Authors: Ashlei D. Hawley
Tags: #Zombie Apocalypse
When I knock on the door and call out for him, Kaiser gets together a group of the survivors to remove the barricade from the doors. It only takes a few moments before they are opened for me and Ramses and we slip inside. For safety’s sake, because we haven’t checked the entire building yet, Kaiser orders the barricades to be replaced once we’re inside.
“Well done,” Ramses tells him as he looks over all the people Kaiser was able to round up and protect. We’ve lost many of our vampire kin, and I ache with the knowledge that some of those I’ve known for decades are no longer here. We have most of our humans still, though, and that is a treasure.
“Seth made sure we were prepared for this type of eventuality,” Kaiser says as he gestures to the Pharaoh himself. “I’m sad to say the training paid off, but I’m glad it did.”
Seth waits for us to approach him, silent and brooding. He sits at a desk, hands folded in front of him. His gray shirt is stained with blood and the grimy streaks of grit from beneath undead fingernails. He looks as exhausted as Ramses does; as I’m sure I do.
“Let me explain,” he commands in a soft voice before either Ramses or I can say anything.
I guide Ramses into a chair and nod at Kaiser, who holds up bandages and first aid supplies. I want Ramses to be seen too. The stubborn ox likely wouldn’t have sought out medical attention at all.
“I’m listening,” Ramses says, and his voice is a cold, rumbling threat. If he doesn’t like what his father and maker has to say, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen.
“I knew Geisel wasn’t what he appeared to be,” Seth admitted. “But at the same time, I wanted him here where I could keep an eye on him, not out there causing havoc with whoever he worked with before. I kept us isolated so he couldn’t get messages out, kept the communications towers in disrepair so he couldn’t plan with those others in secret. I saw for myself he was actually working on a cure, Ramses. Among other things.”
“And what exactly were those other things?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Seth snaps, and his agitation is a lick of fire across my skin. “I was waiting to discover that information, but the two of you spooked him into the shit that happened today. He took everything he was working on when he fled. Now I don’t know if he was trying to design another weapon or simply destroy the virus.”
“And the carriers,” I interject. “What if he isn’t working toward a cure but an eradication?” My blood chills at the thought. Instead of curing the masses of Rippers, Geisel could be in the process of creating a weapon to simply destroy them. I picture billions of human lives extinguished and the ache I feel grows larger and heavier in my chest.
Seth waves a hand at me, as if to say, ‘there you go.’ He’s had the same thought.
“You played this one too close to the vest,” Ramses says disgustedly. “All you had to do was
to me about it and I wouldn’t have confronted him so directly! What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking my son would do what I damn well told him to do,” Seth growls. “But what happened doesn’t matter now. What’s about to happen is all we can concern ourselves with. Geisel has a small group with him, apparently more loyal to him than to us. He’s going for those he was working with before, I know it. We need to track him down and stop him before he can finish whatever he’s trying to do.”
Kaiser begins talking excitedly and some of the humans gather closer to him to hear what he’s saying. I’m interested, as well, but dread has settled like a block of iron in my stomach. I know what Seth’s going to say next, and I don’t want to hear it.
“Ramses, you and I will track him and neutralize the threat he presents. If others are close to a cure as you think, we don’t need Geisel to continue his research. Sreya, you’ll stay here in my stead and help rebuild.”
I want to cry. He’s going to separate me and Ramses again. I can’t handle it, I think, but I know I have to.
“Yes, Pharaoh.” My voice breaks on the words, so I turn away and head toward Kaiser and his chattering group.
Ramses and Seth continue their discussion, but I tune them out and focus on Kaiser’s words instead. He’s on the radio, and there’s a voice coming from the other side.
“Yes, we copy you, 264,” Kaiser exclaims in delight. “We’ve just had one of our towers repaired. We should have an open line of communication from this point on. Please tell us your status, over.”
The voice that comes through is soft and stilted, and I know at once that there’s a problem in safe zone 264.
“We’re all humans here except one,” the voice informs us. “We have no supply runners, no guards, and our barricades are weakening. I don’t…I think they might get through soon.”
Kaiser’s excitement dies and he holds the radio broadcaster like he’s forgotten it exists. His eyes fill with the kind of determination I know precedes a bad decision. He depresses the button and speaks to the woman on the other end.
“Hang tight, 264,” he urges. “We’ll get someone to you soon.”
He stands and hands off radio control to a young man. He looks at me and I know everything I need to know from that expression. The crazy bastard thinks he’s going to be the one to go.
“Someone needs to repair the rest of the towers,” Kaiser insists as we move toward where Seth and Ramses still speak in low tones. “If I go to help the other zone, I can repair the towers on the way back.”
“Ramses can do that,” I argue before I remember he already has another mission. Tears spring up in my eyes again, but I will them away. “We can’t risk you, Kaiser.”
My second objection tactic sways him no more than the first would have, if it had even been an option. Kaiser stands near Ramses, who nods at him.
“Yes?” Seth asks.
“I take it you heard the radio exchange?” Kaiser says. Seth nods. “I want to go. They need help and any time spent arguing on who can go and who can or can’t be risked is another moment closer to the collapse of a human safe zone. What we can’t risk is losing more of our kind.”
Seth barely debates before he approves Kaiser’s request. I bite my tongue against my objections as Seth focuses on me.
“Keep him safe, Sreya. We have twenty-six vampires still in the compound. You will take four of them as a protection unit for Kaiser. The rest will begin the rebuilding process here.”
Twenty-six. That hits me hard. When Ramses and I left, we had close to sixty vampires in the compound.
