I’m going to try to do something that I’ve never done before. I’m going to give you an entire story, at least if you want the entire thing. I posted part of this first chapter before, but I’ll put the entire thing in this post. If you like it, please share it, like it, and comment. If I get enough of a response, I’ll put up the next chapter.
“Oh god, Benny!” I groaned as I opened the apartment door. “You’re supposed to warn me before you do this!”
“Ignore my room-mate,” Benny grunted to the girl I sincerely hoped was a client and not a conquest. She snapped another photo and nodded. “Good. We’re done. Come down to the studio tomorrow and we’ll go over what we’ve got. If you like it, I’ll send it in.”
The woman nodded and vanished into the bathroom. Benny felt my eyes on the back of her head and sighed as she began to pack up her equipment. “It was a fashion shoot Mist, relax.”
“Don’t fashion shoots require the clothes she’s trying to sell?” I quipped, kicking off my shoes and falling back into the comforting embrace of the couch. “And don’t you have your own studio now? And for that matter, didn’t you move out last week?”
“Maybe I missed my girl,” Benny said with a chuckle. “Besides, I needed the brickwork.” She sat down beside me and started to fix my messy black braids. “Seriously, you need a better job. You have sawdust all through your hair again.”
“I need money to support my gaming habits,” I replied. “And since all I can seem to get for my books are rejection letters, the money needs to come from somewhere.”
“You can still write for my magazine you know,” she insisted. “It has to be better than working maintenance at the Complex.”
I winced as she tugged a stubborn piece of sawdust free. “My dad was the maintenance director where I grew up. I helped him ever since I was strong enough to lift a hammer. Honestly, I think your magazine would like me better as a subject than a writer. I doubt they’d like my ideas very much.”
“You could always model for me,” she said as she worked, something that she had been bugging me to do almost since we met. “Your tattoos would look awesome, and the magazine would pay you.”
My eyes went down to the colorful patterns and pictures inked on my arms, cartoons, skulls, dragons and more, all nestled in flowering vines that crawled up from my wrists to my shoulders and down my torso to my legs. “It makes me feel weird Benny. I got these for me, not for anyone else.”
Benny started to reply but paused as the model came out of the bathroom, thankfully fully clothed. I listened absently to their soft chatter before turning on the TV and picking up my game controller. The door closed, and Benny sat back down to watch me cut a swath through a horde of enemies.
“Long day?” she asked. “Must have been, the way you’re going after those Uruks.”
“Had to come home a different way today,” I said with a yawn. “Police had the roads closed for some reason. The security guard didn’t show up last night either, so I spent most of the day cleaning up graffiti.” A police siren screamed outside and I gestured to the window. “See, that’s like the fifth time today. Is it always like this? Have I just never noticed it before?”
Benny shook her head. “No, now that you mention it, there are more sirens than normal. I wonder what’s going on.”
She got up and peered out the window before shooting me a mischievous grin. “Maybe it’s the start of a zombie apocalypse. Be great for you wouldn’t it? Isn’t that what you gamers have been training for?”
“I’ve played Dead Space and the Last of Us,” I snorted. “Trust me, if zombies start running around, it won’t end well for anyone.”
“Well, if I become a zombie, make sure you shoot me okay,” Benny said, picking up her stuff. “I don’t do rags and dirt. See you tomorrow Misty.”
I waved over my shoulder and she started to leave, only to stop at the doorway.
“You sure you don’t want to move with me?” she asked. “My apartment at the studio is big enough for you too.”
“Too far away from the Complex,” I replied, pausing my game. “I wouldn’t be able to board there.”
My friend rolled her eyes. “Y’know, most people are willing to take the subway.”
I made a face. “It’s too crowded down there, too claustrophobic.”
“Have it your way.”
“Hey,” I said. “Thanks for the offer. Really.”
Benny smiled. “No prob. Stop by anytime okay?”
“I will. And if you ever need some…” I blinked and glanced at the plain walls. “Fine brickwork for your photography, just give me a call.”
Sharon Bennet, better known as Benny, grinned and left. The sudden quiet and emptiness was still a shock and I dove back into my game, hiding from the unfamiliar silence and ignoring the pull of the empty notebook on my desk. My phone chimed and I gave the screen a passing glance. An email. I recognized the address and my heart sank. It was a reply from a literary agent, doubtless another rejection to add to the growing mountain I kept in the darkest corners of my mind.
I almost put the controller down, pulled by a flicker of hope that this might finally be the letter. The cold, empty feeling in my stomach told me otherwise.
“I’ll deal with you tomorrow,” I muttered. “I don’t think I can handle you tonight. At least tomorrow’s my day off.” I smiled as a tough orc fell beneath my character’s spinning blades. “Then I can vent on you guys instead of the drywall I have to do.”
