The Reburialists - J. C. Nelson Page 0,2

the ship.

Which meant I wasn’t dealing with your garden-variety walking corpse. Dale had been right to call me. It was a Re-Animus. An unholy spirit known for animating the dead and tearing apart the living. Again.

It whispered into the shadows, mumbling at times and moaning at others.

Dad said Re-Animus never spoke, for fear of what secrets might slip out. That the act of stealing a body was so heinous that their very souls cried out to be imprisoned the way they imprisoned others. Controlled the way the Re-Animus did the dead.

Someone never mentioned that to this one.

Stake in hand, I jogged along the deck till I came to a cavernous hole leading to the cargo bay. Imagine a football field inside a boat. Now turn off the stadium lights, and turn loose one recently live corpse run by something so foul we had to invent a word for it.

That, right there, is why I looked forward to vacation.

I hopped down stacks of cargo containers, well aware each hop sent a booming echo through the hold. The meat-skin might be dead. The Re-Animus in the driver’s seat would have had to be to miss my coming.

And things grew weirder still.

In the distance, at the far end of the hold, a torch flickered. Not a flashlight. The Re-Animus had lit an honest-to-God torch, like a tiki torch. It illuminated a dim circle on the vast hull of the ship, and in the flickering light, the meat-skin shambled back and forth.

Dale called it a moldy-oldy. Meaning someone dead a few weeks. Plenty strong but not exactly a threat so long as people did the sane thing and ran. Away, not toward it like I did. Fresh corpses could be downright deadly.

The ones everyone feared, the mummies, could barely move, let alone threaten someone. The worst they might do is get dust all over you when they disintegrated. This body had all the signs of a grave robbery gone wrong. The grave cuffs still hung from one wrist.

It turned toward my light, one eye sagging and the other wild. And began to laugh. “Carson. Finally.” So the Re-Animus was still on board this corpse. Fully present. Fully capable. Odds were, it was the same one I’d dealt with two nights before, though it hadn’t been so talkative then.

“That is one ugly ride you picked. It’s an island. Couldn’t you find someone who’d spent at least an hour in the sun?” I stayed just beyond the torchlight, hopefully farther than it could leap.

It took a step forward, staggering to the left. “I had a great body. I had a whole collection of them, before you showed up to ruin things. We’ll settle that some other time. I’ve come to speak with you, Carson.”

“I’m not really in a mood to talk, but I could arrange for a therapist to call you, if you want.”

The corpse turned away, slouching back toward the hull, where it resumed painting by gnawing a finger and dabbling the blood that oozed out.

Score: Dale, 3. The thing wasn’t writing. It was drawing. Technically, it was writing as well, since the pictures were hieroglyphics.

While it had its back turned, I crept up on it as stealthily as I could, my stake drawn. Green pine could suck the power right out of the meat-skin, killing a chunk of the Re-Animus. The key? Getting in the first blow. I leaped forward, driving the stake down in an arc meant to strike just above the shoulder and continue down into the rib cage.

The Re-Animus caught my hand without looking. “Carson, you killed one of my favorite bodies that way not three days ago.”

I was in trouble.

The last body was fresh and fast, designed to ambush the unwary, but this one had been chosen for a different purpose. After I’d destroyed its last host, the Re-Animus must have spent the last three days pouring itself into this body, building it up for pure strength. Under the force of its grasp, the armor on my wrist crackled and shifted.

It swung another hand around, gnarled fingers grasping at my throat. I didn’t wear a titanium neck brace for style, but neither could I keep my feet on the floor as it lifted me higher, then twisted my head so I couldn’t look away.

“I came to deliver a message.” Its foul breath washed over me, the stench of rotten fish and clogged toilets. “The old man’s body molders, and now she stirs. Give back the heart, Carson. Carson’s blood took