The Graveyard Tales
Chapter 13: Awakening
That was the last thing he remembered.
Not a brief, sudden pain, the kind that shock can sometimes bury and numb. This pain he felt all too well. It was a ripping, tearing pain that consumed him, reverberated all throughout his body.
He didn't remember many details about the pain, but a few images popped into his mind. His best friend, his girlfriend, his little sister. Something happened to them. In his mind, he saw them, moving toward him, limbs outstretched, faces contorted into gross visages, like...
They had caused the pain. He had tried to protect him, that much he remembered. Tried and failed. And for that failure he had received a death sentence.
After the pain was blackness, dark and oppressive, like a thick blanket. It had blotted out everything, the sun, the air, his own memories. The oblivion had sucked the life right out of him, leaving him little more than an empty husk.
Remember all those stories about walking toward the light, feeling a sense of peace and joy?
Bullshit. Nothing but pure, weapons-grade bullshit.
For him, there was no joy, no sense of peace, no little blue jays singing "Polly wally doodle all fucking day." Just the abyss.
And here he knew he would spend all eternity. A lifeless, soulless husk doomed to float through the obsidian ether.
Then the worst thing that could happen happened.
He woke up.
It was a jarring experience, far more agonizing than the pain that had written the epilogue of the pathetic comic book that had been his life. And what awaited him after the awakening was far worse as well, even worse than the oblivion, worse than the pain.
He awoke in the same place he had died, a small side street in the nowhere suburb he called home. Had he lived there? He shook his head, trying to remember, but all he got were bits and pieces, fragments he wasn't even sure were his. A friend? A girlfriend? A little sister? Did he know these people? Pain echoed in his mind, shattering the images as soon as they formed, like a rock through a window. He reached out, tried to grab the slivers of memory, only to watch as they turned to ash in his hands.
He spoke, or at least tried to. Harsh, guttural moans escaped his ravaged lungs, lungs that felt rotten and charred, as if burned in a fire. His tongue refused to work, and he found it a struggle to force his brain to form even the simplest of words. More moans escaped, and he gave up, deciding that talking wasn't so important right now.
Aside from himself, there didn't seem to be anyone else left alive.
A crash shattered the silence like a rail gun in a crystal factory. He looked, and saw a horrid creature, one arm torn loose, the ragged pieces of flesh hanging from the shoulder.
He rose to his feet, a part of his mind registering how slow and sluggish he felt. He wanted to run, and for a moment an image flashed through his mind, of a man winning a race. But he was not that man, and the best he could do was a shambling gait.
The dismembered creature drew closer, and he closed his eyes, knew pain was close, and didn't want to see it coming.
But there was no pain.
He opened his eyes, saw the creature had moved past him, hadn't even noticed him, in fact. He thought, why didn't that thing kill me? It acted as if I wasn't even here.
Then he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a pool of stagnant water, and the question was answered.
His face had been almost completely torn off. He could see exposed muscle and bone, could smell the rotting flesh. He looked at his hands to find three fingers missing off the left one. His clothes had been torn and ripped, as if by a pack of wild animals. He was a monster, like the one who had passed him. That was why it didn't attack. He was just like it. A...a...
He looked around for the source of the voice, realizing with a start that it was him. He worked his jaw, tried desperately to speak again, if only to have something to break the silence.
His name. Daniel was his name.
A friend. A girlfriend. A little sister. Their faces filled his mind. He saw them, screaming, crying. Something had happened...something to..him?
The man once known as Daniel looked around frantically, looked for the ones in his fragmented memories. But all he saw were monsters, zombies. They moved about pathetically, with the same slow, shambling gait. Their moans filled the air, a keening wail of pain, suffering and...
Daniel felt it now. The Hunger. It gnawed at every cell in his being, filled him with agony, desire and lust all at the same time. Then a new smell assailed his nostrils, a welcome aroma, sweet and decadent.
Looking off to his right, he saw the source, a man, only a few years older than him. He hid among the bushes, a crowbar in his hand. Blood covered the front of his shirt, and there was a panicked look in his eyes. He had been on the run for days, and had come to this small town in the hopes of finding his brother, but after three sunrises and sunsets, he'd given up, and now his sole concern was his own survival.
Daniel began to walk over to the man, though he hadn't intended to. It was if the Hunger had taken over, and now it made the decisions. He was just along for the ride.
The man saw Daniel approach, and got to his feet, shouting and cursing. He swung the crowbar again and again, but his aim was off, and instead of the head, as he meant to, the blow landed squarely against Daniel's shoulder.
Daniel felt bone crack, and he braced himself for the pain. But there was no pain. Daniel had heard the bone snap under the force of the iron bar, but he only felt a numbness, a void where pain was supposed to keep house. He growled, a deep, primal sound, and moved toward the man, who backed up again and again, swinging the iron bar and screaming.
