Better off Undead

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Chapter 50: Love Like Blood

“Man, this show just keeps getting weirder,” said Jay.

There were a couple nods of agreement, but while pretty much everyone gathered agreed, nobody felt like saying anything just then.

“We should probably draw some blood from him,” Aliyah said after a while, mainly to Eli, who was still kneeling over the body of the monster that had once been Sgt. Moore. Eli didn’t answer.

“Hey, Eli,” Amber said, her tone unusually soft as she leaned over him. “Come on, we’ve got work to do.”

Eli still did not so much as stir.

“Alright,” Aliyah said, nodding her head and turning towards the rest of the group. “Eli has officially checked out. No matter. The rest of us will split up and take the rooms one by one. Find something to draw blood with and get back here as quickly as possible. If you find the vampire, just mark the door in some way but don’t go in there alone. We’ll deal with him next.”

They filed out of the room, leaving Eli alone with his thoughts.

Eli wasn’t sure why Sgt. Moore’s death was bothering him so much. For some reason, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something very bad had happened. Maybe it was the words the tortured man had said. This idea that he was the first of a new species of man. And now, they had just committed genocide on an entire species. Speciocide.

But that wasn’t the problem. Not really. The real problem was that, kneeling there, looking at Sgt. Moore, all Eli could think of, all he could see, was Sara. Another person dead because of him. Another forgotten, abandoned corpse left alone, so far from home.

And hers was perhaps the greater tragedy. If Eli was right about his cure hypothesis, then that meant that one day she would have had the chance to live again. Maybe she could have found and rejoined her lost boyfriend, the one who so liked the… what had she called them? Caramellaculas?

Now they were both probably dead. And it was all Eli’s fault.

Jay was the first to return with some medical supplies. By the time he made it back to the room, Eli had recovered somewhat, and was sitting with his back up against a table a few feet away from Sgt. Moore’s body. Jay offered the other young man a slight nod by way of greeting and then knelt down over the corpse and got to work.

He fumbled around with the supplies for a minute, but before getting anywhere he started doubting himself.

“Um, know how to draw blood from a dead guy?” he called to Eli.

Eli shrugged, and in a weak voice replied, “Sorry. Not my area of expertise. Try putting in a help ticket.”

Jay let out a low chuckle and returned to his work. Eli rubbed his head with his hands. After a while he said, “I think I’m beginning to understand why you guys are the way you are.”

“Rock stars?” Jay asked flippantly, not looking back.

“Empty,” Eli corrected. “Dead. I accused you all of having given up and just accepted that the world was over. Now… now I’m beginning to think that that’s really the only way to deal with the pain, the loss, the insanity. Either your brain goes cold or your body does.”

Jay went motionless for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was flat and emotionless. “I told you, Eli. We all have our own ways of dealing with the end of the world. You just happen to have a near endless bounty of optimism. Don’t let that go now. Not when we’re so close to the end.”

“Optimism,” Eli echoed scornfully. The word would have made him feel like laughing had he felt like he could laugh right then. Instead he just shook his head. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard me described as optimistic before.”

The door to the room opened and Aliyah and Amber were standing there.

“Any luck?” Aliyah asked.

“Yep,” said Jay, lifting a test tube full of blood up for them to see. He then deposited the tubes in a case and snapped it shut.

“Good,” said Aliyah.

“I found the vampire,” added Amber.

Jay and Eli exchanged glances. The end, thought Eli. Just as Jay had said.

They rose and followed the girls out of the room and down the maze of corridors to an open door. Mac was waiting there for them, shotgun aimed through the open portal. Jay stepped up to the doorway and frowned. Beyond was only a set of stairs, leading downwards.

“Anyone else getting déjà vu?” asked Jay.

“What’s with scientists and their predilection toward secret basements?” Eli agreed.

“Well,” said Aliyah, pausing to swallow, “go on, Eli.”

Eli was nodding his head before the words sunk in. Once he realized what she was saying, his head snapped up in surprise and he glared at her, wide-eyed. “What? No! I’m not leading. Amber found it. She can lead.”

“And they say chivalry is dead,” Amber replied, scowling at him.

“Mac has a gun,” Eli quickly corrected. “He should go first.”

“I’ll go,” said Mac, and he started down the stairs behind the barrel of his shotgun. The others followed, somewhat reluctantly, behind.

Distantly, Eli realized he was the only one in the group who had actually faced a vampire before. He was in the group that had been tied down at the banquet proffered to them by that first vampire. All the others, save for Mac, had been in the rescue group that had actually killed the vampire, but not before they had realized it wasn’t a zombie.

