Title: "Where the Wild Zombies Graze" 1/2
Rating: R (violence, gore, disturbing imagery, crude humour)
Summary: Boy meets girl. Zombie Apocalypse happens, coming with a vampiric supplement.
A/N: I used to really love vampires. Before they became so mainstream and, well, sparkly. So here I am trying to combine fun-loving vampires with relatively non-violent vampires… which prompts me to deliver this blend of pointless crack and meek horror with just a dash of zombiedom thrown in. The story takes place in a non-specific country; any similarities to actual places and/or persons are purely coincidental.
WHERE THE WILD ZOMBIES GRAZE
Vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins, and eskimos.
To dot our i's and to cross our t's, we're vampires. 'We' being Momma, Dad, Abuelito, my brother Steve, and me. Mostly we do our best to blend in and to fit the Friendly Neighbourhood Vampires trope, but we still occasionally catch Abuelito munching down a mortal or three when he manages to conjure up another miraculous vanishing act from the attic where Dad keeps him – and bear in mind that he's been wheelchair-bound since before I was even conceived. What can I say? The guy is an old-fashioned bloodsucker who treats pretty much every living thing as a walking hamburger. We blame the upbringing.
My brother Steve is a nice guy in general, except he is really defined by his name. In my hundred and thirty years I have met quite a few Steves; roughly one half of them was Steve the hunk while the other half was Steve the nerd. My brother is your average Steve the nerd next door. He is what you might call the ultimate fanboy of our kind. His role models at various points in time have included Count Dracula (the cloak admittedly looked better on Abuelito), Spike (badly bleached hair and a dustcoat) and most recently Edward Cullen (don't even get me started on the attitude and the abuse of glitter lotion).
Jude, the one I call Father, the actual leader of our small coven, is the one who gathered us all together (except Abuelito… come to think of it, I have no idea where he comes from). I have no knowledge of his true age, but I suspect he is older than I am at least by a hundred years. The same goes for Daisy, also known as Momma, a former cabaret singer and a B-movie actress, a chain smoker and Jude's on and off love interest.
By rights, I suppose I should have started differently: "To dot our i's and to cross our t's, we are a family of nutters." But that's pretty obvious as it is.
As for me, I consider myself normal. As much as any one hundred-and-thirty-year-old guy stuck perpetually in his early twenties, of course. How did I get there? There was no big tragedy or a terminal disease if that's what you're on about. No tempting, no harassment, nothing. There was an accident though. Back then, Jude had no strict rules about feeding on humans. He had already ceased killing, but had not yet devised any moral codes the likes of which we have to abide by nowadays. Since I basically have no memory of that night due to having been dead drunk, I have to rely on Daisy's account. According to her, she and Jude had just got back together after a lengthy break-up and were enjoying a night in the city when in one of the backwater alleys, tangled in a passionate embrace and exchanging the soul-drinking kisses, they tripped over someone's body sprawled on the ground in drunken stupour. Yep, that was me.
Jude was hungry, having abstained from taking human blood for a couple of weeks due to a few unpleasant run-ins with lawmen, and it was Daisy's brilliant idea that taking a few sips from a passed out drunkard would be okay. Either Jude took a little too much, or I'm not entirely sure how this whole turning thing works, having never tried one myself and slept like a log through my own change, but something clicked – and I woke up the next morning with a slight aversion to sunlight (though that may have been due to hangover) and ravenous hunger. To give credit where one is due, Jude and Daisy found me shortly, stopped me from breakfasting on a few unsuspecting passers-by, fed me my maker's blood to complete the transformation and generally went out of their way to educate me on the nuances of my newly acquired condition. The next thing I knew I was traveling with them. Right before the World War II we got landed with Steve, then picked up Abuelito with whom Jude had a long history, and the family was complete.
