Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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The Sword in Zoe's Hand

by Gary W. Feather


Blood.

Their blood.

Her blood.

Zoe Roskova stood in the bathtub as the water from the shower head poured over her body. She remembered Michael's hands as they moved from her breasts down to her hips...

She heard a noise.

Zoe turned off the shower. She grabbed the sword that she had laid against the bathtub and stepped onto the soft rug.

Zoe's right hand shook as it gripped her katana or two -handed Japanese sword. She told herself to stay calm.

Zoe listened. Water still dripped from the shower head. Her heart sped up as she heard footsteps and a horrible stench stung her nostrils.

The zombies entered her bathroom.

The first one to appear had an eyeball dangling from its socket that the thing sucked with its dried lips. The second one had no nose and was dressed in the remains of a policeman's uniform.

Zoe drew her sword and beheaded the first one with a one-handed horizontal cut. Blood splashed against the mirror above the sink. She dropped her sheath and held the sword in front of her with both hands.

The second zombie stepped over its companion and its badge fell off as it charged Zoe.

Zoe raised her sword over her head. She struck its head with her curved blade and pulled the blade across in one swift motion. Blood splattered her pale face. She wiped her eyes with her forearm.

"More blood," Zoe said. "Damn it! That's all there is now. Just blood."

Zoe sighed and wiped her face with her hands. She could feel the sweat and the tensed muscles now. She relaxed, breathed, and prayed to anything that would listen.

"Just don't cry, Zoe," she said, quietly.

Zoe could see that she had a lot of work to do. They would be easier to carry outside if she cut them in half -- an easy job with the katana, but one that would make the mess even worse. When the cutting was done, she put the remains in some old plastic garbage bags.

Zoe washed the blood off her body in the shower. Then she went into the utility room for the mop, and washed the blood and other fluids off the bathroom floor and walls.

Finally, she dumped the bags outside on the lawn and set them on fire with a match and a bottle of wine.

Zoe wondered if the gods in heaven were laughing at her.

The breeze felt cool on her skin. Too cool. She looked down at herself. "Damn, I'm naked!"

She laughed for she remembered that no one could see her. Most people had moved away to a safe place or were dead.

Zoe stopped laughing when she heard the car engine. She saw the car drive by her and it stopped. She smelled the rubber as the car's tires squealed.

The car back up and stopped by her driveway. Inside the car were a man and a woman.

The man was fairly handsome with red hair and five o'clock shadow. The woman had long blond hair and green fingernails and they both wore dark sunglasses. They stared at each other for a minute and then back at her.

I must be a sight, she thought. A naked woman with short black hair holding a sheathed sword standing in front of a bonfire. What do I do now?

She smiled.

"Uh...what's in the fire?" the man asked.

"Zombies," Zoe said and giggled.

You're giggling like a bimbo, Zoe. Stop it, she thought. She bit her lip.

"Um, do you want to come in?" Zoe asked, gesturing with a tilt of her head toward her house.

"Sure," the man said.

The woman looked at him as if to say no, but said, "Fine."

Zoe went in first and made for her bathroom to get dressed. She slipped on a long white dress over fresh bra and panties and slid her feet into sandals.

She found the couple sitting together on her couch in the living room. They had both brought shotguns in her house. The man's shotgun was leaning up against the couch with his hand nearby and the woman held hers in her hands.

Zoe felt the weight in her hand, so familiar that she had only noticed it when she saw the shotguns.

My sword. Did I even set it down to dress? If there's a problem I should kill her first since he isn't holding his shotgun -- and he's kinda cute. Remember, look like a friendly hostess, Zoe...

"Hi," she said. "My name is Zoe Roskova. And you are?"

"I'm Greg Martin," the man said and put his hand on the woman's shoulder. "And this is my wife, Sylvia."

Zoe walked closer and shook hands with both of them.

"This was my house before --" Zoe delicately waved her hand around the room. "Before the dead came."

Zoe sat down on the arm of the couch by Greg and laid her sword in her lap. She gestured to indicate the shotguns and said, "I prefer a sword myself. Not that I hate guns -- but swords don't jam, and they don't run out of ammo when you need them." She leaned back and thought of touching him.

