UNDEAD LA 1
by Devan Sagliani
On September 20, the zombie virus was released into downtown Los Angeles. It spread like unstoppable wildfire in all directions, decimating everything in its path. These stories take place in those final times. They are told through the eyes of several different Angelinos, each offering a unique perspective to the events as they unfolded and to the aftermath of the virus.
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Edgar never bothered to check out. It was a habit he’d gotten into when he was in college that had stuck with him. When he was ready to go, he simply walked out and shut the door behind him. Over the years he’d learned to take the keys with him, in case he left something. Later when the bill came in he’d compare it to his check-in receipts. So far he’d never had a problem with being overcharged. Usually he just breezed past the front door in uniform with his aviator glasses on, and didn’t bother to acknowledge the employee working the front desk – if they even spoke to him. But as he stepped out the door that morning he decided it was time to have a quick chat with management about the falling standards, and maybe ask for a discount on his room.
“They can do better than this,” he said. “A lot better.”
The hallway was dark. The power was out in the whole building. Edgar wondered if it was just this block or all of Los Angeles. He made his way to the stairs. The emergency lighting was on. He held the rail cautiously as he walked down and exited the Radisson, ending up out in front of the hotel instead of in the lobby as he’d planned. He stepped out into the bright sun with his carryon. The door shut behind him and in the same instant his heart leaped into his throat and his mouth went dry. All around him were signs of total chaos. It looked like some psychotic artist had painted the parking lot and grounds with buckets of human blood and entrails. He looked down next to his foot and saw a woman’s hand with her engagement ring still on. It looked like it had been chewed off at the wrist. He turned it over with the polished tip of his shoe, and it fell in the grass near the planter. His eyes wandered from it to what looked like a human rib cage resting in the valet parking next to a blood soaked Cadillac Escalade with the doors left wide open. Edgar slowly walked over to it until he could make out the sound of the car door binging. The keys were still in the ignition. The carcass next to it looked like it had been torn apart by savage beasts with dull teeth. There were bite marks on top of the ripped flesh as well as on some of the intestines drooling out the bottom where the stomach and legs should be. Edgar saw that there was hair growing out of some of the skin, and figured it didn’t belong to the woman who had lost her hand.
“What the fuck is going on?”
He turned in wide circles. The hotel lobby looked empty, but it too was covered with dark, coagulated blood. There were bloody handprints smeared on the glass windows and doors at the entrance. He turned back to the street and saw in the distance that there were figures moving out onto Century Boulevard. Then he spotted an Asian man limping away at the far end of the parking lot. Without thinking he jogged toward him, doing his best to catch up with the slow moving man in the tattered business suit.
“Hey,” he called out. The man stopped but did not turn around or reply. “Hey, man! What’s going on out here? Are you all right?”
Edgar could see the street more clearly now. It was filled with abandoned cars; some had smashed into each other and were left behind, others were left idling. In between the cars were what looked like dead people slowly moving around. They were all ages and from all walks of life. Men, women, and children, all races, all dressed differently. Some were missing body parts like arms or legs. Some had huge bloody wounds showing through their tattered clothing. Some had blood pouring from their eyes like tears. All of them had the gray skin associated with long-dead corpses. Edgar thought about an article he’d read in an in-flight magazine about a Zombie Walk in Las Vegas during a horror convention. He thought about the images in the article, but they were nothing like this. Those were happy, smiling faces covered in bright red makeup and hand-torn clothing. This was something else altogether.
The Asian businessman turned around to face Edgar. It felt like having the wind knocked out of him in slow motion. The whole world seemed to tilt sidewise as his half-eaten face came into full view. Edgar fought back the sudden urge to throw up at the gruesome sight of him. Frayed skin tissue radiated out from where huge chunks of flesh had been ripped clean. There were grooves in the remaining skin that made it look like it had been peeled off or scratched away by dull instruments.
Like human teeth, Edgar thought, or clawing fingernails.
In some places, Edgar could see down to the boney material he assumed was part of the man’s skull, especially near the temples. The man was grinding his jaw absentmindedly like a drug addict. With each movement Edgar could see deeper into the layers of exposed muscle as a dark red, mucus-like substance leaked out over the remaining flesh. Worst of all were the man’s eyes. There was a jaundiced haze forming over them with evidence of blood in the right eye, partially obscuring the cornea. The pupils themselves were dilated and empty of consciousness, like two wide-angle-lens closed circuit cameras pulling everything around them into some unspeakable void.
What could have happened to him to leave him in this condition?
Edgar realized he could hear the man moaning, even though he was over a hundred feet away. There were no car horns, no traffic sounds, and worst of all, no planes. Edgar glanced up nervously to confirm his suspicion and saw not a single aircraft in the sky. As he looked back down, the man with the gnarled face raised his puss-covered hands in his direction and let out a delirious howl of hunger. The next thing Edgar knew the man was charging at him, his limbs oddly flailing as he moved.
