Hangover | Book Four The Fog Series | Chapter One
When Benjamin woke, he felt like his head had been bashed in with a sledgehammer. He hadn’t known that it was possible for any person to hurt this much. Dear God. Benjamin groaned and buried his face back into the sofa beneath him. Slowly, his tired head began to piece everything together bit by bit. The alcohol, the bar, the so-called zombie virus. Everything crashed upon him, and Benjamin bolted upright. Then, he froze.
Sara lay with her head on his lap, her blonde hair strewn over Benjamin’s dark jeans like starlight set against the night sky. Benjamin’s breath gave an awkward, little hitch. How had she gotten there? Benjamin squinted at the woman and struggled to recall much of anything. Tequila. There had been a lot of tequila. Benjamin sighed. He should’ve known better. Then, he looked up. It took an inordinate amount of time for Benjamin to realize that Darnell, the bar owner stared, down at him.
Benjamin’s head lulled back; it felt too heavy to lift. There was a god-awful taste in his mouth, which was as dry as a cactus. He was hungry and thirsty, but when Benjamin thought of actually eating or drinking anything, his stomach twisted and lurched. Food and drink were definitely out of the question. He buried his face into the sofa and cracked an eye open. On the sofa across from him, Alex and Elijah were sprawled over another sofa. Daisy had wedged herself in at their feet. Benjamin raised his head again. Daisy was at the other end of the sofa, her head near Sara’s calves. And Darnell was still there.
And Darnell had a shotgun pointed at them.
Benjamin’s head hurt so badly that the significance of that still didn’t really sink in. “Good morning, Dad,” Benjamin rasped.
“I’m not your dad,” Darnell snapped, “And thank God! I’d probably throw myself in front of a car if I had a son like you!”
Benjamin winced and grabbed a pillow off the sofa. He slammed the pillow against his face, trying to block out all the light and noise. Sara stirred; although Benjamin didn’t look at her, he felt her weight shift.
“Why is everyone being so loud?” she groaned.
“Why is he pointing a gun at us?” Elijah shrieked.
“My God!” Alex shouted.
“Shut-up!” Daisy said. “God, my head!”
Benjamin took a steadying breath and slowly dropped the pillow. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to just go back to sleep and enjoy the peaceful blackness and silence!
“I’ll be as loud as I want to be!” Darnell snapped. “Have you looked at what you’ve done? You’ve trashed my bar!”
“It wasn’t our fault!” Elijah protested.
“Right, it was the Teds!” Alex added.
Darnell’s face reddened. He swung his shotgun around towards Elijah and Alex. Elijah’s face lost all its color, becoming as white as a ghost, while Alex’s jaw dropped.
“Don’t point a gun at us!” Alex exclaimed, trying and failing to scramble over the sofa. “Darnell!”
“Shut-up!” Daisy groaned.
“I’ll point my gun wherever I want to!” Darnell argued, waving the firearm as if to prove his point.
Benjamin had little experience with guns, and although he suspected that Darnell wasn’t exhibiting proper gun-handling behavior, Benjamin definitely wasn’t going to say anything about it. There were some things you just didn’t do when someone was wielding a firearm in a questionable manner, and discussing the finer points of firearm safety was most definitely one of those things.
“And guess what? You bums—” Darnell waved his gun towards Elijah and Alex. “—are going to come back here first thing tomorrow, and you’re going to come back and work off your debt!”
“We paid our debt!” Elijah protested.
“Not for my ransacked bar, you didn’t!” Darnell retorted.
“But we weren’t the only ones who made a mess,” Elijah said. “Everyone else was involved, too!”
“And the Teds,” Alex added. “We couldn’t help them!”
“But no one else destroyed my mirror!” Darnell snapped. “That was all you two! That mirror was custom-made from my bar. It cost five-thousand dollars!”
“You spent five-thousand dollars on a mirror?” Alex asked. “Are you serious? You can get a mirror at Wal-Mart for, like, ten bucks!”
Darnell’s face grew even redder. “That’s not the point! It was my mirror, and you broke it. And the two of you don’t exactly have a good track record to begin with!”
“It’s the end of the world!” Elijah exclaimed. “Do you really think you’re even going to get new patrons with the apocalypse going on outside?”
“That’s right,” Alex said. “Who is going to be interested in coming to your bar when there are zombies prowling around?”
“You all showed up just fine!” Darnell snapped. “Unfortunately.”
“Man, that’s a valid point,” Elijah muttered.