"Well, Zoe," Sylvia said. "If you don't mind me calling you that."

"Sure, why be formal, Sylvia," Zoe said.

"Okay, Zoe," Sylvia said. She rubbed her neck in a way that pushed her blond hair onto Greg's left hand that had not moved. "We pulled off the interstate to look for supplies."

"We're headed to Evansville," Greg said.

Zoe crossed her bare legs and rubbed her calf along Greg's leg. "Oh, I'm sorry." Zoe leaned her legs away from him.

Before Greg could speak Sylvia said, "No harm done, Zoe."

"Right." Zoe said.

"I haven't seen too many zombies around here," Greg said.

"I guess pickings are slim around here," Zoe said. "Most folks, if they could, followed the army convoy to Evansville, Indiana. There's suppose to be an army base there."

"That's where we're heading," Sylvia said.

"Do you think they're still there?" Zoe asked.

"Don't know," Greg said. "But we're going to find out."

"Can I come?" Zoe asked.

Greg looked at Sylvia, who just shrugged her shoulders.

"Okay," he said.

Zoe changed into jeans, t-shirt and some boots. She packed some clothes and other supplies into a canvas bag.

Greg and Sylvia helped her take out some food and water to the car and Zoe locked the doors to her house. Soon they were off.

Greg drove the three of them towards the interstate and in the direction of Evansville. After an hour Greg stopped the car in empty interstate highway. A buck stared at them

before it ran off.

"Anyone want to drive?" Greg asked.

"I do," Zoe said.

Zoe drove on with Greg in the back and Sylvia beside her.

"Where did you learn how to use a sword, Zoe?" Greg asked.

Zoe had laid her sword in between her seat and Sylvia's seat, with the handle angled towards her right hand. "I took an iaijutsu class for about nine years before all of this madness started." Zoe felt good having his attention.

"Ee-aye-what-zoo classes?" Sylvia said.

"It's an old Japanese sword martial art." Zoe gave Sylvia her best 'you're an idiot' look. "Eichin Ryu Iaijutsu. I studied under my fiancé, Michael Neil. He died about when this...began to start."

"How did he die?" Sylvia said.

Zoe burned on the inside and looked at the other woman. Her hand fell to her sword for a second then it went back to the steering wheel. "I don't like talking about it."

"Okay," Sylvia said.

"Sorry," Greg said.

"Fine," Zoe said. "I reall-"

"Look out!" Sylvia shouted.

"Shit!" Zoe yelled.

Zoe swerved away from the man in the road just in time and did not hit anything else. She stopped the car.

"Was that a zombie?" Greg said, grabbing his shotgun.

"Let's find out," Zoe grabbed her sword by the sheath.

The three of them stepped out of the car, armed. Zoe pushed her sheath through her obi -- the cloth sash worn around the waist over traditional Japanese clothing. Earlier she had tied the obi around her waist before getting into the car.

They walked forward as a man waved and shouted at them. He was standing by an old pick-up truck.

Once they were closer to him they could see that he was dirty, but alive.

"Wow!" he said. He kept shifting from one foot to the next. "I haven't seen anyone for a long time. Alive, I mean."

"Who are you?" Greg said.

"I'm Tom. Tom Philips," he said, scratching his mangy head.

"Where're you headed?"

"Evansville," Sylvia said. "We've heard there's an army base there."

Tom scratched his whiskers. "Can I go with you?"

Greg and Sylvia lowered their shotguns.

"There's room for another," Greg said.

"That's kind of you," Tom said. He drew a revolver from the back of his pants. "But on second thought, I think I'll take the whole car."

Three zombies walked out from behind the pickup and shambled towards them. Tom did not look the least afraid. In fact he seemed happy to see them.

"They're my pets," Tom said. "In the circus, I was always the best at training animals and these zombies aren't much different than animals."

