Lock In | Book Three The Fog Series | Chapter Two
Clink! Benjamin pulled his straw from his empty glass and plopped it into the Bond Girl, a bright pink drink filled with cherries and oranges, that Darnell had just set on the bar. He took a sip, enjoying the symphony of alcohol and fruit. It was good. Really good.
“Hey, what’s that?” Daisy asked.
With his eyes, Benjamin followed the tilt of her head to the machine sitting at the edge of an empty stage. It was black, bulky, and square, and although Benjamin wasn’t close enough to tell properly what it was, it looked to be a speaker of some sort.
“It’s a karaoke machine,” Darnell said. “That’s usually on Sunday nights to drum up some business.”
“I’m great at karaoke,” Elijah said, waggling his eyebrows, “As many women have told me. I have the voice of a god.”
Sure, he did. Benjamin rolled his eyes.
“Well, why don’t we just turn it on?” Daisy asked, sliding off her bar stool. “I love music.”
“Oh, no,” Sara muttered, once Daisy was across the room.
“Is she bad?” Benjamin whispered.
Sara sighed and rubbed her temples. “You’ll see, won’t you?” Sara asked cryptically.
“She isn’t terrible,” Amber replied, but she didn’t sound very convinced.
“She can’t be worse than some of the people I’ve heard,” Alex said. “I mean, no matter how bad she sings, there’s always someone worse, right?”
“You haven’t heard her sing yet,” Sara replied.
Daisy grasped the microphone and skipped onto the stage. “Is everyone ready to rock?” she asked.
Her question drew varying levels of attention. Benjamin took a deep breath and downed some more of his drink. If Daisy really was as bad of a singer as Sara was implying, he would probably need it.
Music burst from the speakers. Benjamin couldn’t quite place where the song was from, but the opening notes did seem familiar. Vaguely.
Daisy screamed into the microphone, and then, she began singing in a voice that was terrible beyond mortal comprehension. No metaphor or simile could possibly describe it. Nails to a chalkboard was not shrill enough to describe it. Car horns and alarms were not loud enough to describe it. And the screaming of children wasn’t nearly obnoxious or ear-bleedingly loud enough to possibly compete with Daisy’s voice.
“When she was just a girl, she expected the world!” Daisy shrieked.
She sung the song as if she was a seagull. And she didn’t even manage anything close to the original sound of the song, which Benjamin now realized was a mutilated cover of Coldplay’s “Paradise”. No, Daisy seemed under the impression that Coldplay sung death metal. Possibly with the intention of literally killing people with their voices.
Sara sucked her daquiri through a straw, as if hoping she could suck up enough alcohol to end her suffering.
Amber leaned in close. “Okay, so she’s just a little off-key.”
Only if by ‘a little off-key,’ Amber meant ‘unleashing such horrible noises that listening to a four-year-old throw a tantrum for six hours would be more pleasant.’
“We have to make her stop,” Sara whispered, “Or we’re all going to die.”
“Oh, would that we could,” Alex moaned.
“I’m beginning to think the Teds wouldn’t be so bad,” Elijah added.
Benjamin gazed woefully at a group of people, fast asleep at a nearby table. He longed suddenly to join them and find the blissful silence that could drown out Amber’s terrible voice. Benjamin glanced at Darnell, hoping that the bar owner might be bothered enough by Daisy’s singing to insist she stop and share the stage, but he seemed completely unaffected and nonchalantly continued to wipe down the bar and service the bar’s other patrons.
“How long do you think it takes for a Ted to devour you?” Alex asked. “Or maybe I could manage to take down a few. I could go down in a blaze of glory and be remembered fondly by history.”
The song ended, and everyone sighed in relief. That was, until Daisy gleefully selected another song and carried on. Benjamin glanced around, waiting to see if someone else was going to come up to the stage and ward off the impending disaster, but no one seemed inclined to. Most of the bar’s patrons were too out of it to even care anymore. Benjamin gulped. “We have to stop her,” he said.
“We can’t just tell her she sucks,” Amber said. “That’ll hurt her feelings!”
“I have a brilliant idea!” Elijah exclaimed, slamming his hands on the bar.
Elijah stood and waved his arms. “Daisy! Daisy, you have to stop!”
Daisy paused and looked at him, bewilderment spread across her face. “Why?” she asked. “Don’t you like my singing?”