“Yes, sir,” I say with a respectful nod. We really can’t lose anymore life. If we can preserve the other safe zone, it will be worth the risk we’re taking to get there in one piece. “I’ll go grab my bag. Kaiser, get your stuff and get together with the team we’re taking.”
We won’t be able to move until tomorrow night. There are still Rippers between us and the gates to the outside. They have to be cleared out, and the compound has to be secured again before we can leave. It isn’t enough time, but I pull Ramses along with me, anyway. I’m taking what time I can have with him, no matter what anyone has to say about it.
The way to my room is clear. I don’t hear anyone moving about, Rippers or otherwise. I’m almost positive the Rippers Geisel loosed into the building have all been exterminated, but a room by room, hall by hall sweep will take place during the daylight hours. I know some of the other vampires have already started it. We’ve done our part, I think. Right now, we’re not going to think about what has to be done, just what we want to do.
“I’m sorry,” Ramses starts to say, but I shush him and gesture to my bed. If I talk, I’ll cry, so I remain silent as I gather up damp cloths to wash his wounds with. Ripper injuries heal slower on us than others. We can’t be infected by them, but they do hit us harder than wounds from weapons. The only thing that heals slower is damage by fire.
As I wipe away the blood and grime from his skin, I can see that Ramses is already healing. The tears in the tan expanse of flesh are already closing. They continue to do so as I slide the cloth over them and draw the flaky red and streaks of brown away.
“Sreya,” Ramses says. He lifts a hand to my cheek and tries to pull me in for a kiss, but I shake my head and press my lips together. I need to focus on cleaning him off and not crying. Nothing else can enter my mind, or I’m going to lose it entirely.
“Look at me,” he insists with his hand still cupped along my jaw. I do, but his face wavers into a blur of tears. We’re going to be separated again, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I wish I was faster, stronger, less duty-bound to keep Kaiser safe. I wish we didn’t have to choose between responsibility and intimacy, fear and unity.
Ramses pulls me against him and I cry into his chest. He wraps his arms around me and hums into my hair. Rocking me back and forth, he sings songs from the sea and shanties we enjoyed on long voyages across the waves. We’ve agreed before that our happiest time was on the water. If life ever goes back to something resembling normal, we’re going to spend years at a time enjoying the ocean once more.
The thoughts make me cry harder. I cling to him and sob like I’m mourning his death instead of another unexpected separation.
Ramses stands us up and leads me to the small bathroom. He strips us both out of our clothes as I continue to cry. After turning the water on steaming hot, he pulls me into the cramped shower and holds me under the soothing stream. He washes my hair and massages the soap into my body. Minutes pass by and my sobbing eases. By the time we step out and Ramses begins to towel us off, my eyes feel grainy and my nose is stuffy, but my tears have all gone.
He leads me back to bed and the towels go in a heap on the floor. Pulling me under the covers with him, he cocoons us in warmth and the fresh scent of soap. His wounds have stopped bleeding entirely, and he feels strong and whole as he presses me against his chest and strokes my hair. He hasn’t stopped humming the whole time we showered and dried off, and the melody his voice carries continues on as we lay in the bed.
“Sreya, it won’t be as long this time,” he whispers against my forehead. I shrug a little.
“Anytime is too long.”
“I know, but we’ll be back together soon and then we won’t be separated again. Not for anything.”
“Promise me,” I insist.
“On every star in the sky, and every wave in the sea.” The promise lifts the weight in my stomach a little bit, but it doesn’t do nearly enough. The tears threaten again.
“I don’t want you to go.”
“I don’t want to go.” Even though neither of us want it, we both know how vital it is he does. The tears don’t come this time, and I sigh into his skin as I snuggle closer to him.
“Forget about it for now,” he urges in a whisper. “I’ll give you something else to think about.”
When he lifts my face to his this time, I let him guide my lips to his mouth. I close my eyes and lose myself in the kiss. I savor the taste of him, imprinting the flavor on every cell of memory I have. He’s nothing I could ever forget, and the only thing I want to remember.
The next night, we stand before the gates of the safe zone. The bodies of the Rippers will be removed when the gates are opened for us.
Those who remain from our vampire population within our safe zone have eradicated the Ripper threat within and just around the walls. The compound is once again successfully contained. I see new patrols on the walls all around us, and know that our defenses have been improved even though we lost more than half of our immortal members.
The twenty vampires left at the compound will keep those who stay behind safe, I tell myself. It’s our job to go provide safety and security for others who don’t have our luck. Even though we have to go into the night we no longer seem to have a place even. Even if we have to risk everything in order to do what needs to be done for the others out there.
“This goodbye isn’t what’s important,” Ramses insists as he wraps me in one more tight hug. He breaks me from my bleak thoughts and I appreciate it. “Think about the next hello. I love you. I’ll see you soon, my sea and shore.”
We break apart and I pull his face to mine for the last kiss I might have from him. The ache of his leaving threatens to consume me even as the hope for our next reunion floods through my soul.
“I’ll miss you every second until I see you again, my wind and rain. I love you until forever ends.”
The gates open, and we slide into the night. My group, along with Kaiser, will head for safe zone 264 in the east. Following on the trail of Dr. Geisel, Ramses and Seth will head west.
There are no Rippers in sight. Perhaps they followed the doctor and his group when they fled, or perhaps they somehow know easier prey exists somewhere in the night. Even with my heart heavy, moving through the night without threat from the creatures is exhilarating. It seems like this is the first time I’ve seen the moon, the first time I’ve had the stars above me. For now, alone in the darkness, the night feels like it’s ours again. Soon, I think, it may truly return to us for good.