Of things beneath, p.2
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       Of Things Beneath, p.2
 

           Scott Stoecker
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  Jacob had decided on a 2nd floor condo. It would be easier to haul all the items he needed up just two flights of stairs, but it was off the ground and (hopefully) wouldn't be in the zombies’ line of sight. He had already found one that was properly decorated, including dark curtains to keep candlelight from leaking out. He would need to make a few modifications, such as adding a barring mechanism to the door, but soon, it would be home sweet home.

  The afternoon grew late, and he returned home to spend a final night on Elm. He had a bit more packing to do, and though he didn't intend on leaving his home of four years forever, he needed a change of scenery for a while. And Robert's disappearance had troubled him, no denying that.

  He had reached his home with plenty of daylight remaining. By candlelight he packed a few personal belongings and hid his remaining food supplies. Though he trusted other survivors, desperation could do strange things to a man, and he thought it best to keep a secret cache.

  Once he reached his upstairs bedroom, he blew out the candle and took a last look out into the street. Just a habit – it was always empty.

  A rattling door woke him early in the morning. The wind must have picked up, he thought to himself, before the rattle became a pounding followed by the tinkle of broken glass. His 9mm in hand, he crept toward the stairs, intent on spotting the intruder before they could do too much damage.

  The gaunt figure staring up at him startled Jacob, and its clumsy lurch up the stairs ended with a bullet in its forehead. The sound of Jacob’s shot drew the others, who had been just out of sight, into a frenzy. They rushed forwards and scrambled over the corpse on the stairs while Jacob sprinted to his room. He locked the door and desperately shoved his dresser in front of it in time to prevent the things from smashing through.

  The door started to give under relentless pounding, and Jacob grabbed his shotgun and handgun, then opened the small window overlooking a wide alley. The zombies pushed their way into the room as he was halfway through. He fired two shots from his handgun, both striking the closest zombie, but not fatally, which only made it stumble. Jacob stepped out on the steep side roof and nearly lost his footing on the loose shingles. He slid a few feet before stopping himself. He lost the grip on his pistol, stopping it with his foot a moment before it dropped off the roof. He took a moment to survey his escape route.

  His plans changed immediately - the alley was teeming with zombies.

  His first reaction was stunned disbelief, but that disappeared as he heard a zombie clawing through the window. Jacob's shotgun blast nearly decapitated it, and its body collapsed lifelessly. The crowd in the alley, which had not noticed Jacob's escape, noticed now, and their collection of growls and hisses reverberated through the alley. It steeled his resolve to escape – he’d survived this long – and his second shot destroyed the head of the next zombie climbing through the window.

  Jacob needed a new escape route. He had never seen the undead use any sort of tool, including rocks and such, but he needed no more surprises tonight. The roofline at the top of the house was easy to reach from the side overhang he stood on, and with a small jump, he grabbed the cold eves trough and pull himself up. The metal shrieked as he climbed, but it held long enough for him to reach safety.

  From his view atop the house, the alley wasn't the only zombie gathering place. At least a hundred stood on Elm Street and its sidewalks. And they all looked up at him with absolute hatred in their eyes.

  The feeling was mutual.

  The homes on Elm Street were all connected, like, townhouses, and he made his way west, keeping away from the edge to stay out of view. As he reached the end of the block, he crawled to the side of the last house and peeked over. There were a few zombies moving towards Elm Street, but he had thus far escaped notice.

  He needed a plan. He could stay up on the roof, but the October air was bitterly cold. At best, it would be an uncomfortable night. At worst, he would freeze to death. Shorts and a t-shirt would do little in this weather.

  He waited until the last zombie on Bay walked by before descending a downspout to street level, his shotgun left on the roof – he had no way to carry it and dropping it would have been too noisy. The 9mm stuck inside his waistband would have to do. Feet bare, he had just touched the ground when another zombie appeared around the corner of the next block. He dove into a ransacked doughnut shop and crawled behind the counter, gripping his pistol tightly. He watched through the shattered display case as the zombie passed.

