by John Robinson
Copyright (c) 1997,2000,2001 by the author. Free for distribution as long as no alterations are made.
Thompson's eyes snapped open and he stood up quickly, his head ringing with the sudden shift from lightly dozing to fully aware. He looked out through the chain link fence. No. There was nothing unusual out there. A couple of figures shambled by, pausing only for a second to glance at him before continuing along their uncomprehending way.
He took a moment to again thank God they no longer stopped and stared like they used to. That was something he had never quite managed to get comfortable with.
Thompson brushed dirt from his pants, then looked up at the overcast sky. It had been nothing but grey clouds for the past week or so, with not a single drop of rain. There was no sign of it clearing up anytime soon, either. He shook his head.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jared trotting carefully toward him. Despite the fact the streets outside were calm for the moment, you never wanted to take chances and draw undue attention to yourself. Thompson's father had always told him not to push sticks into ant hills and be surprised when he wound up with red, stinging welts on his ankles.
Jared arrived on the scene, breath escaping from his mouth in small clouds, his eyes wide. "You okay, chief?"
Thompson found being called "chief" amusing enough to let slide and not annoying enough to dissuade. Still, every time Jared called him that, Thompson came close to mentioning that he had an M-16 slung over one shoulder and not a bow, a tomahawk, or even a firehose.
"Yeah, Jay, I'm fine." They spoke in low whispers, as was the custom. Orders were not to speak in regular conversational tones unless within the inner perimeter.
"Well," Jared continued, stealing a look through the fence, "I saw you jump up and thought you might have seen something. So I came over."
So you came over, Thompson repeated in his mind. Like you ever need an excuse to wander from your post. Jared was a good kid, but he was just that: a kid. He was only eighteen and had the attention span to prove it. Eighteen was the age the Council wanted you to reach so they could slap a weapon in your hand and call you a man. The weapon in question the Council had seen fit to give Jared was a .45 automatic pistol, kept securely in the young man's shoulder holster. Thank Christ he finally started remembering to put the safety on, Thompson thought.
"Didn't see anything," Thompson replied. "To be honest, I thought I might have heard something."
Jared's eyes grew wider, more from eagerness than fear. He had not gotten a chance to use his pistol yet, and Thompson knew he was on the lookout for the opportunity. "Like what?"
Thompson asked himself the question. Like what? He was not certain. He had been almost fully asleep, so there was the off-chance he had been dreaming. Considering how many of them were out there beyond the fence, wandering around the abandoned shops and offices, the idea that one of them simply knocked something over was not a far fetched one. He thought back to the day a large one started sliding a desk around the street, not certain of what to do with it, other than shove it from one place to another. Thompson and the others had watched from their posts, each of them certain he would figure out how to use it as a ram against the gate. He had not.
"Jay, I don't know, could've been nothing." Thompson shrugged.
"Maybe so," Jared said, very seriously. "I didn't hear anything."
Uh-huh, Thompson replied inwardly. He was surprised the kid could hear at all. Despite the moratorium placed on wasting batteries, Jared would still find ways to get power to his dilapidated boom box. He slapped on headphones full of Blue Oyster Cult and Van Halen and would play them at ear-shock levels.
He had told Thompson just two weeks before, with breathless anticipation, of how the solar committee might give him the ability to work off of AC power once they got some cells going. Thompson was sure this would give Jared all the excuse he needed to blast what remained of his eardrums to kingdom come.
"So it was nothing," Thompson agreed. "Get back over to your post before someone finds you gone."
Jared nodded. "Aye aye, chief." With a quick and clumsy salute, he was jogging back to the north face of town.
Thompson shook his head and wanted to laugh but did not. Laughter most assuredly would bring the things outside to see what was happening but regardless, the humor was inappropriate. Jared would have been severely chastised for being away from his post, while Thompson himself apparently could do no wrong.
Two weeks previous, he had fallen asleep on the job as he had today, only to be awoken by none other than the Mayor.
Thompson had jumped, frightened and wide-eyed. One hand had instinctively reached for his sidearm.
"Whoa, whoa, easy." The Mayor took a step backwards with his hands in the air. "Easy there, general." His expression was not one of worry; he was smiling.
