"You're talking shit, Jared. No way in hell there's actually an intelligent zombie."
"It's true! It's all over the waves, Ali. He's out there, and he's rounding the others up."
Ali kicked at a rock by her foot, frowning as she watched it tumble forward, the sound echoing around them. She let out a deep breath, before her eyes were drawn to the bushes. They rustled, and she stared hard at them, praying for a rabbit to come jumping out, right in front of them.
Anyway, she reasoned, the rabbits were too quick; it took them hours to catch just one. They didn't have enough luck for one to just wonder in their path.
"I don't believe you."
Jared laughed, shrugging as he shifted the gun from one shoulder to the other. "Yeah, well, you never believed in the bloodsuckers either, did you?"
"Why is it the only times you can think of me being wrong end up in the times when humanity end up doomed?"
Another shrug. "Context, I guess. How many strays do you think are around here?"
"At least one, I hope."
She gazed around them at the empty street. Everywhere she looked, everywhere they went, there were signs of quick getaways and pure destruction. Smashed in windows, crumbling walls, possessions in front gardens. She cringed every time she saw a dropped doll or a forgotten teddy. She hadn't seen anyone under the age of twelve for so long, she wondered if any children had survived.
Or perhaps they were so far removed from the danger that humanity wasn't completely doomed, after all.
She could only hope.
"How can there be an intelligent zombie?" she mused, out loud, glancing at Jared as they turned around a corner and entered a lane. The lane ran behind a set of houses, each of them with a door leading from their garden to the lane itself. Down here, there were signs of the Time Before; graffiti on the walls, showing various political, satirical and just downright stupid or funny messages. Here and there were the tags, stencilled images of different cultural figures.
She spotted a mushroom from Nintendo's Mario Games and, further down, a Jigglypuff from Pokémon. She longed for her childhood, and these images just made her wish even more for it.
Jared sighed. "Look, let's face it, all those books and films and graphic novels, they got it wrong, Ali. They're not shambling creatures with no brains of their own. How was pop culture supposed to know exactly what they'd be like when they turned up?"
"They got the vamps pretty spot on," Ali remarked. "Well, except Twilight but...did you see the bloodsuckers burning that book?" A strange grin lit up her face. "The bonfire, Jared...it was beautiful."
"Yeah, yeah, vamps don't sparkle but they sure as hell try to seduce us. Anyway, the only difference between the vamps and the zombies is that one drinks blood, the other eats flesh. It's not a matter of intelligence or..."
"Looks?" she chuckled. "I'd like to say that I'd much prefer to fuck a bloodsucker than a zombie."
"Well, yeah. No surprise there."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"C'mon, Ali, before this all kicked off, you'd have killed to meet a vampire." He paused, considering his choice of words as she grinned at him. "You did devour anything with bloodsuckers in – Anne Rice books, True Blood, all that shit."
"It's not shit," she growled, shaking her head. "Anne Rice is an amazing author and...hey, do you think they knew?"
"That they're real! I mean, the vamp people got it right, didn't they? You can't tell me the bloodsuckers are nothing like they were in Interview with a Vampire or in True Blood or whatever else. What if they knew, Jared?"
Jared shrugged. "It doesn't matter now, none of it does. We never would have known about them if it wasn't for the zombies."
They stopped walking, and Jared crossed to one of the doors. It was green, the paint peeling away from the wood now. At the bottom, there were signs of it falling apart. He easily forced it open, and held a finger to his lips. Ali nodded, following him as he stepped into the garden.
The grass and weeds were overgrown, hugely. Running from one of the garden to the other was a concrete path, although only patches of it could be seen through the mass of green. Jared pulled the gun off his shoulder, fixing it into position. He held it pressed against his shoulder, his chin resting against the butt. Ali remained quiet, her eyes roaming around the garden.
That was when she saw it.
Through the patches was a flash of black. It moved slowly, body pressed close to the ground. She gestured towards the spot, and Jared nodded, moving the gun to fix it on the bush.