Daniel moved in, jaw stretched wide. The Hunger flowed through him, and he eagerly anticipated the sustenance that would slake it, the taste of warm flesh, the sweet aroma of hot blood. Just then his shattered memory pulsed to life, and another image formed, that of a man, older than Daniel, one whom he had shared a close bond, like a...
"Brother?" the creature known as Daniel asked, and the man's eyes went wide. He dropped the crowbar and fell to his knees.
"Daniel? Oh, Christ, what happened to you?" said the man, as tears formed in his eyes.
Daniel grabbed his head, trying to squeeze more memories loose. He saw more images of himself and this man. Playing football, moving furniture into an apartment, laughing at a family gathering. Daniel would have cried in frustration, had his tear ducts not dried out and flaked away like leaves in autumn.
"Daniel, it's me," said the man, rising to his feet and carefully approaching the creature. "It's Jason."
Jason. That was the name. Daniel looked again at the man, the same man who had tried so hard to bash his head in. He reached for Jason, but his older brother backed away.
"What...what the fuck are you? Are you one of those things?" asked Jason, although the answer was obvious.
Daniel nodded. "Yes. Zombie," he said, his voice low and guttural. He picked up the crowbar, handed it to his brother. "Kill me. Kill me."
Jason shook his head. "No, I can't. You're...you're my brother."
Daniel shook his head, felt small pieces of rotted flesh fall away. "No. Zombie. Kill me. Better."
Jason again backed away, but this time it wasn't out of fear. "No. If you can talk, you can't be like them. They never talk."
Daniel pointed at himself. "Hunger. Always. Hurts. Kill me. Please."
"I won't do it," said Jason, shaking his head. "I came to save you, not kill you."
Daniel tossed the crowbar at his brother's feet. "Same thing, now."
Moans cut the sibling's reunion short. Daniel turn to see almost three dozen zombies around them, or more accurately, his brother. Jason picked up his weapon and stood ready to fight.
Daniel wanted to do something to stop this, but what could he do? He knew the Hunger that drove these things, and unlike him, they didn't seem to have the minds to fight it. He stood in front of his brother, held up his hands in an attempt to get the zombie's attention.
"No. Stop. Stop," he said.
The creatures ignored him. Or maybe they no longer possessed the intelligence to register words. Regardless, they moved closer, moans now replaced with predatory growls and snarls.It was so unfair, he thought, to find his brother, whom he thought was killed during the first week of the Great Exhumation. More and more memories flickered through his mind. Daniel had been able to keep in touch with his brother for a couple days via cell phone, but as the infection spread more and more infrastructure collapsed, until all he got was static.
After their food ran out, Daniel, along with his parents, friend, sister and girlfriend, had tried to escape, to find shelter in one of the military outposts the news reported about. One the way they planned to stop at Jason's apartment to make sure he was okay, or at least give him a decent burial. The undead weren't so numerous in the small town where he lived, and they thought they had a solid chance of making it.
As Daniel drove away from the house, he made Sasha cover little Michelle's eyes, so she wouldn't watch as her mother and father were ripped to shreds.
A few miles later, the car flipped after hitting a rather corpulent corpse and sailed into a tree. Just as Daniel lost consciousness, he saw the rotted limbs of the undead reach through the shattered glass for the tender meat within. As the void closed in around him, his one regret was that he hadn't been able to save his brother.
The fear rose, mixing with anger and hatred. Daniel felt them, felt the emotions build inside him like water boiling over. Suddenly an ear-splitting roar filled the air, and Daniel was shocked to realize the sound was coming from him. The zombies seemed to have been surprised as well, for they had stopped in their tracks, and stared at Daniel, as if noticing him for the first time.
Jason looked around wildly, unsure what to make of the situation. "I think they can understand you."
Daniel nodded. "Get back! Get back!" he shouted. When the zombies didn't move he grabbed the crowbar and swung it at them, detonating a few skulls that got too close.
Slowly, the undead moved away. In their eyes, Daniel could see their regret, as their gazes flickered back to Jason. They were loath to leave food untouched, but Daniel had established himself as the alpha male of sorts, and whatever intelligence they had left told them staying here was not conducive to a long lifespan.
As the last of the creatures moved away, Jason looked at his brother with awe and respect. "Shit, man, how did you do that?"
"Don't know. Will return," he said, handing the iron back to Jason. "You go. Find safety."
Jason shook his head. "Not without you."
"Not safe... with me. Hunger strong. Feel it."
"You haven't bit me yet," Jason said, though the tight grip he had on his weapon showed how little he believed that would last.
"Night... still young," Daniel said, and a hint of a smile played on his festering lips.
"I'll deal with that when and if it happens. Look Dan, you're all the family I got left. If I have to kill you, then I will. But I don't want to be alone here. You're my brother. There's no one else I'd rather face this Hell with."
Daniel lowered his head. "Brother... was alive. I'm not... him. Not anymore."
Jason laid a hand on Daniel's shoulder, then quicky removed it, shaking off blood and pus from his wounds.