Writing a zombie apocalypse novel to see where it takes me. Having a lot of fun with it so far. Sharing it for any curious readers out there.
Jacob slumped back in the Italian-marbled bathtub of his hotel suite and wept. Seven days of self-imposed isolation. Seven days with shades drawn, soundproofed windows, and with the floor all to himself. Seven days since he left Molly to clear her stuff out of the apartment. He picked up his gun and tracked the silver glean along its barrel. Everything had gone to shit – the divorce had been finalized, he was still working the same banking career that he swore he would quit ten years ago – everything, but it was time to take control. He cocked the gun, pressed the end of the barrel flat against his skull and shut his eyes, ready to pull the trigger.
Instead, he laughed.
He imagined Molly meeting up with some tall, handsome divorcee, one willing and able to have her biological children. She would smile, he would smile, and she would talk about how terrible her ex-husband had been, he would pretend to care, and they would marry as soon as was socially acceptable. Then she would finally get what she wanted. Nine months later she’d be popping out a little screaming bastard for the whole world to cherish.
Jacob lowered the gun. He couldn’t do it – not now, at least. Maybe tomorrow. Definitely tomorrow. He told himself that if Molly were here, she would probably cross her arms and frown, thinking how typical this all was, and he laughed even as his cheeks wetted with fresh tears. He extended a foot to start the faucet, and, as a steady stream of water began to lick his toes, reflected on his suicide note on the table in the main room. He had written and re-written the note for days to get it just right. At first, he had decided to tell the whole truth. That he had concealed the fact of his impotence for so long because he never really wanted a child. That he had cursed her out, fought with her, and threatened her so many times because he was miserable. That love was never going to be enough. Then, he decided that the truth was too harsh. She deserved better. In the end, the note simply read: I’m sorry for the mess.
Jacob mouthed the words, and upon hearing them spoken aloud, shook his head, unimpressed with his last preparations. The decision to blow his brains out in a bathtub had been too polite. Had he pulled the trigger, his life wouldn’t even have left a stain on the carpet.
He put the gun aside and let the warm water wash over him, remembering his college days, when the future seemed so far away and nothing was impossible, when it was all new and interesting: sex, work, whatever. He sighed, framing a thin layer of stomach-fat with his hands – skinnyfat – and laughed his disappointment through his nose. He found himself wishing that he had become something, whether great or terrible, to have generated a blip on the vast radar of life, but his thoughts were interrupted by sharpening pangs of hunger.
Jacob splashed his way out of the bathroom and entered the kitchen stark naked. He swung the fridge door wide open, casting a flare of light across the darkened room, and leaning inside, scanned the shelves for something to eat. Empty, except for a wedge of cream cheese and the last remaining beer bottle. He gave a slight pause before reaching for the beer, after which he collapsed onto the couch. The staff had last stocked the fridge four days ago, and after that, he had ordered them to cease regular service to his room so that he could wallow in his misery alone. But he hadn’t planned on living through his stock of groceries, and now he was desperate for food, and, taking a swig of beer he realized, perhaps for company, too. He picked up the phone next to the couch and dialed the front desk.
The line rang in his ear, once, thrice, five times. Jacob lost count. No answer. He slammed the phone down onto the receiver and cursed. He was paying three thousand a night for the suite; the least they could do was answer the damn phone when he had a request. He chugged the rest of the beer and redialed, drumming impatiently on his bare thigh as he waited. A minute passed, and still, no answer.
And so he sat in the vacuum silence of the penthouse with only the sound of his wailing gut to accompany him. Bored and lonely and upset, he took to humming an old, happy tune, just as his marriage counselor had once advised. It wasn’t working. Learn to control your anger and you will learn to control your life, the counselor had said, with Molly nodding her emphatic agreement. Jacob immediately stopped humming. Fuck their little tricks. Maybe it was right to be angry, but the counselor had always been more concerned with keeping everyone cattle calm than anything else, having argued many times that he could stand to benefit from medication. Pop pills and ignore the truth, Jacob mused, thinking that Molly and the counselor would have preferred that he plodded through life, functional and calm, pumped full of all sorts of receptor blockers and protein inhibitors so that he was unable to make any sense of the vague feeling that something was wrong. Then, perhaps, when he was old and gray and lying on his deathbed surrounded by the family he was supposed to love, the medicines would wear off and he would gain a moment of clarity, and in that moment, experience an unimaginably painful singularity of pent-up regret before his world turned to darkness.
Damn, he thought. I need to eat.
Jacob buttoned the top of his collar and breathed in deep as he waited for the elevator. The shaft jutted straight through the middle of the suite. He hadn’t talked to anyone in several days. What would the hotel staff think? He shuffled to the closest mirror, ran his fingers through his hair to ensure that it was properly groomed, and locked eyes with his own reflection. A shiver crawled up his spine. His reflection stared back, cold and lifeless – looking as though he was preparing for his own funeral – but he reminded himself that it was important to put on his best mask. When the news outlets reported his suicide, he wanted the staff to say that he had seemed friendly, jolly even, that he was a man who took care of himself. His death should be a shock to all acquainted.
Hello, he practiced, watching himself in the mirror. I’m in room 1801 – yes, the penthouse – I’m doing well, thanks. I called a few minutes ago, but I suppose it must not have gone through. Oh, it’s no problem ma’am, no problem at all. Don’t be sorry. Really. I needed some fresh air anyway. He raised his brow and whistled, Work – it’ll kill you if you let it, adding a light chuckle to make it convincing.
