Better off Undead

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Chapter 34: Revelations

“You son of a bitch.”

Matthew stepped forward, his hands balled into tight little fists. “You knew exactly what you were doing,” he continued. “All that protesting your innocence, but you knew!”

“No, I swear, we could not have possibly known…”

“Bullshit! What did you think was going to happen to people when you injected them with vampire blood? That they’d become cute and cuddly? That they would roll over on their backs and hope to get their bellies rubbed? You were trying to create monsters! You might not have known exactly what kind they would turn out to be, but you were trying to create monsters!”

By this point, Matthew’s rage was so explosive that the others were once again forced to physically hold him back to keep him from attacking Paul.

“It’s not like that! We didn’t just go directly to injecting humans! We spent thirty years testing the stuff first. We tested it on animals, on lab rats. It made them feral, and affected their integumentary system. Their teeth, nails, and hair all grew unusually long and wild. They were impossible to control. So we began diluting the stuff, breaking it down. We developed different formulas and serums with it. Most of the ones we developed had little to no effect on the rats, behaviorally or physiologically. A few made them somewhat feral, but never as much as the blood in a pure state.

“Then we started to have some successes. Serums that would affect the speed and even the strength of the rats, but without bringing out any of the feral attributes that were of such great concern. We were still very careful. We picked a serum that seemed to lead to a more docile rat, but that still gave it increased strength and speed. We tested it a hundred times, and not once did it make a single rat feral. Then we still ran more tests before ever even considering a human trial.”

“Even then, honestly, we probably would not have moved on to human trials. Not till we had more time to study the serum. But the project heads, the government men in their fancy uniforms, they wanted more. They wanted ‘real results.’ Something they could use. They were impatient. They moved up the schedule. I… I realize now that’s not much of an excuse. But it is the truth.

“Inside a human body, the serum acted like a virus. The subject grew sick. Violently sick. Uncontrollable shivers. Vomiting blood. Fever dreams. Hallucinations. Bit by bit his body parts began to die off. We tried amputating and even stitching on parts from healthy donors. This worked surprisingly well for a while. The organ would remain clear of disease and he even gained control over donor limbs, like hands and feet, which should have been impossible.

“But it was all futile. Eventually, the virus won out, and we were forced to abandon our efforts. The last few hours, even the strongest of us could no longer bare to watch as the virus ate away at the man we’d struggled so hard to save.”

“All I hear… is excuses!” Matthew’s voice seemed to roll out of him like thunder across a cloudy sky, rising to a staggering boom and then dying off again. “Oh, it wasn’t your goal, oh, you had no reason to suspect the serum, oh, the government made the call! Bullshit! You did have a choice. You could have stopped at any time! And I don’t believe for one second that you truly believed that giving someone some kind of monster… blood… potion would do anything but make another monster. We’re supposed to forgive you just because you feel sorry for yourself? Well it ain’t gonna happen!”

“Matthew,” Elaine said calmingly, her hand reaching out to press gently on his shoulder.

“No, he’s right,” Paul interrupted meekly. “I can’t ask for your forgiveness. What I did was horrible. It was wrong. I can never be forgiven.” He stopped and turned to look at the wall, but his gaze seemed dark, distant, as though he was looking through the wall. After a moment, Eli realized he was looking in the direction of the first lab, the one filled with zombies.

“But I can devote the rest of my life to trying to fix this. To looking for a cure.” He turned back to the group. “That’s why I have the zombies still alive in the other room. So I can experiment on them. So I can keep trying to fix this.” As he finished speaking he lowered his head, as if trying to cover up the fact that he was crying.

Matthew stepped in close to the scientist, so quickly that almost nobody noticed him move. He leaned his head down until their brows were almost touching. He raised a finger and pointed it straight in the other man’s dark face. In a low voice, he said, “You may find a cure, but you will never fix this. You will never be able to fix the lives lost because of these damn monsters. You will never be able to erase the horrible things we have had to do because of the way the world is now. You have scarred the entire planet, you sick, sick bastard.”

