The loud bang on her front door jolted Clara from her daydream. This was it. After all the careful planning and struggling to survive, the end would come now; 9 blocks up in room 934 of the now abandoned Marriott. She started to cry, not for herself, but for her little 3 year old son, Jeremy. He was the world to her, and she couldn’t bare to think of his short life ended, not like this.
“Open the door,” she recognized the voice of her live in boyfriend of 4 years, Jerome. Quickly slipping off the guard chain, she opened the door and let him in.
“I don’t have much time. The boys are going to pick out what’s left of the Pathmark and I want to be first in line,” he suddenly stopped. “Damn baby, you smell good. What is that?”
“It’s called LOVELY, by Sarah Jessica Parker,” she said simply. “I found it next to the mini bar. Only the best, right?”
“Yeah,” he said as he left two backpacks next to the door and turned to leave. “I’ll be back soon. Keep the door locked, okay?”
Jerome was a survivor. While everyone else was scrounging for supplies downtown, he had had the bright idea to take his little family to the local Marriot to wait it all out. ‘No one is coming for us, they’ve given up on the major cities,’ he had said simply. The plan was to just let everyone kill each other while they lived the high life, stories up in the now abandoned hotel. It had worked. Most of what was left of humanity and the creatures they became had pretty much wiped each other out. Not that it hadn’t been a tough few months. The power was now out and they were down to canned goods.
But they were still alive. Clara dragged the two bags to the kitchen area and pulled out the dented cans. From the bedroom, she heard Jeremy waking up. A few minutes later, he came into the main living area.
“Mommy, mommy, look. I’ve got a gun shooter,” his excited eyes locked onto hers and she sighed. He was holding some kind of plastic handle he had obviously broken off one of the cabinets. He pointed it at her. “Bang. Bang. Bang.”
It reminded her of the awful gang violence just a week prior. Both Jerome’s crew and some Asian gang had had a disagreement over who owned what’s left of a number of grocery stores. That had ended with a few of their good friends dead. She didn’t show it.
“Let me see, honey,” she said, holding her hand out. He turned and ran into the bedroom. That was the annoying thing about the age, they never did what you asked. She quickly ran after him and pulled it out of his hand. She was now extremely careful not to let him have anything he could hurt himself with. It was safe enough. Other than the next two hours of constant noise, there was no harm in letting him run around with it.
“Mommy can we play that gun game again. Mommy, look at me. Mommy. Mommy can we play that gun shooter game again. Mommy, I want to play the gun game. Mommy…”
“Yes, yes. We can play that game again,” she hated that game. Every time she played it, it reminded her of the last couple of months. In the last hours of the city’s death, both sides had come out of hiding and shot it out. It was unsettling enough to be on the outskirts of a war zone. What made it absolutely unbearable was knowing that one side of the conflict was composed of the walking dead.
They had made it as far as the hotel. Jerome and his gang, as well as some of the other groups had held them off just over by 5th street, well within view of the 9th floor Marriott. They had been content to put bullets into their enemies and move on. Conversely, when one of those ‘things’ shot a human, they usually ended up carrying them off and eating them. Humans were fighting for survival. They were hunting for food. She had seen it first hand. A couple of asian thugs had been cautiously scouting between 5th and Broadway, and the enemy descended upon them with a plan that was both aggressive and cunning. These were not the meandering, shuffling corpses you saw in the movies. The enemy was very much intelligent.
And they were still out there.
She had only run into one of them once. Jerome had given her a handgun off of a dead police officer and told her, ‘just point and squeeze’. To be honest, he had taken care of things so well she didn’t think she’d actually have to do any shooting herself. But a day ago, in the hotel, one of them had slipped by the patrols and gotten in the building. She and Jeremy had gone to get ice – the power had still been working then – when she heard the slightest shuffle of feet around the corner.
She knew where it was and what it wanted. She could smell the rotting flesh. Something inside her, some force of survival, helped her know exactly what to do. The primal, maternal instinct within her guided her against this awful predator. Heart racing, she moved with her son past the corridor where she knew it lurked. She even continued the casual small talk with her little boy, slowly slipping her hand into her pocket where the .45 was located. She knew that once she and Jeremy were past the corridor, the thing would slip out of its hiding place and follow them, hoping for a clear shot. Once past the corner, she turned on her heal, pulled out the gun, rounded the corner and just started firing.
She was right. Not only had the thing come out of hiding, but it had moved at a quick pace too. In the two seconds it took her to spin on her heel and draw her weapon, the thing was already within reaching distance. Four shots to the body and two to the head that was still advancing upon her. She could still remember the expression of surprise and fear on its face just before its entire head popped, the grey matter spilling everywhere behind it. She had expected to see some expression of an undead creature, twisted in hatred and loathing. The terrifying thing, was that aside from the rotten smell and blackened appendages, its face still looked human.
Not waiting to see if there were more of them, she grabbed her son and bolted for room 934. She frantically reached into her pocket for the hotel room key card, cutting her hand on the various survival items in her pocket. She swiped it over and over on the door key, desperate for the green signal that would indicate the lock would give. Finally, it did, and she grabbed her son again and shoved him inside.
Rather than be traumatized by the whole event, Jeremy’s little mind instead translated it into a game. The ‘gun-shooter’ game. His three year old psyche interpreted the event as some elaborate fantasy, one that he wanted to repeat. It was odd the way that a child’s mind translated near death. Now, Clara had to relive the entire incident over and over again in order to maintain the facade that the two of them had not escaped certain death just yesterday.
“Bang. Bang. I got you mommy. In the head. I shot you, you’re dead. You’re dead mommy, fall down. Fall down!” She had humored him enough, and she couldn’t take the reality of the previous day’s horror any more.
“I don’t want to play anymore sweetie. Go eat your dinner.” She was surprised when he obeyed.
Sitting at the kitchen table, she watched as Jeremy ate the food she had made for him. Since yesterday, she had had trouble eating. She would put food in her mouth, think about the grey pieces of brain splattered all over the adjacent corridor, and vomit. But whatever it was about watching her son gobble up the last pieces of canned squash and mashed carrots seemed to finally convince her appetite to surface. In fact, she was really hungry.
She leaned in towards him to kiss him on the cheek, her maternal instincts kicking in again despite the nausea. Sometimes, a mother just has to reach over, grab her child close and kiss him over and over, especially considering recent events. She nuzzled her lips against his cute baby fat cheeks and rubbed her nose into him.
Something was wrong. She felt an unusual, insatiable desire to bite. His flesh, his soft supple baby fat called out to her aching stomach and demanded union. She stood up quickly.
“No,” she whispered. “Please god, no.” She ripped off the bandages and looked down at her wounded hand. The blood vessels next to the blackened incision had ever so slightly blackened up her vein like a mild case of tetanus. What had she cut her hand on again?
Jeremy sat next to the kitchen table, mindlessly muttering the gibberish of a 3 year old and coloring outside the lines of his favorite dinosaur book. She watched him for a moment, knowing that if she did not act quickly, her maternal instincts would be overcome by her insatiable hunger. Of course, she could just give in – if whatever was inside her hand did to Jeremy what it had done to her…
Her indecision was broken by her son’s innocent inquiry.
“Mommy, let’s play the gun game again.”