Excerpt: Grave Digging

I’m not a big fan of manual labor. Digging is hard and dirty work. There is always something to make the job more unpleasant than it has to be. Usually, it’s something like the weather. In this case, it’s the man watching me dig. The large caliber pistol in his hand is part of his work incentive program. It’s working. I’ve worked at a steady pace for the last hour, getting more accomplished than I would if I were left to my own devices.

I pause in my labors to ask a question. “You think this is deep enough?” I ask. I already know the answer to but it gives me a chance to rest while Blake inspects my work.

“I think another foot and we’ll be good.” He says. There is no need to for him to say “Now, get back to work.” A gesture with his pistol gets his point across louder and clearer than any words could.

Aren’t you going to do something?” Kara asks via our link.

Like what? I’m less of a fan of being shot than I am of digging.

I get back to work. I want to be done with this wretched job before it gets any later.

He’s going to kill you when you’re done. You know that, don’t you?

Yup, that’s why I’m not rushing.

I endure my guardian angel’s frustration with me and the situation as I dig. Kara doesn’t see a way out of this. In her place, I would be frustrated too. Instead, I think back to how I got myself into this mess. It takes my mind off the pain in my back and my sore muscles.

***

Sometimes the mental link between me and Kara works a little too well. She doesn’t want to be here. I can’t really blame her. I don’t want to be here either. When I decided to become a paranormal investigator, I didn’t think I would spend so much time in dark garbage strewn alleys. I share this one with a homeless guy who lies curled up next to a dumpster. Of all the places to hang out, he could have picked a better one. This alley reeks more than most. The stench reminds me of a charnel house, not that I have been in a whole lot of those. I just hope he decides to move on before my guest arrives.

Tell me again, why are we doing this?

Because the rent is due and Blake was willing to pay me in advance.

Again, my guardian angel can’t help but convey her displeasure. Blake, for all his fancy clothes and winning smile, wasn’t someone I wanted to do business with. He had a reputation for dark magics and was considered a bad man to cross. Like a used car salesman, the sorcerer was quick to sell me a story about how badly he needed my help. It was probably the only truthful thing he told me. I didn’t buy any talk about his innocence. Also, the case wasn’t my cup of tea. Bodyguard work is not my strong suit especially when it comes to protecting someone like Blake. As far as I was concerned, anyone coming after him probably had valid reason for doing so. No, what hooked me was the thing coming after him. That and my financial need plus his offer to pay me in advance were enough to sway me.

“But why is a zombie is after him?” Kara asks.

Maybe, he pissed off a necromancer or something.” I reply.

Maybe he is a necromancer. That would explain the smell.

That’s an unpleasant possibility. The zombie could be one of his creations. It’s doubtful. If that was the case he wouldn’t need my help. It has to be something else. Then it hits me, the smell. I glance around the alley in sudden concern. “Where is that smell coming from?

Kara finds the source before I do. “Over there.

My gaze settles on the alley’s other occupant. Like me, the homeless man hasn’t stirred. It’s as if he were watching and waiting for something. As I take a step closer to him the smell intensifies. New York City isn’t the sort of place where a zombie can’t walk around without drawing attention. A homeless man is a different story. Sad to say this, but most people will give any smelly person dressed in rags a wide berth. As long as the man was out of their comfort zone, they would pay little attention to him. It’s the perfect disguise for a zombie.

We’re not dealing with a zombie.

That stops me in my tracks. Kara is right. Zombies aren’t known for their intelligence. They are dumb lumps of animated rotting tissue. A zombie wouldn’t care about a disguise. So what am I dealing with here? This close I feel the cold radiating from it. With the chill comes a sense of overpowering fear, the sort where you just want to stand and gibber in terror. It only lasts for a split second.

I don’t need Kara to tell me what just happened. This thing has some sort of magical aura. Fortunately for me, I have a little gift that makes me immune to most spells and magical effects. The downside is that I’ll never be a spell caster. Still, it is a useful talent to have in my line of work. It’s helped me far many times than it has hindered me. At a time like this, I would gloat or say something clever but not tonight.

Kara screams a mental warning. She doesn’t have time to speak but I get the message loud and clear. I am already moving when the thing lunges at me. It doesn’t move with the shambling gait that I would expect from a walking corpse. I use my training and its momentum to avoid the thing’s grasping hands. While it is off balance, I strike. My blow thuds into its side. The thing doesn’t react to my punch. It feels like I hit a tree. I probably hurt my hand far more than I did it. This is definitely no zombie. The walking dead aren’t all that durable. What the hell is it?

As it turns to face me, Kara puts a name to what I face. “It’s a revenant.

“Great, that’s just great.” I say then it is on me again. I don’t bother trying to attack it. I focus totally on defending myself while Kara fills me in on the bad news. Revenants might look and smell like zombies but they are totally different.

You can’t beat this thing.” Kara says.

I remember hearing about these things. A revenant is more than a walking corpse. It is a walking corpse empowered by the soul of a dead man, someone who was wronged so badly that he has come back from the grave to seek retribution. It will do whatever it takes to get its revenge, overcome any obstacle. In this case, that means me.

“Any weaknesses?” I ask my angel.

I have to pit my quickness and skill against its supernatural strength. A leg sweep takes the thing down, giving me time to work out a strategy and craft a defense. Kara’s answer doesn’t help much.