Tom looked at Sylvia. "You know. I could keep you women, if you want. Hey, where's the other wo-"

Zoe had sneaked behind Tom as he talked. She cut off his head just as he saw her. The head rolled towards one of the zombies and the thing tilted its head down to look at it, confused by the question of whether this was still the Master -- or just food.

Greg blew the brains out of one of the zombies and Sylvia killed a second. Zoe cut through the neck of the last one.

"Let's get out of here!" Zoe said.

They got back into the car. Zoe started it up and they were off again.

####

Sylvia was driving as they entered the army base. The outer walls had been broken through and the zombies were feasting on the living.

A private with a missing arm jumped on the hood of the car. "Help me!"

The zombies pulled him off.

"Damn it!" Greg said. "Let's go, Sylvia!"

Sylvia sped the car through the crowd. The zombies were knocked aside or run over. She even got lucky and flattened the skull of one of them. She drove them away from the base to a gas station for they were in desperate need of some gas.

"Maybe we can find some gas here," Sylvia said.

"We'd better," Greg said. "We're about empty."

Zoe tried to use the pump, but it did not work.

"Maybe there's a generator in the shop that'll get things running," Greg said. "I'll go check."

"Be careful, Greg," Zoe said.

"Good luck, honey," Sylvia said.

Greg left the two women by themselves. Sylvia looked at Zoe nervously. "Are we friends now, Zoe?" She glanced down at Zoe's katana, still stained with blood and putrefying flesh in spite of the cleansing flick of the blade before Zoe had returned it to its sheath.

"Sure, Syl," Zoe said. "Can't have too many friends with enemies like those." She pointed. "Here they come."

"Damn!" Sylvia said. "There's a lot of them."

There were hundreds of zombies walking, crawling, and wiggling in their direction, depending on the number of functioning limbs they had.

Sylvia looked back at the station. "Greg, get out here! They're coming!"

"Give me a minute I think that I found something!" Greg shouted back from inside.

Sylvia aimed as the nearest zombie got into shotgun range. She pulled the trigger and its head exploded, its brains splashing into the face of the zombie behind.

"Greg!" Sylvia shouted. "Let's go!"

"Do you remember what ol' Tom said about zombies being useful?" Zoe said, while drawing her sword.

"What did you say, Zoe?" Sylvia said.

Zoe's blade cut through Sylvia's elbow and she jabbed the hilt into other woman's throat. Sylvia gagged and wheezed.

Zoe shoved Sylvia toward the zombies.

Four zombies caught Sylvia and tore her flesh with their hands and teeth.

"They're great for disposing of evidence," Zoe said. Then she shouted, "Greg! They got Sylvia! Let's go!"

There was no response.

Zoe ran inside the shop and shouted, "Let's go, Greg! We can find more gas later!"

Zoe stopped. Inside the shop were six zombies feeding on body parts that had Greg‘s clothes.

"No!" Zoe yelled.

Zoe charged at them and killed two of them. She screamed in anger and ran back outside. She ran at a zombie and cut off its head. The zombies were everywhere. Zoe cut through wrists, necks, legs, and fingers. She kept cutting and cutting.

Zoe jumped on top of the hood of the car and then onto the roof.

"Come on, damn you! Let's finish this!" Zoe shouted.

The zombies climbed up and many met her blade as they got near her. Wind swung her short hair around as she covered the car with blood. She fought as sweat poured from her

cheeks and hair. The zombies cut her skin with their nails or their finger bones.

"Stop it!" burst out a strange commanding voice.

The zombies crawled off the car and away from Zoe.

Zoe stared at the three figures in black hooded robes. Blood and sweat poured from her body as she panted.

The robed figure closest to Zoe pull down its hood to reveal the face of a living man. The other two did the same. They were also alive. Not that that meant they could be trusted...

"I am Hudson, abbot of a small monastery nearby," he said. "You are welcome to join us."

"Thank you," Zoe said. "My name is Zoe Raskova."

Zoe wiped her blade on her jeans. She found her sheath on the ground and slipped her sword blade in to it. She grabbed her canvas bag out of the car. This is all I have, she thought.

