Jack Scrap was primarily comprised of scrap metal and wood. To say it looked as if he had been thrown crudely together in a hurry would be generous. Little attention had been paid to proportion – most notably his arms were different lengths. You would not notice his legs were also unevenly sized if he was standing still, but the subtle difference was enough to turn his walk into an unsteady hobble. For a head he had a battered old football with a sad face and crosses for eyes slopped on in white paint. A dented bucket had been forced onto this football as a helmet with the handle hanging down like a chinstrap. The only part of his body that seemed to feature any semblance of his creator’s forethought for Jack’s wellbeing was a blackboard affixed to his chest with twine. Beside this, he had a miniature third arm, at the end of which was not a hand but a stick of chalk. It had taken some time to learn to write with his strange new body, but it was easier than teaching a football to talk.
Jack’s creator was not an incredible genius who created life from inanimate objects. His name was Alvaro Shaw, and he was part incredible genius for certain, but another larger part terrible fool. In one tragic experiment, Alvaro had accidentally disembodied the soul of his assistant, Jack. Jack’s body was disintegrated into a horrific odorous cloud, and a football was the only object nearby that Alvaro could grab in time to bind Jack’s soul to. Then, with Jack’s soul safe in the ball, Alvaro rushed around and built a body out of whatever he could find. Justifiably, Jack had no interest remaining under the employment of Alvaro after that.
For months he had hobbled from city to city, searching for a place to call home, but nowhere had been welcoming. Eventually, he had come to his last resort, a city where misfits fit in well, provided they did not mind the constant odour of death and decay. Despite having features painted on, Jack somehow still processed sight and sound – but luckily not smell. He looked now upon the city ahead. Behind him lay a treacherous journey through dark misty deadwoods, and ahead towered the many spires and towers of Kazzanhof. Its official name in legal documents was “The City That Was Once Known as the Unconquerable City of Kazzanhof But Look At It Now”, but to outsiders it was most commonly known as The Fallen City or The City of the Dead. In the defence of the humans of the old age who had heralded Kazzanhof as unconquerable, they had yet to be proven wrong – the undead who had previously been human citizens before the fall would not let anyone forget that. It had not been conquered as such, but had rather fallen apart from within due to vampiric corruption. In the early days after the fall, it was a hotspot for violent hedonistic rampage, but traditions change, and modern vampires rarely engage in such delights. The city in Jack’s era was a giant multicultural hub for undead of all kinds, and he too was undead in a way. He was soon to learn whether he could find home here. This is where he imagined he would take a deep breath and stride forth, if he could do either of those things. Instead, he jiggled with a noisy rattling sound and limped toward the gates.
HELLO I AM JACK SCRAP, CAN I ENTER? he scrawled onto his blackboard. The guard, a ghoul, scowled at him – not out of anger, but simply because that was the only expression his warped face could make.
“Follow,” he groaned, and lumbered through the gate.
The main street was impressive, despite the ruin of many of the buildings on it. The wide cobblestone road curved uphill leading promptly to a giant flat square, with a defiled statue in the centre. The crumbling and headless form of King Arran Kazzan IV was now coated in ivy and moss. Around the square, little stalls displayed produce that made Jack glad he no longer had to eat. He stopped to take in the scene, but the ghoul tugged his arm and he stumbled onwards. He was led down a smaller road into a smaller square, then to the building at the back. The sign above the door read “Department of Immigration”. The ghoul nudged Jack toward the entrance, and then left him to figure the rest out for himself.
Paperwork among mortals is quite often viewed as an unnecessary waste of what little time they have on this world. In a city where most beings are more-or-less immortal and those who require sleep are in the minority, this time limitation does not apply. Bureaucracy in Kazzanhof is therefore a convoluted time-consuming mess of a process. The zombie at the desk groaned in confusion when Jack explained who he was. There was no form for Jack. He was one-of-a-kind. One-of-a-kind beings were not all that uncommon in Kazzanhof, but still uncommon enough that they required a meeting with a state official rather than a simple pile of paperwork.
Luckily it was not a busy day, and Jack was in a meeting with the head of immigration just half an hour later. The head of immigration was a lich named Nikola Karsingen. Her greyed skin drooped down, clinging to her face in a way that emphasised the shape of her skull. An icy blue glow shone unnervingly from her wide eye-sockets.
“You’re something entirely new, Mr. Scrap. Could you tell me how you became undead?” asked Nikola, who had a quill ready to take notes.
BOUND TO FOOTBALL
“I see. And why do you wish to live in Kazzanhof?”
With a chuckle that sounded more like the death rattle of a large reptile, Nikola replied, “If you talk to residents, you will find that that is quite a common reason. Those who were abandoned and rejected by the living often find acceptance here. May I ask which sorcerer you were the assistant of?”
