Chapter 37: Leave it all Behind
They drove on for the rest of the day without talking much to each other. They stayed clear of major highways, sticking more to the farm to market roads and side streets. As they explained to Eli, after the outbreak major highways quickly clogged with traffic from people attempting to flee cities. In many places, zombie attacks forced people to abandon their cars, leaving the vehicles cluttering up the roadways like so much trash. Because of this, most major highways were completely impassable.
The backroads, on the other hand, remained largely clear. As before, on Eli’s first journey with this group out to the military base, little more dotted these roadways than the occasional other vehicle. Even the zombies proved every bit as rare and elusive as they had been on that journey.
“In all zombie fiction,” Eli explained when the others asked him why this concerned him so much, “the world is always overrun by zombies. It’s impossible to go this long without running into at least stragglers or something. And of course, once you run into one there’s usually dozens around nearby. That’s precisely the danger of zombies: the hoard. But here… we’re just not seeing that. Zombies don’t have much rational thought. They don’t live like normal people. They just wander around aimlessly looking for food. We’ve all seen that and know it’s true. So they should just be here and there doing that. Since there not… well… that really only leaves one explanation. My explanation. Something is controlling them. It pretty much stands as proof regarding my theory about the vampires having control.”
“I thought you were already pretty certain of that?” Amber asked, her tone and gaze full of suspicion.
“I was,” said Eli, then quickly added, “I-I am. I’m just… I’m concerned about how far the reach of these vampires has extended. It’s like they’re trying to gather up every single loose zombie everywhere. It’s like… it’s like they’re building armies.”
There was silence for a long moment, until Aliyah suddenly spoke up. “How about some music?”
“God yes,” Daina groaned. “Please.”
Aliyah pulled a CD out of somewhere Nick didn’t see and quickly shoved it into the car stereo. Moments later, music blared out of the speakers and led them down the road.
They continued on like this for the rest of the day. Every few hours they stopped to eat or for bathroom breaks, or even just to stand up and stretch for a bit. At night they came across a small motel and, finding it sufficiently clear of zombies, used it to rest up for the night. The next day passed in much the same way. When night came, Aliyah, with a fair amount of coaxing, agreed to give up her control and let Mac drive for a time. The rest did their best to sleep in the car.
As dawn broke on the third day, Mac spotted their first group of roving zombies. He rolled the car to a stop and turned it off so that the engine sound wouldn’t attract them. From inside the vehicle, seven pairs of eyes watched the undead creatures slowly cross the street.
“Does this disprove your theory?” Aliyah asked Eli.
“Not necessarily. There could be lots of reasons for them roaming about. First of all, it’s daytime. From what I’ve seen, like most vampires the ones we are dealing with can’t go out in the daytime. It’s possible they rest or relax or even lose some of their control during the day. Second, we don’t know where this group is going. Maybe they’re being pulled to a vampire’s location somewhere. Third, it makes sense that vampires wouldn’t have been able to gather up every single loose zombie everywhere. And lastly, well…” Eli suddenly fell quiet.
“Lastly?” Amber prompted, without taking her gaze off the zombies outside.
“It’s nothing, forget it.”
Still without looking, Amber reached out and punched him in the kidney.
Eli yelped in pain and doubled over backwards, hissing through clenched teeth against the pain.
“Speak, Eli,” Amber commanded.
“Fine. Fine! Jesus. Okay. I was just going to say… it might be possible that whatever town we’re approaching is a place that one of the vampires has made his home base for his army of the undead. Like the town near our military base had been.”
Everyone in the group exchanged glances at that possibility.
“Well, shit,” said Aliyah.
“Should we turn around and find another way?” asked Gabriel.
“No,” Aliyah replied. “We’re getting pretty close to our destination. From here on out there’s not really any alternative routes to our destination. Not without going a really roundabout route.”
“Besides,” added Eli, “we don’t know where the vampire’s location is, if there is one. By going the long way around, we might just be putting ourselves in a classic appointment in Samarra situation.”
There was silence. A few of the group turned to look at Eli.
“What?” He asked. “Appointment in Samarra? You guys don’t know that one?” A few heads were shaken in the negative, and Eli let out a sigh. “Man, I’d tell you to look it up, but I guess that’s not an option anymore. Okay, as I recall, it goes something like this: There once was a merchant in Baghdad. One morning as he moved through the marketplace, he saw Death standing there, pointing at him. In his fright, the merchant fled from the marketplace, got on his horse, and rode as fast and far away as he could. He made it all the way to Samarra, but was surprised to find Death there waiting for him.
“‘Why were you waiting for me in Samarra, when this morning you were beckoning to me in Baghdad?’ he asked Death.
“‘I wasn’t beckoning to you,’ Death replies. ‘I was merely surprised to see you in Baghdad, when I knew I had an appointment with you tonight in Samarra.’”
“Oh, that’s bogus,” Jay said.
“What was the point of that story?” asked Mac.
