"I always knew the zombie apocalypse would start in Chicago. I just never thought the zombies would be trying to buy life insurance." Matt Owens chuckled as he glanced over his shoulder to his cubicle-mate.
Tess Abernathy rolled her large blue eyes at him and sighed. "As much as I absolutely adore my job in data-entry here," she began, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "I love your amazing ability to come up with the stupidest ideas ever even more."
"Aw, c'mon, Tess!" said Matt, laughing. "Seriously, though. I had to look this guy up 'cause his address was wrong, and the database says he died at an old address about a month ago, but he's alive at a new address now. Weird, isn't it?"
Tess rolled her eyes again. This was common practice when it came to Matt. "He was probably trying to jump rent or evade taxes or something," she dismissed, glancing at Matt's work before frowning and turning back to her own pair of screens. "Matt, you're doing that thing with your finger again. Would you quit being so weird?"
Matt glanced over to his left hand, which was raised in the air, index finger pointing straight at the ceiling. He slowly lowered his hand, shooting an awkward smile at Tess.
"Would the two of you shut up? I can't get any work done with your idiots jabbering non-stop! We only have an hour left before the weekend, and I'd love it if the supers didn't ask us to stay late for once. Jesus H. Christ!" Timothy groaned from the cubicle across the way.
"What does the H stand for, genius?" Tess shot back. "Just put your ear-buds back in."
Matt heard Timothy grumble but ignored anything else he might have said as he focused his attention back on his work. His finger hovered over the mouse as he scrutinized the information on the guy who was supposedly both living and dead. Tess was probably right. Twenty-three was too old to believe in things like zombies anymore, anyway. He scowled as he clicked the "x" to the open window, returning to plugging policy data into the mainframe.
A slow hour crept by in relative silence. Matt had nearly forgotten about the strange occurrence by the time the supervisors sent out a mass e-mail announcing that the data-entry team had met the daily quota and would be leaving on time. It was the most Matt had seen Tess smile all week.
"Big plans for the weekend?" he guessed, shrugging his coat over his broad shoulders and straightening his collar.
"Yep!" she chirped, winking at him. "My sister's been really sick lately. So I'm headed out right now to go see her
in Chicago." She was teasing him now, dropping her voice to a spooky waver as she finished. "What about you?"
"Oh, ha-freaking-haha," Matt responded. "Anyway
yeah, I've got plans. Big Halloween party tonight with my old college gang. It's gonna be awesome!"
"Glad to know a few people can actually stand your crazy," sneered Timothy as he turned to leave his cubicle.
Tess and Matt walked side by side out of their office building together, Tess turning to him just before heading toward the parking lot. "Well, have fun this weekend! See you on Monday!"
"Yeah. Have a safe trip, Tess. Don't let the undead get you!" He waved until her back was turned, then headed over to the bus stop and slumped down onto the bench, sighing.
A pair of girls from the third floor giggled and whispered to each other, glancing lustily in Matt's direction. He grinned widely at them as the bus pulled up, but all he felt was anxiety.
"You work on the first floor, right?" one of them asked, twirling pin-straight blonde hair around her finger as she and her friend took seats across from him on the hard blue plastic bus seats.
"That's right," he said, nodding. "Nothing special. Just data entry."
"Are you doing anything tonight?" the other questioned as she fussed with her curly brown hair, batting her long, curled eyelashes at him.
"I dunno," he winked, once more plastering a smile he did not really feel all over his face. "What are you ladies doing tonight?"
"We're going to the bars," the blonde twittered. "Starting at Moose's at 9:00PM. You should come out!"
They exchanged small-talk for the next ten minutes before the girls got off the bus. Matt still had a good half-hour before his stop. He sighed heavily and settled back into his seat, placing his ear-buds securely into his ears and closing his eyes, trying not to look visibly troubled.
He had always been quite the lady's man
until they got to know him. Then his quirky personality got in the way of his good looks. The last girl he had let get remotely close to him told all of her friends he was a psychotic serial killer after only their third date. It was not like he meant to be bizarre. Things just always seemed to end up that way.
As a kid, Matt was the one who believed in ghosts and ghouls long after his classmates stopped believing in them. He was the one who carried an anti-vampire and werewolf kit in his backpack---the one who could name every kind of spook and every horror movie ever created about them at the drop of a hat.
The truth was, Matt's weekend would be spent cleaning his apartment and lounging on the couch with his cat, Peaches. There was no Halloween party. There were no college friends. And there was no chance that Matt would be going to Moose's. Even if he worked up the courage, he knew it would just end badly. Why bother trying to attract girls who would only end up mocking him once they found out what he was really like? Peaches was the only girl he needed.
Matt exited the bus just as the October sun was setting. He checked his cellphone for the time and groaned. It's only 5:30, dang it! I hate this time of year!