Before you ask: I am perfectly fine with being a vampire. Of course it was sort of frustrating at first that Jude hadn't even asked my opinion, but in retrospect, I wouldn't have had one anyway. If there was any sort of life he had robbed me of, it was most likely trivial, boring and it would have quite possibly ended in death during the war that followed in a little over a decade. Instead, I believe, I got a far better deal. The only downside was bloodlust, but I have learnt to overcome it and it seldom bothers me now. There is also the nutcase of a Grandpa and the sparkling woobie of a brother, but… we're not really related, remember? So I can be cool about my gene pool.
In short, life is great.
Or was great until Abuelito almost caused a zombie Apocalypse in the small town we lived in.
* * *
"What do you mean, gone?" Jude asked sternly. He is quite an amiable guy, but whenever something that threatens the safety of the family happens, his good-natured disposition is drained away within a matter of seconds.
"I went up to share this fawn I'd caught in the woods with him," Steve explained, trying his best not to stutter in terror, "and well, the attic was empty. I have no idea how he got out."
A mask of cautious resolve slipped on Jude's face. But for the little fibre pulsing on his temple we would not have guessed how nervous he was. Well, that, and knowing what Abuelito was capable of. I was pretty much the one he deigned talking to in the family, and he had recently told me how fed up he was with animal and donor blood.
"Well, don't just stand there, you guys," Daisy gave voice. A ringlet of smoke flew out of her mouth. She raised the cigarette she was holding between her fingers up to her lips, inhaled deeply, and continued: "Let's go find him before we all have to move again. I've just bought these pretty garden chairs and I'm not so sure we'll get to have a garden at our next place of stay."
Did I mention how much I love Daisy and her Hollywood blonde act? No? Well, there you have it. I really do.
The next three hours were spent looking for Abuelito. Fruitlessly, I might add. You'd think it shouldn't be so hard to find someone in a small town like ours, especially when you have three preternatural beings (Daisy stayed at home in case Abuelito miraculously felt like coming back without incident) on the lookout for that one person. Alas, by the time I picked up the first trail, I had already been desperate enough to start asking the passers-by if they had by chance stumbled upon a vigorous old Spaniard with unnervingly longish fangs, cruising in a wheelchair and sing-songing the Falange slogans (pretty much the only thing he liked about the twentieth century).
The first trail was a vague scent of blood that led to the woods on the outskirt of the town. I doubted Abuelito would head there, but it was worth a shot. I texted Jude to keep him posted and ventured into the thicket. Some blood had certainly been spilled there quite recently.
Once safely out of human sight, I switched to my accelerated vampire pace (yes, we have that; now back off) and let my senses lead me. I pondered briefly if Abuelito was really as hungry as he liked to put it or if he was pulling off these stunts as a sort of a protest. Sometimes it unnerved me how well I could relate to him.
The scent of blood was getting stronger, although the flavour began to seem different. I took a deep whiff of air – and suddenly, having miscalculated my step, crashed right into something hanging from a tree branch like a giant bat. It shrieked and hacked at me with something cold and sharp. I wobbled and grasped at it and pulled, and both of us collapsed on the ground, the creature landing right on top of me. For a moment I felt as if all air had been squeezed out of my lungs.
We lay still for a few long-drawn-out moments; then I opened my eyes to have a better look at whatever I had come across so misfortunately. It turned out to be a girl, rather good-looking, with long dirty blond-brown hair that spilled over her shoulders and into my face, and wary dark-grey eyes. It could have been a rather romantic moment if she hadn't ruined it by nearly spitting out at me:
"Get your hands off me!"
"Excuse me?" I breathed, indignant and yet reassured that I could still breathe. "Get your weight off me!"
If she blushed, I failed to notice it because she leapt up at the speed of light (which rather made me suspect that she did blush). I noticed that she was holding a bread knife.
"I cut you," she said doubtfully, staring at my torn sleeve. Drat, as Steve would say.
"No, you didn't."
