Better off Undead

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Chapter 51: Reanimated

“Can I just say that that was not what I was expecting,” Amber said.

Eli wiped vampire blood from his face, and then stared at his hand for a long moment. Dropping his hand he turned and looked emotionlessly at Amber. “What were you expecting?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I thought vampires were supposed to be… like… cultured? And sexy? And powerful, dangerous enemies? I thought we’d be fighting for our lives against an enemy that could seduce us or destroy us depending on its mood. Instead it was just… sort of… this ugly creature that couldn’t wait to die?”

Eli looked down at the remains of the vampire. Its body had shriveled like a grape after he had driven the spike into its heart and now it was little more than a disgusting, dried husk. “I guess everything has its breaking point,” he muttered.

“So did it work?” asked Aliyah. “Is the nightmare over?”

Jay looked around the room and then shrugged. “I don’t feel any different.”

“Why would you feel different?” Eli asked. “It’s not like you were a zombie.”

“I know. But… I don’t know. I guess I feel like… there should have been some big magical ‘boom’ or something. Something to indicate that we saved the world. A choir of angels trumpeting. Something.”

“Well, maybe we should be thankful that there’s not. A choir of angels trumpeting is supposed to signal the end of the world.” Eli turned and looked at Aliyah. “Upstairs I found a room full of zombies in a cage. If my plan worked…”

“Then they should all be human again,” she finished for him, nodding her head thoughtfully. “Do you remember where it is?” Eli shook his head. “Fine. Let’s split up and look for it.”

It was Aliyah who found it first. “Here,” she called out, as loud as she could. The others came running, the slightest glimmer of hope on each of their faces died as they approached the woman.

“No,” whispered Amber. She felt like she had to fight against the current just to round the last couple of steps into the room. Somehow she made it, but that just made the weight of the pressure increase.

The room was still full of zombies.

Amber let out a groan and collapsed against a nearby wall, putting her head into her hands. “Why the hell did we listen to Eli?” she muttered, not really caring if anyone heard her.

Eli crossed his arms and allowed the group a long moment of self-pity. Then he cleared his throat and said, “It isn’t over. Honestly, I never thought this would be the end of it.”

Amber lifted her head and stared at him with disbelief. “Are you shitting me? Then what the hell were we doing here?”

Eli opened his mouth to respond, but hesitated.

Amber growled. “What, Eli? What is it? Out with it!”

Eli made a face like he was straining to get the words out. “I just… not knowing for sure if this would work… Well, hey, look at it this way: now we have two options.”

“Two?” echoed Jay.

“Yeah, sure. The blood thing. I didn’t know about that, but maybe Paul really can find a cure with those samples.”

“But as you said, you didn’t know about that,” snapped Amber. “So why did we come here?”

Eli swallowed. “Well, because this was the easier of the two options.”

Aliyah’s jaw dropped. “This was the easier option? What the hell was the other option?”

Eli shrugged in an almost apologetic motion. “The cave from the video.”

He watched as the light of understanding came on in everyone else’s eyes. “Oh, hell no,” said Jay. “Hell, hell, hell, hell, hell no. Did you even watch the video?”

“Yes, I-”

“They freakin’ died, Eli! All of them. Trained soldiers. And they were butchered like animals. I’m not going in there!”

They all began talking at once, and Eli lifted his hands for silence. “Guys,” he said, trying to calm them. “Guys. Guys!” They finally fell silent, albeit resentfully, and Eli took a deep breath. “Look, I know it’s crazy. But we’ve been over this already. I’m going. If this is where you call it quits… fine. I don’t care. Take the blood back to Paul with my blessing. I won’t judge you. Even doing that is probably dangerous, so it’s not like you’re exactly taking the easy route out. But whether anyone comes with me or not, I’m going. I’m not arguing with you. Either come, or don’t.”

With that he stepped past them and headed back toward the entrance of the base. The rest of the group exchanged glances. Jay rolled his head. “Aw, man. We’re going with him, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” Amber said.

A moment later they had caught up with Eli and fell into step around him. “I hate you, you know that. Right?” Amber said.

“Yes,” Eli replied. “You’ve said that. A lot.”

“Just so we’re clear.”

They paused when they reached the exit door. Without having to say a word, they all knew that each of the others was equally hesitant to go through the doors knowing what waited for them on the outside. They exchanged worried glances while silence filled the air.

It was Jay who finally broke the tension.

“What are we gonna do about the gargolyes?” he asked.

Eli shook his head. “They’re grotesques.”

