Fire and Water
Naomi was getting ready for work. Her roommate was still in bed, so Naomi tried to be as quiet as possible, not worth the hassle if she woke the bitch. The restaurant where she worked didn’t have AC. It wasn’t much of a restaurant, just a counter, a kitchen, and a couple of stools by the window. Most of the business they did was catering or takeout, but the food was made from scratch and tasty. The thing was, it was going to be hot out and with the stove running all day the place was always worse than the outdoors. She pulled on a crop top and a tiny pair of jean shorts, barely enough coverage to be considered clothes, the outfit left most of her smooth dark brown skin exposed. A lot of the customers stared at her, but the tips were way better days she dressed like this. For shoes, she grabbed her favourite strappy high heeled sandals. Work was at least an hour away by bus. Part of the joy of being broke. She lived where she could afford to, not where she wanted to. She’d been at the restaurant for two years, but only full time since she graduated high school last June, a single summer working for her aunt. It paid well, and it got her something to put on her resume, real work experience she could point to. She had a plan to get the hell out of this town, leave behind the ignorance, the poverty, the racism. The largest city in the province and still it was full of people with no ambition, people who saw as far as the horizon and no further.
Darryl was in the living room. Naomi didn’t hate her roommate just because of Darryl, but he was a factor. Having her boyfriend sleep over every day, never paying rent, eating the food Naomi brought home from work. Naomi wasn’t even sure Darryl had his own place anymore. God knew he never left. Berta was an issue all on her own, sleeping all day, dealing out of their apartment, but at least Naomi didn’t have to put up with the same kind of crap from her.
“Hey girl, looking hot. When we gonna hook up?”
“Never. Get a job.”
“Fuck you bitch. You know you want my dick.”
“I wouldn’t touch your skinny white dick if it was the last dick in the fucking world. Pay some fucking rent. Get a fucking job. Get the fuck out of my apartment. Oh, and stop eating my fucking food. Bitch.”
Most of the time it seemed like he thought they were joking around with each other. Naomi wanted to stab him in his sleep.
She stepped out into the hallway, slamming the door behind her. The elevator was slow, and while she was waiting, Darryl came out, stood next to her by the elevator door. Was he actually leaving the apartment? A miracle. “What, you decide to look for a job today?”
“Got a court date.”
“For fuck’s sake. You know you gotta dress right for that shit right? Baggy jeans and a wife beater? The fuck you thinking?”
“Yeah, ho. Like you know shit. Those shorts don’t even cover your skanky ass. Looks like you’re working a street corner dressed like that.”
“Yeah, well, I have a job. What you got? Why I bother trying to help your sorry ass anyway. I don’t fucking know.”
Finally, the elevator doors opened. Was that blood on the floor again? She hated living there, hated being poor, hated Darryl and Berta for being everything that everyone thought they would be and nothing more.
They stepped into the elevator together. Naomi was pretty sure Darryl hadn’t bothered to shower. “What’s the court date for? You knock over a convenience store or some shit?”
“Custody hearing. Trying to get my kids back.”
“They’d be better off if you didn’t. You know that right?”
“Fuck you bitch. What’s a nigger cunt like you know anyway?”
“I should fucking stab your ass for that shit. Ain’t your bitch a nigger too?”
“Yeah, I like dark meat. Don’t mean shit though. Good enough to fuck, not for much else.”
“Jesus Christ, the fucks wrong with you?”
Finally, the elevator hit the ground floor. Naomi almost ran out; she wanted away from Darryl, his ignorance and blatant racism. That’s when the chaos hit her. Her apartment was on the ninth floor, and the windows were never open because even with the heat it wasn’t worth it to hear the neighbourhood outside, the sounds of poverty filtering through the air. As soon as she could see outside, it was evident that something was wrong, very, very wrong. There was fire billowing past the building, and people were running, some screaming. She went to the door to get a better look, see if she could see what was causing the problem, Darryl crowding behind her, putting his hand on her ass, pig.
