Lock In | Book Three The Fog Series | Chapter One
Benjamin toyed with the bright orange umbrella in his drink. It was a concoction of fruit, coconut rum, and vodka. And sure, Benjamin kept receiving some odd looks for drinking such a girly drink. He wasn’t a super buff or athletic kind of guy, but his hot pink drink definitely screamed sorority girl. But the stares were worth it. Those people staring had no idea the liquid Nirvana they were missing out on.
Nearby, Alex and Elijah were drinking beer and being suspiciously well-behaved. Benjamin suspected this was because Darnell, the bar owner, had just recently threatened to throw both of them to the zombies for their unpaid bar tabs. Sara and her roommates—Amber and Daisy—stood by the window. Daisy’s slender fingers split through the slats of the window blinds. Outside, the zombified population of New York City groaned and ambled about, but fortunately, none of them seemed able to get inside. Not yet, anyway. And there were worst places to be trapped than the Queen Vic. Like a post office. Or a public bathroom. At least, a pub had food and drink, and marginally clean restrooms.
“How many Teds do you see?” Elijah asked.
Benjamin rolled his eyes at the nickname. Initially, Benjamin had disliked the victims to this potentially airborne virus being dubbed “zombies,” but he was beginning to prefer that. Anything was better than calling them Teds, after Alex and Elijah’s jerky now-dead roommate.
“Too many to count,” Sara replied, looking over her shoulder and back at them.
Benjamin’s heart caught in his throat. Sara was a beautiful woman. Tall, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Definitely a knock-out. And a force to be reckoned with. Benjamin had seen her take down small hordes of Teds with nothing but a couple of borrowed kitchen knives. While Sara and their friends had been doing that, Benjamin had screamed like a little girl who’d just been told that Santa Claus had died in some sort of horrific reindeer-based accident.
“That sucks,” Alex said.
Daisy turned around and leaned a hip against the bar. She twisted a lock of her hair, half dyed a sleek, frost-white and the other half a deep black, around a finger. Her bloodied baseball bat lay against the wall nearby. “Well, we could potentially leave if each of us managed to take about ten,” she mused. “What do you think, Sara?”
“Ten apiece?” Sara’s eyes swept over the group.
“I could maybe do a couple,” Amber replied, taking a swig of hard cider. “I don’t know if I could manage ten, though.”
Benjamin knew he couldn’t manage ten.
“I’m game,” Elijah replied, puffing out his chest.
Daisy grinned. “Ted…Ted…all better if they’re dead, Ted is dead,” she said in a sing-song voice.
“I can totally take on ten!” Alex declared. “Let me at them!”
“I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” Darnell cut in. “I had to save all of you, if I’m remembering right.”
Alex and Elijah immediately ducked their head and pretended to be thoroughly engrossed with their drinks. Benjamin sighed and cast his eyes heavenward, as if God Himself might descend from the clouds and cast Benjamin into a world where things might make sense once again.
Darnell marched over to the window and—like Daisy—peered through the slats. “Seriously?” he scoffed. “Ugh! I recognize some of these people!”
Darrel didn’t even sound angry. Just mildly irritated.
“And some of them are good at paying their tabs, too!” Darnell exclaimed. “Unlike some people.”
Elijah and Alex seemed to sink lower in their seats.
“Been there, done that,” Daisy said.
“Done what?” Benjamin asked.
“Chasing people to pay their tabs. I used to be a bartender,” Daisy replied, “And I—”
“That’s a good point! Some of these people I hate to see go,” Darnell continued, “But some of these people were nightmares. So I guess it evens out. I wonder how many are infected out of everyone.”
“A lot,” Benjamin replied, furrowing his brow. “In an area with a population this large in such a small area…it could be thousands. And we still don’t know how it’s spreading.”
“It’s spreading through the fog that came through, isn’t it?” Amber asked.
“It appears to be,” Benjamin said, “But that doesn’t mean it can’t spread other ways. You heard the news talking about how the Ted virus might also spread through body fluids.”
“Which is why it helps to have a long-range weapon,” Darnell said, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “A bullet to the head will kill most things, zombie or otherwise. Just saying.”
“Until you run out of bullets,” Benjamin pointed out.
