Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Eight

Within the palace, it waits.

Patiently, impatiently, mindlessly, it paces about the throne room, listening, smelling the intruders as they come closer.

Long ago, it would have thought only to defend the Sultan and his daughter, but those days have gone with the rest of the world. Now, its body and mind withered beyond death, it thinks only of flesh and blood.

Living flesh and warm, thick blood.

It’s been too long since its last meal, since the Man.

And the Man had opened the doors, scimitar at the ready, focused on the enemies he could see, never thinking about the one he could not. Then it leapt, and the Man was dead, ribboned flesh and spurting blood, and the palace was silent once more.

Now, beyond the doors, they breathe. Their hearts thump at a maddening tempo. Claws skitter on the polished marble floor. They speak with quiet voices, proof of delicious life.

And their smell, stronger than the desert sun, flesh and fur, is overwhelming, all-consuming. It presses and pushes against the cold, closed doors.

They will come. They always do, they always will, and then, with a pounce, they are dead.

At last there is movement. The doors swing outward, and something small and brown leaps past the doorway. It pounces, all tooth and claw, ripping and tearing and swallowing the tiny mouthful - a leather collar, awash with the scent of Dwarf sweat and kitten fur - before it can hit the ground.

To its side, shielded by the door, it hears a guttural gasp, the heavy trod of foot, and then the Dwarf charges forward, a long stick of iron in front of him, and he pushes the point into its eye, deeper and deeper.

It hisses and writhes, fangs pulled back in a grimace of anger and hunger. The weapon digs deeper into its skull, and it can no longer quite control its claws to swat at the handle.

Already, it is fading, weakening. It lies down stupidly, tugging its head backward, and the Dwarf takes that moment of hesitation to pull back the spike and swing the axe blade down upon its skull.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Seven

“I’m afraid I cannot go with you, Pinocchio,” says the Lion.

He stands with his fleshless companions on the diamond-white shores of Neverland. With the blue sea before them and the green jungle behind, the Lion thinks it could be a beautiful island... were it not for the plague.

The four of them - Lion, puppet, Candelabra and Clock - focus on the grand and miraculous pirate ship anchored in the bay.

“Are you sure?” asks Pinocchio.

“Yes, unfortunately. I can see them scurrying around - no, don’t strain your eyes, dear child, we’re too far away - and I would be more hindrance than help in this situation.”

“But,” says Pinocchio, “I don’t want to leave you.”

“And I don’t wish to leave you,” purrs the Lion, and he is surprised to realize he isn’t lying. “But your duty is to find your father, not defend me from the dead.”

He surprises himself even more by hoping that the woodcarver is alive and on the ship, as unlikely as that may be. The dead men prowling the deck would not miss such a target.

“You’re right,” says Pinocchio, and he looks between his three friends and the pirate ship. “He’s my father. I should go alone.”

“Oh, no, no, no,” says the Candelabra, and it hops forward on the sand. “If your father can help the master, I will help you. That’s what we are here for, no?”

“And I’ll stay here,” says the Clock, his eyes warily following the figures onboard the Jolly Roger. “To remain with the Lion,” he adds quickly. “And,” he adds again, “I’m quite sure he’s not there anyway, but in a cave.”

“Well...” says Pinocchio, “we’ll be quick.”

“I’ll be right here,” says the Lion.

And it’s strange. Pinocchio hesitates for a moment, but then he hugs the Lion’s dark mane, and the Lion rubs his scarred face against the puppet’s frame. Surely just to mark his scent.

But it is strange. They somehow know that they won’t see each other again. And in Pinocchio’s short life, he’s lost so many people so suddenly - his father, his conscience, the Little Pig - that he cannot leave the Lion without a proper farewell.

“Be good,” he says. “Be careful.”

“I will and I am,” says the Lion, and he watches them walk into the ocean, Pinocchio clutching the Candelabra in his trusting hands.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Six

Once it was known as the City of Wonder, the Jewel of the Desert, the Land of Riches and Adventure. Now, muses the Dwarf, it’s just another Kingdom of the Dead.

Standing amidst the ruins, for once the Dwarf is pleased. Hands on his hips, he surveys the wreckage with a satisfied nod.

