Terry had never been a fighter. He got angry often enough, but it had only ever turned him into a flail of arms and legs which rarely landed effective blows. It was more effective than his early childhood defence, of curling up into as small a ball as possible, if only because it was such a surprise to any attacker.
When the bloodstained ghoul that couldn’t possibly be Glenn came at him in an accelerated stagger, Terry couldn’t even use either of his old tactics. He stared in open-mouthed shock at the oncoming figure. A strangled cry was all he could manage as he forced a step back. The grey aura around his would-have-been pimp wasn’t the only horrific detail, now he was closer.
The wound on Glenn’s neck, where the Mistress had torn it open to drink his blood, glistened a dark, sinewy red. But the edges were paler, the colour of bloodless flesh growing across the gap. The lower half of Glenn’s face was coated in blood. What had flowed off his chin stained the front of his clothes all the way down to his knees.
Glenn’s expression was one of hunger. Beyond that, it was hard to read any of the other emotions or motivations you’d expect on a sentient human’s face. That changed when he drew closer, as his gaze flicked away from Terry, as if looking for the reaction of Leech and the Mistress. It was the merest flicker, though, before the hunger returned.
At the very last moment, Terry remembered his fighting technique. His arms came up, batting at Glenn’s extended hands and then his face. He fended off the attack, but didn’t use the advantage to get away. Glenn’s hands came back, grabbing Terry’s right arm at wrist and elbow.
Terry pulled away, trying to twist his arm from Glenn’s grasp. His new strength meant that he pulled the larger man along with ease, but wasn’t enough to get himself free. He made a fist with his left hand, and pounded Glenn’s right arm with it. Perhaps he could break bone now, and that would do the job.
The sleeve of Terry’s suit jacket had ridden up, and the silk of his shirt, from wrist halfway to elbow, was exposed. Glenn’s head ducked in, and his mouth closed on Terry’s arm.
He didn’t feel pain the way he had as a human. As Glenn’s teeth tightened on his arm, and the flesh began to tear, there was the same searing message of damage flashing along his nerves. But it didn’t fire off the same responses of terror and shock. Mostly, Terry felt anger.
He channelled the anger along his left arm as he finally swung an effective punch. His fist connected with Glenn’s cheek and nose, cracking them and delivering enough force to throw him back.
Glenn staggered away from Terry, but he took a large chunk of skin and muscle- and some expensive silk- with him. Terry knew better than to look at the wound. He took steps back, and tried to assess the situation.
Only know did he notice the squeal of spinning tyres and the angry growl of a powerful engine being pushed hard. As he turned to the noise, he saw the Bentley swinging around, leaving a trail of grey smoke and two black C’s on the tarmac. The rear of the big car hit the grey aura’d woman and one of the men, knocking them over.
Another of the ghouls landed on the Bentley’s bonnet as the car’s back wheels hit the kerb and it came to a temporary halt. He was pushed up the metal and splayed across the windscreen as the car accelerated away. Terry cried out after the disappearing vehicle, desperate for it to stop.
The Bentley braked, the nose dipping sharply as it slowed. The man on the bonnet slid off fast, bouncing then rolling along the street. Terry set off for the car, holding his mangled right arm to his chest as he started running.
But Leech hadn’t stopped to let Terry in. He had only been interested in clearing the obstruction from his view. The matt black car accelerated again. It twitched away from the kerb, but still couldn’t avoid its former rider. His shoulders took the brunt of the force, and the car pushed him along a short distance. Then his lower body caught on something, and he twisted to land face down.
The Bentley rode up onto the body, and big tyres squashed the head against the tarmac. There was a sickening crack, then a thud as the car’s body dropped down to add to the damage. The sequence was repeated, mutedly, as the rear wheel drove over him.
What had been a walking corpse was now a real one. Terry ran after the car until he was level with the splayed figure, and it was about to disappear around a corner. He swore, calling Leech the worst names he could drag up, adding several he invented on the spot. It had to have been Leech’ doing, abandoning him, it couldn’t be the sort of thing the Mistress would do.
When he got back to the tower, Terry would deal with Leech. He didn’t know how, but the slimy little man would suffer.
If he got back. Terry remembered Glenn, and that there were three others with him. He turned to face them, to at least see which way would be best to run.
He jumped when he spotted Glenn was already almost level with him. But, as he moved sideways, he saw that the other man was ignoring him, shambling off after the Bentley. The man and woman who had been knocked over had picked themselves up and were close behind Glenn.
But there was a fourth walking corpse, and it was heading toward Terry. He looked familiar. Terry glanced down at the body he was skirting. The head was a mangled mess of grey, red and white, but he vaguely remembered what it had looked like. The work clothes it wore were the same as those on the man coming over.
Had these two been brothers? Did it matter what their relationship had been, when the remaining one was closing in to attack?
Terry walked backwards, checking that Glenn and the others were still walking away, and not flanking him. Confident he wasn’t about to be caught in a pincer, he held his right arm away from his body, and pulled the jacket sleeve up, to investigate his wound.
Already, the chunk that had been bitten from his forearm was filling in. An advantage of being a vampire, he thought, rapid healing. However, as he looked closer, he could see the new flesh and muscle wasn’t the same colour as that it was growing from. It was unhealthy, almost grey. Like the skin around Glenn’s throat wound.
Was he turning into one of them, whatever they were?