“Yeah,” Alex agreed.
Benjamin gaze Sara a long-suffering look. It was much too early for his hungover mind to process all of this. Couldn’t Darnell just wait for a few hours? Just let everyone sleep it off and then worry about getting repaid for all the damage that had occurred.
Sara yawned and rubbed her cheek against her shoulder. “I feel like something crawled down my throat and died there,” she said.
“Tough luck,” Darnell said flatly. “I want everyone out right now.”
“Everyone?” Amber asked. “You just said—”
“I know what I said! And I want everyone out right now. Get out! Before I decide that the rest of you need to work off the debt, too.”
Benjamin stumbled up.
Further down the sofa, Sara and Daisy stood. Neither of them looked especially enthused of being forced from their makeshift bed. Amber joined them. Elijah and Alex were slower to move, but when Darnell, still toting his shotgun, approached, the two men scrambled from the sofa.
“We’re leaving! We’re leaving already!” Elijah exclaimed.
Benjamin rubbed his temples and considered whether or not this was a battle worth fighting. Darnell didn’t seem like he would be very reasonable at the moment, and Benjamin felt like the goddess Athena was about to burst fully-armed from his skull.
Sluggishly, the group approached the door. They looked wearily at one another. Benjamin slowly approached a window and braced himself as he peered between the wooden slats that had been nails over the pane in an effort to keep the Teds at bay. Outside, the New York City streets were empty. Benjamin sighed in relief. “It looks like the coast is clear,” he said.
“Really?” Sara asked, filling the space beside him.
While Sara peered through the window, Daisy and Amber shuffled closer. Daisy’s grip tightened on her baseball bat. “Well,” she said, “Let’s all say hello goodbye to the Queen Vic, our new favorite bar! It looks like we’re safe to go.”
“It’s about time something went our way,” Amber agreed. “I feel like these past two days have just been a never-ending nightmare.”
“I definitely don’t fancy a repeat of yesterday,” Benjamin said, remembering how the Teds had broken into the bar and how they’d had to fight them off.
Well, how Benjamin’s newfound friends had to fight them off. He hadn’t really been that much help in the Ted slaying.
“I know,” Alex said, “And I wanted the zombies to come! But now that they’re here, it’s not nearly as fun as I thought it was going to be. This is awful.”
“But where are they?” Daisy asked. “We didn’t kill them all.”
“They probably moved to somewhere with a higher concentration of people,” Benjamin mused.
“Like—maybe—a sports field or something?” Amber asked.
Benjamin shrugged. “Possibly. It’s a hypothesis that I’m not really inclined to test out.”
“At least, we aren’t going where there are a whole lot of people,” Sara said. “We’re just going back to the apartments, so if the zombies are going after crowds of people specifically, we should be at least marginally safe, right?”
“Theoretically,” Benjamin said. “Here’s to hoping at any rate.”
“This has been the longest, most terror-filled weekend I’ve ever had,” Amber said. “Do you think work will be open Monday?”
“I hope so,” Elijah replied. “I live paycheck to paycheck, and I know my jerk of a boss isn’t going to pay me for the time I’ve missed.”
“And I’ve already lost so many potential Uber rides!” Alex exclaimed. “God, do you think I’ll even be able to pick people up anymore? My poor car looks awful! I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. It’s terrible.”
“And I’ve missed out on so many tips,” Amber said.
Benjamin winced in sympathy. Although he was a scientist and could probably afford to miss a couple of days from work, he would still have to deal with his reduced income from leaving Leslie. Admittedly, he hadn’t had much of a choice when he’d caught her cheating, but it certainly had been a blow to his finances. At least, the untimely death of Alex and Elijah’s former roommate Ted had spared Benjamin from having to go on a long and arduous apartment hunt. Especially with zombies roaming the streets.
“We’d better get our face masks just in case,” Benjamin said.
The so-called “zombie virus” showed evidence of being airborne, and symptoms of it had first appeared, coinciding with a thick fog. Even though the CDC hadn’t been able to say anything concrete about the virus just yet, they had agreed that the virus was, at least, spread through the air, so it was best to proceed with caution.
Everyone moved about, still sluggish and with pounding headaches. Benjamin grabbed his face mask and his pan, although thus far the pan hadn’t done him much good in fighting the infected masses. Sara retrieved her knives and shoved them into her boots. Daisy was already there with her baseball bat, stained with blood. Amber came up with her frying pan, followed by Elijah with his bat and Alex with his machete.
