Of things beneath, p.1
Of Things Beneath
Copyright 2014 by Scott Stoecker
Table of Contents
Reflected sunlight from the glass-covered, abandoned mall across the street awoke Jacob. Relief – he had survived the night.
The barricaded corner office, last night’s home, overlooked Dundas and Yonge, formerly one of Toronto's busiest intersections. As he looked out at the city in the morning light, there were no cars, no people, no life. No screens illuminated Dundas Square, no lights beckoned shoppers into the stores.
Jacob listened at the door. Nothing. He doubted they would find him in the daytime, but caution had kept him alive this long. He pulled the desk aside and, shotgun in hand, opened the door to reveal a deserted office, the cubicles quiet and empty, as they had been the previous evening.
They usually slept until sundown, but sometimes, when dark clouds lurked over the city in the late afternoon, they rose early. He was lucky this time – he had spotted them before they had spotted him, and he had ducked into this building for the night.
Shouldering his backpack, he crept across the debris-strewn floor, his finger hovering near the trigger as he descended the stairs. They ended at the back of a decimated technology store. His feet crunched on broken television screens and cell phones as he walked out into welcome sunlight of Yonge Street.
As far as the eye could see, the signs of abandonment were clear: Trash-strewn streets, shattered windows, silence. He started north, keeping to the center of the street - it was safest to be away from darkened doorways. But the two-block trip to his Elm Street home was without incident.
He checked his doors, and both were undisturbed. Once inside, he barred them and scanned his selection of canned foods. Today’s breakfast was ravioli. He should have eaten cereal - it would go bad long before the canned food did - but he was sick of dry cereal.
He relaxed for much of the morning, enjoying the peace that daylight provided.
Electricity he didn’t have, but time – that he had plenty of. He would have loved to spend another day sitting on the roof with a book and a beer, but his desire for fresh meat was more pressing. With a sigh, he gathered his rifle, ammunition, and granola bars (speaking of foods he was sick of) as he left.
A short walk away, College Park was prime hunting ground. Five months ago, before the event, he thought about pigeon hunting not at all, let alone doing it a few blocks from home. It still sounded absurd. But life was different now.
He was in luck – the park was full of birds this morning, strutting carefree through the overgrown grass. They scattered after his first shot, which struck true, and he killed another in flight. He paused a moment to examine a half-built condominium tower bordering the park. It would have had beautiful views of the park, he thought, and retrieved his meals.
Jacob gutted the birds in a parking lot across the street. Back at home, he grilled them, eating one and saving the other for dinner. The basement was no refrigerator, but it would do for a few hours.
He checked his watch - 2:30. Plenty of daylight remained, but he wanted to get his next task over with. He exchanged his rifle for a shotgun, added a propane torch to his backpack, and started off on a shopping trip.
An unusual sound echoed through the nearly empty city. Common sense urged him to ignore it. Curiosity won. He guessed there were about fifty people living in Toronto – he hoped it was one of them.
Shotgun in hand, he crept around the corner. Sitting at a gas station was a red Toyota pickup with two dozen red gas containers in back. A rubber tube lay beside the truck, a sure sign someone was siphoning gas.
"You huntin' rabbits or somethin’?"
The voice startled Jacob, who barely kept his finger from pulling the trigger. J.P. was leaning against a wall just inside the gas station's garage, watching Jacob as he moved closer to the pumps. He was smoking, which Jacob absurdly thought was unsafe. Humanity had been driven to near extinction, and smoking at a gas station was worrying him.
J.P. grinned at Jacob's slight jump. "You seem a bit jumpy, man. Bad day?"
Jacob shouldered his shotgun. "Bad night."
"Yeah, been there. Many times."
Jacob nodded towards the truck. “Taking a road trip?"
J.P. laughed, his dreadlocks flipping back. "No, man - the amusement park is closed, if you hadn’t heard. Just getting a little fuel for the generator. What you got going on today?"
"I'm going to the mall - need a new coat."
He raised an eyebrow. "The mall? That must be some coat."
Jacob shrugged. "The crowds should be light this time of day."
"Where you going to get this new coat you need so bad?"
"Martin's. Should be okay, it's on the third floor."
"Yeah, should be okay," J.P. agreed. "You watch your back, though. No going down to the first for a snack. Hate to be one short for our game."
"No worries, I brought my own snacks. I'll see you Tuesday."
J.P. nodded in reply and Jacob continued south on Bay. A short jaunt past broken windows, an abandoned hotel, and an empty church led him to the mall entrance.
Eaton Centre had seen better days, as had the rest of Toronto. Doors gaped threateningly as he approached. He really didn't need a coat, certainly not one from the mall. But this one… He was sure Lisa had been going to buy it for him this coming Christmas.
He just needed a touch from his old life, his sane life, his life before… this.
After once again justifying such a foolish action, he stepped inside.
The glass crunched underfoot, echoing through the cavernous mall. Skylights provided illumination on the ground floor. He paused a moment, listening, but heard nothing but the wind through numerous broken windows. He walked to the opposite side, passing the Sears, whose gates stood open, its contents long-ago looted. He would salvage what he could sometime in the future, but not today.
