Ep.97 – Normal Shit - Zombies Really Put a Damper on a Work Day
Felix has to finish their shift at work, no matter how many zombies get in the way.
Normal Shit by Michelle Adler
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I wasn't able to remove my respirator fast enough to prevent myself from filling it with vomit. I fought viciously with its straps and eventually separated it from my face mid wretch, tossing it away with all the gracefulness of a person who was now covered in their own puke. I finished up on the deteriorating concrete like a civilized adult.
My first clear thought while I was trying to calm down was that general, "my body betrayed me and now I have no food and I'm going to starve to death" thing that I think when I have no food and I'm going to starve to death. That, amazingly, didn't calm me down at all.
After that, came a wave of embarrassment. I mean, it's just an arm. Was I really throwing up over a stupid fucking arm? It's not like I'd never seen an arm before... I see them all the time, I even have two of my own! I mean, look at it sitting over there in the street, minding its own business...ripped off at the socket, like a chicken wing.. In the early stages of decay..
I spit some more bile into the grass. Ok, now I was just messing up my esophagus.
I sat for a few minutes, collecting my thoughts. I couldn't go to work like this. I needed to call Steff and let her know I was going to be late. "Maybe I'll leave out the part about the arm and just pretend I'm unreliable," I thought. But before I could trudge back to my house and hose myself off, I was going to need to do something about that arm.
I sighed. They'd said they were going to up city sanitation services to take care of this kind of thing, but I hadn't even seen a garbage truck in over a month. Living in a slightly less desirable area of the city, I was used to this type of shit. But still, even slightest consideration, like an email about suspending service indefinitely, would have been nice. I thought about ignoring it, just never looking in that spot again, but I was afraid someone was going to trip over it. I pulled off my soaked t-shirt and approached cautiously, as if not to startle it. It took all my effort to actually grasp the thing with my t-shirt covered hand. I then lifted the limp chunk of meat and panic ran it to the closest neighbors overflowing trash can, shouting "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" As I did for some unknowable reason.
I made it back to my house WITHOUT TOUCHING ANYTHING and washed my hands until the skin started to peel.
I felt bad about being late to work. Being dependable is my one and only good quality. Without it I'm just a scared, incompetent child. "This is the time," I thought as I pushed the security gate open just enough to slide my body under it, "this is the time they fire me." I quickly slammed down and relocked the gate. Of course this was not that time, it couldn't be. I didn't even flip on the lights of the empty store as I entered, I was alone. As always.
Removing my gear, I hovered over the computer and checked the day's pending orders. Today it was just floral arrangements. Once the flowers were arranged we had a strict no refund policy. So before I started piecing things together, I checked the phone for cancellations. There were 21. I've been keeping track of the cancellation to order ratio since the first week we noticed the very disturbing trend. I've found it correlates directly with the-- you know-- Or at least it used to when I had access to that kind of data. Cases rise and flower cancellations go up right along with them. The only time this wasn't true was right around Valentine's Day and Mother's Day for obvious reasons. I scribbled down 21/40 on the pad next to the register, wished it was Valentine's Day so I could give people happy flowers, and got to work.
Amazingly, we still have water, cold water at least, on the Southside and I've been able to secure propane for the generator rather easily. I sat in the cool, cave-like humidity, as I prepared the day’s orders. The generator covers the refrigerators and computer, but that's all. I hummed quietly to its din, grateful it wasn't quieter, it muted whatever was happening outside.
I was very good at pretending it completely blocked whatever was happening out there. I started to hum louder.
The closer I got to finishing my prep work, the more excited I became. It got to the point where my hands were actually shaking from the sheer joy of.. being so fucking terrified.
Well, anyway, I did that annoying breathing technique where I breathed in and out way slower than I could ever want to and then agonized over how specifically horrible I am at breathing in general until I fixated on my crushing self loathing enough to compensate for my near panic attack. Normal shit.
