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.