The war in Afghanistan had been getting really tricky.
Carl heard it was worse over in Africa and other parts of the Middle East – even down in Western Europe – where every mass grave for the last forty years had been dug up from inside. The unhallowed dead were rising all over the world, and they were, it seemed, really, really hungry.
Here, the worst problem was the MIA. They hadn’t been laid to rest with proper rites because they hadn’t been laid to rest at all, and they’d come back when nobody was expecting them, slipping into their old units and wreaking havoc. Their chaplain was working overtime, and he’d enlisted the help of an imam from a nearby village and a rabbi they’d had to smuggle in.
And now they were being shambled towards by seventeen dead Afghanis – all but three of them young women – two French soldiers that had gone missing years ago, and a guy from their unit.
“Shit,” Carl grunted, “sorry, chaplain. That’s Joe Ellis.”
“How can you tell?” The poor guy sounded like he was about to lose it, and Carl couldn’t blame him. There wasn’t much left of Joe’s face to identify him.
“The boots. And the tattoo on the hand. I don’t know how you’re going to deal with this one, father. He’s an atheist.”
“What ever happened to ‘no atheists in foxholes?’” the chaplain muttered.
“Joe used to go on about that. Said that that was because people have been trained to pray when they’re scared, not because they suddenly believe. ‘Everyone is afraid,’ he’d say, ‘it’s part of being human.’” Of course, what was left of Joe wasn’t anywhere near human, but Carl was trying hard not to think too much about that.
“Fear.” The chaplain nodded thankfully. “Cover me?”
“I’ve got your back.” Hoping that the little man knew what he was doing, Carl followed him on his crab-skitter across the field. The imam was laying the girls to rest, but Joe, or what was left of him, was trying to chew on someone who had once been his best buddy. While Carl helped the kid hold him off, the chaplain prayed.
“We come to the end of our life as a release, as a respite. We come to the end of our lives as a chance to lay down our burdens, to set aside fear. For in the time after death, truly there can be no more pain, and no more fear. There is nothing left to be afraid of.”
Slowly, and at first uncertainly, the zombie that had once been Joe lay down on the ground. As the chaplain kept talking, Joe’s body reached for a lighter, and, with a beatific smile on what was left of his face, set himself on fire.
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