Casimir let go of the fire escape. He hit the ground with a thud and skitter of gravel under the soles of his shoes. He glanced upwards to see if anybody had heard the rattle of the rickety old fire escape as he'd crept down it.
As he squinted into the sky to watch for any curious eyes, he realized that he'd never really seen the night in all of its unalloyed brilliance. He could make out the edge of the roof against the thick blanket of stars above and no curious head broke the pointillist canvas above.
Setting out, he tripped over a bag of cans and sent it rattling off down the alley.
His face collided with the dirt. As he rolled over, he saw a flashlight click on from above. The yellow circle began to sweep the alley. He lunged for the cover of a nearby refrigerator box and rammed into something warm and soft. Whatever it was clamped a warm, soft hand over his mouth. It tasted like sweat and dirt.
"Quiet!" the voice hissed.
The beam passed the end of the box, lighting the cardboard dust sent into the air by his egress. The beam hovered there for a moment, then clicked off.
The hand moved off of his mouth, slithered around to his back, and shoved him out of the box.
"Where are you sneaking off to?" Amy whispered, climbing out of the box.
"Me? How about you?"
"The Museum, moron," she said. "I have to tell Aunt Ivy that Dom is okay. Now I asked first."
"The same thing," Casimir said. "But you didn't want to go to the Museum!"
"No, I didn't want Dom to get hurt on his way to the Museum. But I can't exactly explain that to him."
"Yes, because you're both so reasonable."
"Let's get going before I have to raise my voice to you and wake up everybody on the roof," she said.
The dark outline of Amy walked towards the mouth of the alley and disappeared. Casimir followed her, his eyes adjusting enough to dodge the garbage bags and other detritus that littered the alley.
Now on the street, Casimir could see a few lights littering the nocturnal panorama. The interior light of a car that had crashed into a postal box illuminated a trapped zombie behind the wheel. A glaring emergency light punched through the glass on a three-flat brownstone. It spotlight a solitary arm, ripped off at the shoulder, that had been left behind on the sidewalk in front of a tasteful cast iron fence. A cell phone glowed in the gutter and chirped at nobody, obviously a persistent alarm.
Far from comforting, they made the darkness seem more absolute by their contrast. And Casimir now imagined every lump in his path to be a bit of gore.
The pair made good time towards the Museum but spoke little. Casimir realized that Constantinople had become a necropolis, and the living were only visiting.
Soon they were walking along the recreational paths on the lakeshore. The gentle slap of the waves against the moored boats mingled with the breeze through the dry leaves in Le Jardin to their right. Casimir could see dots of light in several boats that had left the docks, but they were too far away for him to see if there were any living people on board.
The zombies suddenly became thicker. They had been able to get by on Casimir's noiseless poking of the dead, until they were suddenly surrounded.
"Could you give me a hand?" Casimir said, his voice breaking the monotony of the zombies' moans and wheezes.
"Sure," Amy said, and soon the squelch and slither of her bayonet sticking into eye sockets joined the growing cacophony.
But even with her help the zombies grew thicker. The sheer weight of zombie after zombie pushing towards them quickly exhausted their already low reserves.
"Where did all of these come from?" Casimir asked, panting. He could barely lift his arm.
"I don't know," Amy said, her voice ragged and catching in her throat.
A zombie reached towards Amy's neck from behind, and Casimir was just in time to block it.
"I can't keep this up," he said, dread growing in his heart. He had to try to get Amy to safety. "We have to retreat."
"They're just as thick behind us as they are in front of us," Amy said, shoving a zombie away so that she could line up the bayonet on the end of her rifle with its eye socket. Another zombie crashed into the barrel and knocked it away.
"Dammit!" she said. Another zombie slammed into her back and threw her off balance, so that she couldn't evade the grasping hands of one of its fellows. The zombies began to pull her away from Casimir. "Agh! Help!"
"Amy, no!" Casimir said. With strength that he hadn't suspected that he had left, he leapt up on top of the zombies, crowdsurfed over them towards Amy, and then hurled himself like a clumsy rocket into her nearest assailant. He knocked it, and Amy to the ground, then slid over to throw himself on top of Amy to shield her from the hands of the zombie.
"They can't zombify me, just try to recover enough so that you can push me off of you and make a run for it," Casimir said. He felt the zombies pulling at his shirt while he waved his zombie hand at them as best as he could. Their bodies began to fall across him as he made contact, knocking the air out of him but forming a protective layer of the un-undead.
"Amy, are you in there?" said a small voice from miles away.
"Yes!" she shouted.
"Hang on, I'll get you out," it said.
The weight of zombies on Casimir's back immediately began to lessen, as they were pulled away by Casimir and Amy's rescuer. Casimir had no idea how he or she had broken through the line of zombies so fast but was grateful for the speed.
Casimir felt the weight lift off of his back, then rolled off of Amy.
"Ow," she said. She pulled her face away from the ground. Bits of dirt and grass stuck in her burn scars. She began wiping them away, but then her hand stopped as she and Casimir took a look around. Dawn had broken while they fought, and the sky was lit by its chromatic overture. It illuminated Casimir's shocked face.
The zombies had formed a perfect circle around Casimir and Amy. They all stood as still as a zombie could stand, which involved quite a lot of unstable swaying. Pendulus eyeballs hanging from optic nerves swung to a stop. Clamoring hands fell to idleness. Ever-shuffling feet dug themselves into the lawn.
The scene was peaceful and serene.
Until the massive, farting roar of a vicious engine broke the silence; this was soon followed by the machine-gun rattle of zombies bouncing off the hood. Bouncing headlights flashed through the crowd. A fender pierced the circle of zombies. The wheels bit into the grass as the car jerked to a stop. The license plate holder tapped a zombie in the back of the knees, very gently. The zombie tipped over like a discount fence post.
The door flew open and knocked several zombies onto their faces. The driver extinguished the headlights and climbed out.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," Emblem said.
Behind him, a small figure was making a big noise as it crossed the leather seats of the car. Ravilious emerged a moment later, a pretzel of limbs dropped into a tangle of black robes. In his arms he carried a leather-bound tome roughly the size and weight of his abdomen. He used the book as a counter-weight to propel himself out of the car. The effort left him panting.
"They're docile," Ravilious said to Emblem. "I could have had them get out of your way."
"That would have taken time," Emblem said. He walked over and picked up Amy and Casimir, whose eyes bulged in disbelief.
"But you're dead," Casimir said.
"Obviously not," Emblem said. "In fact, you're one to talk, what with that gross ass hand of yours. Now clean yourself off before you get in my car."