Authors: Bryan Smith
Tags: #adult, #fantasy, #horror, #occult, #zombies
By Bryan Smith
First Digital Edition
Copyright 2014 by Bryan Smith
All Rights Reserved
Cover design copyright 2014 by Kristopher Rufty
Formatting by Denise Brown
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the permission of the author. All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Consciousness returned with glacial slowness, whole ages of man seeming to pass between that first moment of dim awareness and complete cognizance. At first her sense of things was rudimentary, starting with the fundamental fact that she was still alive. Otherwise she wouldn’t be in this much pain. Her head felt like a giant weight was crushing it. Her jaw was sore and her knees were throbbing. These things indicated she’d either lost a fight or taken a tumble down a flight of stairs. She felt some level of discomfort in all her extremities, but this had an upside—it told her she was relatively whole. She was beaten up and bruised, but nothing was broken.
Her face was pressed against something cold and hard. She hoped like hell it wasn’t the concrete floor of a holding cell. When she forced her eyes open moments later, the ache in her head increased by a factor of about a thousand, but this was alleviated by what she saw. She had slept on a hardwood floor in someone’s house or apartment. Not being in jail was good news. But there was also some not-so-good news. The floor was filthy and she could see drifts of dust in her peripheral vision. Also nearby was a table with wrought-iron legs, the underside of which was particularly revolting. In addition to the dust drifts, she saw bottle caps, bits of various kinds of food, several unopened pieces of mail, and a used tampon. An orange tabby cat was gnawing on the tampon as it eyed her in the usual detached feline way.
That she had apparently passed out on the floor of some wretched hovel wasn’t the full extent of the bad news. Waking up disoriented and confused in some strange place was nothing new. It had happened more than once. This was bad enough for all kinds of reasons, but what made it extra worse this time was something that remained just beyond the reach of her memory.
She was supposed to…
What? What am I supposed to do?
Jessica Sloan groaned in misery as she struggled to recall what it was.
She had been in a deep tailspin ever since her discharge from the military just over a week ago. Her time in the service had ended on a rotten note and she was having trouble readjusting to civilian life. A lot of that was driven by a deep sense of disappointment over how utterly she’d fouled things up. Only the most judgmental piece of shit could blame her for blowing off some steam.
Except that she had promised her army captain father she would try to stay sober for a day or two when she got home. That was what she’d forgotten. Jessica groaned again. Jesus. He wanted to help her sort some things out and figure out her next move. Jessica wasn’t sure there was much to be done, at least in the short term, but humoring her father for a short while was the least she could do. The man had pulled some strings for her on multiple occasions, saving her ass more than once. She had let him down. He loved her too much to ever come out and say it, but the truth was he was disappointed in her.
And now it looked like she was intent on disappointing him some more.
Jessica braced her palms against the dirty floor and pushed herself up with a loud grunt of exertion. Sweat appeared on her brow and her arms shook from the physical strain. This shamed her. All that hardcore army training meant little in the face of a hangover this epic. Her stomach fluttered and made sounds that filled her with foreboding. The touch of nausea at the back of her throat did nothing to lessen the feeling. Whatever shitty bar food she’d shoved down her gullet in the wee hours would not be staying down, most likely.
After getting to her knees, she reached out and gripped the edge of the table. The table’s surface was as debris-strewn as the floor beneath it. Empty and partially empty beer bottles filled much of the space not occupied by unopened mail. A paper plate bearing a microwave burrito was perched precariously at the edge of the table. Someone had taken a whopping total of one bite from a corner of the burrito before abandoning it The sight of it made her stomach rumble in that portentous way again.
Before getting to her feet, she wondered what kind of sterling example of manhood she’d hooked up with this time. She could deduce a few things already. His mama hadn’t raised him right, for one damn thing. There was probably some kind of super sad broken home story in the guy’s background. Mama was a meth addict whore and daddy was a convict, that sort of thing.
Not that it mattered.
She wouldn’t be getting to know this fellow any better. As soon as she could purge the rancid contents of her stomach and make herself semi-presentable, she was getting the hell out of this shithole. And the asshole who’d seen fit to let her pass out on the floor rather than moving her to a bed or sofa would have to get on with the rest of his downward spiral of an existence without the pleasure of her company.