It was time. I trudged forward into the unknown filled with a sense of whatever it is I feel all the time. The air was so thick with smoke from whoever's wildfires it was this week, that, for once, I was incredibly thankful to have a gas mask (which smelled like puke now, fyi) instead of the more standard muzzle that was strongly recommended, though not legally required, by the CDC. Everyone had told me I was crazy when I started wearing it, but who's crazy now?
Ok, it's still me.
All of the day's deliveries were funeral arrangements. Yeah.. I had three funeral homes to hit before 5pm. I can't stress how important it was that I stuck to that timeline. The last funeral home was exactly a half hour's ride from the shop and I absolutely had to be back there by 5:30 at the very latest. No fucking wiggle room available.
The first stop, Bradford's Funeral Home, was out in the sticks. It was a beautiful ride up a very steep hill. Which was part of the reason I went while I still had the highest amount of energy and the least amount of injuries of the day. The building was surrounded by a tall chain link fence, complete with razor wire at the top. I always tried not to look at the razor wire.. I didn't really want to see what was caught up there. I'm not saying anything was, I'm just saying it was possible and I didn't want to find out. The gate at the entrance was always locked, but they'd added this neat little drop box for the flowers and I guess mail too. I rang the buzzer next to the box, shouted "It's Felix!" into the intercom. As usual, there was no response from the other side. That was ok though, I’m sure running a funeral home is a tough job even in the best of times, they were probably just embalming someone. They weren’t like, dead in there or anything. Or...you know.., but somehow still working, or at least taking in the flowers every day. I placed the arrangements gently into the receptacle.
“Just because I can think it, doesn’t mean it’s real,” I reminded myself, continuing to avert my gaze from the razor wire as I turned away to leave.
I liked the part where I got to go down the hill. I imagined how nice the air would have felt if it wasn’t full of smoke and I wasn’t so covered in protective gear. I wondered if this was how astronauts felt when they were on the moon or wherever it is astronauts go. If so, I don’t ever want to go to space. I got so lost in my space men daydream that I accidentally cruised right through the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. Luckily, there was no one on the road. I still felt bad about it though.
Second stop, Riverview Cemetery and Mausoleum, was, you guessed it, right by the river. And I bet you’ll never guess what you can see from there. Correct again, the expressway! Anyway, Riverview’s security was a little more lax. There was no razor wire (only the barbed kind) and while the gate was latched, it was not usually actually locked. Anyone with enough mental dexterity to unlatch a gate was probably ok to go in. And plus, it seemed mean to lock the dead out of a final resting place. Or at least that’s what the funeral director had told me. It was also possible that they had just lost the key. It’s not like there was a locksmith left in this town.
Whatever the actual reason for keeping it unlocked was, usually that latch was more or less dry and clean, and not coated with a viscous layer of mucus and blood, like it happened to be at that moment. I stared at it blankly for a long time, but who was I to question it? I barely knew a thing about proper gate maintenance. It was quite possible that what I was looking at was lubricant of some sort. Maybe the gate had been sticking lately.
"Mucus is a good lubricant," I accidentally reminded myself, suddenly overtaken with a full body shudder. I pried the gate open with a twig.
Everything looked ok in the cemetery. All the corpses were underground, at least, and that felt like a win. However, when I got closer to the office I realized that this was not even vaguely "a win".
"I don't have any more food to throw up," I reminded myself, averting my gaze from the mess of what I can only describe as entrails on the marble entryway floor and fixating on the silent interior. I saw a mop in the corner, ready to go. At least someone was on it, I thought.
But there was no one.
I took a deep breath and shouted, "Mr. Matthews? It's Felix with the flowers!" My voice echoed back at me violently, followed by deafening silence. He was definitely probably just in the bathroom. "I- um, I'm just gonna leave these here," I yelled into the nothing and laid the arrangements out on the front desk. As I turned away, I could have sworn I heard--
I stood motionless, listening to the stale air, my heartbeat pulsing audibly in my eardrums. After a while I realized that I'd been holding my breath and puffed outward. This was stupid, everything was ok. I absolutely hadn't heard anyone call my name.