"Now," he mouthed, and Ali leapt forward, towards the bush. The cat darted out of it, and Jared pulled his finger back. The small pellet lodged itself into the cat and immediately it fell, eyes wide as its body twitched.
Ali pulled a face. "That was someone's pet, once."
"Once," Jared repeated, stepping towards the cat and bending down, checking it was dead and not just badly injured. "It's not anyone's pet now, Ali."
"I know, but...but it's horrible, having to shot cats and dogs just to eat and..."
"How do you think I feel?" The drawl came from above them, and Jared spun around, lifting the gun up and pointing it at the figure perched on the wall. The man was stretched across the top; his legs bent as he lifted a cigarette to his mouth and inhaled deeply, eyes closed. Ali lifted a hand, indicating for Jared to lower his gun. "Having to search every inch just to find blood to drink." He turned his head towards them, smiling and revealing two long fangs. "I mean, I can't exactly go drinking your blood, can I, Ali?"
"Not if you want to live," she replied, her tone light. Jared scoffed, as the man leapt off the wall. He landed as gracefully as the recently deceased cat had most likely been. He looked no older than either Jared or Ali, but both knew he'd lived many years longer than their twenty-three and twenty-one, respectfully. His skin was pale, though not unusually so, and his eyes were a sharp green. His hair was a dark blond, and he wore a black shirt above a pair of black jeans. Jared always joked that he dressed the part, in his black clothes, but Ali knew it was more practical than that.
"Why are you here, Ace?"
It was an unusual name, and both of them believed it wasn't his birth name. Ace took a step forward, eyes surveying Ali carefully. Under his gaze, she felt her cheeks grow hot. Jared glared at him, sliding closer to Ali. He managed to position himself between them, causing Ace to chuckle.
"Aw, come on, Jar. I wouldn't hurt our Alice."
"Yeah, Jared," Ali sighed. "Leave him alone."
"Why are you here?" Jared repeated, his fingers tightening around the gun. Ace laughed, shaking his head.
"Calm down. I'm just here for the same reason I usually am – information."
"From us or for us?"
"For you," he clarified, shifting his shoulders as he slid his hands into his pockets. His whole attitude changed in a split second; suddenly, he became much more serious, and fear spread through Ali like wild fire.
"The vampires are growing stronger," he said. "Tick tock tick, time's running out. For you. For the humans. You're surrounded on all sides, Jared. And they've found a more sustainable way to live, rather than trying to save you all from those disgusting creatures."
"Whatever you want to call them. Our esteemed council have made the decision to have every vampire save one human, of the opposite sex. Basically, it means we can feed from them for a sustained amount of time. They're going to select a number of these humans to breed. They've got it all figured out. Feed, breed, kill. Shame it doesn't all rhyme."
"Why are you telling us all this?" Jared frowned, gazing at the vampire. Ace let out a sigh.
"Because, as much as I hate to admit it, I like humans. You're stupid, and naive, and by God you are ignorant. But you're entertaining. And I could have happily lived for ever on Earth watching you fumble about and try to work out the meaning of life. There isn't one, if you're wondering; that's the big secret, it's all pointless and..."
"Ace!" Ali snapped. "You're rambling."
"Right, well. If it wasn't for this stupid Lazarus Project, then we wouldn't be in this mess. But the zombies are going to die out, eventually, and there may not be many of you left but until you get your shit together, I think I can survive on strays, too. The only problem is...if the Council have their way, they will simply wipe you out in one shot. If they can get their hands on some weapons, then they can get rid of the humans and zombies and keep their little farm."
"So how the hell are we supposed to stop them nuking us?" Jared growled, before his shoulders slumped and he let out a deep sigh. "It's hopeless, we should just give up."
Ali glanced at Ace. He tried to hide it, but she could tell he was disappointed by Jared's reaction. He turned to her. "Ali, I want you to know...there's a lot of crap that comes along with it but if you just want to survive, then I'll vouch for you. It'll mean me feeding off you, eventually, but you wouldn't die. And I'm sure I could find someone to take Jared, too. Hell, you might end up breeding together."
"Really?" A new spark had returned to Jared as his head snapped up and he looked at Ace.