Something about that last thought gave Eli pause, and he stopped in place on the stairway, causing Amber to bump into him from behind.

She fought to regain her balance, and once she had she glared harshly at him. “Eli!” she hissed in annoyance, as though afraid to speak any louder.

“Sorry,” he whispered back, and continued down the steps, letting his previous thought wash away so he could focus on the task at hand.

They came down to a landing and Amber pointed the way further down the hall. They followed along to another room that opened into a large observation chamber. Through the glass, they could see a single, solitary bed, and on the bed, a figure.

The creature was barely visible from their position, almost completely shrouded in darkness, but Eli could still tell it had the unique skin color, the distinct pointiness of the ears, and the horrifying rows of razor-sharp teeth indelibly burned into his memory. It looked different from the one he had seen before, but, in a different sense, it looked exactly the same. To him, there could be no doubt.

“That’s it,” Eli said, breathily. “The vampire.”

“What do we do now?” Amber asked, as they all stood there staring at the creature.

“We need to kill it,” said Eli.

“We need to draw blood,” Jay reminded, lifting up his case.

“We need to draw blood, and then kill it,” Eli corrected. He paused for a second, and then turned to look at the others. “Wait a minute, what? Why are we drawing blood?”

“Paul’s idea,” explained Amber. “Just in case your little ‘theory’ didn’t pan out. He said if he could get a sample of blood from the mon…” she paused, realizing what she was about to say, and swallowed hard. Taking a deep breath, she continued, “from Sgt. Moore, and from the vampire, that it would go a long way towards helping him figuring out a cure.”

“Oh,” Eli said, nodding his head thoughtfully. “Smart.”

“How do we kill it?” asked Mac. “Can we shoot it?”

Eli shook his head. “If the mythology for vampires is anywhere near as accurate as it is for zombies, that won’t work. There’s a lot of disagreement on what exactly hurts vampires, but pretty much the two most consistent is a wooden stake straight to the heart, and direct sunlight.”

“Where we gonna get wood?” Mac asked. There was silence for a moment while everybody considered the question, and then everyone turned to Eli.

When he noticed them looking, his eyebrows raised questioningly. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m already a real boy.” He knocked his knuckles on the top of his head. “Just flesh and blood.”

“Not you, knucklehead,” said Amber, pointing behind him. “Your baseball bats.”

“Oh.” He frowned and drew his bat. It was aluminum. He shrugged apologetically. “This is all I have. One of the Franks snapped my other one in half. I kinda lost track of the room.”

Everyone sighed in frustration. “Let’s look around the nearby rooms,” Aliyah suggested. “There’s bound to be a wooden table or chair or something.

They hurried out and began searching the other rooms. Mac was successful first.

“Here!” he called to the others. They all hurried in to see him standing by a wooden chair. He patted the back of it.

“Can we be sure it’s real wood and not… like… balsa or something?” Jay asked.

“Isn’t balsa still real wood?” asked Eli.

Jay blinked in surprise. “Uh, is it?”

“Yes,” said Mac.

“Um, maybe I meant… uh… particle board then?”

“Still wood,” said Mac.

Jay threw up his hands in defeat. “Fine. Let’s just do this, then.”

They each took turns tugging on the chair, kicking it, and smashing it into the floor until they each had a nicely sized stick with a jagged enough end to potentially drive through a vampire’s chest.

With that, they returned to the room. They decided to all enter the observation room together. Aliyah stood at the door, waiting until she received nods from each member of the group in turn, and then pulled open the door.

They were halfway across the floor, moving as slowly and quietly as they felt they could safely manage, when the vampire finally stirred. It lifted its head and turned it lazily in their direction.

One eye glared at them from behind a thick wetness, and the other was swollen shut. In fact, now that they were closer, they could make out that there seemed to be a lot of damage visible across the creature’s body. There were burns and cuts, one of his arms appeared to be broken, and a good chunk of one ear was completely missing. He was also tied down with some kind of rope, and in the places where the rope was tied around him his skin looked red and raw. It was a surprisingly pitiful site for what they had expected to be the most dangerous monster of all.

“Are you here to kill me?”

Its voice, despite the exhaustion evident in the tone, held a surprising amount of power and nobility. It was clear – even in its broken state – that at its prime it would have be a creature that would inspire awe, respect, and fear in any who saw it. Now, though, it was little more than an empty reflection.

The group stopped short and everyone exchanged glances.

The vampire sighed and laid its head back down. “Good,” he said, “then be done with it.”

