Beer Run | Book Two The Fog Series | Chapter Four
Finally, everyone had a breathing mask that Benjamin thought would effectively filter the air efficiently enough to protect them from the virus. Elijah had grabbed another baseball bat; he apparently had more of them. And he’d donned jeans and a leather jacket, the closest thing he had to body armor, in preparation for facing the infected. He looked like the lead in some apocalyptic b-movie, and Benjamin felt a jolt of envy as he looked over at his new roommate.
Sara had been dressed for the move when the virus had first broken out, and her vest and jeans were both flecked with bits of blood and gore. She held a large steak knife in one hand, spots of blood staining the steel surface. She could have been the leading lady in one of those b-movies, and Benjamin thought of how perfect they looked together. Like they ought to be the couple in a monster movie, kissing just before the credits rolled.
Daisy also carried a baseball bat, one of Elijah’s. She had pulled her part-black, part-blonde hair back into a messy bun, hopefully out of reach of Ted’s. Even though Benjamin had redesigned her breathing mask, Daisy hadn’t been able to resist going back to her apartment and returning with several silk flowers, which she’d glued to the mask. For luck, she said.
Alex had his machete, and of them all, Alex was the best dressed for the Ted apocalypse. He’d been prepared for it. Sort of. At any rate, Alex had wanted to fight Ted’s someday, and he had a lot of kitsch Ted-slaying gear in his room. His leather jacket and leather pants were covered in padded patches, studded with silver spikes and neon green biohazard symbols.
Benjamin had grabbed a pan and a knife, although his stomach lurched when he thought about trying to defend himself with either. Amber had grabbed a wok.
“It’s time to knock some Ted’s out of the park!” Daisy declared, swinging her bat over her shoulder.
“We’ll see who can knock out the most,” Elijah replied. “My swing is legendary. Just so you know.”
“I’ll take that as a challenge, then,” Amber said. “I’ll bet I’m pretty good with a wok.”
Elijah stuck out his tongue. “Winner buys the loser a round of drinks.”
“You’re on!” Amber declared.
“But remember,” Sara said, “Amber is a chef, Elijah. You probably don’t want to anger your cook.”
Elijah snorted. “I don’t need Amber to cook for me! Alex and I are great cooks! I make the best ramen noodles you’ve ever tasted!”
“Then, I suppose I’ll just keep my chicken portabella and all my years of French cooking all to myself,” Amber said, sighing. “Oh, well.”
“Years of French cooking?” Elijah asked. “Well, touché, madame!”
“So let’s get down to business,” Sara said. “Are we taking the stairs or the elevator down?”
“The elevator?” Elijah replied. “Why wouldn’t we?”
“Because,” Alex said, waving his arms, “Haven’t you seen the movies? The doors open, and then, the Teds are there! Then, you have to fight your way out, and you can’t go back up because when the Teds all stick their arms in the elevator, the elevator won’t shut! Then, you all die, and sad music plays—”
“Okay,” Elijah said. “You definitely need to lay off the movies.”
“But it’s a valid point, isn’t it?” Amber asked.
“I guess,” Elijah replied.
“At least, if we went down the stairs, we’d see if something was coming,” Benjamin mused, “And they’re narrower. That would make it easier to defend them. As opposed to the elevator, where the opening is wide.”
Benjamin still silently held out hope that they wouldn’t end up going out at all, but he really doubted that would be the case.
“Making us take the stairs,” Elijah said, “I agree, but that does sound like something we’d end up doing because of Ted. Which is why it’s a perfect name for the zombie-things.”
“They aren’t really zombies,” Benjamin said.
Elijah shrugged. “Whatever, man. Even the CDC lady said that people were calling them zombies.”
“So it’s settled,” Sara cut in, striding towards the door. “Let’s go.”
Sara threw the door open, and they all filed out. Ted’s body still remained in the hallway. He looked exactly as they had left him, although Benjamin couldn’t shake the feeling that Ted ought to have radically changed somehow. He ought to look…more decayed.
“Hello, Ted,” Alex said. “Um…I guess you’re dead now.”
“Yeah,” Elijah replied. “Anyway, let’s hope he doesn’t come back to life like Taylor Swift in that one music video or something.”