"Ew, gross," Ali muttered, rolling her eyes. "I don't want to be forced to breed with anyone. I'd rather fight this head on. But we need to know how to fight, Ace."
Ace nodded. "I know, and I'm getting to that part. But Jared here seems to have given up already."
"What's the point?" Jared hissed. "They're going to kill us, eventually, and..."
"No, they're not," Ace snapped back. "Listen to me, you pathetic excuse for a human being. You guys can fight, sure, but you don't have to. I've found some other vamps who aren't overly keen on the idea, they can stop the Council. Plus, there's Zach."
"Who's Zach?" Ali asked, her voice trembling as she stared at him.
A strange smile crept over Ace's face. "He's the new zombie leader. A bloody smart guy, too."
"Told you!" Jared yelped, grinning at Ali. "I told you, Ali."
"Anyway, obviously Zach would be against the plans so we could get him on side. The zombies will die out anyway with no food – he's smart, for a zombie, which means he doesn't fully get that if they're not nuked, they'll still die. All you have to do is survive."
"Right," Jared muttered. "How?"
"Hide out. Keep doing what you're doing. Keep your little gang safe, keep on the move, hunt when you can. Although..with my small group of friends, we might be able to get your food for you, at times. We can protect you."
"Why are you doing this?" Jared's voice was quiet, barely audible as he spoke. "I don't get it. Wouldn't you and your friends just kill us when it's all over, anyway?"
"No. I told you, I like humans. The others do, too. The Council are too blind to see the stupidity of their plan. How long before you rebel? Or before the females die out giving birth? God knows one of the vamps would try to rape the girls, and what then? The bloody half is more than likely going to tear the mother out from the inside. It won't work. And we can survive on animals for decades. There are more humans out there than you realise, Jared. We can drink animal blood until the human race gets back on its feet."
"That sounds like what the Council wants," Jared hissed, disgust clear on his face. Ali glanced from Jared to Ace, her brain whirling.
"It's the difference between being a free-range chicken and living on a battery farm," Ace snapped back, puffing his chest out. "It's freedom, Jared. For you, for Ali and for the others still out there. And they are out there. There are survivors. So many more than you think."
"Jared?" Ali whimpered, shaking as she looked at her friend. "What do you think?"
"You really think we can survive?"
"Yes," Ace replied, nodding. "You survived this long. Like I said, if you just keep doing what you've been doing..."
"We should head back," Jared muttered, picking up the cat and throwing it over his shoulder, clutching the gun in one hand. "Ace...thanks. For telling us."
"No problem." Ace's eyes snapped to Ali. He took a step towards her. "Stay safe, Alice. You will survive this. I promise."
She nodded, biting down on her bottom lip as Ace turned and leapt back onto the wall, before disappearing over the other side. She let out a sigh, as Jared began to walk out of the overgrown garden. After a few seconds, she turned and followed him, but not before checking her small pistol was still hidden under her top.
Jared had reached the end of the lane when he heard her whisper.
"What do you mean?" he asked, turning around to look at her. She stood in the middle of the lane, and it struck her how small she really looked. "Sorry for wh-Ali, NO!"
He ran forward, dropping his gun and the cat as she lifted her hand up. Before he reached her, he knew it was too late. Her finger pulled the trigger, and the gunshot echoed around them. Jared skidded to a stop, feeling the sticky, wet substance on his face, seeing the red splatters on his jacket. Her body crumpled, and he couldn't believe how little of her head was left.
It was the forth suicide he had seen since everything had gone to hell, but it didn't mean it hurt any less.
He stared at the body, knowing there was no way he could take her back, or even give her a proper burial.
The bloodsuckers and zombies would be there in minutes; attracted by the smell, by the noise. Ignoring the tears flowing freely down his face, Jared turned and began to run, grabbing the dead cat and gun on the way.
A/N: So another part of the 100 Theme Challenge. Another one down, a lot more to go! As always, reviews would be great and will be returned. Also, I have a poll up on my profile about something new I'm planning on starting; have a look, and let me know what you think. Thanks.