Better off Undead

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Chapter 56: The Cave

Eli was… confused.

After he had stumbled into the cave, it took him some time to realize what a monumentally stupid thing that had been to do. In the video, the army men had entered the cave prepared, carrying military grade flashlights to fight back the darkness of the underground. Eli didn’t have so much as a cellphone flashlight. And yet, he wasn’t just stumbling blindly around the emptiness.

The cave, it turned out, was surprisingly well lit.

It wasn’t lit with torches, either. They weren’t lining the walls like he had somehow stepped through a portal in time and space into a medieval castle. Instead, the walls were lined through and through with electric light. Recessed lighting, even. It was as though someone had gone through a great deal of effort to make the cave feel like a home.

Eli couldn’t help but wonder if the lighting had been there when the soldiers in the video had come. Or was it that the vampires were fully willing to enjoy modern comforts, but had needed to wait until technology had improved to a certain point when filling a cave with electric lights was significantly more feasible?

Or - and this was the thought that was truly disturbing to Eli - was it that before the video had been filmed, the vampires had been hibernating? Perhaps sleeping off centuries of hunger hidden away in the caves? Gabriel had suggested something along those lines, that vampires tended to sleep until the hunger woke them and proved too great for them to return to their hibernation. Had the soldiers, by the mere fact of entering the caves, woken all of the vampires, and consequently made them aware of all the changes of the modern century?

Had they poked a sleeping dragon?

The strange question of the lighting wasn’t all that was confusing Eli, either. He was also confused by just how empty the cave was. He had expected to find it absolutely crawling with zombies. Or, failing that, absolutely crawling with vampires. Instead, he came across nobody. Not the living, dead, or undead.

He realized it was entirely possible that, like in the video, all the monsters were hiding somewhere deeper in the cave. But it seemed all the more strange that the upper portions of the cave were so well lit if nobody was venturing around in them.

And, really, why did vampires need light, anyway?

Something moved in the corner of his vision, and Eli dropped to a crouch. He felt a little silly doing it, realizing that he was out in the center of the room and there wasn’t much in the way of cover or shadows for hiding. Not for the first time he cursed himself for not having had the foresight to gather any weapons from the crash site. He didn’t even have his trusty baseball bats. At least he had, largely on unnoticed impulse, picked up a sturdy looking bit of a fallen branch before entering the cave. But that was all he had, and calling that a weapon was being rather generous.

His eyes darted around the shadows in the corner of the room, mining the darkness between the stalactites for any signs of the movement he had seen a moment ago.

“Eli?”

His blood froze for the split second between hearing the voice and recognizing the speaker. His eyes went wide once he realized who had spoken, but it took him a moment to calm his beating heart before he could react.

Straightening, he looked in the direction of the voice. “Aliyah?”

She stepped from the shadows, a wooden spike in either hand. Aside from a fairly nasty looking gash on the left side of her forehead, she looked mostly the same as when he had seen her last. She raised her weapons and eyed him suspiciously.

“Are you… are you one of them?” she asked, inching very slowly towards him, letting the spikes lead her.

Eli looked hurt. “Hey, come on. I’m not that white.”

She sighed with annoyance but lowered her arms. “Yeah, pretty sure that’s you,” she said.

He stepped over to her so he could speak to her in hushed tones. “I thought you were dead.”

She shrugged. “I thought the same of you. I was only out for a second. The gargoyles started grabbing everyone up, but I managed to avoid them and hide in a ditch. They gave up after a minute and flew off. I didn’t see much, but I know they grabbed Amber.”

“Shit,” said Eli. His promise to Marshall was echoing hollowly in his head. “I managed to get out of a window and fell into a stream. It washed me up some distance from the wreck. I guess the gargoyles either didn’t notice me or didn’t care.”

She eyed the stick in his hand. “Is… that the only weapon you have?”

Eli shrugged, face red with embarrassment. “Uh, yeah.”

“Here,” she said. She pulled her backpack around to her front side and retrieved a couple more stakes and a bottle of water. This last item Eli held up with an inquisitive look. “It’s holy water,” she explained. “Gabriel prepared a bunch the other day.”

“Oh,” Eli nodded. “Well. That’s good.” He cleared his throat and looked around. “So, no sign of the others?”

