Codex Nekromantia: Section 16

Casimir and Charles-Henri approached the boulevard that separated Le Jardin from the Constantinople Museum of Natural History. Emblem and Ravilious were both unconscious on their stretchers, carried by the revenants.

"Hah!" Charles-Henri said, pointing to a street sign. "I don't believe it. 'Charles-Henri Boulevard!' Then again, I didn't believe the things that I've seen in the past several hours. When I was put into the ground this place was a small fortress afloat on a bit of swamp. The young one, Ravioli, he told me that millions live in and around Constantinople."

Charles-Henri stamped on the ground with his peg leg. "And how the swamp has been drained. My leg doesn't go all soggy!"

The grass swept up an embankment and at the top was Charles-Henri Boulevard. A pedestrian tunnel ran beneath the road. An overturned lemon ice stand sat on the concrete. A wet stain of melt water blossomed beneath it like a pool of citrusy blood. Several dozen zombies shambled in the tunnel, which the revenants soon dispatched.

"Why are we going to the Museum?" Charles-Henri asked. "You and Emblem spoke of it."

"My friend Branks told me to meet him there in case of a zombie plague," Casimir said. "And I keep a spare uniform in the basement."

"Do you work there? A scholar, perhaps?"

"A sandwich maker."

"What is that?"

"Oh. Uh, pieces of meat and things stuffed in between two pieces of bread," Casimir said. "Shit."

They had passed beneath the pedestrian tunnel and the evergreen-lined sidewalk that led to the sweeping stairway up to the Museum. The revenants with their fixed bayonets paused.

"Why do you stop!?" Charles-Henri demanded, bumping into the back of one of the taller soldiers whom he couldn't see over. Casimir pulled Charles-Henri sideways and pointed to the wall of zombies separating them from the stairs.

"Mon dieu! We will never be able to hew our way through that tangle!"

"No, we won't," Casimir agreed. He'd seen less crowded mosh pits.

"There might be another way. We could go around to the loading docks in the back," Casimir said. He gestured down a branch of the sidewalk that led down to the water and significantly less zombies. As he watched, one lost its footing and tumbled into Le Lac.

Charles-Henri barked a series of commands and the revenants changed course like a flock of birds. The soldiers ahead of them rushed down to the waterfront and shoved zombies into the water. They followed the bend of the waterfront walk as it curved back around towards the Museum and soon they found themselves in a paved parking lot. The Greek Revival facade had been abandoned for this addition as the Greeks, despite their contributions to technology, had not developed the eighteen-wheeler.

Casimir led the soldiers to one of the loading bays. A half-unloaded truck sat in front of it. They all climbed a small ladder and saw that many of the parcels had been scattered, as if the workers had dropped their packages and fled. Casimir supposed that was exactly what had happened.

"Hup hup hup!" the soldiers grunted as they lifted the stretchers with Ravilious and Emblem on them up the ladder.

Charles-Henri climbed the ladder with considerable agility for someone with a wooden peg leg.

"Gotta keep fit, mon fils!" Charles-Henri said, slapping Casimir on the back after he'd noticed the young man's surprise.

Casimir gave him a weak grin. It was about all that he could muster. He really hoped that Branks hadn't lied to him about meeting at the Museum. Branks didn't seem like the type to lie, but that was only because lying required the ability to discern reality from fantasy. If Casimir took himself as a benchmark for having a grip on reality, then Branks was hanging by a greased pinky finger.

There was also a good chance that Branks had accidentally blown his own head off with one of the many guns that he claimed to have squirreled away, Casimir considered. He shook his head to get the thoughts out of his head. They weren't going to get him closer to rescuing Jane, his ulterior motive for trying to find Branks. Casimir could bum a few guns, maybe some fatigues, and go kick down her door and drag her to safety.

He'd need some pants first.

And shoes, he reflected, as the chill of the concrete seeped through his hospital socks. He led them down the corridor towards Mr. Dicky's. Charles-Henri, who crept behind him, whistled in his ear.

"Why'd you whistle?" Casimir said, turning to look at Charles-Henri. Even in the dim light, Charles-Henri's empty eye sockets had stopped freaking Casimir out. Of course, he may have just run out of fear.

"I didn't," Charles-Henri said, "but that arrow did!" He pointed at a black, shiny shaft embedded in the concrete. Casimir saw the bright orange fletching standing out in the darkness as it wobbled to a halt.

So Casimir hadn't run out of fear, then.

A bundle of glowsticks emerged from a doorway in front of them. Casimir could see the silhouette of a crossbow aimed at his head. The sound of bubblegum popping echoed down the hallway, followed by the wet smacking of further chewing.

