I stood before my ex-classmate, the real-life zombie, armed with a heavy branch and trying to muster my courage. The sun was almost set, the colour draining from the surrounding landscape. Now that Simon and I had stood still, silently assessing the one obstacle between us and the sleeping vampire we were here to kill, I noticed that we couldsmellhim. The repugnant scent of death and decay. Did Angela really love Tommy enough to bring him back as this? Though she had been the one to kill him to begin with; how warped had her mind become after her transformation anyway?
"Tommy..." I tried reasoning again. "Angela wants to kill us. She's going to keep killing people. We have to put her down. Just move."
"Leave this place!" it snarled.
"He's not going to back down." Simon murmured from beside me.
"So be it then. Simon, get out your stake."
Tommy roared again, inhuman. I gulped, and then charged at him with the branch. Tommy raised his arm and staggered under the blow, but kept upright. He was not as strong or agile as he'd been when alive, but he was mobile enough. Tommy swiped and lunged, howling with fury. His attacks were quick like a venomous snake. I was scrunching my nose against his gag-worthy smell, moving quickly away. Simon still hadn't tried to get around and into the cottage, and we were running out of time.
"Move!" I yelled, desperate and frightened.
"Give up. Joining us isn't so bad."
I gave a shout of my own and dived forward, smacking the branch against his head. The crack of withered bones. I clubbed him with an overhead swing and he went down. I stared while panting, the zombie stayed down. Unmoving. Could zombies be knocked unconscious? He looked proper dead now. The sun was down. I looked back at Simon who still hadn't moved, eyes bright.
"Go now! What are you doing?"
We looked at each other and when he didn't move I cursed, dipped down and unslung my bag. Keeping the motionless Tommy in my peripheral in case. I reached in and pulled out my stake. Simon's hand clenched my shoulder.
"She's already awake..."
The distant horizon, beyond the tips of the forest still burned with the light of the setting sun. Here we were in darkness. The two of us raised our heads as Angela drifted upward like a quiet balloon, through a hole in the roof. Her pale feet came to rest on the tiled edge toward us. Angela's white face looked unmistakably furious for a moment before settling into mean satisfaction.
"You were too late."
"Angela..." My voice was despaired.
"Angela." Simon unreadable.
The vampire was as pale as a ghost, wearing that old-fashioned underdress. Short, honey-coloured hair that framed her face. Red eyes. She seemed dainty, graceful in her weightlessness. As ethereal as a nightmare. Looking at Angela was like gazing through a lens into the ethers. Not a ghost, but a bridge. Partly physical but also a being of magic. In-between worlds, the Undead.
She hooked an arm, curled her fingers. Tommy was raised, tugged upward by his chest with an invisible string. He stood again, alertness back on his face. There was rustling from inside the cottage, three more corpses walked out the open door, one after the other. These zombies, two men and a woman, were thin-limbed with sunken cheeks. They'd been well and truly drained of blood before Angela chose to keep them. Unlike Tommy they had no alertness in their faces, these corpses were nothing more than mindless puppets.
Holy shit. I couldn't speak. Terror didn't even begin to cover it.
With a cruel scowl Angela dissolved, grey mist rolled off the roof and swirled in two directions so as to surround us. In a few seconds we were trapped, I turned to Simon and saw Angela's blurry form moving for his back... hands reaching. They lost their shape when they tried to grab him, an angry scream; Simon whirled around.
The smoke faded and Angela could be seen perched atop the nearest tree like a cat.
"Peter!" she was hissing at me. "I might not be able to touch you buttheycan." From my peripheral I could see the zombies approaching.
"Wait wait!" Simon waved his arms and stepped forward. "Nobody has to die, Angela. Listen to me."
What is he talking about?I eyed Simon's back in confusion. Angela regarded him strangely as well.
"I want you to make me into a vampire too." As soon as Simon said it my expression morphed into disbelief.
"Of course you do." She answered.
"Simon have you lost your fucking mind!" He didn't even look at me.
