Of things beneath, p.3
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       Of Things Beneath, p.3
 

           Scott Stoecker
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  J.P. was through first through the door, followed by Mike and Jacob, all with shotguns. Within minutes, all ten bay door locks had been cut and the doors opened, flooding the front of the warehouse with light.

  Let those bastards try to sneak up on them now.

  “Come to papa,” J.P. said. “To be honest, I didn’t believe you. But this…” he trailed off with a whistle, admiring the enormous amount of food.

  A zombie presence was obvious. They had a glimmer of human understanding, and anything that looked like food was eaten. They were smart enough to recognize packaged food with pictures, but too stupid to realize that the sealed cardboard boxes were full of the same.

  “Look sharp,” Jacob warned.

  They came to the aisle where he had shot the zombie woman, and there she lay. What was left.

  They had eaten her. The skin and muscle were nearly gone, and if he had not seen her before, Jacob wouldn’t have even known it was female.

  “They’re eating each other,” Mike whispered.

  “Better them than us,” J.P. replied.

  Jacob had never seen that before. He was no expert on zombie eating habits, but cannibalism was something new. And he had no doubt that, if caught, he would be a meal, too.

  The men took turns standing watch, going from aisle to aisle, and loading food into their waiting trucks. They heard scrapes and murmurs from the recesses of the warehouse, but shadowy movements were all they saw of the predators.

  The task finished, the four stood outside and rolled the door back down, sealing the interior from the elements.

  They sorted supplies before heading back to the city. The nights were still filled with monsters, but with a fresh supply of food, one worry had disappeared. For now.

  August 17th

  He hadn’t slept well for weeks when the attack came.

  Bright moonlight shone as Jacob drank a Molson on his balcony. They were easy to spot, loping along the deserted streets, heading to their meal. It began as a trickle, but their number grew quickly. They approached silently, disappearing into the lobby. Jacob took a last swallow of beer before walking through his apartment and into the dark hallway.

  The sound was faint. He turned on his flashlight and moved past the doors of empty apartments. Swallowing his well-earned paranoia, he approached the stairwell. Faintly, very faintly, he could hear them. He opened the stairwell door, sure he would see them boiling up from below.

  It was empty. But they were close – he heard their insistent pounding and clawing five floors below. “I hear you knocking but you can’t come in” he whispered.

  Against his better judgment, he crept down to the ground floor. He had to know if his security measures would hold. The door had been knocked ajar, and he could see flickers of pale skin and fingers and eyes, trying to get inside, trying to get to him.

  Damn them, how did they know where he was?

  He flashed his light onto the door which drove them into a frenzy, howling and hissing, so close, yet still unreachable. He smiled.

  He examined the screws holding the bars to the cinder block walls. A dusting of cement powder drifted to the floor. Not much, but enough to see that they were making progress towards their midnight snack.

  He sighed and trudged back upstairs. Nothing he could do tonight.

  He returned to his room, grabbed guns and a sleeping bag, and ascended to a hiding place on the roof. At least it was a pleasant evening. Except for the zombie horde, of course.

  *****

  He hadn’t needed to be so cautious. The zombies had failed to break through before daylight, but it would only be a day, maybe two, before the beasts worked the brackets free. The screws were loose, and had he put one fewer bar on the door, his night would have been a lot worse

  He would normally have another home ready for him, but the zombies had come a month earlier than expected.

  Well, screw ‘em – he’d think of something else. He measured the distance between the stairwell door and the opposite wall. He would need his truck again.

  *****

  “I hope zombies don’t like hardware stores,” Jacob thought as he approached the Home Depot in suburban Toronto. The place was lit as poorly as the distribution center. He picked his way through the shattered glass door and stood inside the entrance of the store and shouted “Dinnertime! Come and get it!”

  And he waited.

  After several minutes of nothing, he decided that Home Depot was not a zombie-approved lair, and he strolled down the lumber aisle, whistling while he shopped. He found 4x4 beams and dragged them outside, followed by a saw. A circular saw would have been faster, but the power company wasn’t answering his calls, so hand tools it was.