"Mayor," Thompson replied, dropping his hand from his pistol. "I'm sorry, I was just--" But that was just it, wasn't it? He wasn't just doing anything but sleeping, so what was he assuming he might put over on the Mayor? Although the Mayor wasn't the Commander, Thompson's direct superior, they were both on the Council. Word of his transgression would no doubt be passed along accordingly. Thompson waited calmly for his reprimand.
The Mayor surprised Thompson by winking at him. "No need to apologize, my boy." He further surprised Thompson by grinning at him, as if they were sharing some illicit secret. "In some cases, falling asleep during one's day job is an acceptable thing -- as long as their night job is panning out. Eh?" Thompson at this point half-expected the Mayor to nudge him with an elbow.
Thompson must have turned red at that point, although he could not have sworn to it. "I understand, sir. Thank you."
The Mayor then clapped the young man on the arm before walking away.
The truth was that Thompson did understand. And unfortunately, so did everyone else in the City. The total population of the City was eighty-four. Like any other small town -- protected from the outside world by a razor wire-crowned chain link fence and armed guards or not -- news got around quickly. Few were unaware that Thompson had been courting the young schoolteacher who had come from St. Louis for sanctuary. Sally spent her days tutoring the few children there were in the City, and then spent her nights with that nice young Sergeant Thompson. The Council was behind procreation one hundred and ten percent. Their numbers were small enough as it was, so someone had to get on with the business of beefing up the species once more. As a result, even when the Mayor would find Thompson asleep at his post, he would smile and keep on strolling.
Thompson was tired again today, but not for the reasons his fellow citizens might suspect. He and Sally spent most of their night discussing the ramifications of bringing a child into the world of perpetual standoff that the City had become. Thompson had appealed both to the love that they shared and to their civic responsibility, but Sally was not so easily convinced. They had finished their discussion in the moments before dawn, leaving Thompson with no time to rest before going on duty.
He had tried to reassure Sally, and perhaps himself as well, that it was the right thing to do. They had guards on duty constantly to make sure the perimeter was secure. If there was an outburst or emergency, they had two generators hooked up to the outer perimeter that could provide enough juice to cook anything that laid hands upon it. The masses outside had been convinced that the City was nothing they wanted a part of. They merely stayed back at a distance of ten feet and shambled about from place to place aimlessly. It had been six months since any gunfire was necessary at the gate.
At least, that's the amount of time that seemed to have passed. The battery to Thompson's own wristwatch had expired long ago, and a couple of people who had bothered to write out their own calendars seemed to differ by a day or so. The Mayor, if you asked him the date, would no doubt tell you it was March the fifteenth, the year 2004. Still, doubt danced behind the certainty he wore on his face.
Sally pointed out that it had been longer still since a live visitor had arrived at the gate, seeking sanctuary. She looked out the window to the rest of the world, which they both knew to be completely dark and filled with shambling bodies. He wanted to counter with Fort McMurtrie, with the short wave link they had with someone outside the City, but he could not. They had not spoken with anyone from McMurtrie for two weeks, and no one talked about it because of what it portended. Radio trouble, they mumbled amongst themselves, but somehow no one believed it.
Thompson looked west into what had been Green Street, but there was nothing to see. Another four hours and his shift would be over. He could go home and take a nap, and when Sally returned--
He looked up sharply. A quick glance to his right showed Jared looking out through the fence, also startled. Jared's eyes met Thompson's and he made a pistol with his hand. A gunshot.
Before another moment passed, something rounded the corner three blocks down and began bolting toward them at breakneck speed. It took Thompson's mind longer than it should have to recognize it.
It was a horse and rider.
"Son of a bitch," he breathed.
Jared came sprinting from his post. "Chief, are you--"
"--seeing what you're seeing, yes." Thompson hit the alarm bell with one hand and the din from inside the inner perimeter rudely split the stillness.
Jared went for the gate switch but Thompson grabbed his arm. "Not yet," he said evenly. "We wait for the others. I don't want all of that myself." He jerked his head toward the gate, where the shuffling corpses had stopped their wandering and were eyeing the two men warily.
