’s chest.
Holly screamed and Gilbert turned to face his daughter, now at close range. His hands came up to Holly’s throat and had begun to apply pressure when Gilbert’s face creased in agony. Blood poured down Gilbert’s shirt and after a brief struggle he sagged to the floor, unconscious.
Holly gazed up at Rob as he wavered uncertainly. He was chewing.
“You killed him?” Holly asked, pulling her feet out from under the motionless body of her father.
Rob shook his head and as he swallowed. “Not dead.” It took Holly a moment to understand what the zombie meant. Then her father moved. “Leave… now.” Rob’s gravelly voice was full of determination.
“Yes, I think you might be right.” As Rob gripped her arm and guided her away from her homicidal father, Holly felt some prickles of doubt. Was it right for her to leave with this thing
? She looked at Rob, and saw the drive to get her away from danger. He’d saved her life at least twice – and that made him a better bet than being anywhere near her father.
They made their escape one plodding footstep at a time, back the way they’d come; back down along the stream, through the meadows, into the valley and through the old orchard to the apple store. “Rob, I need to rest. Don’t you ever get tired?”
“Do you sleep?”
“Not sleep,” Rob said. “But stop.” Holly selected an apple and bit into it.
“Would you like me to pull the knife out of your chest?” Rob looked down, then shrugged. “Well I think you’d look better without it.” Holly wrapped her hand around the handle and pulled. She couldn’t shift the blade one iota.
“Rob… help?” Holly watched as Rob wrapped his hands over hers and then pulled. She was too astonished to assist as more and more of the blade was revealed; the blade that had been intended for body, for her chest; the blade with which her own father had set out to end her life.
“You keep helping me, Rob,” Holly said softly as her fingers explored the hole in Rob’s chest. It was healing even as she watched. Maybe ‘healing’ was the wrong word. The grey flesh was resetting itself. Was that what Zombies did? Were they frozen into a moment in time? Was this what Rob had looked like when he died? What he would always look like? “Why?” she prompted.
“Feel? Feel what?” Holly’s palm was pressing against the zombie’s chest. She was checking for the heartbeat that she knew wouldn’t be there.
“You feel something for me?” Holly probed.
“Yes.” Holly felt a lump of emotion catch in her chest. “Protect… Holly.” No-one had been there to protect Holly. Not since her mum had died. And now her dad was dead as well. Kind of.
“Rob? Why are you still here? Weren’t you supposed to go back?”
“You stayed for me?” The voice was tiny, almost afraid to ask the question. Rob shrugged in a manner which Holly thought of as being a ‘yes’. Holly’s heart was thumping hard enough for both of them. “Can
you go back?”
“Maybe,” Rob said. “Spring.”
“You’re trapped here until the Spring Equinox?” Rob used that shrug again. Holly wanted to add ‘with me’ but didn’t. She was the reason Rob had stayed behind. That meant something, to her at least. He had stayed to make sure she was OK, and to ‘protect her’. That was the first act of kindness anyone had shown Holly in years.
It made her feel warm inside. *****
As the nights grew longer and the days colder, Rob grew happier and more active. Perhaps Earth’s winter was a closer approximation of the other
place, the mysterious place where Rob had been before
. It was impossible to tell as he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk of anything before the night of the vernal equinox. Perhaps that was another part of ‘protecting’ Holly.
Was he getting used to being on this side of the divide? Holly was getting used to him being there for her. Especially at night.
Rob didn’t provide any warmth of his own, but his body seemed to absorb and re-radiate her heat, her energy. And Holly felt safe. And that feeling of safety led to other, more intimate feelings.
“Rob?” Holly asked into the night. “Do you think that a kiss might convert me?”
“Don’t know,” Rob answered with his usual flat delivery. Holly was shy and quite inexperienced in sexual matters but being in close proximity to a man that she felt extremely attracted to night after night was starting to make her unhappy. It was like the curve of a horse shoe – things had been getting better and better but now Holly felt that her path was taking her back towards where she had started with Rob.
Something had to happen.
There were dreams. And more than that, there were fantasises. Even when the body lying next to yours night after night is dead, Holly reasoned, if it belongs to a man who cares for you, who has saved you and wants to protect you, there are things you want to do to it in return. Rob didn’t seem to need any of the basics of food, shelter or intimacy. But Holly needed all three.