With that, he turned away and crossed the room. He placed his hands on a table and clenched tightly to the edge, as though doing so was the only thing holding him back from punching something or someone.

“So is that it then?” Jay asked. “We just let him keep his zombies and go on searching for a cure?”

Marshall stepped forward, meeting Paul’s gaze evenly. “Do you really think you can find one?”

Paul splayed his hands out to either side and shrugged. “Honestly? I can’t say. I’m not sure there is one. I’m not sure that a cure would be good for people after the horrible things the disease does to the human body. My option may not be to find a cure, but rather to prevent further infection. If I can create a vaccine, something to keep people from developing the sickness altogether, we take away the main threat that zombies pose. Humans could thrive again. We would have a fighting chance. Wouldn’t that still be worth it?”

Marshall nodded his head and scratched thoughtfully at the rough shadow of a beard beginning to edge its way onto his ruggedly handsome features. He turned and surveyed everyone else in the room. “He’s right that a cure or some kind of vaccine would be useful, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that keeping zombies so close to where we live is a clear and present danger. I can’t be the one to make this decision. If you all think it’s too much of a threat…” his voice trailed off, leaving the thought hanging in the air between them.

“Maybe we can keep a guard in the basement,” Jay suggested.

“Is there any way we could help with developing the cure?” Elaina asked.

Paul considered it, but only for a moment. “I don’t think so,” he answered, shaking his head. “It’s pretty advanced stuff, even for me. Our team basically invented new forms of medical science. Unless there’s any one in your group with some advance biochemistry degrees?”

“There might be something else we can do,” Eli said suddenly. Everyone turned and looked at him in surprise. His cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. “Well, I mean, it’s just…” he stammered pathetically. Stopping, he took a deep breath and cleared his throat, and then started once more. “It’s just… I was thinking about the zombies. About how they’re exactly like… you know… zombies. I mean, they’re slow, shambling, mindless, cannibalistic… they moan, they groan, and when they bite you, you get sick, die, and become one of them.”

“Yes, Eli, that’s why we’re calling them zombies,” Amber agreed, once again adopting a tone suggesting that she was talking to a small child.

“No, you don’t get it. I mean, they’re exactly what we expected zombies to be. No variation. It’s like someone went through a horror movie checklist before creating the zombies. Which, you know, they didn’t. Obviously, since we just got a long history on their creation.”

“Is there a point to this?” Marshall asked impatiently.

“My point,” Eli continued, unperturbed, “is that if they have everything that makes them a zombie according to the lore, then that includes everything that stops zombies, according the lore. In other words, you take out or destroy the brain, and a zombie becomes just as dead as anything else.”

“Wait, I get where you’re going with this,” Jay jumped in excitedly. “I’m groovin’ to your tune. You’re saying that if there are any zombie stories where they find a cure, that cure might work for us as well!”

Eli winced as excited whispers burned like wildfire across the room. “Well, actually, no.” he replied, raising his voice to be heard over the general din of noise. “In most zombie stories they don’t even look for a cure, let alone find one.”

“So you’re saying there’s no cure?” Marshall asked.

“I don’t know of any cure for zombification, no.”

Marshall threw up his hands in exaggerated frustration and turned away. “Thank you so much, Eli, for finding more ways to waste our time.”

“A cure for vampirism, on the other hand…” Eli quickly added, and then paused to let the weight of his words sink in for everyone. As ten pairs of eyes turned back to him, he smiled mischievously. “Now, there, there I might be able to help.”

“Wait, I am getting so confused,” Daniel whined. “Why would we need a cure for vampires? I thought we were talking about zombies.”

“We are talking zombies, yes. Zombies created by vampire blood. So essentially, if you think about it, these zombies are just watered-down vampires. The disease burning deep inside of their decaying flesh is the same disease that turns people into vampires.”