"Ffff...lix.." The breathy moan of an approximation of my name made every single muscle in my body contract simultaneously, readying a fight or flight response. I was trying to calm my breathing when I heard something wet being dragged across the floor. That was enough for me to whip around and let out an embarrassing gasp.
The funeral director was using all his upper body strength to pull himself over the carpet towards where I was standing. Normally he just, well, walked places, but I guess that wasn’t an option seeing as his legs were mostly gone. Chewed right off like jerky. The mangled leftovers stained the carpet as he half crawled forward. I almost said something, but I didn't know what words to use, so I just stood there staring at him, like an idiot. I was probably making him feel more terrible with that reaction. I should have smiled and told him how nice his shirt was or something. Couldn't really see what it looked like under all the blood, but you get the idea.
"Feee....lix…" He choked through his eviscerated windpipe, "It's st-st..lll heerrree." He lifted his left arm and pointed behind me. Well, every fucking hair on my body stood straight up at that point. Suddenly I became acutely aware that the light from the doorway was now obstructed. I slowly reached to my side to grab my big long hitting people stick and silently cursed myself for not carrying a gun.
“Swing once and run,” I planned in my head, “make it to the back door, get the rest of the deliveries and get as far away as---” But it was too late. Something had grabbed hold of my arm and squeezed it with what I could only imagine was the intent to break it in half. I winced as its long, filthy nails dug deep into my flesh. I fought the urge to panic about whatever weird bacteria might be entering my bloodstream and how long it would be before I could clean it with antiseptic. I had to resist the urge to try to jerk my arm away. Any sudden movement could startle the thing and increase the speed in which it caused harm to my physical being. What I mean is, I really needed two arms to do my job well and I intended to keep them both.
An oppressive humidity graced my unprotected neck. It was fucking sniffing me. It’s cold, musty breath pulsed in and out, as it tried to determine the best place to take its first bite. I was going to die right there on the floor with Mr. Matthews. I had to come up with a plan before---
Oh shit, too late again.
My dying friend's eyes widened with fear as the thing dug it's fist into my hair, scraping my scalp, with the intention of.. you know... But instead of fighting to pull away, like a normal god fearing individual, in a moment of sheer insanity, I convinced myself to trust-fall into that fucker. You know when you go to lift up something heavy and it turns out it's actually very light? The force of its pull and my lack of resistance caused my head to slam right into its jaw. A few of its teeth thudded onto the carpet and it screamed in shock and hopefully at least a little pain. That was enough for it to stop paying attention to crushing my arm and I was finally able to grab my staff.
I turned to meet the gaze of the monster, a young woman. Shit, she couldn’t have been older than 21. She cradled her broken jaw in her hands, black mucus streamed from her eyes and her injured mouth, the skin of her forearms cracked and grey, splitting to reveal bright red mushrooms. Nothing special, really, but still a bit unnerving. She lunged at me, clearly upset about her face, but I was able to get my staff between us, and hit her in the diaphragm hard enough to knock the wind out of her. She collapsed like a broken marionette. That was my opportunity to violently smash her head in. It… took awhile. Not because I’m not strong, though that factors in a little, but mostly because of all of her screaming. I'm not going to insinuate that it was so bad that I wake up every night in a cold sweat, swearing I'm hearing me murder her over and over again or anything. But it's really hard to power through that after a while. Maybe I should get some of those noise cancelling headphones.
Once I was sure it was over, I turned back to Mr. Matthews. I winced in awareness that I was going to have to mercy kill him in the same way (Note to self: GET A GUN). There were no hospitals that would take the recently bitten and no cops left to kill people for fun, so that responsibility was increasingly falling on me. Luckily, while the funeral director was still in that same position, staring at me in horror, he was no longer breathing. I managed to lay him in a more dignified position, closed his eyes, and apologized for being too late to save him. I thought about mopping the floor myself before being on my way, but all I really had time to do was affix a note to the door explaining the situation so the groundskeeper would know what he was walking into.
