It S Always A Zombie

I didn't coin the phrase, but I made it popular.

"It's always a Zombie."

Like most kids, I never considered "Zombie Hunter" as my dream job. I wanted to be a Firefighter, a Soldier, or possibly Pee-Wee Herman. If you told me, little baby me, that I'd end up splattering rotten, dead brains across landscapes all over the world… well, there would've been crying involved.

No, I hadn't considered this particular career path until I reached my teen years. I was about to graduate from High School, lower-middle of my class as one might expect, and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do when I got out. The thought of leading an adult life terrified me.

Then, the school job fair rolled around.

I took some pamphlets for the soulless big box chain "Cost Cult", some kind of generic soda bottler, and this burger joint. I don't remember the name of the place, just the creepy little dancing burger on all of their promotional material. I had to take a hat and a coupon book before the guy at their kiosk would let me out of the handshake.

Anyway, things were looking pretty grim until I found the Zombie Hunter booth.

They had a video game set up, though they called it a "Murder Simulator", and all the kids were gathered around it, blasting away at reanimated corpses.

Most of the kids got sick looking at the heaps of ultra-realistic gore on the screen, mixed with the sound of wet guts hitting the wall. The rest of the players took their fair turns and walked away, disinterested.

"Cool game," one kid said to me as we passed, "But who wants to be a fuckin' deadbagger?"

He laughed, but I was actually considering it. Sure, it was a job nobody wanted to do, but I'd spent a year at my Uncle's farm and… well, let's just say I came away from that place with a strong stomach. It only takes a few times before you force yourself to stop naming the lambs, if you know what I mean.

I played the game through, and though my gag reflex got the better of me a couple times, the guy at the booth said I did the best he'd seen all day.

"We know that Final Returns isn't the first choice for many new workers," the guy said, his flop sweat seeping through the oversized tombstone suit he wore, "B-but if you'd consider filling out an application, this could be a very lucrative career path!"

Ha. It only paid well for three very specific reasons.

1.) It's hard, messy work.

2.) The smell alone drives so many workers insane, they have a name for the syndrome. "Rot Nose".

3.) You could be cannibalized by your dead Grandmother.

I filled out an application. The first one I'd bothered to do throughout the whole event. I figured, hey, at least I'd get to shoot guns at things. That's always a plus if you have no other prospects lined up.

"Do you have to do other things?" I asked, pen scribbling across the page.

"Like what?"

"I dunno. Demons and shit. Giant rats or aliens or whatever."

"Oh, no. There's never anything like that. Not really." the giant foam rubber grave marker did his best to shake his head, "It's always a zombie."

Right he was.

My first day on the job, after all the training and the threats of what would happen if I accidentally killed a sleep walker, I started to see what he meant.

I was still an undead 'virgin' when I got the call… or… when the guy I was shadowing got his call. I hadn't earned the right to go on solo jobs yet. I hadn't even SEEN a real zombie at this point, just pictures and a Hell of a lot of videos.

The guy I was stuck with, people called him Pike. I found out later that a pike is a big hard stick you jam dead people's heads onto.

It fit.

Pike jostled me awake as I dozed on a folding chair in the break room.

"Time to work, Bite-Bait!" he boomed.

I said something akin to "Bnurh?" and away we went.

We arrived at the estate near midnight. Of course. The towering old mansion sat on acres of lush, green land. Thick forest closed in the estate on three sides. As we approached the big house, I marveled at the sight.

Pike wasn't impressed.

"Big houses are empty houses." he noted. That was all he'd say on the matter.

"Thank God you're here!" the Old Man stood in the front doorway as if he'd been glued to the spot for the duration of our trip.

"What's the problem? I didn't get any details." Pike wasted no time getting to the point.

"Well, I didn't mention this on the phone, because… I don't want to sound silly, but… do… do you take care of OTHER things? Besides zombies?"

"We're Zombie Hunters." Pike offered. That was it.

The Old Man cleared his throat awkwardly, then ushered us into the house.

"I'll be straight with you," the Old Man lead us to what I think was a study, "I didn't call about a walking corpse."

Pike seated himself in a large chair, probably the Old Man's chair, and surveyed the group that we had joined.

Two young siblings, a boy and a girl, stood on either side of the fireplace. They were about my age. An Old Woman sat by the window, staring outward into the night. Seated across from Pike was a more rakish man, probably the Old Man's younger brother.

"Have you ever heard of the Banshee?" The Brother smirked, crossing his legs.

I looked for an available seat. Finding none, I joined the siblings by the fire.