The City of Wonder has been thoroughly destroyed. Every building has crumbled upon itself, trapping hundreds of peasants and merchants and other ordinary people, all withered and hungry for flesh.

He thinks briefly of what Cinderella might think of all this, and the smile melts from his face. She’d pity even the dead, kind-hearted as she was.

“Well,” he says to the Wolf, “at least we won’t have any trouble findin’ the prince.”

Only one building still stands in the Jewel of the Desert: the Sultan’s palace. All white alabaster and marble, inlaid with gold and precious blue jewels, it stands fat and round and ready to withstand a thousand armies.

The Dwarf nods again. It’s a good, faultless construction. A bit too fancy, and more garish than anything he’s ever seen, but it certainly took survival into consideration. And survive it has.

“Be careful,” he warns, as they walk closer to the mighty palace. “There might be a dragon about.”

“Dragon?” says the Wolf, and he stops short. He looks around wildly and sniffs at the searing air. “You never said nothin’ about a dragon!”

“What do you think burned everything down?” says the Dwarf. He tries to chuckle at the animal’s ignorance. “I told you, this warn’t caused by no ordinary fire.”

He continues slowly across the sand, being careful to keep some distance between himself and any wreckage. You never know when some clenching claw might snake through.

Finally, they stand before the platinum doors. Though they’re gilded and carved with all sorts of ridiculous designs, the Dwarf determines they’re still as solid as a mountain.

He knocks heavily with the butt of his spear-axe. The thud echoes dully, causing the Wolf to cringe.

“What are you, crazy? You wanna wake up the dragon?”

The Dwarf snorts. “Yar, as a matter of fact, I do. There’s gotta be a reason why it didn’t burn down the palace, ya fool. This place,” he knocks again, louder, “is probably the first safe building we’ve seen since, well, forever.”

The Wolf’s ears are still pricked up. “I ain’t convinced,” he growls. “I don’t like dragons.” He smells the air again, but tastes nothing but the hot, unforgiving desert.

They stand there for a moment, then the Wolf says, “Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Open the door.”

“I can’t open this door! It’s built to keep out invaders.”

“But you got the key,” says the Wolf.

“Bah.” From around his neck the Dwarf produces the slender golden key - the red parrot’s dying gift. “Ain’t no way this key,” he says, “could open a door that size. Especially since it doesn’t have no keyhole.”

“Then what do we do?”

The Dwarf sighs loudly and wipes the sweat from his brow. “Ain’t ya supposed to be the Big Bad Wolf? Huff and puff and blow the doors down!”

The Wolf steps back and eyes the massive doors, but quickly sneers. “I’m still wounded, remember?” He scratches at the scars criss-crossing his body, remnants of Cinderella’s surgery. “You want me to pop my stitches?”

The Dwarf’s muttered answer is inaudible. With an annoyed grunt, he presses his callused fingers against the metal, feeling with expert hands for a secret catch or lever.

However, the door swings easily inward.

“It wasn’t locked,” says the Wolf.

“Yar,” grumbles the Dwarf.

And though neither says it, they both find it quite disturbing that such a secure palace has been left unsecured.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Five

“Defend me, Pinocchio!” screams the now-sheepish Lion.

He perches atop a tree, a dead tree that is surrounded by dead boys wearing animal skins. The Lion has come to expect safety on higher ground, but these children remember how to climb.

Perhaps they retain some skills from the animals they wear. Perhaps climbing is so common in Neverland that it’s become second nature. The reason isn’t important - all that matters to the Lion is that they don’t touch him.

The little puppet grabs on to the child in the skunk skin, but the dead boy doesn’t register the weight at all. It doggedly grabs and pulls itself up the trunk of the tree, Pinocchio dragging behind.

Likewise, the efforts of the Clock - tugging pathetically on a fox tail - go ignored.

Six dead boys, worse than hyenas, the way they giggle and grin with broken teeth. Desperately, the Lion climbs even higher, until he reaches the top of the tree.

His teeth and claws powerless, he has only one option. He waits until their filthy, reaching fingers are just inches away from his paws, and he leaps.

The dead boys grab uselessly at his tail, and once he’s gone, they simply let go of the tree and fall.