The three monks lead her a mile down the road to a large two storey house that had a six foot fence around it. One of Hudson's monks opened the gate to the fence. In the center of the gate was what Zoe thought was a gargoyle's face. Hudson politely gestured for Zoe to go first.

Zoe, though she didn't complete trust him, walked into the place. Under her feet was a well kept lawn and in front of her was a dark brown house with a red roof. East of the house was a large garden with all sort of plants growing. In front of the house were roses and lilacs.

"Very pretty," Zoe said.

"Thank you, Zoe," Hudson said. "We try to keep our Lord's house beautiful."

I wonder who their "Lord" is? Zoe wondered when she got close enough to see the upside down pentagram that had been nailed to the door.

Once again one of Hudson's monks opened the door for her.

She entered and dropped her bag. Inside was a large front room with a tan carpet and old yellow wallpaper. There were only two round poker tables with folding chairs and a dozen cushions on the floor. There were also several bookcases full of books along the walls.

"Impressive," Zoe said.

"We monks prefer a simple life, Zoe," Hudson said.

"I'm sure you do, abbot," Zoe said.

"I will give you a little tour and show you where you can sleep," Hudson said. "And please call me Hudson."

Hudson smiled and gallantly picked up her bag. He held out a bent arm for her like in some old movie.

"Okay, Hudson," Zoe smiled and slipped her arm into his. "Please show me around."

Zoe accepted the escort without any protest and listened to his every word without question. She felt vulnerable with her right arm held by him and her sword tucked into her obi on her left side. She knew how to draw with her left hand if she had too, but it would not be easy.

He showed her where a bathroom was and led her through a hallway to a dining room.

"This is where we eat," Hudson said. "A bell will ring outside when dinner is ready. The same will happen for breakfast and lunch. Oh -- and the kitchen is through that doorway. The stairs are this way."

They walked towards the other opened doorway and Zoe noticed a closed door down a hallway.

"What is in there, Hudson?" Zoe said.

"Nothing that should concern, Zoe, Hudson said. "At least for now."

After Hudson showed Zoe the upstairs bathroom and her bedroom he left her there. She pulled her sword out of her obi and sat down on the single bed. She rubbed her hand over the white sheets. The floor had no rug and the walls were without paper. Just plain wood. Very simple.

Zoe reached into her canvas bag and pulled out the box that contained her sword polishing kit. She sat her kit on the bed by her sword. Zoe took her jeans off. She did some stretching exercises.

She sat down on her knees and feet. She laid her sword down in front of her with the edge away from her. She set the kit beside it. She placed her hands, left over right, in front of her belly, at the mystical spot below her navel called tan t'ien in Chinese or hara in Japanese.

Zoe breathed in deeply and tried to get rid of all the pain and horror in her head. She meditated for 15 minutes in that position.

When she felt calm -- or as calm as possible, in a world where the dead and the living could be equally dangerous -- Zoe stopped and opened the box. Inside was the kit that included rice paper and powder, everything needed to properly maintain a Japanese blade.

Zoe pulled the blue sheath off of the blade. She held the sword and looked at the blade. Her eyes saw old marks on it and new ones. They were ugly souvenirs of bones severed like so many stalks of bamboo, scratches marring the wave-like patterns left by the tempering process. Did they reflect her soul?

Who am I? What am I? Once, the thought of using the sword to cut flesh and bone would have horrified her. Now it was a reflex -- and it seemed that she had no more trouble killing the living with the blade than she did dismembering the dead.

Zoe sighed. She noticed that her hand was trembling. She slowed her breathing and tried to calm her mind.

She continued with the ritual polishing of her sword. Just as Michael had taught her.

I miss him. My Michael. I have tried so hard to forget him. Now this Greg and Sylvia came into my life. I should have stayed home. We would have been better off. At least Sylvia might still have been alive -- assuming, that is, that Tom Philips and his "pets" had let them live.

Afterwards, Zoe began practicing with her sword, drawing, cutting and sheathing in various ways, sweating, until she heard a loud bell ring. Dinner.

Zoe washed her and hands and face in the bathroom sink to cool off. She walked downstairs to find Abbot Hudson and his monks all seated at the table.