  After a few minutes of no zombie activity, he slipped from behind the counter and crept to the entrance. He cursed his lack of foresight – he had no shoes, and his feet were bleeding from the broken glass. He pulled out a sliver, wincing, before limping down Bay towards his new home by the lake.

  He moved from bus stop vestibule to bush to bench, keeping low and moving as quickly as his inured feet would allow. Jacob felt exposed on such a wide street, but he needed to head south as quickly as he could, to his knew home.

  Until he remembered that Toronto was full of empty houses. He didn't need to go "home", he just needed to find a safe place until dawn.

  He felt simultaneously foolish and relieved as he turned into the driveway for the Marriot, which would have plenty of places to sleep and literally ran into a zombie.

  Its enraged growl was silenced by Jacob's point-blank shot to the head. And then came the horrifying realization that his shot would have been heard by every one of those things for a dozen blocks in the silent city. He looked up the street, and could just make out several of the zombies on Elm running in his direction.

  He cursed and ran towards the Marriot when two more zombies emerged from the lobby.

  He sprinted through Trinity Square, a small green space near Eaton Centre, hoping the zombies would lose sight of him. Swiftly loping figures were exiting the mall, and he turned hard to his right. His bare, torn feet would not move fast enough to escape these new predators.

  Injured and with only a few bullets remaining, he veered right and leapt through the shattered window of an office building lobby, the broken glass stabbing painfully into his bare feet. His already raw feet gave way and he fell on the debris-strewn marble floor.

  Once again, he dug out shards from his feet, pulling desperately, and he had removed the last piece when the first zombie ran past the window. He tensed, but it ran past, as did the next one, and the third.

  The fourth did not.

  Its head turned as it stumbled by, and it glared at Jacob and growled. Jacob scrambled to his feet and spared a glance and saw that the zombie had already cleared the window, as had several others.

  He sprinted towards the metal door of the stairwell, seeing no other possible route to safety – they were coming for him quickly. He opened the door and stumbled into the darkness, a sliver of light revealing the stairs, but died quickly and the door slammed shut. Jacob leapt up several steps at a time, slipping on concrete made slick with his blood. The door flew open again and the zombies poured into the stairwell.

  He reached the landing and ascended the next flight in blackness. He stumbled at the top step, and his shoulder hit the wall. He hands slapped the walls as he searched for the door, found it the handle, and pulled.

  It didn’t move.

  Growls, hisses, scraping feet – all echoed in the confining darkness. He screamed in frustration and fear as he yanked on the door handle. It gave suddenly, the door opening, and he slipped backwards into the crowd pressing behind him. He knocked one of the things backwards, then Jacob staggered forward and through the door. He grabbed the handle, and in the pale light of the second floor, a snarling visage stared back. He slammed the door.

  He wound his way through the cubicle maze, hurtling knocked-over chairs, looking for a hiding place. He turned a corner and heard the stairwell door open followed by the heavy footballs of pursuing zombies.

  An open ceiling panel was his chance. He leapt onto a desk, then up through the opening, grabbing hold of cold metal pi
pes and pulling himself upwards, his gun coming loose and clattering on the desk below him. He straddled the pipes, twisting his body so that he lay on top of them. He inched backwards, away from the opening.

  A zombie came into view, and Jacob froze as it loped underneath him and out of sight, followed by another. Growls filled the room, and he edged back farther, until only a small a sliver of the office remained in view and he was hidden in almost complete darkness.

  The sounds gradually quieted as the searching zombies lost interest in their out-of-sight prey. He shifted slightly to escape an uncomfortable bolt in his side. As he made the adjustment, he knocked loose a bundle of wires, which made a soft thump on the ceiling tiles.

  In the narrow slit of the office below, a zombie appeared. Its head cocked ever so slightly, it shuffled forward a few steps and stopped. And looked directly into Jacob's hiding place.