But while the Lion lands gracefully and is already bounding away, the children collapse in a heap and scramble over each other. The Candelabra touches his wick to their skins and hair, but they are much too damp to be set aflame.

The Clock takes the fox tail and ties it to a thick root. The boy in the fox skin never notices. It reaches and strains toward the retreating Lion, its feet digging gashes into the soil.

Pinocchio has less luck with the skunk tail - the boy is bigger and stronger, and the skin rips a moment later. It staggers after the Lion, still hooting and giggling.

“They won’t stop!” says Pinocchio. He grabs the skunk-boy by the leg, but it stumbles on. He stands in the rabbit-boy’s way, but it walks right over him, milky eyes always focused on the Lion.

“I know, I know!” chimes the Clock.

“We need rope!” says the Candelabra. He gestures toward the vines that hang from the trees, but without fingers or hands, there isn’t much he can do besides give orders.

Deeper in the forest, the Lion finally turns to look behind him. There’s enough distance between himself and the children that he can gather his bearings, catch his breath, and formulate a plan.

Unfortunately, one doesn’t come. He has no hyenas to sacrifice, and his fleshless army is proving useless once again. These children are hunters, as dangerous as the dead bander-log of the Wildlands, and if the trees cannot save him, what can?

His fangs and claws are nothing. At best, he would break their necks with a swipe of his paw, but they could just as easily bite him. And a small bite, even the tiniest scratch, means death.

Still tired, the Lion bounds away. His kind is built for short bursts of speed, not long-distance runs. And even then, physical work has never been his specialty. With the last reserves of his strength, he plunges into a white-tipped river and swims to the other side.

His natural weapons cannot fight the dead, and, cursed as he is without hands or fingers, he cannot build any. Instead, as always, he must rely on his mental powers, and it is true, he can think and reason unlike any other.

Quietly, the Lion paces up and down the riverside. The soil smells clean, so he marks the territory. He should be safe here. He climbs into a tall, healthy tree and watches the rushing water.

He’d hoped this land might be free from the curse of death, that it might be full of children who never grew up and other meals to enjoy. Instead, as elsewhere, he is the prey.

It takes some time for the dead boys to reach the river. His companions, still tripping legs and bashing with sticks, have slowed them considerably.

The Lion, perched in his tree, roars. They look up.

The children show no hesitation. They walk straight into the river, still focused and reaching for his flesh, even as the current whisks them away, faster than the Lion could ever wish.

Future chapters of Disney Zombies will be posted on Mondays and Thursdays.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Four

“It’s hot,” grumbles the Wolf.

“Shut up,” scowls the Dwarf.

He removes his cap - now an itchy, stinking, wet mess of wool - and wipes the sweat from his brow. He’d throw the damned thing away, but the sun would burn his bald pate quicker than the wink of a cat.

Stupid sun. The bane of all Dwarfs. “Is it any wonder,” he thinks, “that we live underground in the dark, cool shelter of the Earth? What’s the sun ever done for any of us? Bah.”

The Dwarf - nearly blind from the glare - blinks again. He hopes the buildings in the distance aren’t another mirage. They pop up now and again in this eternal desert - houses and homes with their graceful roofs and their solid walls. But they only melt into the harsh, hot air as the two trudge closer.

They’ve been traveling for a long time. Too long, and neither one thought to bring extra water. They expected (although the Dwarf has learned never to trust the humans to do anything that made a lick of sense) the Doorway to be like the others - it would lead them near civilization, near where they wanted to be.

But here? Out in the middle of nowhere? Humans live like this? Humans choose to live like this? It boggles the mind.

In the sky, he spies with his beady eye another one of those desert mirages. Just a big, black speck. Or maybe it’s a vulture, waiting for them to collapse. Or with their luck, it’ll be a hungry flying elephant. Or a witch, back from the dead.

The Wolf pants pathetically and keeps licking his snout. The Dwarf had tossed him a button to suck on, but he’s pretty sure the animal ate it.

They plod on, too stubborn to collapse in the heat.

The Dwarf has bigger, better, brighter things to complain about than the sand in his boots. Neither is accustomed to the terrain, and they move slowly. Too slowly, should any predators - living or dead - come after them, but that’s a fish to fry once it’s landed.

