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"King of the Living Dead!"

Or: The Dead Hate the Living, So the Dead Ate the Living!

By Tom BakerPublished 3 months ago 10 min read

Note: This story was adapted from the comic magazine Eerie Issue #1, 1952. Public domain.


The couple was strolling the streets of Budapest, young and in love, when the shadows seemed to awaken around them and stalk the night. Dismally, somewhere, a church bell tolled out the hour of midnight.

"Oh," said Irina, It is the witching hour!"

"Yes," said Laszlo. "it's the hour when all accursed things are creeping about, waiting to capture something, anything in their clutches. When I was a child, I fancied that you could come out and see the Devil dancing in the moonlight, on the steeple of the old church. Look!"

Laszlo pointed to the strange man who was creeping in the darkness beyond. He seemed to walk with a curious, shuffling gate, as if he were injured, or ill. He, at least, looked incredibly stiff, as if his legs would not work correctly.

"What on Earth? What do you think could be wrong with that poor man?" asked Irina, recoiling a little, her hand going to her mouth, as if in shocked pity.

"I haven't the foggiest.." Laszlo trailed off.

It was then that cold, stiff fingers closed around his neck, and arms like iron bands, full of dead weight behind each pull, drug him backward into the shadows. Irina screamed, but, soon, she too joined Laszlo in being pulled into the darkened recesses between the buildings on the moonlit night.


Irina felt herself swoon with fear. Arms were all about her, like poisonous black branches, and long, skinny skeletal fingers of rotted bone closed around her own delicate, pale flesh, as they went down, down, down, deeper into the earth than she had ever been before. She fancied she could hear the roaring of waters, the sound of vast electrical machinery, and she knew she must be below the dam, deep within the black bowels beneath the city.


When she came to, it was with the most terrible, decayed face she had ever seen in her life, staring into hers, a yellow nightmare as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

"Yes, yes!" it croaked. "I have brought you here to become one with us, with the nightmare lurkers of the shadow, who walk, with rotted toes, through the inky wells of eternal night! You will come to lose your life, and gain another. The life you have now is old and useless. Soon, you will be reborn to another life, another world. Born, to be my love, my sweet princess of the kingdom of decay. Into the pit with you!"

Irina screamed. Where was Laszlo? She looked at the hideous yellowed figure, with its weird, half-rotted waxen visage, took in the strange, skull-like head, the deep black pits of eyes, and, the teeth, so much like that of a skull. On the whole, the face was that of a grinning Death's Head. She said, "You evil monster! What have you done with Laszlo?"

"Laszlo? Laszlo? Oh yes, the young man you were brought down here with? He's, well, ah, you see, I'm afraid you may not like him now, as he has undergone a rather RADICAL transformation. Well, here, I give you ...LASZLO!"

And, standing aside, he held out his hand. Striding forward clumsily, stiffly, was another of the strange, half-decayed shadow things that had taken them in the deserted street. Its suit was covered in filth, and its face was a matted clot of blood. But, looking into the pitiful, dun-white sockets of the eyes, she recognized the gaze of her beloved. It was Laszlo. He was one of THEM NOW.

She screamed. Suddenly hands were all about her, hands grasping her form. They drug her to the edge of a vast dark pit in the earth, illuminated by the eerie red glow that seemed to hang over this accursed underground lair. She looked below. Oh! It was a horror beyond imagining!

She was thrust forward, into the black. She could feel the ripping fingers catch her, take her, feel sharp teeth batten upon her. And then, the darkness closed in entirely, and she no longer felt anything at all.


"Come, come my pretties. Come my pets. Obey your master, and rise! Rise! Rise from your womb below the world!"

And armies of the shuffling, shambling, flyblow reeking living DEAD began to crawl up from their pit below, amassing as a waiting army of horror, to avenge their master's mad vendetta against the world of living men.


Burt Conroy had boarded the ship for Budapest clutching only his valise and a prayer. He knew as soon as he stared into the blue orbs of Ivana that love would blossom, and bloom in his heart like a flower in the sun. He could not wait to feel the press of her lips against his, and as he walked onto the pier, and saw her, a lonely blonde figure standing in the shadow, impeccably dressed, he ran to her, dropping his luggage and embracing her tightly, seeming to hear the music swell from an invisible band.

He pressed his mustachioed mouth tightly against her own.

"Oh darling," he exclaimed. "I've waited so long, so very long to hold you in my arms, to press my lips against yours once more." He felt his heart pound in his chest in the mad fury of desire.

Ivana said, "Oh yes, darling, yes, it has seemed an eternity since last we were together in England. But, now, you have come to me, and you are going to stay here in Budapest, amid the ancient buildings and the frightening old legends--"

"Yes!" he said. "I know those! Tales of werewolves and vampires!"

"And the living dead, too!" said Ivana, as Burt walked back on the wooden pier to get the luggage he had dropped.