  He cut beams to be the length between his door and the wall opposite the door before returning home. Traffic was light – it sure paid to beat rush hour. Putting his plan into action could wait until after the poker game, though. Priorities.

  This week’s game was at the Hard Rock Café on Yonge Street. Poker with friends and all the beer they could drink. Had the beer been cold and the food not rotted away, it would have been perfect. As it was, it was still pretty good. Jacob arrived first, and he was already a beer ahead when J.P. and Mike arrived. They talked and waited for Jeremy to arrive. After a half hour, they started without him. After an hour, they knew he wasn’t coming.

  “Probably had a big date last night,” J.P. suggested. “Toronto’s got a mad club scene.”

  “You’re probably right,” Jacob answered, then regaled them with the latest attack on his home.

  “They’ve got radar,” Mike insisted. “Every time, every time,” he muttered. “I just want to take it to them, you know?”

  “That’s crazy talk right there,” J.P. warned. “Don’t get Rambo on us. They’ve got a thousand for every one of us.”

  “At least”, Jacob added. “I just wish I didn’t have to move every few months. That’s a real pain.”

  “Yeah, you need a castle. Maybe a tower, like freaking Rapunzel.”

  “Let down your hair, Jacob, let down your hair!” Mike said in his best high-pitched voice. They all laughed, and then Jacob started to think.

  “We have a castle, Casa Loma. Not a real castle, but…”

  “Lots of windows in that place,” J.P. pointed out. “Hard place to defend, castle or not.”

  “But…” Jacob knew he was on to something. “The tower. The tower would be perfect.”

  “The tower has stairs,” Mike said. “They could march up there two by two and have a nice little Jacob snack.”

  “But not if I took it down,” he said excitedly. “The spiral staircase is metal. If I take it out, I could add a ladder or a rope ladder and pull it up when night came. They could never get up there. Perfect!”

  J.P. nodded, considering. “It would be pretty slick.”

  “You can fit up there, too. The tower isn’t big, but it would be safe.”

  “Thanks. I like you and all, but I’m not much into roomies.”

  When the game ended, the tower plan was firmly entrenched in his brain. Jacob drove to his soon-to-be home, Casa Loma. Why didn’t he think of it before?

  He entered the manor through the shattered front door. Though it was still early in the afternoon, he proceeded cautiously through the enormous, dimly-lit mansion.

  Though it had suffered from neglect and vandalism, it still had its dignified beauty. He wandered through the two-storey ballroom and into a dining hall of dark wood, its shelves covered with books and walls hung with portraits. He continued to the atrium, a glass room full of withered plants and a dry fountain in the center of the mosaic floor.

  He ascended the main staircase to a second level filled with museum-like bedrooms with hundred year-old comforts, rooms that were completely indefensible. His destination was on the third floor, past military history showrooms filled with photos, plaques, and weapons from Canada’s past wars.

  The lower floor of the tower was harsh. B
are store walls and small square windows, along with the dampness and dust, gave it a cellar-like feeling. But his interest was in the spiral staircase to the top. At the end of the ascent he was rewarded with a spectacular view of the city. Jacob grinned. Be it ever so humble, there was no place like home.

  The tower had no furniture – it was all stone walls, small windows, and a door to the parapet. The un-insulated walls could not keep in the warmth. Still, it would do for his purposes – survival. He stepped out onto a walkway littered with leaves. He could get used to this view, he thought. He would have to.

  Satisfied, he descended the staircase, making a mental list of tools he would need to make his space livable and secure. The existing stairs would have to be removed. For that, he would need a blowtorch. But before he could do that, he needed a way to get up and down the tower – a rope ladder, easy to climb and light enough to pull into the tower once he was inside.

  Time for another shopping trip.