“Looks like we found it,” says the Wolf. Although the shifting sands have covered any road or trail, they stand amidst the beginnings of walls. All crumbled. Small buildings, by the look of it. Collapsed.

“Yeah, but what found them?” The Dwarf looks at the broken, destroyed stone. It’s too solid of a construction to just fall under the desert climate. And there are too many scorch marks.

“Burned,” he says. “Look.” He points at the various huts, but this isn’t the mark of a fire. Not any that he’s seen before. It doesn’t feel right.

“These houses didn’t burn down,” he finally says. “They exploded.”

“Who cares?” growls the Wolf. “The prince wouldn’t live in these shacks, anyway. He’d live in a castle or somethin’.” He continues waddling through the sand with his lopsided, uncomfortable gait.

The Dwarf begins to follow, but something makes him stop. A sound. Scrabbling, scratching against the stone ruins. Too insistent to be a trick of the gritty wind, too strong to be an insect.

“D’you hear that?” he says. “Someone’s in there.”

The Wolf shrugs. “Leave it. It’s dead. They’re all dead. They can’t get out."

And now that the Wolf has mentioned it, the Dwarf can’t not hear it. From within each destroyed building, something stirs. And, while he doesn’t like leaving enemies between him and the Doorway, it’s not worth the effort to dig each of ‘em up and run ‘em through.

It’s just too hot.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Three

For several days now, the Clock and the Candelabra have argued over where mermaids might be found, and the Lion has long since learned to simply block out their petulant voices.

He instead entertains pleasant memories of eating the Man, or of his brother’s death. Happier times.

Pinocchio frequently interjects with images from the Enchanted Mirror, but the visions of Gepetto only add to the debate.

“My dear child, I must insist,” insists the Candelabra, “that your father is on a boat somewhere. Look at his location! Water everywhere, no open sky. Trust me, Master Pinocchio, we won’t find him on land.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” counters the Clock. “They are mermen, you fiery fool! And look at all the others coming at him: fish, fish of all kinds! Would they flop up onto some boat, even dead as they are? No, I assure you, Monsieur Gepetto is under the ocean... perhaps in a cave of some sort.”

“If that’s the case,” the Candelabra retorts, “and I’m sure it isn’t, how are we to find him? Tie weights to ourselves and search the Seven Seas?”

“The Lion will come up with something,” Pinocchio adds. “Right?”

“As always,” the Lion responds absently. “I’m thinking about it right now.” And he remembers the taste of the Man’s blood.

He’s come to realize that he is no longer leading little pride anymore. In fact, he hasn’t for some time. With his thoughts elsewhere - yet with his ears and nose always poised to catch the approach of the dead - Pinocchio has taken to leading their quartet through the forest.

It annoys the Lion greatly that the puppet would take on such responsibility - especially since the boy doesn’t know anything about anything - but he concedes it’s better than him having to fake it for a while.

His reveries are broken by the joyous shout of Pinocchio. “This is it!” he calls, after pushing aside a thicket. “I think,” he adds.

They stand in front of another Doorway, graceful and magical and somehow fitting, though it stands in the middle of nowhere and should be as obtrusive as, say, a lion wandering with a puppet and two pieces of furniture.

“This is what, exactly?” the Lion asks lightly.

“Well,” concedes Pinocchio, “this might be it.”

In a way, the Lion privately admits the boy is right - any Doorway out of this horrible land is a suitable destination, regardless of where his father might dwell.

The Candelabra studies the words carved over the frame, but for once it remains quiet.

The Lion allows the silence to grow until the boy has felt suitably embarrassed, and then asks quietly, “Can anyone read it?"

He quickly answers his own question. “No, I’d forgotten. You never bothered to learn, Pinocchio, disobedient as you were. I never had the opportunity. And what about you?” the Lion’s yellow eyes roll down to the Candelabra. “What’s your excuse?”

The Candelabra stiffens its brass back and glares at the Lion. “My master could barely read. Why should I have the advantage over him?”

“It says,” ticks the Clock in a rather definitive tone, “Neverland.” He smiles a smug little smile and adds, “I ran the master’s affairs. Being literate was a necessity.”

