Better off Undead

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Chapter 52: God Told me to Kill

For a long moment, the woods were disturbingly silent. Everyone stood stock still, staring at Eli as the words of his revelation sank in.

“That’s… that’s impossible…” Amber started to protest, but her voice was quiet, meek.

Gabriel rubbed his cheek and started to say, “Eli, I don’t know…”

That was as far as he got before Eli started shouting. “Shut up! Shut up! You lying bastard! You killed that vampire. You came prepared to kill that vampire. There’s no way you could have done that unless you already knew about them! You bastard!”

As he shouted he once again resumed trying to pull himself free from the arms restraining him. This seemed to snap some of the others out of their shock and they tightened their grips to hold him in place.

“What the hell are you talking about, Eli?” Aliyah demanded. “You’re the one who killed the vampire.”

“No!” Eli hissed with such force that spit flew from his mouth. “Not just now! I’m talking back at that town. When me and the others had been taken hostage. Our captor was a vampire. But none of us knew that at the time. None of us knew that any such thing even existed! But Gabriel here joined the rescue party, something very odd for just some preacher man to do, and he came prepared. He came with a wooden stake, and immediately drove it into the creature’s heart. Any one of us would have shot it in the head. But he stabbed it in the heart with a wooden stake.”

Aliyah and Mac exchanged glances, and then everyone turned to stare down at the preacher.

“Gabriel…?” Aliyah prompted, as though she were too afraid to even voice the actual question.

“I… I don’t…” Gabriel started to protest, shaking his head as he stared from one person in the group to another. It didn’t take him long to realize no one was really buying it. He stopped and his shoulders drooped as he let out a long sigh of defeat.

“Fine,” he said, rising to his feet. “You got me. I knew about the vampires before any of you did.”

“Why the hell didn’t you tell us?” demanded Eli, the only one of the group mentally prepared to respond to this revelation.

“Because…” Gabriel began, but his voice trailed off as he again looked between each member of the group. He took a deep breath and let it out. “Because I wasn’t supposed to.”

“Are you even a real preacher?” Daina asked, coming around from behind him to meet his gaze. “If you had married me and Daniel, would it even have been binding?”

Gabriel scoffed, and when he spoke again, there was a tinge of annoyance in his voice. “Yes, I am a real preacher. I am a fully ordained Catholic priest. But preaching is somewhat… incidental to my purpose in the church. I… I belong to a secret sect. One that has known of the existence of vampires for a thousand years. Though, we never actually called them vampires. We called them demons. We are the order that fights back the demons and restores God’s light to His creation. We are the reason that the vampires hide in caves hibernating. Every now and then, one wakes and cannot resist the urge to rise and feed. I was chasing one of these through Texas when the outbreak occurred. I believe it was the same one you are speaking of, the one you saw me kill.”

Gabriel paused and for a moment there was quiet. Eli couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He glanced around to the others, and saw that they had similar levels of disbelief readable on their faces.

“Why would you keep this a secret?” Jay asked. “The vampires and the order?”

Gabriel shrugged. “Old rules of the church. My understanding is that they did not want to cause any panic among the flock, especially considering we seemed to have the situation under control. And we did have it under control. Until Paul and his compatriots unleashed this Hell upon the earth.”

Eli, who finally had his limbs freed, crossed his arms and cast Gabriel a doubtful look. “And why did you keep it from us?”

The priest frowned, his entire face creasing with the look. “I get it,” he said. “You don’t think you can trust me anymore. You’re no longer sure if I should be allowed to travel with you. But you need me. You should really understand that now more than ever. I am a warrior who has been trained my entire life to face the creatures of the night. Compared to me, you’re a bunch of amateurs who stumbled in shoulder-deep to something you could never possibly understand. I am your best chance of defeating these monsters and coming back alive.”

Eli crossed his arms, scoffing. “Well, you’re right about one thing. How could we possibly trust you now?”

“Isn’t that a little harsh Eli?” Amber asked, turning to face him.

Eli’s eyes nearly bulged out of his skull. “What?”

“So he lied. It was a pretty reasonable lie. It wasn’t his decision to keep the order a secret. Be he belongs to it and he clearly swore an oath to protect it, so it was his duty to keep the secret. Besides, it’s not like he had information that would have actually helped us. It’s not like he could have known we’d actually run into a vampire.”

