ST. PATRICK: ZOMBIE HUNTER
by Matt Bronleewe & Kevin Kaiser
AD 461, March 17th
Saul, County Down, Ireland
Across the sea will come Adze-head, crazed in the head,
His cloak with hole for the head, his stick bent in the head.
He will chant impieties from a table in the front of his house;
All his people will answer: ‘so be it, so be it.’
The boy looked up from the scroll to his new master. ‘Is the Druid’s prophecy about you?’
Patrick’s eyes narrowed until they were only sparkling pinpricks staring out from under his cowl. ‘Do not speak of the Druids,’ he said, his voice low and growling. ‘They are animals…snakes…and deserve no more attention than a knife through their heart.’
The boy felt his blood run cold. Was this the same man he had heard so many stories about? The one that had saved so many villages from the zombies? The one that had fought the Druids and their demonic forces? But this man seemed like the devil himself! In that moment he wished his parents were there by his side. If only Patrick had been able to save them too.
‘I thought you were a messenger of God,’ the boy said, taking a small step back.
Patrick sighed, then pushed back his hood to reveal a smiling face. He was older than the boy expected, his grey hair circling his head like a frayed halo. He was thin and wrinkled and bore the scars of a hundred battles. His left ear had a notch in the upper corner, and there was a cross etched in ash on his forehead. He was at once both utterly foreign and completely familiar, and instantly all of the boy’s anxieties washed out of him. Patrick was a saint. He had no doubt of it now.
‘Come,’ the old warrior said. ‘We need to get to the church before the Druids and their foul forces arrive.’
The boy nodded. He rolled up the tiny scroll with the prophecy and tucked it into his garment. Their were still many questions swirling in his brain about his new master, but he knew the time to ask them would have to wait. After all, there was a zombie war to prepare for.
The wind whipped across the hill as they descended into the village. Patrick fetched a blanket from his pack and threw it across the boy’s back. He wanted to refuse it at first, to show that he was strong, but in truth he was freezing and thought it best to accept the warmth instead of a quick, cold death.
They wound their way to the front of the church and Patrick pounded on the door. ‘Palladius!’ he called out. ‘Let me in at once! I have come with an army behind me!’
The boy glanced around. Army? What army? He wondered if he’d missed something.
The door flew open. Standing in the entryway was a man that could have been Patrick’s brother. His hair was less grey, his face less cracked, and he appeared to be a bit heavier in the middle, but other than that he looked like a twin separated by a decade.
‘You made it!’ Palladius said, giving his friend a warm embrace.
Patrick pushed him back. ‘We have no time for such pleasantries,’ he said, stomping into the church. ‘They cannot be more than a few hours behind us.’
The boy followed close behind, hoping to go unnoticed.
‘And who are you?’ Palladius asked, bringing him in out of the cold.
‘He is my army,’ Patrick said.
‘Is that so?’ Palladius said. He grinned. ‘You look fierce as a lion, my lad. Am I right?’
‘I…I suppose so?’ the boy said, shivering and sitting down on the ground. The only thing on his mind was heat and food. He would reconsider his fierceness after being properly fed.
‘What about the others?’ Palladius said, walking over to Patrick. ‘I thought you were going for help.’
‘I was too late,’ Patrick said with a grimace. ‘The numbers of the undead seem to double with each day. They are overpowering the good people of our lands before they can escape…or be saved.’
Patrick dropped his bags to the ground and knelt before a tall wooden cross fastened to the wall.
‘Do not blame yourself,’ Palladius said, lighting a few more candles nearby. ‘We have done everything in our limited power. The rest is up to God Almighty.’
‘The I best say a few more prayers before sharpening my sword,’ Patrick said without raising his bowed head.
Palladius disappeared from the room, returning a short time later with some bread and broth, which he gave to the boy.
‘Thank you,’ the boy said, wolfishly devouring the sustenance.
‘Slow down,’ Palladius said, taking some bread for himself. ‘If things get worse, and I can only assume they will, then this might be the only meal you enjoy for the next little while.’
The boy tried his best to pace himself, but the first few bites had only intensified the hunger he felt in his gut.
‘They don’t really need to eat, you know,’ Palladius said.
The boy knew he was talking about the zombies. Most conversations led back to them these days. ‘But my father told me they crave flesh.’
‘It’s an unnatural desire,’ Palladius said, nibbling at the bread then handing the remainder of it to the boy. ‘They are the walking dead, and have no need for nourishment.’
‘Then why are they so mad to get us?’
‘I wish I had an answer for you,’ Palladius replied. ‘I suspect the Druids know, but they are more than hesitant to share their secrets, as you might guess.’
The boy ripped his loaf of bread in half. ‘I hate the Druids,’ he said.
Palladius grinned. ‘Just remember, they hate you too.’
Across the room, Patrick raised from his prayerful position. ‘It’s time,’ he said. ‘They’re getting close.’
‘How can you tell?’ asked the boy. ‘Did you have a vision?’
Patrick walked over to what appeared to be large wooden alter and removed the top. ‘I can smell their rot in the air,’ he said, removing the weapons held inside. ‘And the stench is growing.’
