Casimir drove the ambulance down the streets and, frequently, the sidewalks of Constantinople. Emblem, who had recently downed an entire bottle of pills, bounced and screamed in the passenger seat. He had rummaged around in the back of the ambulance and produced a defibrillator. He leaned out the window and had the paddles swinging around at the limits of their cords, using them like a medieval warrior using a flail.
"C'mon mash on it motherfucker!" Emblem shouted. He cracked a zombie on the head, and the paddle whipped back around and clocked him on his own skull.
"Ow! If you'd been going faster, that wouldn't have happened!" Emblem yelled.
"I am trying not to get us killed!" Casimir said. The vinyl seat of the ambulance froze his buttocks through the thin barrier of his hospital gown. Being a conscientious, cautious and boring driver meant that he wasn't used to driving one-handed and his feet not in shoes but grippy socks. He wrenched the wheel sideways to avoid a zombie that had wandered into the road. Emblem smashed it with his defibrillator.
"What was that? Run them over!"
"What if I hit somebody who isn't a zombie?" Casimir said. He'd rolled over several zombies already, and the sickening crunch of flesh and bone giving way beneath his radials sent waves of nausea, panic and guilt crashing over him. He wished that the uncanny valley was deeper.
"They're all zombies! I'll eat the writhing, maggoty pseudopod of one of Nezberoch's Forgotten Young if you hit a living person!"
The zombie lurched in front of the ambulance. Casimir had no time to swerve. The zombie bounced off of the grill and then disappeared beneath the frame. In his rear-view mirror, Casimir saw it stand back up and continue on its way.
"You seem to know a lot about zombies," Casimir said.
"If you see 'em enough, you get to know your enemies better than your friends."
"My talent is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What do you know about this fella waiting for us at the Museum?"
"He's named Branks. No idea if that's his first name or his last name. I guess it's like Cher. He worked at Mr. Dicky's Sandwiches with me, and he always used to tell me his ridiculous disaster plans. All kinds of disasters, from asteroid impacts to epidemics. He told me that he had two sixty gallon drums filled with gumballs. For the next ice age. He said that he was planning to chew it to stay warm as the glaciers advanced. The disaster that he always dreamt of, he told me, was a zombie apocalypse. Branks told me in the event of a zombie attack to get to the Museum because it's easily defensible."
"That's true. It used to be a fortress," Emblem said.
"It doesn't look like it."
"That's because of the facade," Emblem said. "You can take an impenetrable set of walls crowned with arrow slits and ceilings lined with murder holes, throw on a bunch of Caryatids with bare breasts and suddenly it's Civilized."
They emerged from the core of downtown Constantinople, known as the Knot because of the tangle of mass transit tracks, automobile, bike, pedestrian and unicycle traffic that clogged the area during daylight hours. Before them lay Le Jardin, the great strip of grass that separated the Knot from the lake, still named "Le Lac Fantastique." The etymology of those two geographic features were the few markers that Constantinople, and Illinois in general, had been a French stronghold before the 1750s.
The Constantinople Museum of Natural History sat along the edge of Le Lac Fantastique. The only thing separating the pair from the Museum was a wall of picnickers and tourists.
"Argh, the out-of-towners are bad enough in their living forms," Emblem said. "Here, now you can off-road!"
Casimir took the ambulance across the sweeping, verdant grass. He only had to dodge the man-sized gopher holes.
"Are those open graves?!" Casimir yelled, trying to keep one of his front wheels from falling into one. A zombie in a waistcoat and leather slippers climbed out of another grave.
"This is where the early citizens of Constantinople buried their dead. The citizens around Fort Rigaud didn't want gravestones in their shorefront property, so they put them behind the fort."
"Oh god, all of the dead have risen!" Casimir moaned, not unlike a zombie.
"No, mostly just the old ones. Newer graves have too much concrete and lead and besides, many of the morticians in Constantinople knew to use coffins laced with copper to disrupt magic."
"What do you mean, magic?"
Emblem raised an eyebrow at Casimir. "I've been drugged out for - shit, what year is it? Is that incoherent Irishman still president?"
"No," Casimir said.
"For a while, but you can't tell me that parents aren't still telling their kids about wizards and pixies. You know, history. Anyhow, that is why wizards taught people how to make stuff out of iron and propagandized its use. That ushered in the heyday of magic on Globe. Orb never had any of the stuff, so a lot of magicians exploited that fact. Many were tossed into the Formless Void Where The Only Form Is Your Face And It Is Screaming by the Council of the Grey, but they could not and probably didn't want to police everywhere, all the time."
A zombie in front of them, dressed in black robes and holding a shovel, began screaming.
"Zombies don't scream and they don't use tools!" Emblem shouted.
Casimir threw the wheel as hard as he could. The shouting was in front of them, then above them, then behind them as the ambulance rocked on its side, hit a pile of exhumed dirt and sent the truck careening into a grave like a mammoth being brought down by hunters who had just discovered the metaphor.