Better off Undead

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Vampires Don't Exist

The room was dead silent, except for the dull hum of fluorescent lamps and the irritating whir of the VCR.

For a long moment nobody moved. Paul broke the stillness first by stepping over to the TV and ejecting the tape. Everybody else continued the not moving or speaking.

“What the hell was that?” Devin suddenly blurted, and in doing so seemed to shock everyone else out of their stupor. Everyone began talking at once, throwing question after question at Paul, who could only hold up his hands in defense.

“Please, please, please,” he called, “one at a time!”

“Are you trying to tell us that your work involves making a sequel to the Blair Witch Project?” Jay demanded.

“What?” Paul asked, momentarily caught off guard. “Uh, no. Not at all.”

“Seriously, what the hell was that?” Marshall demanded, pointing an accusatory finger at the TV screen, as though it had betrayed him and he was waiting for an apology. “That… thing, it looked just like… like…”

Marshall realized what he was saying and stopped, but it was too late. All eyes were already on him. He swallowed hard, knowing that like it or not, this was the time for truth. Besides, it was too late. The others, at least the ones who had been there, were already reaching the same conclusion.

“Like the talking zombie,” Devin finished.

“Talking zombie?” Elaine and Donald said almost simultaneously, the only two members of their current group that had not been present during the captivity in town.

Marshall let out a long sigh and turned to face the pair. “When we were in town… the thing that delayed us… it was more than just being trapped in a room by zombies. There was actually a… a special zombie. It had us tied down to chairs at a table and it could control the zombies and it… talked… to us. It told us the plans it and all its zombie friends had in store for us.”

Paul cleared his throat, and everyone turned to look at him.

“Actually, the thing on the screen,” he said, motioning behind himself at the blank screen, “that was no zombie. That was a vampire.”

Paul was making a habit out of silencing the room.

“That does it,” Amber said, throwing her hands up in the air above her head, as if surrendering. “I think I’ve had about enough of this.”

Eli gawked at her. “You’ve had enough? Of what?”

“Of this.” She waved her hand in a wide arc that indicated pretty much the whole room. “Of everything. I mean, seriously Eli? Vampires? What’s next? Unicorns and mermaids?”

“Why would you find the idea of vampires so outrageous?”

“Because they don’t exist?” Amber’s voice was slow and high, almost shrill. She spoke like she was speaking to a child, and not in a good way. It was more like she was chastising the child for getting into the cookies for the one hundredth time after having been explicitly warned.

“You would have said the same a month ago about zombies,” Eli challenged back.

“It makes sense, though.”

Everyone stopped and turned to Marshall in surprise. He did not seem to notice. His eyes were unfocused, dim, like he was staring past the walls of the room to something far beyond. His voice was soft but steady, the voice of a man who was coming to terms with the fact that he had lost and was finally willing to cooperate.

“Wait,” Amber said, a look of confusion on her face so drastic that it was as if this was the first point in all this madness that things had stopped making sense, “You are agreeing with Eli?”

“Not exactly,” Marshall said, drawing back a little from his reverie. “I just mean: think about it. The talking zombie? Why could it, and it alone talk? And do they really have powers over the other zombies? If so, it could be much more than another zombie. It could basically be another species of thing altogether. So why not call that a vampire?”

“So you’re sure you’ve seen one of these?” Paul asked, again motioning to the screen. “And it has control over the zombies? Damn, it’s worse than we thought.” This last sentence he said mostly to himself, in hushed tones, but still loud enough for the others to hear.

“Wait, what’s that supposed to mean?” Jay said, suddenly remembering why they were down there. “Just what was it that you were doing here?”

Paul was looking pretty nervous by now, shifting from foot to foot and wringing his hands in front of him. “You have to understand, we didn’t intend for any of this to happen.”

“What are you saying?” This time is was Matthew, who had been quiet through everything, asking the question. He stepped forward to the front of the group.

“I…” Paul started, and then reconsidered, “We…” He stopped again and looked around nervously, his eyes stopping on each member of the group before him. He took a deep breath and let it out, and finally finished his thought: “We created the zombies.”

Silence, once more.

“You what?” There was venom in Matthew’s voice now, and an almost overwhelming intensity in the sound of air as it hissed through his teeth. He took another step forward, his muscles clenched and his hands balled into fists. Those around him, still reeling from the revelation, grabbed him more out of instinct than realization of what was actually transpiring.

“You did this? You’re the one responsible for this hell!” He was shouting now, and straining against those restraining him, who were coming around enough to understand they needed to tighten their grips. “You’re responsible for my brother? For his death? You. Did. THIS?”

