Victor wiped the sweat out of his eyes with the back of his left hand and fired, half blind, down the hall with his right. His wrist throbbed with the unfamiliar kick of the .45. The dust-obscured form grunted, but continued forward unabated. Several more rounded the corner behind the first, and together they shambled towards him. He pulled the trigger again, and the handgun clicked. No ammo. Shit.
Victor tried the closest door, room number 12. Locked, of course. He kicked it once. The door shuddered but remained standing. He listened for scuffling from within, and when he heard none, he kicked the door again, and again.
He was no S.W.A.T., but he was fairly strong, and on the fourth kick the door splintered and swung open. He stepped quickly inside and shut the door behind him, only to watch it swing open again. Of course: He’d just kicked it in, it was broken, it wasn’t going to shut again. Shit, shit, shit. He looked around. The closest piece of furniture was a cheap motel chair, the cushion probably covered in more semen than – well, it was better than being eaten by fucking zombies. He grabbed the chair and dragged it in front of the door. It wouldn’t hold for long, but it would buy him a moment to reload.
He slung his backpack off his back and unzipped it, sifting for more ammo. Clint had given him a couple spare clips, they were floating around in there somewhere, along with the granola bars and extra batteries. He found one and pulled it out, but his hands were shaking so hard he dropped it on the floor, and it bounced and slid under the TV stand. Shit, God dammit.
He tried to reach under the TV but he couldn’t quite grab the clip, he couldn’t reach it, he was going to die, he was going to die, he was going to –
Stop. Is this happening? He looked at his hand, his right hand. Am I dreaming? he asked himself. This was how he’d coped, ever since he was a kid, with a world that never seemed real. By asking himself if it was a dream. His parents divorced, he looked at his hand to determine whether it was a dream or real. His best friend died in a car accident, drunk driver, and when the phone call came he hung up and stared for ten minutes, his eyes asking his hand whether it was real, asking for it to be a dream. It wasn’t. It never was. He tended not to dream much.
His hand was soft, the hand of an office worker, of a computer user. He traced the lines of his palm with his eye. This had to be a dream. Half a dozen undead cannibals were clambering down the halls of whatever cheap hotel – he’d already forgotten the name – he was trapped in. Lauren and Clint were trapped somewhere else in the same hotel, and it was 105 degrees in February in Spokane. He stared at his hand. It didn’t feel like a dream, but it had to be. Right?
Where were you yesterday? Where were you an hour ago? He closed his eyes and tried to remember.
Victor tensed, and leaned forward on the edge of his couch. Beads of sweat formed on and dripped down his forehead. He hammered the buttons on his Xbox controller and swayed back and forth with each swing of the Dragonborn’s axe on his screen. Eventually the giant brought around his club, and Victor was slain. His body floated up and up into the air, before falling back to the plains of Skyrim. He tossed the controller onto the floor and rose from the sofa.
It was just as well. Lauren was on her way over, and he’d already promised her that he’d game less when she was over. He walked to the window. It was raining hard, and surprisingly warm. February in eastern Washington State, you were lucky if it was above freezing. But Victor was sweating, and the building’s heat wasn’t even on. Very strange.
There was a slam behind him, and Victor whirled around. Clint was standing in his doorway, plainclothes and holding a shotgun, out of breath and face red.
“Clint?” Victor said, standing there, hands at his sides.
“You should keep your door locked,” Clint said, and in two strides was at the TV. He shut off the Xbox and flipped the TV back to cable, and then to the news.
There was no doubt Clint was a weird guy. He was big for one thing, bigger than Victor and twice as imposing. He was the kind of guy who worked out eight days a week. He shaved his head twice a week and he looked a bit like a wrestler, too. Probably Victor’s best living friend, he was a bit of a redneck, and a member of the Spokane Police Department. They were an unlikely pair, Victor the perpetual temporary IT guy, born and raised on the east coast, and Clint the Inland Northwest hunter/cop/gun enthusiast. Clint probably owned more guns than everyone on Victor’s childhood block had, combined.
Clint’s normal weirdness didn’t include barging in with a shotgun and messing with Victor’s TV, and Victor’s heart rate began to climb immediately. When he registered what the anchorman was saying, it got much worse.