They walked through the cobbled streets, back toward the house where Ivana was staying, but they could feel watchful eyes upon them in the gloom, watching their every move, as they advanced.

"Burt, Burt," said Ivan, her voice quaking with fear. "I can hear footsteps in the dark. Someone is following us!"

Burt tried to reassure her, drawing her closer to him, closer.

"That's nonsense," he said. "it's just your imagination, kiddo. Come on, we're almost home."

But, before them on the road, a few strange figures ambled forth, blocking their way.

"Burt! Look! What do they want?"

Burt felt his grip tighten as his blood ran cold. They were dark, sinister, skeletal figures--gaunt and ragged as scarecrows. He suddenly heard Ivana cry out in Hungarian: "Isten segítsen nekünk, ezek a élőhalottak!"

Before she could utter another word, there were hands upon them, and the darkness closed in.


He half-remembered the coming up from the dark, worm-encrusted box in which they had buried him. It seemed as if he swam in the dirt and black for an eternity, but his great power helped see him onward, the black magic energy of living DEATH that summoned him back toward the surface, from the noxious miasm of gaseous funk that had enclosed him, but kept him strangely alive. To the surface, in the sunlight, the rays of it burning his eyes stinging his flesh, he went. In a way he could not possibly explain to anyone, he had possessed the body of an unwilling host, using it as his vehicle, until it had become too decayed, and then he had opted for another. It too was becoming too decayed. It would soon be time to claim another, a superior one.

And now he had accomplished his goal. A vast, teeming, rotten army of living stiffs, moving through the night to waylay the unsuspecting, to put their cold, rotten, bony hands upon the bodies of living men and women, and drag them to him, to the bowels of the Earth, where they would be cast down, down, deep into the darkened mouth of the thing that would spit them back out again; desecrated, diseased, dripping their flesh as they walked. But his!

And soon the world, too! The living would soon learn the sad truth of the dead: the Dead Hate the Living.

"And so the Dead ate the living!"


Ivana was chained to a pillar. The repellent freak, the living dead one that seemed as if she were the master of the others. He had come up to her, smiling his grotesque, hideous death's head smile. He had placed his bony, cold, dead fingers beneath her chin, caressing the velvet skin lovingly, saying, "HE is waiting for you, waiting my precious one. Waiting to devour you! Waiting to make you ONE OF US."

"That will never happen!" cried a voice from out of the darkness.

"Burt!" said Ivana.

Burt his jacket gone, his shirt ripped half off his scarred and bleeding body, raced a head, a few steps ahead of his cadaverous pursuers, who, as strong as they were, moved slowly across the dripping stone floor. He had something in his grasp, something he must have swiped from one of the long wooden tables, where the King of the Living Dead performed his strange experiments.

Confidently, the macabre figure reared back his head in laughter, exclaiming: "How can you stop me now? Fool! Can't you see that I've won? Look around you! The 'Armies of the Night'. Soon they will cover the face of the world, sneaking into homes and carrying off the sleeping, unsuspecting women and children, to throw them to he who lurks below. You cannot stop me! Oh, oh it is glorious. I am victorious!" And he thrust his arms into the air, and threw his accursed head back.

"Like hell!" said Burt. "You've never gone toe to toe with a red-blooded American before have you, King? Well, we don't fold like a cheap two-dollar tent. Here's a little something to wash away all that dirt!"

And Burt threw the acid in the Living Dead King's face. His hands flew to his face, the agony excruciating, smoke rising from his burning cheeks as the dripping flesh melted away, revealing the weird, white, featureless face that was like a smooth living skull.

"Ah, look what you've done to me! Look what you've done! I'll kill you for this. After all these centuries of waiting below the earth, clawing my way up from darkness only to have it all dashed apart at the moment when my victory is assured. Fool! I'll kill you slowly for this, oh so slowly."

But just then a curious thing happened. The walls of the deep underground cavern began to shake as huge blocks of stone fell below, shattering into fragments and sending up clouds of dust. The army of ghouls began to moan, and scatter, but not quick enough for them to avoid being smashed like insects below the weight of the ceiling as it came crashing down in dusty fragments.

In the pit below, then, a hideous roar was heard. Burt and Irina shut their eyes against the sight of an indescribable, worm-like thing emerging from the pit below, and vomiting up a rampaging flood of sickening bile, that washed the undead army away, along with the acid-burned master that commanded them. The Living Dead King was no more!


Later, Burt and Ivana held each other close in the night. They had thought of going to the papers, but Burt had said, "Nah, they'll never believe it! Heck, I'm not even sure I believe it, Ivana."

And he held her even tighter against the darkness, telling her, "But, no matter what, we're safe again. You're safe again. And I'm just so happy to have you safe again!"

The End

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About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.:

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock3 months ago

    Interesting. Not my favorite of yours, Tom, but still quite interesting.

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