“What the fuck?”
It was all he could manage before his ‘fight or flight’ instinct finally kicked in. He felt his legs go from being two solid and unyielding slabs of concrete to feeling like thin, rubbery trees as they abruptly unlocked, threatening to pitch him to the already hot asphalt of the parking lot. He wobbled for a millisecond as the awareness reached him and his adrenaline kicked in, then he pivoted and turned to run. His arms moved like two unattached windmills; his heart was racing now, pumping hot fear and fresh panic into him. It felt like he’d just slammed down ten shots of espresso all at once! Every thought ceased, his generally incessant inner monologue going surprisingly quiet as the reality of the danger of his situation fully set in. He seemed to be moving at half speed, the way he did sometimes in dreams, where everything else was moving normally and he was mired down in molasses. He felt the muscles of his right calf seize up as he urgently kicked away from the ground in an attempt to force start a run, and no lack of warming up was going to stop him from escaping.
Not today, he thought with fierce determination.
He sprinted forward a few steps, feeling a new confidence enter into him. It didn’t matter what was really going on. There would be plenty of time to figure all that out later. All that mattered now was that he escape in one piece. He locked his eyes on the open door of the Escalade and decided it was his best chance for sanctuary and a possible getaway. His feet pounded against the ground as he turned toward the door, and he gave it all he had. He marveled for a split second about how amazingly resilient the human body was; how the mind, so often murky and tired and muddled, could be cleared instantly in the face of an eminent threat to one’s survival.
It’s written in the DNA, he thought.
He heard the feral animal grunts of the man behind him. He tilted his head slightly to see if the walking nightmare was in his peripheral vision, all the while keeping his body moving straight for the refuge of the sports utility vehicle. He saw a flash of oily, thick, inky black hair matted with blood, and something else that looked like brain matter. It was moving incredibly fast. His heart thundered in his ears as he pushed his body for more, but it wasn’t enough. He felt the cold hand clamping down on his shoulder as spikes of panic raced through him, making him numb.
There was something heavy on the back of his legs, pushing the fabric of his suit pants into the crease of his knees. He felt the back of his right shoe push hard into his silky dress sock, and then come loose. The next thing he knew something solid hit him in the lower back, right where he hurt the most from sitting through long flights. Then the ground came up, rushing unexpectedly toward his face. He put out the palms of his hands to break his fall. He felt a sharp sting as they connected with the hard ground, drawing blood. He tumbled forward and the monster clinging to him rolled with him like a heavy sack filled with foul liquid. A strong smell overpowered him, and he realized it was coming from the man. He came to a clumsy stop flat on his back, nearly knocking the breath out of him. The palms of his hands screamed in pain, but he held them up to force the man back. The smell of fresh blood only seemed to drive the man further into a frenzy as he snapped viciously at Edgar’s face, leaning over and drooling what smelled like rancid meat saliva, missing his face by near inches.
“Get off me!”
It was no use. There was no longer any man left to reason with, no longer anything that resembled a human being other than the sack of skin and bones that pinned him to the ground. Edgar could feel his strength leaving him as the monster leaning over him used the force of gravity and the weight of his body to drive himself closer and closer to his face. He turned his head and saw in the distance more creatures like the one that was trying to kill him. They were sniffing the air like a pack of wolves. Some had already caught the scent of fresh blood and were now heading his way, picking up speed as they moved.
I thought zombies were supposed to be slow and dumb, he thought briefly before shoving back with renewed force against his assailant. This isn’t what I expected at all.
The realization came to him suddenly – he didn’t have much time left. If he planned on living to see another day, he’d have to do something drastic and do it fast.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, reaching up and driving his thumb into the Asian man’s left eye. To his great surprise, the man didn’t even flinch. His thumb slid into the eye socket and the man’s eye squirmed out, dangling by a series of fleshy threads until the gelatinous orb was now inches from his own face. A trickle of dark fluid oozed down to the ball and dripped onto Edgar’s face. The man above him showed no response to having his eye gouged out. Edgar wasted no time doing the same thing with his other hand to the right eye. Using all the strength he had, he drove his fingers in deep until he felt a spongy material somewhere deeper inside the man’s skull. Driven on by adrenaline and the will to live Edgar squeezed down, jamming both thumbs toward each other. He could feel the muscles of his arms and chest contracting painfully as he gave it all he had. He felt the man’s grip on him loosen slightly as he drove his fingers all the way into the brain. With a great cry Edgar forced the man off him, rolling over and hurling the disgusting corpse away from him. The man crumbled into a ball, then rose again quickly and began wildly searching for his victim. His eyes hung loosely from the filth-covered strings in their sockets, dangling near his collarbones like some kind of macabre kid’s toy. He sniffed the air, knowing his quarry was just nearby, but was unable to locate him. He threw back his head and screamed out in anger, an inhuman cry that brought the attention of the others now closing in.
If they didn’t know you were here before, he thought, they sure do now…