By the time I exited the cemetery gate it was already 4:27pm. With my last stop still roughly a half hour away, I rode like my life depended on it, blowing through stop signs and red lights, breaking any traffic law that technically didn’t matter anymore. I longed for the earlier part of the day when I was young and dumb and concerned about that one stop sign.
The last stop, Friendly’s Mortuary, was on the other side of the river, in the city’s urban core. I didn’t love going over there because it was much more densely populated. I didn’t even like being around that many people when they were alive, but now with most of them, you know, it was a particularly bad time.
I approached the bridge, breathing hard, my arm still bleeding a little, and my head throbbing. The smog was so dense that I couldn’t see the blue arches of its structure rising up in front of me, like I normally could when I turned the last corner. The smog was so thick that I still couldn’t see it when I was only a few yards away. The smog was so dense that-- I could see the buildings on the other side just fine? The light from the afternoon sun glinted off their broken windows.
I squeezed the hand breaks frantically. The bike, apparently not affected by the laws of motion, came to an immediate stop, leaving me to maintain momentum and sail over the handlebars. An intense pain cut through my spine as I landed flat on my back. I laid there, feeling stupid and in pain for a long time. Once I was able to collect myself, I flipped to my side and stared down into the water. Parts of the suspension bridge peaked through the rough waves far below where I lay on the charred asphalt.
It would have looked like a suicide. Maybe it almost was.
How could I have possibly forgotten that I’d blown up the bridge a day prior? What kind of fucked up individual, burns a bridge to the ground and then casually forgets it ever happened? In addition, I was supposed to contact Friendly’s to let them know that because I’d committed what boiled down to an act of terrorism to save this side of the city from the vast infestation on their side, we were no longer going to be able to deliver to them, but I guess it had slipped my mind as well. I was really doing a bad job over here.
It's not that there wasn't another way over. I would never blow up my only access to civilization. However, it meant taking the expressway on a bicycle at rush hour and going through the tunnel. I mean, the bridge had been bad enough, but a moist, dark, underwater tunnel? No fucking way I was doing that, it was probably teeming with zombies--er, I mean..you know. I’d never make it through alive and the flowers would probably be pretty messed up too.
I checked the time on my now cracked phone screen, 5:15. Now, maybe you're thinking this is the part where I concoct some cool plan to get me there and back in time. Or maybe you wanna believe that a helicopter touched down right then and there and for some reason flew me both ways out of the kindness of their heart. Well, I'm sorry, but in reality we're both going to have to accept that I am just not that good of a courier.
I sighed, defeated, removing the remaining floral arrangements from my carrier and dumping them into the river. Once I was done destroying my work, I managed to get to my feet. If I pedaled really really fast, maybe I could at least get back to the shop in time. Might not be that easy to do injured, but whatever. I reached for the handlebars to pick up my bike. I missed. My left hand had more or less just grasped air, making me lose balance, twist my ankle and, of course, forcing me to confront my two missing fingers. It wasn’t the first time I’d forgotten they were gone, bitten off a few months back, and then tried to grab something with them. Heck, it wasn’t even the first time it had happened that day, but for some reason that was the time it had me doubled over and sobbing, like the little tiny baby I am. I just sat there, shaking and gulping down tears, not even sure what I was crying about, until my phone beeped, alerting me to the time, 5:30. I lifted my mask to wipe my eyes and stain my face with dirt and blood. The cool, pre-evening air made me shiver. It hurt to move and really what was the point? It was already too late. So now to add to losing a client, breaking my phone, watching a fellow business person bleed out, and vomiting over an arm, I’d also officially been at work for over 8 hours and I do not get overtime.
In the end I forced myself up and limped my way back. "Just another day in paradise," I grumbled. I needed a fucking vacation.
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