The Zombie Priest
From the forest, calls rang out crisp and clear: they disoriented him for a moment as he thought they were the calls of hunters with guns trying to draw out ducks from their
watering places. Was it still hunting season? Trees rose around him like Doric columns that hemmed him in and made it difficult to breath. He was panting
heavily and wasn't sure at first; sweat drained down his forehead in rivers that seeped into his eyes. The thought of them—those things—with guns—frightened him. But his body
began to relax, and he remembered they couldn’t fire weapons—no, men were chasing him, not them. Good. Good God. But he was alive; I'm alive; they're gone. Ken
Heaney said to himself.
Those bastards tried to—there they were again, those calls. Ken listened again, controlling his breathing as best he could, freezing his body as he had done so many times before, sitting
in tree stands for hours on end before the break of day. It hit him as he relived each hunt, each kill; the calls were those of a Cooper’s hawk. The rocky forest floor emerged beneath
him as if from a dream, and he realized only with great difficulty that he was alone.
Now that he was sure he had lost them, he looked around to see where he was; he had bolted off as fast and as far as he could. Before him stretched out the long, curved but rugged
landscape, the familiar foothills and winding hardwood forests of the Shenandoah Valley that he had known all his life. His heart’s pace slackened. Now he remembered. It was a few
miles south of here he first encountered them—not the thugs that had attacked him, but them—the runners. The zombies.
He had come up from the Rapidan River area near the Shenandoah National Park after he led a group on a hunting trip there. When he had finished, he stayed in the area for a few
weeks. Ken Heaney made his living as a hunting guide, and spent most of his time in the woods when he wasn’t making a living. He swore one day he would do it permanently—go out into the
woods and not come back to the world. Sometimes he wished he had. He had never cared for the company of other people, with a few exceptions.
Which was ironic, given what happened. He walked his way back from Rapidan up to the main road running through the Park named Skyline Drive and followed it for a few miles. His
plan was to hike back up through the park to Front Royal, where he had a mailbox. There were usually people all over the walking trails in the fall, weekend hikers from D.C. and the east
coast. Campgrounds covered the area, and he could usually count on them being occupied.
He first sensed something was wrong when he stopped by one of them. It was completely deserted, but that wasn’t what set him off. He looked inside one of the cabins, which looked as if
it was still occupied. He found coffee cups, still steaming, on the table, as if someone had just left. He went outside and thought about going to ask a park ranger, till he
noticed none were around either—none of their vehicles, no other sign of them he could see.
He puzzled about this till he heard something moving on the grass, just west of the cabin. He thought it was the sound of a baby cooing at first, but it was too low and harsh. He
walked around the side of the cabin slowly and drew the walking stick he was carrying into a defensive position. He had left a crossbow, and several guns at his cabin in the mountains,
and all he had with him beside the stick was his hunting knife. When he reached the other side, he saw nothing, but the sound grew louder.
When he turned around, he saw it: it looked like a human covered in mud and ashes, its decaying flesh grey all over and dotted with pockmarks. As soon as it saw him, its glassy black
eyes widened and it howled, revealing its rotted, brown teeth. It lunged at him and knocked him to the ground, though he managed to block the creature’s attack as he fell backward.
Bellowing into his face, the stench of its breath was horrid. Ken threw it off using his walking stick to the side. Leaping to his feet, he struck before it could rise again and jammed
the stick into its face over and over, smashing its teeth its nose its mouth harder each time until he crushed its skull. He made stabbed until he realized it was dead.
He stood over it astonished; his mind could barely comprehend it. It looked like something…. well, like something out of a zombie movie. But it hadn’t moved like that. It wasn’t
clumsy or slow, and he marveled at its strength, as it looked like it would fall apart with the slightest exertion.
Only after it was dead did he notice its clothing—a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. It was so bizarre he could not process it. He fell back on the ground, his butt hitting with a
thud. His mind was trying to adjust when a scream reached him from the other side of the park. He got to his feet, putting the stick into defensive position, and moved toward the sound
of the voice.
When he arrived there he saw a woman, short, blonde and a bit thin, running away from one of those things. He rushed toward her and it as fast as he could but the creature was too
fast and leaped on top of her before he could get there. It bit into her left arm, taking a chunk of flesh between its teeth, and swallowing it down before screaming at the top of its
lungs again. Ken dropped his stick and bore down on it, drawing his knife as he barreled into it and knocked it off of her. He then descended on it and began jamming the knife into its
skull repeatedly. After jabbing it several times, it ceased to move, and he pulled his knife out, satisfied it was dead. It was covered in its blood—a dark, disgusting substance like
motor oil, that it bled when cut or shot. He went over to the woman.
“Hey lady, are you alright?” The woman was crying and moaning and didn’t respond. “Hey, are you okay? What the hell was that thing?” Her arm bled, but it couldn’t hurt
as much her screaming made it sound. “Hey, you’re gonna be okay, calm down. Here.” He took his knife, and unscrewed the bottom of it, taking out a needle and some thread, “I can stitch
“No, no, no!” she moaned, seeming more distraught than afraid.
“Lady, I said don’t worry. I’m gonna—” He stopped as he realized she had stopped crying. She suddenly lifted herself up and looked at him with wide blue eyes, that somehow grew
pale by the second.
“Get away from me. Run. Run away. Please!” He was about ask her what was wrong with her, when her body went limp and dropped to the ground. Was she dead? Her
skin began to change color, growing ashen until her skin took the hue of grey leather. Pockmarks appeared on her skin. He dropped the needle and thread, which saved his life, for as he
did the woman sprang from the ground with a horrible roar, and tried to bite his shoulder. He barely staved her off with the knife, stabbing at her throat, which he punctured with one swift
stab. She kept coming, and he grabbed her by the throat with one hand, and then brought the knife down with the other into her forehead. She stopped moving.
He threw her body off and stood. Nearly delirious, he looked down at her body and saw she had been bitten. He frantically began checking his arms and body for marks but didn’t
find any. He picked up his bag and sped from the park as soon as he could. Near the entrance to the park, he noticed a car sitting in the driveway, the driver-side door open.
He cautiously approached it, knife in hand, and looked inside: empty, save for a few items, key in the ignition. It started right up, and he drove off, back up Skyline Drive.
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