“Neverland?” Pinocchio’s eyes widen and he jumps up to hug the Lion’s mane. “This is it! This is it!” he says, though the Lion figures he’d say that no matter what was written on the door.

The Clock and the Candelabra look at each other.

“My friend,” said the Candelabra, “it appears as though I am right. Our dear woodcarver is no doubt aboard one of the pirate ships that surround Neverland.”

“Or, more likely,” snaps the Clock, “he has found refuge in a cave alongside a beach.”

As usual, the Lion ignores them. His eyes fade as he loses himself in thought. The tales of Neverland have spread far and wide, even to the Wildlands - though the animals tend to call it the Dreamtime. And if even half the tales are true, then this is a land of Men - pirates and Indians and mermaids - and of children. Helpless, hearty children... And he remembers the taste of the Man's blood.

The Lion smiles. “Yes, Neverland. I’m sure we’ll find what we are looking for there.” And with a single stride through the Doorway, he retakes his position as head of the pride.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Two


Death is coming.

Death in the form of Monstro.

The news spreads through the underwater kingdom with the unforgiving speed of a typhoon: it has returned.

Few fish survived the initial holocaust. Only the fastest swimmers, the lucky ones who caught the currents early, lived to tell the tale, and the King of the Sea listened well.

It’s been over a hundred years since the great beast has come to the Seventh Sea, but here, now, the Merfolk stand prepared.

The able-bodied men carry spears and tridents. Most have said good-bye to their families, for to meet the jaws or tail of Monstro is to swim forth into the eternal tide.

The noble swordfish pledge their weapons to the cause, the whales have agreed to fight, and even the sharks - untrustworthy at the best of times - eagerly swim to the forefront. They loudly tell fish and folk alike that their teeth will be the ones to bring down Monstro.

And the King of the Sea himself will lead the attack.

“Daddy, you mustn’t,” plead his daughters.

“Your Majesty,” argues his majordomo, “you’re too important to put yourself into battle.”

“Nonsense,” says the King. “If I do not risk my life, how could I ask our people to do the same? And besides, I am ruler of the ocean! I will not be cowed by this monster.”

And his daughters cry, the little crab worriedly clicks his claws, and the King swims forth into battle.

Now, he wishes he had listened.

Even before Monstro approaches, it brings the cold currents of its home - dark, stinging waters that devour light and goodness.

The ebb and flow is much stronger than the temperate waters of the Seventh Sea. It’s a struggle merely to keep from being swept away.

Its smell, the musk of Monstro, the stink of a rotting carcass, the murk of a hundred - no, a thousand - pieces of dead, decaying ambergris. It is enough to turn back many of the weaker-stomached men.

And now the King thinks it is better to be thought of as a cowardly ruler than to stare into the face of death, the hungry behemoth. It is the size of a castle. The swordfish and the shark teeth and the spears are nothing more than needles.

At worst, they would only serve to anger the beast. At best, it ignores its wounds entirely, so hungry and intent on hunting is Monstro.

“Sound the alarms!” screams the King. He fires another burst of power from his royal trident. The magical attack is ignored, as Monstro doggedly chases school of sharks. The dying creatures bite just as ineffectively at its tongue and jaws before being crushed by shark-sized teeth.

The beast is impossible to fight - the Merfolk’s plan of battle comes undone, as the leviathan does not notice the many feints and counter-charges. It simply eats. Everything else is ignored.

“Tell the people to retreat!” The King prays that the ocean carries his daughters away, that they are among the lucky ones, as those few surviving fish had been. And perhaps they can warn the other underwater kingdoms.

Then, amidst the screams and the storm of water, he realizes that the alarms are silent. His majordomo has fallen.

And still the Merfolk stab on, hopeless and defiant. One of Monstro’s eyes has been plucked by a brave swordfish, but a careless swipe from Monstro’s fin crushes the would-be hero’s spine.

The King blasts the monster again, only to wonder why it isn’t bleeding. Monstro has hundreds, thousands of wounds. Small ones, to be sure, but the creature does not bleed.

And then the King of the Seas understands why.

Monstro is already dead.