The bodies of dead soldiers are reanimated and used on the front line once more. Two soldiers have just handed over a fallen comrade to one of the few living people at an undead military unit. – Cavalry262
The doors of the conversion facility thundered shut behind them. Alex doubled over and vomited. Tyler patted his chest, praying that his breast pocket would contain a much-needed cigarette. His prayer was mercifully answered, and he lit it with shaking hands.
The two men stood outside the horrible building, trying to ignore the sound of the machinery inside and failing to imagine what was being done to the body of their friend.
The building’s official title was the ‘Conversion Center for Fallen Soldiers’. Everybody else just called it the Morgue. Sometimes, Tyler considered going turncoat, and delivering the coordinates of the horrible building to the enemy so that they could bomb it to the ground. He couldn’t think of any reason why he shouldn’t, but he could never build up the courage to go through with it.
When Tyler was finally done vomiting, he began to cry. He was barely sixteen, but the draft board wasn’t being picky about who it called into duty. If you could hold a gun, you were good enough to be a soldier. It didn’t matter if you were a child, a woman, a cripple, a retard, whatever. The homeland needed you in its darkest hour, oh, and if you die, we’re going to stick you full of wiring and make you keep fighting.
“What a fucking war,” Alex said, blowing out smoke.
Max hadn’t died with honor, or even dignity. There were no touching last words, no slow fading of the life from his eyes. It could have been any one of them, but it was Max who caught a bullet in the head, charging across no-man’s-land to fall in the bloody mud.
The battle had been won, and the corpses of the fallen recovered. The enemy, in their retreat, had taken as many of their comrade’s corpses with them as they could. Alex knew for a fact that they didn’t have their own conversion centers. The only possible explanation could be that they were trying to keep the bodies of their friends from being desecrated, and they were willing to lift their lives to do it. Alex respected that, and he envied the dead enemy soldiers. They might even get a proper burial.
Not Max. Alex and Tyler had been forced to carry the body of their dead friend out of no-man’s-land under the watchful eye of their sergeant. Everything had to be reused. Everything.
It was two weeks before Tyler and Alex saw Max again. His skin had turned gray and sallow, and he marched in perfect sync with nineteen men and women who shared his complexion. His eyes were dead and staring straight forwards, and his dead hands were clenched around a rifle that he would never let go of.
The twenty Stiffs marched through camp behind a Reanimated Soldier Director, one of the gaunt, pale men that the regular soldiers called the Undertakers in hushed voices. Alex had heard rumors that the Undertakers weren’t human anymore, and he believed them.
Tyler averted his eyes from the walking corpse of their friend, but Alex didn’t look away. He watched the funeral procession go past, and kept watching as they marched out of camp and towards the front lines.
That night, Tyler cried in his bunk. Alex saw Max’s dead eyes in his dreams.
A week after that, Alex found Tyler hiding behind the quartermaster’s tent, the barrel of a stolen pistol in his mouth. Tears streaked down his face as his finger tensed on the trigger.
Alex moved faster than he had thought possible. He grabbed the gun, wrenching it out of Tyler’s hands before he could go through with it, and backhanded the young soldier to the ground. “Idiot!” he screamed. “What were you thinking?!”
“I can’t do it,” Tyler sobbed, curling up on the ground. “I can’t do it any more. The Stiffs, the Morgue, the death, the killing – I can’t do it! I don’t want to do it!”
“Useless little shit,” Alex snarled. He grabbed Tyler by the shoulder and pinned him to the dirt, before pressing the barrel of the pistol under Tyler’s chin. The boy’s eyes widened in terror. “You wanna die? You wanna take the easy way out?”
The boy hesitated, and then he nodded. Alex struck him again. “Then I guess you must want to be a fucking Stiff!”
Tyler’s eyes widened even further. “No, no, God, no, anything but that-”
Alex hit him again. The boy’s face was bruising, but he needed the pain. “Then fight!” he screamed. “Survive! You die, they make you a Stiff! Don’t give them the fucking satisfaction!”
He threw the pistol down and stood up. “You want to run away, pull the trigger. You want to fight, then get the hell up,” he said.
“I’m dead either way,” Tyler said, lying in the dirt like a corpse.
“We’re all dead,” Alex said, turning away. “Sooner or later.”
He walked away and turned the corner. He closed his eyes, waited, and prayed. His faith had died the first time he’d seen a Stiff, but he prayed just the same. He prayed to hear the sound of the boy’s boots against the dirt. To hear him stand up.
A minute later, he heard a gunshot.