In the distance, the corpses were swarming out of every possible portal to try and bar the rider's passage. The man had the reins in his teeth and was urging the horse onward with his heels. In each hand he held a pistol and was firing with incredible accuracy at the advancing hordes. As Thompson took precious moments watching, one cadaver became a shambling creature only from the neck down.
"Start thinning them," Thompson called to Jared.
Jared looked at him, paralyzed.
"Move!" Thompson ordered, and the sharpness in his tone finally drew the young man into action.
Jared drew his pistol, clicked back the safety and pushed it through a hole in the chain links. He squinted one eye and fired. A cloud of dust and black spray erupted from the shoulder of a nearby corpse. He tried again and the mottled head attached to the shoulder exploded in a flash of bone and blood, leaving the body to fall like a puppet with severed strings.
Thompson raised his own weapon and began to fire into the bodies closest to the gate, but there were far too many of them to make an effective dent in the oncoming forms. He dropped three of them, neat holes appearing in the skulls of the attackers, the other side of their heads blowing outwards.
A seeming eternity later, three other men and two women joined the melee and Thompson hit the gate switch. The rider was a block away now and gaining speed. He was also dealing with a denser crowd of assailants. At one moment, a corpse managed to grab hold of a stirrup but its wrist snapped away from the rest of his arm.
The gate moved the few feet necessary for the horse and rider to enter. All those at the gap were firing into the crowd of zombies, all of which now divided between going for the incoming meal or trying for the group behind the relative safety of the fence. The only thing that seemed to slow the attackers' progress was the fact that one would fall and block their path. Still, moments later five others would crawl over the body to take its place. Thompson called out to the oncoming rider, "Come on, get in here!"
The rider came through the opening in the gate at a full run and was bringing his horse to a halt as Thompson hit the switch for the gate to close once more. The attackers were not letting up and kept trying to force themselves through the breach, despite the constant gunfire.
The gate slid back into place and Thompson yelled over the din. "Get clear! Get clear!" The defenders backed away from the fence quickly, freeing Thompson to press another button. Two generators hummed to life and within seconds a blue arc covered the fence in both directions. The corpses who had their peeling fingers entwined in the chain links began to shake and twist, dust flying from their hair and clothes. Thompson watched as the ones far enough away from the fence to be spared began to back up. They were at least smart enough to have some sense of self-preservation left. When the masses began to move away, Thompson let go of the red button, and the generators fell silent. He cut the alarm as well.
Those bodies which had been caught against the fence ceased their jerking and fell backwards, some of them breaking into pieces on impact with the ground. A couple remained hanging from the chain links, smoldering. The smell of cooking, rancid meat hit their nostrils causing one of the men to lean over and vomit into the dust.
Thompson looked out at the retreating hordes and then to Jared. "Check on him," he cocked a thumb toward the heaving soldier. Jared went instantly, his eyes still wide from his first firefight.
Thompson then turned his attention to their guest, who had dismounted his horse and was trying to calm the beast.
The stranger looked up at Thompson's approach. He held out a hand. "Thank you."
Thompson looked at the hand a moment before taking it. The action surprised him. "You're welcome," he replied. He watched the stranger stroke the horse's neck for a moment or two more before continuing. "I'm Sergeant Thompson."
"Monroe," the stranger replied.
Thompson released the newcomer's hand, taking a moment to note the firm grip. "Forgive us if we seem caught flat-footed, Mr. Monroe, but we haven't gotten a visitor in a long time."
Monroe smiled. "No mister necessary, sergeant. Monroe will do nicely by itself." He scanned the now hundreds of corpses milling about beyond the fence. "I can see why your city's not a tourist attraction." He sighed and lowered his voice. "Are you in charge here, sergeant?"
"Please," Thompson replied, "Thompson is fine by itself as well. No titles necessary."
"Agreed," Monroe smiled. "But are you?"
Thompson shook his head just as the Mayor arrived, red-faced. "As I live and breathe, a visitor!" Without warning, the Mayor embraced the much taller Monroe, making for a very comical scene. Monroe looked to Thompson as if for assistance, but Thompson had none to give. He merely smiled and half-shrugged.
The Mayor released Monroe and shook hands forcibly. "It's been a long time, my friend. I'm the Mayor of this city. And you are?"
Monroe introduced himself much the same way he had with Thompson.