There was a note of warning in her voice, and Benjamin suddenly remembered just how many zombies Daisy had managed to take out with a baseball bat. Elijah’s odds were not looking good at the moment.
“You’re—uh—you have the voice of the angel! That isn’t it at all! I mean that your singing isn’t bad. It isn’t. It’s great!” Elijah exclaimed.
“Super great,” Alex added.
“Right! It’s just that…” Elijah trailed off.
Evidently, he hadn’t thought his plan all the way through.
“It’s attracting the Teds!” Benjamin blurted out.
Daisy looked taken aback at first, but then, she grinned and flipped her long ponytail over her shoulder. “I suppose I’m just that good,” she said.
“You are,” Sara lied, “But that’s not good! Because you’re attracting them here. I don’t think singing is a very good idea.”
Daisy audibly gasped. “Oh my God! I didn’t even think of that!”
For good reason, too. It was all lies, but Benjamin, who usually prided honesty, was absolutely willing to stretch the truth if it got Daisy to stop mutilating decades’ old pop music. Mercifully, the karaoke machine was turned off, and Daisy returned to her seat at the bar.
“It’s really unfortunate,” Amber said, giving Daisy’s shoulder a comforting pat.
“Definitely. Girl, your voice is just too good,” Sara added.
“Better than me,” Alex said.
“That’s right,” Elijah said. “Way better than him.”
Alex looked vaguely affronted and took a swig of beer.
“So how did the three of you meet one another?” Benjamin asked, eager to change the topic from Daisy’s singing.
Or caterwauling. That sounded like the more apt descriptor.
“Well, Sara and I have been friends since college,” Amber said. “I’ve been working towards being a head chef. It hasn’t quite worked out as quickly as I’ve wanted it to, but I’m going to keep trying. Obviously.”
“And I met Amber when we worked together at this themed bar,” Daisy said, her face brightening with enthusiasm.
“Ugh. Don’t remind me,” Amber said, rubbing the side of her cheek.
“What was the theme?” Elijah asked. “I’ve been to a few themed bars in my day.”
“DC Comics,” Daisy said. “I can’t believe you didn’t like it, Amber! It was the greatest!”
“It was fine,” Amber said, “Mostly a bunch of weirdos, though. The clientele was awful.”
“Well…that’s not wrong, but it was a lot of fun,” Daisy said, smiling slyly. “The adventure of a lifetime! They hired me because they said I looked like Harley Quinn. I don’t see it, though. I have absolutely nothing in common with her. Like, at all.”
Benjamin remembered with sudden clarity the way that Daisy had taken out zombies with a baseball bat. Right. She didn’t look like Harley Quinn at all. Not the least little bit.
“I see it,” Alex said, his eyes snapping to Daisy. “I mean, you’re a dead ringer for her.”
Daisy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Like, maybe the colored hair, but that’s literally it.”
“Literally it?” Elijah asked, his jaw dropping in disbelief.
“Yeah. They were trying to cash in on the Suicide Squad release,” Daisy said, “So they probably just went with the first woman who walked into their bar. That’s all.”
“You do look like Harley Quinn, though,” Sara said. “You even kind of act like her.”
“No way!” Daisy replied.
“Sure. I mean, you have that same sort of rock vibe,” Amber pointed out.
“And you’re really good at beating things to a pulp with a bat,” Benjamin said.
Daisy laughed nervously. “Well, that’s sort of how I got fired,” she said, rubbing the back of her neck.
“You beat someone with a baseball bat?” Elijah asked.
Alex awkwardly shifted a little further away in his seat.
“Well, it was just a plastic bat,” Daisy replied, “And I didn’t…like, hurt him badly. Technically, I was fired for breaking the bar’s policy, but it’s not like I did anything illegal. He was able to limp out.”
“Limp?” Alex asked.
“Yeah. Limp,” Daisy said, “After he paid his tab. I don’t do anything by halves. Just saying.”
“He tried to skip out on paying his tab, so Daisy beat the crap out of him with a plastic baseball bat,” Amber replied. “She kind of cackled like Harley Quinn when she did it, too.”
“I was trying to stay in character,” Daisy argued, a bit defensively. “That’s all. And I was helping the bar keep shrink down. I should have been lauded as a hero!”
“Yeah…” Amber said, sounding doubtful.