“But if he came back and danced like Taylor Swift…” Alex trailed off.
“If he came back and danced like Taylor Swift, I would be very afraid,” Elijah replied. “I’ve seen him dance before, and it isn’t pretty.”
Elijah stepped over his newly deceased roommate. Alex followed close behind. Behind them, Sara and Daisy followed. While Sara kept her knife lowered and at her side, Daisy kept humming and swinging her bat with every step. Benjamin wondered if she was still a bit more buzzed than the rest of them.
This left Amber and Benjamin to take up the rear, and as they continued down the stairs, Benjamin couldn’t help but look over his shoulder every few seconds. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and he felt as though infected might burst from behind them any second. This was clearly illogical, but a quick glance at Amber seemed to reveal that she was thinking the same thing he was.
As they climbed down the stairs, Benjamin awkwardly wedged himself between Daisy and Sara, putting himself closer to the middle. After a minute or so, Amber did the same.
“We’re off to see the wizard!” Daisy declared abruptly.
“The magical wizard of booze,” Elijah added sagely.
“We know he is the…uh…” Alex trailed off. “Something, something wonderful.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how the song goes,” Elijah pointed out, “But I have to admit that anyone who can bring me booze is okay in my book.”
“Right?” Sara asked. “So maybe we ought to be singing songs about Queen Vic. Anyone know any?”
“I don’t think so,” Daisy replied, snapping her fingers together. “Curses! All my knowledge of songs, and I’m being defeated by a pub. It’s absolutely disgraceful!”
“It’s okay,” Alex said. “We forgive you.”
“You’d better,” Daisy said ominously, swinging the bat for dramatic effect.
Suddenly, Elijah halted and held up his fist as if he was a military commander. Benjamin tensed and gulped. He was in the middle of the group. If it was Teds, he had to stand his ground and fight. He absolutely could not run away. Not with Sara and Daisy behind him. But could he? He’d never fought anyone or anything in his life. He was a scientist. He wasn’t made for this. Not at all.
Everyone stopped and waited with bated breath. Elijah placed a finger over his lips and tiptoed past an apartment. Benjamin frowned, now confused. Had Elijah heard—or thought he heard—signs of the Teds, or was this something else entirely? Benjamin’s mind raced. He had the sudden irrational fear that there might be more things to worry about.
Like vampires. Werewolves.
That didn’t make sense, but neither did the Teds.
Alex followed quietly, so Benjamin followed suit. They had nearly passed the apartment when the door slammed open with a loudness that made everyone jump. Elijah groaned as a man emerged.
The man had a hawkish nose and sharp, beady eyes. Benjamin thought the man looked a good deal like a crow, and even when the man pointed a finger at Elijah, his finger looked like a claw rather than part of a human hand. The man’s other hand was curled around a hairless Sphynx cat, an unholy abomination if there ever was one. Benjamin had never understood why people liked hairless cats. Cats were supposed to be big, fluffy, and warm. Not this pale pile of wrinkles. This fat, pile of wrinkles.
“Fools!” the man exclaimed. “What are you doing out here? Haven’t you been listening to the TV? You all ought to be staying inside! It’s too dangerous for anyone to be out in weather like this!”
“Well, we…can’t,” Elijah said. “I mean, um, we have a friend…”
“Who we need to check on!” Alex added.
“Yes! And it’s imperative that we go at once! She’s sick and…um…”
“An orphan!” Alex cut in.
For a split second, Elijah looked utterly baffled, but he gained composure quickly. “Yes, she is an orphan, and we must go see if she is okay. We know it isn’t safe, but we’re very prepared to go! That’s why we’re all going together.”
“Safety in numbers!” Alex added.
“And breathing masks!” Elijah said.
Alex and Elijah slowly edged further down the hall, everyone following. Once Elijah reached the bend, he bolted like the Devil himself had come and was about to fight him.
“Uh…bye!” Alex exclaimed, before he darted around the corner as well.
And once they were all out of sight of the strange, cat-holding man, Sara cleared her throat. “Who was that?” she asked.
