How do you solve a problem like Neovia?: Part Two
Once again, Thumburt sat behind his desk. Hubrid Nox was perched lightly on the chair opposite. The five dossiers were once again laid out in front of him.
“As Mayor the choice is ultimately yours, and we will support you any way we can with your decision,” Hubrid told him.
Thumburt looked over the plans; none of them seemed particularly evil, aside from maybe Balthazar’s suggestion. He picked up the second file.
“Well, we have all the zombies here already; it seems to be a shame to waste them. But, and this is a big but, they are not to harm any townsfolk, understood?” Thumburt said, handing over the file.
“But of course, I shall see to it personally that they are incapable of harming Neovians,” Hubrid said, reading over the file.
“Alright then, you can begin at once,” Thumburt told him.
Hubrid smiled faintly and exited the office. Thumburt leaned back on his chair and patted his stomach, hoping he had averted a crisis.
The first thing the townsfolk heard was the groans. Of course, they had heard them for three days while the zombie-circle surrounded the town, but now they were louder, much louder. The second thing they heard was the shuffling, like someone who had heard about walking but not bothered with the details, hoping to fill in the blanks as they went along. Then it didn’t matter what the townsfolk heard, as they could see the zombies heading down the street.
At least two hundred rotting corpses descended upon Neovia. People tried to run, but the zombies already had Neovia surrounded; it was simply a matter of closing the circle. Those that made it to their homes were considered lucky. They bolted their doors, shoved furniture in front of windows and retired to their attics where they observed the happenings in the streets below. Those that could not reach their houses found themselves cornered in alleyways, mist coiling around their legs. As any respectable person would, they fought back against the zombies, hitting them with rocks, sticks and the occasional pastry.
The strange thing was that the zombies seemed to take it.
“I heard one of them fell in the well,” Herman Dorfdrap said conspiratorially, “That’s going to be a major hygiene problem if you ask me.”
“Well, I found one in the pantry the other day,” the Crumpet Monger piped up, “just rotting there it was; ruined an entire day’s worth of pastries. I had to shoo it out with my broomstick, and do you know what happened?”
The gathered townsfolk stared at her without replying.
“Its leg fell off!” she finished.
There was a murmur of discontent from the group.
It was two days after the introduction of the zombies, and the initial panic had died down. The Neovians had realised that the zombies didn’t actually attack them, just people from outside the town. That would have been fine, but word had spread fast; people were now avoiding Neovia. The zombies did little more than shamble around rotting.
“And the noise!” the Crumpet Monger continued. “I thought it was bad when they were up on the hill, but I can’t even think about sleep now with that racket.”
There was another murmur of agreement.
“At least Prigpants & Swolthy are doing a roaring trade,” Herman said sarcastically. “Who would have known zombies had such a high disposable income?”
As if to illustrate the point, a very finely dressed corpse shambled past.
“It’s not working out,” Mayor Thumburt said flatly.
“The zombies are not up to specification?” Hubrid replied dryly.
Thumburt stared out the window and listened to the groans.
“They just sit there all day groaning and rotting; I expected them to be more evil, really,” he replied.
“Rotting and groaning are the two things zombies are known for. Perhaps if you hadn’t made me stop them from attacking people, this situation wouldn’t have arisen,” Hubrid told him.
“I am not having my citizens being turned into zombies,” Thumburt stated.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say being a zombie is all that bad,” Hubrid explained, “I know plenty of perfectly amiable zombies. I hear they are on the verge of getting zombie rights, very heart warming I should imagine.”
Thumburt scowled at him.
“I just don’t think they are appropriate for Neovia,” Thumburt replied.
“Very well,” Hubrid sighed.
Thumburt regarded the four remaining choices.
“How about choice number 3, cursed items?” he ventured.
Hubrid reached forwards and took the file.
“This is more Edna’s speciality. I’ll send her over later tonight to go over it with you,” Hubrid explained.
“What are you going to do about the zombies?” Thumburt asked.
“Me?” Hubrid questioned. “I’m not doing anything. Without my influence they should turn back into corpses soon enough. You will have to get rid of them under your own steam though.”
It was midnight when Edna arrived, cackling atop her broomstick as it soared through the sky. She landed neatly on the front step of the Mayor’s house and knocked loudly. After a brief scuffle with the door’s lock, Thumburt answered, still in his bed clothes.