"I see," the Mayor mused aloud. "And what can you tell us? Do you have any news?"
Monroe's brow furrowed and he glanced behind him to the men and women collecting themselves by the fence. One of the women was casually reloading shells into her shotgun. He then looked past the Mayor to the citizens gathering just inside the inner perimeter. Thompson saw Sally with her small class standing a few yards back. Monroe pitched his voice low again. "Mr. Mayor, I believe I have news that would best be delivered to yourself and Thompson here alone."
The Mayor nodded gravely. "I understand." He turned to Thompson. "Put things to rights here, would you Thompson? I'll get the Commander and we can meet at my office in a few minutes."
Thompson nodded. "All right."
The Mayor then took Monroe by the arm and led him in the direction of the municipal building. As they passed through the crowd, the Mayor commented to everyone, "It's all right, folks. You can go back to your business, the emergency has passed and everything is fine. Go on, now."
Thompson watched them go with a vague feeling of unease. He turned to the men and women still recovering from the firefight. Other than the woman with the shotgun, they seemed out of breath and uncertain of what to do next. Few had ever fired their guns before. Jared, wild-eyed and in a state of seeming shock, looked to Thompson for guidance.
"All right," Thompson cleared his throat, "those of you on watch, back to your post. Those not on watch, back inside. Thames," he indicated the woman with the shotgun, "take my spot. I need to go inside and see what's up with our visitor."
Thames spoke up. "Should we double the watch, sergeant?"
He considered this. "No, Thames, I don't think that's a good idea. Too much attention already." He jerked a thumb at the outer perimeter. Beyond the chain links were their constant wardens. None of them seemed concerned with their fallen comrades, the meat there too stale for their tastes. The majority of the figures outside simply stood and stared at Thompson and associates. They would start moving aimlessly about eventually, but that could take hours.
The woman named Thames nodded and finished loading her shotgun. She moved to where Thompson had been standing and started pacing slowly back and forth.
Thompson looked to the youngest one there, Jared. He still seemed to be piloting his body by remote control. "Jared," Thompson said.
Jared took too long to answer. "Yes. Yes, sir?"
"Are you all right?"
Jared nodded quickly.
"Take a rest, Jared," Thompson put a hand on the young man's shoulder. "Seriously."
Jared nodded again and wandered inside the perimeter. He did so with a vague sense of loss following him.
Thompson watched him go. He turned to the two men remaining. Everyone else had gone back to their posts as ordered. "Murphy, take Jared's shift. Coleman, go after him and make sure he's okay."
They nodded and did as he bade them.
Thompson sighed and looked out through the fence once more. Toward the back, the crowd began to thin, as they seemed to forget why they were there. At the gate, a mere two feet from the links, a young girl in what looked to be her Sunday dress stood amongst the bodies and stared inhumanly at him. Her rheumy eyes were locked onto his.
He shuddered despite himself. A child, he thought. A child into this world.
Thompson remembered Sally, and turned to where she had been standing with her students. She was gone, however. No doubt she had left once it was clear the danger had past to get her children away from the bodies. And the smell.
He walked inside the perimeter and down Main Street. Two blocks later he was at what had been the elementary school. He made his way to the window of Sally's classroom and looked inside. She appeared to be lecturing them about something, perhaps what they just witnessed. They had seen worse, he knew. Many of them lost parents on the way here, most of them were orphans. So few children left.
His thoughts went back to the undead girl whose eyes so easily found him. So few live ones, he thought dismally.
Sally looked up and saw him through the window. She paused in her speech and raised her eyebrows questioningly. Is everything all right? she was asking him.
He nodded his answer. She returned to her address quickly, so as not to call attention to the soldier outside. No sense exciting the children anymore than they already were. He walked away from the school and toward the municipal building. Time to find out what the newcomer had to say.
Thompson walked up the stairs and turned when he reached the front door. He looked up and down the parts of Main Street that he could see. Deserted completely. Less than ninety people in the City, Thompson, he explained to himself. You can't expect teeming masses with only ninety people.
Best get to work on that, he half-joked.
He closed his eyes. That wasn't funny at all.
