"Yah, yah, o.k. yah, well, I think we need to do lunch over this, so have your people call my people and we’ll do it, yah." Martin Price made a note that ‘his’ people were to expect a call on the topic of stationary supplies, despite the fact that ‘his people’ consisted solely of Glenda, the office receptionist and typist, who was the only person within King Co that he technically outranked.
Martin glanced in his personal grooming mirror to check that his David Beckham hairstyle wasn’t out of place, before reassuring himself that his watch wasn’t more than a year old, his shirt was still just the right shade of puce, his shoes were still chic, and that his bespoke suit was still in fashion.
This last was a near thing; lapels were slowly widening again, barely two months after it was announced by Style Magazine ("For the Independent Man") that "thin" clothing was in, and Martin’s jacket was now close to becoming an embarrassing statement about the kind of guy he was. He had carefully measured the lapels that morning, and was feeling very sensitive about them.
Then, noting the rush of work colleagues around his tiny cubicle, Martin went out to lunch.
Martin scurried to the car park and his PB4X. He had wanted to leave the roof down to show off the sleek lines of the sport’s car voted ‘The Sexiest on the Planet’, (Hot Car Magazine), but summer was over, it was bitterly cold, and rain had threatened all morning. Martin looked at the sky, judged it to be safe, jumped into the vehicle and pushed the toggle to retract the roof.
A blast of freezing wind hit him as he accelerated momentarily into the twenty mile-an-hour industrial trading estate. His destination was the Arena, the hottest lunch spot in the city. He had to hurry; the Arena was fifteen minutes away, and he was only allowed thirty five minutes for lunch.
Martin gunned the engine as loudly as possible as he slotted the PB4X next to the other PB4X’s belonging to his friends in the Arena car park. He gave the horn his customary double blast to announce his arrival, fumbled with the door as his numbed fingers refused to work, and walked stiffly into the Arena.
"Heeyyy, the Big M," cried a voice from the interior. Martin grinned as his friends called him over. They had already started stuffing sandwiches down themselves in an effort not to be late back to their respective work places.
"Hey, Phil, Gem, Carl, Louise…" drawled Martin. "The usual," he snapped to the waitress as she passed.
"The usual what?" replied the girl, who had been washing floors, washing dishes, cleaning the windows, wiping the tables and preparing fresh food since eight that morning. She had missed her break and she was in no mood to put up with one-dimensional wankers in suits.
"Red Bull, Baileys and coke, with ice, and a Rustic Cheese Sandwich," said Martin in irritation. Martin was actually allergic to dairy products, but cheese sandwiches were making a comeback because of the nostalgia for nostalgia that had gripped popular society, and were the thing to be seen eating.
"Don’t know they’re born, do they?" muttered Martin as the waitress disappeared to wipe up a pool of vomit that a drunk customer had deposited by the front door. He hastily took off his jacket and flipped it onto the back of his chair, a manoeuvre that turned the garment inside out and thus hid the lapels.
He slid onto the seat and began to sweat, the heat from the thick press of bodies oppressing him as it did to all the diners of the Arena. The walls were three feet thick, with little or no ventilation. Heat exhaustion was not uncommon, but the Arena was new and therefore the only place to be.
Martin’s friends quickly resumed their conversations, all the while stuffing ‘School Meal Sandwiches’™ into their ever-moving mouths as they raced against the clock.
"He was saying, ‘But it supposed to be like that,’ and I said, ‘No it isn’t’, and he said ‘It is,’ and I said ‘Well it doesn’t look like that in the catalogue, does it?’, and that shut him up…"
"I said to him, right, I said, right, ‘I’m not doing that,’ right, because I’m an individual, right? Its, like, I’m mad, right, that’s who I am, yeah, so no way." Phil nodded in agreement as Carl spoke. Phil too was a mad individual, and he knew exactly where Carl was coming from. He glanced at his watch and swore silently. If he wasn’t back in time to do the statistics for his boss, he would be in deep trouble.
