Chapter 15: Daniel
Bobbi yelped and backed away from the animated corpse, muttering something vaguely indecipherable under her breath as she went. I made out what seemed to be calls to run and maybe even destroy our makeshift bridge. When she started muttering about burning the building down, I merely rolled my eyes and reached out to grab her arm.
“Calm down.” I rolled my eyes at her as I held her arm. “I think if this guy was a threat, he’d have done more than just sit there…”
I glanced back to the slab as I said that, only then realizing that when I wasn’t looking, that may no longer be true. I was met with exactly what I suspected, the body was just sitting here with a calm and patient smile on his face. He adjusted the sheet which had been covering him a few moments before to better cover himself from the waist down. I cautiously waved and introduced myself, to which he patiently grinned and told us his own name.
“Daniel.” He held out a hand, to which I only stared. “Oh come on! I don’t bite.” He laughed and panotomimed biting an arm and wrenching his neck back. “Besides… It’s really more of a ripping motion…” He laughed even harder, oblivious to the looks of shock and horror that the three of us wore. When he finally noticed, his laughter stopped abruptly but his grin did not fade. “What? Stiffs that don’t like zombie jokes? But, Pinkie Pie over there was the one who brought it up. Oh, wait, I get it. You’re the sort who can dish it out, but you can’t take it. Wish I could say you were the first…”
“Excuse me? Did you just call us stiffs?” Bobbi seemed incensed. “Look, buddy, you’re the shambling corpse.”
“Hey now, no need for such language.” Daniel visibly bristled. “We’re all dead here, no need for such language.” He stood up and started walking towards Bobbi, quite normally, if somewhat stiffly like he had slept in an uncomfortable position for too long. “What did you say your name was again, fresh meat?” He leaned forward, straight into Bobbi’s personal space.
Bobbi was uncowed. She glared back at Daniel. “It’s Bobbi, Daniel.” She said the latter name with a heavily dripping contempt that caused the dead man to take a step back.
“Whoa now, let’s all just calm down here.” Daniel waved his hands around, trying to convey in gestures that he wanted us all to relax. “I’m confused. I’ve seen lots of anger and sadness since I woke up here, especially in the newer stiffs, but you… You’re different…”
I cleared my throat, drawing Daniel’s attention. “I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding. We’re not dead, you see… None of us are.” I swept my arms around the room to indicate that I was talking about all three of us, not just myself. “And Bobbi had already been worried about the idea of the… walking dead.”
Daniel stood there in stunned silence for a long moment, looking between the three of us in turn. “So, wait. You’re telling me that you’re still alive? With a pulse and everything?” His expression took on a strange cast. “But, that’s impossible…” He grabbed Bobbi’s arm in a sudden and swift gesture, pulling it close to his face and eliciting a scream from the young woman. She was desperately trying to rip her arm away from his grasp, always keeping her panicked eyes desperately on his mouth. His grip was strong however, and she could not break free. Both Rick and I instinctively lunged forward to rip her free from his grasp, but just as we reached him, he released her. “Dude… That’s weird…”
Bobbi, having thrown so much of her weight into escaping from Daniel’s grasp, tumbled backwards into the waiting arms of Rick who gllared at Daniel as Bobbi attempted to right herself. Neither Rick nor Bobbi seemed to want anything less than a re-dead body out of Daniel, but I held out a hand to calm them for a moment. Daniel, to his own credit, seemed to have temporarily forgotten we were in the room. He began to pace back and forth about the room lost in his own thoughts. Finally, oblivious to the glares that he was receiving, he turned to Bobbi and exclaimed, “But you’re alive!”
Thrown off by his enthusiasm, Bobbi could only muster a sarcastic “No shit” in response. We were all staring at David, hoping that he would explain himself, but his excitement seemed to have overwritten everything else in his mind. Finally, exasperated by his incessant excited mutterings of our living state, I broke the moment by asking him the question on all of our minds. “Why is it so strange that we’re all alive?”