He unconsciously slowed as he walked by the escalators descending to the lower levels. He stared into the dimness of the second level and the darkness of the first. He couldn't be positive of what was waiting down in the blackness, but he had a good idea.
Jacob cautiously passed the other quiet stores on his way to Martin’s. Martin's was saved from the looting that had struck so many other stores by its locked metal gate, and though it had escaped the savageness of the frightened mobs, Jacob had a cutting torch and plenty of time.
He knelt at the gate and removed a flashlight from his backpack. A quick search revealed his goal. Once again satisfied that the endeavor was worth the effort, he lit the torch and began cutting through the gate. In minutes, he crawled into the store, flashlight in hand. He had long gotten over the odd feeling of stealing. The dead didn’t take cash, or credit cards for that matter. And they certainly didn’t care.
Jacob slid on his coat. Not bad, he thought, but a stylish leather jacket needed a pair of equally stylish leather gloves. A pair of jeans probably wouldn't hurt either.
A faint growl caused a hitch in his throat. He listened intensely, and slowly reached for his shotgun.
Which was outside the store, where he had left it. Next to his backpack.
Another growl, clearer, and he sprinted towards the door, dropping the jeans and gloves his hand grasping for the gun. His fingers grazed the stock and the shotgun slid away from him across the smooth floor. He stuck his head through the gate and looked to either side, into the shadowy recesses of the mall.
A guttural growl, closer, echoed up from one of the lower levels.
Jacob scrambled through the gate and scooped up his backpack and shotgun, running to the
He ran to the daylight.
Winter was coming, and Jacob had spent the week scouring the stores for canned food. Most of the shelves were empty of anything edible, as the few survivors had gathered what they could, but some of the suburbs still had supplies. The smell of rot had finally begun to fade.
But all work and no play made Jacob a dull boy, and today would be a vacation day – he would be a tourist and visit the CN Tower. He only visited when family came to town – they would inevitably want view the city from on high. He couldn’t blame them – it was a spectacular view.
This was not the full CN Tower experience – the 1,700-step climb was daunting – but he would search the tower’s lower levels and hopefully find something useful, especially food.
Front Street, which ran near the CN Tower, was packed with cars. Much of the rest of the city was clear because of a desperate attempt to flee the city, but major intersections and streets, like Front, had been bottlenecks, and they still were. Always would be.
Jacob moved through the logjam, ignoring the car-bound corpses. We walked past the looted convenience store that was adjacent to the covered walkway he needed, one that crossed the commuter railways. No trains here now, nor ever again.
He picked his way across the carpeted floor, then descended the dead escalator at the end of the tunnel to the main entrance of the tower, the tiled floor covered with debris.
A large section of the level had been devoted to a gift shop. Hundreds of replica CN Towers, stuffed animals, DVDs, and countless other items littered the floor. Jacob ignored them, though he did find the candy bars a useful discovery.
He wandered to the far side of the gift shop, to the queues for the elevators that would take guests to the top of the tower. No waiting, he thought, and pressed the button. He smirked. “Guess I’ll take the stairs,” he said, and walked to the stairwell door.
He opened the door and shined his flashlight inside. It was black and silent. He chuckled at the thought of the ascent. Maybe someday, when the food situation was even bleaker, he would make the trip to the upper level café. Until then…
A feral, screeching face appeared, and a wild-haired woman scrambled towards him, her body struck his and knocked him into the door. She clawed and grasped at him ferociously as he tumbled backwards. She flinched at the daylight which allowed Jacob to scramble backwards; his bulky backpack entangled one of his arms.
The creature lunged forward and grabbed his ankle just as Jacob cleared the door. She was surprisingly strong, and she yanked him halfway back into the stairwell. Behind her, shrieks echoed from the depths of the staircase – more of them.
Jacob kicked with his free foot, striking her in the face. The kick drew blood, but it seemed only to annoy her. He narrowly avoided her attempted bit of his upper leg, and he fumbled to free his shotgun. The woman had nearly pulled him down a flight of stairs when he jabbed the gunstock into her face, which loosened her grip. She recovered quickly. More of them surged behind her.
The booming echo of his shotgun rolled up the tower, and the woman fell backwards. Jacob scampered back up the stairs and through the doorway, turning to fire again. The woman wasn't there, but three more faces were crawling over each other to reach him, their pale faces peering out from just inside the darkened tower shaft. Their hatred of the light was the only thing greater than their hatred of him.
Jacob swallowed hard and shook at the realization of how very close he had come to a truly awful death.
He aimed his shotgun and destroyed another of the creatures before they fled back into the dark depths of the tower.
"I'll raise you ten thousand," Andy said, and tossed a wrapped stack of $100 bills onto a pile of money in the center of the table.
Jacob thought a few moments before saying "Call" and throwing a block from his stack into the pot. Andy smiled and showed his straight. Jacob laid down his cards – poker wasn’t his game.
"I need a beer," he said, and rose from the table in the city hall council chamber and pulled a beer from the cooler.
The domed ceiling of the room must have witnessed a lot of boring meetings, he thought, returning to the table. Andy and J.P. were talking about a stash of tuna J.P. had found inside an apartment.