She tried to conceal how flustered she was. It was stupid and dangerous – but she needed
to do it. If she didn’t, she concluded, she may as well be
dead. Perhaps if she was dead it might bring relief; might end the torment of being with a man that she wanted to be with but never could. She waited in the cold darkness for Rob to kiss her, knowing that it was never going to happen.
To kiss her would endanger her and as part of the whole ‘protection’ thing, he’d never do that.
Holly was prepared to take the risk. She rolled up onto Rob in the darkness of the barn, found his lips with hers and kissed him.
He didn’t respond, but that didn’t matter – it hadn’t been that kind of kiss. It was lethal experimentation, not romance that had been the driving force behind it. Breathlessly, wordlessly, Holly lay back and waited.
To be accurate, something was happening: every twitch and tingle in Holly’s body was being subjected to careful examination in case it was the first sign of a transformation.
Nothing continued to happen.
Holly lay there wriggling her toes against the roughness of the blanket. She tried to relax by taking a deep breath. She could smell the animals still rustling around in the hay below. That was good. Rob had no sense of smell, although that was probably because he didn’t breathe.
If you don’t breathe, you don’t smell.
Holly giggled in the darkness. Rob didn’t breathe, but she had told him several times that he smelt a bit weird. Holly was aware that she probably smelt worse – the streams were cold at this time of year and would get colder before the warmth of spring arrived.
Holly wriggled her toes again. They were still there. What actually happened? What were the stages of zombie conversion? She lay back and listened intently to swishing noises of her body. Which was why she jumped out of skin when Rob coughed.
“Excuse me,” he said.
Holly went back to listening to the thudding of her heart. Only…
Holly felt Rob snuggle in against her side. Felt his warmth radiating into her body; felt his breath tickling her hair. She had had the dream a thousand times or more. Only this wasn’t a dream, was it?
His chest which was rising and falling gently. There was an echo of a heartbeat. No, not an echo. This was slower and more powerful than her heart had ever been. It was the beat of another heart.
Was she awake? The swooshing, gurgling sound filled her ear and was accompanied by an unrelenting steady thud. “Rob? Are you OK?”
“Feeling juicy,” he said cryptically.
“Juicy?” But it was true. The flesh pressing Holly’s was plump and firm. And hard.
That part of Rob which made him a man was hard. Lust coursed through Holly. What had happened only in her dreams and fantasies was right there in her hand.
It was wasted in her hand.
The sheer malevolent force of desire ripping and tearing at Holly shocked her; it stripped away the niceties, scrambled her thoughts. Maddening tremors jangled her body as the excitement threatened to become too much. From deep within her belly, tiny jolts unfurled. Tissues inflated, and juices flowed. It happened throughout her body but mostly in her groin. That sweetest of pleasures, of bonding, connecting with the man she loved, who she was sure loved her; the man who had sacrificed everything to be with her.
“Wait, wait,” Rob said, with a hint of desperate emotion underlying his flat tone. His body was writhing with the change taking place within it.
“I can’t,” Holly sobbed. There was no telling how long it would last. It could be ephemeral and Holly needed to take advantage; needed to take him inside her even if it was just this once, just for a few moments.
She hauled herself over him, hungry as she had never been hungry before, even in all the months of lust and need. “I might be young,” she thought, “and he not of this world. But he is my everything; everything that my cruel world is not.”
“Trust me,” Holly whispered, tenderly guiding his engorged flesh between her parted legs. Rob winced as Holly slid down his cock. Perhaps it was the shock of her heat, or maybe a memory of what he once was. Rob lay still in the darkness, ensnared - trapped between Holly’s legs.
“So juicy,” he moaned, and Holly could feel the slick varnish of her liquids on Rob’s cock and thighs.
Her body was determined to take full advantage of the opportunity. She felt that familiar tingling, deep in her belly, between her legs, and then everywhere.
Her body was singing.
It was a sensation which hadn’t previously been shared and it was building towards a crescendo.
Holly placed her hand on Rob’s chest, not just for balance as she drove her hips ever faster, but to feel the beat of his heart. Alive. This is how love needed to be expressed: touching and sharing, cherishing and wanting. “You, Rob, just you,” she gasped, knowing that she wasn’t making sense. The time for logical thought and rational words had passed.
Primal urgency had taken over; this was a moment which might evaporate at any moment.
Quivering skin, slapping flesh. With a great sigh Rob buried himself in Holly and held her in place with juddering hands. He was breathing her, smelling her for the first time; her essence penetrating his lungs as his cock released its seed into her.
Rob stayed inside. And stayed hard.