“So zombies are really just… part vampire?” Daniel asked slowly, still trying to follow along.

“Exactly,” said Eli.

“So whatever cures vampires, should cure zombies as well!” Paul exclaimed suddenly, finally catching on to the point of the conversation.

“Bingo.”

“So what cures vampires?” Marshall demanded.

Eli opened his mouth to answer, but hesitated. “Well…” he began, but Marshall cut him off.

“Just answer the damn question!”

“Okay, okay! Most lore I’ve seen suggests that if you kill a vampire, it ends the curse on all the vampires it turned. In other words, if we kill a vampire’s vampire daddy, then the baby vampire becomes human again.”

There was a moment of silence. “Come again?” said Marshall.

“Okay, look. When you get bit by a zombie, what happens?”

“First, there’s just the bite,” Paul answered. “Before long, it begins to look infected. Then the infection spreads. You begin to experience symptoms of a fever: chills, nausea, dizziness, vomiting. At first it just seems like any flu or cold. Then as the infection takes over, the symptoms get worse. Eventually it eats away at your internal organs until they cease functioning and you die.”

Eli nodded. “Right, okay. A little overly detailed, but yeah. So in vampire mythology, when you get bitten by a vampire, much the same thing happens. You get infected, you start to feel sick, eventually he either drains you or you waste away and die. Sometimes returning as some type of ghoul. Or zombie, I guess. Ghoul is what walking dead flesh eaters used to be called, before we came up with the term zombie. I don’t really like it though. I mean, it comes from the Sumerian ‘Gallu,’ which was a type of demon that dragged people to the underworld. In fact, the word ‘ghoul’ itself is basically just a Westernization of the Arabic word for demon. When you think about it, zombie is such a better word ’cuz those were dead people brought back to life to mindlessly serve voodoo masters-“

“Eli!” Marshall snapped, cutting the younger man off before he got too carried away.

“Right, sorry. My point is: vampire or zombie, it’s basically an infection. The main difference, mythologically speaking, is that the vampire remains tied to whoever he bites. They either die, turn into zombies before becoming his undead minions, or he turns them into vampires like him and they become his, um, vampire… minions. Basically. The point is, they remain connected through and after death. So the lore, as I understand it, is that once someone is bitten by a vampire, you have two basic options. One is to destroy the body so they can never turn, or…” Eli’s voice trailed off.

“…Or kill the vampire that bit the person, thus severing their connection and returning the infected person to normal,” Jay finished excitedly.

“Exactly.”

“All right,” Amber burst out before anyone could say anything else, “that’s about enough of that.” She looked around and realized everyone was staring at her with surprise. “Please, please tell me I’m not the only one who feels like this conversation is more than just a little ridiculous. I mean, let’s even go so far as to assume you’re right about all this bullshit. What basis do we have for knowing these are even actually vampires? Because he just says so? What’s the evidence? What makes them vampires? We know nothing about them beyond that they’re really good at killing people in a cave. And I guess that they carry the zombie disease. And your little ‘theory’? Let’s kill them to save people? Really? Do you have any idea how crazy that sounds? You know that’s not how diseases work, right?”

When nobody responded, she turned to look at Paul for support. “Right?” she repeated.

Paul stuck his hands in the pockets of his lab coat and shrugged his broad, white shoulders. “I’m not really sure. This disease doesn’t act like diseases do. I mean, a virus that can keep its host essentially alive and functioning after they’re medically dead? Give them an intense craving for human flesh? There’s not really a precedence for this. There’s a type of fungus that has a similar effect on ants, but even still…” Paul let out a sigh of frustration and shook his head, letting the thought die off there.

“Besides, we know they’re vampires,” Eli protested. “We met one. It could talk. It had weird, spikey teeth. It could control the zombies.”

