Ed Danvers continued to slosh through the fetid water, expanding his array of expletives for every time one of his shoes got sucked into the muck. He pushed through the vines and emptied out into a vast open pool that expanded before him like an ocean.
“There’s nothing here,” he said aloud, “He’s turning my crank. He sent me out here to…”
He shouted and tossed his hat at the ocean. It spun over the water and vanished about 30 yards away. Danvers regarded the phenomenon for a moment and closed his eyes. He fished a soggy branch from the mire at his feet and flung it after his hat. The stick twirled through the air and vanished, like the hat had done before it. Danvers waded out. He pinched a coin from his pocket and flipped it. It vanished a foot in front of him. He crept his hand out, pointing his finger out to the horizon. The tip vanished. Where it appeared to sever, it was ringed in white light. He retracted his hand, then made another stab. His hand vanished. He pulled it back and pulled a deep breath.
“That’s more like you, Delareux,” he said, as he walked toward the vanishing point.
As he passed through, a city unfolded in front of him like twirling ribbons of paper in a pop up book. Danvers vision flickered and jumped like a film strip slipping off the projector. His head swam and he closed his eyes. He didn’t feel dizzy. It wasn’t his head. The world was doing that. He opened his eyes and found himself at the edge of a dense city of bent towers. It was Charles Dickens by way of Fritz Lang. He was standing the end of a long, undulating road that terminated in a tower stabbing the sky. It dominated a skyline spiked with towers. Every rooftop seemed like it tapered off into some form of crooked spire, like a Prague carved from wax and melting under a baroque fever dream.
Danvers made his way down the road. Above his head the sky was hidden by awnings and mist that clung to the sides of the overbearing structures that lined the street. At the intersections the crossing streets would curve off toward the tower’s direction. Danvers concluded that the tower was the center of this mess. The main avenues spoked off from it. The crossing streets were a series of concentric circles. He could see people milling in the distance ahead and down the side roads, but where he was walking, it was quiet. A man in muddy rags leapt from a door that emptied out onto the road.
“Blessed day, brother,” he said, “Have to come to hear the good news?”
“Cults,” Danvers sighed in his mind, before addressing the sickly man, “I’ll bite. Who do you worship?”
“Worship?” the man scowled. His face lit up, “Worship these prices. Prawns, two smackers a bushel.”
“I got plenty of prawns in my shoes, thanks.”
“Dried leaves. Two bits a pound,” he stuffed a wad of leaves in his mouth and pretended to enjoy chewing them.
“Pass. Listen, Mac, what is this place?”
“This is His Master’s citadel.”
“Dammit, Delareux. See, it’s when you weirdos start talking about things like ‘citadels’ I start to get antsy. When I get antsy I get impatient. And when I get impatient I get…” he gave the man an expectant look.
“That’s a good way to put it.”
“Better. ‘His Master’ doesn’t sit in my craw too well, though.”
“Still weird. Does he have a name?”
“Okay, well, do you have a name?”
“Jerome. Jerome Foster,” he held out his hand.
“Jerry Foster? Cynthia Foster’s husband?”
“Yeeeeeeeeeesssssss?” he scrunched his face, “I think. The name rings a bell. Though it may just be the last names. Not that uncommon.”
“She filed a missing person report on you yesterday.”
“I’m not missing, brother. I’m found.”
“Sure you are, guy. Where can I find this Master joker? My gut says in that big, building code violation in the middle of this mess.”
“Go home, Jerry,” Danvers said as he continued on, “Your wife is worried sick.”
“I’m married to my work.”
“That’s swell, pal. Real swell.”
“It’s all for the Great Work, brother.”
“There’s that crazy talk again.”
As Danvers continued on he noticed that the milling up the road were streams of men in dirty clothes filing back and forth like ants, carrying materials and passing to others who were clinging to the sides of the structures. They took the materials and affixed them to the buildings, forming new floors and wings. Some of the buildings were built out from the upper floors and joined together, high above the street. The rows of workmen were being overseen by a handful of armed guards. One caught sight of Danvers. He veered down a cross street.
“Hold,” a guard shouted.
“You’re not one of His Master’s.”
“I’ve been hearing about this guy.”
“No one who enters The Master’s citadel is permitted to leave alive.”
“How much do condos go for here?”
“Or stay. Only The Master is permitted the luxury of life and will.”
“Who is The Master?”
“The Master is the Alpha and Omega. He is the lifespring etern…”
“Knock it off. Gimme a name.”
