Flash Fiction: Sanctuary (Memento Mori)

“I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

Of course the zombie ran into the cathedral. Why not? Anything to make my day even worse than it already was.

I had my hood up when I passed through the very impressive doors, and I had to stop myself from pulling it down out of respect as I looked around me. I had never been in a cathedral before, though I’d seen them in movies, and I had to say, they were much more impressive in person. The ceiling was as high as the sky, and I felt very small and humble indeed. There weren’t any paintings or murals à la the Sistine Chapel, but the architecture was elaborate and the flying buttresses well placed. (I was guessing on that last one, I had no idea what those looked like.)

Being the middle of the day, there weren’t any people in the main part with all the seats, though I’m sure the priests and clerics — and bishops? — were probably in their offices (dioceses?) somewhere. All the more reason to stay invisible until I could find this wayward zombie.

On cue, he ran past the alcove I was admiring.

“Sanctuary!!” he crowed. “Sanctuary!” His laughter reverberated splendidly around the enormous building.

I didn’t know what it was about the zombification process, but it really made its victims a little loopy. I chased after him, my cloak sweeping away the sound of my footsteps.

The zombie had little regard for running and laughing in the middle of a church, but he stopped short of actually breaking anything. He dashed in circles around the pulpit (at least, I thought that’s what it was) and then took off around the side, down the aisle. I eventually caught up to him in a smallish room in the back of the cathedral, which must’ve been for prayer or something, as it had chairs, a Bible, and a kneeling area. There were also no other doors.

Realizing he was trapped, he stopped at the far end of the room, breathing heavily. “So . . . ” he said, staring at me with a crooked grin. “This is it, then.”

“This is it,” I agreed, shutting the door we’d come in behind me. I didn’t take my eyes off his half-rotten face. My scythe appeared in my hand.

The zombie eyed it greedily. “You’re only prolonging the inevitable, you know.”

“Is that so.” I didn’t want to move away from the door, but I also didn’t know how to get closer to him. Luckily, the scythe seemed to be having a hypnotic effect on the man, and he began to move toward me.

“This is the next step for humanity,” he said. “Immortality.”

“It’s been tried before. Didn’t work.” I watched his face carefully, waiting.

The zombie shrugged, a grotesque movement. “Ninety percent of all new businesses fail.”

I wondered if he had been some sort of CEO in his former, non-zombie life. His suit was nice enough.

He was very close to me now, but still just out of reach of my scythe. He stared at it, his overly bright eyes wide and yearning.

“It’s your destiny, Fay Tate . . . ”

I winced inwardly. How did everybody know my name?

“To align the worlds. To bring peace at last. The Reaper who will — ”

SLICE.

The zombie man had finally stepped into range, and with all my strength, I had swung my scythe around, cutting into his mortal body, which was now crumpled on the floor. The leftover soul, tortured and oozing in midair, opened its mouth to scream, but I managed to bring the scythe up again just in time.

SLICE.

It disappeared with barely a whine, and the body on the floor dissolved into dust.

I didn’t realize how badly I was shaking until I tried to rummage through my pockets for the tiny vacuum cleaner I’d brought for just this purpose. My fingers couldn’t grasp anything, and eventually, I gave up. I turned and leaned my head against the wall. It felt cool on my sweaty forehead, and I pulled my hood off to get a better effect. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the cross on a little table, and even though this wasn’t my church nor my religion, seeing it made me feel almost at peace, despite everything. Despite my job. Despite the zombie. Despite not being able to clean up this mess . . . I had probably left the vacuum with Beth, anyway. Speaking of, where was she . . . ?

It was my day for introducing well-timed entrances. I could hear the clicking of Beth’s heels on the marble floor even through the thick wall; she was clearly searching for me. I shook myself and opened the door just as she was passing by.

“Oh, there you are!” she said. “Did you get it?”

“Him,” I corrected unnecessarily. I pulled the door open wider so she could see. Her eyes widened.

“Ah . . . ”

She came into the room with me, closing the door behind her. She looked me over.

“Was it hard? Are you okay?”

It was the first time she’d ever asked me this, and I almost couldn’t answer. Friendship was weird.

“Uh, yeah. Fine. He wasn’t bad.”

Beth rolled her eyes and glanced at the pile of dust. “Yeah, right. I know I missed all the action.” She sighed. “Clean-up crew, yet again.” She dipped a hand into her own cloak and deftly pulled out the vacuum cleaner. I marveled at her organization and/or her cloak’s loyalty, I wasn’t sure which was responsible.

She went over and kneeling down, began sucking up the dust. It seemed a little disrespectful, especially given that we were in a cathedral and everything, but there was really no other way to dispose of the “leftovers,” though apparently another Reaper was working on it with Death.

“Did it say anything?” Beth asked over the din.

“Just the usual spiel about my fate and the new world order. Nothing new.”

“I wish we could properly interrogate one,” Beth said grimly. “We’re still stumbling around the dark about their plans. But they barely seem cognizant, let alone sane.”

“Zombie brains, man,” I said. “Not good for your mental health.”

Beth finished the dirty deed and shut off the cleaner, but stayed knelt on the floor, staring off into space.

“It sucks,” she said suddenly, not looking at me. I thought perhaps she was talking about the vacuum, but she continued, “As if it’s not hard enough being a Reaper already. But now we’re not just taking souls but the bodies as well. This whole thing is . . . ”

“Messed up,” I said. There was really no other way to say it. I mean, there probably was, but I couldn’t think of any.

“How can you do it, Fay?” Beth asked, now looking at me. “How’re you going to be able to do this” — she gestured at the spot where the zombie’s body had once been — “to your friend?”

She was talking about Zoe. I really didn’t want to answer that. I really didn’t have an answer to that. So, I cast my eyes around for anything else to look at besides Beth’s questioning (and pitying) face. Then I noticed she’d pulled her hood off. Now it was my turn to stare.

“What happened to your hair? It looks like a rat nest!”

“Parakeet nest, actually,” Beth said, with an eye roll.

She stood up. “Don’t ask.”

 


 

It’s time for another random installment of my Memento Mori series, yaaaay!! Someday, I’ll actually sit and work it all out . . .

(Also, does anybody else notice that the site font has changed? I didn’t do it, so it must be a WordPress thing affecting the theme. It literally happened for me between loading one page to the next, so I was able to compare the two. I liked the old font better. ;~;)

This story was inspired by a prompt found in this book: Write the Story

“Lincoln cathedral” by Gary Ullah is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

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