A flash of color in the night sky was the signal, and Stevie rushed over to the picnic blanket to get a good view. All night they had waited for this, shivering in the darkness and bundled under layers of clothes. Camp fires weren’t allowed of course, which meant there were no hot meals. Dad had brought him first thing that morning, as soon as the announcement was made that this was it, meaning they had one of the best spots.
The graveyard was at the base of the hill below, and Stevie could barely contain his excitement. “Where are they?”
His father put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a squeeze. “Calm down, I’m sure they’ll show soon.”
Along the edge of the hill, Stevie could see hundreds of others gathering, pushing and cloistering together. Silence fell over them and the air felt heavy. Stevie could feel his heart pounding and he bounced on his toes in anticipation.
“I don’t see anything. What’s taking them so long?”
Dad crouched down next to him, “I guess it takes a while to dig out of a grave.”
He hadn’t thought of that. Instead of looking for shambling corpses he started looking at the headstones instead. Sure enough, he spotted movement next to the tallest one down there: an enormous angel statue with wings spread wide.
Stevie pointed down at it, his voice loud enough to be heard by others. “That one – it’s moving!”
The ground split open even as he said it and a hand broke through the cold earth. Stevie put on his night vision goggles, barely able to contain himself. He zoomed in and watched the man dig his way out: first an arm, then another arm, and finally his head. He was rather tall and had a long mop of white hair that was now thoroughly filled with mud and grime.
“You’re not scared, are you?” Dad whispered beside him.
“Uh-uh,” Stevie muttered, staring transfixed as the man pulled himself out completely. His body was so decomposed that Stevie could count each rib that poked out beneath his white collared shirt. His head was all skull and gleamed as it caught the moonlight.
“That’s grandpa!” A little girl shrieked down the cliff. Someone tried to quiet her, but the she wouldn’t listen. “My grandpa is the first!”
Stevie, who was still zoomed in on grandpa down below, was amazed to see how quickly the head spun in the little girl’s direction. Then in a flash, he was darting toward the crowd, knocking himself into gravestones and stumbling over several rocks before he began to make his ascent.
“Dad?” Stevie whispered, unable to keep the fear out of his voice.
His father was silent for a moment, then turned to a nearby onlooker and asked, “They going to do something?”
Grandpa was crawling up the cliffside far faster than even Stevie would have expected. He didn’t even need the goggles now to see grandpa coming closer to them. Stevie reached up and tugged at his father’s sleeve. The crowd was backing away, pulling back as though not quite sure this was as safe as they expected.
Dad picked Stevie up off the ground and did the same. He had backed away two steps when Stevie spotted the glint of light reflecting in dead grandpa’s eyes. Stevie was breathing so hard he was shaking. He clung to Dad’s shoulder, twisting the strap of the goggles in his fingers.
Others were shouting now, screaming to kill it. Guns weren’t allowed up here though, not on Dead Man’s Hill. It was the same for cameras and cell phones too. They were afraid it would agitate the undead, though it seemed that shrieking little girls were just as dangerous.
Grandpa was standing directly in front of them now, turning his head slowly as though picking out a dish at a buffet. His white eyes landed on Stevie and it cocked its head to the side before darting forward.
“Daddy!” Stevie shouted.
There was a loud bang that reverberated across the valley and a splatter of blood splashed out from grandpa’s head, streaking up the invisible wall that stood between them. Stevie stared at it with wide eyes as grandpa collapsed to his knees, then keeled over completely. Nervous laughter started to emerge around them and slowly the crowd began moving forward again.
Dad laughed, “Aw, you weren’t that scared, were you?”
Stevie shook his head, transfixed by the corpse that lay mere feet away from them.
“We can go home now if you want. Mother said you might be too young for this. Maybe she was right.”
Stevie pulled his goggles on again. “No, I want to see more zombies.”
“Alright, alright,” Dad sighed and put him down on the ground again. “But if we get another runner on this side, you’re not going to get picked up again, okay?”
“Okay, Daddy.” Stevie grinned as another zombie broke ground, this time closer to the crowd.
The little girl cried out, “Up here, Mr. Zombie!” She was standing beside him now and Stevie smiled down at the zombie below.
“Yeah, this way!” he cried.
Pretty soon every child on the hillside was taunting it, eager to lure it up to them.
“Kids,” Dad laughed and rubbed at a crick in his back. “I’m glad Halloween only comes once a year.”