Eli lowered his weapon, but didn’t move any closer. “Don’t you want to live?”

“What’s the point?” said the vampire. “Have you seen it out there? There’s nothing left. I can feel them, in my head. Those vile creatures. Even more despicable than humans. Lowly, base animals with only one desire: the hunger for human flesh. No sophistication. No culture. No refinement or elegance. No savoir faire. Just simple, base craving to consume.

“And what’s more, is that I know where they are. And how many there are. They are everywhere. I can feel them moving about. Devouring. Consuming. Endless, endless torment of their mindless corpulence. They are the world now. And the time of my brethren and our tolerance of humans and their twisted, pathetic vices is now gone. Civilization is over. Plague rules the earth.”

“You’re talking about the zombies?” asked Eli, though he already knew the answer.

A weak chuckle escaped the vampire’s lips as it turned its head away. “Zombies. Yes, I suppose that is a good name for them. Yes, them. They who will eat the flesh of this decaying planet and leave nothing left for civilization.”

“You talk so much about civilization. Your kind lives in caves.”

The vampire sighed. “Yes, of course. Typical human reaction. You all think you are God’s gift to the planet. That you are the apex of civilization. But we were there when you were digging your life out of the dirt. We watched as you built your huts from mud and straw, as you pathetically attempted to mimic our language in order to learn to communicate. We watched you build your first cities, your temples to personifications of natural phenomena that you could come up with no better explanation for than bipolar deities. No, we invented civilization. Your kind simply bastardized it.”

Eli was shaking his head in disbelief. “That’s… impossible. The Sumerians…”

“Yes, there were those of us who were there for the Sumerians. And the Harappan. The Olmec, the Egyptians, the Shu. We watched your kind grow and develop. We watched them try and fail over and over again to raise crops, to domesticate animals, to fight back the floods and the storms, disease and famine. And when nature was less cruel, we watched your kind as they destroyed each other. And we knew. Right away, we knew. You would never be anything more than food. Food for us.”

Eli’s jaw was hard, and when he spoke again, it was through clenched teeth. “If you were so great, you could have helped us. You could have taught us. Made us better.”

The vampire made a noise, a sick, mucus-filled rumble, and Eli couldn’t tell if it was laughing or coughing. “We tried,” it said. “Some of us did. Those of us foolish enough to believe it worth trying. It did no good. You either worshipped our kind as gods, or feared us as devils. Either way, we were never anything more than another excuse for you to kill each other. And so we withdrew from the disgusting world of your bright sun, only returning to feed as the need must.

“And in that time, we continued watching. Watching as you continued to grow. To spread. To build bigger and more destructive weapons. Because always you were only ever driven by one, single, primal need. The need to destroy each other. To hate. To kill. And that is why we are here, now. Why the world has become what it has. Because you have destroyed each other so thoroughly, so completely, that now neither of our kinds shall survive.”

Eli glanced around the faces of his companions and saw them all wearing a hard expression like his own. Turning back to the vampire he said, “You’re wrong about us. We have been haunted by our demons, but now that we know those demons are real, we can be better. Like those of us here. We are here to find a cure. To heal, not to hurt.”

“It will never change,” said the vampire.

Eli turned to look at Jay and motioned him forward. “Get the blood.”

“No!” the vampire shouted, and it begin to squirm and strain against its bindings. “No more! No more blood to create any more of your abominations!”

“I told you,” Eli countered, “We’re not making abominations. We’re looking for a cure. Come on!” He motioned to the rest of the group. “Let’s hold him down so Jay can get the blood.”

Eli drew his bat and held it under the creature’s chin to hold back the head, so those deadly fangs couldn’t bite anyone while he struggled. The others took up positions on the arms and legs as Jay worked drawing blood from the vampire’s arm. After he had a couple vials full, the creature ceased its struggles.

When Jay was finished, he began packing away the vials, keeping care to separate them from the ones he had taken from Sgt. Moore. The others moved away from the vampire, who once again looked as tired and defeated as he had when they had first entered the room.

He turned his single eye and glared at Eli. “Give in to your nature,” it whispered, hoarsely. “Kill me.”

Something about the creature’s willingness to die bothered Eli, sending a shiver down his spine. He looked to the others, and they nodded their heads solemnly.

“You have to,” Aliyah agreed. “If your theory is right, then this saves everyone.”

Eli turned back to the creature and found it still glaring at him with that deep, red eye. Eli raised his chair leg and placed it, spiked end down, on the creature’s chest. He took a deep breath, raised his baseball bat up into the air, and then brought it down like a hammer onto a nail.

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