Five Days Later
Slade stabbed his shovel into the earth, then leaned on it and wiped the sweat off his brow. He gulped water from a canteen, wiped his mouth, then let out a satisfying, “Ahh.”
The lawman was no longer alone. He turned around to find himself staring at a wretched zombie. Its hair was patchy. Clothes ripped apart. The few teeth it had were gnashing their way towards Slade.
Splat! A tomahawk crashed through the creature’s skull, sending its corpse into the six-foot hole Slade had dug.
Slade nodded at Standing Eagle, then offered the Chief a drink. He accepted.
“Sorry if I startled you,” Eagle said.
“Nah,” Slade replied as he looked down at the still zombie. “Saved me from having to carry him.”
Slade scooped up a pile of dirt and tossed it on the zombie’s face. Then another. And another.
Eagle surveyed the field. Rows and rows of fresh graves as far as the eye could see, each marked with a wooden cross.
“I’m not sure many men would do this,” Eagle said.
“Yeah,” Slade said as he kept shoveling. “But zombie or not, everyone deserves a proper burial don’t they?”
“They do,” Eagle said.
Miss Bonnie and Miles approached, each holding onto the edges of a large burlap sack that they dragged behind them.
“Found two more,” Miss Bonnie announced.
The bag started moving on its own. Groans came next.
“Gimmie that,” Miss Bonnie said as she yanked the shovel out of Slade’s hands. She then wailed away on the sack, striking it vigorously. “Bad zombie! I told…you…to…stay…dead!”
The bag was still. Then it moved once more. Miss Bonnie gave it one last whack. That did the trick.
“I think there’s some space left on the north side,” Slade said.
“Ok then,” Miss Bonnie said as she handed the shovel back to Slade. She and Miles moved on with their ghastly cargo.
“Interesting woman you have there,” Standing Eagle said.
“Yeah,” Slade replied as he returned to shoveling. “I’m just glad she’s on my side.”
Eagle picked up another shovel and joined in.
“What will you do now?” Eagle asked.
“Go West,” Slade replied. “Got a hatchet with my Pa I’d like to bury.”
“Ah,” Eagle said. “I suppose no matter who we are, none of us ever feel like we have lived up to our fathers’ expectations do we?”
“Nope,” Slade said.
Slade and Eagle kept shoveling scoops of dirt into the hole for awhile.
“The old man with the beard,” Eagle said. “The deputy. He was like a father to you?”
“You could say that,” Slade said.
“I am sorry,” Eagle said.
“Eh,” Slade said. “For some reason, I don’t think he’d want any of us to be.”
“Strength,” Eagle said.
Slade corrected him. “Practicality. Crying for him won’t bring him back so he’d say it is a waste of time.”
“Yes,” Eagle said. “Wandering Snake was the same way. Age brings a sense of clarity the young do not understand.”
“Live long enough and you’ve seen so much shit that you know how shit will go down before it actually does,” Slade said.
“Indeed,” Eagle said.
Slade stopped scooping. “I’m sorry,” the lawman said. “I tried to stop him.”
“I’m sure you did,” Eagle said. “But no one could have stopped him. Snake was an old man and his mind was made up.”
Slade got back to work. “What was it like?”
“What?” Eagle asked.
“Being dead?” Eagle asked.
“Imagine drifting through a sea of bright colors while a feeling rushes over you as if you were being caressed by the hands of a thousand beautiful women.”
“Are you serious?” Slade asked.
“Shit,” Slade said. “Now I feel even worse for not stopping him.”
Eagle laughed. “Oh. Fear not. It was a prelude of what’s to come and I can only assume the feeling will become even better with every good deed I perform with the time I have left.”
“You’re a hell of an optimist, Chief,” Slade said.
“You should try it sometime,” Eagle replied.
The hole was filled in. Slade tamped the earth down.
“I’ll join the warriors to search for more zombies,” Eagle said.
Slade plunged his shovel into a fresh patch of ground. “I’ll keep digging.”
Eagle started to walk off then stopped when Slade called for him.
“Thanks for dying for me,” Slade said.
“You’re welcome,” Eagle said. “Just don’t ask me to do it again.”
The men shook hands and looked at the town in the distance. Burnt out, crumbling buildings. Death and destruction everywhere.
“You know the government fucked my people over,” Slade said.
Eagle started to respond with, “Now you…”
Slade and Eagle smiled and pointed at each other as Slade finished the thought. “Now we know how you feel, yes.”
“Eh, not quite,” Eagle said. “But it’s a start.”
“Anyway,” Slade said. “They cut us off. They’re not coming around here any time soon and I don’t work for them anymore so as far as I’m concerned, Highwater is yours.”
Just as Slade finished his words, the cracked steeple of the church slipped off the roof and crashed to the ground.
“Sorry it’s such a shit hole,” Slade said.
“Better days are ahead,” Eagle said. “And ‘yours.’ ‘Mine.’ Surely you realize by now these words are unnecessary.”
“I’m starting to,” Slade said.
“All will be welcome,” Eagle said.
“You’re a very mellow man, Chief,” Slade said. “How do you do it?”
“Practice,” Slade said. “Patience. Study. Meditation.”
“And special herbs.”
“Herbs?” Slade asked.
Eagle walked away. “You couldn’t handle that shit, Slade.”