“That wouldn’t happen for a while,” Darnell replied, waving a dismissive hand. “I keep plenty on hand.”
“In your pub?” Alex asked nervously.
“Yes. What of it?”
“Nothing!” Alex replied. “Nothing at all!”
Amber leaned suddenly over the bar and fished around for the TV remote. She grabbed it and aimed it at the nearby TV, an old and bulky one. “Let’s see what’s on,” she said. “They might have discovered more by now.”
“Hopefully, they’re sending the army to come in and take care of everything,” Sara said.
“Here’s to hoping,” Elijah said, giving her a mock toast.
Amber flipped through the channels. Benjamin didn’t watch much TV, but he recognized a few things—an advertisement for Game of Thrones, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and The Walking Dead. Before Amber reached the news, she stopped on TMZ. And she didn’t flip through any more channels. She just sort of lowered the remote and left the TV on TMZ. Benjamin grimaced; that channel was nothing but brain-rotting trash. Who cared about Taylor Swift’s millionth boyfriend or what Scarlett Johansen wore to the pharmacy?
“TMZ?” Benjamin asked.
“Yes,” Amber said. “I bet they’ll have an update.”
“TMZ?” Elijah asked doubtfully.
“It’s my favorite station,” Amber replied, “And I just know they’ll have an update!”
“But it’s…a celebrity station,” Alex said. “Why would they have any update?”
“I bet you they’ll have an update,” Amber said.
“No way!” Alex exclaimed, shaking his head. “The last time we took a bet against you, you hustled us in Twister!”
“First of all, we didn’t exactly hustle you. And how could she possibly know what’s going to come on TMZ?” Sara asked, crossing her arms. “Amber is talented, but she isn’t a mind reader.”
“And she can’t see the future last I checked,” Daisy chimed in.
Benjamin shook his head. “I’m not taking that bet.”
“We’ll bet for shots,” Amber insisted. “Come on. Unless you’re scared, that is.”
“I’m not scared,” Elijah said, slamming his empty beer bottle down on the counter. “I’ll take that bet!”
“Fool,” Darnell muttered under his breath.
Benjamin watched as the bar owner walked down the opposite end of the bar. Darrel paused to chat with a couple of ladies.
Benjamin sighed and looked morosely at his drink. He wished that he’d asked for a refill before Darnell had wandered off. Already, Benjamin felt buzzed, but the extra bit of alcohol might have helped him cope with watching TMZ.
A woman wearing a tight-fitting dress in an alarming shade of pink smiled at the camera. Only her furrowed brow gave any indication that she was anything less than happy. “For those of you who are just joining us, disaster struck in Hollywood today. The so-called “zombie virus” infected the red carpet without warning. Several celebrities were in attendance for the new, highly anticipated Winter Nights.”
“Never heard of it,” Benjamin said.
The women all gasped.
“How have you not heard of it?” Daisy asked, crossing her arms. “It’s had advertising everywhere. It’s like not hearing of Twilight or Star Wars.”
Amber gasped. “What if the Ted virus got Chris?”
Sara’s eyes widened. Her jaw dropped before she could manage to shut it. “No, not Chris!” she exclaimed.
“Who is Chris?” Benjamin asked.
“Chris Hempsworth!” Alex exclaimed. “Thor, man!”
“No!” Daisy groaned. “Why couldn’t it have gotten some celebrity no one cares about?”
“Man, that bites,” Elijah said, taking a swig of beer. “Now, we won’t get any more Marvel movies! No one can replace Chris!”
Benjamin sighed and shook his head.
“Tragedy struck,” the TMZ host continued, drawing a chorus of gasps, “when infected people managed to get past security and break into the event.”
The screen showed several people, each of them hobbling about and ashen-faced. Benjamin furrowed his brow as he watched. There had to be some way of stopping this virus. It couldn’t just be uncurable.
“There’s Chris!” Daisy explained, pointing at the actor standing in the midst of the crowd of people.
It struck Benjamin as very strange how they all called the man Chris as if they knew him well and were all on a first name basis with him.
“Chris Hemsworth valiantly fought off the zombies, just like the real-life Thor.”
The footage cut to Chris Hemsworth taking out zombies with what appeared to be a broken lamppost, even while people around him ran and screamed in terror. It looked like Chris Hemsworth might be able to add “zombie-slaying” to his resume, which probably wasn’t something most Hollywood actors could do.