I didn’t know whether it was the shrill ring of my phone or the muffled shouts from down the hall that woke me first. I moaned wearily and reached for the offending device.
“This is Misty Owens,” I said, cursing silently at the croak in my voice. “Oh, hey Mr. Ellis.”
“Sorry to call you like this, but Marcus didn’t show up and Ryan called in sick. I know it’s your day off Misty, but could you come in and be on call?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah sure. I’ll be in as soon as I can.”
“Thanks Misty. I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“The Complex would fall apart that’s what,” I muttered as the line went dead.
I yawned and switched off the TV on the way to my bedroom. The Complex was fifteen minutes away using my modified skateboard, a shorter commute than any of my co-workers, but Mr. Ellis sounded desperate and I didn’t want to waste any time. In three and a half years, he had only ever called me in on my day off once.
The shouting from down the hall changed its tone as I scrambled into clean clothes and then ended abruptly as a door slammed.
“Maybe I should move,” I grumbled as I tried unsuccessfully to tame my unruly hair. “No hair products to steal and angry neighbors as an alarm clock.” Finally, I gave up and pulled my shoulder length tangle back into an untidy bun.
The clock taunted me, and I decided to skip breakfast, stuffing my feet into my work boots and snatching up my wallet, keys, and long board as I ducked out the door. I paused by the elevator, listening. It wasn’t the first time my neighbors had fought. The police had even shown up once or twice. I wondered why Mrs. Jackson hadn’t just up and left yet. My heart sank as I heard what might have been sobs from behind the closed door.
I was still troubled as I reached the streets, but the crowded roads soon distracted me. It was hectic, even for a Saturday. I had moved to the city eight years ago for college but still wasn’t used to the aggressive pace of life. People were always quick to anger and seemed ready to shout at the smallest provocation. Today was even worse than normal and the tension was palpable enough to give me an instant headache. The day was bright and clear however and the feeling of wind on my face helped immensely. My power board was fully charged and I felt a pinch of regret when the Complex finally came into view.
“Oh, I wish I could just keep going,” I said as I ducked through the parking office.
“Tell me about it,” chuckled Thomas, the ancient parking supervisor. “Hey, wait a minute, isn’t today your day off Misty?”
“It was supposed to be, but Marcus didn’t show up and Ryan’s sick.”
The old man shook his head. “Well, hopefully Marcus didn’t get caught in that business down on Ninth. I almost didn’t make it in today either.”
I cocked my head to the side. “What happened on Ninth?”
“Some animal mauled a couple of people I guess,” Thomas replied. “Some pea brain had a pet tiger or a bear or something and it got loose. Police swarming all over the place.”
He stopped and scratched his chin. “Hold on a minute. I could have sworn I saw Marcus down by the breakroom.” His bony fingers twisted his white hair. “Don’t get old kid. It messes with your head. See you later.”
I waved and slipped away into the back hallway. Ellis was in his office, hunched over his desk fan.
“Oh, hey Misty,” he said, wiping his face with a towel. “Sorry to call you in like this, especially on a day like this. I thought we were done with the heat waves.”
I glanced at the thermometer on the office window. 76 degrees. “Are you feeling okay sir?”
He nodded, his dark skin glistening with sweat. “Yeah, I’d be perfect if it wasn’t so damn hot in here.”
“Okay. Well, I’ll just keep working on the new offices.”
“Sounds good,” he said, hunching back down in front of his fan. “Oh, make sure you stop by the break room on the way to the shop. I brought in some doughnuts.”
I thanked him and left, hurriedly shutting the door behind me. I had gotten a fever a few months before and was eager to get out, just in case. Hopefully I hadn’t already caught it. Whatever it was.
“Seriously?” I moaned as the breakroom door swung open under my fingertips. “Who left this open? That’s the third time this week.”
I stepped inside and groaned again, kicking at a stack of trash bags. The lights were on and the Tv was static. Colorful curses floated through my head as I mentally berated Marcus for not fulfilling his promise to clean up. My nose wrinkled as I closed his open locker. The clothes he had worn yesterday were inside and reeked of sweat. I saw his backpack in the corner and my eyes narrowed.
“Marcus?” I called. “Are you in here somewhere? Marcus!”
The only sound was that of the traffic and sirens outside. I shrugged and put my pack and powerboard in my locker, snatching up my radio as I left. The workshop was beneath the main building, in the middle of a network of hallways that connected the gym to the ice rinks and the pool areas. I loaded a cart with tools and supplies, thankful that Marcus had moved the drywall to the worksite a few days earlier. I could move the heavy sheets well enough, but my jovial co-worker towered well over six feet tall and almost a decade in the military had prepared him perfectly for hauling construction materials.