“A kraut. No kidding.”
“Enough,” the guard drew his sword and the others followed.
Danvers pulled his gun.
“He’s got a gun,” a guard said.
“Why don’t we get guns?” another asked.
“Do not question The Master’s edicts.”
Danvers fired into the shoulder of a guard.
“Hey,” he said, looking at the entry wound.
Danvers noticed that the wound wasn’t bleeding.
“We’re here to free you. Give yourself over to unlife and find eternal peace and joy in the true will of The Master.”
“You guys sound like you have a lot of fun here, but…”
Danvers punched a guard, pushed him into another, and ran.
“What the hell?” the guard said, “this job used to be easy.”
“Now people hit you and stuff.”
“Was a time when they used to just cower or beg. Freeze at the sight o’ya.”
“I miss the cowering.”
“So what were you telling me earlier?”
“So, Fred is working on The Master’s terrace, right. Well, the guy can’t make up his mind. One minute he wants like tiered retaining walls, the next he’s like put a reflecting pool there instead. They were half way through the walls.”
“Oh, jeez, and they had to tear it all out?”
“All of it.”
“Working for The Master is bliss, though.”
“Oh yeah. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Danvers ran toward the rows of men lunging debris back and forth. He grabbed one and dragged him into and alcove. Moments later he emerged wearing the man’s ratty garb.
“Alright, Ed,” he thought, “Casual. What is casual here?”
He walked past the procession of laborers and took to the shadows. As he approached the tower he could make out the form of a wrinkled, bald fire hydrant barking orders at ashen men. His robes were clean and black, with ornate filigree, embroidered in gold thread. Danvers picked up a screen door from the pile the other workers were pulling from. He entered the construction area and stood looking at Ehrlich.
“Well?” Ehrlich said, “What are you standing around for?”
He walked to where a zombie had been hammering something a moment ago and began to imitate the process. Ehrlich scowled as he watched begin to nail down the screen door to a rolltop desk. Ehrlich grabbed his hammer arm on the backs wing.
“No, no, no. Listen. What I want is to have a little walkway curl around the side then connect with the staircase. Then we’re going to plant Rhododendrons all along here…”
“Hey, boss?” another zombie’s words fell out like crumpled balls of paper, “Why ain’t there any dames here?”
“Why ISN’T there any...dames,” Ehrich replied.
“Aren’t,” another zombie offered.
“What? How dare...No. You’re right, Charles,” Ehrlich pressed a pineapple sticker to Charles’ mud splattered tunic, “Extra rations for you, tonight. Hank, to answer your boorish question, on the reason as to why there are no women. It’s because in undeath, as in life, they retain their drive to nag and berate, question and niggle, without pause, until you’re nothing more than a withered husk of your former self. It’s a cosmic imperative that Death cannot quell.”
“I’m a withered husk of my former self,” Charles said.
“Now build my terrace. It has to be finished before the weekend. I’m having friends over.”
Ehlich spun around making sure to snap his cape. Two armed zombies fell in line behind him.
“What are we gonna do about the normies that got away?” one said.
“There’s a clean up crew for things like this. They’ll be dead by tomorrow morning.”
Danvers staggered out of the swamp, limping into Sylvia’s garden. Blood rushed from four slashes across his shoulder. His borrowed tunic was damp with blood. He flopped onto the path that wound through the garden to Sylvia’s back door. He could hear the rustling of trampled underbrush coming from all sides. His pursuers had entered the garden. He slid along the path on his belly, keeping under the hedgerows. The staccato sounds of noses snuffling at the air were beating all around. He hopped to his feet and ran in a crouch to the door.
The gang sat around Sylvia’s dinner table discussing what was to be done about her backyard zombie infestation and the necromancer responsible. Toli offered to look into Ehrlich’s business interests further. Delareux, Le Bec, and Sylvia agreed to work on reversing the necromancy. Shelby’s job was to gather as much intel as she could. As Toli interjected his fifth complement on Sylvia’s cheesecake, a ragged character appeared in the doorway, panting and dripping with blood and rain.
“Detective Danvers?” Sylvia gasped as she shot to her feet.
“Stand back,” Delareux said, drawing his pistol, “He’s one of them. I’ll take care of this.”
“Knock it off, Delareux,” Ed said.
“Would you shut up. You’re all in danger.”
A wolf howled outside the window. Several others joined in.
“Ehrlich's clean up crew.”