"You have no idea how great this is, Peter." She ducked further into her crouch, like coiling to spring. I saw the sharp canines of her teeth, her fangs, for the first time in that wicked smile "No more school, no more dealing with people you don't like, no more responsibilities. I can go anywhere and do anything. I canfly. I can do so many things."
"I know. I'm so much more." She looked down at my crush, gaze like a demon. "Simon, is it? Is that why you came with Peter, so I'd make you a vampire? I can't do that. Only head vampires can make other vampires."
"Then take me to the vampire who changed you!" Simon yelled with furious determination.
"I left Vlad months ago. He changed me so I'd join his brides." Angela and I watched Simon as he stood there and said nothing. "I like you though, Simon... I'll make you a zombie who's soul I keep around. Like Jane. Peter, I will feed on."
I turned and stepped away as the zombies crept closer, anorexic limbs and lifeless faces. Tommy's rabid-dog gargling and snarls. There was a tremendous rip and I jumped to see Angela holding a branch as thick as her torso, overhead with a single arm. She tossed it at me and I lunged aside. Her aim was off, the log-piece cracking against the ground. She screeched and vanished backward, as if caught in a sudden wind.
"Simon, come on!" I scampered to my bag and pulled out a torch. Sprinted off into the forest, the group of zombies raced after me.
The stars were coming out and I could see their skeletal limbs running, a perversely strange sight as they came after me. Moving into the forest, the sound of Simon's breathing not far from me. I couldn't think about the words he'd said to Angela right now. Around us were four footfalls in the dark. Running through dead grass and shadows, trying not to trip on roots as I followed my bouncing beam of light. Panting from fear and aching with each forced step in the cold. Getting up an incline and halting as something caught my eye, beyond the treetops.
Angela, a fluttering shape of white, upright and high in the air as she moved in a linear direction toward town. Breezing straight toward Scone like a kite, unhindered by anything. A sight so impossible I couldn't help but stop in my tracks and stare.
She's leaving us for town. Too thirsty, deciding she'd drink from someone else anyway? For some reason I thought of Jane and my stomach dropped.
The temperature was sinking drastically. I heard a faint rustle behind me and turned in time to see one of the skeletal zombies brandishing a piece of tree. It hit me in the shoulder instead of the back of my head, I tripped in weeds and scampered back. They were grotesque; stick-figures running through the forest. I legged it deeper into the woods, into the darkness.
"Simon!" I couldn't see him. I heard Tommy, roaring orders at the other zombies.
I climbed the first living tree I saw, straining and gritting my teeth, forcing myself up. Twigs snapped as I got off the ground, concealing myself in the scratchy leaves. Getting about two metres up. Our pursuers weren't far off, combing the area. I had no idea where Simon was, but Tommy's voice kept snapping at Angela's minions, telling them to find us. Huddling into myself against the cold, I perched and waited.
Scrunching my eyes, the sounds of gravelly shouting and scampering feet began to fade away. If they couldn't kill me, Angela couldn't return here. She'd have to find another resting place. But it would be a long night. I heard static from my backpack, and remembered with a start the walkie talkies Simon had thought to bring. I was starving from lack of food, thirsty too, but thank God he'd thought to bring those.
"Simon!" After pulling it out I thumbed the button. "Simon, can you hear me?"
"Peter..." his voice was getting clearer. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I climbed a tree. What about you?"
"I'm in a ditch somewhere."
"Good... I can't hear them anymore."
"We have to meet up. Think you can make your way back to the house?"
"I hope so. I don't know where I am."
"Well we can't stay out in the forest all night. We'll freeze."
"I got a compass..."
"Good. Just follow that trail of death." Ducking my head I pinched the bridge of my nose. I figured I wouldn't say anything until we were together, but it was slipping out anyway. I thumbed the button "Simon, how could you say that to her? You want to be what she is? You know that means you'll have to kill people right?"
There was a long moment of silence. I wondered if he was going to answer me at all.
"I'll see you soon, Peter."
I bit my lip and nodded to myself. Then I worked the stiffness out of my limbs as I climbed carefully down the tree. The two of us worked our way back toward the house. My heart was jumping as I prowled through the dark, listening carefully. I found the cottage with relative ease. Simon wasn't here yet. The chill of the night was starting to enter my bones.
