This is a preview chapter of 900 Miles. The full novel is available here on Amazon.com
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900 Miles – Chapter 1
Life used to be so hard. Thinking things were tough when we didn’t get the job we wanted, or pissed at the politicians for making rules that didn’t matter. We were upset when the Barista fucked up our Venti Coffee or our favorite TV show was cancelled. Going through the motions. Mundane tasks for a mundane world. What the hell did we know? We were just begging for it to end.
I was sitting in another meeting, surrounded by ten of the most overpaid, worthless people on the planet. Glancing down, after staring at a very slow second hand tick around the clock above the door, I watched in disgust as my boss scarfed down another glazed pastry. That’s when the first text hit.
None of them would make it. That much was clear. With their overpriced Hummers and their thousand dollar suits, they never had a chance. I wasn’t always so cynical. I had the job, the money. I didn’t drive the Hummer, but I had a damn nice suit and was busy working my way right up the corporate ladder.
“You have great times ahead of you,” they would tell me. A rising star… None of it would matter.
When the text hit, I thought it was a joke. We all just eyed each other for a moment before breaking into laughter as Josh, across from me, read it out loud. Unbelievable, wasn’t it? The text had come in as a news alert from CNN on Josh’s two hundred dollar Smart phone.
It read: DEAD RISING: STAY INDOORS. TURN ON TV.
My boss stood up, crumbs from his pastry were falling from his tie. He started to stumble across the room with his arms held up high, moaning about wanting to eat Josh’s brains.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” Josh quipped in a crude reference to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The group was giggling, but it wasn’t that funny.
Following the herd would be the death of us.
Josh looked at me. “John, are you able to stream video from behind the corporate firewall?” I could, so I pulled up CNN.com, ignoring the fact that my boss was right there. Why were we even taking this seriously? I thought. The site took a while to come up. In fact, it took too long. Moving on, I entered yahoo.com into the web browser, which revealed the typical bloated mainstream media stories of celebrities, sports and finance. No mention of the dead rising.
CNN must have been hacked, we concluded. The group got a good laugh out of the whole thing.
I couldn’t enjoy it though. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about the fight I had that morning. “Just 900 miles away from your troubles,” she said. Truth be told, I hated these meetings, and I hated flying even more. I guess I wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore. I hoped I’d have a chance to apologize.
We finally finished the meeting, with the text long forgotten. As we walked out of the conference room, I felt an anxious energy in the air. I couldn’t place my finger on it. The normal white noise-induced coma, which was the norm for the office seemed, well …broken. There was movement all around, as people were packing up their laptops, jackets, and purses on their way to the elevators.
I leaned in to listen to a few of the mail clerks huddled around someone’s cubicle. They were watching a video stream that was uploaded to YouTube. Some jerk off food critic was filming a streaming review at a diner in East Manhattan. It was one of those real ritzy places where the tables were made of mahogany and the waiters all had tuxes with dazzling white shirts. The critic had uploaded a video where some lawyer-looking bastard, with a perfectly parted hundred dollar haircut, had swallowed too much of the cow he was eating and keeled over dead at his table.
The computer didn’t have speakers, but you could see it clearly enough. Technology really did reach a pinnacle of greatness before it all came crumbling down.
Just as a few of the wait staff circled around the guy, the glutton stood up. One of the waiters had just reached over to pat him on the back, when the lawyer whipped around and took a bite-sized chunk out of his neck.
Blood isn’t like it looks in the movies. It was a dark, almost black-red, and it rhythmically flowed in spurts across what was left of the steak sitting on the table.
The waiter instantly dropped to the floor, a red pool expanding all over the tile. His tux was splattered with the mess. His white shirt was white no more. In that instant, there was a tentative laugh amongst those standing around the cubicle, as if to question whether what we just watched was real.
The video ended, but not before, we could see the lawyer running toward a group of women sitting in horror behind him. At the same time, in the lower right hand corner of the video, which was mostly spanning the floor, the waiter, covered in his own blood, sat up and looked savagely toward the guy operating the camera.
Now the texts really started to flow in.
It wasn’t like the movies when it first started. There weren’t any of the usual stumbling, rotting, corpses crawling out of grave sites. It wasn’t a bunch of people walking around in their Sunday-best. It was the everyday deaths that really kick-started this shit storm. I read somewhere that over one hundred and fifty people die per day in New York. Bike accident, car crash, old age, it really doesn’t matter.
On that day, they got right back up, and they were quick-at first, anyway. Rigor mortis didn’t even have time to settle in. So when this thing first hit, those bastards were flying around, tearing apart anybody they could get their hands on. Then, they would get up and tear apart more people. It was some sort of fast moving virus or something, infecting anything the mouth touched.