“The point,” spoke up Gabriel, “is that sometimes by attempting to avoid your fate, you inadvertently push yourself into it. If the merchant had waited patiently for Death in Baghdad, he would have missed the appointment in Samarra. By trying to flee his destiny, he actually fulfilled it. I believe Eli’s point is that by trying to go around the vampire’s town, with us assuming it’s the town we are currently headed towards, we might end up driving straight through it when it turns out to be a different town.”
“Precisely,” agreed Eli.
“Well why the hell didn’t you just say that?” demanded Mac. He pulled out the map and spread it open between him and Aliyah, who was sitting in the front passenger seat. After looking at it for a moment he circled a portion of it with his finger. “This is where we are right now. Like Aliyah said, if we turned around we’d have to go all the way around this way,” he motioned along the lines in more or less a semicircular shape, “or this way,” and motioned in the opposite semicircle.
“This first way, it looks like we avoid any towns or anything, but we don’t have enough gas to get us around that way, and we don’t know if we’ll be able to gather up anything. If we keep going straight, we should hit some neighborhoods just skirtin’ around the outside of this little town here. This last way we’re gonna be driving straight through the center of this other town here.”
“I’m just gonna go ahead and call that one Samarra,” said Jay.
“It does seem like straight ahead is our best option,” added Gabriel.
By this point, the zombie group had finished crossing the road, so they started off again. When the CD that was playing ended, Aliyah ejected it as she rummaged around for a different one.
“Oh, thank God,” muttered Eli when the silence resumed. After a moment he realized everyone was looking at him. “What?”
“You have something against musicals?” Amber asked.
“You mean, other than the fact that they’re the sonic equivalent of having your eardrums slowly ripped apart by a vengeful cat?”
From the front seat, Aliyah scoffed and glanced at Eli in the rear view. “And what kind of music do you like, then?”
Eli opened his mouth to respond, but Jay beat him to the punch. “He likes death metal,” he said.
“What?” Aliyah blurted, turning to stare at Eli in disbelief. “You like what?”
“I do not like death metal,” Eli growled.
“That’s what Rico said,” Jay interrupted. “He said when he and his brother and cousin were riding with Eli in his car they tried listening to his music and it was death metal.”
The others in the car burst out laughing.
“It was not death metal,” Eli protested.
“What kind of music was it then?” demanded Amber.
“It was punk. I listen to punk music, okay?”
“Punk?” Mac echoed. “Didn’t that die in the eighties?”
Eli started to retort with a snotty, “No,” but was cut off by Aliyah.
“Well then,” she said, “I guess it’s a good thing for Eli that we live in the world of the undead.”
Everyone burst out laughing except Eli, who just scowled. “Oh ha, ha,” he replied sarcastically. “I didn’t realize I was traveling with a comedy troupe. Guess I didn’t realize there was much funny about the undead.”
“Really?” Amber’s voice was incredulous. “You seemed to think there was plenty to joke about before.”
Eli frowned, but before he got the chance to respond, Mac was calling for everybody’s attention again.
“Look,” he said, pointing out the front of the window. Everybody did. In the distance, houses were beginning to speckle the horizon, but so were zombies.
There were a few groups of them. Mostly they seemed to be wandering around individually and aimlessly. They did, however, seem to be taking note of the vehicle and many were turning in their direction.
“Are these not controlled zombies, then?” Daina asked.
“Looks that way,” Eli said. “This is what the zombies back in town were like after we killed the vamp that seemed to be controlling them. Aimless, mindless zombies like in the movies.”
“So does that mean we’re not the only ones who have managed to kill a vampire then?” Amber asked.
No one answered her, and after a time everyone turned to look at Eli. The young man shrugged helplessly. “How the hell would I know? I’ve been with you guys. I don’t know what has happened in this town.”
“Maybe the vampire that is here is the one they were experimenting on,” Aliyah suggested. “Could it be possible that he was strong enough to draw the zombies here, but too weak to control them?”
“It could be, I guess,” replied Eli. “Or it could be that he has no reason to control them. Maybe he’s already gathered up all the humans in the area, and until more come – us – he has no reason to control the zombies directly.”
“So once he realizes we’re here he’ll control the zombies and we’ll be doomed?”
Eli shrugged. “Maybe. Again, I don’t know exactly how it works. But I did notice that on the times before when we’ve been mobbed by the massed zombies there had been a figure standing in the shadows watching us. I had assumed before this person was another survivor, but maybe it was the vampire. Or different vampires. After all, the further we got from those spots, the less coordinated the attacks became. And these were all during the day time, and vampires can’t go out during the day. If they follow traditional vampire lore, they’ll want to rest during the day.”
“So, basically, we should be okay as long as we’re gone before the sun goes down,” Jay translated.
“Well, that’s gonna be tough,” Mac said. “’Cuz we got no choice but to stop for supplies.”
“That’s fine,” said Aliyah. “We’ll just have to do it as quickly as we can. We’ll stop at the first house we come to, and only move on to others if we absolutely have to.”
Everyone nodded their agreement and Mac drove on.