The man stepped over his fallen brother, still heading toward Terry. He was walking slowly, stumbling and shuffling. Terry could easily run away. But he was filled with anger. Not just at Leech’s betrayal, but also about the wound Glenn had inflicted. He wanted to vent that fury, and, he was sure, he could handle just one of these…. things.
Zombies, he told himself. He didn’t know why the name hadn’t come to him earlier. These shuffling once-humans had to be zombies. If vampires existed, why couldn’t there be other forms of undead?
If zombies were real, how did you kill them? For a horrible moment, Terry was sure he had forgotten the plot of every horror film he had ever seen. The big man lunged for him, though it turned out more of a stumble.
Terry stepped back, lightly dancing away with a grace he had never possessed before. He didn’t want to spend too long dodging the ghoul’s swinging arms, though. He needed to get back to the tower, to wring Leech’s neck.
That was how you killed a zombie! Destroy the brain, or sever the spinal cord at the neck. Easy enough in a film, where they always got hold of a gun or baseball bat easily. How was he going to do it?
The zombie made another grab for Terry. He wasn’t ready this time, and the pallid fist caught his shirt collar. The silk tore away as ragged nails dragged scars down Terry’s chest.
He batted the hand away with his weak right hand, not moving fast enough. The zombie had a loose grip around his elbow, and pulled his hand close enough to bite.
Teeth tore into the softer flesh on the chopping edge of his hand. It began to rip away.
Terry kicked hard with his left foot, sweeping the zombie’s right foot from under it. It began to fall, dragging Terry with it. Terry twisted and pulled away, managing to avoid being trapped under the heavy body.
The body sprawled in front of Terry. As it struggled to get up, he struck the back of its head with his injured hand. The zombie’s forehead smacked against the tarmac. The blow wasn’t powerful enough to stop it, though, and soon it was trying to get up again.
Now that film tropes and clichés were coming back to Terry, he remembered all the scenes where a tough guy twisted their victim’s neck until it snapped. He would try that. He dropped onto the big man’s back, letting all his weight land on his knees as they dug into the spine and ribcage. Air was forced from dead lungs, and the zombie made a surprising grunt.
Terry’s left hand clasped hair, whilst his right searched the man’s face for purchase. In the films, they always grabbed the jaw to do the twist, but he was avoiding the teeth as much as possible. With a horrible, and very satisfying, squelch, his middle finger pushed deep into and eye socket.
The big man was moving again, trying to push up. He wasn’t making a conscious effort to throw Terry off, but that would be the result, sooner or later. Terry hooked his finger inside the eye socket and began drawing it sideways. His left hand pushed the other way, and the head began to turn.
Half blind, and sensing, somehow, the danger it was in, the zombie’s movements became more violent. Terry rode it. Like a grotesque rodeo, as it rose onto all fours and struggled to stand up. There were splintering sounds from its neck, as dead tendons began to tear. Then there was a sharp crack as the neck turned to an unnatural angle.
The zombie slumped down to the tarmac, arms and legs splaying out. They twitched for a moment, then stopped. The battered face, with a pulpy red hole where its left eye had been, gurned horribly up at Terry.
Terry felt a victorious ecstasy at defeating this foe. It was better, purer, in many ways, than the pleasure he had taken at feeding on the homeless man. This had been cathartic violence, not the sensual pleasure of slaking his thirst.
The urge to violence was still strong. The ugly, beaten face still offended him. That mouth, now hanging open in a stupid O, had torn up his hand. Taking hold of the head again, he twisted it some more. The spine had separated, and the muscles under the skin were torn. Soon, a split in the skin made its way raggedly all the way around the neck, and the head separated from the shoulders.
Terry tugged at the head, pulling apart the final few sinews as he stood. He looked the dead face in its remaining eye. Unable to think of a good one-liner, he made a low hiss. Then he spun on the spot, to throw the head with so much force that it split with a satisfying squashing and cracking noise when it hit the viaduct.
He laughed at the gore, but it was an angry sound. He had just ascended, and his long future had been threatened by shambling, mindless beasts and a treacherous snivelling little human. But he had survived. He would have his revenge on Leech, and Glenn, and all the shuffling husks with him.
It wasn’t far to the tower. Returning to it was his first priority. As he took the first steps, and the elation of the kill began to wear off, he felt dizzy. The pain in his arm, and, now, his hand, was a dull throb. But it seemed to be sapping his energy.
Pulling up the arm of his jacket, Terry studied the wound in his forearm. The bite was closing up, he was sure. The ring of pale, unhealthy flesh filling the wound was thicker. The gash would be gone soon, but it would be replaced by this unhealthy, dead looking skin. Like Glenn’s skin, or that of the zombie he had just decapitated.
It was hard to understand what this might mean. He had hardly learnt anything of what it meant to be a vampire yet, so he couldn’t know whether this was what he should expect. He had been certain he could heal most wounds, he had seen the cut on the Mistress’s forehead disappear almost instantly. He had expected to regenerate in the same way- the soft pristine skin that covered the rest of his body coming back, leaving no scars.
Could he be infected with whatever it was that had turned Glenn into a zombie? Was his healing ability just growing diseased flesh in the place of what had been there before? The Mistress would know. She would have the answers he needed. He straightened up, and concentrated on putting one foot before the other. It became easier, and his confidence in getting home grew.
Healing must take a lot of energy, Terry reasoned. All the good his first live drink had done him would be squandered filling the holes those animals had left in him. It would be risky, but he would find someone to feed on, to restore his energy.
A second kill, and all by himself. Terry couldn’t help but grin at the prospect.