Better off Undead

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Chapter 59: Deal with the Devil

Eli looked his companions over. They were all holding themselves like their limbs were fragile, each standing with their weight on only one side. Their faces were swollen and skin, wherever it showed, was cut or showing the beginnings of bruises. They all looked like they’d just been through a back alley brawl, and it hadn’t gone so well.

“What have you done to them?”

“Done?” The vampire queen echoed, sounding offended. “Why, nothing, of course. Beyond what was necessary to pacify them. And it will remain that way if you cooperate.”

Eli’s eyes darted back and forth rapidly between his friends and the vampire. “Cooperate? How?”

“Put down the weapon and come quietly.”

Eli tried to flex his fingers around the impromptu wooden spike in his hand, but they were still too crushed for much response. “If… if I put this down, you have no reason not to kill me.”

The vampire queen placed her hands on her hips, her face filling with impatience. “Haven’t you been listening? We’re not wanting to kill you. We want you alive. Now put. The weapon. Down.”

Eli hesitated, glancing around the room as if measuring out his options. “I… I can’t…” he started to say.

The vampire queen sighed and raised a razor-sharp dagger of a fingernail up to Aliyah’s throat and pressed down until a small dot of blood appeared. “I don’t want to hurt your friends,” she said, “but I will.”

“No! No, wait! I mean it! I… I can’t put it down. You crushed my hand. I can’t open it now.”

“So use your other hand to force it.”

Eli took a step back, hesitantly, but one look at Aliyah and he knew he had no choice. Moving slowly and deliberately to avoid alarm, Eli brought his good arm around and pried his fingers open. The broken piece of chair arm clattered noisily to the rocky ground.

“Good. Now join the others.”

Eli didn’t move. “What are you planning on doing with us?”

The vampire queen ignored him, turning away and surveilling the room. She waved one hand vaguely in Eli’s direction. “Put him with the others,” she said.

A couple vampires grabbed him by the arms and started walking him over to the others.

“Wait,” said the vampire queen suddenly. She turned back to Eli, and then waved her hand, motioning to the rest of the room. “Did you do all of this?”

For a moment, Eli stood completely still. Slowly, he turned and studied the vampire, trying to determine the motive behind her question.

“Did you kill all these…” she nudged one of the zombies with her toe, “these beasts?”

He blinked. If she was asking, then for some reason she didn’t know about Amber. And for some reason, he decided he wanted it to stay that way. “Yes,” he lied. “Single handed.”

To his surprise, she actually looked impressed. “Well, aren’t you the resourceful one? I saw how you handled yourself against my children.” She paused and knelt down over the last of the vampires Eli had killed, looking sad and gently caressing the lifeless creature’s face. “Even my most trusted left hand. Perhaps we could use one such as yourself.”

Eli’s eyes narrowed. “Use?”

She turned and smiled at him. “Silly boy. Don’t you understand? I’m offering you a chance to join us.”

Eli scoffed. “Join you? You can’t be serious.”

“Would you really rather have a future as livestock?”

He turned and looked to the others. They met his eyes evenly. “To be on the side of good?” he asked. “Yeah.”

The vampire queen threw back her head and let out a single, piercing, “Ha!” She met his gaze again, looking more amused than anything. “Good? Is that what you’d call it? Is that really how you see this? Humans as good and me and my kind as evil?”

“You feed on innocents,” Eli sneered. “You plague humanity in the dark like living nightmares…”

“Enough,” she said, holding up her hand to silence him. “Yes, we’ve done some bad things, I will grant you that. But we have done only what we needed to survive. We have only fed as our hunger demands. Never more. And for that we have been hunted down like animals by your kind. Because we hunger, and must eat, you have driven us to the dark and killed us by the dozens. Just look at your little troop here. You come in here, to our cave, unprovoked, and start killing our kind left and right. How many of us did you kill? And what did we ever do to you?”

“Hey, you knocked us out and brought us here,” Jay started to protest, taking a step forward, but one of the vampires backhanded him in the mouth. He stumbled back in line, holding his face in his hands.

“Yes,” the queen said, nodding, “We brought you here. Two, and only two, of you. And we offered to make you like us, the greatest gift we can offer. And this,” she spread her hands out to either side of her, “is your response. Slaughter. And you justify it by saying you’re on the side of good. So… human.”

Eli’s jaw was hard, his eyes fiery, his face red with anger, but he had no response for her.

She continued. “Answer me this: who brought about the end of the world? Was it us? We didn’t do this. Humanity did. This has always been humanity’s goal: the destruction of itself. You have ruined your planet, destroyed your home. You have built bigger and more destructive weapons to kill each other with. And when you built weapons so big you could completely destroy yourselves with them, were you satisfied? No. You kidnapped one of my children. You tortured him, and bled him, and experimented on him until you had created these… these… abominations. These aberrations! This disgusting crossbreed that isn’t my kind or yours, but something in between. And that’s what ended your world. Not my kind ‘plaguing’ you, but your kind plaguing itself.