Holly rode him again, quickly finding her rhythm, her body catching another, faster, higher wave of excitement. The tingling tightened as pelvis pressed against pelvis and in the darkness, Holly did what she did when she had been fantasising about this. The familiarity of her own fingers gave Holly control. Her body strained as she mentally prepared herself for sexual release.
She was writhing against him, feeling his cock inside her, panting, grinding, feeling the first waves of her orgasm as it approached. Her hand moved under her shirt, fondling her tits as they bounced to the rhythm of her body. Her mouth agape, body a frantic movement – the juices were hindering that final spark needed to slide over the precipice.
Muscles clenched happily and then furiously as the orgasm fired; Holly screamed into the night as her body bucked like a broken branch being ravaged by a storm.
Not easy but so, so satisfying. *****
Rob’s fingers slid around Holly’s hips and lifted her. Holly was reluctant as Rob prised their bodies apart – she’d waited so long and he was still
Holly lay back and waited. She listened to him, to his breathing. It was such a natural thing, yet so alien. His lips were parted against her skin as he explored her body. His breathing was ragged, laboured. Holly listened, intrigued. His body felt so different against hers now that it was flushed with heat – was it now pink, the colour of rose petals?
Were his eyes still the colour of a cloudy sky?
Had her lover been transformed into a living man?
“Juicy,” Rob said, with wonderful understatement. “Eat you.” Terror gripped Holly’s body as she felt Rob’s mouth moving over her tender flesh. She gasped. Her nipples were engorged and very, very tender as Rob’s mouth bit down on them.
Holly felt the delicate flesh of her right breast being stretched. He was really
Rob’s mouth was gone and relief washed through and out of Holly’s body in a gust of breath. It had been enough to hurt but not enough to damage. Holly tensed as she realised what Rob had meant when he’d said those three words.
Parts of her were indeed very, very juicy.
What Rob was doing was wrong – but it was wonderful. Holly’s body buckled, as did her will to resist.
Such power, such need.
Her fingers clutched Rob’s head. She was brutally exposed as Rob’s mouth explored places that mouths should never go. Lips entwined. Then Holly felt the sharpness of teeth. She expected it to happen at any moment: those teeth to clamp together. But it was too late to stop it. She let it happen. There were no words in her voice, just breath as teeth chewed.
Holly gave a yelp of shock as Rob’s teeth brushed her clitoris and played with the entrance to her secret interior. Not just teeth: a tongue, slithering over and into her. The neediness became harsh. Her stomach flipped, and despite the fear, suddenly Holly’s legs opened wider as she surrendered.
Not to Rob, but to another orgasm.
Holly’s back arched and she was left gasping, sucking in great gulps of the chill night air even as a great pulsing wave of warmth flooded her body.
Still wanting, though fully satisfied.
Rob moved up Holly’s stilled body. His lips kissed hers, sharing her private taste as his continuing hardness penetrated once again. There was no further movement, just a deep physical connection as Holly drifted between her dreams and reality.
“Holly beautiful,” Rob said, in a matter-of-fact tone. “Love… Holly. Love… life.”
There was power in those words, enough to jolt Holly from her slumbers. No-one had ever spoken those words to Holly before. Not even in her dreams.
It wasn’t just Rob that was awakening: Holly could feel something coming alive within her. After so many loveless years there was a stirring, a gentle caress, a surrendering; she'd never felt more alive. She'd been transformed by this man, this thing from another place.
Something long dormant had been awoken. Not just love, but joy.
Holly wanted the world to stop; would have given anything to stay in that perfect moment. *****
The sexual heat lingered for days, then weeks. It held back the cold of the winter nights. Holly's body cried-out with relief and pleasure again and again. Wrapped within themselves, away from the world, they found new strength. Sparks of hope. Of courage. Of life. These were new beginnings. The sum had become larger than anything that ever existed in Holly's life; a life that had exploded with happiness, that fizzed like the insects in the meadows as winter turned to spring and spring into summer.
It was time to settle, to make a home. And there was only one place that Holly wanted to do that, although it filled her with fear to even think of returning to that
place. As summer faded, and a year to the day since Rob had found Holly tied to a rock, they arrived at the Rope and Anchor. They were but a day’s walk from that very same rock, from where it had all started.
Considering its isolated location, the Anchor had a surprisingly large selection of single malt Scotch. “So, you were a sailor?” Rob asked the barkeeper, exercising his conversational skills.