The elevator dinged its arrival. Jacob smoothed out the wrinkles in his shirt before walking over, and once inside, pushed the button for the lobby. The doors slid shut and he cleared his throat, watching the panel of red digital numbers tick down.
Jacob scratched his forearm free of prickles. The same itch had bothered him on-and-off the week before Molly decided to call it quits.
He could have sworn he heard something growl. He pressed his ear against the door to listen.
A garbled roar erupted from the other side, and Jacob fell into the corner, startled. His heart throbbed so loud that he worried his head would explode.
More growling. Jacob closed his eyes and slapped himself twice, hard, but when he opened his eyes the nightmare had yet to cease.
A sudden thud rocked the outer doors, followed by whimpering, and then by the sound of nails scraping into metal. Beads of sweat cut cold lines down the sides of Jacob’s face. He wondered if he had finally crossed the abyss into the realm of insanity.
He clutched his chest and steadied his breathing. It was just his imagination gone wild. That was all. He was tired and hungry and upset. He needed to relax.
The doors peeled open to reveal the lobby, and Jacob was greeted by air thick with the stink of putrid meat. He nearly retched from the odor. Covering his nose, he poked his head out of the elevator. The lobby was empty.
“Hello?” He asked. He stepped cautiously forward. “Can someone help me?” The elevator doors closed behind him.
Despite the hotel being located on the busiest block in the city, the lobby was uncharacteristically silent. Jacob made his way to the front desk and tapped the bell. The staff would be fired, surely. They were missing service requests and…that smell had been left to linger. He wondered if the hotel manager was not unlike him, perhaps, a man with nothing to lose, planning a career suicide to match the suicide upstairs. He tapped the bell again and sighed – nobody was going to come – and leaned over the desk out of boredom. What he discovered made his stomach turn. There, splattered about the carpet, were darkened stains of blood, but he couldn’t bring himself to look away. The trail wound away from the front desk, around a red-flecked sofa, and into a narrow hallway. Jacob pinched his nose tight as he approached. He was close to the source.
Jacob turned the corner and looked down the hallway. At the distant end, huddled by the ground, there was a woman in a white top and black pencil skirt. He rapped his knuckles against the wall to alert her to his presence. Though her back was turned, he was certain that she was a member of the staff, judging by her dress.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
No response. He moved a few steps closer and called out to her once again.
The woman’s body began to twist and contort and she let out an unearthly growl. Jacob recalled the sounds of the elevator, but before he could make sense of it, she rose from the ground and faced him. From top to bottom, her front was painted with blood, and resting on the ground below her were half-eaten human remains. Jacob keeled over and coughed up the scarce contents of his stomach. He had never seen anything so depraved. How had no one else noticed? He wiped his lips clean and looked up to meet the woman’s gaze. She started to walk aggressively towards him, her head tilted to the side and her face void of all expression. He stepped back from the hallway.
“I won’t tell anyone what I saw,” he said, his hands in the air. “I promise.”
She snapped her head in his direction. Jacob nearly tripped over himself as he backed away. She was accelerating towards him.
“Someone help!” He shouted.
The woman broke into a full sprint, her mouth wide-open baring bloodstained teeth, and Jacob’s world slowed to a crawl. She was going to kill him, he realized, and in that moment, more than anything, he wanted to live. All the time he had spent contemplating the peaceful embrace of death, all the time he had spent replaying his mistakes over and over in his head, all the time he had spent in the hotel room with pistol-in-hand waiting for the courage to pull the trigger, all of it wasted. The universe was finally ready to give him what he had long desired and he refused it. Jacob ran faster than he ever had before.
The woman’s gurgling, animalistic growls grew louder and more desperate with each passing second. Though the elevator materialized into view, Jacob knew that she would catch up to him before he could escape safely. He scanned the surroundings for something to defend himself with, and hardly thinking, reached out for an iron candelabra latched to the side of a lobby column. Hands wrapped tight around the metal, he turned and saw his death fast approaching from only a few arms’ lengths away. A surge of adrenaline coursed through his veins like hot magma and he pulled with all his strength, screaming, and ripped the candelabra free.
Jacob held the base of the candelabra with both hands and swung at the woman’s face as she charged into him. It connected with a sickening crunch and the force of impact sent her reeling.
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice wavering. “Just…just…get away from me!”
The woman quickly found her bearings, and though her nose was a broken, bloody mess, she rushed forward as if she hadn’t been injured. Jacob swung again and smashed her arm. Still, she pressed on unflinchingly and backed him into one of the lobby sofas. Having trapped him, she snapped wildly at his exposed skin, but Jacob blocked the attack and caught her neck between the candelabra arms. She snarled at him through the metal.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He grunted through clenched teeth, and he thrust with as much force as he could muster, lifting her up before he slammed her down. Though confined somewhat by the makeshift cage, she flailed her arms around and managed to grab hold of Jacob’s leg. He tried to kick free but her grip was unnaturally rigid, and the more he fought it, the more he was in danger of losing his balance. With her hands tightly bound to his leg, she began to seize. She jerked and spasm’d into a frenzy, bringing his leg within inches of her grinding jaws, and he reacted, forcing his body weight down onto the candelabra at an angle to cut off her breathing. She wheezed the last of her snarls and he pressed harder, imagining that the iron was actually squeezing the air out of her throat. After some time, her grip loosened and her arms collapsed to the side. She had blacked out. Not wanting to stay for her recovery, Jacob rushed to the elevator and pushed the service button repeatedly for the doors to open, and once inside, pushed repeatedly for the penthouse level. The doors slid shut and he crumpled to the floor in an exhausted heap, sobbing his relief.
He wanted to live.