Benjamin banged his head as he climbed into the Uber, a sky-blue Nissan Versa, and closed the door behind him. Can my day get any worse?
“Hi Benjamin!” the driver, a scrawny man with brown hair, exclaimed. “I’m Alex! Welcome to my glorious—”
Clearly, it has. “How do you know my name? And can you just drive around a while?” Benjamin asked. “I don’t care where. Just go.”
An awkward silence fell between them, filled suddenly by Alex’s fingers tapping on the steering wheel. “Your name is on your profile. So—uh—what’s with the weird request?” Alex asked. “Usually, they just want to go to one place or the other. I think. I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“You have the dubious honor of being my very first Uber passenger!” Alex exclaimed. “Isn’t that great?”
“It’s fine. I guess,” Benjamin replied.
In Benjamin’s mind, there really wasn’t anything particularly exciting about being someone’s first Uber passenger, but—well—whatever floated Alex’s boat.
“It’s better than fine!” Alex argued, sounding vaguely offended that Benjamin wasn’t over the moon at the revelation. “It’s sublime!”
Benjamin sighed. “Look; I’m just really not in the mood to be excited by anything today,” he said. “I found my girlfriend seeing another man, so the engagement is off. There’s this jerk at work that just got promoted over me, even though I’ve worked there longer and do a better job. And when I was trying to cook chicken portabella, I totally destroyed it. I’m lucky I didn’t burn my apartment down. It’s been a rough day, okay?”
Alex whistled between his teeth. “It sounds like you need to talk about it over tequila shots,” he replied.
“I’d rather not die before I’m thirty,” Benjamin replied.
“Now, sometimes, it is beneficial to your health to have something that’s bad for your arteries but good for your soul,” Alex countered, “And it’s good to talk out your problems. I picked that up in Introduction to Psychology. Start talking, and I will be your Virgil leading you—Dante—down into the depths of Hell!”
“What on Earth does Dante’s Inferno have to do with psychology?” Benjamin asked.
“Well, nothing,” Alex replied, “But if Sigmund Freud could frame all his psychology stuff in terms of Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, I can frame mine in terms of Dante.”
“I don’t know if Sigmund Freud is the man you should be using as your example for modeling psychologist behavior,” Benjamin said.
“Well, how would you know? You aren’t a psychologist, are you.”
“Neither are you, though!”
Alex slammed on the brakes so hard that Benjamin’s face was nearly smashed into the passenger seat. “Sorry, bro,” Alex said. “The person in front of me should’ve run the red light.”
“Right,” Benjamin replied, sighing.
Glumly, Benjamin returned his attention to the window. Outside, New York City was bustling as per usual, but a thick, white fog had rolled in and now lingered over the city streets like a tattered piece of gossamer. Benjamin frowned. “Is there a cold front moving in?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Alex replied. “What do I look like—a meteorologist?”
Benjamin rolled his eyes.
Crackling filled the car as Alex turned on the radio and toyed with the knob, trying to pick up a station. With a sharp burst of sound, Britney Spears’s “Toxic” wafted into the car. Benjamin massaged his temples. “Seriously?” he asked.
Alex hit the gas pedal with too much force, propelling them abruptly back into the traffic. “Don’t diss Britney,” Alex replied. “She is a gift to mankind, and I’ll have you know that I love her more than life itself.”
Alex’s voice sounded completely serious, too, as if he really would take a bullet for Britney Spears. And sure, Benjamin could have complained, but instead, he remained silent and slumped against the seat. At least, someone was happy. At least, someone’s life wasn’t falling apart into a million pieces around them.
“Toxic” finally ended and was replaced with a cacophony of commercials. Outside the car, everything was white with fog. The traffic lights were blurred and barely visible. They looked like distant stars.
Straightening, Benjamin glanced at Alex, who seemed to have slowed his driving.
“Do you want to pull over?” Benjamin asked, furrowing his brow. “This is bad.”
“I know, right? It’s like something from an M. Night Shyamalan movie,” Alex replied, laughing anxiously.
“Where did it even come from, though?” Benjamin asked. “It was nice when I left my apartment.”
“Maybe it followed you,” Alex joked. “Any moment now, you’re going to gain your god-like powers as Benjamin, Lord of the Fog!”
