I groaned as the morning light bathed my bedroom in the orange glow of autumn. I pulled the fleece blanket up over my head and rolled over, falling back to sleep easily. Several hours later, I woke to the sound of someone pounding on my apartment door. I rolled out of bed and made no effort to make myself presentable as I stumbled towards the author of my ire.
Things had been going so well lately. My student loans had just been paid off and I’d finally gotten to scrap the piece of junk I’d been driving for a decade. Lately, I had been in the market for a new car and an escape from my slummy apartment when I’d been “marginalized by the economic pressures of the market”.
This was, of course, a fancy bullshit way to say I was fired.
Desperate to keep my head above water, I had taken a job as a DJ at a strip club just down the block. The pay was enough to keep a roof over my head and there were obvious perks to the job. Even so, I was rarely home before dawn and I’d never been able to get used to sleeping during the day. Adding to the shambles that had quickly become my life, what little rest I did manage to get was now being interrupted by the single mother down the hall…who was now mightily trying to beat down my door by sheer will if nothing else.
I didn’t know much about her or her daughter and I didn’t care to. Why she was banging on my door at one in the afternoon was anyone’s guess.
I sighed audibly as I opened the metal door. My apartment was in a converted old warehouse that smelt of wet animals when the humidity was high. The walls were brick, which was one of the few benefits to my place and kept noise from my neighbours down to a dull roar. Whoever had converted the building into an apartment block had been kind enough to spray foam insulation into the rafters and seal the edges of the old single pane windows. It was warm in the winter and cool in the summer, the building was relatively secure and few criminals bothered to harass the tenants. The rumour was that the whole apartment block was owned by the mob, but that was just rumour as far as I could tell.
She pushed past me, strode into my living room and sat on the edge of my couch.
“Come on in.” I said sarcastically.
“Sorry, Mark.” She replied as she began gnawing on her finger nails.
I wasn’t a germaphobe, but it always disgusted me a little when she nervously chewed her nails.
“I went to pick-up Dawn and there’s no one at the school.” Beth blurted.
“What do you mean by ‘no one’?” I asked.
“NO ONE!” She replied with a frantic crack in her voice.
“Ok, did you call the school board?”
“There was no answer.”
“That’s odd.” I observed aloud.
Several times in the last few years I’d volunteered to watch Dawn and liked the girl; certainly more than her mother at any rate. The girl was on the verge of being a teenager, which often meant bouts of independence. It had been my observation that women handled the transition worse than men did. When I did take care of the girl, she spent most of her time playing with her cell phone or on my computer. This was just fine for both of us as I didn’t know what to do with kids and Dawn had little use for men in general since her father abandoned her.
“Let me get some clothes on and I’ll help you look for her.” I said after a few moments.
Beth nodded, staring off into space as she continued to chew her fingernails.
I walked back into my bedroom and tossed on some clean clothes, grabbed the pocket knife I always kept with me and a jacket as I headed back out to find Beth now staring out of my windows. Luckily she had stopped eating her fingernails, though the look on her face gave him pause.
“What is it?” I asked as I put my jacket on.
“There’s something wrong with that guy.” She observed.
Great. Now she was putting together conspiracies in her feeble little mind.
I sighed again as I walked over to the window. Below the streets were practically abandoned, which was odd even in the middle of the day. A lone bum stumbled down the street in a ratty old patchwork of garments that used to be a suit. The cloth was stained all manner of colours and his face was obscured from view but he had the slack jawed, knuckle dragging look of a career homeless guy.
“It’s nothing, let’s go.” I urged her as I pulled her gently away from the window.
Dawn’s school was only a few blocks away, though we both observed several times aloud at how strange it was to find no one on the streets. By the time we arrived at the school, even I was nervous. It didn’t help matters when we discovered the doors locked and every light off.
Slowly we made our way around back; the brick wall fenced in school yard was completely empty. There was an almost eerie silence broken only by the sounds of rusted swing hinges grinding in protest to the wind itself. I opened the wrought iron gate and we walked into the yard and towards the back door.
“Close the gate!” A voice hissed.
I looked up to see a middle aged woman leaning out of a third floor window.
“What?” I asked loudly.
“Shh!” She scolded. “Close and lock that gate then get in here.” She urged.
I shook my head in annoyance and motioned for Beth to head inside with a nod. A large metal door was unlocked and opened behind me as I made my way back to the gate. Out on the street I heard someone walking towards the gate, so I paused in closing it and waited for a moment. A blood soaked hand grabbed a hold of mine with incredible strength.
“Easy buddy, fuck.” I grunted as I snatched my hand back.
It was that moment when I finally looked up. In front of me, staring at me with large black empty eyes was what I could only call a zombie. It reminded me a lot of those old 70’s and 80’s B movies. His hair was a patchwork of bald spots, blood soaked locks and seeping wounds. The face I was looking at had no top lip, half a nose and a large gaping hole where his right cheek ought to be.