“Yeah, says you,”

“Says me, too, Marshall added. “I was there, too. I got to learn what that thing was planning. Maybe I wouldn’t necessarily call it a vampire, but it sure as hell was no zombie.”

“There. You see? Even your great, fearless leader says it’s no zombie. The talking, the intelligence, the craving. It did say it wanted to make human farms where they could feed on us. So that’s about everything. I mean, what else is there? A distaste of garlic and a heightened fear of killer sunburns?”

“Actually, they are hurt by sunlight,” Paul said suddenly. “Notes from the one they finally captured say he screamed bloody murder when brought out in the daylight and his skin developed a horrible rash almost immediately. They said it looked like he had been burned. They had to transport him in sealed cargo containers, move him under darkness. There’s no indication if the sunlight would kill him, but it clearly hurt.”

“They actually captured one of those things?” Marshall asked.

“Yes. After this… disaster… another team was sent in. Well, actually multiple teams, I believe. I’m not sure how many. But eventually they managed to draw one out from the others and trap it.”

Eli rubbed his hands together and stepped in closer to Paul. “And this one you captured, it’s where you got the blood for the serum?”

“Yes.”

“And is it here?”

For a moment Paul said nothing, then, “No.”

Eli let out a grunt of frustration. “Of course not, that would be too easy.”

“If you’re right about what those things are, why would it be a good thing that one was here?” Amber demanded.

“Haven’t you been paying attention? If we kill the head vampire, we might cure all the zombies.”

“Haven’t you been paying attention to me?” Amber spit back. “I don’t believe in magic.”

“It’s not magic, it’s science!”

“Really? Is it? So then, you can tell me exactly which branch of science it is that explains how killing the host of a disease creates a cure that transfers through the air instantaneously to all other hosts infected with the disease?”

Eli opened his mouth to responded, but then immediately closed it again. “Well, when you put it like that…” he mumbled.

“Good,” Amber said. “So we’re agreed that this plan is insane and not worth discussing any longer.” She turned and started walking away, but Eli slammed his fist down on a nearby table, halting her in her tracks.

“Dammit, fine. You know what? Maybe you’re right. Maybe it is insane. Maybe I am crazy for trying to supplant reality with mythology, legend, and science fiction. Okay, yes, it is a stretch to assume that just because a lot of stories agree on how these things work, and even though reality seems to be reflecting that consensus, that I should expect everything to pan out just the way I would hope. I can accept that I’m reaching here.

“But you know what? I wouldn’t put this as being any more insane then zombies and vampires really existing in the first place. But there they are, out there, driving to Hell what’s left of the world we knew. And what are we doing? Sitting here playing Little House on the Prairie? Building our own perfect ranch house? You ask me, that’s the crazy. I realize you’ve all been living with this longer than I have. I can see you’ve all just given up and accepted that this is the way the world is now. Well, I refuse to do the same. I could still have family out there, friends, hiding in the darkness, afraid. I can’t get to them, but I can’t just abandon them either. And maybe this won’t help, but at least it’s a chance. Sitting around here being useless and hated by everyone certainly is not.

“So, I guess what I’m saying is…” Eli paused and swallowed hard. To his surprise he realized he was fighting back tears. “Is that… I don’t care if it’s crazy. I don’t care if it’s stupid and there’s no chance of succeeding. I didn’t ask you, any of you, to go with me. I’ve already survived on my own out there. I know I can do it again. So I’m going, no matter how stupid or crazy you think the whole idea is. I’m going.” He turned to Paul. “The one they captured, do you know where it was taken?”

Paul nodded.

“Good. Then I’ve got some packing to do.”

Marshall reached out for his arm. “Wait,” he beckoned.

Eli pulled away. “Don’t try to stop me. I’ve made up my mind.”

“No, I…I wasn’t,” Marshall admitted, sheepishly. His cheeks burned red as he turned to look out at the group. “I was just gonna say… maybe you don’t have to go alone.”

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