“Ready?” Elijah asked, awkwardly moving a few wayward strands of blond hair from his face.
“Let’s go before Darnell kills us,” Alex said.
Sara unlocked the door and opened it. Benjamin tensed, waiting for an army of Teds, but there were none. There was no fog either. Carefully, everyone edged out of the door. Once they were clear, the door slammed. A lock clicked.
“That jerk!” Elijah exclaimed. “I can’t believe Darnell just locked us out like that!”
God, couldn’t Elijah just shut-up? He had far too much energy for Benjamin to handle with a hangover. “Believe it,” Benjamin said wryly.
It was quiet and strange as they walked through the once lively streets of New York City. So far, things seemed to be going well. No one spoke, so the only sound was that of their footsteps on the pavement. Benjamin breathed in sharply. It would be so wonderful to return to his bed. His new bed. Benjamin grimaced and thought of all the sweat and bacteria that might be lingering in what was once Ted’s bed. Of everything, the bed definitely needed to be replaced as soon as possible. In the meantime, it might actually be better for Benjamin to sleep on the sofa.
Benjamin halted. Alex nearly tripped over him and shouted in surprise.
There was a Ted in the distance. Its head jerked suddenly towards them, seemingly attracted by Alex’s shout.
“Nice going,” Sara hissed.
“It’s only one,” Daisy said, thumping the butt of her bat on the concrete. “I’m about to make that Ted twist and shout.”
Sara slowly unsheathed a knife. “Should we all just mob it?” she asked.
The zombie stumbled closer, its arms swinging slowly. Another joined it. That made two of them. Benjamin’s grip tightened on the frying pan. His fingers trembled from exertion.
“Let’s take it down,” Alex said, swiping at the air with his weapon.
Slowly, the group approached. Benjamin stayed to the back, knowing that he would be the least help out of them all.
Sara and Elijah approached the zombie first, Daisy close behind. “Hey, Teds!” Daisy shouted. “Here’s a ticket to ride! Straight down to Hades!”
Daisy overtook Sara and Elijah and swung. The bat struck the Ted, making a dull thud. The Ted groaned and swiped. The second Ted lunged towards Elijah, who batted it away. Benjamin awkwardly shifted his grip on his pan.
A Ted roared, surprising Benjamin so much that he nearly dropped his pan.
Sara took a fighting stance and stabbed a Ted in the chest; Daisy and Elijah seemed to have made an unspoken agreement. They both descended on the other Ted, beating him with their bats. Thud, thud, thud, thud! The zombie folded and sank to the ground, still thrashing. Amber smashed its head with a frying pan.
Alex swung his machete and swiped through the zombie’s waist. The blade stuck, and Alex swore, shifting his weight several times in an attempt to free it. Sara swooped in with her knives, one in each hand. She shoved the knives through the Ted’s eyes and twisted them. There was a lot of blood. Sara pulled her knives free. Alex finally freed his blade.
Both the Teds were quiet and motionless, bleeding out bile onto the New York City Streets. Sara returned her knives to her boots, heedless of the blood coming from them. “We need to get going and fast,” she said. “If any more Teds heard that noise, they might come running.”
“It’s more like hobbling,” Alex said weakly.
They kept moving, quickening their pace. Benjamin’s stomach did flip-flops as he tried to keep up with them. He’d never been an athletic man, and the alcohol still in his system made it much harder to keep up with them. He thought he might just puke his guts up all over the pavement, and maybe that would be the best approach, really. Throwing up might help relieve the pressure in his head, and it might not ache so badly.
Finally, they arrived. Seeing the apartment was, for Benjamin, like being a thirsty, desperate man in the middle of the desert and suddenly finding a glorious oasis. “Thank God,” Benjamin said. “I thought we were never going to get here.”
Daisy suddenly burst into laughter. “Oh, my God! The whole time I could have taken Yellow Submarine!”
“Yellow Submarine?” Benjamin asked.
Daisy pointed to a bright yellow Beetle parked in front of the apartment building. The poor vehicle was dented with scratches so thick and heavy that they looked like racing stripes. Clearly, that poor vehicle had been beaten within an inch of its life. Benjamin winced. It was as if he could hear the car screaming in terror. “It’s what I call my car,” she said. “I could have totally just driven to the Queen Vic. I guess I was too drunk to remember I had a car! But it works out, I suppose. It’s not safe to drink and drive anyway.”