  August 19th

  Molson in hand, he dispassionately watched from the balcony as the things approached his building to kill him. He could hear them at the stairwell door below. Jacob drank the last of his beer, threw the bottle over the edge and into the crowd, and went inside.

  He repeated last night’s security check and descended to the first floor. The door was shaking from the constant pounding, but it held. The wood beams he had wedged between the wall and door worked perfectly. That door wasn’t going to open.

  Returning to his home, he replaced the floor bar against the door, not an original feature of his condo. Most homes didn’t have defenses against a zombie apocalypse as a selling point. Too bad – it would have come in handy for a lot of people.

  He was almost ready to move. A little more work on the tower, and it would be as comfortable as it ever would be. Once again, his mind ran through his checklist as he enjoyed a beer my moonlight.

  The commotion below grew suddenly louder. Curious, he grabbed his pistol and flashlight as he went to the door. He entered the darkened hallway to the sounds of distant screeching and pounding. Nothing unusual there, but there was something different. He walked to the door of the west stairwell, the one he secured with beams. He listened for a moment and could hear the distant thump of fists on metal. He cracked it open to listen more closely, approaching the stairs down. His light flashed down, dreading what he would see.

  But it was an empty stairwell. The door was secure.

  That was a relief, Jacob thought, and started back to his room, flashlight bobbing in the darkness.

  At the end of the hall, illuminated by his beam, stood a zombie in the other stairwell door glaring madly at him.

  It started an instant before Jacob was they raced for his door halfway down the hall. He raised his pistol, firing as he ran. The zombie collapsed, but behind it, more were flooding out from the stairwell.

  Jacob ducked into his room, slamming and securing the door, which shook as the zombies crashed into it. He stuffed extra clips into his pockets as he ran for the balcony.

  The door splintered, and the first of the zombies crawled through the wreckage. With no time to fear the long drop, he grabbed the knotted rope tied to the railing.

  The first of the zombies reached him, clawing at his dangling feet and yanking him towards its gnashing jaws. He kicked free and pulled himself out of the reach of the growing crowd below him. They shook the rope, and trying to reason how it worked. The things weren’t as mindless as they appeared.

  He climbed. His arms were exhausted as he reached an eighth floor balcony. He pulled himself onto it and collapsed. His escape plan hadn’t taken into account his physical limitations. “Just a few minutes”, he panted.

  A few moments were all he got. He could hear them in the distance, scrambling, searching. They knew he went up, and it was only a matter of time before they reached this place. He reluctantly renewed his climb.

  He reached the roof two stories above after a painfully slow ascent, pulling himself over the edge, and ran to the equipment shed. He tested his exhausted arms once more, and they burned as he climbed to the top. His supplies – an extra gun with ammunition, sleeping bag, and food – were stored in plastic bags. He unpacked them and laid flat.

  The zombies burst from the stairwell. They growled, manically searching every place they could see, stumbling over one another in their desperate search. Luckily for him they were disappointed in their attempt.

  The zombies lingered, but Jacob remained safely hidden. It was deep into the night before they finally gave up the search, and not until the sun has risen did Jacob leave his hiding place.

  They were likely gone, but the dark stairwell now seemed darker. He crept to the edge of the stairs and shouted, an echo the only reply. Gun ready, he cautiously descended four flights to yet another ruined home to salvage what he could among the carnage.

  Jacob filled boxes with blankets and food and took them down to his truck. As he reached the ground floor, he saw that his idea of the beams to hold off the zombies had worked – they were intact. But they had hammered the other door so relentlessly that they had moved the large pile of cinder blocks behind the second entrance. Lesson learned – barely.

  He parked at the ornate front entrance to his home, Casa Loma, examining it appreciatively. His very own castle – he was really moving up in the world. He had a breakfast of dry cereal in the house’s enormous dining room, sitting alone amongst the banners and ornamentation of a grander age. And it was all his – in the daytime.

  His nighttime home, however, was not made for comfort, but there were fewer places safer in all of Toronto. Unless zombies started using ladders or jet packs, he’d be fine.