“And with so few of you left, so few for us to feast on, to survive with, it has become time that we reemerged into the world. It has come time for us to save humanity from itself. We are not the villains of this story, young one. We are the heroes. We will correct the mistakes of the past, of humanity, and we will save all life on this planet from being extinguished.

“You want to be on the side of right? Then join me. Be by my side, forever, and together we can mold what is left of humanity into serviceable cattle, and bring all creatures created by this disease under my control.” She held her hand out to him, as if expecting him to take it. “You have the chance to start over from the beginning and do it right.”

“Fat chance, witch!” said Jay. “No one in their right minds would be tempted by you.”

“Maybe she’s right,” said Eli, turning to face the others. Their eyes went wide as they stared at him in disbelief.

“Eli, you can’t mean that,” said Aliyah.

He shrugged. “Maybe I do. I mean, come on. Even before all of humanity was zombies, I avoided them like they were. And not out of shyness. It was out of hate. I hated them. All of them. All the greedy politicians putting power and money over their constituents. All the corporate douchebags running the world and stacking the cards so the poor and the weak have to suffer. The churches lulling the stupid into a false sense of security, convincing them that ‘it’s okay to suffer in life. You’ll be rewarded once you’re dead.’ Well, now we’ve seen that reward, and it walks on two legs and rots in the sun. If I’m being honest, the reason, the real and only reason, I was even doing any of this, was to be close to Amber. And now… now she’s,” his voice cracked, and he had to clear his throat to continue, “she’s dead.”

He could see the surprise on their faces at this news, but nobody said anything about it. “Without her,” he continued, “I just can’t see a reason to go on fighting. So why not let the vampires win?”

“And let human civilization end?” challenged Gabriel. “Even God said he’d spare a village he marked for destruction if but one innocent soul was found within its walls. Would you really condemn the majority of good people for the evils of the few?”

“I’m not God, Gabriel,” Eli spat. “That much is obvious to everyone. So really, yes, I would. We’ve been a civilization for twelve thousand years, and all we’ve done is ruin everything. Maybe it’s time to give the vampires twelve thousand years of trying and see if they can do any better.”

“Besides,” said the female vampire, stepping in closer, “we aren’t condemning you all to death. The quiet, the complacent, the obedient, will be bred. They will survive. Only the rebellious, the corrosive, the destructive will be fed upon. Selective breeding, done right.”

“You are vile,” Gabriel said, staring her straight in the eye. She only smiled in response.

“See there?” said Eli. “So humans will be all right.”

“You would really sacrifice all of humanity to these… demons?” Gabriel demanded.

“Screw the rest of humanity,” Jay bit out. “You’d really sacrifice me to these bastards? I thought we were friends.”

Eli shot Jay a funny look. “Just this morning you called me an asshole.”

“Yeah, you know. In an… affectionate way.”

Eli’s expression grew doubtful. “Well, then, consider me doing this… out of affection. I’m guaranteeing you stay alive. I’m guaranteeing humanity survives. With the vampires protecting them, they won’t have to fight zombies anymore. Life won’t just be a matter of survival against insurmountable odds anymore. Everyone will be treated equally for the first time in history.”

“That’s not really my idea of equality,” Aliyah retorted.

“Enough!” Eli waved his hand dismissively and stepped over to the vampire queen. “I have made my decision. I am yours.”

The queen smiled. She ran a hand almost lovingly down his face, as though she already thought of him, too, as one of her children. “Of course you are, dear. Because you’re smart enough to see who is really on the right side of history.” She turned her head and waved at some of her men. “Take the prisoners to the camp,” she said.

Turning, she pointed at two others. “You,” she said, “and you. Come with me.” She turned back to Eli and smiled sweetly. “And you, too, of course.”

Eli didn’t immediately move to obey. He watched as the vampires dragged off the others. They fought a little, but mostly let themselves be moved. They didn’t have much other choice.

“Remember,” he called to them, “don’t resist. Obedience will be rewarded.”

“Resist this!” Jay snarled, and flipped Eli off as a vampire pushed the young man through the exit.

Despite himself, Eli felt a smile tug at the corner of his lips. He did his best to bite it down. Turning away from his departing friends, he found the vampire queen standing by another open doorway, waiting for him.

“They will be fine,” she assured him.

“I don’t really care,” Eli responded, coldly, and stepped over to follow her out of the room.

She led him down several long and twisting corridors, always heading, he noted, in an upwards direction. The place was eerily silent and empty, as though it had been abandoned. He commented on this to the vampire queen, and he heard her make a small, breathy noise that sounded to him almost like chuckling.