Considering that state of Daisy’s car, she probably wasn’t a great driver while sober either. Benjamin had seen some bad cars in his day, but her yellow submarine definitely took the cake. Dear God. “It’s also not a good idea to fight off Teds for the next drink,” Benjamin joked.
He immediately scowled. Benjamin had loathed his newfound friends for deciding to dub the infected populace as “Teds” after Elijah and Alex’s former, zombified roommate, and now, he was calling them that, too! What had he named them? Benjamin winced. If his head wasn’t hurting so much, he would have been able to remember. There needed to be another name. Not Ted, for sure. That was terrible.
But with the persistent pounding in Benjamin’s head, he just couldn’t think. Whatever. He would figure it out later, surely.
Everyone trudged wearily into the building. It seemed benign and quiet, like everything else. But the New York City streets had also seemed quiet, and then, two Teds had appeared. Sara muffled a yawn behind her hand. “I hope we don’t run into anything,” she murmured.
“Agreed,” Alex replied, his usual energy seemingly sapped from him.
“I doubt I could fight anything if it did come at us,” Amber said. “I just want to collapse into bed and sleep for about a hundred years.”
“True facts,” Daisy said.
Benjamin nodded. Elijah grunted, presumably in agreement.
They filed upstairs with Elijah in the lead and Sara taking up the rear. Benjamin had situated himself in the middle. And up they went, step by step and floor by floor. There was nothing, and once they reached their floor, there was still no sign of any Teds.
Soon, the door of Alex and Elijah’s really weird neighbor appeared. Never in his life had Benjamin been so eager to see a door. They tried to creep past, and to Benjamin’s ears, they didn’t make a single sound. Somehow, even that wasn’t enough. The neighbor’s door pulled open, and the man emerged, his hideous naked cat held in his arms. Benjamin wondered if the old man was trying to emulate an Italian mob boss, and if so, was the old man aware of how spectacularly he was failing? Benjamin didn’t think he had ever felt so unthreatened in his life.
Daisy ran over to the man and immediately began stroking that hideous cat between the ears. “What a cute baby!” Daisy chirped. “Oh, I love him! He just makes me want to twist and shout! What a cutie!”
Benjamin wondered if Daisy might actually be blind because that unholy abomination was the further thing from cute that he had ever seen.
“Rent is still due this month,” the landlord said stiffly. “Don’t think you whippersnappers are getting off just because it’s the end of the world!”
“No problem,” Elijah said, edging away from the door.
“Sure thing,” Alex added.
Slowly, the group moved on, Daisy making soft, cooing farewells to the cat.
Benjamin pulled his phone out of his pocket. No messages from Leslie. No missed calls either.
“Who are you calling?” Elijah asked.
Benjamin felt a sharp pang in his chest. “Uh…I was texting work,” he lied. “That’s all. To see if we’re open. You know. The country could probably use some scientists working with everything that’s going on.”
“That’s a good idea,” Sara said pulling out her phone.
“I mean, the CDC and all of the government is telling us to stay inside,” Amber said. “Surely, they can’t expect us all to go out in this mess, right?”
“You would think,” Sara replied, “But you know the way Trader Joes is. I swear they would have me going to work in the middle of a record-breaking hurricane just to rake in a couple of dollars.”
“Same,” Elijah said. “Hollywood doesn’t wait for anybody—not even the trash crew.”
“Life sucks sometimes,” Daisy said, sighing.
Soon, everyone was lost in their own worlds, texting work. Benjamin quickly fired off a text to his supervisor. He seriously doubted that they would be going to work with everything going on, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
“Aw, man!” Sara exclaimed. “They told me that we’re definitely going to be closed, and I really needed those hours! I can’t believe that they’re all choosing now to care about employee safety.”
Finally, they reached the apartment. Ted’s decaying body remained on the floor. Benjamin wrinkled his nose at the smell of day-old decaying flesh. His control over his stomach nearly vanished. Dear God, the smell was the worst thing he’d ever had to deal with. Was it possible to just up and die from a smell? Logically, Benjamin knew he wasn’t, but he was beginning to seriously reconsider his entire world.
But this wasn’t entirely unexpected. No, what was unexpected was the tall wall of muscle that stood on the other side of Ted. It was a man with sandy blond hair, a tan, and bright, blue eyes. He looked like the sort of man who would grace the cover of a teen girl or women’s magazine.
Then, Sara squealed. “Oh, Chad!” Sara exclaimed. “You came for me!”
And with that declaration, Benjamin’s heart plummeted and ripped in half. He definitely didn’t need all of this going down while he had a hangover.
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