The boy sniffed. He couldn’t detect anything. But he had no doubt that Patrick was right. Unfortunately, he had yet to be wrong about any of the horrors they had encountered on their journey.
Palladius joined Patrick in sorting through the weaponry. They choose the most lethal items of the lot, a crossbow, a longsword, and two axes. The shields were left behind.
‘What do I get?’ the boy asked, picking up a dagger.
Patrick turned to him. ‘Your mission will require the lightest load possible,’ he said, taking the short blade from the boy’s grip. ‘No weapons. Just fast legs and a strong heart. And from what I’ve seen, you are fortunate to possess both.’
‘I get nothing?’
‘You get everything,’ Patrick said, reaching inside his cloak. He produced two items, a small book and a thin vine of clover.
The boy jumped back. ‘Shamrocks are evil!’ he said, recoiling.
‘Calm yourself, child,’ Patrick said, grabbing the boy by the sleeve. He slowly brought the vine up to his face. ‘Look at them closely.’
The boy stopped fighting Patrick’s hold on him, realizing that it was fruitless. He peered at the tiny green leaves and wondered why such a beautiful plant had inspired such fear amongst his village. ‘What do you want me to see?’
‘How many leaves are there?’
‘Correct. Three leaves. A trinity. It’s a holy number, child, not evil. For some it represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For others, three paths that you can take in life. To do good, to do evil, or to do nothing at all. The Druids have chosen evil. Most others have chosen to hide away and hope that the apocalypse will pass them by. But the three people in this room have chosen the third alternative.’
‘To do good,’ the boy answered.
‘It’s the hardest choice,’ Patrick said, ‘but it is the only one that will save us.’ He wrapped the shamrock vine around the boy’s neck.
‘Why does everyone think it’s evil?’
Patrick tied the two ends of the vine together. ‘A lie the Druids have spread. In truth, they wear garlands of it under their dark cloaks. It keeps the zombies from destroying them, though we have yet to understand why.’
‘Will it keep me safe?’
‘Hopefully you will not be close enough to them to find out,’ Patrick said. He placed the book in the boy’s hands. ‘Take this to my church in Armagh. You will be safe there.’
‘Armagh? But that’s…’
‘Very far from here, yes, but you have been chosen for this task.’
‘By the circumstances,’ Patrick said, patting the boy’s head. ‘But let us pray that our plan is in alignment with His.’ He handed him the book.
‘What is this?’ the boy asked, flipping through the fragile pages.
‘If there were time to explain, I would,’ Patrick said. ‘But trust me when I say it is the key to ending our current plight.’
Palladius joined them, placing a small pack over the boy’s shoulder, along with a new cloak that he fastened around his neck. ‘I’m weighting you with only the essentials,’ he said. ‘You must leave at once.’
‘Neither of you are coming with me?’ the boy asked, realizing that he was being sent off on his own.
‘We will be holding the godless legions at bay,’ Patrick said. He loaded the crossbow and picked up an axe. ‘But we can only last so long.’
The boy knew what this meant. They were laying down their lives for his benefit. The book suddenly felt like a hot coal in his hands, its importance becoming immediately apparent.
‘I might fail,’ he admitted to the two men before him.
Patrick knelt before him and drew an ashen cross on the child’s forehead. ‘You cannot fail.’
No sooner had Patrick risen to his feet than there was a noise at the front door—a clawing sound, a scraping of fingernails against the wood, followed by a low guttural groan.
Palladius picked up the longsword and raced across the room. ‘They have come much too soon.’
‘They always do,’ Patrick said, tucking an extra knife into his belt. He turned to the boy. ‘No matter what you see, you must leave through the back door. Do not turn back. Do not stop until you reach the gates of Armagh. They will be waiting for you there.’
The boy felt tears well up in the corners of his eyes, but he fought them back. This was not the time to show weakness.
Patrick wiped the wetness from his own eyes, then took the knife from his belt and gave it to the boy. ‘Just in case,’ he said.
With that he fared goodbye to the boy and sprinted to join Palladius at the door, which was beginning to buckle under the weight of the fowl soldiers that pressed against it.
‘Go!’ Patrick said, just as the door broke down.
The boy stood fixed for a moment, unable to tear his vision from the hellish minions spilling inside. The zombies’ eyes shined with a soft gold glow, a strange bit of splendor set in the center of their tortured faces.
‘Go!’ Patrick screamed again, cleaving one of the creatures in two.
The boy blinked, then spun on his heels and raced for the rear of the church. He burst through the back door, not knowing what to expect.
Luckily, no more than the biting wind was waiting for him outside. But he knew his good fortune would not last long. From what he’d observed in his home village, the undead swarmed whatever place they invaded, and though his path was clear now, it would soon be flooded with mouths desiring nothing more than the taste of his flesh.
He ran ahead, hearing the cries of Patrick behind him. In his mind’s eye, he envisioned that the saintly warrior was slaughtering zombies by the dozens. He promised himself that the great man’s memory would be preserved, that he would be forever remembered as the martyr that had ensured their victory over the Druids.
I cannot fail, the boy told himself as the last line of the prophecy sprang to his tongue…
‘So be it,’ he said aloud, bracing for the hard journey ahead. ‘So be it.’