“No. I fucking ‘ate the sea. There’s more bloody monsters in there than there are roond ‘ere. At least roond ‘ere they ‘av the decency t’only come twice a year.“
“Just like your Missus, eh Bob?” Bob cast a sharp glare at the man at the end of the bar.
“She used to come every night wid me, Spud. I told ‘er she should never ‘av taken up wid you.” The bar broke out in jovial laughter, which drifted and faded as each man returned to the safety of their drink.
“Yous were never at sea, Bob. Yous get seasick crossin’ bloody brook.”
“Listen, friend. I never chose the name of the place. I just took it over when the last barkeep’ was…”
“Eaten, Bob. The word thou is lookin’ fer is ‘eaten’.”
“Now, don’t go scarin’ the customers,” Bob advised. “Or thou might find thy bar tab called in.” Bob turned back to Rob. “B’sides, we just give old Angharath a couple of pails of scrumpy and he’ll keep them things
away alreet.” Rob wanted to make a suggestion regarding the generous ration of scrumpy Angharath was allocated, and in particular the effect said scrumpy had on the wizard’s ability to stay awake during guard duties. He thought better of it when he saw the barkeeper looking longingly at the rocking chair by the crackling embers of the fire.
“I just hope poor Angharath makes it through the night.” As if to emphasise the point, the wind chose that moment to whistle through the chimney pots and return a second later to rattle every board and shutter in the place.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Rob said, reassuringly. From what he’d seen, the wizard would be sharpening his skewers for the coming feast. “We’ll have something good,” Rob said, changing the subject. The barkeepers’ eyes assessed the weight of Rob’s purse as he dropped a pile of coins onto the bar. It had been a good year and young, strong bodies had been able to pull in a good coin during the harvest. The barkeeper carefully reached for the special spirits at the back of the top shelf and poured a couple of glasses. Holly took a sip of the slippery liquid and felt the warmth of it spread like autumn’s colours from her stomach into her tired limbs.
“So where you heading?” Bob asked. In the tradition of bar workers everywhere, he took a filthy towel with which he started polishing freshly washed glasses.
“Over to Meadowgate,” Holly answered. “My dad runs the mill over there, well he used to.”
“Mead? Wasn’t that the fella got chewed up last harvest?”
“Aye, that’s the one. Messy end by all accounts. A zombie broke its way in, they said.”
“They still not bothered to fix up the mill, last I heard.”
“This ‘ere ‘s his daughter.”
“So he’s dead then? I mean, properly
dead?” Holly was surprised that amongst the relief, there was something approaching sorrow.
“Aye. Stumbled int’ machinery by all accounts. Bits everywhere.” The bar went quiet as Bob used one of his special looks.
“Here have another one of those.” Bob subtly took a bottle from a lower shelf and filled Holly’s glass to the brim. She gulped half of it down in one go. The burn was fierce but it felt good.
She was an orphan. Alone in the world.
“You… OK?” Rob asked, awkwardly. Sometimes Holly wondered how much of Rob had been revived. She had a feeling that he was still part zombie. She looked into his eyes, those eyes which were becoming bluer by the day; even in the scarlet light of the fire they were – what was the word? Cerulean.
She laughed a hollow laugh. “I’m OK, Rob.” She placed her hand flat on his chest as she often did when she needed reassurance. The heartbeat was still there, going strong.
“Have you got a room for the night?” she asked without turning back to the bar.
“There’s no room, what wid it being The ‘arvest tonight.” Holly looked round and noticed for the first time the thick shutters and heavy bolts that had been pulled over every window and the door. “But yous welcome to sleep bys the fire. Yous might both fit into the old rocker - yous being a mite smaller than its usual occupant.”
Holly and Rob snuggled down together and were dozing lightly when a flurry of feet jarred them awake. “ Angharath ’s horse is back.” All eyes looked at the clock, aside from those of Holly and Rob.
“What does that mean?” Holly asked.
“Zombies. That ‘orse ‘ates zombies.” Holly and Rob looked at each other. “There’s nowt t’ worry about,” Bob said, having caught the furtive exchange. “A zombie would never be able t' get in ‘ere. We'll all still be 'ere for t' Festival.” Holly squeezed Rob’s hand under the heavy blanket.
“No, I’m sure they wouldn’t,” Holly said, nuzzling back in against Rob’s chest. Cruel memories came from a year back, of Rob standing as leader of a group getting ready to feed on her. Now more than ever she needed the reassurance of Rob’s thudding heart. It was still pounding away. “I’m sure a zombie would never get in here.”
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