Eli’s sneer deepened, but in truth he didn’t have much of an argument for her. “Well, I’m still not sure he should go with us,” he muttered.

“We probably should have someone take the blood samples we’ve gathered back to Paul,” chimed in Aliyah. “Perhaps he could do that?”

Gabriel was shaking his head. “It would be incredibly foolish of you to send me away now, when an assault on the vampire base is all that could possibly be left.”

“He’s right,” Jay said. He turned to Eli and then motioned at the mass of zombie bodies lying motionless at their feet. “If we’re going to hope to survive that nightmare cave, I want the super badass monster hunter with us when we go.”

Eli knew he was outnumbered, and let out a sigh of defeat. “Fine,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “He can come. But then, who’s gonna take the samples back to Paul?”

“I’ll do it,” Mac said, before anyone else could speak up. They all turned to look at him with surprise, but he just shrugged. “I never did get much used to workin’ with a group. And we can’t afford to send too many a’us back at once. So… I’ll do it.”

“You’re sure?” asked Eli.

Mac just gave another shrug of his broad shoulders and said, “Like you said, it’s not like I’m definitely getting’ the easy job. Who knows what’s out there between here and home?”

There was a long moment of awkward silence as everyone felt like they should protest, but no one else really wanted to take the job, either. So eventually they all just nodded their heads in agreement. Jay handed him the case and then shook his hand.

“Good luck,” he said.

“Thanks,” replied Mac.

“Come on,” said Eli, waving everybody on. “We could at least give him a ride to another vehicle.”

They returned to the SUV and climbed inside. Within moments they were headed back in the direction of the neighborhoods from the night before. Despite knowing that there were working cars in the gated community, none of them particularly wanted another view of the carnage there, so instead they found another abandoned neighborhood.

It didn’t take them long to find another working car with a full enough tank of gas. They let Mac take one of their spare gas canisters and helped him pack up what little he had brought with him, and then they each took turns shaking his hand and saying goodbye. Nobody really knew the man that well – he had always been a very quiet and tranquil person – so nobody really had anything thoughtful or emotional to say. Instead, the farewells were terse and polite, and within a few moments he was gone.

They watched him as he drove off, and then they turned to get back into the SUV. As the others climbed in, Daina stood back an extra moment, clutching her arms tightly around her chest. As Eli was about to climb up into the vehicle, she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back and away from the others.

“What?” he asked, glaring at her with confusion. “What is it?”

Daina took a deep breath and seemed to steady herself, as though what she was about to say took great effort. “Eli… I… When… when you were talking to that kid. You know, the one back at the house? Who was with those… those…”

“The preppers?” Eli offered.

She swallowed hard and nodded. “Yes. Them. When we were about to leave. I heard you say something to him. Something about… about how… the wolves would be out again tonight?” She said “wolves” very slowly and awkwardly, as though the very word was leaving a bad taste in her mouth.

Eli nodded. “That’s right.”

“How do…” she paused, her eyes darting as she frantically searched for the right words. “How do we know that he isn’t one of them?”

Eli frowned. “One of who? The wolves?” She nodded. He considered that, glancing thoughtfully into the distance over her shoulder. Finally, he shrugged and said, “I hadn’t thought of that. I guess it’s possible.”

“How would he become a wolf?”

Eli couldn’t help but narrow his eyes. He had a hard time discerning where exactly this conversation was going. “Well, I don’t know, I mean, the theory is that the full moon…”

“No,” she cut him off. “Not that. I mean, initially? How does he first become one of those… those… things?”

“Oh. Well, uh, it’s much like a zombie or vampire, I suppose. Bites or scratches usually are said to do the trick. Assuming you survive the initial attack. Unlike zombies and vampires, werewolves aren’t undead.”

“So… so if he was scratched last night, and we sent him back to his family… he might be putting them in danger?”

Eli nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, I suppose. Hadn’t thought of that. Guess it’s not important now, though.” He started to turn back to the car but again she grabbed him and pulled him around to face her.

“When?” she demanded.

Eli crossed his arms and let the doubt show through clearly on his features. “‘When’ what?”

“When would he turn? If he was scratched last night, when would he turn?”

Eli let out an exasperated sigh and shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve told you guys. Werewolf literature isn’t very consistent. I’m not sure why it matters. There’s not really anything we can do about it. And we should probably get as far out of the area as we can before the werewolves come back.”

