Manny threw a handful of it in the zombie's general direction. I wasn't sure it actually hit him, but it touched the grave; I hoped that was enough. Manny started to come up beside me with the machete naked in his hand, but I told him, "Don't cross in front of the guns." He moved back without arguing.
"I still want to eat them," the zombie said, and now he looked like the corpse he was; the handsome man who had wooed Justine wasn't there anymore.
"No, you will not harm them."
"I want to obey you, Miss Blake, I truly do, but I'm so hungry, and they're so close."
"Do not move off your grave, Warrington."
"Again, I want to obey you, but only part of me does; the other half wants fresh, bloody meat between my teeth."
"I bind you to your grave, Thomas Warrington!" I let my voice fill with power so that it echoed through the trees around the grave.
He struggled to leave the grave, but it was as if some invisible force held his feet in place. His long arms lashed out trying to touch Domino, but he couldn't reach him without taking at least a few steps and I had bound him to his grave at last.
"Go back to sleep, Thomas Warrington; go back to your grave and walk no more!"
The ground underneath his feet began to flow like mud and thick water, sucking his legs down like movie quicksand. "No! I must feed! Don't put me back with this hunger in me, Ms. Blake! Please, don't put me back like this!" He screamed as the earth swallowed him up. The last thing I saw was his eyes, wide and terrified. That wasn't supposed to happen either.
Then the grave was smooth and hard as if the earth had never been disturbed; that was the only thing that was normal about what had just happened. "Fuck," I said, and that one word seemed to hold all the emotion that I hadn't let myself feel in the last few minutes.
"Anita, you have to get an order of exhumation," Manny said.
I turned and stared at him. "What?"
"You have to dig him up."
"We barely got him covered before he went berserk," Domino said. "Let him stay in there."
"He should have gone empty and quiet before the grave swallowed him. He was still struggling, Anita, he was still aware. You can't leave him down there awake and trapped."
"Maybe he's just dead, just bones and dust again," I said.
"Maybe, but if he's not, would you really be able to rest knowing he's down there forever trapped and starving?"
I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer for strength and patience, and just help. "Motherfucking son of a bitch." God is okay with me cussing; if He weren't He'd have stopped listening to me a long time ago.
"I know what you're feeling," Nicky said.
"Because you can feel it, too," I said.
"Then you know what I'm going to do."
"We have to dig him up."
"You mean like with shovels ourselves?" Domino said.
"No, legally we need an exhumation order now, and honestly I'd rather be using a backhoe than have anyone close to the coffin with a shovel."
"You just raised the man as a zombie; why not do it again?" Domino asked.
"Because then I won't know if he's alive or dead down there, and that's what I need to know."
"Okay, I get that, but how do we get an exhumation?"
"We need a judge," I said.
"What are you going to tell the judge?" Manny asked.
"What do you mean, tell the judge?" Domino asked.
"We have to give a reason that we want the body exhumed," Manny said.
"I don't suppose you can tell the truth."
I just looked at Domino.
Nicky said it. "Do you really want Anita to tell a judge she raised a flesh-eating zombie and now she wants to make sure it's not trapped undead in its grave?"
"It wasn't technically a flesh eater. It just wanted to eat flesh," Domino said.
"Oh, that's much better," Nicky said.
"Enough," Manny said. "We need a judge and a favor."
"I know who to ask for a favor, and I'm hoping he knows a judge, because I don't know one who would sign off on this for me."
"I can't think of a lie that would work to get us an exhumation order for a grave this old," Manny said.
"Me, either." I rested the shotgun on my arm, dangerous end pointed at the ground, and got my phone out with my other hand. I couldn't leave Warrington down there undead, aware, struggling, starving, afraid for all eternity. There wasn't a sin bad enough to put someone through that kind of hell, and Warrington had seemed like a good man. He so didn't deserve this.
"Who are you going to call?" Nicky asked.
"Zerbrowski, he owes me. I just hope a judge owes him, or he knows someone else who owes him a favor who knows a judge." His number was in my favorites list. I let the phone dial it, and prayed that someone I knew, knew a judge.
"TELL ME AGAIN why I'm awake and in a cemetery at the ass end of night?" Zerbrowski asked, as he stood beside me in the dark listening to the backhoe drive closer through the headstones.
"Because you love me like a brother," I said.
"I never had a brother, and I like you better than I like my sisters, though if you tell either of them that I'll deny it."
It made me smile, which was probably why he'd said it; he was good that way.
Manny stepped closer to us as the backhoe got nearer and noisier, and said, "I'm afraid it's my fault, Sergeant Zerbrowski. Anita brought me in to consult, and I was the one who thought the zombie might be trapped down there."
"Explain how a zombie can be trapped in its grave again?" Zerbrowski asked.
I answered, "I told you that this zombie didn't go down like the others. Their eyes should be dead again, just corpses that lie down and wait for the grave to swallow them. This one was afraid and screaming. He went under the ground begging me to save him; I've never had a zombie do that."
Zerbrowski blinked at me behind the faint glint of his silver-framed glasses. "And you're afraid that this one is alive down there, but trapped."
"Not alive, but undead and aware and trapped."
He looked at Manny as if for confirmation, and the other man nodded.
"I'd hoped I'd dreamt that part of Anita's phone call," he
said, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his slacks. He'd apparently put them on over his pajamas, or at least he'd kept his pajama top on instead of getting a shirt, unless he had shirts with little trains all over them. I wouldn't put it past Zerbrowski, but I knew his wife, Katie, would have made sure the shirt "disappeared" out of his wardrobe. They'd been happily married for a couple of decades, but she lived in hope that she'd get his clothes down to things that would look good no matter what he grabbed. I was pretty sure it was a vain hope, but I'd seen the choo-choo pajamas before at late-night crime scenes. Though I guess technically this wasn't a crime scene.
"You know that just adding a tie to the train jammies doesn't fool anyone, right? We still know it's jammies."
He grinned. "Hey, I put on a tie and a suit jacket."
I shook my head at him.
Domino came up to us. "They're asking if they can move the headstone, or if that will mess up what you need to learn from the zombie?"
I shook my head. "They can move it. They just need to be careful not to damage it out of respect for the family, not out of worrying about the zombie."
"I'll tell them," he said, and hurried back through the tombstones toward the waiting men. He still had the shotgun over his shoulder, like I had mine in its tactical sling. Before we got the grave dug out, I'd be loading up on all my gear in the back of the truck, which would put up my customized AR and leave Nicky with the spare he'd grabbed at the Circus.
Zerbrowski said, "I thought zombies couldn't feel emotions."
"Normal ones can't," I said.
"But this one wasn't normal?"
"Not even close," I said.
"Any idea what made it go wonky?"
"Actually, yeah, he'd eaten human flesh while he was alive."
Zerbrowski gave me wide eyes.
"Yeah, it was a first for me, too, but he got trapped up in the mountains during winter, a companion died, and they had enough meat to survive."
"And you think that's what made him go weird?"
"We both do," Manny said.
I nodded. "I'll write a paper about it for the academic publications, and just put the word out to add that to the list of things that put a big fat do not raise this corpse sign over a site."
The backhoe was at the graveside, so we moved farther back so we could hear ourselves talk.
"What else is on the list?" he asked.