The first hope of being near his grandparent’s house comes from hearing the warning wails of the Screamers, body-less banshees that hung from the tall branches of the trees around the Estate. Twilight crawls upon the procession of hearses and horse-drawn carriage on that long, dusty highway humans and their automobiles seldom tread. Zax usually sits at the back of their car, waving back to friendly werewolves who darted past their car windows. In the nearby forest, a coven of witches with their black hats and broomsticks dance around a big cauldron boiling potions over the flames of the bonfire.
Gnarleys frame the road, thrashing wildly to welcome everyone driving through the front gates. These trees grow to be as tall as oaks. They sprout only branches never leaves and every October, their barks sport the colourful fall foliage, giving the Gnarleys the appearance of being covered with gummi candy. Gnarleys sway their branches at the slightest breeze. In the fall, when only gentle, cold breezes blow, Zombie parents, attending the reunion deposit their newborn babes on the boughs and the Gnarleys would cradle and lull them to sleep until it is time for the moms and dads to bring them home.
Zax can’t wait to play with Rachid, the giant arachnid his parents keep for a pet. Rachid was last year’s winner of the Zombie pet competition, beating pets of all kinds and sizes thanks to his mommy’s mortician skills. It was the silver pearls she glued on Rachid’s back that impressed the judges. They reflected the moon on their shiny surfaces and from a few yards away, they looked like a collection of countless eyes blinking happily back at the members of the jury.
Rachid attended obedience school and Zax’s mother did not have a hard time keeping her clear from the slime pits. The green, glowing goop that runs in the Estate’s little creek is radioactive and is rumoured to keep decay at bay and leaves the skin bleached white. Some of his relatives, the Mallowmen, douse themselves regularly with the goop and are whiter than any Zombie he has ever seen.
This year Zax’s dad gets to be the Hangman for the reunion, an honour conferred to a member of the Zombie family who was voted for exemplary achievement in the past year. The Hangman gets to be suspended by rope from the branch of the tallest Gnarley. His skin will be pecked and his eyes will be gouged by the darkest plumed crows and the biggest of bats. Zax’s dad was hoping for the highest honour, being boiled in the great Zombie cauldron. Jack O’ Lantern, the richest and most successful of all Zombies, was the thirteenth of this prestigious line and holds the record for the longest boiling time, staying in the bubbling cauldron until his flesh and skin fell off clean from his bones. Jack is now a famous Hollywood movie and TV celebrity and the permanent face of Halloween in the world. This year that honour belongs to a famous cousin from New York who has made quite a name in the publishing industry, gracing the covers of many a series of teenage horror and thriller books.
When he was old enough to graduate from the Gnarley’s clutches, Zax joined the pre-schoolers in the Capsicombs. Capsicombs are structures that look like two giant bell pepper skulls which are really entrances to the underground mausoleum for patriarchs of the Zombie clan already resting in pieces. Other less prominent departed members are buried in marked graves at the cemetery next to Capsicombs. The tunnels and labyrinths woven through the crypt was a game the ancients devised to teach the young ones about the great Zombie ancestry. It was primarily the reason why Zax can recite his lineage to the first generation.
And above all, Zax would give anything to see her again. She who comes from the land of the rising sun, face pale as snow and lips and hair like crimson blood. He remembered fondly as she cradled him, lowering him gently into his crypt just as she had done to his Papa and his Grandpa and all the Grandpas before him. To many others, she’s known as Shinigami Shoujo but to Zax, she’s simply his dear Nanna Emiko. How he misses her…
“And that’s our three times tables,” A monotonous mumble drew Zax from his imaginings and the little zombie looked about him. The calendar reminded him of the two days before his homecoming. He sighed,‘Two more days’. For now, Zax would like to think that the ghouls and gargoyles throwing spitballs behind him, the snickering demons at his left gossiping about their friends and the ogre droning on at the front of the class would suffice.