Thompson opened the front door and walked inside. He made his way to the Mayor's office. The Mayor himself was behind his desk and The Commander sat in one of the chairs, sipping coffee. The latter nodded to Thompson upon his entrance.
Monroe had taken off his wide-brimmed hat and left the rest of his black garments on. He stood by the door with his arms crossed, looking grave. Once Thompson had come into the room, the taller man seemed to become animate once more. "I hope the both of you know that this man saved my life," he said with as close an emotion to cheer as he seemed capable of mustering. He took Thompson's hand and shook it, although more excitedly than he had done a few minutes back.
The Commander finally spoke with pride in his voice, as if he had been responsible for Thompson's expertise. "Thompson's our best man out there, Mr. Monroe."
Monroe did not correct the Commander on his desire to not have a title. He acted as if it did not matter. Thompson went to the other side of the door and leaned against the wall much as Monroe had done. He did not feel like sitting.
The Mayor adjusted himself behind his desk. "So . . . Monroe, tell us this important news."
Monroe's face became grim once more. "I will. I came from McMurtrie."
The Commander straightened in his chair. "Fort McMurtrie? But why did you ride all that way? They came by helicopter the last two times--"
Monroe shook his head sadly. "There is no 'they' anymore, Commander."
The room fell silent for several moments.
Thompson broke in finally. "So the base fell."
Monroe simply nodded.
"Impossible!" the Commander nearly knocked his chair over when he stood. "They were even more fortified than the City is! They had a good portion of their garrison intact! It's impossible, I tell you."
"Impossible," Monroe repeated after a moment. "Not too long ago, Commander, if I had walked in here and told you that the dead were getting back up and coming after the living, you would have said 'impossible' then, too."
The Commander could not reply.
"Regardless," the man continued, "don't take my word for it. Try raising them on your radio. I know they spoke with you at least once a week. Try calling them."
The Mayor's head seemed to droop on his neck. "We have been. Nothing."
Monroe looked from the Mayor to the Commander as if his point had been proved.
The Commander hummed in his throat for a moment. "At least tell me how."
"Internal problems," Monroe answered. "There were arguments, the base broke down into factions. These factions warred with each other. At first just roughhousing, really. Then someone started using guns. The perimeter was breached while they were otherwise engaged in killing each other. Then the dead came in and finished it."
The Commander shook his head. "I don't understand. Colonel Roberts had that post, and that doesn't sound like him at all."
Monroe almost smirked. "Strange times do things to a man."
The Commander still seemed unable to comprehend the news. "I don't understand. I've seen McMurtrie. How could they have gotten through their defenses?"
Monroe smiled. "Well, I must admit--we did help them." Then the man moved.
There was a blur, a movement in the air that no one could fathom. Within seconds, a gunshot filled the small room with ringing ears.
The Commander lolled back in his chair, a neat hole in his forehead, what had been the back of his head no sliding down the wall behind him. To his credit, he had tried to draw his own sidearm upon hearing the words "I must admit." It hung from his lifeless index finger, the muzzle touching the floor.
Monroe stood over him with one of his pistols in hand, the barrel smoking.
Thompson stood where he was, shock displaying on his face.
Surprisingly enough, The Mayor moved next. He scrambled to the floor and went on all fours toward the Commander's gun. Under his breath, he muttered, "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God . . ."
Thompson at that point began to move and Monroe turned his pistol toward him. "Wait," he told Monroe. "Don't!" He dove toward the Mayor.
The Mayor, despite his size, was crawling very fast, powered by fright. He grabbed the Commander's sidearm and stood up, bringing it to rest in both hands, pointed straight at Monroe. "Y-You--" He could not seem to finish his thought.
Thompson found himself on the floor behind the Mayor. He had badly anticipated the large man's speed and missed completely. "Mayor--"
Monroe lowered his own gun and seemed about to reassure Thompson. "It's all right, Thompson--"
The Commander's sidearm roared twice and Monroe jerked backwards with each impact. He stumbled backwards into the wall by the door, staining it with his blood. He hung there for a moment, leaning against it as if he had been hit with a sudden fainting spell.
The gun went limp in the Mayor's hands, as if he could not believe what he had just done.
Thompson had to admit he would have never thought it possible himself. "Mr. Mayor," he began, but Monroe interrupted him.