She shook her head. “No. I’ve just been wandering around pretty lost in here. No idea which way to go.”

“Well, I think I entered the same place the soldiers did in the video,” Eli explained, still looking around. He then pointed down a branch of the cave. “I’m pretty sure that’s the way they went.”

“I guess that’s the way we need to go,” Aliyah said.

They took a single step but then immediately stopped. A strange scraping sound filled the air.

They looked around frantically trying to pinpoint the origin of the noise. Eli figured it out first. He pointed down a long hallway not far away and they moved quickly over to the entrance. Peering down the corridor, all they could see was the corridor twisting off to the left out of view, and some ways before it started curving a small branching path leading off to the right. Eli motioned for Aliyah to wait for him, and then took a couple quiet, cautious steps down the hallway.

There was a flash of movement just at the edge of his vision down the left corridor.

Eli dodged quickly into the right-side branch hallway and pressed his back up against the wall. The noise continued unabated, so Eli let out his breath, convinced he hadn’t been spotted.

He caught Aliyah’s eye. Placing his hands in front of his face, he angled them in what he hoped looked like a teeth shape and then made a biting down motion with them. She just stared at him with a confused look.

Sighing in frustration he put his palms together and spread his hands out so they formed a “V” shape. Aliyah shook her head, still not understanding. Eli made some frantic motions of anger, but then took a deep breath and calmed down. In desperation, he tried to use his entire body to spell out “V-A-M-P-I-R-E” like he was a cheerleader at Vampire High.

Aliyah finally nodded her head with understanding.

Next Eli spread his fingers into a “V” shape again, but then waved his hand back and forth between himself and Aliyah, trying to indicate that each finger meant each of them. He then “walked” the fingers of his other hand between the V shape. Then he made a little hoping motion, and finally jabbed the air with one of his spikes.

Aliyah gave him a puzzled look, but nodded her head as though she understood.

It was going to have to be good enough. The scraping noise was getting very close now. Eli pressed his back against the wall, preparing to spring.

Suddenly, the noise stopped.

“Not planning on surprising me, I hope,” an unfamiliar female voice said. “Even if I couldn’t smell the blood leaking from your open wounds, I’m guessing neither of you have bathed in days. You absolutely reek.”

Eli froze. He had not anticipated this, and didn’t know how to respond. Maybe she was bluffing, but that didn’t really make sense. Not unless she always randomly went around seemingly empty caves and announcing to no one that she had detected ghosts. Or maybe she didn’t notice him and Aliyah, but rather two other people? Not likely. His shoulders slumped. Without the element of surprise, facing a vampire would be a lot more dangerous.

He stepped out around the corner.

A female vampire was standing there, her fangs bared, holding onto Jay, who was tied down to a chair, by the hair. She was poised inches from his neck, mouth open and ready to bite.

Jay was looking a little dazed. His eyes were rolling around wildly and his head was bobbing this way and that. His gaze settled on Eli and he smiled wide. “Hey-ey, buddy!” he exclaimed, seemingly oblivious of his situation. “What up?”

“Stay back,” warned the vampire lady.

“It’s okay,” said Eli holding out his right hand palm open and forward. In his left hand he held a spike, and he slowly lowered it to the ground. “It’s okay. I’m not threatening you, see? I’m putting the spike down.”

To his chagrin, she didn’t relax, but rather tightened her grip. “Tell your friend to back off, too,” she said.

Eli’s eyes widened. Aliyah had been slowly stepping out of cover to sneak towards the vampire from behind. He had no idea how the vampire was able to tell, but as Aliyah took another step the vampire moved her mouth still closer to Jay’s neck.

“I mean it!” she warned.

“You can’t bite me,” Jay said, chuckling absently. “I’m covered in holy water, remember?”

Eli and Aliyah’s eyes met, and then they both quickly advanced a couple steps. The vampire straightened and wrapped her arms around Jay’s head. “I can still snap his neck,” she warned.

“And give up your meal?” Eli asked doubtfully.

“You want to find out?” she challenged.

Eli did not. He backed off a step.