"I know I did." With that, she brandished the knife and split the skin on my shoulder again.
"Fuck! You crazy or what?"
The cut was shallow, so it healed even quicker than the first one. I couldn't be bothered to explain all that to her. She seemed highly unstable, so even if she chattered, no one would believe her anyway. (Right? Right?!)
"Okay," I said irritably. "How about this? I accept your gratitude for my saving your life. Now I have to go. Cheers."
I swung around and started to leave when I heard her catching up with me.
"My life didn't need saving, you moron," she pointed out. "I was exercising."
"With a bread knife?"
"An item of self-defense against pervs like you."
I growled. Not a vampire-growl, though that might have shown the girl her place, all right; just a regular Sweet-Lord-you're-pissing-me-off growl. As I took a deeper breath to try and cool off, the scent of blood washed thickly all over me. I lowered my eyes to see a deep scarlet gash on her knee. She was wearing a dirty white top and a pair of jean mini-shorts; the gash simply enforced the image of a runt.
"Does that hurt?" I asked, briefly adopting my genuinely-nice-guy persona.
"Does yours?" she countered, pointing at my freshly healed cut, and the genuinely nice guy went kaboom.
"Will you leave it be?" I demanded. "Now tell me where you got that wound."
"'M not telling you anything until you explain yourself."
She placed her hands on her hips and looked a bit like Daisy when the latter was in her capricious mode. That usually ended in tears for everyone but Daisy. However, as I did not consider myself owing her any sort of explanation, I ignored her demand. My priority was to find out if she had by chance seen our rogue family member; she might have, since the scent I had been following clearly intersected with hers.
"How did you get it?" I repeated.
"How did you do it?"
Having lost my temper, I grabbed her by the shoulder and gave her a harsh shake. What followed was by far the most humiliating thing I had ever gone through in my life. The girl dealt me a bold hook in the jaw, which knocked my left lower fang loose. You might want to know how it was possible, what with me being a super-strong supernatural creature and all. Spring. Avitaminosis. That's warm human blood abstinence for you.
Besides, she appeared to be quite a skilled boxer.
I backpedaled with an outcry of indignant astonishment rather than actual pain and held my hand up to my mouth. I pressed on the tooth, and it wound out of its nest with frustrating ease. My finger came away smeared with blood and saliva. I held the tooth up to my eyes in bewilderment.
The girl looked shocked and, if my eyes did not deceive me, a little guilty. That should have brought me satisfaction, but it didn't.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled. As it sounded sincere enough, I couldn't bring myself to continue acting like a jerk inquisitor.
"You might want to treat that knee," I said. She nodded perplexedly.
I turned to leave, then glanced back at her. She was lean and gangly and looked younger than her actual age, which was likely close to my frozen physical age.
"You haven't seen a funny-looking bald Spanish gramps in a wheelchair passing by, have you?" I asked without much hope.
She shook her head. "Not recently."
And I sped away from the sociopathic Mowgli with a bread knife before she went Mike Tyson on me again, clutching the broken tooth in my fist. The only consolation was that the fang would grow back within a few hours. My pride, however, had pretty much gone down the drain.
* * *
On my way back to the town centre I got a text message from Steve. He had located a body that had recently been fed on several blocks away from me. I found it remarkable that Abuelito was able to move around so fast as if he had a reaction-propulsion unit attached to his chair, which he didn't.
I thought back to the girl. I had already decided that she had been a coincidence, otherwise she'd had a pretty narrow escape.
The scent of her blood still lingered in my nostrils. Strictly speaking, it's not a smell per se; it is more like an awareness that has a unique flavour for every vampire and a common label 'food' for human beings. Her scent wasn't particularly delicious, but it was quite pervasive. I hadn't tasted a human for a really long time.
I forcibly drove her out of my mind and focused on the matters at hand. Another smell suddenly blocked my way. I wrinkled my nose against that sickly-sweet odour of freshly loosened earth and mild decay. Ghouls. Even worse: fresh ghouls. Fresh hungry ghouls.