"Great seeing you guys," he said, "but I’ve got to go. The company’s up the creek again, so I agreed I’d help them out, you know?" Among the cries of "Too bad," "Be good," and "See you tomorrow," Phil hurried for the exit, belching at the mix of vodka, orange, lime and tomato juice that sat uneasily against his hastily eaten ham sandwich. He reached the door, swung it open while trying to avoid the waitress who was mopping at the floor, and stared in astonishment at the street outside.
Martin had just opened his mouth to tell the remaining three, as he did almost every day, about the way he left dust in the work’s car park, when Phil’s horrified voice broke over the noise in the Arena:
"They’re dead. They’re all dead!"
Martin fought his way to the door with the others and looked out onto the street. What had been the normal, everyday bustle of an ordinary city had all disappeared, leaving behind only a blasted street of ruined buildings, smoking vehicles, and a great many dead bodies.
The cause could be seen high up in the distance; a vast meteor, so large it was just visible to the naked eye, had skipped the upper atmosphere, altering the air as it passed. There had been no warnings of its arrival, no chance to prepare any sort of defence. A natural catastrophe had wiped out the planet.
Martin looked at the smoking shell of the Arena, but failed to realize that it was only the thick walls and the lack of any windows that had spared them. A yellow vapour was settling on everything, a strange cosmic dust dragged behind the meteor on its unstoppable journey.
"Oh God," cried Gem. "Are we the only ones left?" The ninety lunch-time customers looked around uncertainly, not knowing what to say.
"What are we to do?" cried someone in the small group of survivors, and Martin’s thoughts turned to heroic procreation with all the women present, particularly Louise, who surely now couldn’t reject him again. And he wouldn’t say ‘no’ to Gem, or to the waitress who was no doubt available… As he wondered how to broach the subject, someone else said; "We have to search the city, the country, the whole world if need be, and find out if we really are the last alive."
"We’re not," said another.
"How can you tell that?" asked Martin in irritation to the handsome male speaker, who posed a threat to Martin’s fantasy of being the alpha-male breeder in the brave new world they had inherited.
"Because there’s someone coming out of there," said the man, pointing to what was left of a bookshop.
"Look, and there!" yelped someone else as another figure lurched into view from the husk of a supermarket. Then, astonishingly, the bodies of the dead began to twitch and stir; the shoppers, tourists, parents, children and pensioners picked themselves up and shuffled in an uncoordinated way as they turned to look at the survivors from the Arena. Even the babies in the prams raised themselves up to look at the living.
"They’re alive! It’s a miracle," cried a woman, ignoring the greenish-yellow countenance, white staring eyes, and drooling mouths that surrounded them.
"Ooarrgh!" screamed one of the greenish-yellow creatures as it lurched, arms outstretched, towards the group of survivors, unable to speak or think above a basic atavistic level.
"What’s going on?" cried a man in shock.
"They’re zombies!" screamed Gem in terror at the approaching, lurching, menacing horde.
"Zombies!" scoffed the man. "Aargh!" he added as a zombie terrier scuttled towards the group and sank its teeth into the man’s leg, a hobby it had practiced assiduously in life and was not going to abandon in death.
"No!" cried another survivor as a zombie schoolgirl grabbed him by the throat. He lashed out desperately, and shrieked in terror as his fist sank into the girl’s forehead with a sickening crunch. This did virtually nothing to impede the girl’s progress, but it did give her an added look of horror as her liquescent brains oozed out of the new hole in her face.
Louise screamed and tried to run, but was hampered by her three inch heels. She staggered against a pram and stopped in horror as the dead baby inside threw its doll aside and leapt upwards, latching itself onto Louise’s bosom, its gnashing, toothless gums slicing through cloth and flesh. She cried out in shock and pain as blood spread through her thin blouse as the baby greedily suckled at its bloody meal, before she passed out and fell heavily onto the ground.
The zombie baby continued to munch through cotton, lace, and flesh until finally it reached the bedrock of silicon, at which it screwed up its tiny face, slid off Louise’s twitching body, and wailed loudly and eerily for the next feed. Martin watched all this in shock, and then shouted "I’m getting out of here!" before sprinting towards the car park. He stopped in utter dismay when he got there.