“Wouldn’t that just tie up my week?” Benjamin asked. “I get godlike powers, and they aren’t even anything useful.”
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles!”
The sharp, ear-shattering alert of the Emergency Broadcast System rang through the car. Alex scrambled to turn down the volume a few notches. “This is the Emergency Broadcast System. All citizens are encouraged to stay indoors. A fog is affecting people and—argh! Oh, God! Ah!”
The broadcast ended abruptly with a crackle.
“Huh,” Alex said. “That was weird.”
Benjamin straightened. “Affecting people how? I can’t go home … it’s not my apartment. It’s hers and we’re over.”
“Their driving, probably,” Alex replied. “I mean, I guess we can go camp out in my apartment if you want. It’s about five minutes away, and I’ve got—like—a very impressive collection of Mountain Dew flavors. Code Red, White Out, Pitch Black—”
The car came to a stop.
“Did you just hit someone?” Benjamin asked.
“Uh…maybe,” Alex replied, his hands curled so tightly around the steering wheel that his knuckles were white.
Benjamin unbuckled his seatbelt. “I can’t believe this,” he said. “I can’t even—what even is this day?”
Movement. A dark figure emerged from over the hood of the car.
“Oh, they’re up,” Alex said. “See; they’re okay, at least.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re okay! You hit them with a car!” Benjamin exclaimed.
Benjamin peered around the seat, trying to see the person who’d been hit.
When he did, his blood ran cold.
The person was a man…possibly.
He was dressed like someone who should have been in a Shakespeare play, and while striking someone who looked like a long-dead king of England with a car might have been—sort of—morbidly hilarious, the man’s skin was ashy and green.
When he opened his mouth, yellowed saliva fell from his teeth. His clawed hands scraped against the car, the screeches rivalled only by the sound of the man’s unearthly moans.
“Oh, God,” Alex said. “Yes! It’s the apocalypse! They all said I was crazy! They didn’t believe the zombies were coming, but I told them! I told them all!”
Dark figures hobbled into view, each as ghastly as the man. There were queens and knights, maidens and rogues. Each bore the same dilapidated skin and hobbling gestures as the first man… zombie.
“Floor it!” Benjamin shrieked, his voice incredibly high-pitched.
“What? Just plow through them?” Alex snapped. “Oh, God! They’re mutilating my baby! I have ten thousand dollars left on this car!”
“Reverse!” Benjamin screamed. “Reverse, you fool!”
The zombies began clawing at the sides of the car, their nails leaving thin scratches on the windows. Alex put the car into reverse and floored the gas. They sped backwards and right into a mailbox, but Alex kept going. The zombies followed, hobbling and screaming, moaning and scraping.
“Faster! Faster!” Benjamin shouted.
Alex needed no urging. With reckless abandon, he ran his car backwards and took out everything in his path. There was chaos as drivers panicked, trying to flee the zombies and Alex’s sidewalk-created chaos.
Still, the undead Renaissance-dressed man continued his dogged pursuit, flanked by what appeared to be a man with a donkey’s head.
Benjamin hadn’t read Shakespeare in a very long time, but he was still almost a hundred percent sure that A Midsummer Night’s Dream wasn’t supposed to involve zombies.
Alex took out a display of Halloween wreaths, and once he’d gained a little bit of distance over the zombies, he put the car into drive and whirled around, going as fast as he could away from the fog.
“It’s time!” Alex exclaimed. “I always knew this day was coming! Finally!”
“Finally?” Benjamin snapped. “There are zombies! Actual zombies!”
“I know! Isn’t it exciting?”
Benjamin groaned and put his head between his hands. “I hate my life,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”
“Why do you hate it? You’re going to be a zombie slayer! I am so psyched about this!” Alex exclaimed. “I can’t wait to grab my machete and cut some of them down to size!”
Benjamin cast his eyes upward as if hoping that God might strike him dead right then. Alas, he had no such luck.
The fog had dimmed and given way to a clear night. Alex parked the car before a tall, bricked apartment building. “Home, sweet home!” Alex declared. “Welcome to Castle Alexander, my humble home!”
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Time to dress the part!