I texted Jude. His answer was laconic and to the point: "KILL THEM." Another message that had been sent earlier but got delayed arrived just as I was about to start tracking the ghouls. It said ever so eloquently, "CRAP." Very Jude.
Having always enjoyed poking around other undead creepie-crawlies inferior to my kind, I was glad to have been taken off the Abuelito case. The ghouls happened to be far easier to locate: two of them, not so different from humans yet but for the papery yellowish skin, were stalking their newfound prey that – and oh, I hate irony! – turned out to be dear ol' bread knife girl. Blood was still oozing from the marks on her knee. Now that I had time to scrutinize them, I discovered they looked relatively like claw marks.
"Don't look back," I whispered urgently as I caught up with the girl.
She started, then flashed me a moody you-again glance. "Why? What's there?"
"You'll just have to trust me on this." I clutched at her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "When I say run, you run."
Oddly enough, she didn't argue. The ghouls were getting closer, making the hairs at the back of my neck stand on end in anticipation. Just as they were about to attack, I hurtled her forth without so much as a warning cry: "Run!" I spun around and spat viciously at the ghouls like a feral cat defending its territory. The ghouls began backing away. A feeble spark of unconditional fear in their minds identified me as a dangerous being much further up the food chain. I fixed them with a pointed glare until they were out of sight (I would deal with them in a minute) and darted after the girl. I reached her on the corner of the street where both of us were nearly run down by a car that had shot virtually out of nowhere just as she was about to reward me with another smack.
"What the bloody fuck was that?" she fired off on the sidewalk, gasping for breath.
"This time I really saved your life," I pointed out victoriously.
"Will you stop pulling a Jerkass Stu on me? My life was never in any danger – except from you!"
I could not begin to describe how right she was; I was dangerously close to snapping that ungrateful minx's neck.
"And quit stalking me."
You'd be amazed how many last drops one can stomach.
"I'm looking for someone," I remarked tersely. "It has nothing to do with you. You just keep showing up."
I looked around, trying to pick up the trail again. At the first sight of danger young ghouls would always feel compelled to return to their creator. In this case I strongly suspected it could be Abuelito. That's exactly why Jude discouraged us to drink from humans: it might as well end up with your getting landed with a zombie pet. Judging by the growing sensation of distress I gathered from all over the town, Grandpa had gone a little overboard.
"Jesus!" the girl exclaimed. "Is that guy–?"
I followed the jerky gesture with which she was pointing across the street and spotted another ghoul cheerfully gnawing at a middle-sized dog. In broad daylight. In the middle of the street. Whether it was still alive or not, I could not tell.
Us vampires aren't so easily squicked. My companion, however, looked like she was going to be sick. At one point the ghoul stared right at her and dropped its meal. I knew what made it do that: the awareness of blood curling off of her was becoming disconcerting for me as well.
I grabbed her by the hand and we ran. I couldn't think of a sane way to explain what exactly was pursuing us and making happy slurping noises of anticipation, so I just ignored all of her hasty questions, picked her up and made the most mileage out of my legs. By the time I came to a stop, I had been almost as out of breath as the girl (which was okay since I don't really need to… you know).
"What the fuck is he!?" the girl blurted out when I put her down.
"What's your name?" I figured that since she was evidently going to stick around, we should switch to first name basis. Or at least any name basis.
"Tallulah." When I sniggered uncontrollably, she fumed: "It's fucking Choctaw, you prick! It means 'leaping water'."
"I'm Connor," I said briskly. "So Tallulah, do you believe in monsters?"
A textbook intro to a supernatural nastiness-related conversation. (Jude preferred a more straightforward approach; he had simply dropped a bomb on me: 'You're gonna drink blood now for the rest of your life, which is by the way eternal.') Tallulah knitted her eyebrows and her face lit up with realization.