MAY HE ROT
“There is little love for that man in this city, but watch your phrasing. “May he rot” is rather culturally insensitive.”
“You’re new. You will learn these things in time.”
SO DOES THAT MEAN
I CAN LIVE HERE?
“You have nowhere else to go. This city was built for people who had nowhere else to go.”
I THOUGHT IT WAS
BUILT FOR A KING
“I meant figuratively. We brought down the kingdom then we brought down the evil vampires. Now it is home to good vampires, liches, zombies, ghouls, banshees – any type of undead you can name.”
WHERE DO I GO NOW?
“Try Levarre Real Estate on Bloodmist Street. There is always something on the market”
I HAVE NO MONEY
“Well homelessness for the undead is barely a burden, so many do not bother owning a house and instead just roam the city as they please. It is a pain for getting mail to them though, as Glurg, Head Ghoul of Postal Services could tell you for hours at a time. I will finish your paperwork and you will receive confirmation of citizenship once that is processed. Until then, stay out of trouble and good luck.”
“First, sign here. Then you can go.”
Outside again, Jack had mixed feelings. He was very glad to be accepted so quickly and easily, but nothing seemed homely about it yet. He returned to the main town square. He stood and looked around in awe. Even the buildings that were a crumbled shadow of their former glory radiated a sense of elaborate majesty and architectural extravagance. The decorative sculptures and gargoyles on the walls displayed a lot of history. Some of the beautiful original Kazzan era statues still stood, while others had been replaced by horrific monuments to vampire lords during the fall. More recent sculptures tried to convey a sense of optimism, but given that it was optimism from the perspective of undead, to the untrained eye it instead conveyed a sense of grim mortality. Jack left the square down a street chosen at random, and then another street chosen at random, and another. The odd combination of architecture seemed to be present everywhere, though further from the main street and square, a lot of newer less spectacular buildings had been hastily crammed in between the old ones.
As he stared distractedly at the buildings, Jack bumped into a cloaked stranger. The figure spun round, and Jack stumbled backward and fell to the ground. A pale white face stared down at him with pupil-less red eyes.
“What are you?” hissed the vampire.
“And now… Football? Bucket?”
“I am intrigued,” said the vampire, helping Jack to his feet. “I am Oliver Gelt. Tell me this long story, and I shall decide whether you are welcome in this district.”
Jack told, or rather wrote, a summary of his story. Oliver’s gaze turned harsh the moment Alvaro Shaw’s name was mentioned, and relaxed again when Jack spared no details about how much he loathed him. Baring one’s fangs is considered bad manners among vampires, so when they wish to grin they smile with their lips tightly pressed together. By the end of Jack’s tale, Oliver’s face was twisted into a vampire-grin – the sight of which made Jack jiggle in amusement. Oliver laughed too.
“Jack, Jack, Jack. That is quite a story. Of course you are welcome here. I was messing with you before. Everyone who respects the dead is welcome in Kazzanhof! This district is called Sarvayn. Most of us here are vampires. I’m something of a community leader, you might say.”
Another vampire suddenly emerged from the shadows, laughing at Oliver.
“Ignore him, he is a rebellious young prankster, and not a community leader at all”
Oliver opened his mouth to protest, but the new figure said, “No, Oliver, hosting the book-club that one time does not count and in vampire years 132 is quite young. Greetings, Jack, I am Maximillian Davidov, our district’s voice on the city council. Make yourself at home here, and if you so wish, sign my petition against the swimming baths the council is proposing to dig up half of our community garden for.”
WOW, YOU ARE
QUITE AN ACTIVE
I AM HONOURED
TO BE SO
Maximillian gave a vampire-grin and said, “Jack, please. This is no high honour; it is our basic vampiric decency. Come to the garden in two hours’ time, I know you can’t eat with a football for a head, but you can meet lots more of us at the barbeque we’re hosting tonight!”
At this moment, Jack’s painted-on sad face was unusually inaccurate. Any preconceptions he might have had about the undead were being dispelled quite rapidly, and he was so relieved to feel warmly accepted for the first time since becoming a scrap construct.
TAKE A WAY
AND SEE YOU
AT THE BBQ
“Oooh!” said Oliver, “B. B. Q. We could use that! That’s a clever shortening of a word that often doesn’t fit in the tiny boxes we have to fill on our paperwork.”
“Yes,” agreed Maximillian, “Jack, my friend, I am excited to see what other clever abbreviations you may invent. See you tonight, we must prepare!”
The two vampires bid farewell and leapt dramatically into the shadows, leaving Jack to explore the district alone, but happily.