"I was going to say," the man said, standing up and brushing himself off, "that they always try that. With the same results."
Thompson took a moment to assure himself that yes, Monroe had just taken two bullets in the chest and was talking to him calmly as if to discuss the weather. Then he very quickly disarmed the Mayor.
The Mayor bemoaned the loss of his weapon and cowered behind Thompson. "But the gun!" he protested.
"Won't do you any good," Thompson told the man.
Monroe smiled. His former gloom was gone. "You're very astute, my friend. I respect that."
"I saw you move," Thompson said coldly, "so I knew we were fucked."
Monroe laughed. "No, no, you've got it all wrong."
Thompson shook his head. "I don't got it at all, Monroe, wrong or otherwise. You're not one of them. They don't talk and ride horses."
"They don't need guns either," Monroe added. "Neither do I, but it sometimes makes it easier."
"Easier?" The Mayor seemed to peep from behind Thompson.
Thompson gestured for the Mayor to keep quiet. "All right. Fine. I give up. What the hell are you?"
Monroe stepped in front of them toward the Commander's body. "Excuse me. I can't wait any longer for this," he said simply, and bent over the corpse. He opened his mouth wide and bit down into the Commander's neck.
Thompson heard the Mayor give out a small scream from behind him and felt the man bury his face into the back of his jacket. Although he was of the opinion that the Mayor had the right idea, he could not seem to look away.
Blood coursed down the Commander's chest and dangling arm, though not much. Monroe had clamped down onto the neck and was sucking the majority of the liquid down his throat. His eyes were closed and he held onto the body with both hands to keep it steady.
Thompson was not sure how long had passed before Monroe finally finished and stood up. The body slumped further in the chair. He wiped some spare blood from his chin. He looked at Thompson and smiled. "You and I need to talk."
"Yes, I think we do," Thompson replied.
Thompson turned to face the Mayor. The man's face was red and his teeth were grinding together. Thompson thought it was bad enough to try to get used to the idea that you had shot a man. Certainly not helping matters was the fact the man seemed to shake it off and find the whole affair humorous. "Get out," he told the Mayor. "Tell everyone else that comes running to stay out until I say so."
The Mayor nodded quickly and did not have to be told twice. He went out the door and slammed it shut behind him.
Monroe sat down in the chair next to the Commander and waited for Thompson to speak.
Thompson sat down on the rim of the Mayor's desk and looked at their guest. His chest had two starbursts of dark crimson that became black once the point of impact was reached. "What are you?" Thompson asked involuntarily.
Monroe smiled and spread out his hands. "You don't know?"
Thompson thought for a moment and closed his eyes. "I can't accept that." His mind raced. "No, you see--I've seen the movies--"
"They're mostly wrong."
"You have to be invited in," Thompson accused.
"You did." Monroe cleared his throat and yelled, "Come on, get in here!" in a voice that sounded eerily like Thompson's own.
Thompson's eyes widened and he sat back further on the desk. He felt the room spin just for a second.
"Neat trick, eh?" Monroe asked, leaning forward.
Thompson put his forehead into his hand and closed his eyes. "It's overcast today, so the sun wouldn't bother you."
"It itches, though," Monroe added. "Between the clouds and the clothing, it's passable."
"And the horse. You used the horse to ride in on because you knew they wouldn't want you. They wanted something warm."
Monroe nodded. "Because, well, I'm dead, too." He pointed at Thompson. "You're good. We're going to get along fine."
Thompson shook his head. "This. This is unreal."
"Come on, Thompson. It's not that big a stretch once you accept zombies to accept vampires." Monroe paused. "And why Thompson? Why can't I call you by your first name?"
Thompson closed his eyes. "So I killed him."
Monroe leaned forward. "What? Killed who?" He pointed at the Commander's lifeless form. "Him?"
"Listen," Monroe leaned forward and put a hand on the man's knee. "You've seen what I can do. I would have gotten in one way or another. If not you, someone else. Trust me."
Thompson flinched involuntarily from the man's touch. It felt like any other man's. "You've done this before."
"You did this at McMurtrie."
Again, a nod.
Thompson sighed. "So what happens now? You kill me?"