“Because no one is!” He replied as if it were the simplest and most obvious fact in the world.
“What do you mean?”
“No one has lived anywhere around this place since the sun turned bright and never sets.” He glanced across the morgue, his gaze falling near the location of the door and its chasm. “Denver and all the people caught anywhere near it died months ago.” I thought to myself about his statement of months and how it only seemed a few weeks for us. I filed that thought away for later and tried to focus on what he was saying. “The center of town dissolved into the underworld in just a few hours and the rest of us were caught in its fallout. Death was instant and painless…”
He trailed off, his mind seeming to wander as he thought. He stood in silence for a long moment before exclaiming that we were alive once more. I was curious as to why he kept returning to that point so insistently. I was starting to suspect that there was something wrong with his memory, so I tried to dra more out of him. “What happened next? You died? How are you talking to us then..?”
“Huh? Oh, right. We all died, instantly. But it didn’t stop there. Slowly, like waking up from a deep sleep, I woke up again. My heart had stopped, my blood was cold, but I wasn’t dead anymore. Well… I was still here anyhow…” He chuckled slightly before continuing. “I just stood back up, and then I ran. The sunlight, you see, is so much brighter than it used to be. It burns much faster now, and the brightness is unbearable.” He stopped abruptly, turning and facing us directly for a moment. “Oh yeah… I wanted to ask you… Where are your sunglasses and head wraps? You didn’t come in the tunnels, right? So you must have come overland… How did you protect yourselves from the sun?”
“We don…” Bobbi started to speak.
“Upstairs.” Rick interrupted her. He must have realized things might be more confused if she said we needed no such protection.
“Oh, right, duh.” Daniel chuckled slightly before suddenly stopping and staring for a second before simply saying “Alive!” again.
I sighed. It was starting to get old. “And how did you end up here?”
“Me? Came through the tunnels. Did I mention that the tunnels appeared that day too?”
“No.” Bobbi was clearly annoyed and sick of this man’s insistent babbling.
“Oh, sorry. They did. They appeared and they criss-cross the entire city. They go every which way. There’re are only two tunnels we never enter. One is towards the center, going into the disappeared city. Everyone who enters it never returns, and those who come out never entered. At least none of us survivors recognize those who come out…” Daniel shrugged. “Those guys are weird. They talk about a ghost city where no one remembers anything, or they mutter about something eating people’s thoughts in there. None of ’em remembers what happened to anyone else. Some don’t even remember what happened to them either, or even whey they are… Or who they were… A grand mystery!”
I suspected, that the creature eating memories wasn’t only in the ‘ghost’ city. Assuming he was even telling the truth.
“And the other tunnel?”
“It leads out of the city. Only way out. Well, except above ground…” He shrugged with a grin. “Two people have passed from there, least as far as I know. First guy tried to leave. He made it only feet down the tunnel, just past the city limits, and he dropped dead. For real this time. Even when someone managed to get a rope around him and drug him back, he was just a corpse. We offered him to the sun, because we didn’t want him stinking up the tunnels.” He paused chekcing to see if we where still listening. I know I was, and the others must’ve been too as he kept talking.
“The other one came through from the other side. The ghost city. She was alive, like you. She didn’t know how she got here, but here she was. She stayed here for a while, and always complaining about how everything was her fault. She had issues, I tell you.” He whistled to emphasize his statement. “She left, though. Stayed for months. Said she was checking the extent of damages. No idea why, though. She started to get sick after a month, said she was dying; that this place was touched by death. Then she was gone. Just walked out the tunnel like it was nothing. Said something about prime networks or something and poof. Gone.”
“So you’re saying that we’re not the first living people you’ve seen?” I was confused it seemed as if he had never seen a living person before and now he had said that we weren’t the first.
“Guess not. Didn’t remember until just now. Maybe I didn’t come back right…” He shrugged.
“Okay then… So this other lady said there’s some kinda curse here?” Bobbi was, as always, direct to the point.