“Yes!” Amber exclaimed.
“That’s my man,” Daisy said, nodding.
“Slay, Chris, slay!” Elijah added.
“I’ll take a shot to that,” Sara said.
The camera returned to the TMZ host. “Unfortunately—”
A collective gasp filled their corner of the bar. Benjamin rolled his eyes.
“—while Chris Hemsworth managed to avoid being infected by the so-called zombie virus, today, Hollywood lost a bright and shining star. Reports have confirmed that Brad Mitt has contracted the virus.”
Benjamin grimaced. He didn’t have particularly strong feelings towards Brad Mitt, but anyone turning into a Ted was sad. It must be frightening. Benjamin wondered if the victims were at all aware of what they were doing. Surely, their brain couldn’t just be eaten away so rapidly. And was it even a virus? It could be a disease or a neurological disorder or countless other things.
“I’m just happy it wasn’t Chris,” Amber said.
Sara nodded sagely. “I am, too.”
“Avengers 5 can still happen!” Elijah exclaimed.
“Thank God,” Daisy said. “I don’t know what I would have done without being able to see my beloved Chris Hemsworth on the big screen again!”
Beloved. Like she’d known Chris Hemsworth her whole life or something.
“Here’s to Chris,” Alex said, raising his beer in a mock toast.
“Scientists have contained Brad Mitt, and they hope to fix him,” the host continued, “So tell us on Twitter: which celebrity would you like to bite?”
“I’d bite Chris Hemsworth,” Sara said. “He does look really tasty.”
“But this is totally in bad taste,” Benjamin said. “I can’t believe they’d actually air something like this when there is an end of the world even going on outside! People are literally turning into Teds, and TMZ wants people to sign in and tell them which celebrity they’d bite and turn into a zombie! Seriously?”
“Don’t overreact,” Elijah said. “It’s just a few infected. There’s not too many infected. I mean, so far it’s only two cities.”
“Two of the most densely populated cities in the entire United States,” Benjamin said.
“Oh, don’t be such a drama queen!”
Elijah slipped off his bar stool, walked over to the window and pulled up the blinds. Every inch of window was covered in Teds, groaning, growling, snapping, and clawing. Benjamin’s eyes widened, and his heart raced. He’d known that there were Teds outside. Obviously. But he hadn’t imagined that there were that many. Elijah swore and fumbled with the blinds before he managed to pull them down again. “You didn’t see anything!” he exclaimed. “You saw nothing!”
“And you lost the bet,” Amber said. “Shots for everyone!”
Elijah groaned and returned to his seat with his shoulders slumped. “Man, I just got out of debt with Darnell.”
“Maybe you should stop taking bets, then,” Benjamin pointed out.
Elijah sighed. “But how did she know?”
“I’m just that good,” Amber said, flipping her brown hair over her shoulder.
“Darnell!” Daisy shouted, waving at the bar owner. “We need a round of shots here—on Elijah’s dime!”
Elijah buried his hand between his hands. Darnell brought over the shots, shooting Elijah a threatening glare as he did. “You’d better pay for them, too,” Darnell said.
“I will,” Elijah replied. “I promise.”
Once everyone had a shot, Benjamin raised his to eye-level and looked at it. It smelled like tequila, which he liked, even though he’d never done shots in his life. “Are we really going to do this?” he asked.
“Yes,” Elijah replied, “Unless you’re scared of a little alcohol.”
“Elijah, don’t be mean,” Sara said. “Shots aren’t for everyone.”
They weren’t, but since Sara had noticed his hesitation, Benjamin felt like he had something to prove. He had to prove that he wasn’t scared of a little alcohol and that Elijah wasn’t going to get the best of him.
“I’m just making sure everyone else is game,” Benjamin said. “That’s all. You’ve had a lot to drink, Elijah.”
Elijah smirked and tipped back his shot. With a grimace, Benjamin forced his shot down. His throat burned, and the tequila was too tart for it to be anything pleasant. He coughed, drawing a snort and laughter from Elijah.
“So,” Daisy said, dragging out the word, “If you were a Ted and going to bite a celebrity, who would you bite and why?”
