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III

Then somehow it was morning. The sunlight blinded me when Luke opened the vine curtain over the door.

Hey. You were really brave. I'm impressed, Davey.

I let him lead me out of the fort, taking comfort in his chum/big-brother manner. But I was too much in shock to say anything.

You passed the test. You're one of us, he said. Welcome to the gang. Now there is one last thing for you to do. Not a test. You've passed all the tests. It's just something we do to celebrate.

His goons had gathered once more in the clearing outside the fort.

One of them was holding a can of gasoline.

I stood there, swaying, about to faint, unable to figure out what the gasoline was for.

Luke brought the dead kid outside.

Corky poured gasoline over the dead kid, who just bleated a little and waved his hands in the air.

Luke handed me a cigarette lighter. He flicked it until there was a flame.

Go on, he said. It'll be cool.

But I couldn't. I was too scared, too sick. I just dropped to my knees, then onto all fours and started puking.

So Luke lit the dead kid on fire and the others hooted and clapped as the dead kid went up like a torch, staggering and dancing around the clearing, trailing black, oily smoke. Then he fell down and seemed to shrivel up into a pile of blackened, smoldering sticks.

Luke forced me over to where the dead kid had fallen and made me touch what was left with my swollen hand.

And the dead kid moved. He made that bleating sound. He whimpered.

You see? You can't kill him because he's already dead.

They were all laughing, but I just puked again, and finally Luke hauled me to my feet by both shoulders, turned me around, and shoved me away staggering into the woods.

Come back when you stop throwing up, he said.



| The Living Dead | c