"You mean it was like a vampire or something?"
I took that as a personal insult. No one could blame me.
"We have to stop them," I said to keep myself from backlashing. "Before the whole town is swarming with them."
Tallulah's lip curled, indicating that I had wrongly attributed to her a bit more altruism than she possessed. (Never mind that I was actually talking about my family, not her.)
"You mistake me for someone who gives a shit." She spun around on her heels abruptly, hoping to hide the way her hands were shaking. "I don't even live in this town. Just passing by–."
From where I stood, I was dealing with a flourishing breakdown. I made her face me and shook her by the shoulders none too gently.
"Get a grip, okay? That wound on your knee…"
"…is none of your goddamn business!" She struggled to break loose and then suddenly went limp in my arms. "Oh God, will I become something like that?"
I pondered this possibility. She was cranky and nerve-wrecking enough already; having her around as a ghoul would be simply catastrophic.
"So it was one of those, huh?"
"Some weirdo in the woods." She looked away, vaguely embarrassed. "Nails like bloody claws. And you ask me why I carry a knife."
I let out a sigh of relief, a little too obvious, which earned me a jab in the ribs. But she would be okay. You don't get infected by claws. That requires teeth.
I tore at the sleeve she had cut open, ripped it off and bent down to bind her knee. Not only would the bandage fix the wound; it would also remove the smell and masquerade it with mine, since there was a bit of my blood on the fabric. Ghouls weren't the brightest crayons in the box.
As we walked slowly in no particular direction, I was mulling over the course of things and she kept glancing at me surreptitiously, as if appraising me.
"You are a vampire," she declared finally, sounding like a person whose entire world was upside down and it could only be set right if a vampire entered the picture. Oddly, it made sense to me. I nodded curtly. Tallulah narrowed her eyes. "Why aren't you drop dead gorgeous?"
Out of all the vamp lore, she chose to comment on my looks (which I never considered bad, by the way. Just making a point.).
"I like you too," I said in the sweetest of tones. "A lot!"
I could tell she was nervous. Not as much as I had probably expected her to be, given the circumstances, but I could hear her heart thumping loudly. The awareness of blood washed all over me like a tidal wave, so thick it made my mouth water. I couldn't wrap my mind around it: her bleeding should have stopped a long time ago, particularly with the bandage applied.
Tallulah stopped walking and took a few long, deep breaths. She looked in pain.
"What is it?" I asked. "The knee?"
"No," she replied in a strangled voice. "I think… I need–."
She darted towards a small public restroom building, leaving me to trudge after her in confusion. It seemed like hours before the door cracked open and a slim hand holding several crumpled banknotes appeared.
"Hey, McLeod! Could you please dash to the drugstore and buy me some pads?"
She ushered the money into my hand and slammed the door shut. I remained rooted to the spot as if struck by lightning.
That explained a lot though. I'd completely forgotten women did that. No wonder her blood had such a strong smell; there was just too much of it at once. Taking this into account, my attempts to get rid of the blood on her knee seemed downright ridiculous.
"About time!" she barked when I knocked on the restroom door and pushed a pack of pads through the opening. Maximum absorption, just to be on the safe side. Tallulah's scent was so overwhelming that she ran the risk of becoming the specialty of the zombie house.
"So you're a vampire?" she repeated thoughtfully as she emerged from the restroom.
"Yeah… Don't tell anyone."
She squeezed out a nervous half-laugh. "I might not have to."
I turned around. An entire marching band of ghouls was coming our way. Talk about really bad days. I held my hand out to Tallulah; this time she took it without objections.
"I thought vampires were supposed to be tougher than zombies!" she quipped.
"We are, but not when you match one unarmed vampire against an I-can't-count-that-far number of zombies."
Even more ghouls flooded the small square that lay ahead of us. They moved leisurely in discordant rows. To anyone looking out the windows they would seem something like a large group of people at a rally. I stepped in front of Tallulah defensively and bared my fangs in a menacing snarl.
