I have only fragments of memories from my time in the cave: noises, screams, breath in the dark, the thick and rich smell of rot, the unearthly glow of the mushrooms deeper within… I shall try to recount them as best as I am able.

It was dark. I could barely see. My eyes, they were useless in this darkness black as sackcloth. I fumbled blindly for what seemed hours but was likely only minutes. My hands were bleeding from the rough walls that I clung to like a drowning man. And then a glow. My first thought? That there a fissure from which sunlight might be creeping into the cave. But I was wrong. It was the walls themselves, covered in large patches of fungal growth and oddly luminescent.

It was by this stinking green light that I finally saw them, these zombies I had traveled so far to find. They were still as the corpses I had studied in the university morgue, covered in the strange mushrooms, eyes closed, and heads tilted so far back that my own neck ached in sympathy.

I was frozen with fear and curiosity. I didn’t dare make a noise. I could hear breathing that was not my own. What madness! The dead can breathe? The dead can sleep?!

I was no more than a few paces from the first slumbering form. I studied the specimen and, sure enough, like the others I had seen there was a sickly mass of mushrooms growing along the creature’s back. At first I found the fungi unremarkable in appearance. Closer inspection, however, showed me they had a structure and growth pattern unlike anything I had seen before in nature. The mushrooms seemed to spread, deliberately, across the body from center of the back to the limbs and the head. If I did not know any better I would say the pattern in which they grew was anything but random. It looked like it might have been designed by human hands.

I remember thinking that I would just pluck a mushroom from the zombie’s back and run from the cave. I extended my arm, then flexed my hand, and finally curled my fingers just inches away from a particularly large mushroom. Then I heard Dermond’s voice and that was when things seemed to fall apart.

“ALEX,” he cried. “ALEX!”

I turned. Dermond was yelling from the mouth of the cave. I could see, ever so faintly, the light from outside. I had not meant to travel so far within the cave. I turned again, meaning to grab the mushroom and run, and saw that the zombie before me was now awake. I looked into its sightless white eyes, each covered small fungal specks that looked like grossly misshapen cataracts. I looked into its mouth and saw blackened stubs of teeth. And I heard a groaning sound emanate from the crux of it that is beyond description. My blood turned cold as ice.

I remember beginning to run. I remember my foot coming down not on hard earth but instead stepping into something horribly soft and wet. I tried to hold my breath as a truly awful smell accosted me. I failed and, trying to keep down my breakfast, fell. I was on the ground. I could hear the shuffling of the undead moving ever so slowly toward me. I froze. I remember cursing myself for my stupidity. No, my arrogance. My own private madness.

I learned that day that no matter how long you spent reading books in the dark corners of a university it will never prepare you for situations like that.

And then Dermond was standing above me with his sword drawn. When he looked down at me his face was twisted in fear. He was saying something but I couldn’t make out the words. I reached for him. I tried to stand. I could feel the creature’s hands on my ankles. I screamed and screamed. Dermond swung his sword at zombie, catching me on the side of the head with the flat of his blade. Darkness took me and I knew no more.