Better off Undead

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Chapter 47: House of the Dead

“Run.”

Eli wasn’t sure who said it, but not one in the group had any hesitation in following the command. As one, they turned and bolted from the room. Jay somehow overtook the group and pulled out ahead.

They followed him around the corner and down the hall back to the outer doors. He skidded to an unsteady halt in front of them, grabbed the closest handle, and yanked with all his might.

Outside, the gargoyles had settled down in front of the door in one big group, now returned to their lifeless, statue forms. They massed together like a battalion of grotesque lawn ornaments, blocking all hope of exit. As Jay stood in the doorway, watching them, they began to stir again.

He slammed the door shut and spun around, pressing his back up against the metal surface. His face was white as a sheet.

“Out of the way!” demanded Aliyah.

“Gargoyles,” Jay responded simply, his voice wavering with fear. “Gargoyles.”

Everyone skidded to a halt.

“What do we do now then?” demanded Aliyah.

“We’ll have to fight,” offered Mac.

“Against… those things?” croaked Amber, still hoarse from being choked.

“You have a better idea?” Mac shot back.

With faint light seeping down the hallway, it was much easier to see its layout now than it had been before. Now Eli could see there were doorways lining the hall.

“The side rooms!” he hissed, as loudly as he dared. He threw himself at the nearest door and yanked on the handle. It was mercifully unlocked. “We can hide!”

Without waiting for the others he dove inside. Within moments they had all joined him in the room.

“We can’t hide here forever,” Aliyah pointed out.

As if to accentuate her point, they could hear the loud pounding of footsteps in the hallway outside.

“Why do your plans always involve trapping us into tiny little rooms?” Amber hissed the words through her teeth at Eli.

“What?” Eli whispered back. “So I panicked. It’s better than being outer there and having them already be on top of us.”

“Out there we maybe could have run. In here we have nowhere to go.”

“Well excuse me, princess. I didn’t see you offering any ideas. And no one said you had to follow me.”

Aliyah spun around on them. “Would you two kindly shut the hell up?”

Eli turned away and looked around the room. There wasn’t much in there, but there might just be a use for the stuff that was. “Maybe we can hide,” he suggested, pointing toward a desk on the far side of the room. They hurried over to it, no one bothering to object. There wasn’t enough space behind it for them to all hunker down. Jay motioned to Mac, and together they hurried to another part of the room and, as quietly as they could manage, upturned a table so it could hide them from the doorway. Eli, Amber, and Aliyah hid behind the desk.

Moments later there was a pounding on the door, and after a few earth-shattering blows it exploded inwards. One of the hinges burst off completely and the door swung in and hung limply from the small, intact portion of the single remaining hinge.

Only one of the creatures stepped into the room, though a thundering echoing down the halls told them that the other rooms were similarly being checked.

They all hunched up as much as they could, trying to reduce their chances of being detected. They couldn’t see the creature, but they could hear it moving around. And they could hear its breathing… a strange, almost gasping sound like it was sniffing the air. Like it was a bloodhound on the hunt.

Suddenly they could hear its footsteps pounding to the far wall of the room. It seemed as though it had detected something they had not. A moment there came an immense crashing sound, the clatter of which was so loud and so close by that Amber let out an involuntary squeak of alarm. She immediately clamped a hand over her mouth, her eyes going wide with the terror of what consequences her own actions might have wrought.

Eli, sitting on the outside, dared a glance around the edge of the desk.

The clattering sound had come from a large, metallic storage cabinet being thrown to the ground. This had revealed another doorway that none of them had seen in the darkened room. The creature had one hand raised, clearly poised to strike the door, battering it open just as he had the first door, but something had stopped him. He must have detected Amber’s minute cry, and now his head and upper body were turned away from this second door, facing more or less in their direction. His head was bobbing a little as he continued sniffing at the air.

Slowly he lowered his arm and turned fully in their direction. Eli knew it was only moments before it came storming over to them, and at that point there might be no escape.

He took a deep, steadying breath, and then launched himself forward.

He ran straight on toward the creature. It watched him with cold, dead eyes, waiting for him to get close. It raised an arm and swung it at Eli, attempting to grab him up, but it found only empty air.

The moment Eli knew he was within arm’s length he dropped to his knees, power-sliding across the slick tiled floor. He came to a halt, planted one foot for balance, and swung his baseball bat with full force into the back of the creature’s knee. He was betting it all on the force of gravity doing what none of his blows had managed earlier.

The gamble paid off.

The force was just barely enough to buckle the creature’s leg, and it was forced to drop to one knee or risk losing its balance completely.

Eli leaped to his feet and dove for the newly discovered door, praying that his luck would hold out and the door would prove to be unlocked.

It was.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Eli turned back around toward the creature. It was busy pushing itself back to its feet.

“Come get me, asshole!” shouted Eli, and he swung his bat into the back of the creature’s head. It roared in rage, but Eli didn’t stay long enough to see how else it reacted. He burst through the door and kept on running.

The next room had a door leading out into the hall. He took it with hardly a break in his speed. The other creatures were all out there, watching him, attracted by the noise he had made. He ignored them and continued down the hall. Moments later he could hear their footsteps pounding after him.

