Morning RoutineMatthew Karabache / Horror
Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Karabache
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This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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Tamlin slowly drifted back into consciousness. Rolling over, she snuggled into the warmth of the blankets, smiling at how cosy she was. There was no alarm to force her out of bed, no schedule for today that she had to fulfil. It was her favourite part of life these days: being free from routine. She stretched, reaching up with her arms and arching her back until it felt like she was about to pop.
On bare feet, she padded over to the windows that spanned the wall opposite her bed. She threw open the drapes, letting the golden light of the morning sun stream into her bedroom. Lingering for just a moment, she smiled again as the light played over her skin, warming her. Tamlin loved the sun. It made her feel energised.
Squinting, she looked out at the city beyond the windows. Dawn’s orange-gold fingers played over the silent buildings and streets. It was quiet. Peaceful. Serene. Nothing moved in the city below. Not that she could see, anyway. Above, clouds lazily crawled their way across the sky. It was going to be another lovely day.
Shrugging out of the thin shift she’d worn to bed, she paused at her wardrobe, hand hovering over its contents in indecision. It was a nice day out, so something light? She made a selection, pulling it over her skinny frame, then stood in front of the mirror. The dress was a warm yellow that reminded Tamlin of the sun, and was covered in prints of tiny white flowers. She spun a little, letting the dress fan out, and giggled. It was cute.
On her way out, she scooped up a wicker basket from the corner of the room. Admiral Fluffybutt had fallen over—she straightened the dun-coloured stuffed rabbit so that his head peeked out over the edge of the basket. He wouldn’t quite stay put so she had to prop him up with the loaded handgun next to him. Once he was sitting nicely, she tucked the basket handle into the crook of her elbow and strolled out the door.
Crossing the small apartment, she paused only to slip on a pair of strappy white sandals that she’d left by the front door and retrieve her enormous, jangling bundle of keys from its bowl. She then made her way down the hall from where she slept, in 71, to 73. Tamlin fumbled with her keys for a moment, then unlocked the other apartment.
73 was a disorganised mess. There was a single long slab of bottled water, still sealed in plastic, on the kitchen counter, and cardboard boxes filled with pill bottles piled on the floor. Tamlin took a pair of scissors from a drawer and snipped at the plastic, carefully liberating a bottle of Pure Spring Water. Opening it, she took a sip and made a face at the plastic flavour that had seeped in.
Tamlin started to retrieve pills from each of the bottles that sat in a neat line on the counter next to the water. Iron, because she didn’t eat meat. Calcium, because she didn’t drink milk. Fish oil, because it’s good for the brain. Multivitamin, because she was sure there was some other stuff she needed but she wasn’t sure what. One after the other, she swallowed them with a small mouthful of water. She made a face after each one, trying to stop herself from gagging on the pills. Blech. She’d always hated taking pills.
After she was done, she popped a chewable vitamin C tablet into her mouth and crunched it between her teeth. It’d help her not get sick, plus it was a tasty treat to reward herself for being a good girl and taking her pills. The half-empty bottle of water went into her basket.
She exited 73, locking the door behind her, and crossed the hall to 74. Inside, a slight breeze ruffled the curtains that framed the smashed windows, carrying a vaguely unpleasant odour with it. Tamlin walked over to them and sniffed. It didn’t smell like burning outside today, which was good.
In the kitchen, Tamlin pulled out one of her big jars of vegetables. She unscrewed the lid, wrinkling her nose again at the sharp vinegary smell, then carefully drained the liquid into a big gallon bottle she kept for that purpose. She emptied the rest of the contents of the jar onto a plate, then tucked into the mix of pickled tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, and cauliflower with a fork. She was mostly used to the flavour now, though sometimes she got really bad acid reflux and had to take tablets to settle her stomach.