“You ready?” she asked.
“Am I ready for what?” Thumburt asked her.
“Witchcraft of course!” she cackled.
“You are doing it now? Can't it wait until the morning?” he asked her.
Edna leaned in close.
“Witchcraft never waits,” she said threateningly. “Get dressed and meet me in the town hall.”
Thumburt did so and made his way to the town hall under candlelight. He found Edna inside with the Crumpet Monger, Prigpants, Swolthy, Alabaster Chesterdrawers, the Pteri from the printing press, and Sidney.
“This old crone told us you ordered us to come here; is this true?” the Crumpet Monger demanded.
“No, I didn’t give that order,” Thumburt replied.
“I knew it! She got me up right in the middle of the night. It’s the first night’s sleep I’ve had since those pesky zombies arrived!” the Crumpet Monger shouted.
“Do be quiet,” Edna muttered.
The witch waved her hand towards the Crumpet Monger and suddenly the Meerca fell silent, though her lips still moved.
“Good, now let’s get on with this,” Edna continued. “You have all been brought here tonight because we are going to alter your products slightly.”
“We alter nothing,” Prigpants said importantly. “Our clothes are only the finest.”
“Oh that’s not what I mean,” Edna explained. “You are still going to sell the same stuff; I am just going to curse it for you.”
“Why would we let you curse our wares?” Alabaster asked.
“It’s either that or zombies,” Edna told them.
“I see,” Alabaster murmured.
“Exactly what are you going to curse our stuff with?” the Pteri asked.
Thumburt should have known her name, but was far too tired to remember everything.
“Well, Missy Crumpets over there seems to like her sleep,” Edna considered, “How’s about the pastries make people fall asleep? I always did like that one. What about clothes that will make people warty? Or books where the writing moves around? Furniture that moves around of its own accord has always been a personal favourite of mine.”
“Dear lady,” Swolthy asked, “why would people buy clothes that they know are cursed?”
“That'sss where I come in,” Sidney told them.
“How do you mean?” Alabaster asked.
“The trick isss to make people think they want sssomething that is cursssed, to make it a desssirable object, ssso to ssspeak,” Sidney told them.
“And how do we do that?” asked Prigpants.
“Clever marketing,” Sidney revealed.
“If everyone is in agreement, we’d best get on with it,” Edna told them, “The witching hour is almost over.”
She took an assortment of potions out from under her cloak and grasped them tightly in one hand. With the other, she took up her broomstick and mounted it. The broomstick careered forward and burst through the doors leading back into the street. The Mayor and the assorted peddlers followed blindly, watching from the steps as Edna swooped up into the sky. She rocketed across the moon, coming to a rest over the premises of Prigpants & Swolthy. There she uncorked a potion and poured it down the chimney. Arcane flashes filled the inside of the shop, and green smoke bellowed out from under the door.
“I say, what’s she doing?” Prigpants asked.
“Magic,” Sidney replied.
Edna turned the broom in the air, soaring off towards the Crumpet Monger’s shop. There, she cackled slightly and threw a second potion through the window, smashing it with a sharp tinkling sound. The Crumpet Monger jumped up and down in silent fury as purple smoke crept out of the smashed window.
“She really doesn’t like you,” Alabaster observed.
Edna was off again, and didn’t stop at Alabaster’s furniture shop, simply dropping a potion down the chimney as she passed. The fourth and final potion was dropped down the chimney of the printing press.
“I shall remember to block up my chimney in future,” Thumburt commented.
Cackling like a stereotypical old crone, Edna flew back and landed neatly in front of them. There, she flung her arms out wide and started chanting mystical words of power.
“I’m sure she just murmured the word teapot,” Prigpants said after a while.
Edna clapped her hands together suddenly, completing the spell. Had anyone been watching the moon at that moment, they might have sworn it turned blue for just an instant.
“It is done,” she said triumphantly.
“That’s it?” Thumburt asked.
“Yes of course it is, why?” Edna replied.
“Why did you have to wake us all up for that?” he replied grumpily.
“For effect mainly; witchcraft isn’t much fun if there’s no one looking,” she admitted.
Behind them, the town clock struck one, the witching hour was over.
“Just in time,” Edna said happily.
To be continued...