They were eating. There were also three servants standing around pouring drinks for

everyone.

"You may eat by me, Zoe," Hudson pointed to an empty chair on his right.

"Thank you, Hudson," Zoe said.

Hudson nodded and then gestured. "Eat."

Zoe picked up a bowl of green beans and put some in her plate. A monk handed her a plate of rolls. She paused a second as she took it. The monk was a woman.

Zoe took a roll and passed it on. She noticed that all the monks had their hoods down. About half of them were women.

Who are these people? Zoe thought. They grow their own food and the meat tastes like rabbit and deer. Do they hunt?

"Do you want something to drink?" the female monk said to Zoe. "Lemonade, tea or water?"

"Lemonade would be nice." Zoe said.

The monk waved at one of the servants who came over and poured lemonade into Zoe's glass.

"Thank y-" Zoe said and then realized that the servant had the blank lifeless stare of a zombie.

Zoe reached for her sword and the monk touched her hand.

"Don't worry. It won't hurt you," the monk said. "They are well trained."

"What?"

"That is right, Zoe," Hudson said. "We know how to control them."

"And they make excellent servants," the female monk said, with a small smile. She waved the zombie away. "My name is Tammy."

"Hi. My name is Zoe."

"I know." Tammy's smile grew wider.

"What?"

"Our Abbot told us about you," Tammy said.

"Don't be too modest, Zoe," Hudson said. "You are quite good with that sword. We have been watching you."

"Why?" Zoe said and bit the inside of her lip. "How long?"

"Oh," Hudson said. "A few months."

Afterwards Zoe said goodnight to everyone. She went upstairs and took a shower. She returned to her room to meditate.

Once Zoe laid her head down on the pillow her mind fell back to the horrors. The nightmares in her head. The memory of Michael's death. Greg's death. Sylvia's death. She had seen too much death. She wanted peace, but could not dream of it.

####

Zoe awoke early the next morning and did her usual stretching exercises. This was followed by a Yoga workout that she did every morning to maintain her strength and flexibility. Then she went through her sword practice.

The bell rang while Zoe was taking a shower. She dried herself off with a towel and wrapped it around her body. She picked up her sword and saw a woman in the doorway. Tammy?

She had her robe hung over her shoulder and was naked. Zoe noticed that the other woman had no pubic hair. Am I blushing?

"Hi, Zoe," Tammy smiled.

"Hi, Tammy," Zoe said.

Tammy came in and turned. She handed her robe to another woman behind her. She reached out and gave Zoe a hug and peck on the cheek. "Good morning, Zoe."

"Uh...good morning." Zoe said. She felt and looked uncomfortable. I am blushing. Stop it!

Tammy giggled. "I'm sorry. You're new. You shouldn't be afraid to touch another human being or a nude body...that is what Abbot Hudson teaches us. You will learn soon."

"Yes," Zoe said. She stared at the woman holding Tammy's robe. "Hi."

"Oh," Tammy said, while getting into the tub. "That's just a zombie. If you ever need a servant or have something that needs repair just tell Bill. He'll send you a zombie to do the job."

"Thanks," Zoe said and left to go downstairs. She was surprised to hear that zombies could do repairs -- she had never seen them do anything besides killing and eating until she had encountered the zombie servants at dinner.

In the dining room Zoe found the monks being served breakfast by the zombies.

Hudson waved her over to him and she sat down beside him.

"Good morning, Zoe," Hudson said, while holding a small glass of orange juice. "I hope you had a good night sleep."

"Good morning, Hudson," Zoe said. "I slept just fine."

Zoe waved at a zombie for some orange juice and put some scrambled eggs in her plate.

"Excellent," Hudson said and stuffed some eggs in his mouth.

Other monks, including Tammy later joined them. After Zoe and Hudson had finished eating she decided to ask him a question.

"What do you actually do here, Hudson?" Zoe said.

"We meditate, read and discuss philosophy," Hudson said.

"I think you do more than that," Zoe said. "Do you think that I'm a fool?"

"Of course not," Hudson nodded. "Yes. We do practice the occult arts or black arts as some people call them."