“Fire? Magical weapons?” she says. Great, the two things I don’t have. The Revenant comes up swinging forcing me to back away from it. “At least you’re immune to its aura.

“The cold?”

Yes, its magic can paralyze someone with fear.” Kara says.

It doesn’t take much of an imagination to visualize what this thing might do to someone paralyzed. I spin away from it to buy some more time. Kara is right. I can’t beat this thing in a fight. I’m going to get tired, it won’t. It can flail away all night with no worries. My first mistake will be my last. Even if I could beat this thing, do I want to? What did Blake do to warrant this sort of retribution? It had to be bad on a cosmic scale, something so great that the universe’s only way to balance the scales was to break the laws of life and death. It also raises another question.

“Does Blake have any spells protecting his house from this thing?”

It takes Kara a minute to get back to me. During which I fend off more persistent and skilled attacks from my sparring partner. It’s learning how to fight me. That means staying on the defensive isn’t an option. I need to get this over with before something unpleasant happens.

Yes, he does. It’s like a curtain of fire.” She says.

Bingo. I thought Blake might have a little protection. If the revenant could have reached him, it would have. I’m willing to bet the thing will burn to a crisp if it touches the barrier. That gives me something to work with. I quickly outline my plan, speaking clearly and slowly as I maneuver my enemy closer to the barrier.

I wait for my moment. It comes after a punch that would have pulverized me if it landed. Undead or not, you can only swing so hard and keep your balance. I go on the offensive hitting the thing with everything I have. It doesn’t hurt the revenant but each blow knocks it into position. When the revenant is in place, I use a takedown maneuver which brings the thing into contact with the barrier. There is a whoosh of flame that sets the thing alight. The revenant quickly rolls around on the ground in an attempt to put out the fire. Now, it’s time to deal with Blake.

***

I find Blake in his study where he is busy examining a scroll. I try not to think about what it is made out of as the sorcerer looks up at me.

“I head the commotion outside and felt the barrier being triggered.”

“Yeah, it’s dead but that wasn’t a zombie. It was a revenant.”

Blake doesn’t look surprised or shocked. I didn’t expect him to be. Instead, he says “Why do you think I was willing to pay you so much and in advance.”

“Well, you’re not out of the woods yet.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

“Those things only appear when someone is truly deserving of retribution.”

“And I suppose it told you a little bit too much for your or my own good…. A pity.”

That’s when I see the gun on his desk. In a smooth, practiced motion, Blake picks the weapon up. “Don’t look so surprised. I know all about your little gift. It was the reason why I hired you. I needed someone who would be immune to its powers. Now, we’re both going to take a little drive and tidy up some loose ends.”

***

Kara has relaxes a bit these last few minutes. I guess I can stop stalling and get down to business.

“Is this okay?” I ask “I’m getting a bit tired here.”

Blake chuckles at that. “Don’t worry. You’ll get plenty of rest soon.”

Kara murmurs “He’s a clever one.

“Now, now, no heckling the He knows I’ll be resting soon. “Yes, Count. That’s fine.”

“I’m sorry it had to be this way.” Blake says.

Why do people say that right before they are about to do something they know is wrong. If he were really sorry about this, I wouldn’t be in this mess.

“Yeah, I’m sorry too.” I say. Unlike my ex-employer, I mean it. This is the last place I want to be. Blake takes aim as I yell “Wait!”

Blake frowns at me as if I ruined the moment or a finale of a play. He sighs tiredly as if he has done this a thousand times before. “Please, please don’t beg for your life. I already said that I was sorry about this.”

“No, not that. I just have a request.”

Blake’s expression softens a tiny bit. “You want me to tell you what this is all about?” “Well, no harm in that I guess.”

“No, I just want you to take a tiny step to your right.”

“What? Why?” he says asks.

“I don’t want to get any blood on my coat.”

Instead of cooperating, Blake just stands there looking confused. It gives me enough time to back up. Behind him, I see the revenant. He is there as if he had been standing in that spot all night waiting for this moment. Blake can feel it to, the cold and fear that the thing projects eats away at his mind. He is unable to think let alone pull the trigger of his gin. Away from his home, Blake has no protection against. His spells are useless, the revenant is as immune to conventional magic as I am and he lacks the martial skills to fend it off. The end come quickly and is just as messy as I thought it would be.

That was mean of you, Count.

Hey, he could have let me walk out of that house. I had no proof or evidence. I didn’t even know what he had done. I still don’t. He made the choice to drag me out here to die.

Yeah, it was a little mean. I could have given him a chance or tried to reason with him. What can I say? I can be a little dark sometimes.

What about the revenant?

I look at what’s left of Blake then his killer. Its job is done. By sunrise, it will be just a memory. It has no words of gratitude for me. Merely, a nod that says I’m owed. I could ask for anything in its power to grant. There is just one thing I want it to do. I toss it the shovel. I’ve done enough digging for one night.

 

Author’s Commentary:

This story takes place early during Count Albritton’s adventures. As you can tell from the story, Count isn’t your typical paranormal investigator. He has a gift that makes him virtually immune to magic and a mental link to Kara, his guardian angel. There is a price for these powers which he finds out later. This is one of the only Count stories I’ve written where he is not teamed up with one of his friends. I did it this way to give newer readers a little insight into how Count operates.

If you want to read more about Count Albritton, the Gift of Fury is available on Amazon Kindle.

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