“You can say that again,” Amber agreed, nodding her head absently.

Eli started and turned to her in surprise, confusion plastered across his features. “Huh?”

“What?” Amber asked, meeting his gaze with an equally confused look of her own.

The light of understanding finally lit up behind Eli’s eyes. “Ooooooh! No. I don’t mean they’re ugly. I mean, they’re not gargoyles.”

Amber’s confusion only continued to grow. “Um, let me throw your own phrasing back at you. They’re made of stone, they sit on buildings, and they transform into inhuman monsters. What exactly would you call that?”

“Grotesques,” Eli answered. Amber looked ready to strangle him, and said as much. Eli shook his head while she growled the words at him. “No, you don’t understand,” he said once she had stopped. “’grotesque’ is the proper name for what most people think of as gargoyles. Technically, to be a gargoyle, they have to have a water spout. That’s why gargoyles are depicted with open mouths. That’s where the water comes out. Any creatures carved into buildings that don’t have water spouts are called grotesques.” He was nodding and smiling, looking rather pleased with himself. However, as he swept his gaze over his companions, he saw that they were only looking at him with a mixture of disbelief and annoyance.

“What?” he demanded. “It’s true. Look it up.”

“It’s not important,” Aliyah interjected. “Let’s just open the doors briefly and see what we’re dealing with.”

Eli sighed with annoyance, but knew it was time to shut up. He stood back as Jay and Amber each took hold of one of the doors. They counted to three and then pushed the doors open.

Outside, the way was clear.

In shock, Eli took an unwitting step forward. He glanced left and right, as if expecting at any moment that the backdrop would fall over and reveal the world of monsters to them all once again.

“Am I missing something?” Jay asked.

“If you are, we all are,” said Mac.

“Time for our nerd to tell us something that’s actually useful to know,” said Amber.

Eli was shaking his head, unable to take his gaze of the space in front of him. It wasn’t just that the gargoyles were gone. The zombies that had lined either side of the walls earlier were also now all missing, as though a new source of food had somehow finally steered them away from standing in place for what must have been for months.

“Did killing the vampire… magically… I dunno… reset things?” asked Jay.

“What, like a video game?” Amber asked.

“There are no reset buttons in real life,” said Aliyah.

Jay rolled his eyes. “Hey, the 90s called. They want their catchphrases back.”

“Oh, and you have room to talk?” Amber snapped.

“No,” Eli said.

Everyone looked at him in surprise. “Gee, thanks, buddy,” said Jay, slightly annoyed.

“What?” Eli asked, turning back around to face the group. “Oh, that. Right. Whatever. I meant, no, killing the vampire didn’t reset things. It just… freed the control.”

“Huh?”

Eli motioned towards the roof, spinning his finger in a circle to indicate a wide area. “Grotesques, or gargoyles, or whatever you want to call them, are protectors. They must have felt their duty was done when we killed the vampire. And then the zombies, they must have felt the pull of the vampire’s control drawing them in like a siren song. With him dead, that control is gone, and they just… wandered off.”

Jay shrugged but nodded thoughtfully. “Sure,” he agreed. “That sounds good.”

“Guns up,” said Aliyah. “Move forward with caution. I don’t trust that the bastards are really gone.”

As one they inched forward. Those with guns more or less formed a triangle with Eli in the center, holding his bat at the ready. However, they quickly realized that Eli was right. Even once they could see the rooftops of the base there remained no sign of the gargoyles. They really were gone.

Once they cleared the outer gate, they lowered their defenses, but did not completely take their hands off their weapons. They continued down the path to where the SUV was waiting for them, expecting to find Gabriel and Daina there, but there was no sign of them.

“Should we split up?” offered Jay, spinning a circle to look around as if the pair might be hiding just out of sight.

Aliyah shook her head. “It’s getting late. It’ll be dark soon. We need to get out of here and look for somewhere safe to stay.”

Suddenly a shrill, high-pitched scream rent the air. It didn’t come from very far away, and they were quickly able to pinpoint its location.

“This way!” cried Eli, as he took off for the woods. He could hear the others falling into step behind him but he was not in the mood to wait. He burst past tree after tree, but after only a minute of running he was forced to a halt.

Through the spaces in the trees ahead of him he could see a small clearing. Gabriel and Daina were both in the clearing. Daina was on her backside on the ground as though she had just tripped and fallen backwards. A now fully dead zombie lay on the ground beside her. Gabriel stood only a couple feet away, and seemed absurdly calm for the moment. He stood completely still, eyes closed, one hand drawn behind his back, and the other held up before him, only two fingers raised. He looked like a character in a video game about to cast a spell.