After breakfast, the empty pickling jar joined the water, keys, gun, and Admiral Fluffybutt in her basket. She’d already decided that she’d visit Harris this morning—he loved jars, and she could still spare a few. She locked the door then headed to the stairs at the end of the hall. The door here was locked as well, but she had a key.
The stairs led up to the building’s roof access, another door. Sitting on a hook nearby was a large, floppy hat. Tamlin picked it up as she headed outside, pausing in the light to let the sun warm her again. She let out a small sigh of contentment, then put her hat on and went to inspect the planter boxes.
There were a dozen of them in a pair of neat rows, remnants of the community garden that had once flourished on the rooftop. Tamlin had taken over their care. She was surprisingly good at it, she thought. The various vegetables were growing and healthy, some almost ready for her to harvest and stuff into the pickling jars downstairs.
She went to the other side of the roof, where bright blue tarpaulin stretched between the small ventilation turbines. The big five-gallon bottle she’d placed directly underneath the weighted hole in the middle of her water collection system was empty. It hadn’t rained in a few days, but that was okay. There was enough water downstairs to last her a week or more—she was more concerned about her garden.
All seemed well out here, so it was time to go see Harris!
Tamlin headed back inside and down the stairs, passing her floor and continuing downward until she reached the first floor. There was an open atrium that connected the ground floor with this one, so she strolled over to the balcony overlooking the lobby. Putting her basket down, she leant over the railing. ‘Harris! Good morning!’ she called out.
Below, a gaunt figure peeled itself from the barricaded front door it had been plastered to and shakily lurched a couple of steps toward her. The tall man made a gurgling snarling sound in the back of his throat. His face was a mass of shredded meat and dried blood.
‘Hiiii, Harris!’ Tamlin waved excitedly at her neighbour.
Harris flailed his arms in her general direction in response as he went through his normal routine. He stumbled underneath the balcony, losing sight of her, and Tamlin heard some thumps as he searched for a way upstairs.
The stairwell was well barricaded with a dozen pieces of furniture that Tamlin had hauled down from the apartments above, and would take more than a single person to force open. The front door Harris had been pressed against was barricaded firmly from the inside, as were all the windows. He must have already been sick when he’d hid in the building, sealing himself inside. There was very little chance he’d ever escape the lobby on his own.
Tamlin waited patiently as Harris fumbled about, the gaunt man eventually coming back into view once he’d finished trying to get up to her. He stretched upwards, reaching toward her, and made another gurgling growl of frustration.
She grinned and pirouetted, letting her dress flare out. ‘Aw, thank you very much, Harris! And how are you this morning?’
Harris attempted to jump, his fingers brushing the bottom edge of the balcony. He lost his footing as he landed, collapsing into a heap. Tamlin laughed as he pulled himself back up. ‘Now now, you know you’re sick. You gotta stay down there until you get better. If you behave, though, maybe I’ll climb down and get that door open for you so you can go outside!’
He replied with another snarl, stretching his arms out again and straining to reach her. She shook her head. Silly old Harris. Reaching down to the basket by her feet, she grabbed the empty pickling jar from breakfast.
Gently—carefully—Tamlin dropped it down toward Harris. His grasping hands lashed out immediately, snatching it from the air. He immediately lost interest in her, his attention now focused on the object clutched tightly in his hands. Leering down at it, Harris seemed to consider the jar for a moment before he started mashing his face against the top, as though trying to shove his head inside.
She wasn’t sure why he liked the jars. He just did. ‘Make this one last, okay Harris? I need to find some spares before I can give you any more.’
He ignored her. Eventually, he would smash the glass and it would join the other pieces of glass discarded on the floor of the lobby. The small growls and snarls issuing from his throat echoed in the jar, making the whole thing seem a little comical to Tamlin.
Sitting down at the edge of the balcony, she let her legs dangle down. They were easily within Harris’ reach if he decided to try to grab her, but Tamlin wasn’t afraid—he was having too much fun playing with his new jar. She leant her forehead against the railing and watched him for a