Despite the fact that he was still half way across the room from his would-be attacker, Paul stepped back a step, cringing in fear. “This is why I didn’t tell you. This is why I didn’t want anyone coming down here. I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

“Understand? Understand what, exactly? Understand why you were trying to raise the dead? Understand why you were trying to create zombies? You never thought to yourself, ‘Hey, there’s a million movies telling me this is a terrible idea, maybe I shouldn’t do it?’ Is that what we wouldn’t understand?”

“Understand what we were doing here,” Paul protested. “We weren‘t trying to create zombies. We weren’t trying to raise the dead. We weren’t even experimenting with dangerous diseases. We were just trying to create a defense.”

“A defense against what?” Eli asked.

“A defense… against those.” Paul waved his hand at the screen, almost absently. “You saw what those things could do. How are normal people supposed to fight that?”

Matthew’s expression went through a rapid and awkward transition from rage to bewilderment, but he calmed down enough for the others to finally let go of him. “Wait,” he said, “now I’m really confused. You created zombies to defend against vampires?”

Paul was shaking his head. “No. We didn’t intend to create the zombies. In a sense, it wasn’t even us who created the zombies. It was our creation.” He paused for air, but this rather cryptic statement was met by only silence. He had dodged around the truth long enough. It was time for it to come out.

All of it.

He swallowed hard, hard enough that the others in the room could see his Adam’s apple bob up and down. “We weren’t trying to make zombies. We weren’t trying to make anything inhuman. If anything, we were trying to make something more than human. Man plus. Superhuman, I guess you could say. But what we didn’t know, what we couldn’t have known, is that our creation would be a carrier for this disease.”

“So what you created wasn’t a zombie?” Devin asked. His face held a confused expression, but it was mixed with determination, as though he was certain he could wrap his head around this whole bizarre situation if he just concentrated hard enough.

“No, it was not,” Paul agreed, nodding.

“It was more like… a what? A super man?”

“Well… no,” Paul admitted, “not that either, really. What came out wasn’t what we expected. The subject nearly succumbed to the treatments. We were forced to operate, to amputate…” Paul stopped, shaking his head as though he were trying to shake away the memories, “By the time we were done, he was more like a mutant, a monster. It was horrible. None of us expected him to live. We never thought that, in a large sense, we had succeeded. As the nightmare... thing... that he had become by the end of it, he had grown so strong, so powerful. He broke his restraints without effort, attacked the nearest doctors. He… bit them. We didn’t know what it meant at the time. Actually, we thought they were lucky, that they’d gotten off light, especially considering what he did to some others when he got further through the complex. He broke into one room and tore all the doctors in there limb from limb.

“When he finally escaped, honestly, we were thankful. We thought the terror was over. At least, for us. He had devastated the base here. There were so many dead and dying. We just wanted to clean up our dead and move on with our lives. Let the local law enforcement deal with the creature. But that’s when we started to discover that the bites were causing infection, that the infection was rapidly killing its host, and that those who died this way… that they would rise from the dead and start eating.”

He leaned back and rested against the wall, suddenly looking very tired and old, much older than Eli would guess he was by looking at him.

“There we were,” Paul was saying, “thinking the worst was over, but it had only just begun. These weren’t the zombies I would later see on TV, either. These were fast. Hungry. They would eat the living down to their bones, and then sometimes also the bones. We were able to contain most of it, but not before it was too late. Not before all but two of us were dead. Just me, and Alan Dale, my boss. He had been bitten, but we didn’t know what that meant. I had pulled him away from the zombie that was biting him and into a room we could barricade. So I sat in the room with him, watching the world go to Hell on the TV, knowing, hating, burning from the fact that it was my fault. All the while, Alan slowly became a zombie like the rest of them. I managed to fight him off, but I couldn’t bring myself to kill him, just as I was unable to bring myself to kill any of the others. So I herded them, essentially, into one room, where I was able to lock them away.”

Silence fell over the room yet again, but this time due to the heavy weights of the truth now weighing on everybody’s heart. It was Eli that spoke first.

“I’m sorry, I think I’m missing something. There’s still one thing I don’t get.”

“One thing?” Jay interjected, as though the very idea that anything that had been said thus far should have been understandable to anyone was utterly ridiculous.

“Yes, just the one, really. I just don’t understand how you went from trying to create super soldiers to unleashing a horde of zombies. How did that crossover occur? I mean, what the hell where you injecting that guy with?”

Paul’s face grew strained, looking almost pained, as though it was the last question he wanted to hear at that moment. He looked through the gathered group, his gaze settling on Eli before he dropped his head toward the floor. A moment later he muttered something under his breath that nobody quite made out.

“What was that?” Eli said, a little more loudly than was probably necessary.

Paul shot him an angry look and then stared at the floor again. He shifted nervously this way and that, as if he was uncomfortable in his own skin. Finally, in a flat, even tone, he answered.

“It was a serum we created from vampire blood.”

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