"Sure." Pike nodded, "A ghost that doesn't shut up."

"Ah, well," the Old Man stood by his brother, "In a manner of speaking, yes. Legend says the Banshee calls when someone is about to die."

I smiled at the young girl, who cast her eyes down and moved away.

"Disgusting deadbagger." the boy whispered loud enough for me to hear.

"We first heard the Banshee's wail three nights ago. Our groundskeeper, an unreliable fellow, must've been the first to hear. He ran off straight away, taking one of our tractors. All our searching turned up nothing." The Old Man put his hand on his Brother's shoulder, as if he couldn't continue.

"We don't miss the man.” the Brother added, “He robbed the wine cellar bare, though we could never prove it. In any event, the Banshee kept on. Now, just last night my Niece disappeared as well."

"Our daughter." The Old Man gestured to himself, then the woman by the window.

"Our mother." The Siblings spoke in unison, which was all kinds of creepy.

"Okay." Pike took out a notepad and began to write, "B-A-N-S-H-E-E. Banshee."

"The damned thing went quiet after my Niece’s disappearance," the Brother noted, "We had hoped it was gone. Now it's started up again, as if someone else is fated to die."

Pike stood and offered to shake the Old Man's hand. The Old Man hesitated for a moment, as if the act would transfer some sort of disease. All I could picture was the family hauling Pike's chair into the roaring fire as soon as we left the room.

"So is a Banshee a ghost, or…?" I was all questions as Pike and I left the mansion and strolled out onto the grounds. "A ghost of, like, a woman? Who shrieks?"

The two of us stopped suddenly.

A far-off, mournful moan rose up over the trees.

"The Banshee." I muttered, staring out into the night.

Pike shot me a disappointed look… mixed with a bit of disgust. He retrieved the notepad from his jacket pocket and held out the page he had written on.

He had written "ZOMBIE".

"It's always a zombie." I quipped.

Pike grunted, and we continued walking.

"I like that." he said after a few moments of silence, "You come up with that?"

"Yup." I quickly replied.

We walked through the woods for what seemed like an hour. At first, we moved randomly, guided only by gut instincts. Then, the same anguished cry would sound and we'd follow it with our flashlights.

"We're getting close." Pike took the shotgun from his back and cocked it.

"Right." I took out my bright yellow training pistol. It reminded me of a pair of safety scissors.

Onward, we walked until the sound seemed as if it was right on top of us.

"Are you sure?" I whispered.

"About?" Pike responded in kind.

"That it isn't a ghost."

"Yeah. Pretty sure."

"Good, at least we'll only be 'pretty' dead."

Finally, we reached a small clearing in the trees. There, to one side of the clearing, was a tremendous pile of dead leaves and branches. Next to that was a dilapidated stone well.

The wail sounded again.

"The well!" I pointed like a well-trained hunting dog, "The Banshee's hiding in the well!"

Pike shot me another look. It was kind of like the look you'd give an infant who just stuck a sandy cat turd in its mouth.

"C'mere." Pike waved me over to the well as his flashlight cut down into the darkness. "We have clearance."

That was a term I'd heard before. When a target was far enough away or otherwise engaged, you had "clearance" to take a moment and think through your next actions.

Gathering my courage, I looked down into that hole in the Earth, sure I'd see a ghost-face staring back up at me with empty eye sockets.

"Wow!" I relaxed a bit as I took in the view.

That's right. It was a zombie.

"The Groundskeeper." Pike snorted, angling the shotgun at its head.

The zombie let out another groan, its stone prison acting like an amplifying echo chamber.

"Wait!" I put my hand on Pike's shoulder, something he didn't appreciate, "Look in the water."

The flashlight beam danced across the stagnant water below. A flesh-bare skull could be seen under the surface, resting in a nest of bones.

"That explains the second disappearance." Pike nodded, "She fell in, probably trying to help, and the damned thing picked her bones clean. The thing was quiet for a while because it wasn't hungry."

"That's weird." I looked to the large mass of branches, "Something doesn't make sense."

"You're not paid to play Colombo," Pike snapped, "It's Dirty Harry all the way."

Pike's shotgun blast rang out.

I didn't watch the dead guy's head explode. It wasn't because I couldn't take it… I was just more interested in something else.

"Pike, check this out."

I kicked a few wine bottles out of the haphazard wood pile. As I did, the bulk of the wood fell away, exposing the missing tractor. The keys were still in the ignition.

"Congratulations." Pike said sarcastically.

"Something's still weird." I knelt down and picked up a bottle, "Why does some old dude drive out to the middle of the woods and just drink random bottles of wine? It's like something someone MY age would've-"

A solid THUD, followed by a groan.

I stood quickly, and turned to see Pike falling to his knees, blood already spurting from the back of his head.

Behind him, the siblings… the boy and the girl… brandished hunting rifles.

"Look at this!" the Boy said, wiping Pike's blood from the butt of his weapon.

"I told you not to bring the GOOD one." the Girl scolded.

My hand found the pistol in my pocket, but the twin rifles were trained on me in that same instant.

"You took the tractor," I spoke almost automatically, all semblance of actual thought now gone, "You took the booze. When the groundskeeper found your stash, you shoved him down the well."

"Almost right." the Girl grinned, "We stole the tractor AFTER we stole the booze. It's the kind of thing one does after a few swigs."

"Fucking deadbagger thinks he's smart." the Boy spat at my feet, "If you're so smart, why are you working such a shit job?"

"At least I never killed my own mother." I took a stance and readied to pull the pistol on them, damn the results.

"Yes, well," the Girl was taken aback a bit, "It's not our fault. Everyone just kept searching, and SEARCHING… and… and…"

"We told them to get over it." the Boy finished, clearly more comfortable with the deed. "Nothing against Mum. It could've been any of them. We didn't know the groundskeeper was dead, moving around as he was… we figured he'd tell her everything when she helped him out. So in she went with him."

"Do we fire together? Shall it be on three, then?" the Girl asked.

"Relax, Sissy. I'll take on the task. You've always been piss at shooting." the Boy focused hard on me.

Then, something dawned on me, and I shut off my flashlight. The one and only reason they knew where I was standing in the first place.

The first shot split the darkness, and thankfully it didn't do the same to my head. The second, third, and forth shots came rapidly thereafter. The two of them were now firing blindly. Literally.

"Uuggh." The unmistakable baritone voice slowly rose in the darkness. It was Pike.

"Look out!" I shouted, not sure of where anyone was, much less myself, "It's the kids! They've got guns!"

There was another rumble from Pike, then a slight yelp followed by a crackling sound.

Two more shots were fired, and in that brief flash of light, I could see the barrel dangerously close to Pike's chest.

A second yelp, more like a squeal, emanated from the area.

Then, all was quiet.

"P-Pike?" I finally called out.


Convinced that the melee must be over, I took the flashlight in my shaking hand and cast a beam across the grass. Either everything was safe, or I'd be immediately shot. There didn't seem to be much of an option, regardless.

The light illuminated Pike, hunched down over the Girl's body.

The back of his head was broken open, and I could see skull through the slow cascade of deep red. Pike picked at the Girl's torn flesh, bringing bits of meat to his mouth.

"Oh God, Pike…"

I moved the beam around wildly until it ended on the Boy's corpse, his head turned at an odd angle. His face still seemed to wear a smarmy grin, though it might've been the unnatural pull of flesh drawing his lips open.

I was able to get close enough for a clean shot, that ridiculous yellow training pistol all but pressed against Pike's temple.

I didn't bother explaining anything to the family. I was just a kid. I had nothing to say. Instead, I got to the car and took off. Once I got far enough away to regain some of my wits, I phoned in to the company and ordered five pick-ups.

That little farce set me back a bit. Pike didn't have many friends, but a Hell of a lot of people respected him. After news hit that he'd died on the job, it seemed like they were going to build a monument back at the office.

It took me longer than usual, sure, but eventually I made it. Solo missions. I'm a full-fledged Zombie Hunter, now, and I'm even getting my own trainee in a month's time.

It's some kid with the last name "Butts". I'm still working out how exactly I'm going to exploit that.

I've seen a lot of strange shit since that first job.

Sasquatch? Turns out he was a survivalist wearing a gilly suit and face paint. He didn't bring his orange hat, so some numb-nuts took him for a deer and pumped a few rounds into his chest. Ever since then, he stormed through the woods, groaning, munching squirrels, and scaring the shit out of campers. Well, he did until I blew his brains out.

Vampires? Mermen? Robots? You'd be surprised how many people die on Halloween, in full costume.

One guy wrapped in bandages falls out his hospital window, and before you know it the town is set upon by a Mummy. Get enough people whipped up into a frenzy, and they start suffering from phantom curses.

Don't even get me started on all the Alien sightings. Half the time Dad slid off the roof and he's tangled in Christmas lights.

Yeah, I didn't come up with the phrase, but in time I made it popular.

It's always a zombie.

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