The doctor held up the crucifix from across the room. “How does this make you feel, Mr. Bixby?”
Steve shrugged. “Weird, I guess.”
“Interesting. How so?”
“I don’t know. Having a doctor waving a cross at me while I’m sitting on this cold metal table in a medical gown . . . it just feels weird.”
“Yes, but do you sense anything you might classify as impending dread or unclassifiable fear?”
The doctor stepped closer, holding the crucifix out like a shield. “How about now?”
The doctor handed the cross to his nurse and took a small coin from her. He placed the coin in Steve’s palm. “How does this feel?”
“How is it supposed to feel?”
The doctor took the coin and gave it back to his nurse. He whispered something in her ear. She nodded and left the room.
“You’ll excuse me, Mr. Bixby, but this is all unfamiliar territory. The only thing we know for certain is that you’re dead. No vital signs. No detectable brain activity. By all rights, you shouldn’t be moving or talking, but you are.”
Steve had figured it out. It was hard not to. The news was filled with stories of the undead. Ghosts. Vampires. Mummies. Jiangshis. Vetalas. Banshees. Nezhits. Likhos. The debate raged on. Some thought they had been there forever and only now were exposed by the age of camera phones and pocket recording devices. Others said it was something else. A new age. A time for the rules of reality to be rewritten. Nobody knew for sure.
All Steve knew was that it had derailed his life.
A new nurse entered the room. The tall, broad man carried a large ax across his shoulders. The doctor directed the weapon placed at Steve’s feet. They left the room and locked the door.
“Mr. Bixby, would you please pick up the ax?” said the doctor’s voice from a loudspeaker.
Steve did. He didn’t feel anything at first, but the air grew colder. He couldn’t see his breath (he didn’t breath anymore) but ice formed on the walls. His arm tingled. The room shrank. No, it wasn’t shrinking. He was growing.
Something burned in his chest. It wasn’t his heart. It was an overwhelming hunger. The desire to see the world awash in blood, to devour the living, to kill until there was nothing to kill. Somewhere, something was cackling with hideous glee at the thought.
That something was him.
The door opened and the nurse entered carrying a shield covered in runes. Steve smashed the little man with his ax, but the world exploded. Steve was thrown across the examining room. While he was recovering, the nurse collected the ax and quickly left the room.
Steve’s head cleared. He could still feel the bloodlust, but it was only a faint aftertaste in the back of his throat.
“Ah, yes,” said the doctor. “You are a draugr.”
“What the hell is a draugr?” asked Steve, fairly positive he was mispronouncing the word.
“We’ll get you some literature. It should be fine as long as you don’t touch any weapons and avoid collecting too much material wealth. Also, you’ll need to start seeing a therapist. It’ll help with the rage issues.”
“Give it to me straight, doctor. I’m not going to kill my wife and kids, am I?”
“Unlikely. Growing research indicates most forms of undeath, yours included, are manageable.”
It was that word. Manageable. Like undeath was little more than diabetes or genital herpes. It was something he was going to have to live with. Or not live with. However it worked now.
It was also that other word.