The Returned Dead (short fiction)

Wren & Hess


Some said a powerful wizard had cursed the city with his dying breath. Others, that it had unknowingly been built over the corpse of a death god buried deep within the earth. And others simply claimed there was something in the water. No one genuinely knew why, but there was no denying that every two years the moon would turn a deep emerald hue and the dead would return for unfinished business.

For a constable, it was one of the quieter nights. Most everyone stayed inside, and the dead were harmless for the most part. There was the occasional noise complaint now and then.

The banshee lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Officers. I didn’t mean to disturb anyone. I was simply bemoaning the loss of my life, cut so cruelly short.”

“Well, bemoan quieter,” said Hess. “People are trying to sleep.”

The phantasmal lady nodded. “Say, while you’re here could I file a report? My husband murdered me by pushing me out a window and then claiming it was an accident.” She pointed to a small house sitting atop a rising wall. “That window, in fact.”

Wren said, “We can take the report, but it’s unlikely to bring about any justice. The dead are no more honest than the living. It’s just your word against his.”

The banshee scowled. Her eyes burned bright red. “Pity.”

She howled long and loud, a sorrowful cry that chilled the air.

The house window opened up. “Damn it, Edna! I didn’t kill you! You tripped! Just accept it!”

“Why don’t you have your new young wife come out and tell me that!” screeched the banshee.

Her ex-husband sighed and slammed the window shut. She drew in a deep breath, but caught sight of Wren and Hess standing there and swallowed her scream. “How else am I supposed to talk to him? I can’t leave this spot, and he won’t come down to have a civilized discussion.”

“That’s not our problem, Ma’am,” said Wren. “Just keep it down.”

The banshee turned her blood red eyes toward the window.

“You’re a jerk, Harold,” she said at a conversational level. “You always were a jerk.”

She frowned as the lights went out in Harold’s house.

“I don’t see how I can work under these conditions.”

“Bemoaning hours are set by the Tower,” said Wren. “If you have a problem with it, take it up with them.”

The constables turned their attention toward a corpse shambling past.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Hess, “but where are you going with that sword?”

The zombie put forth an innocent expression, not easy with half the flesh of his face missing. “What? This old thing? It’s not mine. I’m holding it for a friend.”

Wren confiscated the weapon.

“I have my rights,” said the zombie. “I need that to avenge my murder. You’re constables. You should care about that.”

“You’ll get no sympathy from them,” said the banshee.

It wasn’t that they didn’t care. It was simply that the returned dead had a bad habit of thinking they’d been killed. Maybe it made their deaths easier to justify. More tragic. More romantic in a strange sort of way. Very few ghosts admitted to tripping down the stairs or eating bad meat.

“All right now,” said Wren. “Move along now, sir. And no avenging tonight.”

“Can I at least knock on my murderer’s door and run away before he answers?”

“We can’t give you official approval on that, sir,” said Hess, “but it’s not something we’re likely to take very seriously.”

The zombie chuckled, shambling off in search of dog doo and a sack to put it in.

A ghostly carriage careened wildly through the street. Its driver, a headless coachman, cackled madly as his team of shrieking horses clomped against the cobblestones.

Wren and Hess called it in and resumed their patrol.

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One Comment

  1. L. K. Johnson
    Posted July 17, 2015 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    So, have you ever had a family member poke their head in where you’re on the computer only to demand you, “Stop that infernal cackling while they’re trying to watch a movie! And what’s so censored funny in the first place?”
    Yeah, me too.

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