"Is that how you are able to control the zombies?" Zoe said.

"Correct, Zoe," Hudson said.

"Do you know Tom Phillips?" Zoe asked.

"Yes," Hudson said. "He used to be one of my students, until he left. Do you want to know how we do it?"

"Yes," Zoe said. She also wanted to ask if they were behind the rise of the zombies, but was too afraid.

"Well," Hudson said. "Come with me and we will talk."

Zoe followed Hudson outside in the yard. They watched as four zombies worked in the garden. Zoe also noticed that there were apple trees and orange trees.

"They work so hard," Hudson said. "And they don't tire easily."

"Yes," Zoe said. "They are acting very different from..."

"We have them well controlled, Zoe," Hudson said. "Don't worry."

"I have great plans for me and my people," Hudson continued. "There are still many human beings throughout the planet. My ability to control these things will give me great influence in the world."

"So you plan on ruling the world?" Zoe said and wished that she hadn't.

"Something like that, Zoe," Hudson said. "I don't want to be king of the world. I just want to be the king's master."

"Don't you think some will oppose you?" Zoe said.

"Oh, of course," Hudson said. "But my master will help me destroy them."

"Your master?" Zoe said.

"Yes, Zoe," Hudson said. "You will soon meet him. I'm sure that you will be impressed by his greatness. As we all have been."

Hudson said goodbye and walked away.

Zoe walked up to the garden to get a closer look at the zombies. The zombies seemed in good shape. A few had bandages or tape on their body to keep the rotted pieces together.

Zoe walked back into the house to look at the books that they had in the front room. There were a variety of choices.

History, biography, philosophy, fiction and of course occult books. The Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Several of E. A. Wallis-Budge's Egyptian books on gods and magic. There were lots of other strange books that she had never heard of.

Zoe chose a translation of The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. She down on a cushion to read it. He had been one of Japan's best swordsmen and strategists.

Zoe read and thought over Musashi's book for the rest of the morning. After lunch she went outside in the yard for more sword practice. She hoped that she could find the Way or Do.

Would it point her in the direction that she must travel?

Zoe knelt down and breathed. She drew the sword and cut. She sheathed the sword. She drew the sword. She thrust and cut. She sheathed the sword again. She continued on until the bell rang for dinner.

After dinner Zoe returned to the same spot. This time she set aside her sword to do Yoga. She breathed through the moon salutations and the warrior poses. She breathed without thought.

Zoe went inside the house to take a shower. Later as she walked back to her room she heard noises coming from one of the other bedrooms.

Zoe saw that the door was open. A male monk was having sex with a woman. Zoe tried to continue, but noticed that the woman looked like Tammy's servant. A zombie. Zoe walked quickly to her room.

Zoe put her sword down and meditated for long time. She got into bed. Even with what she had just seen, sleep came to her swiftly.

####

Someone had his hand around Zoe's throat. Her arms and legs were pinned too. Before she could open her eyes a blindfold covered them. She could not scream or curse them.

Her throat hurt.

Zoe felt her body being carried out of her room. Where were they taking her? She felt her foot hit a wall or something.

They were going down stairs now. She struggled. Her ribs were punched and her butt was pinched. She heard laughter. Lots of devilish laughter.

Zoe heard an old door as it creaked open. She felt herself being carried downwards. A basement? She was dropped onto a cold table. Metal? Plastic?

"Tie the straps to her wrists!" Zoe heard a familiar voice shout.

"Hudson!" Zoe tried to bite a hand. "Why are you doing this?"

"For my master, Zoe," Hudson said. "For power!"

The blindfold came off of Zoe's face. She saw a dark basement. What little light there was came from the candles around the table.

The cold table was made of stone. Hudson and his monks held candles too. They started to dance and chant some weird noise that she could not understand.

Their noise continued on into the night. Zoe pulled on the straps. The straps bit into her skin. She focused on her breath. The right one felt loose. Pull, damn it! Just a little more. I'm sure I got it.

A loud sound like a thunderclap slammed Zoe's ears and a bright red light burned her eyes.