He didn’t stop to think about what he was doing, but simply kept on running. He headed deeper and deeper into the base, through winding corridors, uncertain of where to go, only knowing he had to get away. When he finally started to tire, he knew he had to find somewhere else to hide. The sound of footsteps had died away behind him. Whoever these people were, they were big and they were powerful, but they weren’t very fast.

Eli skidded to a stop and opened a random door. He started into the room, but stopped cold.

The room was filled with the undead.

A giant cage, like a prison cell, split off a viewing area Eli was in from the rest of the room, and that cage was packed wall to wall with zombies. The zombies might be trapped, but he still wasn’t particularly willing to wait around in the same room as them. Especially since if the monsters looked for him in here, there wouldn’t really be anything he could hide behind.

Eli quickly closed the door again and headed down another hallway to a different room. This one was empty, another lab of some sort, with another desk he could crouch down behind. He quickly closed the door and hurried over to the desk. He hunched down and tried to get his breathing under control while he waited.

After a time there was some noise from the hallway. He could make out the sounds of footsteps and some muffled cries. At one point he heard a couple gunshots resound.

Eli felt a little bad about not being out there helping his friends, but he wasn’t really sure what he could contribute to the fight. Besides, it didn’t sound as though anyone was sticking to their scuffle. All the sounds seemed to be attempts to move around or get away.

There was a long stretch of silence, and then the door to the room suddenly opened. Eli froze with fear. He gripped his bat close, like a child hugging its favorite doll, and waited.

The door closed again, gently, and soft footfalls padded about the room. It wasn’t the sound of one of the creatures, so Eli dared a glance over the desk. Through the darkness, he could just make out Jay crossing the room.

“Psst!”

Jay nearly jumped out of his skin. He swung his gun about in the direction of the noise, his eyes searching around frantically for the source of the sound.

“Hey,” Eli hissed. “It’s just me.”

Jay visibly relaxed and quickly joined Eli behind the desk.

They sat there in silence for a long time, waiting and listening. From somewhere far off they could hear the echo of loud banging, most likely the creatures searching room by room for their prey.

“Do you remember,” Eli said, after a time, “back when we first met. When we were out on that highway, driving towards Paul’s base, and you asked if we used the name ‘the creatures,’ for the zombies, then what would we do if ran across a race of Frankenstein’s monsters?”

“No,” said Jay.

Eli stared at him blankly. “Are you serious right now?”

“Yeah.”

“I hate you sometimes, you know that?”

Jay shrugged and turned back to peeking over the desk to the door.

“You really don’t remember that?”

“Nope.”

Eli sighed. “Well, whatever. I was going to say, this one is your fault, because that’s exactly what we’ve run across now.”

Jay turned back to Eli, a confused expression on his face. “What? How so?”

“Um, hello? They’re undead monsters sown together from other people and raised back to life by electricity. What else would you call that?”

Jay thought for a moment. “The Rolling Stones,” he responded.

Eli blinked, confused, and stared at his friend. “What?”

“The Rolling Stones. ’Cuz they’re awful, and it’s like they go on forever. I mean, what are those guys, like, 80? And they’re still playing shows. It’s ridiculous.”

Eli slowly shook his head in disbelief. “Okay, ignoring… the most obvious things that are weird about what you said. You realize that those guys are dead now, right? Dead, or zombies.”

“Nah,” said Jay, waving his hands dismissively, “They’re probably alive and well. Betcha ten they’re playing a show as we speak in front of a live audience. Well, a dead audience. Well, a live undead audience.”

Eli had to resist the urge to bury his face in his palm. “I worry about you sometimes.”

Jay smiled and opened his mouth to retort when the door to the room suddenly burst open. Involuntarily, they both leaped up and spun around. One of the creatures stood in the doorway, huffing from exertion and staring them down.

“Frankenstein!” gasped Eli.

“Rolling stone,” Jay corrected.

They didn’t have time to argue about it, as the creature strode into the room, headed around the desk toward Eli. Eli met the creature halfway, coming around the desk and swinging hard at its kneecap with his bat.

With one deft motion, the creature caught the bat mid-swing, and then yanked hard, ripping it free from Eli’s grasp. It raised the bat into the air and snapped it in half like a twig.

“Let’s get!” cried Jay, and he started to run, but only took a few steps before he noticed that Eli was frozen in shock, staring at the spot that his baseball bat had been broken only moments before.

“Eli!” he shouted, trying to get the young man’s attention, but to no avail. With only a second to act, Jay did the only thing he could think to do to protect his friend. He knelt low and shoved the desk across the floor until it was in place between Eli and the monster.

The creature stumbled on the desk. It failed to trip him up nearly as much as it should have. Instead it was more like a person tripping over a fallen branch they had expected to step over, but found their foot accidentally snagging on it. He stumbled and stared at the desk in confusion, and the ridiculousness of it finally snapped Eli out of his shock.

“Come on!” Jay called, and this time Eli listened.

Eli leaped on the desk and slid across it on his butt, managing to stay just out, and ahead, of the creature’s reach. Together he and Jay bolted for the door of the room and then out into the hall. To their left, the hallway was filled with more of the creatures, so they turned right and headed further down the corridor, ever deeper into the base.

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