  A heartbeat, then two, and it shuffled out of sight, directly underneath where Jacob was laying. He closed his eyes and waited.

  *****

  He awoke the next morning as sunlight eased through windows. The air was cold, he was stiff, and his feet throbbed. He lifted his head from the insulated pipes and listened. And waited.

  The office was brightly lit before he decided it was safe. Jacob crawled slowly, out of caution and pain, and risked lowering his head to survey the room. All was still.

  He lowered himself to the desk, then cried out and collapsed as his cold and bloody feet touched the desk. After the pain subsided, he crawled to his gun and limped to the staircase. He opened the door quickly, gun in hand. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing, he wedged the door open with a chair and gingerly descended down to the first floor in the weak light.

  Cold daylight met Jacob as he picked his way through the shard-strewn first floor and onto the street. Once again, Toronto was quiet.

  He continued to his new home, where he had been heading the night before. He welcomed the grass around Old City Hall, letting the dew wash away the dried blood on his feet.

  The walk was a slow one, even after he found a pair of shoes in a destroyed storefront, along with a coat from another. He reached his lakeside home around mid-morning.

  His apartment was cool and quiet. He grabbed a beer from the kitchen, sat heavily on the couch, and took long, slow drinks from the bottle, looking out his window at the silent towers of a dead city.

   Part II

  June 4th

  They had found him again.

  The front door was close to splintering, and it didn’t sound promising for the back door either. The curtains fluttered madly as arms grasped blindly, only the bars on the windows keeping them out.

  Jacob had been careful, but they still tracked him down. In Toronto, with thousands of houses, they somehow found his.

  Part of the door shattered and a feral eye glared at him. Without hesitation, Jacob raised his 9mm and fired a shot into the head of the zombie outside.

  But one wouldn’t make a different. If the previous two attacks were any indication, there would be hundreds of them.

  This place was done.

  Jacob rounded a corner and ascended to the second floor. From the hallway, he inched back the curtain. As expected, his yard was a mass of emaciated, pale figures pressing towards the house, with more approaching on the usually quiet streets.

  A sharp crack from downstairs refocused him, and he continued to the master bedroom closet, grabbing a flashlight on his bedside table as he passed. Like every other building in the city, and probably the world, he had no electricity. Flashlights and candles were all he had.

  He pulled the rope hanging from the ceiling to lower the folding steps to the attic. To the sounds of growls and crashes on the floor below, he climbed into the stuffy attic and pulled up the stairs behind him.

  The things boiled up the second floor. He padlocked the attic stairs, an after-market addition he had installed in case the zombies got smarter, but they had not yet figured out the concept of an attic.

  He laid back on a sleeping bag and looked over his supplies – food, water, guns. He had hoped they wouldn’t be necessary, had hoped this time things would be different.

  He prepared for a long night.

  *****

  The morning after was better than the last two. Yes, his home was compromised – he would have to move – and the place was a disaster. But he was alive and uninjured.

  He picked his way through the wreckage. His first concern was his food supply. Most had survived – zombies were apparently not adept can opener users.

  By the end of the morning, Jacob had moved to a new location, prepared earlier because of the inevitable attack. It was certainly a step down from his last home, but this 6th-floor condo overlooking the university would do for now. And if he didn’t like it, he’d be moving in a few months anyway. He was realistic – and fatalistic – about remaining undetected. He just had to be prepared when they found him.

  The pantry stocked, he climbed the stairwell to the top, nylon rope in hand. The door was locked, but he had time and a crowbar. On the roof, he tied his rope to heavy pipes and added knots, one every few feet. That done, he tossed it over the edge so it hung outside his balcony. He returned to his condo and secured the other end of the rope to his balcony. His emergency escape route was done, though it certainly violated a building code or two.

  He ended his day with a beer on his balcony watching his quiet city at sunset. Tomorrow he would finish securing his condo, but for now, shoving the couch in front of the door would do.