"All those people…" she whispered, her voice laced with inexorable sadness.
"Dead," I said, gravely. "Don't think of them as people."
A few of them jumped at us. Others bellowed and hissed, preparing to attack as well. Herd instinct prevailed over fear of a superior creature. I kicked the attackers aside and blocked the strikes that followed. Behind me, Tallulah slashed through the air with the broad blade of her knife.
The ghouls surrounded us like a pack of wild beasts excited by the bloodflow. Tallulah left a deep diagonal gash across one ghoul's face when it attempted to take her into its grasp. It shrieked in pain; the others cheered for it with shrill ululating screams. I grabbed two closest bodies and hurtled them against each other and then pushed them into the crowd. We jumped into the small opening and broke out running. I had to nearly drag Tallulah along; she was running sorely short of breath.
The ghouls were catching up. Some of them fell, their comrades hopping nonchalantly over their tumbling bodies. They growled and made hungry noises. Just as I thought pessimistically that we were done for, the screeching of tires made me turn my head, and I saw a familiar dark-green Toyota shoot out from beyond the corner. It was Jude's car.
Tallulah screamed: one of the ghouls had slashed her across the back with its claws. The car pulled over; the driver whom I promptly recognized as Steve leaned out, a heavy rifle in his hands, and opened fire. His outcry, "Get in!" was barely heard through the noise.
I pushed Tallulah in the direction of the car and watched her struggle to open the door from the corner of my eye. Steve tossed me an extra rifle and we showered the wailing ghouls with bullets. I jumped into the car no sooner than I was out of ammo. Some of them were still twitching. I could feel panic rising like a flood inside the nearby buildings where humans had been holed up since the gunbattle began.
The Toyota darted off. Steve handed me his rifle which he had hastily managed to recharge, and I kept firing as we rode off. Tallulah covered her ears with her hands. Her disorientated gaze kept traveling from me to Steve and back.
"Jude's really freaking out," said Steve when I finally stopped shooting and pulled myself up on the seat. I could see his eyes in the rearview mirror; he looked anxious. "Who's the girl again?"
"Tallulah," answered Tallulah. "I'm with him." She gestured towards me.
"Cool," said Steve.
We drove the rest of the way in silence. Tallulah huddled on the seat, bleeding all over the leather upholstery. Her white top was shredded on the back and smeared with red. It struck me that she must be cold in these light summer clothes. I felt a bit of pity stirring inside me. We were accustomed to living fast and loose (though this was a bit of an overkill), but humans usually got landed with heart attacks on lesser occasions. Tallulah was incredibly tough.
"What is this place?" she asked as Steve parked the car in front of our porch.
"Home," I mouthed distractedly. I was on the lookout for Jude, bracing myself for a shouting match.
"I need to get out of here," she muttered. We got out of the car, and she began backing away slowly, as if uncertain what to do.
"No offense," Steve interjected, "but you're a walking blood bomb. You won't get far. This is a real epidemic we have here. Soon there'll be ghouls all over the place."
"And whose goddamn fault is that?" came Jude's voice. He stormed out of the house, glaring daggers in my direction. Tallulah hiccoughed nervously. "If you'd tracked down the first of them like I'd told you and killed the buggers off, we wouldn't have had them running around and chomping every stupid meatbag out there!"
Technically, he was right. But I hate being yelled at, so I fired off a reply, and soon all three of us, Steve included, were shouting at the top of our lungs. Half of what we said, we didn't mean; for all the love we shared, we all tended to get really temperamental sometimes.
Daisy watched that display of familial affection with a mixed expression of boredom and irritation, but then she spotted Tallulah and instantly switched to her motherly mode.
"Come on, sweetie," she chirped, throwing her arm around Tallulah's shoulders. "How about some chocolate while the boys get it out of their systems?"