There was a car on fire just past the door, and crowds of people were surging around it. She saw one of them catch fire and fall to the ground. The crowd trampled him, nobody even pausing to help him up. Then there were others, slower moving, quieter, more deliberate. Every once in a while one of them would catch up to one of the running ones, usually when they fell. The slow ones started eating the fast ones every time they caught them. Even though there were a lot of people running the shambling ones outnumbered them by a large margin. The chaos in the street looked like it was going to spill into the lobby any moment, so she started towards her apartment. The elevator had headed up but was on the way back down. Darryl followed her, quiet now, his already pale skin even whiter. The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Two people were standing in the elevator, and another person lying on the floor, throat ripped out. The two standing had blood covering them, flesh hanging from one of their mouths. They turned, reached out, grabbing Darryl. He tried to pull away, but despite their slow movement, he couldn’t break their grip. They pulled him down, as he screamed, sinking teeth into his flesh, tearing at him. His screams choked off with a wet gasp. Naomi ran for the stairs.
Naomi made it up a couple of flights when she saw movement coming her way, the jerking movement letting her know it wasn’t anyone living. She ran down and headed for the first door she was able to reach, slamming it behind her. Her mind ticked off options, narrowing the list as circumstances became apparent. Limited options, but there were still a few viable ones, ways to get out of there.
She kept going until she hit the basement. Thanks to an ex-boyfriend who was obsessed with urban exploration she had been through most of the steam tunnels in the area, kilometres of narrow passages, some so small she needed to crawl to make it through, some large enough to walk upright. Don had been a huge nerd, not the kind of guy she usually dated, but the one she actually liked the most. He hadn’t realised it, but she had loved exploring the tunnels. It was something nobody knew; she loved maps, navigation. Had since she was a small child, just another secret she hid from the world, another thing that got lost on her friends and family, they all saw the surface. She’d reached the point where she could navigate the tunnels blindfolded, escaping from her life down there, pushing herself to go further, learn more, instead of sitting in her apartment growing ever more resentful of her circumstances and her room mate.
As she was about to duck into tunnels, she spotted the janitor’s work station. There was a pair of Chuck Taylors that looked like they were only a bit too large for her. She ditched the pretty sandals and threw on the sneakers. Sure, she would probably get blisters, but that was going to happen either way, and her odds of being able to walk were better if she wasn’t wearing high heels. Sometimes pretty shoes had to take a back seat to practicality.
Entering the steam tunnels, she headed north. Any other direction just brought her deeper into the city. She didn’t know how widespread this was, but it seemed like a good idea to get as far away from population centres as possible.
There was an exit that led into a small park, time to head back into the world. She had her backpack with her, a tiny one that was essentially a purse. She had her phone in it, but she didn’t even know who to call. It was clearly zombies, just like in the movies, and she had no family she cared about. Her aunt wasn’t someone she liked. Maybe she should call Berta, her roommate, but she hated the lazy bitch enough to be in favour of the zombies eating her. Instead, she started walking, checking for any movement.
She made it to the edge of the park before the zombies became an issue again. There were dozens of them on the street, wandering back and forth. It was a terrifying sight, most of them looked mostly ordinary, like people walking down the street, except they didn’t walk right, shuffling and limping, limbs too stiff or too loose, heads at strange angles. A few were worse, burned, trampled, some bitten, all broken, horrible to behold. She wanted to scream, to run away, to curl up in a ball and die. Instead, she took a deep breath and said, “Okay Naomi. You can do this, just tramp it down. Deal with your emotions later, deal with this now,” silently in her head.
The biggest question in her mind was where to go. The city wasn’t safe, not even close, but she didn’t have the resources or skills to live in the middle of the woods by herself. The airport was north, no people living there. Things had gone off the rails sometime late last night or early morning, so probably not that many people present. It was also very self-contained, with restaurants, a hotel, all sorts of things she could use. It wasn’t far, but first, she had to get across the street.