I was so entrenched in my thoughts that I didn’t notice anything was wrong when I unlocked my front door. The smell didn’t hit me until I was inside the apartment.
Rotting flesh. Bile and decay, the perfume of the grave. I stiffened, inhaling that thick, musty odour. I frowned, perturbed but not scared. Some ghosts left a scent, although I’d never come across a ghost that stank like this.
Then I heard it moving. Slow, soft shuffling, as if the walker didn’t have total control over its legs, accompanied by laboured, wheezing breathing. It was in my bedroom, I realised, following that sound.
Tension threaded down my spine. My first instinct was to mist out and roll through the apartment that way. I checked the instinct – misting expended energy and I hadn’t fed properly since the Revenant. I might need the strength to fight the creature. So I picked up the heavy iron poker from the fireplace and crept towards my bedroom. Holding my breath, I peered round the door into the shadows.
It was a ghoul. I should have known from the smell. He dragged himself around my bed, grunting softly at the effort. He had been a young man in life, from what I could see of his decaying face. His skin was a nasty grey, his eyes gleamed red. His right ankle was broken, dragging along the carpet at a nasty angle. An old ghoul then, one who’d seen his fair share of fights with others of his kind.
What the hell was he doing in my bedroom?
I pushed the door open and his head snapped round to stare at me. I stared back. The quickest way to dispatch a ghoul was to take out its brain. I hefted the poker in my hand, hoping it was heavy enough to do the job.
I took a tentative step forwards. The ghoul grunted and lunged towards me, his mangled foot making an awful scraping sound on the carpet. I froze, holding his blood-red gaze. I still wasn’t truly afraid. Ghouls were no more intelligent than dogs, barely capable of more than eating and fighting.
Really I was more confused. How had he gotten in? Shoregrave was a strange city, but not strange enough that the walking dead passed without notice.
The ghoul launched himself at me. He hit me square in the stomach, knocking me onto my back and driving the air from my lungs in a burning rush. I screamed as the ghoul sank his filthy teeth into my collarbone.
Instinct took over: I misted out, turning to vapour beneath the bastard and dropping the poker. Howling, he fell into the space my body had occupied, fingers digging at the carpet, like I still had a solid body for him to cling to.
I drifted out from under him, holding onto my mist form and sweeping across the room in a cloud. The ghoul rolled onto his back, grabbed the poker and swung it wildly at my misty body. I felt it as a rush of air, nothing more. I was safe in this form.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get rid of the ghoul in this form. There was an antique brass candlestick on the windowsill, not as heavy as the poker but better than nothing. I breezed over and pushed myself back into my corporeal body. The quick change was painful, and I felt exhausted the second I was back in my human form. I hadn’t quite managed to change back completely and tendrils of mist rolled off me as I grabbed the candlestick. Bluish ichor trickled down my shoulder where the ghoul had bitten me, weakening me further.
The ghoul was dragging himself towards me, blind greed on his face, poker in hand. He smelled the ichor, sensed my sudden tiredness and was coming in for the kill. I raised the candlestick over my head with some effort, my arms shaking as I did so. My body wanted to turn back into mist – light, effortless mist. I fought the urge.
The ghoul rose up, grabbing the hem of my sweater and pulling me forward with surprising strength. I stumbled and dropped the candlestick. It bounced off the creature’s skull. He snarled and shook off the glancing blow, whacking me in the ribs with the poker. I fell with a shriek. This time I landed on top of the ghoul. Grabbing the advantage, I jabbed him in the eye. My finger sank into the pulpy eyeball with a sick popping noise.