(published 18th February 2019)
The bastard alarm goes off, wrenching Seymour out of his dream. The nightmare images fade rapidly but he’s left with fleeting, barely-remembered glimpses of hideous twisted creatures. He blames the cheese puffs. He remembers being slumped in bed the previous night, snacking and watching the late news on TV. There’d been some mention of a virus, and a couple of serious looking academics had explained that the situation was worsening. The newsreader sternly announced that the filthy public were starting to riot in the streets. This was followed by images of a general panic as people ransacked supermarkets for microwave ovens and widescreen televisions. Because those were always so terribly useful in an apocalypse.
As the pervasive feeling of unease slowly dissipates along with the fading remnants of his dream, Seymour knows he should get up straight away. He should get dressed and have breakfast before heading out into the cold, before scraping his car’s ice-encrusted windows, before sitting in traffic, heading into a soulless office, enduring another day of tedium. He should get up. He will get up. Soon. It’s so warm in bed, so delightfully comfortable. He presses the ‘snooze’ button, sinks back under the covers and is instantly swallowed by the darkness.
A dream within a dream, reality merging with the past, the present, the imagined, snippets of film, verse, lost conversations. Miserably, the nightmare hasn’t quite gone away. It’s been loitering, waiting for Seymour to do his usual trick of going back to sleep after the alarm sounds.
Seymour stirred. When had the alarm gone off? No matter, he was awake now and about to embark upon yet another mundane day in his mundane life. It was still dark, this early on a winter’s morning. He clicked the button on his bedside lamp but nothing happened. Frowning, reluctant, Seymour got out of bed and tried the bedroom’s main light switch. Again, nothing. The electricity must be off, as had happened frequently in the past month or so. The council had promised to look into the matter. Seymour wished they’d look with a bit more enthusiasm. He grabbed his torch out of the bedside table drawer and shuffled into the bathroom to complete his ritualistic morning ablutions. After that he dressed in the dark, donning his suit, knotting his tie, slipping on his uncomfortable patent leather shoes. Then he reluctantly proceeded to the kitchen to prepare a cold breakfast. Using his torch to peer into the fridge, Seymour sighed. The milk still smelled okay, so he’d have cereal. Stupid electricity. Stupid winter. Stupid dark. Seymour hated the dark.
As he contemplated the gruel-like concoction of muesli and bran, he glanced outside, hoping to catch the familiar silhouette of the woman across the street as she exited her shower. This was his singular pleasure most mornings, the one good reason to actually get up and out of bed. Watching her routine as he ate breakfast had become a shameful habit, one that sparked a myriad of fantasies and hopeful romantic scenarios. Perhaps they’d meet someday. Sadly, he always left for work before she exited her house so he’d not yet had an opportunity to wave at her, to smile, to initiate contact. And he was far too shy to actually knock on her door. No, he’d have to make do with watching from afar until such time as fate intervened and brought them together. Except that today there was no electricity which meant no lights, no silhouette, no delightfully tantalising figure projected onto her bedroom blinds.
Seymour cursed inwardly as he cast a final glance at the house across the street, disappointed that his morning was off to such a miserable start… and then he froze. The spoon fell from his hand, clattering to the floor. His hand dropped and landed in the cereal, splashing milk and muesli across the counter. A strange orange glow, whose source he hadn’t yet thought to consider, illuminated parts of the road that ran past his house. It also lit his driveway. There was his car, as dull as the rest of his life, in frosted repose as it awaited the morning commute. And beside it… beside it was a creature, some hideous humanoid thing out of Seymour’s worst childhood nightmare.
Seymour instinctively jerked backwards, shocked, repulsed, frightened by this unexpected offence. The beast turned, having spotted movement, and then lurched toward the house. Seymour squeaked, spun, and ran face-first into another of the monsters. Others lurked in the shadowy hallway. It would seem that his modern semi-detached, with its tidy garden and discounted fitted kitchen, was infested. His head failed to encompass this irrational business, refusing to accept what he was seeing. His eyes widened, his skin prickled as the blood rushed away from his brain, and he fainted. Which was fortunate, really, because just as his limp body was about to cascade onto the cheap laminate flooring, the creature lunged.
