The scene couldn’t be purchased for hard currency in any amount. The last three werewolves on earth, defending the Acropolis against a legion of zombies too numerous to count. The evening sky boils with blood, the still air electric, the fallible gods of old looking down on us.
All our guns have eaten their fill and fallen silent. The two concrete-cutting Husqvarnas run dry of gas and sputter to a halt. The guns have perforated the dull flesh of the oncoming hoard, the rough, dull gore of the wounds fading into the rocky soil of Hellas. The saws have torn through flesh and bone, simple tools made holy in this last of our struggles.
Miklos, our buddy from college, the guy we came to Greece to see, is dead and masticated, feeding the undead urge of the mob below. I saw his eyes as they carried him away, already parted out like a zebra among lions. I saw him silently beg for my aid, then know that all was lost, finally knowing nothing. Before the end, he finally saw us as we are, finally knew that one big secret we always kept.
Today, alone on an earth groaning with the empty-eyed dead, being a werewolf doesn’t seem so strange as it once did. So what, right? One little legend being partially true, when you weigh it against the reality of the Flashover–it’s like holding a candle up next to a roaring inferno. That revelation we held so hard within us is now no more than an afterthought. Leaves you, like the song said, disempowered and twitching.
Still, if you’re going to have this sort of thing, this Spartan stand, I guess Greece is a good place for it. Edwina snarls next to me, her machete sheering the heads from two walking corpses. Warwick kicks one zombie in the chest, his big werewolf foot burst out from the toe of his hiking boot. The corpsie bastard’s ribs cave in and he rockets back, taking a dozen others down and down the steps. The whole quadrant becomes a morass of struggling zombie flesh as they roar and strike out at each other. The truly inanimate churn down beneath the simply unliving as the battle continues.
The animate, mindless dead surge and gurgle below us. I hoist a free segment of old stone from a shattered column and toss it down into their midst. It hits edge-on, rolling and spinning through them. The sound of bones breaking like straw wafts up. The plangent chorus of death stink rises ever higher, tangible on the tongue. Devouring each other, tearing at rotten and giving flesh, they bunch and surge forward again, phased by nothing, tireless, insectile in their pure need and unending vigor.
Sweat and blood, our hoarse breathing, the inevitable slap of chill flesh upon our flanks as they try and try again to pull us down. In this, our one great moment, we find so little joy. Built to take pain, formed for the kill, we are yet beholden to this implacable enemy, the thick and coagulated blood in their veins like rotten ketchup, unreal. They are things without place, without meaning, without any clear purpose.
At first, we howl, but as the carnelian sky fades to the Stygian darkness of night, we know that this is, for us, the underworld. Our great strength becomes our flaw, the self-evident noose with which to ensnare us forever. We are doomed to contemplate the meaning of our inhumanity, the paltry monstrosity we represent, when held up against this implacable enemy.
We roll the dead and broken corpses of the re-slain down this Parthenon hill, growling our hoarse, remaining life down at the unending hoard, daring them where no daring is required, for what is the second death? It is nothing, an event unmarked by a single tear, and we are merely keepers of a gate before an empty castle, for all of human life has failed, even the American on the shortwave fallen into silence.
Edwina’s machete slips from her grasp. In a worthless attempt to snatch it back, she is suddenly amongst them, and they are tearing at her thickened hide with all their mindless resolve. I hear her cry out, hear the sound of her arms breaking, her flesh parting before their green and noisome teeth.
Warwick, who has always loved her the most, throws himself into the fray. For a moment, his terrible ferocity clears a space, and they are shoulder to shoulder, her barely able to stand, bleeding from a dozen wounds, bent with injury. I hurl the final boulder down, hoping to win their freedom, but nearly beyond real hope, the leaden numbness of battle rising up from my core.
I howl for them to return, howl my defensive cry out into the arches of the night. For one last time, they answer me, and then the swirling maelstrom of dumb flesh swallows them up. I fight for a time, fight for many more minutes with a steel fence post filled with cement. The clinging pitch of despair burns bright at the loss of my last remaining pack-mates, but all emotion ebbs away in the rising of the hazy moon.
When my hand cannot grip a weapon another moment, when the aching in my muscles is so vast and complete as to make standing under the weight of my own flesh too much to bear, I fall back. I keep falling back, for we have this one last present for the stumbling hoard, this one parting gift. Few enough people who survived the Flashover had the knowledge to make it on their own. It’s clear now that we didn’t. Warwick, though, was a nuclear scientist, and he knew enough to build us a shortcut to the next world.
“Look down on me now, O Mighty Zeus. I light this bonfire and put my own flesh upon your altar. I give over the brave death of heroes to you, and bring such thunder that it will shake Olympus. This land has become a realm of the dead, but where is Hades to hold sway? Though I am not of your people, see that I have faced death in hopes of defending what was once your greatest pride.”
This I mutter. The scraping tread of the unliving hoard comes ever closer. I have just a moment more to think, to make sense of this life. I find it odd that, for all our ambitions, all our desires, all we want at the apex and omega of our lives is the absence of pain. From great thoughts and unleavened pride, we are distilled to a simple solution, a simple hope for comfort. In my own moment of extremity, I can’t fathom what that could mean. I arm the device, flip the toggle switch, and touch the green, pulsing button. For just a moment, the brightness of the Elysian Fields touches my skin.
Patrick M. Tracy is a published poet and fiction writer who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, he works at a local library as a computer technician. This “real job” allows him to continue chasing his dream of becoming vaguely famous and cashing in on the weedy allure of a novelist. For more information, check out his website at pmtracy.com