Gerald stretched, arching his back and turning his head towards the ceiling, and reached for his worn badge. His shift at the Lurox Hotel & Suites in Cleveland was almost over and he was reeling from having to pull a double. With the art festival in town during the weekend the hotel was fully booked with many more panicking to find a room when they found that theirs was overbooked. It’s been nothing but hellish and he felt the stress headache beginning to throb behind his eyes.
“Good night, Kayla,” he called to the front desk manager while grabbing his duffel bag. He had packed for a possible overnight, knowing that it was going to be a ridiculous few days. Thankfully, he could take a glorified nap before having to come right back in the morning.
He eased himself into his old station wagon and fired up the engine before heading towards his house. While the crowds had subsided at this late hour, out-of-towners were still enjoying the parties at the nearby pubs. He could feel the throb of the loud music as it vibrated his car slightly.
He lived a good twenty minutes away from Cleveland in a nearby quiet town. He always enjoyed how quickly he found himself surrounded by still woods and unspoiled batches of land. But, as he entered the dimly lit stretch within a couple of miles of his home, he realized that there was a strange odor passing through his vents. It smelled like bad meat mixed with smoke.
Glancing around, he saw a bright patch of lights that marked the entrance of a large parking lot. He had passed by the building many times but never knew what it was. Seeing that he might not be able to make it all the way home, he decided to pull in so he could take a look at what the issue was. Soon after, his engine began to sputter and shut off.
Cursing, Gerald pushed his dark brown hair back from his eyes and punched the steering wheel, emitting a loud honk of the horn. He turned off the useless ignition and pulled out his keys, exiting the vehicle. Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he realized he had no signal to try to call for a tow.
Looking around, he realized he was in front of a seemingly abandoned factory. There were broken windows that were likely the work of vandals and a side door that seemed to have been pried open. Glancing around, he realized his only hope was to find a payphone somewhere, unless he wanted to walk the rest of the way in the dark.
As he went around the side of the building, he saw a lone light flickering in the distance inside of the building when he reached the broken door. Peeking in, he saw a man standing there, silent. Was this place actually just in disrepair?
“Hello? Sir? I was hoping you could help me.”
The man stiffened up and slowly turned around and seemed to be sizing Gerald up. He slowly started to make his way towards the door, and Gerald realized he must be much older with the way he labored with his steps.
That smell…..that smell is getting stronger. What IS That???
As the man moved closer, Gerald saw he couldn’t make out any details because the light behind him made him into a shadowy figure. But, just as the smell started to become overpowering, the moonlight started to illuminate the figure’s face…..what was left of it, anyway.
His teeth gnashed; his lips seemingly ripped from around them. His right eye dangled pitifully from the socket. There were deep wounds in his neck. And as Gerald screamed, the figure started to gurgle something inhuman as he sunk his nails into Gerald’s shoulder, lunging.
Gerald froze in place as the stench and the realization hit him at the same time. This was no man; this was someone undead that was ready to sink his teeth into his flesh. He instinctively shot out his arms, unable to even think. He couldn’t even pay attention to the muted pain of this…..creature…digging its ragged nails into his skin, despite his thick blue button-down shirt.
Unable to muster even a whimper, Gerald started pushing back against the creature hard, trying to wedge it against the doorframe so he could stun it long enough to make a run for it. He was distantly aware of the blood starting to seep through the shoulder of his shirt from the lacerations, which caused light steam to travel up into the brisk air.
He spotted something wedged into the wall directly by the doorframe: a rusted crowbar. Throwing himself into a solid shove, he caused this undead attacker to stumble back against the frame with a stuttered growl and dashed for the crowbar. Just as the creature steadied itself, Gerald managed to yank the crowbar off and turn to swing it, landing the hooked part squarely between its eyes and burying the fork into the skull.
With a final grunt, the zombie’s eyes rolled unevenly to the back of its head as it crumpled into a heap. Viscous, black blood seeped out from the wound, increasing the horrible stench that had hung in the air like a thick invisible cloud from the moment Gerald’s car stopped.
Gerald collapsed back against the doorframe, breathing heavily. He didn’t know what the hell just happened other than there being a godforsaken zombie that attacked him. All of these years people treated the idea of zombies as fantasy in stories and television shows, and in the middle of friggin’ nowhere he was attacked by what appeared to be just that.
A closer look in the orange light showed him that this wasn’t someone who was just sick. Their skin was pulling away from their flesh and was a translucent and nasty ripped grey film at this point. There were stray maggots that swarmed aimlessly around its mouth and joint, causing Gerald to almost hurl all over them. This was clearly someone who had died a long time ago.
Then, panic set in as he realized that this zombie had dug heavily into his shoulder, causing a pretty painful wound. Catching it in his throat he ran back to his car, tripping twice on loose gravel as he approached his car. He pulled open the door and shoved the key into the ignition, turning it.
He forgot it wasn’t even working.
Frustrated, he slammed his head against the head rest and let out an anguished cry. As hot tears started to sting his cheeks, something made him catch his breath. He thought he heard something and wiped his face of sweat and tears as he cocked his head towards his cracked window.
It sounded like a droning noise at first. He couldn’t identify it. But as Gerald squinted towards the entrance where he almost lost his life to the undead, he could see the silhouettes of figures shuffling out and towards him.