Excerpt from Dead Meat: Day 3
William puts on the headphones as soon as the doors to the elevator close.
He’s strictly speaking not allowed to hear music at work, but come on—how else is he supposed to make it through his shift? Besides, the basement is usually empty, except for the other porters, but none of them will tell on him. Well, maybe Thorsten, that old, grumpy bastard.
William turns up the volume as the tunes of Custard Pie fill his ears. The doors open and he pushes the stand down the deserted hallway, smiling to himself as he drums the rhythm on the stand. He’s in an awful good mood today, despite the fact that today is a Monday.
He spins the stand around on its wheels, causing him to overlook the jumping handle on the door as he passes it.
He’s had the job a couple of months now. It was only supposed to be a summer gig, but the pay is decent, so he might stick around a little while longer than planned. Also, he actually enjoys the work. Most of the time he’s left to his own, pushing stands and beds and wheelchairs back and forth, going up and down the elevators.
It might not be the coolest thing in the world—being twenty-four and still having no education. But he doesn’t want an education. His plan is to go to the States and get an apprenticeship with a tattoo artist, then come back and open his own parlor. He already visited Miami once, that’s where he got most of his right arm done.
He reaches the laundry and leaves the stand, grabbing an empty one on his way back. This time, as he passes the door with the jumping handle, he notices the movement out of the corner of his eye.
What the hell …?
He stops and stares at the handle. It’s not moving anymore. He decides he probably imagined it and is about to move on, when the handle jumps again.
William pulls off the headphones to listen. From the other side of the door he can hear scraping noises. Like someone is fumbling around a dark room trying to get out. As far as he knows it’s just an equipment locker.
His first thought is that some poor sick dude has strayed down here and locked himself inside by accident. Maybe one of the dementia patients.
“Hang on,” he calls out, pulling the key chain from his belt. “I’ll get you out.”
He sticks in the key and turns. He pushes the door open cautiously, not wanting to knock down whoever is on the other side. To his surprise, the lights are on in the room. A foul, metallic stench rolls out at him, the unmistakable smell of blood has filled the small room, mixed with something sour and salty; sweat and fever, William guesses.
But what he sees instantly causes him to forget about the smells.
At the center of the room is lying a guy his own age, dressed in a hospital gown and entangled in a tipped-over wheelchair. Both his wrists appear to be tied to the chair, making him unable to get to his feet. Instead, he twists and turns, apparently trying to get free. His head is turned away, and the floor around him is stained with blood.
“Holy fuck,” William whispers and is just about to step inside the room to help. Something terrible obviously went down in here. The guy didn’t just wander down here on his own; someone tied him up and tortured him.
But some deeper instinct holds William back. Perhaps it’s his brain recalling at the last second the jumping handle.
And then the girl steps out from behind the door.
A few years younger than him, she might once have been quite pretty, but now she’s a terrible sight. Her skin is greenish and her eyes have neither pupils nor irises. Most of the fingers on her right hand are missing, turned into a mess of knobby bones and black, dried-up blood. It’s almost as if the girl wants to show him her damaged hand, because she reaches it out at him, while showing a row of perfect white teeth in a hungry snarl and comes towards him.
William yells out and flings his fist at her. He doesn’t have time to think, he’s acting out of pure reflex from his boxing practice. His knuckles connect with the girl’s cheek, giving off a loud smack and sending her tumbling backwards.
She hits the guy in the wheelchair, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He just keeps struggling to get free, turning his head and growling at William, revealing a face as terrible as the girl’s, but with the added effect of a lot of dried blood around his mouth.
William’s brain adds up everything in a flash. The guy bit off the girl’s fingers. The blood on the floor is from her. She must have brought him here and tied him up for some reason, but got too close. Then, while bleeding profusely, she tried to unlock the door, but couldn’t do it because of her busted hand.
During those three endless seconds William spends rooted to the floor in the open door, the girl meticulously gets back up and starts staggering towards him, one cheek visibly marked by his punch, but she shows no sign of pain.