Creeping over to the front door, hanging off its hinge, I peered into a dilapidated one-room structure. The walls were cracked and eaten by age and the elements. At the edge my torch alighted not on a coffin, but a heavy chest. Angela would have to bend her legs to fit inside, but it was doable. The place stank – she must have kept those months' old corpses around her just in case she'd need them.
I went outside again quickly, lifting up the walkie talkie "Are you almost there?"
"Yeah, I can see your torch."
"No Tommy anywhere in sight."
"No." he agreed.
Soon after I saw Simon's silhouette approaching from out the darkness. His torch battery must have died. We really needed to get back to Scone, this travel back was going to be hard enough. I was sore, hungry, tired and scared. The onset of shock had still not set in. The outline of Simon's slim figure and matted hair walked into sight.
"Okay..." he said by way of greeting "let's head back."
"What are we going to do now? She got away." I bit back my accusations:Did you want us to fail all along, just so you could ask Angela to change you?It was very possible that Angela was killing right this moment, but Simon didn't seem to care.
"We'll figure it out on the way back." He answered simply.
And so we began our return. I had to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps like me Simon was undergoing shock and that was why he stayed quiet. I felt on the verge of tears; tonight everything in my life had changed. I would never be able to get over tonight.
We used my torch to follow the map. Simon's phone battery had died, mine was out of range. Even though it wouldn't solve anything, all I wanted was to crawl into bed. We moved quickly. It was coming on eleven at night when we made it back to my car. We'd found the road first and followed it until my green car was in sight. I checked my phone again and found fifteen missed calls.
"Shiiiit." I gripped it like it was giving me an electric current.
Simon climbed into the passenger side of my car and said nothing. I dialled Jane's number and circled outside. It rang through the first time, but she answered on the second try.
"...Peter?" her suspicion turned to relief "Where are you? Melanie called, your parents called. No one can find you."
"Jane, are you okay?" Underneath my voice threatened to crack into mania. I was sure she'd notice that, but then again she'd never been the most observant person.
"I'm fine... no, I'm not really fine." It wasn't relief that she'd got in contact with me. It was relief to talk to someone – she was scared.
"What's going on?"
"I just... I keep getting these feelings. Like someone's outside my house. Likeshe-" Jane stopped herself. "Why did you call?"
"I can't explain right now. But... can you promise me that tonight, no matter what happensdon't go outside. Don't leave the house, okay?"
"What the fuck is going on?"
She hung up on me. I looked through the windshield at Simon who watched, waiting patiently. Angela would have reached town hours before us, but she'd not convinced Jane to go outside. Poor girl – Jane was terrified. She'd been terrified all week. And instead of talking to me she was talking to the councillor, who would be saying it's all in her head. Jane wouldn't go outside... unless... she didn't know she was safe inside and tried to run somewhere.
I hopped into the car beside Simon and twisted my key into the ignition. Fired up the pathetic heater. We worked to massage the frostbite out of our fingers and toes. I spun the car around and drove us back to Scone. The roadway was doused in light mist under moonlight.
Can the vampire resist drinking tonight? Will she scare Jane out of her house? I had a bad feeling.
Without even thinking I'd driven us to her house. I pulled up to the curb and waited. Through the curtains I could see the lights were on in Jane's bedroom. I breathed with bloated eyes, Simon fidgeted in the seat beside me.
"She's out there..."
"Are you sure?" I twisted to Simon.
His eyes were peering upward as he undid his seatbelt, climbing out of the car. I internally cursed and followed him.
"You were too late, boys." Angela was perched atop a telegraph pole, behind the hooked streetlight. In her arms – my insides clenched up – was Jane. Cradled bridal style, completely slack, her hair swept back. Angela eyed the nape of her neck with hunger.
"Leave us alone!" I shouted, my fear breaking through my resolve. Hands trembling.
"You want to be a vampire, Simon? Why are you helping him?"