His PB4X was a shattered, smoking shell that was only just recognisable as a car, let alone the most expensive coupe on the market. He had gone deeply into the red at the bank in order to pay for it, and now it was ruined. Ruined.
He spun around and saw that the majority of the survivors were now being deluged by sheer weight of zombie numbers. Some were fighting, others could be seen running for all they were worth, while the rest were already lying dead in the road, their heads smashed open and their brains dug out of their skulls by the shrieking zombie hordes. Then he turned and ran.
Without consciously thinking about it, Martin returned to the offices of King Co. He didn’t really have anywhere else to go; his friends were probably dead, his flat was a high mortgage warehouse conversion, empty apart from some neglected tropical fish that he had got bored with when everyone else had, while his family were country folk and too embarrassing for words. So he went back to work.
He prowled down a corridor, turned a corner, and stared into what was left of the conference room. Inside, the bodies of his former workmates were all seated around the large, burnt wooden table. Some were still holding files, memo pads or the remains of pens and pencils. The chairman’s son, Daniel, was cradling a report by Knox Consultancy and Administrative Solutions, which proposed a new type of tertiary administration form that would cut costs by ten percent, the creation of which had had taken Knox Co four years at a cost of several hundred thousand pounds.
Martin stared at the sight before him. He had long assumed that he was a central player within King Co., while on a personal level he believed that he was a genuine friend of Daniel’s, notwithstanding the office party of seven years ago when Martin had found Daniel in the darkened stationary office with Martin’s then girlfriend. Now, betrayal looked him in the face.
"You bastards!" shrieked Martin. "You were having a meeting without me!"
The zombie committee stood up and surrounded the shaking, furious figure. Suits filled Martin’s vision from left to right, a panorama of shiny trousers, loose fitting jackets, and character ties depicting Homer Simpson eating a doughnut. But before the dead could move in for the kill, rescue came from an unlikely source.
With a shuddering groan the far wall of the meeting room collapsed to reveal another zombie committee, indistinguishable from the one surrounding Martin except for their clipboards that proclaimed them as Knox Consultants. With an unearthly scream they charged into the room, beating the dead executives of King Co with their office organizers.
King Co. staggered back under the onslaught, unable to defend themselves from the madness of the consultants. Only Daniel survived - for some reason accepted by the consultants as one of them - turning on his former board members with a zealous, inarticulate fury. In less than four minutes Knox Co had been utterly destroyed by the horde, beaten to a pulpy mess by heavy folders of sales reports, quality control statistics, and managerial memorandum.
Knox Co screamed in triumph and then began tearing at the remaining three walls of the conference suite before they moved on to the cheap, plastic cubicles that the staff worked in, smashing and splintering all that lay before them until the opulent executive offices were reached. Here the frenzy reached its climax, and soon nothing was left standing within the building.
The empty, groaning hulk of the office block, its foundations weakened and its supporting walls destroyed, slowly and inexorably collapsed in on itself, leaving the consultant and managerial zombies screaming and gibbering in triumph amongst the wreckage of the lightweight asbestos roof.
Martin watched all of this in shocked silence. Then he ran whimpering from the remains of his life.
Hungry, exhausted, emotionally drained and crippled by the betrayal of King Co, Martin returned to the city. He didn’t know if everyone was now a zombie, or if there were any survivors in any part of the world. He had absolutely no idea what the future held, but in his shattered mind he had found a plan.
Martin searched until he found a novelty shop in a side alley. He smeared his face with a thick layer of green and yellow cosmetics, spent a painful fifteen minutes trying out various contact lenses until he found a set that turned his eyes almost completely white, and then he carefully tore at his clothes until they had been reduced to a ragged, tattered mess.
Then, clearing his mind of all thought and imitating closely the movements of the zombies that were shuffling through the apocalyptical landscape, he edged out of the shop and joined the new people of the new world, and once more he was a proud member of the in-crowd.
Jon Hartless has had two stories accepted by on line magazines, one at Alien Skin Mag, the other at Bloodlust-uk, (both paying markets). He works as an information technology tutor in adult education. He is thirty years old, and lives in the United Kingdom.
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