Benjamin yawned. The alcohol was beginning to get to him. On a whim, he reached into his cocktail, the girly concoction that tasted far better than a shot ever would, plucked the umbrella from it, and tucked it behind his ear. Sara laughed and swiped an umbrella from one of Benjamin’s old cocktails; she stuck the umbrella behind her hair and grinned.
“I,” Amber paused dramatically, “Would say Kanye West.”
“Why?” Alex asked.
“Because he annoys me,” Amber replied.
“Remind me not to get on your bad side,” Elijah said. “Yikes.”
“I’m just offering a fair warning,” Amber said, shrugging.
“I think I’d pick one of the Kardashians,” Alex mused, his gaze fixed on his empty shot glass.
“Just one of them?” Daisy asked. “They’re all interchangeable to you?”
“I mean, they’re all hot,” Alex replied. “We could be Ted lovers. I mean, zombie lovers. A married zombie couple. Whatever.”
“The ‘until death do us part’ kind of loses something if you’re already dead,” Sara replied, grabbing another umbrella and weaving it into her hair.
Benjamin laughed and stuck another umbrella behind his ear. Sara grinned and emitted a not entirely sober giggle. She leaned over the bar and swiped an entire glass full of little umbrellas. Then, she pursed her lips together and stuck another one in her long, blonde hair. Benjamin swiped one and watching Sara’s face very carefully, tucked another one behind her ear.
“I bet I can fit all of these in my hair,” Sara said.
“I’m not taking that bet,” Benjamin said.
Was it all the alcohol combined or just the shot that was finally getting to him? It felt like his vision was zooming in and out, which wasn’t so bad because he was sitting across from Sara, and she would probably still be drop-dead gorgeous no matter how bad Benjamin’s vision got. Unless he went entirely blind, of course. But then, she would still sound hot, so that was something.
“I think I would bite Will Smith,” Daisy said, “Or Chris Hemsworth.”
“Those two men are only completely different sides of…” Elijah trailed off and waved vaguely. “They look very different.”
“And?” Daisy asked. “Chris is hot, and I’ll have you know that Will Smith is the most charming person on the planet. No matter what.”
“No matter what,” Elijah deadpanned. “Even in that crappy…uh, Bright movie? Was it called Bright?”
Sara looped part of her hair on the back of her head and with her lips pressed tightly together, shoved three umbrellas through it. Slowly, she lowered her hand. The hair immediately fell out of place and back onto her shoulder.
“So close!” she exclaimed.
“Hey,” Amber said, nudging Sara with her elbow, “Which celebrity would you bite?”
Sara wrinkled her nose and tilted her head to the side. “Well, I guess it might be—I don’t know—the guy who plays Superman. I like his muscles,” Sara said, “But I’ve always thought Clark Kent was really hot. In general.”
“Really?” Benjamin asked.
Did that mean there was some hope? One of Sara’s friends—was it Amber or Daisy? —had mentioned that Sara went for hot, muscular guys. Clark Kent was…nerdier. A farm boy from Kansas. Did that mean Sara might have some attraction, no matter how small, to bookish, intelligent types? Maybe it was the alcohol making Benjamin optimistic, but Sara was so beautiful. And after he’d caught his ex cheating on him…
Was it so wrong that he just desperately wanted to forget everything and have his heart mended right away? Benjamin threw another shot back. It burned his throat again. “I’d have to bite Emily Blunt,” he said.
She was the only actress he could remember off the top of his head. He couldn’t even remember what movie he’d seen her in, but because he cared enough to remember her name, she must’ve been very attractive.
Elijah wolf-whistled. “Man, I would bite her, too! Talk crap about the movie all you like, but she was hot in Winter’s War.”
Sara tried once more to pin her hair up with umbrellas but failed once again. Benjamin frowned and tentatively reached towards her hair. When Sara didn’t move, he twisted her hair up once again. Carefully, he stuck in the first umbrella. Then, another. And another. Benjamin bit the inside of his cheek and slowly moved back, waiting with bated breath. Sara’s hair held.
He grinned. Sara’s hair fell, tresses and umbrellas dropping onto her shoulder. For a second, Benjamin and Sara looked wordlessly at one another. Then, they both burst into laughter.
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