“When, Eli?” Daina snapped, grabbing him by the arm a third time, her fingers squeezing so tight they cut off his circulation. “I know you know! Or have a theory. Tell me!”

By now, their conversation had drawn the attention of the others, and they had once again departed from the SUV and were gathering around.

“Eli?” Amber asked, tentatively. “What’s going on?”

Eli shook his head. “I… I don’t really know.”

“Just answer the damn question, Eli!” barked Daina.

“I told you, I don’t…” he started again, but Amber backhanded him, hard, in the shoulder.

“Stop being an ass,” she warned him.

Eli glared at her, but he relented. “Fine. A lot of the time it’s assumed you won’t turn until the next full moon cycle. But I think that’s a bunch of bull. My thoughts are that the moon doesn’t have to be completely full for a transformation to occur, just close. And so, as long as you’re not bitten on the last night of the cycle, then you could turn as early as the next night. Now, can we go before we have to test this theory?”

Daina finally dropped her hand, letting Eli go. She withdrew a step, and the hand she had been using to hold Eli in place now crossed across her breast and grabbed lightly onto her left shoulder.

Something about that motion triggered something in Eli’s brain. Earlier, when she and Gabriel were being attacked by zombies in that clearing, she had been sitting on the ground with her arm across her body in the same way. And all three times she had grabbed him, it had been with her right hand only. And the entire time, her left arm had hung by her side, limply. And the night before, the werewolf that had knocked her to the ground…

In a flash, he finally realized what this was all about.

“Daina…” he whispered, weakly. Her head was lowered, but she glanced sideways and met his eyes, and in that look he could see he was right. “Oh, oh Daina. I’m sorry. I… I didn’t…”

“What?” Amber asked, confused. “What is it?”

Eli stepped over to Daina and raised his hands to her shirt collar. He again met her gaze, and she nodded meekly before turning her head away. Eli cautiously lifted the collar of her shirt and pulled it back across her shoulder.

“Eli, what are you doing?” Amber started to ask, reaching, to his surprise, for her gun.

Eli stepped to the side and revealed to the rest of the group what he already, horribly, knew. On Daina’s shoulder was an improvised bandage made out of her shirt from the night before as well some tissues and cotton.

They were all covered in blood.

Amber gasped. Jay and Aliyah’s mouths both fell open like their hinges had been broken. Gabriel’s eyes grew wet but his face grew stern.

“Daina, no…” Amber said, but knew immediately that any words were inadequate in that moment.

“You need to leave me here,” said Daina, surprisingly stoically.

“No,” Amber protested, shaking her head. “No. We can’t.”

“You have to,” Daina said. She stepped away from Eli and placed her hand on the other woman’s shoulder. “I am a danger to you now.”

“No!” Now Amber was shouting, and she backed away from the others. “No! You haven’t turned yet! We can’t just give up on you! We don’t know that you’ll turn!”

“We know that she’ll turn,” Eli said softly, in as calming a tone as he could muster. “We just don’t know when.”

“No! I don’t believe that. I refuse to believe that! There must be something we can do. A cure. There’s gotta be a cure. Eli must know a cure. Eli knows all this shit. He must know a cure!”

Eli, however, was shaking his head sadly. “There is no cure.”

“No!” Amber stomped over to him and began pounding her fists on his chest. “Don’t say that. Never say that. There has to be a cure.”

Eli simply stood there, silent, letting her work out her frustration. Eventually she lowered her head into his chest and he could tell she was weeping as she continued her feeble protests.

Daina stepped over and pulled Amber away, wrapping the other woman in a hug. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ll be okay. Eli says I’ll still be alive, not undead like the zombies.”

“It’s not right,” Amber sobbed. “You shouldn’t even be here. You weren’t even one of the volunteers.”

“But I am here,” Daina said. “And it has happened. And… I’m strangely… okay with it. I feel… fine. I really do. But you need to go. All of you need to go before I turn. Before I become one of them.”

So for a second time that night they all found themselves saying goodbye once again. This departure was much more emotional for the group, especially to Amber, who had apparently become very affectionate toward the other woman. At long last, they all climbed into the SUV, waving one last goodbye to their friend, and then drove away.

Daina stood there and watched them depart until they finally disappeared into the distance, and then she sat down on the ground and started to weep.

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