Suddenly, there was a whistle, followed by a “thunk.” The vampire straightened further, eyes wide in shock. She opened her mouth as if to say something, and then her body went slack. She slumped to the floor, dead.

A wooden shaft was sticking out of her back.

Eli whistled appreciatively. “Damn, Aliyah,” he said. “Good throw.”

Aliyah, though, was looking around with confusion in her eyes. “That wasn’t me,” she explained.

Eli knelt down and got a better look at the shaft sticking out of the dead vampire’s back. “You’re right,” he said. “This looks like… like an arrow.”

He looked up at Aliyah, who looked back at him, and then he stood up and looked around.

“Gabriel?” he called out, a little hesitantly.

“Why would he be hiding?” Aliyah asked, eyebrows furrowing in puzzlement.

“Uh, guys, still tied to a chair,” said Jay.

“Oh, right!” Eli stepped back to his entrapped friend. “You go look for Gabriel,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ll get him free.”

“Got it,” Aliyah agreed, and then disappeared into the shadows.

After she was gone, a thought occurred to Eli. “Uh, Gabriel wasn’t with you wherever you just came from, was he?”

Jay narrowed his brow as if concentrating really hard. “Nope,” he answered cheerfully. “Just Amber.”

Eli froze midway through loosening a knot. For some reason, he found it suddenly hard to breath. “Amber?” he echoed.

“Yup.” Jay nodded his head overly emphatically. “Amber and some Vampire dude.”

“Vampire dude?” Eli repeated.

“Echo,” Jay called into the cave. There was no echo back.

Eli turned and ran down the cave back the way Jay had come from.

“Oi!” Jay yelled after him in annoyance. “I’m still tied up, ya d-bag!”

If Eli heard his friend, he gave no indication. His thoughts were singular as he raced at top speed deeper into the cave. The corridor came to an end at a door way and he burst through it. Inside was a large dining table, several chairs like the one Jay had been tied to, and about a dozen zombie bodies, but no Amber.

A trail of dead zombies lead from the table, across the room, and out past a broken down door. Eli took off running in this direction. For a time, the distance between corpses kept growing greater and greater until he reached a stretch where there was nothing at all for over a minute.

And then he saw her.

His breath caught in his throat despite the great big gulps of air he was needing to take from the exertion.

She was sitting down, her back to a rock, her head bowed low, her hair hanging over her face.

“Amber?” he whispered, his voice a tiny mouse squeak as he took an unsteady step closer to her.

She jerked up straight, holding out what looked like a red butter knife and pointing it at him as though it were a deadly weapon. The knife, he realized, was silver. It was just soaked in blood.

“Eli!” she exclaimed, dropping the knife.

He was at her in half a millisecond, crouching down over her and cupping her face in his hands, pawing at her flesh as if to verify her solidity. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” he kept repeating. “Are you okay?”

She grabbed at his hands and held them away, smiling meekly at him. “They told me you were dead,” she said.

He shook his head. “I thought all of you died and I was the only one that survived. But it seems we all survived. Everyone is okay. Well, mostly okay. I mean, I think Jay might have a concussion and Aliyah has a nasty gash on her forehead and I probably have at least one broken rib…”

“Eli,” Amber interjected, trying to cut him off.

“…and a bunch of cuts and I haven’t actually seen Gabriel yet…”

“Eli. Eli!” When he finally stopped speaking she took a deep breath and then looked him directly in the eyes. “I need you to do something for me.”

“Sure,” he said, nodding his head eagerly. “Anything.”

She reached around behind her and then pulled forth a gun. “Here,” she said. “I found this. I need you to take it.”

Eli held out his hand before he fully realized what he was doing and she dropped the weapon into his waiting grasp. He didn’t move, but instead just stared quizzically at the pistol for a long moment.

“O… kay…” he said slowly. “And… uh… why?”

“I need you to shoot me in the head.”

Eli felt his heart stop and his jaw fall open. He continued staring at the gun, no longer out of confusion but because he couldn’t bring himself to look at her again.

“Wha… what… why? Why would I do that?”

Amber grabbed her shirt by the waist and slowly rolled it up, wincing as she moved. As the cloth peeled away, it revealed a chunk of flesh was missing from her side. The torn skin was perfectly sized and shaped for a human mouth.

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