Slowly, groggily, Seymour surfaced. Someone was making a noise, a hideous, moaning sound that frightened him. The room was still dark but, even so, everything seemed blurrier. That scary low wailing persisted, causing the hair on the back of his neck to rise. Seymour blinked, forcing himself to calm down and assess the situation. He realised, somewhat sheepishly, that he was the one making all the racket. He shut up. Why was he on the floor? He felt strange, disorientated, confused. Lost, somehow, as if he were moving very slowly through an insubstantial landscape or an oil painting brought to life. Then he remembered the creatures. Some of those hideous monstrosities had been here, in his kitchen, lurching and grasping and ruining his breakfast. Seymour glanced around nervously, but thankfully the ghouls were nowhere to be seen.
He stood unsteadily, placing his hand on the kitchen counter. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite go as planned. There seemed to be a problem, in that the hand he sought to place was no longer attached to the end of his arm. Seymour pondered this unexpected inconvenience. He looked down, studied the milk and the blood covering his regrettable choice in flooring, and he groaned. His vision was still not quite right, but he could swear those were finger bones down there. There, right beside… what the hell was that? Were those…teeth? Yes, yes they were. Attached to a recently shaved lower jawbone, no less. A potent smell wafted up, a scent he recognised. His mum had given him that after-shave last Christmas. He groaned again as realisation dawned on him. That was his face lying there, which explained the odd sounds he was making. He checked his right arm. At least that was intact, as was the rest of him. Just the left hand and lower jaw, then. Well, that wasn’t too bad, was it? He rolled his eyes, and one of them popped out. Damned inconvenient.
Seymour lurched. He wondered briefly where the monsters had gone. Well, the other monsters. They’d obviously realised how utterly boring he truly was, in this suburban house with its magnolia walls and beige carpets, and had buggered off to find excitement elsewhere. But they’d left him with some sort of nasty bug, something that was disorienting him, something that had caused random body parts to fall off. Seymour attempted to tut, but a pathetic wheezing noise was all that issued from his ruined mouth. He sighed, turning to look at the mess on the floor. He’d have to clean that up, but not right now. Right now he needed to get outside. He felt hungry, indescribably hungry, and he doubted very much that cereal would satisfy this craving. But what craving? What was it he needed? Marmite, was his first thought, but that wasn’t quite right. Something along those lines anyway. He’d know when he saw it. Or, more likely, when he smelled it.
The street was dark. Strange, since it had surely been an hour or so since he’d hit the alarm button. The day should have brightened by now. As much as Seymour hated the dark, here he was, lumbering up the street where his neighbours could observe his clumsy plodding, where the attractive woman across the street could see his torn and bloodstained clothes, his dishevelled hair and his one missing patent leather shoe. Oh, the state of him! What would he do if a neighbour suddenly appeared and enquired as to his well-being? One does not simply smile and wave when the parts necessary to perform said functions were no longer attached. Deciding he’d cross that bridge when he came to it, Seymour lurched on.
Things skulked in the dark. Nasty, dead things. Terrible creatures, just like the one he’d seen in his kitchen and that first one he’d spotted hunched beside his grey and uninspiring little hatchback. That creature was no longer present, the ones in his kitchen were no longer present, but there were others, similarly grotesque, many of whom also boasted missing limbs and ruined faces and a distinct lack of charm. A small, suppressed part of Seymour’s sanity spoke up. It was horrified and felt the urgent, panicky need to scuttle away to some place of perceived safety as quickly as was realistically possible in his current state. But Seymour found that he simply couldn’t be bothered. He needed to reach the throng of people ahead, a crowd of ghouls who were milling about aimlessly, drooling, swaying, moaning. Was that what he looked like to the casual observer? An undead thing covered in blood and saliva and dirt? How dreadfully embarrassing.
Seymour realised, with some distraction, that the glow he’d noticed earlier was coming from a car parked a few houses up from his. The car was on fire. Was that George Anderson’s prized luxury sedan? The idiot was always going on about it, about how much it had cost, about its upholstered leather seats, about the halogen headlamps and the multimedia system and the heated mirrors and a bunch of other stuff that Seymour had never understood or cared about. But he had always smiled politely as he listened, wishing the guy would shut the hell up. Seymour spotted Anderson, staring forlornly at the burning vehicle from a short distance away. Anderson’s chest was caved in, as if someone had taken to him with a crowbar or something. This seemed to bother him less than the fact that his car had been vandalised. Seymour proceeded to where the mob lurked, pleased that Anderson’s expensive car was on fire.