William reaches in, grabs the door, slams it shut, and turns the key. A second later, the girl starts once again fumbling with the handle.
William breathes rapidly and stares down the hallway in both directions, making sure he’s alone. There’s no trace of doubt in his mind as to what he just saw: the girl and the guy in the equipment room are zombies. He has played with the thought of what he would do in this situation a hundred times, and now he’s actually here. The most terrifying fantasy has come true.
The zombies are here!
Even though it’s only eight o’clock, the sun is already up and doing its worst. The air conditioner is blasting away, and still the temperature inside the bus is too high. Mille is sweating.
She’s nevertheless looking forward to the trip. Just the fact that she gets away from home for a week, gets to see new things and experience new places. Of course, the heat wave has hit most of Europe, including Prague, so the awful warm weather won’t be any different, but still—
A paper airplane hits her chest.
“Hey!” she yells out and looks up.
No one really seems to hear her. Everyone is busy chatting, listening to music or messing with their phones.
“It was Mads,” Krista says, pointing. “I saw him throw it.”
Mille looks in the direction and sees the culprit four rows ahead. Mads sends her an air kiss. Mille flips him off. Mads laughs and signals for her to open the paper airplane.
Mille sighs but unfolds it. Mads has written a message in red.
Do you want to go out with me?
(you may tick off more than one)
Mille can’t help but smile, but makes sure Mads doesn’t see. She finds a pen from her bag.
“What did he write?” Krista asks, leaning in.
“He’s just trying to be funny,” Mille says, adding another option to the list.
WOULD RATHER DIE FROM HERPES
She puts an X next to the line, crumbles up the paper and throws it back at Mads. The paper ball doesn’t quite reach him, so he scrambles to pick it up from the floor. He laughs out loud when he unfolds it and reads her answer.
“He’s coming on a little too hard,” Krista remarks.
“I don’t think he’s being serious.”
Krista raises her eyebrows. “Really? He’s been mad about you since freshman year.”
“What about Pernille?”
“He just dated her because he couldn’t get you.”
Mille glances over at Mads, who has turned around and is now talking with the boys sitting in front of him.
“Did Selina text you?” Krista asks, finding her phone. “She didn’t answer any of mine.”
“Nah, I haven’t heard from her. She’s probably ill.”
“That’s like the worst timing ever, falling ill today of all days! Hey, isn’t it somewhere out here she lives?”
Mille looks out at the fields gliding by. “I have no idea.”
“Yeah, I think it is. She moved with her dad recently, because he found a new wife, remember? I was there Saturday before we went out partying.” Krista’s eyes grow big. “Hey, did you hear? She made out with that electrician?”
“Never heard of him.”
“Well, he’s a bit older and quite good looking.”
“Huh.” Mille honestly couldn’t care less about who Selina did or didn’t make out with. She’s got nothing against Selina, they’re just not that close, like Selina and Krista are. Also, Mille knows Krista is only sitting with her because Selina isn’t here.
“Of course, she pretended like it never happened,” Krista goes on, smiling wryly. “But I saw them, and I—”
She’s cut off as the bus abruptly makes a stop, causing everyone to be thrust forward in their seats and bags to fall to the floor. Her classmates let out indignant cries.
“What the fuck was that about?”
“Get a grip, man!”
“Is he drunk up there?”
“Why did we stop?”
The driver—a middle-aged, obese guy with greasy hair—honks the horn aggressively.
“What’s he doing?” Krista says, stretching her neck like everybody else. “Is someone blocking the way?”
Mille also tries to see, but she and Krista are sitting almost all the way in the back, so there’s no way of getting a glimpse of what’s going on up front. But they’ve stopped in the middle of a desolate highway, open fields to one side, a forest to the other, so Mille can’t really imagine who would be blocking the way. Except a dog, maybe. Or a dear, perhaps. It could have wandered out from the trees.