The crazy monks laughed and screamed.

Zoe wondered if she had screamed too.

Zoe looked through her tearful eyes and saw a giant creature that stood in the middle of the monks. Though it was hard to see; its body looked bloated with muscle, worse than a bodybuilder on steroids. The knuckles of its huge hands dragged on the floor as it approached her. Delicate tentacles from its neck reached out to stroke her legs.

I'm naked! Zoe thought. They must have stripped me, while I was asleep. She shuddered as she realized that they had prepared her as an offering to the naked, hulking thing that now leaned over her.

Zoe continued to pull the right strap. Her right hand felt numb. She turned away. She saw Tammy and the other monks dancing with weapons. Knives, axes and swords. Tammy has my sword! My soul!

Zoe yanked and the strap broke.

The giant opened its huge jaws. Its breath smelled of death.

Zoe pulled her legs to her chest and kicked out. Both heels slammed into a lower canine the size of a rolling pin.

Crack!

The giant backed away and screamed.

Zoe used her right hand to free her left. She jumped on Tammy and shoved fists into

Tammy's face.

As Tammy fell, the katana dropped from her hands and Zoe bent quickly to snatch it from the air before it reached the floor. She stood up with her sword in her hands.

Zoe dodged an ax swinging monk and slashed his throat. She fought her way through the other monks to get to the stairs.

The giant growled and picked up a female monk. It threw her at Zoe and missed. The monk smashed into the wall like a water balloon.

Zoe got to the stairs.

The giant yelled behind her. It picked up a male monk and crushed him. It picked up another and bit his head off. It charged up the stairs after Zoe. It knocked aside the monks in its way. The stairs shook.

Zoe made it out with the giant only a few steps behind.

Only the creatures's head was able to fit through the doorway. Its massive brawn slammed into the stone walls on either side.

The house shook around her.

Zoe gripped her sword and shoved the blade through the creature's eye.

The giant growled and screamed.

She twisted her sword and pushed it in deeper.

The giant shook its head.

She held on tight as she was swung against the walls of the hallway.

The giant moaned and stopped.

Zoe shoved again with her sword and pulled it out. The creature did not move. Its chin rested on the floor in a puddle of blood and fluid from its ruined eye. It seemed dead.

Zoe held her sword in her left hand. She looked at her right wrist. It was bleeding and she felt the beating pain. Her hand wasn't numb. Neither was she.

Zoe cried as she walked to her room. On the way she saw zombies, but they weren't walking. They were truly dead, and seemed to be rotting with unnatural speed now that whatever had animated them was gone.

At peace, Zoe thought. At least they can be at peace now.

Zoe sat down on the bed and dropped her sword. She pulled some underwear and clothes out of her bag.

They did it,. she thought as she got dressed. Hudson and his followers made the dead walk and kill. They killed Michael, Greg and Sylvia... She frowned and shook her head. No. I killed Sylvia. Killed her because I thought I wanted Greg. I am so used to using the sword that it seems all right to use it to cut through anything in my way...

Zoe wiped the tears from her eyes. She saw her sheath on the floor. She put her sword in it.

She decided to do the right thing, or as right a thing as she could do after all her sins.

Zoe buried all the dead in the -- the rotting remains of the zombies, and Hudson and his monks, too. It took her a couple of days, but she did it. She recited a Shinto prayer over the mass grave when she was done, asking that their spirits be granted rest at last.

She stepped outside of the gates with her wounds almost healed. She found other people outside. They were not zombies. These were frightened human beings. Survivors.

It was time to put everything back together. She held onto the sword, not as a weapon, but as a reminder of Michael and the discipline he had taught her, and of the person she had been.

THE END


© 2009 Gary W. Feather

Bio: Gary W. Feather lives on a farm in southern Illinois. He graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 2006 with a BS in Journalism, a BA in English and a minor in East Asian Civilization. He has recently earned a purple belt in goju kempo karate. His Chinese swords-and-sorcery tale The Gory Pearl of Doom appeared in the April 2009 edition of Aphelion.

E-mail: Gary W. Feather

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