Seymour stopped dead (as it were), just short of the crowd. His neighbour, the one who constantly teased him with her sexy silhouette, was standing right at the edge of the gathered mob. The pretty young woman had obviously just exited her shower when whatever had happened to all of them had kicked off, because she was completely naked. Seymour took the opportunity to study her properly, unabashed, for the first time. Here was the dream girl he had longed to meet in person. One of her arms was missing but, aside from that minor detail, she was right here in front of him, all naked and lovely and approachable. This was his chance! Yet he simply stared, frowning as he contemplated the situation. He was aware that he should feel aroused, but he wasn’t in the least. What was that all about? He wondered distractedly whether any other of his body parts had dropped off without him noticing. Seymour shrugged – causing another piece of his left arm to detach and fall into the road – and stumbled toward the crowd.
The mass of ghouls ambled up the road, heading toward the high street. Seymour’s modest house was on the outskirts of a large town. He’d often thought about buying a bicycle to make the half-mile trip into town for groceries, but repeatedly decided it was far more convenient taking the car. Yet here he was, walking in the darkness beside the neighbour he’d been longing to meet. These people, these horrible, disintegrating people, were all on their way into town… but for what purpose, exactly? He was being dragged along with the crowd, as mindless as the rest of them, and he could do nothing to stop himself. That small, terrified part of his head that was trying desperately to hang onto sanity was yelling at the top of its voice for him to abandon this foolishness, to go back home and curl up in bed and hope that this would all be over and that things would be back to normal by tomorrow. Something decidedly unusual was going on.
The high street was buzzing. Quite literally, in fact, with swarms of flies and various other creepy-crawlies feasting and fussing over corpses who had somehow neglected to come back to life. A few of the zombies who had managed this feat had joined the flies in their endeavours and were hunched over the fallen, ravenously tucking in. Seymour’s sanity was repulsed, mortified, helpless to do anything but watch the proceedings with one cautious eye. Yet the rest of him was drawn to join his fellows at their meal. He glanced about, noting that the fast food joints – usually teeming with teenagers trying to either impress or damage each other – were empty. No sustenance to be had there, then. Mind you, what they offered barely contained any sustenance in the first place. But greasy fries and burgers were of no interest to Seymour, even though his appetite seemed to be growing by the minute. That half-eaten cadaver on the ground was looking pretty enticing, actually. But it would be impolite to intrude upon someone else’s mealtime. Seymour had been raised right, so he left the flies and the foul festering fellow to their dining and moved on.
The naked lady was methodically lurching beside Seymour. She glanced up at him. He glanced down at her. There was the briefest spark of recognition between them before they both grunted and continued on their slow and plodding trek. More cars were burning all along the streets and across town. This served to illuminate the night in an apocalyptic, smouldering glow. It was romantic, really, and in any other circumstance Seymour thought he might be tempted to reach out and take a hold of this woman’s hand. He’d have to move to her other side to do so, but still. There was a surreal ambience about the scene, the orange radiance highlighting the swaying hordes that were clustered in their little groups.
Spotting a corpse – one of the actual dead – lying unattended on a pavement, Seymour attempted to point out where it lay half hidden under a bench. He tapped the girl on her remaining shoulder and indicated, saying ‘Look, over there.’ Instead, what came out was ‘Ghuuuh, ugh ghuuuuuuuuuuuh.’ It was an uncouth, gurgling and entirely unattractive sound, so he decided not to say anything further. It did have the desired effect though, since the woman turned and hobbled in that direction. Seymour followed. The pair of them hunkered down, studying the body. It was like deciding which part of a buffet looked the most appetising. Seymour was ravenous, drooling even more than he had been before – an unavoidable side-effect of the lower half of his face having fallen off. The girl also seemed to be pondering the prospect of dinner as she ran her hand over the corpse, grunting. They glanced briefly at one another again, mutually concluded their assessment of where to begin the meal – it simply had to be the brain! – and then set to it. As tricky as this proved to be, Seymour soon got the hang of shoving morsels into his ruined throat. His girlfriend didn’t seem to mind that he was eating with his fingers.
After their feast they both sat on the bench, sated, bloated and content. They stared at the
hundreds of other people, all roaming aimlessly through the town centre. Seymour stood. ‘Hnngggggg,’ he stated emphatically before ambling toward the largest group. Just then a large explosion shattered and scattered that mass of huddled figures, sending body parts hurtling in all directions. Seymour jerked his head to the side and saw a figure – a human, a living human! – cheering from atop a building. A second figure came into view beside the first. This person raised a long tubular object to their shoulder and pointed it in the direction of another group of huddled undead. The tube spat fire and a split second later that group too had been eliminated.