“The chairman of the apartment building,” Elijah replied. “He’s super nosy and always trying to get in our business! Like, God! We pay our rent on time! We don’t throw crazy parties. You’d think he would leave us alone, but oh, no! That’s too easy.”
Maybe the chairman was nosy, but Benjamin couldn’t help but think about how the chairman might have had a point about all of this. It wasn’t safe for them to be out with a potentially Ted-creating virus in the air. They didn’t know if their breathing masks would work. They didn’t know if they would be overwhelmed by literal armies of Teds. They didn’t know anything at all.
But Benjamin knew he couldn’t bear to turn back while everyone else soldiered onwards. He had to go with them no matter what happened.
“The cat was a cutie,” Daisy said suddenly. “I kind of want one now. That would be a good cat, too. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting hair on my clothes.”
“Ugh,” Sara replied, wrinkling her nose. “Ew. No.”
“That thing was hideous,” Amber agreed. “If you bring that home, you’re going to have to sleep somewhere else.”
“No kidding,” Alex replied.
Daisy scoffed. “Well, you just say that because none of you have ever been cat moms. I have! And this cat mother knows best!”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Sara said.
“Is that because that cat only has a face a mother could love?” Alex asked.
“No! And sure, it makes sense,” Daisy argued. “I know best. I know that anyone who really loves cats has to love sphynx cats because that’s what a cat is if you strip away all the fur.”
“Which proves why you shouldn’t strip away all the fur,” Elijah countered. “The cat goes from cute to monstrous. It looks like a wad of gum that’s been vaguely shaped into a cat.”
Finally, they reached the entrance to the apartments. Benjamin braced himself, ready to bare witness to some horrifying, dystopian landscape. He imagined a blood-red sky and corpses littering the streets. He imagined sirens and for there to be fires everywhere. Very end of the world.
But once he stepped outside, New York City appeared just as it always did. Aside from being eerily quiet, it was as if nothing had changed at all. There was no thick fog and no Teds lying around. There were no screams or cries. If it had not been so quiet and empty, Benjamin could have believed that this was just another night like any other. It was nice, restful even.
“This is…not what I expected,” Alex said. “Maybe we ought to start a riot? Plunder something?”
“You can’t just start a riot for the sake of starting a riot,” Elijah said.
“Says you!” Alex replied. “This is just weird!”
“I can definitely feel a violent energy, though,” Daisy replied, nodding sagely.
“How?” Benjamin asked.
“I just feel it in the air,” Daisy said. “I have a good sense for this sort of thing.”
Right. Because clearly, that was a good, scientific way of knowing that something was horribly wrong. Some sort of pseudo-magical instinct that something was awry. What was Daisy going to do next? Pull out her healing crystals? Hold a séance?
“But it almost feels like everything that happened with Ted was all just a bad dream,” Amber said. “I feel out here as thought the world is normal.”
“Holy crap!” Alex exclaimed. “What if everything is fine? What if we killed Ted by accident, and this is our subconscious trying to help us reconcile the guilt of murder?”
“That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Elijah said, sounding quite freaked out by the notion.
“So we’ve invented some sort of collective narrative wherein our murder of Ted is justified?” Amber asked. “God, I really wish you hadn’t brought that up. Now, I’m going to worry about it. Great.”
“Very David Lynch. Or maybe Sigmund Freud,” Daisy said. “I mean, I suppose it’s possible.”
“No, it isn’t!” Benjamin argued. “That’s not how it works!”
“Well, what if we all got high or something?” Amber asked.
“Either way,” Sara said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I really need a drink now.”
There was a mumbled assent of agreement. A drink would definitely be lovely. Even if the Teds weren’t real, Ted had still—in fact—been killed, and that was not a good thing. Jerk or no, Ted hadn’t deserved to fall prey to some terrible virus or to be murdered. Or both. And wow, alcohol really was sounding like a wonderful idea at the moment.
The frightening thing was that the idea that they had all somehow constructed an elaborate scenario wherein Teds existed in order to cope with killing Ted actually made quite a bit more sense than there being some sort of zombie virus-carrying fog infecting the population of New York City. Benjamin wondered why exactly his entire life had suddenly just stopped making sense, and it would be really wonderful if everything could go back to normal.
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