Daisy sighed. “But apparently, it’s improper to beat someone with a plastic baseball bat, or so it’s been explained to me.”
“A little improper,” Sara replied. “It sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
Daisy shrugged. “If the man didn’t have the money to pay his tab, he sure didn’t have the money to sue anyone.”
“But he did pay,” Amber said. “He put it on his card after you beat him up.”
“And if he’d been willing to do that before, I wouldn’t have beaten him up,” Daisy pointed out. “Besides, the dude was a total sleaze anyway. He got what was coming to him. That’s what I say.”
“So you went to college?” Benjamin asked Sara. “What is your degree in?”
The idea that Sara had both brains and beauty was a very intriguing one.
“Graphic design,” Sara replied, toying with the straw in her drink, “But it’s not that exciting. I flunked out.”
“Oh.” Benjamin furrowed his brow. “Well, it happens. I get that, and college isn’t for everyone anyway. It can be very emotionally draining sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Sara said, “And I’m trying to do it on the side. Freelance. You know. But for now, I’m working at Trader Joe’s.”
“Whoa!” Elijah exclaimed. “I love that place!”
“It’s okay. It loses the charm quickly once you have to actually work there day after day,” Sara replied, shrugging.
“But the discount. You get a discount, right?” Elijah asked. “Any chance it’s one for friends and family, huh?”
“No chance at all,” Sara replied.
“Oh.” Elijah frowned and took a sip of his beer. “Way to shoot down a guy’s dreams.”
“I’m just saying it like it is,” Sara said. “I need the job too much to risk losing it over something silly like trying to get around the rules.”
“So what do you do?” Amber asked, nodding to Elijah.
“Oh! I’m the king of the movie set garbage!” Elijah exclaimed, raising his beer as if it was the Holy Grail.
“Movie set garbage?” Daisy asked.
“Yeah. I’m with the garbage crew. We pick up garbage from movie sets after they’ve been used for filming. I want to be an actor, but I haven’t had much luck yet. I figure this will be my way in. A foot in the door. You know.”
“You must see a lot of interesting things doing that,” Amber replied.
“I do,” Elijah said, “And I’ve gotten to talk to some cool people. Celebrities and what-not. One time, I actually picked up Adam Sandler’s coffee.”
Darnell arrived and slid another drink before Benjamin, who gratefully took it. How many drinks had he had, though? He hadn’t exactly kept track. Not that it mattered. He had plenty of money to buy drinks with, and with everything that was going on, he definitely deserved a little more alcohol than he might usually consume.
“What did Ted do?” Benjamin asked absentmindedly.
“Oh, he was a lawyer,” Elijah said.
“I don’t feel so bad about killing him now,” Sara said. “I can’t stand lawyers. I think they’re all slimy.”
“Except for Elle Woods,” Daisy replied.
“Except for Elle,” Sara agreed.
“Elle?” Benjamin asked.
“Legally Blonde,” Sara replied. “One thing I will say about my boyfriend is that he’s very secure in his masculinity. He’s always fine with watching it with me even though he doesn’t really like chick films. But that’s my favorite movie.”
Right. Sara had a boyfriend. Benjamin kept forgetting that.
“How is your boyfriend?” Benjamin asked.
Sara sighed and stirred her drink. “I don’t know,” she said. “I tried calling him, but he didn’t answer. That’s not unusual for him, though. He’s the worst at keeping his phone charged. He’s probably fine.”
And Benjamin didn’t really know what to say to that. “I’m sure he’s fine,” was what he settled on.
An awkward silence settled among them. “I’m an Uber driver,” Alex said, “Or I was. Benjamin was my first pick-up. Thanks for not being boring, man.”
Benjamin shook his head. “I would have preferred for my pick-up to be a little more boring than it was,” he said. “Spending the evening being chased by the infected portions of New York City’s populace wasn’t exactly the way I wanted my day to go. Surprising, I know.”
“So what do you do, Benjamin?” Sara asked.
“Oh. I work with plant cells. It’s very exciting work,” Benjamin said, straightening in his chair. “Every week, I’m given samples of plants, and we analyze their different structures. Last week, I looked at fifteen-hundred different samples from crossandra plants! It’s very exciting work—”
“You said that. It sounds dreadfully boring,” Elijah replied. “No offense.”