‘Hnngg!!’ Seymour grabbed the girl’s arm and shuffled away from the scene as fast as his
largely unresponsive legs would carry him. He was determined to get her to safety. He had, after all, been raised right. Let those living types with their rocket launchers find some other zombies to obliterate. Seymour lurched, heading back towards his house. His right foot dragged, scraping grooves in the grassy park area that he was crossing. He checked to see whether the girl was alright, except she wasn’t there at all. Her arm was, though, clutched tightly in Seymour’s right hand. Damn it! Seymour pondered his options as he took in the surroundings. It was dark in this place, so terribly dark. And he was holding onto a dismembered arm. He dropped the limb, appalled. Had he done that? Surely not the best way to kick off a first date. So… where was the rest of her?
Seymour, a gentleman to the last, headed back toward town. There were many explosions now, each followed by shrieking and grunting and a whole lot of wailing. There were sounds of gunfire too. He nonetheless made his way as best he could toward the street where he and the girl had enjoyed their dinner. He spotted her, still sitting on the bench, studying first her left and then her right side. Both her arms were now detached from her torso, but she didn’t seem too concerned, just slightly perplexed. Seymour headed toward her, determined to make amends. He’d grunt a bit and then beckon for her to follow him as he headed away from this chaos and to the relative safety of his own home. Perhaps they’d take a shower – he’d have to help her with that, obviously – and then sit on his comfortable faux-leather sofa and wait for all this nonsense to die down. As Seymour began crossing the street, a shot rang out from one of the rooftops. It sounded very close. He turned to the girl, taking a while to register that her head had disappeared. As he watched, she toppled backward in a crumpled heap. ‘Hng,’ he said, discouraged by this turn of events.
Seymour stood in the road, frowning. He should return home, away from this madness. But then again, somebody had just rudely blown his friend’s head off. As he turned, vowing ruination upon the living, he noticed that his fellow animated dead had managed to scale the building where the snipers were perched. He watched as a few of the ghouls were shot and plummeted off the rooftop to spread themselves across the road below. Then the zombies gained the upper hand, relieving the humans of their weapons and their lives.
His anger subsiding, Seymour sighed, making a sound like a slowly deflating tyre. He trudged toward what was left of his neighbour, the naked, armless, headless woman. He sat down beside her and looked at the burning cars, the lumbering undead milling about aimlessly, the destruction caused by countless thousands of mindless things who were out for a good time. It wasn’t that different to any other Saturday night in town, he reflected. Then he looked down at the girl. He’d never even known her name. She did look good though, he thought. Good enough to eat. And he was feeling a bit peckish again after his last meal, which seemed so very long ago. With nothing better to do, Seymour leaned over and used his upper teeth to scrape a bite out of her thigh.
The bastard alarm went off. Seymour stirred, groaned, silenced the alarm and then switched on his beside lamp, banishing the ridiculous dream he’d just endured. He rose, stretched, and peeked from behind his bedroom curtains. Across the street, the girl’s blinds were down and her light was on. She had obviously just left her shower – bang on time, coinciding nicely with Seymour’s alarm – and her silhouette was cast tantalisingly against the blind. And then a wondrous thing happened: she raised the blind. Perhaps this unforeseen action was due to the sun beginning to rise a bit earlier. Seymour had been waiting for this moment for the past year since he’d first noticed her provocative shadow theatre. He quickly put his light off, feeling very much like the dirty voyeur that he was. She was in a lacy bra and panties, drying her hair with a towel as she glanced up at the brightening sky. Seymour stared. She was gorgeous. That face, that body, the way she moved… He really should speak to her. Soon. Yes, soon.
Sighing heavily, the weight of his life’s choices resting heavily upon his shoulders, Seymour reluctantly picked up his car keys. Then he locked his front door and glanced wistfully up at the mystery woman’s now dark window one last time before heading to work. A rictus grin etched onto Seymour’s face, he climbed into his uninspiring little car and drove off.
Martin was born and raised in Africa and now lives in England. He writes day and night, spending far too much time pondering new ideas and far too little time pursuing potential homes for his work. Martin is currently in the final stages of editing his second crime novel.