Monroe stood up and stretched, his spine crackling. "Why would I want to kill you, Thompson?"
Thompson cut his eyes to the body of the Commander. "Why did you kill him?"
"An example," Monroe responded quickly. "I needed to let you know what I could do."
"So why wasn't I the example?" Thompson asked. "Why not the Mayor?"
Monroe shrugged. "The Mayor didn't look like something I would want to drink. And you--you saved me horse and let me in. And you're quick. I need you alive."
Thompson frowned. "I don't understand. Why am I special? What makes me different from the people at McMurtrie you murdered?"
Monroe walked over to the window and looked out. He turned and smiled. "Cooperation."
"Our plan. It's very simple really. Would you like to hear it?"
Do I have a choice? Thompson almost asked, but thought better of it. He simply nodded.
Monroe began pacing as he spoke. "Basically, you humans are ridiculous creatures." He stopped as if to correct himself. "I say that as one who has been a human and gotten over it." He resumed walking. "The entire world is covered with the undead--" He pointed to the window. "--that kind of undead, I mean--and what do you do? You squabble amongst yourselves over who's in charge. You stake your claim on property and money as if they still meant something. You spent most of your time back when this could have been stopped trying to decide who was to blame instead of solving the problem." He sighed. "Typical.
"So what do you have now? You have billions of undead and you're outnumbered. You've retreated to military bases and walled in cities and you're trying to figure out what to do next. If you just waited long enough, they'd rot to the point where they were immobile and you could walk through the streets shooting and burning them. But we've decided you won't make it that long. You'll kill each other off before they have the chance."
Thompson stood up. "We? Who is we? There's more than just you?"
Monroe smiled. "Oh, yes. Lots more than just me."
"So what is it all of you have decided about all of us mere humans?" Thompson asked, unable to get the sarcastic edge out of his voice.
"Why, we've decided to help keep you alive of course."
Thompson blinked. "Alive?"
"Yes, alive," Monroe walked across the room toward the desk. "Don't go dense on me now, Thompson. We can't drink blood once they're that far gone. It has to be a recent kill." He nodded to the Commander. "Like him.
"So naturally we want to find the strongholds of you humans and keep you alive and breeding."
Thompson looked up at him. "So you can feed off of us and keep yourselves alive."
Monroe smiled and nodded. "See, I told you you were the bright one of the bunch." He started pacing again. "We can ensure that you'll survive. For the most part, you won't even notice we're here."
Thompson laughed. "Except for the holes in our necks."
"A small price to pay," Monroe shrugged. "Others have gotten used to that minor inconvenience."
"Others?" Thompson raised an eyebrow. "How many others?"
"A few thousand," Monroe replied, as if it were nothing. "They liked the idea of being able to continue their way of life."
Thompson crossed his arms and thought for several moments. "What if we kill you instead?"
Monroe looked amused.
"What if we were able to kill you instead? We could hold you at bay with crosses till one of us could stake you."
Monroe burst out laughing. "No offense, my friend -- but in a world like this it's hard to imagine that God exists now. Or maybe that he ever did exist to begin with." He seemed to calm himself. "No, you could probably pull that off. You're a resourceful young guy. But if I don't report back to the rest of the group that you've agreed, they'll come in here and kill you all. They'll kill all of you, drain you dry, and then demolish the fence and let the zombies in."
Thompson's brow creased. He considered this for a full minute. "And if we simply say no?"
Monroe's smile became very cold. "Then the same thing happens. Only I'm still here and I'll help them take this place apart." He nodded. "I don't think you want that, Thompson. I think you want to live. I think you have someone to live for."
Thompson looked startled.
"No, I can't read your mind, Thompson," Monroe laughed again. "I just saw the way you and the schoolteacher looked at each other. At least, I assume she's a schoolteacher, she was with those children."
Thompson smirked despite himself. "So you're here to save us all."
"And ourselves. We're very selfish creatures, make no mistake."
Thompson leaned back on the desk. "So I really have no choice to make, do I?"
Monroe shook his head. "I'm sorry, Thompson. You may not believe that, but it's true. It seems like if you were running this place it would all work out for the best without us. But we can't take that risk. We go hungry without the living, so the living must be kept that way -- living.