“Be easier if you were here Marcus,” I sighed as I pushed the cart to the door. “Just have to make some blocks I guess.”
Something clattered behind the stacks of tools and materials, a loud, metallic clang that made me jump.
“Hello?” I called, peering through the shadows. “Is anyone there?”
I picked up my crowbar, suddenly wishing that I had bothered to turn on all the lights.
“Marcus? If this is a joke, it’s not funny,” My knuckles turned white as I tightened my grip on the makeshift weapon. People had broken in before, mostly addicts or homeless looking for shelter. Once a family of racoons had even found their way inside. If I had a choice, I would rather escort a homeless person out than tangle with a racoon. “Hello? Is someone there?”
Something rustled in the darkness and I heard a low, burbling hiss that made my skin crawl. When the… thing stepped into the light it was all I could do not to run away in a blind panic. Ragged clothes stretched tight over a heavily muscled, misshapen chest and twisted, uneven legs. Its head was bulbous and scabbed, with red, shining eyes over a gaping maw filled with jagged teeth. The thing hissed again and raised a massive arm, reaching out to me with long, curved talons. A flap of shirt shifted, showing a familiar name tag.
“Marcus?” I gasped as the thing that used to be my friend towered over me. “Is that you?”
Marcus roared and lunged, missing my skull by a fraction as I ducked and slammed the crowbar into his side. The hit staggered him, and I swung again, catching the monster on the side of the head, sending him tumbling to the floor. It howled with anger and I dashed wildly to the door, slamming it behind me and shoving the crowbar through the handles, locking the beast inside.
The doors shuddered under its fists and I sprinted away, not waiting to see if they would hold. Another creature roared from somewhere ahead and I dodged into the freight elevator, slamming the button for the delivery dock. I heard the screams before the elevator even came to a stop and I pressed the button again, yelping in fright as one of the monsters slammed against the gates. Behind it, I could see several more, chasing people as they fled the parking lot.
I slid to the floor, shock and fear making my knees weak. The elevator ground slowly to a stop and I prayed desperately for the third floor to be clear. While technically part of the main sports area of the Complex, the third floor also housed a small television studio with its own separate staff and crew. I rarely had a reason to go to the third floor and had a long moment of panic as I searched for the stairs. There were shouts and the roars of at least one monster not far away, but when I found the stairs the path was clear and deserted.
“Please don’t be a monster, please don’t be a monster,” I whispered as a door slammed somewhere below. My heart began to pound as I looked over the ledge. Nothing. I slipped back down to the ground floor, keeping my footsteps as soft as possible. A large shadow blurred through a distant doorway as I entered the main hallway and I dropped to a crouch and froze.
“Misty!” hissed a voice from the other direction.
“Thomas?” I gasped as the old man tottered out from an alcove. “What’s happening?”
He grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “No idea! I was talking to someone at the gate and the next thing I know, he turned into one of those things. Took off after a couple of joggers. Come on kid, let’s get out of here!”
“Mr. Ellis has a security door in his office,” I gasped. “You’d need a tank to get through that thing. He’ll let us in.”
“What if he isn’t there?” asked Thomas. “What if he’s one of those things?”
“Then we keep running.”
The old man shifted nervously as we stopped my Mr. Ellis’s office. “Hurry Misty, I think I hear something!”
“The door’s open,” I said softly, peeking through the crack. “I don’t see anyone. He must have gone out. Come on.”
Thomas followed me inside. “What do we do now? Even if we stop those things from getting in, what happens then?”
“We need to get to the panic room,” I said, slamming and locking the door. “There’s food, water….” I turned around and trailed off. “Oh no… it’s open….”
There was a rustle from behind the half open panel and the old man’s eyes widened.
“Misty!” he cried, snatching up a baseball bat from a rack and shoving me away. “Get back! Get out kid!”
The panel smashed open and the monster barreled out, roaring and slashing with heavy claws. It shrugged off Thomas’s feeble blows and caught him by the leg, almost casually tossing him away. I cried out as he slammed headlong into me, driving me back into the window. I saw stars as my head bounced off the glass and I struggled to keep my balance as I clutched Thomas’s limp body. Before I could even begin to react, the monster pounced. Its fangs missed me by a fraction, its massive body shattering the glass and tumbling out. I screamed in pain as its claws tore into my shoulder and dragged me out into space. A shard of glass slipped between my ribs as I landed, and the world dissolved in agony. The pain faded as quickly as it had come, snuffed out by shock as my eyes cleared and locked on the bloody shard jutting from my chest. Something wet spilled from my lips as I struggled to breath and darkness swirled on the edge of my vision. The monster loomed over me, reaching out with bloodied claws. I closed my eyes, resigning myself to my fate.