“Something like, yeah. Something about how nothing can live here for long. Why? How long you been here?”
The three of us exchanged a meaningful glance, thinking about the weeks we had already lingered. Bobbi and I seemed most concerned, Rick seemed aware but unworried.
“Don’t worry, you can come with me. There’s always room for more in the tunnels. Y’know, if you’ve already been here too long.” He paused, seeming conflicted. “We’ve had a whole bunch of people run off into the center lately. Most’ve said something about temptation being too much for them.” He rolled his eyes. “I don’t get why they got so antsy. It’s only been a few days… I think…?” He trailed off and I used his distraction as an opportunity to pull my companions aside.
“We can’t stay here.” I kept it short and to the point, not wanting an overheard statement to anger our capricious host.
“Why not?” Rick looked more depressed than he had in weeks. “It’s not like it matters. My family’s gone, maybe even still here amongst the dead. Why not join them?”
“Have you seen that guy?” Bobbi jabbed a thumb towards Daniel. “Guy’s brains have turned to pudding. What’s to say that everyone that died here isn’t like that? Even if your wife’s in there somewhere, would she even recognize you? Would you recognize her? Is that really worth it?”
“Doesn’t matter, does it? I don’t have anything else to lose.”
“Yeah, ya do, dipshit.” Bobbi rapped him upside the head. “Your life. Won’t you feel stupid if she made it out of this place alive only to find you later as some braindead zombie?”
“But, she might…”
“Bobbi’s right, Rick. Your wife might be out there somewhere, or she might not be. If she isn’t here, than you’d be wasting your life. If she is here, she’s undead now and they’ve been here a while… I think… with no sign of decay. If she’s here, she’ll likely still be waiting once you rule out the other possibilities. Besides, one woman already left from here, maybe that was her. She got out and came back, maybe to look for you, and left again before she could be stuck here. You should think about doing the same.”
I felt terrible telling Rick what to do but he had been listless for so long. We didn’t want him to get lost in these dead heads, especially if there was still some hope of finding his family elsewhere. Not to mention that we needed him. I couldn’t be sure Bobbi and I would last more than a day or two alone without killing each other. Rick had thus far been the one who soothed tempers when things got hot. At least until we got to this damned place. Maybe getting him away ould get his head back on straight.
Rick sat there for a long time, thinking, before he finally replied. “Fine. We’ll leave. I’ll make sure you make it back home, back to Minnesota. Probably could make it in a few months, if we stick to the roads and don’t hit any trouble. Then I’ll come back. If I haven’t found any sign of Lisa and my son by then, I’m coming back here to stay. At least then, I can slip into oblivion and be happy, even if I never see them again…” He smiled. It was a dark and somber smile, but it was still a smile.
“Seems like a plan.” Bobbi rapped him on the back, just behind his wounded shoulder in a friendly gesture. He barely even winced.
“Deal. I hope we find her, though… For your sake…” I patted him on the shoulder, more gently than Bobbi had, and turned to Daniel.
“We’ll can check out the tunnels with you Daniel, but we need another day or two to gather our things. They’re still upstairs and we need to get a bit of rest anyways. We’ll come find you when we’re ready.” “Okay!” He shot us a thumbs-up and a grin. He then laid back down on the slab and covering himself with the sheet. “I’m just gonna take a quick nap while you do that. Meet you back here when you’re ready.” He smiled and shut his eyes and instantly looked like a corpse once more.
I nodded to Rick and Bobbi before making my way back to our makeshift bridge. We crossed it with barely a word. Once back in the sunlight I felt better, but there was an existential chill in my bones. We gathered our things and all the extra supplies we could carry. We left the hospital. I hoped none of us would ever see it again.
We left Denver and its ghost towns behind us. We followed the directions of our old map, ready to make for Minnesota. As we walked I couldn’t help but worry. I could only hope that some similarly terrible scene didn’t await me when I returned home. A lingering glance at Rick’s persistently somber expression did little to reassure me.