"I've seen too many human settlements crumble due to internal strife. It cannot be allowed any longer."
"What is your first name anyway?" Monroe asked.
Thompson shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Listen, suppose I say yes to this. What happens to us?"
Monroe smiled. "Nothing. Not really, anyway. You're allowed to continue as you have been. Only we're in charge and we'll come by whenever we want. And feed whenever we want. On whomever we want." He directed this last part at Thompson.
"That's right. Even your schoolteacher."
Thompson drew his own gun and pointed it at the other man's forehead. This was all accomplished in one swift motion that seemed only slightly slower than Monroe's had been minutes before. Monroe did not even blink.
"Thompson, what are you doing?" He asked plainly. "Tell me exactly what you think you're doing. Because, well -- I'm very curious to know."
Thompson's breathing was ragged. "If you touch her--" he began.
"What?" Monroe taunted. "If I touch her, what? Do you think this is a sexual thing, Thompson? Do you think I want your schoolteacher? You have been watching too many movies. Your blood is food to me, Thompson, nothing else."
Thompson's trigger finger twitched. "My Sally is not your damn food, Monroe."
"So what are you going to do, Thompson? Shoot me?" Monroe smirked. "We've already seen what the end result of that is. It will just mean that your Sally is not anybody's food but the zombies'."
Thompson closed his eyes. His head seemed to shake from side to side of its own accord.
"Besides, I wouldn't want to drink from 'your' Sally."
"What?" Thompson's eyes snapped open. "What did you just say?"
Monroe shook his head in pity. "First you don't want me to drink from her and now you're offended that I'm not going to." He paused a moment. "I can't drink from her because she's pregnant, Thompson. I assume it must be your child."
The gun in Thompson's hands lowered itself. "She's--" he stopped. "She's--"
Monroe frowned. "You don't know? Well, she may not know yet herself. She's not very far along. I can't drink from her because I don't know what that will do to the child, and children are obviously very important to us."
The gun was now pointing at the floor. "But we--we were--"
"Being careful?" Monroe asked. "You know there's only one one-hundred-percent effective form of birth control, Thompson."
Thompson sat down heavily on the side of the desk, his head reeling. "Sally--" he began, and then stopped. He could not seem to speak. "But how did you--?"
"No mind reading there, either," Monroe explained. "I see things . . . differently that you do, Thompson. Where one living being should be standing there's another inside her. It's hard to explain but easy for me to see."
Monroe took a step toward him and put a hand on his shoulder. He sighed. "Let me guess. You love her, she loves you. You weren't sure about bringing a child into a world ruled by the dead. But now--"
Thompson laughed despite himself, tears standing out in his eyes. "But now I don't know whether to be happy or not. God, this is all so fucked up!" He pounded a fist against the desk.
Monroe sighed. "Look at it this way, Thompson. We're here and it's in our best interests to keep humanity going through this. It might take a long time, but we'll get there. There's just going to be some trying times until then."
"And then?" Thompson wiped at his eyes. "When they're gone, and it's only humans and vampires again. What then?"
Monroe stopped. "To be honest, we've never considered it. Let's just say that at that time, we'll renegotiate."
Thompson nodded. He felt utterly defeated. There only seemed to be one thing left on his mind. "Does . . . does it hurt?" He opened his eyes to see Monroe standing virtually on top of him.
"Only for a second," Monroe reassured him. "But first, you have to tell me what your first name is."
Thompson smiled. "It's Eugene. That's why everyone calls me Thompson." He considered for a moment. "Why do you want to be called Monroe?"
"Francis," Monroe stated. "My first name is Francis. I know how you feel."
Monroe leaned into Thompson and the soldier closed his eyes. He kept seeing Sally, months from now, her belly swollen with their child. And then if she's pregnant again, he thought madly, they won't touch her. If she can just stay pregnant . . .
He hardly noticed the pain until it was already over.
John Robinson has been writing since he was knee high to a fetus. His first book, a poetry collection entitled Love Letters Unsent to People Unmet, has been published in print form and as an audiobook by One Tusk Publishing (http://www.onetusk.com). More of his ongoing work can be found at Needcoffee.com (http://www.needcoffee.com). This short story originally appeared online at Creature Corner.