"So do you break the doors down or pick the locks?" Jacob asked, shuffling the cards, in what amounted to post-apocalyptic small talk.
"Depends on my mood. I usually try to pick them because it's not like I'm in a hurry, but sometimes, if I haven't found much lately, I'll just smash the damn door in."
Andy dealt the cards, and though Jacob's hand wasn't good, he called the $500 bet anyways. It was only money, and money wasn't worth anything anymore.
"Barely made it out of the museum the other day," J.P. said, looking at the flop and throwing $500 more into the pot. "I was looking for a new picture. You know, to make the place nice for the ladies." The guys laughed at that.
"Anyways, I went down to the lower level, thinking that none of 'em would be down there. It's a museum, after all. Who would have thought that those nasty S.O.B.s would be in a museum? I got the hell out of there, but they were on my ass the whole way."
"You two are crazy," Andy said, turning another card on the table, rubbing his bearded chin. "I don't even get close to anyplace those things could be. Forget that, man. There are enough things to do in the sunlight. Don't need to go exploring in basements where those things are."
"Where is your sense of adventure?" Jacob asked, folding his cards after a bet of $5000.
"Keeping my ass in one piece is enough of an adventure for me," he said to laughs, and pulled in another pot.
He still needed gloves.
After the game ended, which cost Jacob $67,000 and left him laughing at the absurdity of it, he walked a few blocks to The Bay. The ground floor windows of the multiple-storey department store were all broken, and he gingerly stepped inside one to avoid the jagged glass that protruded from the edge.
The few remaining articles of clothing close to the window were summer clothes – no gloves. He would have to go a bit farther inside for those.
He paused. Why was he doing this again? Maybe it was the difficulty of coping with living in a dead city, where his life had been destroyed, and his family was gone. Maybe it was a death wish.
Maybe he was just bored.
With a mental shrug, he picked his way across the nearly-bare first floor and deeper into the dim light. As expected, nothing useful remained. Taking a calming breath, he crept up the dead escalator.
The light-stingy second floor unnerved Jacob. Steadying himself, knowing the harsh winter was coming, and with a flashlight in his left hand and a pistol in his right, he stepped off the escalator.
Andy was right – he should shop at better-lit stores. It would make everything a lot easier.
Success, he thought, as his light found tables of gloves. He crept towards his goal, his eyes scanning for any movement in the dark recesses of the store. Satisfied he was alone, he placed his pistol on the table and began his search.
He stuffed his backpack full of scarves and gloves, then pilfered a spare coat as he started towards the escalators. A display of coffee grabbed his attention, and never one to pass up a bargain, he found room for several packets in his bulging backpack.
Shopping spree complete, he continued towards the exit when he heard a faint scratching noise behind him. He tensed, his chest aching at the sudden terror, and he reached for the pistol that he had left on the table. And from beneath the coffee display emerged a rat.
He sighed, and then laughed, as he watched the rat rummage through packets of crackers before turning to see the figures beyond. Staring back silently, the manneq
Jacob realized how easily this store could hide dozens of the things - his visibility was blocked by racks and dividing walls. He glanced from side to side with a sudden feeling of vulnerability. He snatched his pistol and scurried towards the escalator as a loud crack sounded from somewhere in the darkness.
He nearly fell as he fled down the elevator, across the store, and into the daylight.
Jacob stood in the center of Union Station, admiring the architecture, ignoring the shattered doors and the floor covered with refuse. The interior was quite beautiful – he had never stopped to look at it before.
He had acquired a book on Torontonian architecture from the self-proclaimed world’s biggest bookstore near his home. It had been a quick trip marked by a hasty exit – he had heard zombies in the basement, though he didn’t think they had heard him. He had come to call them zombies for lack of a better term. Not the stumble and grunt kind of zombies, though – these were quick and feral animals.
Andy had said a friend of his, Robert, had gone missing. Andy had gone to visit him and found the apartment empty. There had been a nasty fight, the couch and carpet being covered with blood.
Damn scary – how could they have found him? It was possible that it was just random, simply horribly bad luck that had led them to Robert. Or perhaps he had been out late, and they had chased him into his home.
The third possibility was that they were looking for him. It was unlikely that these zombies were able to track him – they seemed nearly mindless – but the Robert incident had shaken Jacob.
He had decided to move to a new home near the lake, and he had decided to live in style. A nice condo tower near the water was exactly what he was looking for. Winter was coming, so he took one that was facing away from Lake Ontario – that would make a difference with no heat.
After enjoying a lunch of potato chips and warm soda from a vending machine, he drove the short distance to his new condo. He parked in front of the door - he may have zombies trying to kill him, but meter maids were no longer a concern. It was a trade off.
The lobby was attractive, in a ransacked, abandoned sort of way. He took it as a good sign that the glass doors were only cracked and not broken. The decorations were stylish - apparently, condominium building lobbies had not been a prime target for the looters after all hell had broken loose. Faux marble cherubs were not high on the thieves’ lists.
Of Things Beneath by Scott Stoecker / Horror have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes