Just a little warning that today’s story is a bit graphic, and fairly heavy on the body horror. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy. (The inspiration for this was a dream, so I had this living in my head…)
We never expected the dead to start religions.
They stood between us and the way out of the city, thousands of them worshipping under ragged carrier bag banners.
When they finished their devotions, the congregation would come in our direction, so hiding was no option. We watched their rituals and tried to come up with a plan.
The priest stood dead centre of the road, torn arms raised to the sky as her damaged throat wheezed words we didn’t understand. Around her, the dead mimicked her invocations.
Some of the gathering still looked human, just at the beginning of their transformation, others little more than sentient pools of muscle, softened bones erupting from the surface. Windblown grass-seeds and corn husks peppered their rotten flesh. Even from a distance we saw where the wounds were tattooed with road dirt and grit.
But the priest? She had been one of the early infected yet still held her shape, and this is what she offered them. Coherence. Identity. The ability to remain whole, even beyond death.
The prayers stopped and she gazed around her flock. When the infections started we thought the dead lost language, but that too was transformed.
“Our calls will be heard by the Lords of the Third Circle,” she said, staring lovingly at a family melted together into a single wall of meat. “We will be delivered to the next world in our true forms. Our brethren who have already succumbed will be returned to us.”
We were so distracted by the proceedings, we did not notice the working party surround us, grasping our hands to our bodies with gloved hands. They walked us down to the centre of the makeshift church. With gasps of joy, the Priest turned toward us.
“Truly the Soured Lords have answered our prayers.”
The gloves should have been the first clue. We expected them to feast upon us, or leave us to be transformed. Instead they kept us alive and healthy, peeling us apart one by one and applying our fat as salves.
While we still held onto rational thought through the pain, we knew it would do no good. The infection did not work that way, but religion was a powerful drug, even amongst the melting dead. We were medicine and cure. Henbane and Belladonna.
We were hallowed and revered, even as they prised us meat from bone, and boiled us down to smear on their skin. We were the most holy of holy and they showed their reverence with each cut of the knife.