He entered his apartment complex and checked his mailbox, letting out another groan. Two bills and a student loan payment. Fantastic. Another groan as he fumbled with and ultimately dropped his keys in front of his apartment door. Yet another as he attempted to unlock his door with the wrong key. The door across the hall swung open suddenly, making him jump.
"Jesus, Matt! One more groan and I woulda run out here with a shotgun looking for a Big Daddy!" His neighbor, a twenty-two year old girl named Sara, leaned against her door frame, giving him a dubious grin.
"Playing BioShock again, Sara?" he surmised as he struggled with the deadbolt.
"You know it," she said. "Seriously, though
you okay? Bad day? Can I come in? You wanna talk about it? How's your cat?"
Sara was already pushing her way through his now unlocked door and giving Peaches a scratch behind her large orange ears.
make yourself at home," Matt said helplessly as he ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair.
"Hey, have you been keeping up with the news?" Sara did not wait for his answer before charging onward with her thoughts. "Well, it's really weird, but there's some sort of new disease breaking out in northern Illinois. They're not sure what it is or what's causing it, but nobody's died."
so if nobody's died, then why is it such a big deal?" Matt puzzled as he picked Peaches up and carried her to the bathroom in their daily ritual of feeding-time.
"People shoulda died," she called, wandering down the hallway after him. "Oh, is this your family? Must be a new picture. I didn't see it last time I was here. Your parents look nice! Who's that?"
"Sara. Focus," Matt snapped as he poured food into the meowing Peaches' bowl. "What do you mean, people should have died?"
His neighbor took off her black-plastic framed glasses and raised an eyebrow, smiling mysteriously. "Temperatures of over 106 degrees. Some puking so much they should have died of dehydration if the fever didn't get 'em first. Huge sores breaking out across their skin. Then all of a sudden
literally within like an hour
they're fine again! But they don't remember being sick.
"Only like 50 people have been reported with it in the past six months, but I guess it's popping up more frequently lately. They're worried it's gonna become some sort of highly-inconvenient-but-non-deadly epidemic. You really should check the news every once in a while, you know."
"Did you like
forget to take your ADD meds or something today?" Matt questioned in frustration. He had barely been able to catch up with her fast-paced rambling. He tried to block out his annoyance as he made his way to the kitchen.
"Nope! I've got an alarm set on my phone," beamed Sara as she pre-heated the oven for the pizza Matt had just pulled out of his freezer.
"Well, that's a relief." He tried to imagine Sara off of her meds, and then shuddered at the image. I'll bet she'd be godly at Halo.
"Anyway, I just thought I'd tell you because I know you're into Zombies and stuff." She flopped down onto the couch and flipped the 62-inch TV on.
"What makes you say that?" Matt asked, too defensively.
She glanced sardonically at the "How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse" poster hanging next to her and then to his collection of monster horror 4x6's hanging in a massive collage on his front door before raising an eyebrow at him.
Halloween decorations," he said, turning away so she would not see how red his face must be.
"Riiight. That's why they've been up ever since you moved in four months ago. Hey, look! It's on the news right now!"
Matt glanced at CNN, where a reporter he did not recognize stood in front of a backdrop of Downtown Chicago.
"Turn it up," he instructed, handing Sara a glass of fruit punch that he had meant to keep for himself as he sat down next to her.
505 people just today. No deaths have yet been reported, and doctors across the city and suburbs are baffled. New reports are coming in from the families of those who have fallen ill with this strange disease in the past that their loved ones are growing increasingly despondent. Some say it seems like early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Madison Clark from Palatine, Illinois, reports that her son is only seven years old and barely even recognizes her anymore. Doctors believe this is a late complication from the high fevers this illness produces, and government officials are warning those planning to visit Chicago or the surrounding area to reconsider until we have more information. Those in the city are advised to avoid contact with others and wear masks. We will be right back with more breaking developments after this."
"That is just
weird!" proclaimed Sara, leaning forward and hugging a pillow.
"Yeah," murmured Matt, eyebrows furrowed. He did not like this at all.
you think this is just some sort of Halloween joke?" Sara suddenly inquired, forcing a laugh as she brushed her fingers through her black, blue, and purple hair. "I mean
this seems like something out of a horror movie, right?"
Matt blinked at her, pondering that for only a second. "I guess we're overdue for an epidemic. The planet goes through phases of extinction and
" he trailed off, his heart skipping a beat in realization. "And Tess is headed for Chicago right now
"Who's Tess? Is she your girlfriend? Why's she going to Chicago? Are you thinking about going after her? I'll come with, if you want some company! I don't have anything better to do. If you've got her number, you could call her and warn her, or--"
Matt clapped an annoyed hand over Sara's mouth. "Hey, Sara? Were you serious about owning a shotgun?" He could not help but replay his conversation with Tess earlier that afternoon.
My sister's been really sick lately. So I'm headed out right now to go see her