“Authorities have no explanation for what caused the explosion, which appears to have occurred about 75 miles southeast of Seattle, or for the subsequent atmospheric anomaly that has given rise to a substantial increase in temperature across the Pacific Northwest.” Here, the feed cut to a map that showed an extreme temperature hotspot originating in central Washington. The temperature was up to 90 close to the center, and in the 70s as far east as Spokane and as far south as central Oregon. This was February. It should’ve been 20, not 70. “This just two hours after the explosion,” the anchor continued. “The temperature anomaly continues to grow, and is showing no signs of slowing. The NOAA has said that, though they have no answers for us, there is no reason for concern as of yet.”
“At the same time, we’ve been receiving reports from across the state of Washington that seem to indicate…well,” and here the anchor chuckled. His eyes were wide, and there was real fear there, not mirth. “I can’t bring myself to say it. Just roll the video.” Nothing happened for a moment, and then the anchor looked off screen and back at the camera. “Right, sorry. This video could be extremely traumatizing and viewer discretion is advised. If any children are watching, we recommend that they be taken out of the room.”
Then they rolled the video. A caption beneath the video informed Victor that the footage was from a Seattle area high school student who was filming a trauma surgeon for a school report.
The student was filming from an observation room just adjacent to the operating room itself. The surgeon was hard at work, over a patient who was too far away and too surrounded by medical personal to see properly. The unlucky patient didn’t last long, and after about thirty seconds the surgeon called it. His hand was still on the neck, making sure there was no pulse, when the unlucky patient lurched once, and then grabbed the doctor’s arm and bit it. The doctor pulled back, and pandemonium erupted. Nurses ran. One nurse tried to hold the patient down, and lost most of his neck for his trouble. The doctor, bleeding heavily from the arm, brought a scalpel around and buried it in the patient’s head. The high school student was rock steady, filming it all. Until the nurse, blood in rivers from his neck and convulsing on the ER floor, suddenly stopped convulsing, stood up, and lurched for the doctor. The doctor screamed, and then the video cut out, as presumably the high school student finally made a run for it.
The anchorman was pale when they cut back to him. He cleared his throat a few times. “Well there you have it. Apparently video evidence of the, ah, presumed dead, rising and attacking the healthy. There have been other reports of similar occurrences from across the state, and though these incidents call to mind the works of George Romero, we here at NBC are confident that the CDC will be forthcoming with a real world explanation soon.”
And then they cut to commercial. The news shows clips of a zombie attack, and then cuts to commercial? It had to be a joke. A cat was prowling around, some kind of kitty litter ad. Was this how the apocalypse would come? Followed by cat litter? It had to be faked, like the legendary War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Didn’t it? Could NBC get away with something like that? Would they risk the dip in ratings?
Clint looked at him. “Where’s Lauren? We have to get out of the city.”
Victor shook his head. “What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? Are you blind? A mysterious explosion and now the dead are rising to attack the living? It’s a fucking real-life zombie apocalypse, man. We have to get out of the the city.”
“No way,” Victor said. “No way that’s real.”
“Look outside the damn window,” Clint said.
It was mayhem outside. Several police cruisers outside the grocery store next door, lights flashing, and people running past clutching small parcels of food. People on the street below packed in their cars. There was a fist-fight on the street corner, anyone’s guess what it was about. And then Victor saw Lauren’s car pulling up outside his building. If this was really the apocalypse, at least she was here with him. “Jesus,” he said.
And Clint nodded. “Finally.”
“What do we do?”
“Pack, dumbshit,” Clint said.
“Pack what? Pack whatever the fuck you need, what do you mean pack what? Hurry up and pack!”
Pack, right. Pack. Victor grabbed his backpack; he’d want to travel light he figured. He went to the closet and opened it. It was a zombie apocalypse. He didn’t know what the fuck to pack. What do you pack for the end of the world? He grabbed a flashlight and threw it in. That seemed like a good call. Extra batteries. He grabbed an extra set of boxers, but then thought better of it, and tossed them back into his closet. No clothes, this wasn’t vacation. This was survival. He had a big knife, an old World War II bayonet that his grandfather had given him once upon a time. That was his only weapon. Clint was the weapons guy. The bayonet was wrapped in an old cloth, and Victor threw it in with the flashlight. What else? What else?
He felt a tapping on his back, and he turned to see Clint offering him a handgun and a few spare clips. “You’ll be wanting this. Forty-five cal, bigger than the ones we’ve shot on the range, so be ready for some kick.”
Victor took the gun, and tossed the clips in his bag. He zipped it up and tucked the gun into his waistband, like he’d seen in countless movies and TV shows. He looked at his hand. Is this a dream? he asked. It wasn’t. There was a knock on the door. Lauren. He rose and slung the backpack around his shoulders.