She still felt frail enough to fear the consequences of physical exertion, but the prospect of a restful sleep somewhere else provided sufficient motivation to get moving again. Gripping the edge of the table as hard as she could, she pulled herself upright. The force required to do this caused the table to totter. The paper plate flipped over the edge, dumping the cold burrito on the dirty floor. The orange tabby stopped chewing on the bloody tampon long enough to inspect the dubious morsel. One of the empty beer bottles tipped over and began rolling toward the table’s edge. Jessica reached out and grabbed it before it could fall and shatter on the floor.
Once the table stopped teetering, she carefully set the bottle down and staggered away from the table. The little dining room was directly adjacent to a living room that looked just as dismal. A ratty blue sofa sat against the far wall. In front of it was a scratched-up and pitted coffee table that looked like a thrift store reject. Next to the sofa was a large radiator. A massive A/C unit filled one of the windows above the sofa.
An unconscious woman was sprawled face-down on the sofa. She was a tall brunette with a lean but shapely build. Her hair was in disarray and she was wearing only blue panties and a cropped T-shirt. One of her long, toned legs was hanging off the sofa, painted toes deep in what looked like a pile of cat vomit.
Who the fuck?
Moreover, what the bloody fuck?
Stomach lurching, Jessica wheeled away from the living room and staggered through an archway into a short hallway. There were doors at either end of the hallway and another one right in front of her. The door in front of her and the door to her left were both shut. A small bathroom was visible through the open door to her right. The tide of bile surging into her throat suggested she should hurry on into the bathroom at the fastest possible speed, but something about the closed door in front of her compelled her attention. It was a plain white door. There was nothing at all distinctive about it. Yet just the sight of it set her pulse to racing and exacerbated the sense of nausea. At last she could stand it no longer and bolted into the bathroom. The mystery of the door would have to wait until her stomach was done trying to eject itself from her body.
She dropped to her knees and got the toilet lid up just in time. Her hair fell across her face, getting in the way of the stream of puke. Before she could begin to brush it out of the way, someone behind her gently pulled her long blonde locks back and made soft sounds of reassurance as she continued to spray vomit all over the bowl. She felt a reflexive jolt of fear at the unexpected intrusion, but the waves of sickness racking her body remained too intense to hold onto the feeling.
Her stomach kept heaving for a while after it was empty, but the spasms soon lessened in intensity and she was at last able to catch her breath and wipe some of the sweat from her brow. The person holding her hair was still making those low sounds of reassurance. It was almost like the way you’d coo at a baby. Jessica felt simultaneously shamed and grateful.
She put the toilet lid down and reached for the handle to flush it. As the water whooshed and carried the sick away, she turned around and saw the brunette from the sofa smiling. The woman was stunning. She had the bruised lips, high cheekbones, and big eyes of a runway model. Others had made similar comments about Jessica’s looks, but this woman’s features were more delicate than her own.
“Feeling better?” she asked.
Jessica wiped spittle from her mouth with the back of a hand. “A little.”
The woman opened the medicine cabinet above the sink. She started sorting through the array of boxes and vials on the little shelves. “I bet you could use something for that ache in your head. I know I could. Let’s see if our host has anything suitable.”
The woman glanced at Jessica. “How much do you remember?”
“Not much. I remember…bars. Drinking with you. That’s about it.”
The woman shrugged. “Not surprised. We partied pretty hard last night. I tried to get you off the floor, but I couldn’t budge you. Sorry about that.”
Jessica sighed. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve slept in worse places.”
Like in the goddamn deserts of the Middle East, but we’re not gonna get into that…
The woman smiled. “Right. Like in the desert. You told me.”
“What else did I tell you?”
The woman laughed. It was a lovely, lilting sound. “Something about killing a lot of people and being doomed to burn in hell. But you were hammered. I assumed you were confused, like you were trying to tell me about a movie instead of something real.”
Jessica’s cheeks reddened as she groaned. “Uh…yeah, that must have been it.”
The woman closed the medicine cabinet and handed Jessica some pills. “I’ll check the kitchen for a water glass. Be right back.”
She walked out of the bathroom before Jessica could say anything else. In another moment, she heard the water tap running in the kitchen. The woman returned shortly thereafter and handed her a glass filled to the brim. Jessica accepted it gratefully and washed the pills down. Until that moment she hadn’t been quite conscious of how dry her mouth was. She greedily swallowed the rest of the water in the glass in a few big gulps. The woman took the glass from her and filled it again from the tap at the sink. She handed it back to Jessica, who again made quick work of its contents.
She heaved a big sigh. “Jesus.”
The woman smiled. “Better?”
“Yes. Thank you again. Um…look, I’m real sorry about this, but I can’t remember your name.”