Around the clearing, a number of zombies were closing in on the group. Their grasping hands reached in desperation towards the pair, and would be on top of them in seconds. Eli wanted to cry out in protest, or a warning. Something. Anything. But his throat was suddenly inexplicably dry, and no sound came out.

As the nearest zombie’s hands dropped down to clamp onto Gabriel’s shoulder, the preacher man suddenly became a blur of motion. With a surprising amount of grace and agility his legs spun across the ground, lowering his shoulder just out of the zombie’s reach even as he turned a nearly complete circle to face in the creature’s direction. He delivered an open-palmed blow straight to the zombie’s chest. The force of the attack was enough to lift the monster off its feet and send it crashing back into a couple of its compatriots. All three of the creatures were sent sprawling away from the preacher.

Gabriel continued his fluid motions, his legs and arms moving more like water or branches in a breeze than like human limbs. His feet traced indiscernible patterns across the ground as his hands flashed a flurry of death and destruction across the creatures. At one point, one of the creatures on the far side of the clearing stumbled toward Daina, who still sat on the ground watching everything in a daze. As it started to fall on her, Gabriel suddenly spun away from the zombies he had been focused on and delivered a wide-arcing roundhouse kick straight to the side of the zombie’s skull. It impacted with enough force to not only knock the zombie off course, but also seemed to crush the creature’s skull, as once it hit the ground it didn’t move again.

At another point, one of the zombies actually managed to get close enough to Gabriel from behind to grab him by the shoulder, but it almost seemed like the preacher had planned this. He spun away while grabbing the zombie’s wrist, pulling the creature toward him rather than pushing it away, and used this force to lift the zombie into the air and throw it into the dwindling crowd of its fellow creatures.

Within moments the fight was over, and Eli came to his senses enough to realize that the others were standing around him, watching the display in similar awe.

“Rocket queen!” Jay cursed. “That was… the… coolest thing I have ever freakin’ seen!”

Gabriel turned towards the sound of the exclamation, seeming surprised to see the rest of the group standing there, watching him. “Oh, uh, hello,” he said, looking somewhat embarrassed.

“What the hell, Gabriel?” Amber said. “Have you been holding out on us?”

The others all began talking at once, their voices shrill with excitement, and moved in closer to Gabriel. Everyone except Eli, and Jay, as Eli grasped the other young man by the shoulder and held him back.

“What?” Jay demanded, annoyed.

“Since we came across the vampire in the base here, I have been thinking about something. Remember when that first vampire captured us, and you and some others came to rescue us?” Jay nodded his head slowly, not sure where Eli was going with this. “We shouldn’t have been able to kill that vampire. Not so easily, certainly. But the very first thing that happened was somebody stabbed it in the chest. Not shoot it in the head. Stabbed it in the chest.”

Jay thought about that for a moment. “You’re right.”

“Who stabbed it in the chest?”

Jay thought for a moment longer, and then understanding finally seemed to dawn behind his eyes. He turned and cast a glance toward the clearing, and then back at Eli. He realized he didn’t even need to say it now, but the word fell out of him anyway.

“Gabriel.”

Eli was nodding his head sagely, as though he had fully expected the answer.

“There’s something else,” said Jay.

This caught Eli’s attention. He looked at Jay with surprise. “There is?”

Jay nodded solemnly. “When we first entered that room were you guys were being held captive, that vampire shouted ‘You!’ I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I mean, beyond it being weird that a zombie could speak. Later, I just assumed he must have been about to say something more, or maybe just meant the general ‘you,’ like he was angry at all of us for interrupting him.”

“But…” Eli prompted.

“But he was looking directly at Gabriel when he said it.”

Eli felt his blood run cold. He turned away from his friend and stared at the preacher. His body seemed to move on autopilot as he closed the distance between himself and the older man.

Gabriel noticed his approach and nodded in greeting. “Ah, Eli,” he said. “It’s good to…”

Eli pulled back, and then punched the preacher in the face.

Gabriel was knocked on his butt, more by surprise than by the actual physical force of the blow. He grabbed his face where the blow landed, as if too shocked to understand why his cheek now hurt.

Eli raised a hand to strike the man again, but the others quickly grabbed him by the arms and pulled him away. “Let me go!” he shouted, fighting against them. “Let me go!”

“Eli! What the hell’s wrong with you?” demanded Amber.

“He’s a goddamn liar!” shouted Eli. “He’s known about the vampires all along!”

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