“It’s not boring if you’ve been doing it your whole life,” Benjamin said. “I’ve always wanted to be a scientist, and I do very important work to make the world a better place.”
“By looking at plant cells.”
“What exactly do you think scientists do?” Benjamin asked.
“I don’t know. I just thought it’d be a little more exciting. Weather controlling machines and stuff. You know. Not just looking under a microscope all day,” Elijah replied. “That’s all.”
“It isn’t just looking under a microscope all day. There are other ways of observing the cellular structure of plants than using microscopes. There’s—”
“Look, man,” Elijah said, “It’s just not a job that sounds all that interesting. That’s all. I’m sure it’s useful to science or whatever.”
“I mean, he’s kind of right, doc,” Daisy said. “I’m sure it’s exciting because it’s your work, but it’s not really all that riveting if you looking at it from the outside.”
“But that’s only because you don’t understand how it directly impacts you,” Benjamin argued.
“Why don’t we watch the news?” Sara asked, flipping through the channels.
The news anchors—a sharply dressed man with silver hair and a woman with loose, red curls—sat beside one another, their hands folded over their desk. Sara flipped the volume up, and Benjamin silently resigned himself to sitting quietly and listening to the news. There was no point in trying to defend his precious job and the integral role that it played in everyone’s lives; he’d tried this time and time again.
“For those of you just joining us, Channel 5 is keeping a close eye on the developing “zombie virus” and its impact,” the woman said. “First spotted in New York, the so-called zombie virus allegedly came in a cloud of fog. These clouds have since appeared all over the United States.”
A map of the United States flashed on screen, portions of it covered in large, white dots. “Here, we see the original cloud of fog,” the woman said, indicating towards New York City. “Fog has since appeared in Hollywood, Orlando, and Memphis.”
“However,” the male newscaster said, “We’ve now received reports of the fog appearing in other countries. London has now been affected. Police are requesting that London residents remain inside and wait for further instructor.”
Footage rolled on the screen, featuring a horde of Teds ambling and groaning before Buckingham palace.
“Prime Minister Theresa May has been moved to a private bunker. Presently, officials have closed all roads leading in and out of London. All flights to London have been redirected. At this point, it is unknown how far the virus might spread, but it is moving north. As such, British authorities have announced an evacuation for those living outside of London.”
“Other reports indicate that the virus might have spread already to Dubai, Tokyo, and Paris.”
The news returned to the two newscasters, their faces pinched with worry. “The White House has released an official statement asking that those in affected areas stay indoors,” the man said. “Do not try to be a hero. Police services are already overwhelmed with the volume of calls that they are receiving, and the NYPD has said that they cannot guarantee that they will be able to rescue anyone.”
“At this moment, it is impossible to tell the long-ranging impact of the zombie virus, but we do know if the world will ever be the same after this,” the female newscaster said.
“What do you think will happen next?” Sara asked.
“It’ll be like the Walking Dead,” Alex said sagely.
“It feels like this all began a century ago,” Amber said. “How long do you think we’ll have to stay here?”
“I’m just hoping we don’t run out of food,” Elijah replied, “And booze. If we do, we’ll have to resort to cannibalism.”
“No one is going to resort to cannibalism,” Benjamin said.
“Not yet,” Elijah replied, “But dude, I’ve read stories.”
Alex nodded sagely.
“Stories from where?” Benjamin asked, crossing his arms.
“You know,” Elijah said, “Just stories.”
“Sounds like a very credible source,” Benjamin said.
“It could happen, though. You don’t know,” Elijah pointed out.
Benjamin shook his head. “Mankind has seen diseases and plagues before, and they’ve emerged victorious. I’m sure that the CDC is already well on their way to making a cure.”
“But that can take years,” Amber said. “All of our vaccines didn’t happen just overnight, and eventually, we’re going to run out of food if we stay here.”
“Let’s not think about that,” Sara said. “That’s not going to help anything, and as far as we know, we’re worrying over nothing. The army might be about to burst down the door and save us any minute.”
“But what does happen next?” Alex asked.
Crash! Glass shattered. Benjamin twisted around towards the sound. He remained frozen, unable to think and barely able to breathe. A Ted’s head had burst through one of the pub’s windows. It was a grisly sight.
The Ted’s hands reached for the edges of the jagged glass and gripped hard enough that blood seeped from with palms. With a roar, the zombie scrabbled, trying to force his way through.
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