Lauren let herself in after knocking, as she always did. “What’s going on out there?” she asked, before seeing Clint, Clint’s shotgun, and Victor with his backpack on. “For that matter, what’s going on in here?”
Victor just looked at her for a second. She was a hell of a girl. Best thing that had ever happened to him, for sure. She was beautiful, for one thing – brunette, strong but still curvy, with a killer smile. She was an artist: She painted and wrote poetry and attended the local university where she was an MFA candidate for the latter. She was an athlete too, a hell of a softball player and an avid runner. She was raised by a Marine father and three older brothers. She’d learned at a young age to never take shit from anyone. She was the love of his life and though they’d only been together for six months, he was going to marry her. That is, if she didn’t figure out that she could do twice as good as him and move on. He spent most of his nights marveling that this hadn’t happened yet.
“Victor? What’s happening?” she asked, authority in her voice that he wouldn’t have resisted even if he could have.
“You notice that it’s 70 degrees out? In February.”
She nodded. “It seemed warm, but I didn’t know it was that warm. What’s going on? Some kind of global warming thing?”
“Oh fuck sakes,” Clint said. “Who cares about the weather? The dead are rising. It’s a zombie pandemic, Lauren, and we’re getting out of the city.”
Lauren looked at Victor, and gave him a look like she thought this was a bad practical joke. He could only shrug. “It was on the news.”
She looked at the TV, which was on a commercial for some kind of giant pickup truck. A deep, overtly manly voice was asking rhetorical questions.
She opened her mouth, but whatever she’d been about to say, she didn’t have time to say it because there were gunshots from the grocery store. Just a few at first, and the three went to the window just in time to see two police officers walking backwards, guns in hand, being pursued by five or six civilians. No, not civilians. They were bleeding, these civilians, from the neck or the chest. One was missing an arm. They were zombies. The officers fired again, this time rapidly, unloading their clips into the approaching zombies, and sure enough, the weapons had no effect. They dropped their guns and turned to run, but too late – the shambling undead were on them, and they fell in a pile to the pavement. The officers screamed, louder than the gunshots, as they were disemboweled.
Victor looked at Lauren, whose face had gone white.
“Know how to use one of these?’ Clint asked, another pistol somehow appearing from somewhere on his person.
Her usual response would have been “better than you,” on account of being taught from a young age by her Marine father. But after seeing what they’d just seen, she only nodded once, took the gun from him, and put it in her purse.
“Let’s get out of here,” Clint said.
“One sec,” Victor said, and ran into the kitchen. They might need food - especially if the grocery stores were unsafe already. He looked in his cabinets, in his fridge, in the grocery bags on his floor, from his shopping trip the day before. Granola bars. That’s all he had, two boxes of granola bars. Well, that and some mustard and yogurt. He emptied the bars into his bag, and emerged from the kitchen.
“Let’s go,” he said, and they stepped out of his apartment and into the beginning of the end of the world.
That was it then. That was yesterday. An hour ago they’d found this cheap hotel, and it had seemed abandoned, so they’d snuck in and bedded down in one of the rooms. They’d been running for so long after abandoning the car, they had to rest. Victor went for ice – he wanted to laugh that this was why he was cut off from Lauren and Clint, ice! – and now there were zombies between him and Lauren, real fucking zombies. It was no dream. The door rattled as the first of them began clawing at it. Did it smell him? Hear him breathing? Or did it somehow remember seeing him enter just a moment ago? He looked around. It was a really shitty hotel. The flower-pattern wallpaper was peeling back in all the corners. Plaster fell away from the ceiling with each shudder of the door, and the furniture was so pathetic, it might as well have been made of cardboard. Victor wasn’t dying in a place like this.
He flattened himself against the floor and stretched for the clip. He shoved his hand in, and though it was too small to fit under the TV, he made it work. He lost a layer of skin, but he came up with the clip. Then, the spent clip ejected, Victor rammed home the fresh one and chambered a round. The gun held 11 bullets, and there were 5 or 6 zombies out there. Not bad odds. Victor had killed thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of zombies in video games across the years. You shoot ‘em in the head, everyone knew that. It wasn’t so hard. There was more sweat in his eyes, and he blinked it away. The temperature was almost unbearable. It was tropical. Whatever else was going on, it was more than zombies; but, he thought, one thing at a time.
Just as he stood and readjusted his backpack, the chair fell to the side and the lead zombie shuffled in. The power being off, Victor couldn’t see much detail. But he could see the head, and that was enough. A non-running zombie, the lowest common denominator of undead, was not going to keep him from Lauren.
He took aim, and fired.