"Casimir, is that you?" asked the man holding the crossbow.

"Branks! Yes! It's Casimir," he said. If he'd been wearing pants, he may have peed them with relief. He started to stand up.

"Don't stand up!" Branks barked. Casimir stopped.

Silence except for chewing.

"Branks?"

"Hang on there, buddy. I'm trying to figure out if you might be a zombie spy."

"A zombie...spy?" Charles-Henri whispered.

"He's a little paranoid. He had a plan for a zombie apocalypse, remember?" Casimir whispered back.

"Knock it off with the whispering 'til I figure this out. Hmm. Who am I?" Branks asked.

"Your name is Branks," Casimir said, "you're thirty-one years old and you eat a salami sandwich for lunch everyday, washed down with a apple juicebox."

"That sounds like a zombie spy trying to convince me that his surveillance has worked," Branks said.

"You told me to come here."

"A zombie spy could've overheard the conversation and decided to infiltrate my base."

"Jane dumped me last night, I woke up in an abandoned hospital that wasn't actually abandoned, just filled with zombies, and I've had to wander through Le Jardin with nothing on my feet but a pair of hospital footies. I rescued a psychotic drug addict who almost made me run over some kid in the ambulance that we stole, and they're both unconscious and on stretchers carried by a bunch of two hundred year old Frenchmen."

"Jane dumped you last night?" Branks asked. He lowered the crossbow and lit a flashlight. "That blows. Come on in."

Casimir went into the backroom of Mr. Dicky's. The room had been illuminated by several oil lamps, each wick burned with a tiny triangle of flame. The revenants followed them in. They placed the stretchers on top of the stainless steel counters. The ones that had not been encrusted with guns, ammo, crossbows, arrows, hand grenades, machetes, fire axes or blowtorches.

"Jane seriously dumped you?" Branks asked.

Branks dressed exactly like Casimir had seen him every day at work. Athletic shoes, tattered jeans, a tight tshirt that even in the dim light left nothing of his areolas to the imagination, a pair of aviator sunglasses, and a paint-stained baseball cap. The only difference was a line of blood trickling down his face and a big, matte black crossbow. He also had a very dense thicket of glow sticks strung about his neck.

"Yes," Casimir said.

"Females will always abandon you in the end. So will males, for that matter, but that's beyond the point," Branks said with a speech impediment and a shower of saliva from the massive wad of apple-scented gum wedged in his mouth like a wet sock. "Gum, though, gum'll never let you down. It keeps you warm. It carries you through, you can always talk to it, and when you get tired of it you just stick it in a library book."

He foisted crinkly handfuls of gum on Casimir.

"What happened to your eye?" Casimir asked.

"Ah, it's a scratch," Branks said, moving his glasses down. His eye had been either completely pulverized or ripped out of his head. The bloody mess left in its orbital socket wasn't telling one way or the other. "I ran into an eye doctor on my way here. Or actually, it's fair to say that he ran into me. With his car. He told me that it was just a scratch and gave me this ointment. What happened to your hand? That looks like a zombie bite to me." Suspicion rose in his voice.

"Ah, no, that's just a paper cut from a beer bottle last night. I had to go out and drink after I got the bad news."

"Why didn't you invite me?" Branks asked, a note of hurt in his voice.

"You don't own a phone," Casimir said.

"That's not true," Branks said, "I just don't give out the number to anyone. For security reasons. You understand."

They heard moans, and the sound of nails on a metal door.

"Don't worry about them, that door's welded shut and I stuck the deep fryer in front of it. For safety's sake, though, I want you each to take one of these glowsticks," Branks said, pulling them off of his neck and handing them to the new arrivals. "The dead bastards don't have these, so if I see it I won't shoot ya. Or at least I'll peer real close before I blow you away."

Charles-Henri ground his teeth together. "Not all dead people are bad."

"Sorry, Pierre, didn't mean no offense."

"My name is Charles-Henri!" he said, drawing himself up to his full stature.

"That's what I said, Pierre," Branks said without a hint of sarcasm or insult intended.

Casimir put his hand on Charles-Henri's shoulder and shook his head.

The scratching on the door turned to banging, and in a moment it burst inwards off of its hinges. Casimir leapt backwards as the torrent of zombies poured into the room, hideous in the dancing green lights of the revenants pushing towards the intruders.

Casimir slammed his hip into the deep fryer that had been carefully wedged against the closet door.

"Dammit, Branks!" he yelled as the zombies began to overpower the revenants, who couldn't get their bayonets into prime gutting position.

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