From beside me Simon swallowed to wet his dry mouth "I needed to see if you'd help me... To see what it'd be like to talk to you... if you could be reasoned with. The weapons... they were just a safety precaution."
"You used me!" I snapped. Whirling at Simon, and despite everything that was going on I was surprised my heart could break from the betrayal, right here of all places. I'd tried to make the justifications on his behalf. But I knew he wasn't lying, this wasn't a trick to get close to Angela and then stab her. I'd still driven him back here, stupidly hoping that what was apparent was not as real as my dearest hopes. My heart was punched through, the gravity of this rejection not yet realised, but set in motion.
The whole time Simon had been researching zombies, the occult and then vampires. He knew it was possible to become a vampire, and he'd decided that was what he wanted. And he kept that to himself.
Simon was not capable of loving me. He turned his face "I'm not like you, Peter. I'm not like the rest of them."
"I know you're different. That's why I like you." There was a vast depth behind the wordlike.
"I never said I liked you back." The punch-hole widened at his words. "I said we could be friends."
"You..." Did I imagine something else this whole time? Was he heartless? Or was I the biggest, hopelessly romantic idiot in the world? Despite Simon not saying it back, I'd imagined that something was between us. I'd liked him so much, for so long. I was too scared to have the talk and force the words out of him. And that was probably because... if I had forced it he would have said 'no'. So I'd lingered, I was hopeful and imagining. I was a fool.
"My Dad is in prison because he killed my Mum." Simon began, eyes neutral. "That's why I see a therapist. That's why I go to the councillor. That's why I moved here." He watched me, I was in too much pain to speak. "I've been bullied for not fitting in. That's why I don't like people." His voice was toneless.
My mind was being pulled in multiple directions and it was confusing me. My aching heart pulled me downward, the threat of Angela pulled me upward. The Undead cradling Jane, who was possibly dead. The dying space between Simon and me.
"I really like you." My voice was small.
"Sorry." Simon didn't look sorry. He was as emotionless as ever, but he did look honest as he faced me.
This wasn't a break-up, we hadn't even been together. So why did it feel like one? Above us Angela quietly bared witness to our exchange.
"I like you, Simon. Maybe we can make a deal. Meet me in the clock tower. Alone."
The vampire drifted off like a ghost, easily supporting the weight of the unconscious girl in her arms. Fluttering white overhead. High above the cars, road and houses. A foot or two above the electrical wires. We craned our necks to watch. She floated in a straight line up in the cold night, breezing out of view.
"...She's gonna kill Jane. She wants to kill me."
"Goodbye, Peter. It was nice knowing you." Simon said it sincerely and went to leave. My head snapped to him and he was already walking off into the dark. Turning his back and taking those steps so easily, not weighted to me at all.It was nice knowing you, I'd never known a crueller sentiment.
I stood in the street after Simon was gone. Jane's bedroom light distracted me again. Her parents were still in the house, sleeping. Unaware of the fate of their daughter. I felt exposed. I went to my car and got inside, put my hands on the steering wheel and processed. I could feel the break-down coming. Tears rolled down my face with full-body shakes. My friend is dead. I'm going to be hunted. I can't go home. Simon never cared about me.
I let myself fall apart for what might've been fifteen minutes. The primary emotion was fear. Even when I'd got a hold of myself, somewhat, my hand was still violently shaking as I went to drive off again. It was just me now. Angela still had to be killed, I didn't know how to talk her out of trying to kill me.
I didn't know how I could do it. Going to the clock-tower wasn't going to help. You can't sneak up on a vampire, all I had was a wooden stabbing implement. There was nothing else I could do. I thought about my options, I considered everything, and in the end... all I could do was go home. I looked like a mess. I'd be grounded either way, but the berating wouldn't be so bad when my parents saw the state I was in. Any little trigger would get me sobbing again.
I would say that Simon Chernosky and I ditched school together. We went for a hike and got lost, hungry and scared.
Somehow, call it intuition, I didn't believe I'd see Simon at school tomorrow. I didn't think I'd ever see him again, alive anyway. This was the end.