  With a little trepidation, he climbed the spiral staircase for the last time. He secured his rope ladders to the tower wall and used a propane torch to cut the anchors connecting the metal stairs to the stone floor. It was quick work, and as the last anchor was severed, the staircase crashed below.

  It was time to test his exit strategy. He unrolled his ladder into the hole left by the stairs, gave it a firm tug, and descended. It was a harrowing trip, the ladder swinging wildly as Jacob desperately held on. Yet another new skill to learn, one he had plenty of time to perfect. That was a problem for tomorrow. Tonight, he had poker.

  Returning to his truck where he had left $50,000 in cash, he returned to the Hard Rock. Once again, only J. P. and Mike were there – Jeremy never arrived.

  “Haven’t seen him,” J. P. said in response to Jacob’s question. “I went to his place after the last game and he wasn’t there. Been there every day, but there was no sign of him.”

  Jacob nodded. Jeremy was dead. Though they had not been close, in zombified Toronto, there was a very clear divide – friend or someone who was trying to kill you.

  They played a half-hearted game, but mostly they talked. Jacob detailed his progress on Casa Loma. Mike was still holed up in the house behind Yonge. “It’s noisy – bad neighbors, you know – but it’s safe,” he explained.

  They broke up after two hours of drinking warm beer and Jacob returned before sunset. He perused the castle library. The books were there to impress tourists, but he took several anyways.

  The climb up the ladder after several beers was challenging. It swayed constantly as he moved, and he decided not to get drunk before attempting the climb again. He reached the top and gratefully collapsed on the floor. Though in good shape, this was a new kind of tired, but he’d be in climbing shape soon.

  Jacob pulled up the ladder and prepared a dinner of cold ravioli and pretzels. What a dinner, he thought. “I live in a castle and can’t even get a decent meal,” he muttered.

  As the sun set over Toronto, he walked onto the parapet and looked into the growing gloom. He couldn’t see his old apartment, but he had a feeling it would soon be overrun with the damn zombies. He shrugged, trying not to care, trying not to feel anything.

  He had brought blankets and rugs to make his cold room mor
e comfortable. He had plans to rig a pulley system for heavier items like furniture. And it had an incredible view, one made better by his new telescope. Top of the line, and at a price that couldn’t be beat.

  The telescope was an interesting addition. He watched the zombies as they wandered the streets, not in large hordes, but individually or small groups. So what made them gather in such large numbers when they found him? Did they communicate somehow? Pheromones? E-mail? He pondered that late into the night.

  September 16th

  A sunny, cool autumn day drew Jacob down Spadina Avenue and past its spacious houses. He had ransacked them earlier, so he needed to expand his search into the commercial areas to the north. He had commandeered a Cadillac Escalade – thank goodness its previous owners had had such good taste in vehicles.

  Office buildings were what he found first, but they were more valuable than they appeared. Cube farms ran on junk food, items with expiration dates far in the future, and with an empty backpack and a loaded pistol, he entered a non-descript low rise.

  The glass wall facing the street had been smashed during the riots, a time of confusion and violence fueled by terror caused by what he called zombies. Psychologists and doctors had called them something else. But the geniuses were dead, and he wasn’t.

  The floor was covered with debris – glass, leaves, and an assortment of trash blown in by the wind. He ignored cubes and moved deeper into the building in search of vending machines.

  As expected, the break room had what he needed. Bottled water, chips, and candy were visible behind glass. It was a simple matter to reach them. He emptied the second floor break room as well, and as an afterthought, he took paper plates. He certainly wasn’t going to do dishes.

  Jacob spent the remainder of the afternoon in various office buildings and apartments. His food supply was good and he slept securely. Life was as good as he could expect in a zombie-infested city.

  That night, he stood on the parapet and looked down over Toronto through his telescope. A full moon illuminated the streets as he watched the zombies stumble and scamper through the streets. Looking for food? Looking for him? Were they the same goal?

 
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