It was the weak and the slow that got hit the hardest on that first day. Let’s just say that anybody rolling around on a scooter at the grocery store because they let themselves eat two hundred pounds too much…well, they were screwed.
My phone buzzed in the suit pocket against my leg. Half battery, I thought, as I swiped the ‘unlock’ to answer.
“Are you still in New York?” My wife, Jenn, asked frantically.
“Yes. There seems to be something going on outside.” My voice sounded odd.
“Oh, god, no. It’s all over the news.”
“The dead are alive, John. They don’t know how or why, but they are getting up and killing other people. It started in New York. You need to get to the airport right away. Get out of the city! John? John!”
Dazed by the news, I responded that I was by the window of the office overlooking the street. There was a car flipped over and people were running all over the place. I was trying like hell to wrap my head around what was happening.
“It doesn’t look good down there, Jenn. I don’t…I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the airport.”
“Then you need to find a car or some way to get out of there!” she shrieked, making me wince. I felt a sudden sense of urgency, gripping the phone tighter.
“I’m sorry, Jenn,” I blurted, “About this morning, about our fight.”
“None of that matters to me. Just get ho-”
The signal died. I tapped the phone until it was trying to dial her back. No luck. Not even a dial tone. Just dead air. Amazing. It was all already coming undone, and I didn’t even know it.
Refocusing back on the office, I placed the phone back in my pocket. Looking around, I realized that there was no movement on the floor. No one was leaving their desk to head for the bathroom, to flirt with their secretaries or to sneak outside to grab a smoke. The place was literally deserted.
That is, with one exception. A single person was still typing away on a computer in the front of the office. Each keystroke echoed off the absurdly quiet office walls.
Running up to the receptionist, I barked, “What are you doing? You’ve got to get out of here!”
“Finishing this memo. I don’t leave until I finish the memos.” Her last words drifted off as she continued to stare at the screen. She didn’t even look at me as I walked backwards toward the elevator door.
Dedication? Most likely shock.
It was amazing how so many people just went into shock in the beginning. Not reacting. Not acknowledging what was going on. It was as if a fuse burst in their feeble minds, rendering them even more useless. Mundane tasks for a mundane world.
A group of people was pressed against the lobby glass, looking out at the street when I stepped off the elevator. I could see Josh and my fat boss standing near the door. It looked like they were preparing to head outside. Even now, Josh was his lapdog, preparing to escort my obese boss out to his Hummer that was parked in the garage next door. Anything to climb that corporate ladder.
Remaining back, I was still able to get a vantage point to see outside. Right away, I could tell that all hell had broken loose. The car that was flipped over was now on fire. There were police horses, once noble and calm, running around without riders; the frothy sweat gathering along their necks, their gentle eyes now wild with fright.
I saw a firefighter who had tapped into a nearby fire hydrant. He was twisting the nozzle when two of the so-called dead, a girl with a blue summer dress, and a homeless guy with a shredded NY Mets tee shirt, jumped him. The bum was biting at his face, but the shield of his helmet was down. The girl got a chunk out of his upper arm where his open coat had slid down during the fight.
So much for doing the right thing.
My overweight boss and his loyal lap dog decided to make a break for it at that moment, while the dead were distracted.
The first person I watched being taken down was Josh. Just as they stepped outside, they ran into a giant of a man coming around the corner. At six-foot-seven, he towered over Josh, and the look in his eyes screamed infected! I could feel my body involuntarily shudder.
Josh hesitated; that was his mistake. My fat boss didn’t even look back. He just kept running down the sidewalk, almost falling over a tipped over garbage can.
He didn’t just bite Josh and move on like I’d seen with the others. He advanced toward him. Josh stumbled backwards and tripped, as one of his shoes fell off. I watched his cell phone flip across the pavement. The giant dead guy picked him up over his head. Josh’s scream went shrill until he was bounced off of the pavement a couple of times.
That thing then spun Josh in the air, and with the effort of throwing out the trash, tossed him towards the building we were in. He smashed against the glass, not breaking through it. We all watched in stupefied horror as his mangled face slid down the “no shoes, no shirt, no entry,” sign on the outside of the building.
Shouldn’t have lost your shoe, Josh.
The goliath stomped over and stood above Josh. He brought his giant arms down on top of him, over and over again, beating him to a pulp. He started pulling pieces and parts off him to stuff into that grotesque mouth.
A sob from a woman in the crowd broke the silence in the room.
Those corporate bigwigs got something right when they built this place. The glass on the building was one-way; we could see him, but he couldn’t see us…
It’s probably the only reason I’m able to tell this story today.
More to come —