  June 16th

  The weekly poker game was held at an Irish pub next to Eaton Centre. It was a full house, with all four people he knew in attendance.

  “So how’s the new place,” J.P. asked as the cards were being dealt.

  “Oh, it has a great view of downtown. And the commute is shorter.”

  Jeremy checked his cards and bet. “You said high-rises were deathtraps. Why’d you move into one?”

  “I’ve done some serious remodeling. There are two stairwells. One I’ve sealed by stacking cinder blocks behind it.”

  “You’ve been busy,” Mike commented, folding.

  “Damn straight. And on the other door, I’ve added steel bars. When I’m inside, it’s sealed. So unless they find a generator to power up the elevator, or become Spiderzombies, I should be all set.”

  “I like that,” J.P. added, folding to Jacob’s bet. “I’m living in a Yonge Street shop with metal gates, but it freaks me the hell out, being those things are so close to where those things in the mall.” He shook his head. “I need to call my realtor.”

  “For real?” Mike added. “I live in an attic, and doesn’t that just bite.”

  Jacob pulled in the pot. “Let me know if you need help upgrading your living situation. My boss will probably give me the time off.”

  July 2nd

  Jacob drove his pickup through the gray morning of Vaughn, just outside Toronto. Well, it was his truck as of yesterday. The previous owner was long dead, along with most of the city. Aboveground city, that was. It had been a slow trip of constant detours around blocked intersections. He hoped it would be worth it.

  He parked his F-150 at the grocery distribution warehouse. The building looked untouched, its truck bays empty and closed, a good sign. He removed a box of battery-powered lanterns along with a pistol and crowbar. The side door was strong, but persistence paid off once more, and it opened to darkness. Nothing was waiting for him on the other side. Good sign number two.

  Long aisles disappeared into the gloom. Years worth of food awaited him, some of which may still be good to eat. He would share this find with the others… after he had taken his share. Or two. Life was tough these days.

  Jacob walked softly down the first aisle, reading the box labels as he moved deeper into the building. Canned beans, pretzels, marshmallows. He had not seen this much food since last year’s riots. He would gorge himself tonight with no worries about where the next meal w
as coming from for a change.

  But that was after the work was done. He turned on the first electric lantern and began working. While a box of chocolate bars sounded great, he needed real food. His mother would have been proud. He half-emptied a box of canned corn, then added potato chips from another, and cereal from a third. Variety was the spice of life.

  His truck was half full when he returned inside for another load. He opened a case of sports drinks and leaned against a shelf for a moment’s rest when he heard a feet shuffling on concrete.

  He fumbled with his pistol, pulled it clumsily from his holster and pointed into the darkness. The lanterns light extended brightly for thirty feet, dimly for another thirty, and it was shadow beyond that.

  It was on the light’s edge that he saw her, a ghostly white body, glaring around the corner of the aisle. They hated light. Sunlight was the worst, but any light brighter than twilight repelled them.

  Jacob knew the only thing that kept it from attacking was the lantern between them. Then she charged.

  Jacob’s surprise was nearly fatal. His first shots missed as the screeching figure ran past the lantern. His next two shots were true. She collapsed a few feet from him, then flailed forward, hooting and panting before another bullet silenced her.

  His ears rang and his heart pounded. What the hell just happened? When did they start NOT fearing light? That point lingered as he saw shadowy figures emerging from the darkened aisles towards him.

  He sprinted towards the exit, the things both behind him and in the aisles to either side, but he didn’t dare turn as he ran for daylight.

  The sun had broken through the clouds, and bright light beamed through the doors, blinding his pursuers and giving Jacob the moment he needed. As the sun surrendered to the clouds, Jacob ran into daylight and to the truck. Frustrated howls and screams echoed from the warehouse.

  He sped all the way home.

  *****

  Two days later, he did what he should have done the first time – he brought friends. The fact that those things were in there was little deterrent to a group of armed and hungry survivors. Food was everything now. They came prepared and, more importantly, they went on a sunny, cloudless day.

 
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