“It is,” she replied. “These caves were our home for centuries, but they were only ever meant to hide us away while we hibernated. We hid here. Now it’s little more than a shameful reminder of our past. A past where we let down humanity, let down the world. Where we didn’t take our rightful place as rulers of this planet. Where we let humanity’s disease grow and fester. We have come to realize that if we are to truly run things now, we need to rejoin the rest of the world.”

She said nothing more as she continued leading him through the cave. Finally they stepped around a corner. Immediately the light increased and Eli could feel fresh air on his face. She led him up to the mouth of the cave and then stopped, just inside of the line of shadow. She turned to him and motioned at the opening.

“Please,” she said.

Eli eyed her with the slightest hint of suspicion, but hesitated only a moment before stepping past her into the light.

Outside, the world was beautiful. The sun was setting, the red light painting vivid purples and pinks across the sky. The surrounding mountains and trees stretching out below him were brilliantly highlighted. He was standing on a slight ledge just outside the mouth of the cave. There was no path leading down, just a sudden drop. He took a deep breath, and waited for someone to push him off to his doom.

When nobody did, he turned back around and cast a questioning glance.

“Once you are one of us, you will never be able to view the sun again without extreme and intense pain,” the queen explained. “This will be your last sunset. Ever. I wanted to give you the chance to enjoy it.”

Eli nodded thoughtfully. He hadn’t considered that. He turned back to the sunset and let himself enjoy the view until the sun had gone down and the still mostly full moon started to rise. In the distance, through the darkness, he could see the black outline of several large trucks driving away from the mountain.

“There go your friends,” said the vampire queen, stepping up next to him.

“They were never really my friends,” Eli replied, calmly.

She smiled at him, and he got the sense that she was only humoring him, but he said nothing about it.

He cleared his throat, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. “So… how’s this work then? How do I… become a vampire?”

She turned away to stare at the moon. “First, we bite you,” she said. “Drain you of much of your blood. You will become sick, weak, and anemic. Slowly your strength will return to you, and you will begin craving blood. At that point you will need to feed. Only then will you be one of us.”

“Oh,” was all Eli could think to respond.

“Why do you call us that?”

Eli started in surprise at the unexpected question, and turned to look at the queen. “Call you what?” he asked.

“Vampire.”

Eli frowned, thinking about it, and after a moment could only offer a shrug. “I don’t know. You’re hurt by sunlight, you drink blood, you’re killed by wooden stakes and hurt by holy water. Sounds like a vampire to me.”

She nodded absently. “Yes, I see.”

“What do you call yourselves?”

She shook her head. “Honestly, we hadn’t thought about it too much. We always thought of ourselves as ‘the people.’ As we were the first. The first to… civilize anyway. Sometimes we call ourselves the Udugh, as that is what your first people, the Sumerians, called us. We never really thought of ourselves as vampires.”

Eli shrugged. “Yeah, well, it’s a better name than ‘Udugh.’”

She smiled, but said nothing further.

Letting out a sigh, Eli pulled down his shirt and exposed his neck. “All right,” he said, “let’s get this over with.”

“Oh, I won’t be biting you,” she replied, amusement in her tone. She turned and waved toward the two vampires she had ordered to come with them. “They will.” She began walking back toward the cave.

“You know,” said Eli, stopping her in her tracks. Eli frowned, taking a deep breath and letting it out. His last conversation with Amber was ringing in his head. “You’re just like them.”

The vampire queen hesitated, and then turned to look at him. She smiled pleasantly, but there was a confusion in her eyes. “I’m sorry? As who?”

“Humans,” he answered. He stepped in toward her, closing the gap a little.

“Really? How so?”

Eli moved in microscopically closer. “Arrogance,” he replied. “You have the same arrogance as humans.”

Her eyebrows furrowed, and anger began to show just a little through her perfect features. Her voice was hard and stern now. “What do you mean?”

He moved still closer.

“Well, you. You were so convinced of your superiority. So sure of your argument. So absolutely convinced in the hold you had over me.”

Closer.

Her eyebrows narrowed with suspicion. “Are you saying you don’t agree with me about humans?”

“Oh, I agree with you about humans. One hundred percent.”

“So what’s the problem?”

He shook his head. “No problem. No problem at all.”

He was so close now, they could feel each other’s breath. His was warm and foul, hers cold but like perfume. For a moment he only stood there, breathing her scent like he was drinking it.

He reached up, and jabbed into her chest with the stick he had picked up before ever entering the cave.

Their gazes locked together, and he leaned his head closer to hers until there was only millimeters of space separating them. His lips twitched, and he whispered, “It just never even occurred to you that I might be carrying a weapon.”

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