The she hears someone up front exclaim: “There’s a lady out there!”
Mille gets a glimpse of the driver getting up and pushing the button to open the door. He looks worried as he trudges down the steps and leaves the bus.
“Jeez, what happened to her?” someone calls out.
“She must’ve been in an accident,” someone else answers.
Mads has gotten up from his seat and walked halfway up through the bus. He’s peering out the front window. Then, suddenly, he shouts: “No, don’t go over there! Come back inside, man! That’s a fucking zombie!”
A few of the boys break into nervous laughter, not sure whether Mads is joking or not. And it would be typical of him to make a joke like that. But Mille can hear something in his voice which gives her the chills.
“What’s going on?” Krista asks again, grabbing Mille by the arm. “What’s happening up there?”
“I can’t see. I think—”
Something outside the window catches Mille’s eyes. She looks out to see an elderly man come staggering out of the forest. He’s dressed in his underwear, the pale, veiny legs visible. His wifebeater, which might once have been white, is now mostly brown due to the dried-up blood that seems to have spurted from the open crater in his neck. The man trudges resolutely across the road, headed for the bus.
He turns his head slightly up, and Mille sees his face, feeling a jolt of icy fear run through her body. The man’s eyes are empty and milky white. If Mads hadn’t just yelled out the word “zombie,” she might not have been able to find a fitting description for the person passing her window and steering for the front door of the bus.
One of the girls starts screaming up front. More of the students get up and start shoving each other to get to the front. Commotion ensues. The noise level rises. Confusion and fear start to set in.
Mille, once when she was very young, accidentally locked herself in her playhouse, and she panicked when she couldn’t get the door open. That same feeling of claustrophobia creeps over her once again in this moment, as she stares at her classmates tumbling over each other to get out of the bus and away from whatever is going on outside.
Got to get out of here. Right now.
No one came to help her back when she was trapped in the playhouse; she had to literally kick the door open. Surprisingly, the panic gave her strength, and she almost kicked it off the hinges.
No one is going to help her now, either, so she looks up and sees the emergency hammer. She tears it free of the holder and slams it against the window. The glass scatters but requires a few more hits before it loosens enough for Mille to push it out. Then, she drops the hammer and turns to Krista. “Come on, we have to go!”
Her voice almost drowns in the yells and the screams.
Krista doesn’t seem to hear her. She just sits in her seat, staring ahead. Mille briefly follows her gaze and sees the lady who has now made her way up into the bus. At first, Mille actually takes her for a man, since her head is completely bald, but the bloody night dress turns the picture around. The lady throws herself at the nearest student—Signe, as far as Mille can tell—who’s squeezing helplessly up against the window, screaming and trying to get away. Just as the lady sinks her teeth into the cheek of Signe, the man comes into the bus. He immediately bends down over Rasmus, who has fallen down in the aisle. He screams in pain as the man bites the back of his neck.
Then Mille can’t see anymore, as everything disappears into complete mayhem.
She grabs Krista by the arm and drags her along as she steps up onto her seat and leaps out the window. She lands on the steaming asphalt, breaking the fall with her hands. She turns to look up at Krista staring down at her.
“Come on! Jump!”
Krista makes a clumsy hop and Mille halfway catches her.
“We gotta go,” Mille says, pulling her along, but is surprised to feel Krista resist.
“We can’t,” she says, her eyes big and terrified. “What about the others?”
Mille looks up at the bus, the inside now turned into a living inferno, students screaming, desperately climbing over the seats, banging on the windows, spurts of blood staining the glass.
“We can’t do anything now,” Mille hears herself say, amazed at how firm her voice sounds. “We’ll only put ourselves in danger too.” She tightens her grip around Krista’s wrist and tugs her hard. After a few yards, Krista stops resisting and starts running along.
Behind them, the screams from their dying classmates grow only very slowly distant.
Mille pulls out her phone and dials those famous three numbers.
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